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
The restored gospel is for all people, based on the conviction that all are children of the same God. In the message of the gospel, the entire human race is one family descended from a single God. All men and women have not only a physical lineage leading back to Adam and Eve, their first earthly parents, but also a spiritual heritage leading back to God the Eternal Father. Thus, all persons on earth are literally brothers and sisters in the family of God.
For someone who is not familiar with LDS terminology, it could be easy to become confused as to what Hunter is talking about here. The teaching of Preexistence/Premortality says that “prior to their birth into mortality (see Mortal Probation), all people were begotten spirit children of God and lived with him.”(Millet, LDS Beliefs: A Doctrinal Reference, p. 498). In fact, the Ensign magazine reports that “of all the major Christian churches, only The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the human race lived in a premortal existence with God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ” (Feb 2006, p. 30). Seventy Lawrence E. Corbridge explained, “Everything did not begin at birth. You lived before the presence of God as His son or daughter and prepared for this mortal life” (Ensign, May 2014, p. 103). Meanwhile, Seventy Adhemar Damiani wrote,
Before this world was organized, we had spirit bodies and lived in a premortal world with Heavenly Father, the father of our spirits. We knew Him personally just as He knows us. He desired that we become as He is—having eternal life and exaltation” (Ensign, March 2004, pp. 8-9).
It is only by understanding the LDS doctrine of preexistence that someone can fully grasp what Hunter means when he refers to those who “are literally brothers and sisters in the family of God.”
It is in understanding and accepting this universal fatherhood of God that all human beings can best appreciate God’s concern for them and their relationship to each other. This is a message of life and love that strikes squarely against all stifling traditions based on race, language, economic or political standing, educational rank, or cultural background, for we are all of the same spiritual descent. We have a divine pedigree; every person is a spiritual child of God.
According to Mormonism, all humans chose Jesus in the preexistence. There is a pride factor that comes with such an understanding. Nonverbally, this is the attitude of “I am someone because I Choose the Right before I was ever born!” In an April 2013 general conference talk titled “Your Wonderful Journey Home,” Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the First Presidency, taught:
Back in that first estate, you knew with absolute certainty that God existed because you saw and heard Him. You knew Jesus Christ, who would become the Lamb of God. You had faith in Him. And you knew that your destiny was not to stay in the security of your premortal home. As much as you loved that eternal sphere, you knew you wanted and needed to embark on a journey. You would depart from the arms of your Father, pass through a veil of forgetfulness, receive a mortal body, and learn and experience things that hopefully would help you grow to become more like Father in Heaven and return to His presence (Ensign, May 2013, p. 126).
Uchtdorf claims that every person who is born on the earth existed in this first estate:
Nevertheless, everyone you see around you—in this meeting or at any other place, today or at any other time—was valiant in the premortal world. That unassuming and ordinary-looking person sitting next to you may have been one of the great figures you loved and admired in the sphere of spirits. You may have been such a role model yourself! Of one thing you can be certain: every person you see—no matter the race, religion, political beliefs, body type, or appearance—is family (Ibid, p. 128).
This unique teaching can be traced to Moses 3:5 in the Pearl of Great Price, which credits God with saying, “For I, the Lord God, created all things, of which I have spoken, spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” Heavenly Father became the God of this earth as a result of his worthiness demonstrated on another planet. As far as the creation of this earth goes, his firstborn spirit son Jesus was aided by “many of the noble and great spirit children of the Father.” These included Michael (the preincarnate Adam), Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, James, John, and even Joseph Smith! (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:74-75). According to Mormonism, agency prevailed in heaven, which meant that the spirits had a choice:
In our premortal life we had moral agency. One purpose of earth life is to show what choices we will make (see 2 Nephi 2:15–16). If we were forced to choose the right, we would not be able to show what we would choose for ourselves. Also, we are happier doing things when we have made our own choices. Agency was one of the principal issues to arise in the premortal Council in Heaven. It was one of the main causes of the conflict between the followers of Christ and the followers of Satan (Gospel Principles, p. 17).
Apostle Robert D. Hales described Satan’s desire to change God’s plan delivered to humankind in the preexistence:
We recognize that when God the Eternal Father presented His plan to us at the beginning of time, Satan wanted to alter the plan. He said he would redeem all mankind. Not one soul would be lost, and Satan was confident he could deliver on his proposal. But there was an unacceptable cost—the destruction of man’s agency, which was and is a gift given by God (Ensign, May 2013, p. 86).
Everyone on this earth chose the plan offered by Jesus. Hales explained,
But think of it: in our premortal state we chose to follow the Savior Jesus Christ! And because we did, we were allowed to come to earth (Ensign, November 2010, p. 25).
Only those who accepted Jesus to be their Savior can have bodies of flesh and bones. We know, because we have bodies of flesh and bones, that we accepted Jesus to be our Savior. We chose the right things in heaven (Gospel Fundamentals, p. 11).
As a result of his rebellion,
Lucifer, a spirit in a position of authority in the premortal life, was cast out of God’s presence and became Satan because he sought to exalt himself above God and rule over Heavenly Father’s other Children (Old Testament Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, p. 168).
One-third of the preexistent spirits who were not wise enough to side against Lucifer will never be worthy of receiving a body on earth and will be forever doomed; their final destiny will be outer darkness. With all of this said, it is worth noting how the doctrine of preexistence was not a teaching during the first few years of the LDS Church’s existence, as explained by a BYU professor:
Spirits or angels mentioned in the Bible as being with God in the first estate, including Lucifer and the spirits who followed him (Isa. 14:12–15; Jude 6; Rev. 12:3–4), were traditionally viewed as being a separate species from humans, not preexistent spirits. Biblical passages used today to support preexistence were interpreted differently when cited by the Saints during the first decade of the Church (Charles R. Harrell, BYU Studies 28, no. 2 (spring 1988), p. 77).
It wasn’t until the middle of the 1830s that this teaching was further developed in LDS thought. Abraham 3:21–23 provides the best support of this doctrine. It reads in part:
. . . for I rule in the heavens above, and in the earth beneath, in all wisdom and prudence, over all the intelligences thine eyes have seen from the beginning; I came down in the beginning in the midst of all the intelligences thou hast seen. Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.
According to Mormonism, Abraham, the man divinely appointed as the “father of many nations,” pleased God before the creation of the world, so he was chosen to fulfill God’s will in the world. Aside from this passage, there is little written support for this important doctrine. This might be the reason why “the Latter-day Saints did not at first deduce the idea of preexistence from the biblical passages so frequently summoned today to prove it.” It also does not appear “in the scriptural or other writings and recorded sermons of Joseph Smith” (Ibid., pp. 77, 88).
The restored gospel is a message of divine love for all people everywhere, based upon the conviction that all humans are children of the same God. This primary religious message was beautifully expressed in a statement of the First Presidency on February 15, 1978, as follows:
“Based upon ancient and modern revelation, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gladly teaches and declares the Christian doctrine that all men and women are brothers and sisters, not only by blood relationship from common mortal progenitors but also as literal spirit children of an Eternal Father” [Statement of the First Presidency Regarding God’s Love for All Mankind, Feb. 15, 1978].
Latter-day Saints have a positive and inclusive approach toward others who are not of our faith. We believe they are literally our brothers and sisters, that we are sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father. We have a common genealogy leading back to God.
One should think that, if the doctrine explained in Mormonism is true, that there should be plenty of biblical evidence to support preexistence. Yet there is not. The Bible seems to be adamant that being born upon this earth had nothing to do with a “preexistent” life. Consider, for instance, the story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9:1-3, which reads:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (ESV)
Another passage that ought to be considered is Romans 9:9–12, indicating that Jacob and Esau had “done nothing either good or bad” prior to their birth “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue” (ESV). Notice how neither the blind man nor Jacob and Esau were rewarded or punished based on their good or bad works in a “preexistent” life. According to Mormonism, people are born on this earth based on their performance in a previous life. According to the Bible, life’s circumstances are not random; God’s sovereignty and His glory are what matters! As Jesus and Paul argued, it is impossible to point to a previous existence to support a mortal’s status or destiny.
Certain biblical passages have been used by Latter-day Saints to support the doctrine of premortality, though they have to be taken out of their context to do so. One commonly used proof text is Jeremiah 1:5, which says, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” This verse emphasizes God’s foreknowledge (“I knew thee”), not humanity’s previous knowledge of God. Many LDS leaders have also referred to the book of Job for support of the preexistence. In Job 38:4, God questions Job and rebukes him for his pride,asking, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” When God formed the world, Job 38:7 says, “The sons of God shouted for joy.” Page 23 of Gospel Principles explains,
When we lived as spirit children with our heavenly parents, our Heavenly Father told us about His plan for us to become more like Him. We shouted for joy when we heard His plan (see Job 38:7).
BYU professor Charles R. Harrell questions this common LDS interpretation when he writes:
Most biblical scholars, however, see God’s question as rhetorical and intended to highlight the fact that Job was nowhere around during the creation. The whole tenor of the Lord’s query, when read in context with the entire chapter, is to emphasize the insignificance and fleeting nature of human existence. The Lord does tell Job, however, that the “sons of God” were there and “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7), but there is no indication that Job was numbered among them. (“This is My Doctrine,” p. 201).
In effect, Job was reminded by God that he wasn’t even in existence when God created the world. Just as the clay should not talk back to the potter, so too Job had no business questioning God’s work (compare Jer. 18:1–6 with Rom. 9:18–26).
Another verse often brought up is Ecclesiastes 12:7, which states that “the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” The Mormon who holds to the doctrine of preexistence assumes that this is referring to the second leg of a “round trip.” This passage, though, merely shows how life exists beyond death. One would have to approach this verse with a preconceived notion of preexistence to draw this conclusion. According to Zechariah 12:1, God gave each person a spirit, so certainly the spirit will return to Him for judgment. It does not imply that humans existed before their mortal existence. While the Bible does show how all humans are creations of God, becoming a part of His family requires faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26, “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” He also said in Romans 9:8, “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (ESV).
Even the Book of Mormon tends to discount the idea of preexistence. Ether 3:14 says, “Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.” A Mormon may argue that this only refers to a spiritual sonship. However, this objection has validity only if it can be demonstrated that the Book of Mormon teaches the LDS concept of the preexistence, which it does not.
The Church has a mission to teach the gospel to all nations.
The Church, being the kingdom of God on earth, has a mission to all nations. “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20). These words from the lips of the Master know no national boundaries; they are not limited to any race or culture. One nation is not favored above another. The admonition is clear—“teach all nations.” …
As members of the Lord’s church, we need to lift our vision beyond personal prejudices. We need to discover the supreme truth that indeed our Father is no respecter of persons. Sometimes we unduly offend brothers and sisters of other nations by assigning exclusiveness to one nationality of people over another. … Imagine a father with many sons, each having different temperaments, aptitudes, and spiritual traits. Does he love one son less than another? Perhaps the son who is least spiritually inclined has the father’s attention, prayers, and pleadings more than the others. Does that mean he loves the others less? Do you imagine our Heavenly Father loving one nationality of his offspring more exclusively than others? As members of the Church, we need to be reminded of Nephi’s challenging question: “Know ye not that there are more nations than one?” (2 Ne. 29:7). …
To our brothers and sisters of all nationalities: We bear solemn witness and testify that God has spoken in our day and time, that heavenly messengers have been sent, that God has revealed his mind and will to a prophet, Joseph Smith. … As our Father loves all his children, we must love all people—of every race, culture, and nationality—and teach them the principles of the gospel that they might embrace it and come to a knowledge of the divinity of the Savior.
For most of his life, Hunter belonged to an LDS Church that did not allow Blacks to hold the priesthood. In fact, he served as a senior apostle while this restriction that didn’t allow those with colored skin to hold the priesthood created a second class citizenship. Isn’t this “prejudice” as referred to by Hunter? Current LDS leadership rationalizes this teaching, as the current Gospel Topics essay blames Brigham Young for the doctrine. The fact is that the LDS Church claimed God was a God of prejudice. It must be admitted that LDS missionaries did not flood to Africa during these years before 1978. Even in the United States, no concerted effort was made to get Blacks to join the church. For instance, I know an 81-year-old who recently left the Mormon Church. When he served his Mormon mission many years ago, he reports how he was told continually by his mission president to knock on everyone’s door but not attempt to pursue those on the other side who were black. This policy (at least in his particular mission) bothered him for many years.
There is so much more than can be said about this topic. Consider these articles, YouTube videos, and podcasts for further study:
Banning Blacks from the Priesthood
- A Doctrine that was to always be
- Were the Reasons behind the Priesthood ban merely a theory?
- Why the priesthood ban for the African race?
- Mormons Celebrate 35th anniversary of black revelation
- Quotes from LDS leaders on blacks not being allowed to hold the priesthood
- The 2013 Race and Priesthood Statement
- White (or Pure) and Delightsome: A look at 2 Nephi 30:6
- Review of Blacks and the Mormon Priesthood (Gospel Topics Essay)
- Essay banned from LDS Church classroom (Blog)
- “Quiet Misgivings on LDS Racism” (Blog)
- “Did the LDS Church ever discriminate against black people?” (Blog)
- “Authoritative LDS Teachings on Blacks and the Priesthood Designated ‘Folklore’” (Blog)
- Transcript of Interview with LeGrand Richards (August 16, 1978)
- Marcus Martins Blacks and Priesthood (Book Review) Part 1 Part 2 June 4-5, 2015 Article
- Fired for using Gospel Topics essay Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 June 1-3, 2015
- The Way to Perfection Part 1 Part 2 January 23-24, 2014
- The 1969 First Presidency Statement Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 January 20-22, 2014 The Statement
- The Race and Priesthood Statement (Gospel Topics Essay) Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 January 13-17, 2014 (Article) Notes Quotes
- Blaming Brigham for the Priesthood Ban Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 January 6-10, 2014 (Article)
- Anniversary of Priesthood “Revelation” Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 June 4-8, 2013
- Seed of Cain October 23, 2012 (Article)
- Why the Priesthood Ban? Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 March 21-30, 2012 Notes Quotes
In our humble efforts to build brotherhood and to teach revealed truth, we say to the people of the world what President George Albert Smith so lovingly suggested: “We have come not to take away from you the truth and virtue you possess. We have come not to find fault with you nor to criticize you. … Keep all the good that you have, and let us bring to you more good, in order that you may be happier and in order that you may be prepared to enter into the presence of our Heavenly Father.”
Here’s the problem. Hunter is quoted as saying that the Mormon missionaries did not come “to find fault with you nor to criticize you.” What does that mean? For example, do you think the missionary will baptize someone who may have been baptized in another church? The answer is “absolutely.” Why? Because according to Mormonism, the authority found in other faiths is lacking. As President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,
Other churches also do much good, but this is the “true and living church” of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name it bears (see D&C 1:30). Be true to it. Cling to it. If you will do so it will become as an anchor in the midst of a stormy sea. It will be a light to your lives and a foundation upon which to build them. I give you my solemn testimony that this Church will never be led astray. It is in the hands of God, and should any of its leaders ever attempt to lead it astray, His is the power to remove them (“Stand True and Faithful,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 1996, p. 93).
What is the opposite of “true and living” church? Let’s consider Joseph Smith’s testimony who claimed this he was told the following by God the Father when he asked which church he should join:
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof” (Joseph Smith-History 1:19).
Smith claimed it was God who disparaged and even criticized the Christian churches. In essence, isn’t criticizing the churches a tacit criticism of those belonging to those churches? Consider how one church manual attempts to disagree:
Many in the Christian world are sincere, and their false doctrinal conclusions are not their own fault” (Old Testament Student Manual 1 Kings-Malachi Religion 302, 2003, p. 166).
Regardless of the sincerity of those (like me) in “the Christian world,” notice how this manual says that those outside the LDS Church have made “false doctrinal conclusions”! Is this supposed to make me feel better??? Instead, I feel insulted.
We are in the work of saving souls, of inviting people to come unto Christ, of bringing them into the waters of baptism so that they may continue to progress along the path that leads to eternal life. This world needs the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel provides the only way the world will ever know peace.
What this world doesn’t need is a gospel that is centered on people hoping to become gods. Yes, the LDS Church does have “Christ’s” name in its title, but it sure seems that Joseph Smith is emphasized in this religion much more than Jesus in so many ways.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we seek to bring all truth together. We seek to enlarge the circle of love and understanding among all the people of the earth. Thus we strive to establish peace and happiness, not only within Christianity but among all mankind. …
These words may sound good on the surface, but when Hunter says that “we seek to bring all truth together,” it must be understood that this can happen only with a correct understanding of Joseph Smith, the current LDS leadership, and all that the church stands for. There is no room for compromise in Mormonism.
To prove my point, ask your LDS friend if he or she agrees that “we seek to bring all truth together.” If you get an affirmative answer, then ask what the person’s position on the following items:
- Joseph Smith as a true prophet of God
- Baptism and confirmation in the Mormon Church as the entrance to salvation
- The temple as a place where eternal marriages can take place
The Latter-day Saint will get very excited when you bring these topics up. “Yes, of course,” I can hear one saying. Then, if you are an Evangelical Christian, explain how you deny all three of these teachings. Say that you don’t believe Smith was a true prophet of God, that you deny Mormonism’s view of baptism and confirmation, and that you would never want to enter a temple and don’t desire an eternal marriage. The reaction on your friend’s face will let you know that Mormonism teaches in exclusive truth just as much as the “narrow-minded” Christian believer!
That which Joseph [Smith] was instrumental in establishing, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is now a world religion, not simply because its members are now found throughout the world, but chiefly because it has a comprehensive and inclusive message based upon the acceptance of all truth, restored to meet the needs of all mankind.
This sounds so ecumenical, but the Mormon will participate in such a movement only as long that the LDS Church’s fundamental teachings are not disparaged. As I pointed out above, Joseph Smith’s role as a prophet, the importance of baptism and confirmation in the LDS Church, and the stress on temple work will undoubtedly be emphasized; if even one of these items is rejected, the Latter-day Saint won’t participate. There is no “inclusive message” found here; rather, it is a message of exclusiveness.
… We send this message of love and hope to all the world. Come to the God of all truth, who continues to speak to His children through prophets. Listen to the message of Him who continues to send His servants to preach the everlasting gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people. Come and feast at the table laid before you by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Join us as we seek to follow the Good Shepherd who has provided it.
Notice the words “join us.” As long as the outsider agrees to the message of “latter-day” revelation as revealed by LDS prophets, the message is clear. (See here for a review on the previous chapter in Hunter’s manual that emphasizes the teachings of the LDS prophet.) Rejection of these important LDS principles will not be accepted.
We are to stand as witnesses of God at all times [and] in all places, even until death. We renew that covenant during the sacrament when we covenant to take the name of Christ upon us. Missionary service is one important way we take upon ourselves his name. The Savior has said if we desire to take upon us his name, with full purpose of heart, we are called to go into all the world and preach his gospel to every creature (see D&C 18:28). …
Those of us who have partaken of the Atonement are under obligation to bear faithful testimony of our Lord and Savior. … The call to share the gospel with others represents our great love for our Heavenly Father’s children as well as for the Savior and what he did for us.
How many Latter-day Saints don’t “share the gospel with others”? For most Mormons, I bet this is a regular nonoccurrence. Rarely do LDS neighbors (I live in Utah!), friends, and even relatives share their faith with me–unless, of course, I share my faith with them first. Except for missionary visits, I can’t remember the last time a Mormon did so. Occasionally the Ensign magazine will include cut-out cardboard tracts with information on how to have the missionaries visit them, yet I have never been given one. Let me say this: If I am a child of God (and LDS theology says I am), why don’t more Latter-day Saints go out of their way to tell me about the restored gospel? I wonder how many think that “missionary” work is only supposed to be done during the official time a person spends on a mission in their late teenage years. If you’re LDS and you really believe that Mormonism is true, why don’t you share your faith more often, as Hunter says you should? If I’m wrong, please let me know: contact at mrm dot org. I’d love to hear from you!
To read other reviews of the Howard W. Hunter manual, click here.