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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God

Chapter 14: Marriage and Family—Ordained of God

Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 179–90

During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. 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 underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.

“The family is one of God’s greatest fortresses against the evils of our day. Help keep your family strong and close and worthy of our Father in Heaven’s blessings.”

From the Life of Ezra Taft Benson

From the beginning of their marriage, Ezra and Flora Benson made their home and family their top priority. When their children were young, they began emphasizing that they wanted their family to have no “empty chairs” in the eternities. President Benson emphasized this same message during his service as a Church leader. He said:

“God intended the family to be eternal. With all my soul, I testify to the truth of that declaration. May He bless us to strengthen our homes and the lives of each family member so that in due time we can report to our Heavenly Father in His celestial home that we are all there—father, mother, sister, brother, all who hold each other dear. Each chair is filled. We are all back home.”

God has a place for believers—the true “family of God—“in the eternities.” However, the family relationships we have upon this earth will not be the same as what will be found in heaven. Jesus said in Mark 12:25, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” In Mormonism, the family unit is central. Many Latter-day Saints don’t stress existence with Jesus but rather with their family. This is in spite of Mormon 7:7, a verse many Latter-day Saints find impossible to understand. It says,

And he hath brought to pass the redemption of the world, whereby he that is found guiltless before him at the judgment day hath it given unto him to dwell in the presence of God in his kingdom, to sing ceaseless praises with the choirs above, unto the Father, and unto the Son, and unto the Holy Ghost, which are one God, in a state of happiness which hath no end.

As much as I love my wife, children, parents, and other familial relatives, they could never replace what Jesus Christ means in my life. Although I don’t believe in the Book of Mormon, I accept and celebrate Mormon 7:7, a reference that “gets it” more than later LDS scripture composed by Joseph Smith. (To clarify, I don’t think Christians will spend the majority of their time singing, but I ook forward to that part because I think my voice will greatly improve!) Taking the “family” and moving it into an idolatrous situation (as if this is supposed to supersede our commitment to God) is not what God intended.

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson

The family is the most important organization in time and in eternity.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views the family as the most important organization in time and all eternity. The Church teaches that everything should center in and around the family. It stresses that the preservation of family life in time and eternity takes precedence above all other interests.

Marriage and family life are ordained of God. In an eternal sense, salvation is a family affair. God holds parents responsible for their stewardship in rearing their family. It is a most sacred responsibility.

I want to make sure I communicate correctly. I too value family. The priority of family should be second only to our commitment to God. But to say “that everything should center in and around the family”—while sounding somehow true—is not a biblical teaching. Otherwise how could Jesus have told the great crowds in Luke 14:26-27,

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.  Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Someone might claim that “Jesus wasn’t being literal here.”  I would agree. But at the same time, He was saying that a person who doesn’t have Jesus as the main priority cannot be a “disciple.” Think about it for a moment. When Jesus is the top priority in any person’s life, the human becomes a better husband and father while she becomes a superior wife and mother. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” If a person turns “family”—as important as this is—into the number-one priority, everything goes out of kilter. Such a teaching was never proclaimed in the Bible.

In an account given in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus was approached by members of the Sadducees, the Jewish religious party that did not believe in a bodily resurrection from the dead (Matt. 22:23–33; Mark 12:18–27; Luke 20:27–38). Trying to trick Him, these leaders presented what appears to be a hypothetical situation involving seven brothers. When the oldest brother died, he left a wife and no children. According to the Mosaic law, the next oldest unmarried brother took the woman for his wife. However, the second brother died, as did the third through seventh brothers. Before they died, each of them had married the oldest brother’s wife, making her a widow seven times over.

In Mark 12:23 they asked, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife.” Jesus chastised His inquisitors in verse 24, saying they did not know the Scriptures. Verse 25 reads, “For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (ESV).

At face value and as it has been historically interpreted, Jesus appears to be saying that heaven will be much different from life as it is known on earth. While the gifts of sex and procreation are important parts of the earthly life, these will not be a part of the afterlife. The joys in store for the believer are incredibly more magnificent than the temporary pleasure of sexual or familial fulfillment.

In addition, there will be no need to procreate in heaven. Thus, while it appears we will be able to recognize fellow believers in heaven, there is no indication from the Bible that we will be eternally paired with a particular mate. Historically, Christians view all believers as part of God’s great family rather than millions of smaller groups

Some Mormon leaders have read their own interpretations into this passage, explaining that the fictional wife in the parable had been eternally sealed to the first husband. While these explanations may sound good to a Mormon audience that cherishes the institution of marriage, the ability to read between the lines of Jesus’s teaching does not make a doctrine true. How many people would, on reading this Synoptic Gospel account alone in conjunction with the teachings of the Bible, exclaim, “Here’s evidence for the biblical principle of eternal marriage!”? Rather than supporting the view of eternal marriage, Jesus explained that the institution of marriage was for this life only and not the life to come. To assume anything more is biblically and exegetically unsound.

In addition, consider Matthew 12:46-50, which says,

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Christians believe they will spend eternity with a new family, the family of God. Will this include mothers, brothers, and sisters? Of course, for all who are true believers (i.e. receiving Jesus by grace through faith) will reside in heaven.  The family unit we know on earth was never meant to be a substitute for God’s family in heaven. Mormons who think hard about this doctrine will realize how impossible the LDS doctrine really is. After all, every LDS family has “black sheep,” or those who didn’t do everything necessary to attain exaltation. (Some leaders have said there will be many calling themselves Latter-day Saints who will end up falling short at the end.) How could such a family be considered complete if some in their family don’t qualify for the celestial kingdom?

In happy marriages, husbands and wives love and serve God and each other.

Marriage, the home, and family are more than mere social institutions. They are divine, not man-made. God ordained marriage from the very beginning. In the record of that first marriage recorded in Genesis, the Lord makes four significant pronouncements: first, that it is not good for man to be alone; second, that woman was created to be a helpmeet for man; third, that they twain should be one flesh; and fourth, that man should leave father and mother and cleave unto his wife. (See Genesis 2:18, 24.)

Later, as though to reinforce the earlier statement, the Lord said: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). He also said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22).

What Benson fails to mention is that Mormonism hasn’t always thought this way. For many years, Mormonism practiced polygamy, abolished only because of the political pressure applied by the U.S. government. Joseph Smith had at least 34 wives, perhaps more according to the LDS Church itself (see footnote 24 in this LDS Gospel Topics essay. For MRM’s response to this essay, go here.).

A third of Smith’s wives were married to living husbands; another third were teenagers as young as 14 (admitted by the LDS Church in the essay). Smith—along with a number of other LDS leaders—certainly didn’t practice the “one flesh” concept practiced by a man and a woman. For more information, go here.

Marriage itself must be regarded as a sacred covenant before God. A married couple have an obligation not only to each other, but to God. He has promised blessings to those who honor that covenant.

Fidelity to one’s marriage vows is absolutely essential for love, trust, and peace. Adultery is unequivocally condemned by the Lord. …

Restraint and self-control must be ruling principles in the marriage relationship. Couples must learn to bridle their tongues as well as their passions.

Prayer in the home and prayer with each other will strengthen [a couple’s] union. Gradually thoughts, aspirations, and ideas will merge into a oneness until you are seeking the same purposes and goals.

Rely on the Lord, the teachings of the prophets, and the scriptures for guidance and help, particularly when there may be disagreements and problems.

Spiritual growth comes by solving problems together—not by running from them. Today’s inordinate emphasis on individualism brings egotism and separation. Two individuals becoming “one flesh” is still the Lord’s standard. (See Gen. 2:24.)

The secret of a happy marriage is to serve God and each other. The goal of marriage is unity and oneness, as well as self-development. Paradoxically, the more we serve one another, the greater is our spiritual and emotional growth.

“The secret of a happy marriage is to serve God and each other.”

The counsel from the Apostle Paul is most beautiful and to the point. He said simply, “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25).

I am in agreement with the paragraph above. Of course, God wants the family structure to be sound. There are proper roles of husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, and children. God intends the family structure to exist the way he intended.

In latter-day revelation the Lord speaks again of this obligation. He said, “Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shalt cleave unto her and none else” (D&C 42:22). To my knowledge there is only one other thing in all scripture that we are commanded to love with all our hearts, and that is God Himself. Think what that means!

Joseph Smith received this “revelation,” supposedly from God. Notice how he was told to love “thy wife,” not “wives,” and “cleave unto her and none else.” Yet in the next decade and a half after compsing this section, Smith took on some thirty-plus additional wives, unbeknownst to Emma. The Gospel Topics essay said she knew about four of his wives and may have known of some others. “But Emma likely did not know about all of Joseph’s sealings,” the essay reports. In Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, the two LDS authors provide plenty of information to show how Joseph lied a number of times to his wife about his affairs.

This kind of love can be shown for your wives in so many ways. First and foremost, nothing except God Himself takes priority over your wife in your life—not work, not recreation, not hobbies. Your wife is your precious, eternal helpmate—your companion.

But wait a minute, this statement contradicts an earlier statement that the family ought to be central in a person’s life! What ought to be the top priority: God? Or the family? (Placing anything, even something as good as family, before our commitment to God is breaking the First Commandment and ought to be considered idolatry.) A person cannot have two masters, Jesus said. And if Jesus never taught that the family ought to be the centerpiece, then what right does the LDS Church have to turn the human family into an entity that contains eternal connections?

Strong families cultivate love, respect, and support for each family member.

Let us strengthen the family. Family and individual prayers morning and evening can invite the blessings of the Lord on our households. Mealtime provides a wonderful time to review the activities of the day and to not only feed the body but to feed the spirit as well, with members of the family taking turns reading the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon. Nighttime is a great time for the busy father to go to the bedside of each of his children, to talk with them, answer their questions, and tell them how much they are loved.

I think family devotions are great, but I say leave the Book of Mormon on the shelf. Read from the Bible instead. The Book of Mormon is not scripture for Christians all over the world.

God has revealed that the family may endure beyond the grave.

The love we know here is not a fleeting shadow, but the very substance that binds families together for time and eternity.

It was through Joseph Smith that the God of Heaven revealed the truth that the family may endure beyond the grave—that our sympathies, affections, and love for each other may exist forever.

No sacrifice is too great to have the blessings of an eternal marriage. To most of us, a temple is easily accessible, perhaps so conveniently that the blessing is taken too casually. As with other matters of faithfulness in gospel living, being married the Lord’s way takes a willingness to deny yourself ungodliness—worldliness—and a determination to do our Father’s will. By this act of faith, we show our love to God and our regard for a posterity yet unborn. As our family is our greatest source of joy in this life, so it may well be in the eternity.

Should the family be the “greatest source of joy in this life”? I would say no. Again, while very important, our main source of happiness and fulfillment should not be wrapped up in our families, which can lead to disappointment. Rather, it should be fully invested with God. As Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, it is vital to seek after God “first,” and “then” all these things (including family) shall be added.

Home and family. What sweet memories surge up in our breasts at the mere mention of these cherished words! May I wish for you prayerfully, and with all the fervor of my soul, that you may know the unspeakable joy and satisfaction of honorable parenthood. You will miss one of the deepest joys of this life and eternity if you wilfully avoid the responsibilities of parenthood and home-building. As revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the glorious concept of home and the enduring family relationship lies at the very basis of our happiness here and hereafter.

I would much rather trust Jesus than Joseph Smith or Ezra Taft Benson. The family should never be considered “the very basis of our happiness here and hereafter.” Instead, follow God and His ways. Only then can satisfaction be found.

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