Chapter 22: Teaching the Gospel

During 2016, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is in boldfaced is from the manual, with our comments following.

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, 2015

Teachings of Howard W. Hunter

Help others develop confidence in the scriptures.

I strongly encourage you to use the scriptures in your teaching and to do all within your power to help the students use them and become comfortable with them. I would like our young people to have confidence in the scriptures, and I would like you to interpret that phrase two ways.

When a Mormon uses the word “scriptures,” it must be understood that this means more than just the Bible. According to a popular church manual:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accepts four books as scripture: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These books are called the standard works of the Church. The inspired words of our living prophets are also accepted as scripture (Gospel Prin­ciples, 2009, p. 45).

It also says,

In addition to these four books of scripture, the inspired words of our living prophets become scripture to us. Their words come to us through conferences, the Liahona or Ensign magazine, and instructions to local priesthood leaders. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God: (Articles of Faith 1:9)” (Gospel Principles, 2009, p. 48.).

First, we want the students to have confidence in the strength and truths of the scriptures, confidence that their Heavenly Father is really speaking to them through the scriptures, and confidence that they can turn to the scriptures and find answers to their problems and their prayers. That is one kind of confidence I would hope you give your students, and you can give it to them if you show them daily, hourly, that you trust in the scriptures just that way. Show them that you yourself are confident that the scriptures hold the answers to many—indeed most—of life’s problems. So when you teach, teach from the scriptures.

The problem with having an open canon is that a religion can turn anything it wants into “scripture.” According to Mormonism, the Book of Mormon is “scripture.” Yet this book has no historical or archaeological support. The Doctrine and Covenants is mainly comprised of “revelations that Joseph Smith received from heaven; a person must presuppose that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God to believe that he really received this scripture. As far as the Pearl of Great Price, the Book of Abraham has been proven to be a fraud. (I encourage you to watch this video.) As far as the leaders who speak at general conferences and who are in charge of managing the church manuals, they are providing nothing more than their personal opinion based on heretical presuppositions. Besides the Bible, Latter-day Saints have no reason to maintain confidence in their unique scriptures and teachings of their leaders. Following those teachings that veer from the straight path of the Bible is not a wise choice. A better option is to open up the Bible and see what God’s Word has to say rather than relying on corrupt scripture and teaching.

[A second] meaning implied in the phrase “confidence in the scriptures” is to teach students the standard works so thoroughly that they can move through them with confidence, learning the essential scriptures and sermons and texts contained in them. We would hope none of your students would leave your classroom fearful or embarrassed or ashamed that they cannot find the help they need because they do not know the scriptures well enough to locate the proper passages. Give these young people sufficient experience in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price that they have both of the kinds of confidence I have just mentioned.

As mentioned above, there is no reason to trust the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl Price. There is no reason whatsoever to have confidence in any of them.

I have often thought that our young people in the Church would be very much like other young people outside of the Church if they do not establish some mastery and command of the standard works. All of you remember the verses the Prophet Joseph wrote from his confinement in Liberty Jail. Among them he wrote, “For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it” (D&C 123:12; emphasis added).

At the same token, there are many Latter-day Saints who are blinded because they’re too willing to blindly accept whatever their leaders tell them to believe. Paul explained in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 that believers are to “test everything,” adding in 2 Cor. 4:4 that “the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The problem with Mormonism is that the gospel is clouded by the many requirements the leadership enforces upon its people.

We have a great responsibility as [teachers] in the Church to make sure our own members, our own young people, do not fall into that unfortunate category of being blinded, of being good, fine, worthy young men and women who are kept from the truths of the scriptures because they do not know where to find those truths and because they do not possess confidence [in using] their standard works.

This is like asking the wolf to be in charge of guarding the chicken coop. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:15,“beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” When those who don’t know how to discern truth on their own listen are willing to follow men whom they believe are trustworthy, they are open to accepting false teaching. This is why I beg the Latter-day Saint to read the Bible as a little child, without the baggage of the LDS leaders to cloud possible understanding.

Teach with the Spirit.

Prepare and live in such a way that you have the Spirit of the Lord in your teaching. There is so much in our world that destroys the feeling of the Spirit and so much that would keep us from having the Spirit with us. We need to do all we can for these young people who are assaulted and barraged by worldliness all around them. We need to do everything possible to let them feel the sweet, reassuring presence of the Spirit of the Lord. …

In one of the most basic revelations of this dispensation, the Lord said, “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14).

I take this verse to mean not only that we should not teach without the Spirit, but also that we really cannot teach without it. Learning of spiritual things simply cannot take place without the instructional and confirming presence of the Spirit of the Lord. Joseph Smith would seem to agree: “All are to preach the Gospel, by the power and influence of the Holy Ghost; and no man can preach the Gospel without the Holy Ghost” [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007), 332].

Yet how is it possible to determine if someone is speaking the truth? What a teachers says ought to correspond with what the Bible says. Although a Mormon will disagree, I believe that the LDS leaders do not speak with the spirit of truth; discernment is a requirement to have the true Spirit of the Lord.

… I get concerned when it appears that strong emotion or free-flowing tears are equated with the presence of the Spirit. Certainly the Spirit of the Lord can bring strong emotional feelings, including tears, but that outward manifestation ought not to be confused with the presence of the Spirit itself.

I appreciate this statement because it seems so often it’s the Mormon who has “strong emotion or free-flowing tears” as they “bear their testimony” in front of a congregation or in an evangelism encounter. Many Mormons attach their faith to feelings talked about in D&C 7:8-9:

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.

As Hunter puts it, nobody should ever confuse an emotional testimony with an experience that includes truth.

I have watched a great many of my brethren over the years and we have shared some rare and unspeakable spiritual experiences together. Those experiences have all been different, each special in its own way, and such sacred moments may or may not be accompanied by tears. Very often they are, but sometimes they are accompanied by total silence. Other times they are accompanied by joy. Always they are accompanied by a great manifestation of the truth, of revelation to the heart.

Give your students gospel truth powerfully taught; that is the way to give them a spiritual experience. Let it come naturally and as it will, perhaps with the shedding of tears, but perhaps not. If what you say is the truth, and you say it purely and with honest conviction, those students will feel the spirit of the truth being taught them and will recognize that inspiration and revelation has come into their hearts. That is how we build faith. That is how we strengthen testimonies—with the power of the word of God taught in purity and with conviction. Listen for the truth, hearken to the doctrine, and let the manifestation of the Spirit come as it may in all of its many and varied forms. Stay with solid principles; teach from a pure heart. Then the Spirit will penetrate your mind and heart and every mind and heart of your students.

Even though Hunter said earlier that emotion is not how a testimony ought to be judged, here he says that the Spirit can be recognized by how “those students will feel the spirit of the truth.” The problem with “feelings” is this is a poor indicator of truth. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart to “deceitfully wicked” and shouldn’t be trusted.

Invite students to seek God the Father and Jesus Christ directly.

I am sure you recognize the potential danger of … your students build[ing] an allegiance to you rather than to the gospel. … That is why you have to invite your students into the scriptures themselves, not just give them your interpretation and presentation of them. That is why you must invite your students to feel the Spirit of the Lord, not just give them your personal reflection of that. That is why, ultimately, you must invite your students directly to Christ, not just to one who teaches his doctrines, however ably. You will not always be available to these students. …

Our great task is to ground these students in what can go with them through life, to point them toward him who loves them and can guide them where none of us will go. Please make sure the loyalty of these students is to the scriptures and the Lord and the doctrines of the restored Church. Point them toward God the Father and his Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and toward the leadership of the true Church. … Give them the gifts that will carry them through when they have to stand alone. When you do this, the entire Church is blessed for generations to come.

Notice how Hunter beseeches his audience to listen to the “leadership of the true Church” while emphasizing “the doctrines of the restored Church.” It’s a logical fallacy (begging the question, or circular reasoning) to suggest that the interpretation of the scriptures will coincide with the teachings of the church leadership

Teach by example.

It is so needful for us [as teachers] to set the proper example, to be diligent and vigilant in our own lives, to keep the Sabbath Day holy, to honor the leadership of the ward, the stake, and the Church. Nothing unseemly should come from our lips that would give any child the right or the privilege to do wrong. Surely if we say or do something wrong, the children have license to follow.

Example carries with it an influence much more forceful than precept. He who would persuade others to do right should do right himself. It is true that he who practices good precepts because they are good and does not suffer himself to be influenced by the unrighteous conduct of others will be more abundantly rewarded than one who says and does not. … Children are prone to imitate those in whom they place confidence. The greater their confidence, the more readily they are influenced for good or for evil. Every good Saint respects genuine goodness wherever it is seen and will try to imitate all good examples.

The formula for a great teacher is not only to live the commandments of the Lord and to advocate the commandments of the Lord, but to obtain the spirit of teaching by prayer. When we obtain that spirit and observe the commandments of the Lord, walking in obedience before Him, then the lives of those whom we touch will be changed and they will be motivated to live lives of righteousness.

As I read this, I thought of this passage:

Matthew 18:6: “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me-to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

How many LDS adults make it appear to the young children whom they teach that they have everything in control and are living according to Mormon teaching? And how many seminary teachers allow their teenage students to think they somehow are worthy of the celestial kingdom? Yet how many of them are really living as successfully as they would want others to think? This type of attitude is closer to the Pharisees than it would be humble followers of Jesus.

Of course, Latter-day Saint adults sincerely believe that their faith is based on truth. Someone might think the verse I cite above is unfair for this reason. However, I think there is heavy responsibility that Latter-day Saint teachers have since they are so much older than the children they are teaching. They have been on missions where they were most likely presented more than one legitimate Christian gospel presentation. They have the Gospel Topics Essays that show the flawed history of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church. They have the Internet to consider the information that shows the many problems in Mormonism. And they have the Bible that they could study and see how this scripture’s teachings are contradicted by LDS leaders. There is a great responsibility that Latter-day Saint teachers have, especially since the children in their care do not have the life experience necessary to combat false teaching. They are vulnerable and trust their teachers to tell them the truth. Instructing these young ones in heretical error is a very serious offense, something that ought to be contemplated by every Latter-day Saint reading this article.

Every teacher must have a personal testimony that God lives, of the divine mission of Jesus Christ, and that the appearance to Joseph Smith of the Father and the Son was a reality. Not only must he have that knowledge and testimony, but he should be anxious to express his belief without equivocation to those who come to learn.

A Mormon teacher must have a testimony of God, Jesus and Joseph Smith. Trust me, without the testimony of Joseph Smith, the teacher will not be allowed to keep his or her position. Selling out to the Church is a requirement for the teacher who wants to be looked upon as a success.

To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.