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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith, Chapter 20: Temporal Salvation for Ourselves and Others

During 2012, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith. 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.

If we are wise with our means, we will be prepared for hard times.

It was the advice of [the] early pioneers under President [Brigham] Young to keep a year’s foodstuffs on hand, so that if anybody did lose his crops, he could carry over until the next season. …

We may have hard times, brothers and sisters, but we can be prepared for them, if we think of the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine in the days of Pharaoh and plan as they did [see Genesis 41]. Such conditions may come again. We do not know, but we do know that in the early days of the Church the Presidency and leadership of the Church advised the people to store sufficient food to meet an emergency. The result has been that since the people got thoroughly settled here and farms began producing, and herds and flocks increasing, there has been no real necessity for anybody to suffer for food.

We are living in perilous times. The scriptures are being fulfilled, and as it appears to me this is the particular time when, if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived. It is remarkable how easy it is for those who desire to advance their financial interests in the world to find a reason for setting aside the plain teachings of the Lord with reference to our lives. And it is strange to me how many people fall into the habit of listening to those who say things that are contrary to the revealed will of our Heavenly Father. …

The storing of food and supplies to last one year is something that Latter-day Saints are encouraged to do by their church leaders. In Utah, many families even purchase food storage racks so they can rotate their stock. When Smith says that not obeying the Word of Wisdom is “setting aside the plain teachings of the Lord with reference to our lives,” he provides no scriptural support. Of course, it makes common sense that people should prepare for disasters, such as earthquakes, tornados, or hurricanes. But nowhere does the Bible (or other LDS Standard Works, for that matter) suggest that a family should keep enough supplies and food for a year. This is a unique 20th century LDS command.

Many Mormons are apparently not following Smith and other leaders. In an poll of almost 5,000 people, only 32% have food and supplies for six months or more. A total of 56% have anywhere from a few weeks to a few months of goods in storage, while 10% have nothing at all. For the results, see here.

While it is not a scientific poll, I think this shows that most Mormons don’t take this teaching seriously. Perhaps this is why this chapter in George Albert Smith’s manual was included.

 This people have been advised to conserve their energies and their means. We have been taught by those whom the Lord has raised up to instruct us that we should live within our income, that we should not follow the fashions of the world and expend as rapidly and even more rapidly than we can earn the money that comes into our hands, to take care of ourselves and our families.

I fear that the Latter-day Saints, in many cases, are blinded by their own vanity, by their desire to be what the world is; and we have been told in such plain language by our Heavenly Father that we cannot live as the world lives and enjoy his Spirit. Some individuals … are disposing of their holdings and spending their money for unnecessary things, and if hard times come, they may find themselves unable to meet their obligations.

I would not recommend accruing debt for unnecessary items. Wise financial planning is important, for too many people get themselves caught in debt traps that were destined for failure.

We might learn a lesson from the ant. He harvests his supplies when they are available and stores them up against the day when it would not be possible to obtain them. The result is that his larder is usually well stocked. The grasshopper, a much larger insect, does not operate that way. He does not lay up anything in store for hard times, but depends upon providence to provide him what he needs, and the result is that most grasshoppers starve to death.

I fear that some human beings are like the grasshopper and do not take advantage of the opportunities that are theirs in a reasonable way. If they would take a lesson from the ant, they would lay up the food that they need and always have some on hand.

Once more, I have nothing against people wanting to store supplies in case of emergency. With that said, I wonder why a year’s supply is necessary. While I think this sounds like overkill, Latter-day Saints are free to follow this advice. At the same time, if there ever was time of disaster where one-year’s worth of emergency goods were needed, could advertising this teaching possibly be endangering innocent Mormon families? It seems to me that this understanding could possibly lead to danger. This is because some unscrupulous people in the neighborhood who are hungry could single out a Mormon family, knowing that they were keeping a large supply of food.

Yet Mormons have been instructed by general authorities to share their food and supplies in times of crisis. According to one General Authority, “‘Do I share with my neighbors who have not followed the counsel? And what about the nonmembers who do not have a year’s supply? Do we have to share with them?’ No, we don’t have to share—we get to share! Let us not be concerned about silly thoughts of whether we would share or not. Of course we would share! What would Jesus do? I could not possibly eat food and see my neighbors starving. And if you starve to death after sharing, ‘greater love hath no man than this…’ John 15:13” (“Food Storage,” Ensign, May 1976, 116). Instead of resorting to violence, perhaps non-Mormons ought to cut out this quote to remind the Latter-day Saints when there really is a time of need.

The Lord has directed us to work to earn our own livelihood.

The very fact that so much money has been made available to many people gives the youth in some instances the feeling that because money comes relatively easy, honest toil is not necessary or desirable. And yet I am satisfied that no people have ever lived upon the earth who, having failed to earn their livelihood by integrity and industry, have not gone to decay. If our children grow up in idleness, we know that this is displeasing to the Lord. How much better off we are when we are occupied with some reasonable work.

Our Heavenly Father … said long, long ago there were idlers in Zion, … and he said, “He that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.” [D&C 42:42.] I am assuming that he did not mean those who cannot find employment, and who are legitimately trying to take care of themselves. I am assuming that he referred to the habit some people get into of leaning upon their neighbor. … I feel that there has been no justification given to any man in this world to feel that he can depend on somebody else to provide him a livelihood. I did not feel when I was a child that somebody would be compelled to provide me a means of living. The Lord gave me intelligence. He directed that I should work, and I began to work when I was twelve years of age, and I found joy in it, and have earned my living and helped others during more than fifty years.

I thank God for work, for the joy that comes from doing things in the world. I am not indicating any particular kind of employment except that it be honorable. But the Lord has indicated that we should be industrious. In ancient times he said that we should earn our living by the sweat of our face [see Genesis 3:19].

The Bible says that those who don’t work should not eat (2 Thess. 3:10). There is often a desire on the part of some people to get free handouts. As Christians, we are told that we are to train up our children in the way they should go, and when they are old, they will not depart from these principles (Prov. 22:6) While this is not a general rule and not a promise, the principle is that we should instruct our children in the right ways to live, with the hope that they will realize how much better it is to serve God than to do their own thing.

Neither the rich nor the poor should set their hearts upon riches.

Now, my brethren and sisters, we have both rich and poor in our organizations. If we are poor, we can be worthy just as the Lord indicates here. We can be pure in heart and do our best, and he will not permit those who do their best to suffer for the necessities of life among the people who are in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …

I hope we are not going to become bitter because some men and women are well-to-do. If we are well-to-do, I hope we are not going to be self-centered and unconscious of the needs of our Father’s other children. If we are better off than they are, we ought to be real brothers and sisters, not make-believe. Our desires should be to develop in this world such an organization that others, seeing our good works would be constrained to glorify the name of our Heavenly Father. …

We are told that we cannot serve God and some other master [see Matthew 6:24]. We have to make our choice, and if we want to be the servants of God and the children of our Heavenly Father and earn his blessings, we must do it by honoring him and by keeping his commandments. Our feelings, and our love, if I may use that expression, should go out to all the world as far as they will receive it.

Jesus said that we are to first seek first after the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things (material possessions, the things we need) will be added to us (Matt. 6:33). Smith is correct in saying that we cannot serve God and some other master. However, I disagree with Smith’s last paragraph where He said “the children of our Heavenly Father” “earn” blessings by “honoring him and by keeping his commandments.” First of all, Mormonism would define “children of God” as those born to God the Father and Heavenly Mother in the premortal state. But here, Smith makes it appear that “if we want to be …. the children of our Heavenly Father,” then we will honor God and keep the commandments. How can “we want to be” the children of God when we already are?

Second, saying that it is possible to “earn” blessings is not a biblical principle. Rather, blessings are bestowed upon people based on God’s sovereign choice. As Jesus said in Matthew 5:45, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust. Paul explained in Galatians 6:7 that “God is not mocked, for whatever a man soweth that he shall also reap.” Generally, our behavior affects outcomes. Do the right thing and, generally, you will reap rewards. But saying that we can somehow “earn” God’s blessings “by honoring him and keeping his commandments” seems to smack of a you-owe-me-one attitude. God owes nobody. Some who have been very faithful to God have gone through horrible times, even suffering. Look at Job. Why do bad things happen to good people who, overall, honor God and keep His commandments? Could it be to bring God glory, regardless of the circumstances?

Through tithing and other offerings, we assist in the work of the Church and bless those in need.

The Lord has given us the privilege of contributing one-tenth of our interest, for His Church, for the development of His work in the world. Those who pay their tithing receive their blessing. … We cannot expect to earn blessings without earnest effort. We will be required to make what appears to some to be sacrifices. I suppose people think when they pay their tithing that they are making a sacrifice, but they are not; they are making a real investment that will return an eternal dividend. Our Heavenly Father gives us all that we have. He places all in our hands, authorizing us to retain for our own use nine-tenths of it, and then He asks that we put His tenth where He directs, where He knows it will accomplish the most good in developing His Church.

For the Mormon Church, tithing is essential if a person hopes to someday qualify for the Celestial Kingdom. Based on this paragraph alone, not enough information is provided and causes confusion. Consider these questions:

  1. If blessing are “earned” (as talked about in the previous paragraph), how do we know when we are doing enough? If we end up suffering or have tragedy afflict us in this life, is this then a sign that we were not faithful enough to receive God’s blessing?
  2. When Smith says that this “investment” in tithing “will return an eternal dividend,” what exactly does this mean? There are two possibilities. One, he’s talking about an eternal dividend for the individual who tithes. Does this mean that payment of money is required as an investment for rewards in the next life? Or, two, he means that giving money to the church allows the church to share its gospel message with others, giving them a chance to reap eternal rewards. Based on the wording, it’s just not clear what is meant, although based on the following paragraph, I think maybe he meant that giving money to the church allows it to do its work.

If you have paid an honest tithing, I may say without hesitation the other nine-tenths has been a greater blessing to those who have paid than the one hundred percent has been to those who have not. It is the Lord’s work. … Men could not have done this. With all your generosity and all your giving, all your missionary work, with your care of the poor, … with all that you have been giving as ordinary people, I testify that what you have left brings to you more happiness, more peace, more comfort and more assurance of eternal life than any other people in the world enjoy today.

Whereas Mormonism teaches that it is what is done (such as getting baptized into the LDS Church, getting married for both time and eternity in the temple, and generally “keeping all the commandments continually”) that qualifies a person for heaven (celestial kingdom), the Bible says quite the opposite. When Smith says that tithing offers someone “more assurance of eternal life,” this is nothing but confusing. After all, Mormonism does not offer “assurance” of exaltation, just assurance that everyone will make it to one of three levels of heaven. But there is no obedience, no keeping of the commandments, and no record of faithful tithing that is necessary to qualify for a general resurrection. This is what the atonement of Jesus is about, according to LDS teaching. But to qualify for exaltation—the true meaning of eternal life—works, many works, are necessary. When the LDS Church provides these quotes from Smith that seem to be out of context, leaving the interpretation open for confusion, it is not doing its people any favors.

If we are generous with our means, there is no need for anyone to go without.

There is no necessity for any man, woman, or child in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to go without, for the Church is organized to help those who lack the necessities of life. There is plenty for all, and to spare. … God has permitted men to get wealth, and if they obtained it properly, it is theirs, and he will bless them in its use if they will use it properly.

Of course, a person who has earned his money is free to do with it however he or she wishes. We just need to be careful, though, because money can oftentimes become an idol. It is not money itself but the “love of money” that is the problem, as Paul told Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:10. Jesus also had much to say about money, more than practically any other earthly issue. He warned against falling in love with it. The rich man who wanted to follow Jesus was unable to follow Jesus because he could not leave behind his wealth. Jesus did say that it is more difficult for a rich man to follow God, as hard as a camel going through the eye of the needle. There are many other passages we could consider. The main point is that with riches comes responsibility.

If we desire to be identified with the kingdom of our Lord, the celestial kingdom, this is our opportunity to prepare,—with love unfeigned, with industry, with thrift, with perseverance, with a desire to do all that is within our power to bless others, to give—not to be always feeling we must receive, but desire to give, for I say to you: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [Acts 20:35.] The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of giving, not only of our substance but of ourselves, and I thank my Heavenly Father that I belong to such an organization that has been so instructed.

Mormonism is based on good works, that what is done in this world with our actions will affect whether or not we qualify for the celestial kingdom. While how we spend our money is a very important topic, Christians who follow the Bible don’t believe that this is a qualification for heaven. Whether or not we store up food, tithe, or spend our money wisely, the Christian is saved solely through the blood of Jesus Christ and not on his good works. Consider Romans 3:28, which says that “a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (In his inspired version, Joseph Smith added the word “alone” after faith.) Romans 4:1-4 explains, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter?  If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation.”

This is why Romans 10:9-13 adds “that if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.  As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Good works—including the way we handle money—are a result of the justification we have experienced. But nothing we do can earn us a relationship with God, no matter what anyone says.

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