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Teachings of Presidents of the Church: George Albert Smith Chapter 4

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.

“Many of the benefits and blessings that have come to me have come through that man who gave his life for the gospel of Jesus Christ. There have been some who have belittled him, but I would like to say that those who have done so will be forgotten and their remains will go back to mother earth, if they have not already gone, and the odor of their infamy will never die, while the glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity manifested by the Prophet Joseph Smith will attach to his name forever.”

Elder Harold B. Lee, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was so impressed with this statement that he kept a clipping of it in his wallet and quoted it often, desiring that President Smith’s words “could be heard to all the ends of the earth.”

Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church, has received large kudos for creating his church. Notice what George Albert Smith said about this man, how “glory and honor and majesty and courage and fidelity” are should be attributed to Joseph Smith. Let’s deal with these words:

First, he says “glory,” “honor,” and “majesty.” Consider Doctrines and Covenants 135:3: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”  What do some of the succeeding LDS prophets say about Smith:

Second President Brigham Young declared,

“Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians who have slain the Prophets and butchered and otherwise caused the death of thousands of Latter-day Saints, the priests who have thanked God in their prayers and thanksgiving from the pulpit that we have been plundered, driven, and slain, and the deacons under the pulpit, and their brethren and sisters in their closets, who have thanked God, thinking that the Latter-day Saints were wasted away, something that no doubt will mortify them-something that, to say the least, is a matter of deep regret to them-namely, that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are-I with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation-the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven. Many will exclaim- ‘Oh, that is very disagreeable! It is preposterous! We cannot bear the thought!’ But it is true” (Brigham Young, October 9, 1859, Journal of Discourses 7:289. This has been quoted in the correlated curriculum Search These Commandments, 1984, 133).

Young preached:

“Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the Kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 435).

It ought to be pointed out that Young used the same language found in 1 John 4:15, which says, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.” Also consider 1 John 4:3, which says, “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”

Sixth President Joseph F. Smith declared:

“The day will come—and it is not far distant, either— when the name of the Prophet Joseph Smith will be coupled with the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the Son of God, as his representative, as his agent whom he chose, ordained and set apart to lay anew the foundations of the Church of God in the world, which is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ, possessing all the powers of the gospel, all the rites and privileges, the authority of the Holy Priesthood, and every principle necessary to fit and qualify both the living and the dead to inherit eternal life, and to attain to exaltation in the kingdom of God” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 134)” (Joseph F. Smith, Ensign, “Joseph Smith: Restorer of Truth,” December 2003, p. 17).

Tenth President Joseph Fielding Smith said,

“NO SALVATION WITHOUT ACCEPTING JOSEPH SMITH. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth when he said that he stood in the presence of angels sent from the Lord, and obtained keys of authority, and the commandment to organize the Church of Jesus Christ once again on the earth, then this knowledge is of the most vital importance to the entire world. No man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of god. It is, therefore the duty of every man to investigate that he may weigh this matter carefully and know the truth” (Doctrines of Salvation 1:189-190).

Eleventh President Harold B. Lee said a testimony of Smith is “vital”:

“No man can accept Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, no man can accept this as His church, the Church of Jesus Christ, unless he can accept Joseph Smith as God’s mouthpiece and the restorer of His work in these latter days. First, to say that we are Christians then requires two or three certainties. We must know for certainty in our hearts and minds that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. We must know that this is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ, the kingdom of God on earth in these last days; and finally we must have a testimony that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, p. 371).

Thirteenth President Spencer W. Kimball claimed, “Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of men in this world than any man who ever lived in it, except the Master” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 132). Meanwhile, fifteenth President Gordon B. Hinckley explained,

“We stand in reverence before him. He is the great prophet of this dispensation. He stands as the head of this great and mighty work which is spreading across the earth. He is our prophet, our revelator, our seer, our friend. Let us not forget him. Let not his memory be forgotten in the celebration of Christmas. God be thanked for the Prophet Joseph” (“Joseph Smith: Restorer of Truth,” Ensign, December 2003, pp. 18-19).

We must understand something. According to these leaders, Joseph Smith becomes just as important as Jesus Christ for our salvation, for those who do not uphold Smith as the prophet who restored the Gospel belong, as Young put it, is “of Antichrist.” However, while Christians uphold—no, more than that, they worship Jesus because He is God incarnate— they certainly are not supposed to worship a mere mortal. Christians do not hold that any prophet—Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Micah—deserve the adoration that Smith is supposed to receive. The only reason that Jesus the Prophet gets the attention He does is because He is God—not “a” god or “like” God. He is “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” We can worship Him, pray to Him, and exalt in His name! For more on this, go here and here.

As far as “courage,” we’ll talk a little later about how Joseph Smith died.

As far as “fidelity” is concerned, perhaps the reader ought to consider these resources on our website:

Check out a video on Joseph Smith’s wives.

And here are articles about Smith and his polygamous ways:

Needless to say, before the fourth chapter of this teaching manual is complete with the second page, it already has serious flaws for those holding a biblical world view.

We believe that our Heavenly Father has spoken in our own day … , that he heard the humble prayer of a youth in Palmyra, and answered his prayer and blessed him with a knowledge of his personality, that all people might know the Lord, if they will. It was a very natural thing that Joseph Smith should seek the Lord. He came of a … people who believed in our Heavenly Father, in the divine mission of the Savior, in the efficacy of prayer, and that God would hear and answer his people if they went before him with a proper spirit. It was easy for this young man to believe, because he had been born and reared in a believing household; and when he went out into the woods in response to the injunction of the scripture (James 1:5): “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him,” he believed that his prayer would be answered, and our Heavenly Father has promised his children from the beginning, that, “by faith ye may know all things.”

For more information about the improper use of James 1:5, see here.

In the year 1830, when this Church was organized, there was not upon the earth a church organization that would announce that they believed that God would reveal himself to the children of men. The teachings of the churches were all contrary to that, and our Father saw the futility of trying to save his sons and daughters until they could be inspired to come to him with the belief that he would hear and answer their prayers. When the boy prophet, in the woods of Palmyra, saw the Father and the Son, and realized that they were indeed personages, that they could hear and reply to what he said, it began a new era in this world, and laid a foundation for the faith of the children of men. They could now pray to our Father in heaven and realize that he could hear and answer their prayers, that there was a connection between the heavens and the earth. [See suggestion 2 on page 43.]

First of all, the churches of Joseph Smith’s day did hold that God could reveal Himself to humankind. They taught a person must do what the Bereans did and use scripture, properly interpreting the words of the Bible. While Smith criticized the denominations of his day, saying they were confused because they couldn’t agree, his solution in 1830 was to start a new church that has, since that day, splintered many, many times. In addition, this First Vision account has many problems. If you’d like to see what these problems are, consider checking out Wesley Walters’ article

Faith prompted Joseph to seek God in prayer and ask which church he should identify himself with. What was the response? Did the Lord say, “My boy, they are all good, they are all striving to keep my commandments, the men who are leaders of all these churches are approved of me, any church will do, they will all lead you back into the presence of our Heavenly Father?” The boy might have expected such an answer from the conditions that existed. But he wanted to know what to do, and he had full faith that the Lord would tell him. So when he prayed, he asked which of the churches he should join, and I presume he was astonished when [he was told], “Join none of them; they teach for doctrine the commandments of men; they draw near to me with their lips but their hearts are far from me; they have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof.” [See Joseph Smith—History 1:19.] Think of a boy fourteen years of age arising from his knees in the woods near his home and announcing to the world such a message as that! Can you imagine that a youth would have dared to do such a thing as that? But with the witness that had been given unto him by his Heavenly Father, with that commandment from the Lord himself, dared he do anything else than make the announcement that the Lord had spoken to him?

The very foundation of the Mormon Church was created by God criticizing the churches of Smith’s day. Yet while many Mormons are easily offended when Christians say Mormonism is not Christianity, they need to understand how the very creation of their church came due to criticism of Christian churches that existed two centuries ago. So why are Mormons miffed when Christians attempt to differentiate between Christianity and Mormonism? After all, the very foundation of their church came because God supposedly told Joseph Smith how all the churches were wrong and their teachings were an abomination in God’s sight. For more on how Mormonism criticizes Christians, go here.

Abused and misrepresented though he was, despised by those who should have been his friends, opposed by the learned and scholarly men of the time, he succeeded in restoring the Gospel of life and salvation and establishing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While the powers of evil were ever active for his destruction, he was preserved by the Lord until his work was finished and all the keys and ordinances necessary for the salvation of the human family had again been delivered to men.

So often, Mormons like to play the persecution card. Because Smith’s message was considered so very offensive, it makes sense that a number of people disagreed with it. For the Mormon, please understand how very offensive it is for Christians to say that Smith “restored the Gospel of life and salvation” through the establishment of the LDS Church. While this LDS manual gets into the melodramatic (i.e. “he was preserved by the Lord until his work was finished”), Smith is by no means a hero to those who take their theology seriously.

The truths restored through Joseph Smith bring peace and joy to those who accept them.

For “truths” restored by Smith, here’s a short list of atrocious errors:

  • Claimed that more than one God exists and that men can become gods, contrary to the Bible;
  • Claimed that the church he founded restored missing truths from the New Testament church;
  • Claimed men needed two different priesthoods even though the book of Hebrews says Jesus is the prophet for Christians and that He alone is the prophet who replaced human representatives;
  • Claimed in the Word of Wisdom “revelation” that meat should be eaten only in winter, cold, or times of famine and that strong drinks should be used to wash one’s body;
  • Claimed that polygamy was meant for men to be able to procreate into the eternities and had God criticize his wife Emma (through a revelation) because she was slow to understand this “truth”;
  • Made false prophecies on a variety of issues. Consider this popular one, the White Horse Prophecy.

Through him was revealed temple building, the eternity of the marriage covenant, and salvation for the dead, bringing unspeakable joy to thousands of our Father’s children.

The Bible never advocated the building of multiple temples. In fact, one temple—the one in Jerusalem—was enough, as the Jews did not recognize the temple built in Samaria. Today the temple is no longer needed, as 1 Corinthias 3:16 says that God lives in people by filling them with the Holy Spirit. As far as the eternity of the marriage covenant, it was Jesus Himself who said marriage was not for heaven. (For more information on temple marriage, click here. As far as salvation for the dead, Mormons have taken verses out of context to support this idea.

For example, 1 Corinthians 15:29 has been taken out of context where the apostle Paul said: “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?” President David O. McKay (1873-1970) wrote,

“Not a few commentators have tried to explain away [this passage’s] true significance; but its context proves plainly that in the days of the apostles there existed the practice of baptism for the dead; that is, living persons were immersed in water for and in behalf of those who were dead—not who were ‘dead to sin’ but who had ‘passed to the other side.’” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay, p. 129)

BYU professor Robert Millet said,

“Many non-Latter-day Saint scholars believe that in 1 Corinthians Paul was denouncing or condemning the practice of baptism for the dead as heretical. This is a strange conclusion, since Paul uses the practice to support the doctrine of the resurrection. In essence, he says, ‘Why are we performing baptism in behalf of our dead, if, as some propose, there will be no resurrection of the dead? If there is to be no resurrection, would not such baptisms be a waste of time?’” (A Different Jesus? The Christ of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 130-131).

Millet assumes that Paul was a participant in this rite. When verse 29 is dissected, though, it can be seen how Paul purposely did not use the first person “we” in this verse. Thus, Christian theologian D.A. Carson explained why this assumption is wrong:

The most plausible interpretation is that some in Corinth were getting baptized vicariously for the dead. Several factors, however, put this into perspective. Although Paul does not explicitly condemn the practice, neither does he endorse it. Several writers have offered the following analogy. Imagine a Protestant writing, “Why do they then pray for the dead, if the dead do not rise at all?” No one would take this as an endorsement of the practice of praying for the dead; it is a criticism of the inconsistency of praying for the dead while holding that the dead do not rise. To make this rhetorical question an endorsement of the practice of praying for the dead, one would expect, “Why do we then pray for the dead?” Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 15:29 Paul preserves the more distant they. After all, his primary concern in 1 Corinthians 15 is the defense of the Christian doctrine of resurrection. His rhetorical question in verse 29 may simply be pointing out the inconsistency of those who deny the final resurrection, granted their rather strange baptismal practices. And they were strange. There is no good evidence for vicarious baptism anywhere in the New Testament or among the earliest apostolic fathers. By the same token, there is no hint that this vicarious baptism (if that is what it was) was intended by the Corinthian believer to cover as many deceased people as could be named. If the practice existed at all, it may have been tied to a few people or special cases—for example, when a relative died after trusting the gospel but before being baptized. We really do not know. If it were something like that, one could understand why Paul does not make a federal case of it. In any case, Paul’s clear emphasis is that people are justified by grace through faith, which demands a personal response. Christian baptism is part of that personal response, even as it is a covenantal pledge. In contrast, baptism on behalf of someone who has not exercised such faith sounds like magic—of something far from Pauline thought. (“Directions: Did Paul Baptize for the Dead? Christianity Today, August 10, 1998.

Carson suggested that the reason the 1 Corinthians 15 passages is difficult to interpret is that this is the only passage in the Bible specifically mentioning “baptism for the dead.” He wrote:

“The reason is not that God must say things more than once for them to be true or binding. The reason, rather, is that if something is said only once it is easily misunderstood or misapplied. When something is repeated on several occasions and in slightly different contexts, readers will enjoy a better grasp of what is meant and what is at stake. That is why the famous “baptism for the dead” passage (1 Cor. 15:29) is not unpacked at length and made a major plank in, say, the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Confession. Over forty interpretations of that passage have been offered in the history of the church. Mormons are quite sure what it means, of course, but the reason why they are sure is because they are reading it in the context of other books that they claim are inspired and authoritative.” (Found on page 5 of the article “Must I Learn How to Interpret the Bible?”

Joseph Smith was willing to give his life for his testimony.

As had been the case with prophets whom the Lord had raised up before, it seemed necessary in this case that the testimony of His servant should be sealed with his life’s blood. No more [poignant] page will be found in the history of the world than that upon which is inscribed the last sayings of our beloved Prophet Joseph Smith. He knew that his time was near at hand; he realized that his life’s mission had been fulfilled. … And when the time came that he was face to face with death, he said, “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer morning. I have a conscience void of offence toward God and toward all men. If they take my life, I shall die an innocent man, and my blood shall cry from the ground for vengeance, and it shall yet be said of me, ‘He was murdered in cold blood.’” [See D&C 135:4.]

Was Smith a martyr, as many proclaim? Just a few days before he died, Smith referenced Isaiah 53:7 (“He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth”), making a distinct comparison between himself and Jesus that is not accurate. Jesus clearly gave his life willfully. He offered no struggle or resistance, not even verbally. In fact, when Peter tried to protect his master from those arresting Jesus by using physical force, Jesus rebuked him. How can Smith’s use of a lethal weapon, purposely used to cause bodily harm on his attackers, be compared to this? It is not so much Smith’s defending himself that is troubling, but rather it is the erroneous comparison to the Savior of the world that many Christians find offensive.

When Smith said he would die “innocent,” what exactly did that mean? For example, was he:

•   Innocent of the charge of riot? Though Smith was not present when the press was destroyed, he was clearly responsible for giving the order.

•    Innocent of the Nauvoo Expositor charge of secretly practicing polygamy? Smith’s polygamous/polyandrous ways were common knowledge among Smith’s close circle of friends and is well-documented today.

•     Innocent of abusing his political power? The fact that even Mormons can’t be sure his order to destroy the press was within legal bounds tends to point in the direction that he was at least somewhat at fault.

•     Innocent of the charge of treason? Smith didn’t know he would be charged with treason until he arrived in Carthage, well after he made the above statement.

Another point to consider in the claims of Smith being “like a lamb led to the slaughter” is how, when the clash took place, Smith took his pistol out and began firing. According to John Taylor, Smith pulled “the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died.” (History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 7:103).  Who fired the first shot amongst the noise and confusion will probably never be known. Mormons have always insisted that Smith returned fire after his brother Hyrum had been mortally wounded. However, an account given by Governor Thomas Ford provided some different details:

“The conspirators came up, jumped the slight fence around the jail, were fired upon by the guard, which, according to arrangement, was overpowered immediately, and the assailants entered the prison, to the door of the room where the two prisoners were confined, with two of their friends, who voluntarily bore them company. An attempt was made to break open the door; but Joe Smith being armed with a six-barrelled pistol, furnished by his friends, fired several times as the door was bursted open, and wounded three of the assailants. At the same time several shots were fired into the room, by some of which John Taylor received four wounds, and Hiram Smith was instantly killed.”  (Ford, A History of Illinois: From Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1847, 354. See also History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 7:31.)

The moral justification of Smith’s attempt to defend himself in an unjustified attack is not being questioned. However, such a scene hardly is reminiscent of Jesus’ final moments of His earthly ministry. While Smith could have chosen to fire a warning shot with the hope of scaring his murderers away, he instead chose to fire directly into the crowd, knowing full well that his aim at so close a range was going to cause bodily harm. Is this the behavior of someone who plans to willingly lay down his life? For more information on the death of Smith, see this video as well as this Christian Research Journal article that I authored.

In the year 1830, the Church was organized with six members. The adversary of all righteousness has from that day to the present sought to impede its progress and destroy it. I wonder if that great man, Joseph Smith, who gave his life that the Church might be organized and carried on as the Lord intended, can see the Church as it exists today, with its branches established in all parts of the world, and realize that each day since he was martyred, since he laid down his life and sealed his testimony with his blood, the Church has become stronger than the day before.

I’ve got to be honest, as I am sure Smith never foresaw the church growing into more than fourteen million people. I doubt he even thought that his church would last days after he died. Indeed, this church has spread throughout the world and is even believed by those having a legitimate chance to become the President of the United States. But anything based on a lie is false, no matter how much a church may grow and how dedicated its people may be. While I believe Joseph Smith will be at the Great White Throne Judgment, I don’t believe he’ll be there to judge on whether or not people accepted his “restored” gospel. I will never see Joseph Smith, I promise you that. Instead, this mortal will be judged for creating a church filled with error. Judgment Day will be a terrible day for him because so many people have been misled by this church. My prayer is that the Latter-day Saint people would open their eyes and understand the errors of Joseph Smith, reject his gospel, and freely receive the free gospel as reported in the Bible.


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