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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, Chapter 2: An Ensign to the Nations, a Light to the World

During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)

Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

Like the stone in Daniel’s vision, the Church is rolling forth to fill the whole earth.

This Church began with the humble prayer of the boy Joseph Smith in the grove of his father’s farm. From that remarkable experience, which we call the First Vision, has grown this work. … It is the very personification of Daniel’s vision of a stone cut out of the mountain without hands rolling forth to fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:44–45).

In chapter 1, I discussed some of the problems with the First Vision. Summarized, here are some of my problems:

  • The first mention of the First Vision is in 1832 as recorded in Smith’s diary. This seems strange. Why should the first mention of such a crucial event happen more than a decade after it supposedly took place? At that, Smith only mentions a visit from the “Lord,” while completely ignoring God the Father.
  • In addition, the first mention of the events as publicized by the LDS Church (i.e. both God the Father and Jesus appear, it was in response to the prayer from James 1:5, Joseph Smith was in his 15th year, etc.) is in 1838; the account wasn’t made public until 1842. This is more than two decades after the event!
  • There were nine different accounts, including three by Smith himself–sounds awfully suspicious.
  • The First Vision did not play an important role in the first decade and a half of the LDS Church. This is such a difference with Christianity’s most important historical event, the resurrection of Jesus, which was not only witnessed by the apostles but more than 500 witnesses. Some scholars date 1 Cor. 15:1-5 within 2-3 years after the Resurrection took place, so this was reported very early.
  • For such an important historical event–crucial in Mormonism–it seems strange that God would have allowed only Smith to be present at this crucial event.

All in all, the First Vision has all appearances of being a legend that was created over time. With no documentary evidence to support this event, I think doubt is in order rather than accepting this as a historical account through blind faith. If you are a Latter-day Saint, I recommend you take a closer look into this event and see if there is reason for the doubt I express. Check out any of these articles:

When the Church was organized in 1830 there were but six members [and] only a handful of believers, all residing in a largely unknown village. … Stakes of Zion today flourish in every state of the United States, in every province of Canada, in every state of Mexico, in every nation of Central America and throughout South America.

Congregations are found throughout the British Isles and Europe, where thousands have joined the Church through the years. This work has reached out to the Baltic nations and on down through Bulgaria and Albania and other areas of that part of the world. It reaches across the vast area of Russia. It reaches up into Mongolia and all down through the nations of Asia into the islands of the Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand, and into India and Indonesia. It is flourishing in many of the nations of Africa. …

And this is only the beginning. This work will continue to grow and prosper and move across the earth.

Let me get this straight. According to Hinckley, the growth of the church ascertains the veracity of the LDS Church? Wait a minute, didn’t  Jesus Himself say that the road to destruction is broad but narrow would be the path to life? (Matt. 7:13-14) While God generally does bless His work, church growth and missions outreach should not be a sign that an organization like the Mormon Church is true.  Otherwise, should we expect that Islam or the Catholic Church are true organizations? After all, the growth rate of these two religions far surpasses the growth of the LDS Church. In fact, when it comes to church growth, Mormonism, is not growing very fast at all, fewer than 300,000 converts per year. Check out this article titled The Fastest Growing Church in the World? 

(Referring to a talk given by Brigham Young in 1847) I think [those Brethren] may also on that occasion have spoken of the building of the temple … in fulfillment of the words of Isaiah:

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.

“And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isa. 2:2–3.)

This verse is taken completely out of its context. There was only one temple recognized in Israel and that was found in Jerusalem. The very idea that temples are needed today is certainly not biblical. (The verse is used once again later in this chapter.)

We can become as an ensign to the nations from which the people of the earth may gather strength.

My brethren and sisters, the time has come for us to stand a little taller, to lift our eyes and stretch our minds to a greater comprehension and understanding of the grand millennial mission of this The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is a season to be strong. It is a time to move forward without hesitation, knowing well the meaning, the breadth, and the importance of our mission. It is a time to do what is right regardless of the consequences that might follow. It is a time to be found keeping the commandments. It is a season to reach out with kindness and love to those in distress and to those who are wandering in darkness and pain. It is a time to be considerate and good, decent and courteous toward one another in all of our relationships. In other words, to become more Christlike.

When Hinckley says “the time has come,” it doesn’t mean he’s making a new commandment. Mormons are instructed to “keep the commandments continually” (D&C 25:15) and do good works. Christians believe in displaying the fruit of the Spirit, not somehow to attain salvation but rather to display salvation. For what God has provided to His children—eternal life—is a gift that is received with gratefulness. It is always time to live in a Christ-like way!

Unless the world alters the course of its present trends (and that is not likely); and if, on the other hand, we continue to follow the teachings of the prophets, we shall increasingly become a peculiar and distinctive people of whom the world will take note. For instance, as the integrity of the family crumbles under worldly pressures, our position on the sanctity of the family will become more obvious and even more peculiar in contrast, if we have the faith to maintain that position.

Notice how Hinckley makes reference to following “the teachings of the prophets.” Of course, he’s talking about “modern-day prophets” and not the prophets of the Bible. For the Christian, following the teachings of the Bible takes priority. The prophets are needed to interpret what the Bible says. This is very dangerous, as these men can add to God’s Word and make verses say things they never were intended to say. For example, 1 Corinthians 15:29 is used by LDS leaders to support their work for the dead in the LDS temples. The verse (like many others) has been pulled out of context to make it say something it was never intended to do. Meanwhile, Mormons do not hold a monopoly on “the integrity of the family.” Following the mandate of the Bible, there is a structure that stresses the importance of the family. (Ephesians 6:1-4; Col. 3:20-24)

As the growing permissive attitude toward sex continues to spread, the doctrine of the Church, as consistently taught for more than a century and a half, will become increasingly singular and even strange to many.

Christians don’t need “prophets” to guide them in these modern days, as the Bible teaches us how to think about this issue. For example, see 1 Corinthians 6 and 7.

As the consumption of alcohol and the abuse of drugs increase each year within the mores of our society, our position, set forth by the Lord more than a century and a half ago, will become more unusual before the world. …

The Bible instructs believers to not get drunk on wine (Prov. 20:1; 1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18). We must be careful in creating a law out of something that was never meant to be. Mormons are taught that they should abstain from alcohol, but the Bible stresses moderation of drink and not abstinence. In fact, Paul tells Timothy to take some wine for his health in 1 Tim. 5:23. Christians are free to abstain, but this is not a regulation to be turned into a legalistic teaching. The freedom concerning meat offered to idols, as discussed in 1 Cor. 8 and 10, can certainly be applied to alcohol.

As the Sabbath increasingly becomes a day of merchandising and entertainment, those who obey the precept of the law, written by the finger of the Lord on Sinai and reinforced by modern revelation, will appear more unusual.

Again, something that was meant to be good (honoring the Sabbath day to keep it holy) has been turned into a human regulation by the Mormon Church. Strict rules are provided, which seem to be very similar in nature to the rules imposed on the people by the Pharisees of Jesus’s day. There were people in Paul’s day who were attempting to make the law requirements for the believers. The Judaizers, as they are known, claimed to be Christian but stressed the vitality of circumcision, dietary limitations (kosher), and Sabbath observance. In the book of Galatians, Paul explains (chapter 2):

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified  by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

In chapter 3 Paul wrote:

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

And in chapter 5 he explains:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Unfortunately, observance of the Sabbath has been turned into a commandment in the Mormon Church, something that must be done to become temple worthy and necessary in order to be considered worthy of God’s favor. This is not the way God meant it to be.

It is not always easy to live in the world and not be a part of it. We cannot live entirely with our own or unto ourselves, nor would we wish to. We must mingle with others. In so doing, we can be gracious. We can be inoffensive. We can avoid any spirit or attitude of self-righteousness. But we can maintain our standards. …

Wait a minute, when a person is bent on keeping commandments, there is going to be a “spirit or attitude of self-righteousness.” After all, a person who does all the things that God commands could use this as part of the resume to show God why they are worthy to receive His blessing, despite the fact that Eph. 2:9 clearly says how it’s “not by works lest any man (person) should boast.” We naturally will compare our good works to others. “I’m keeping the Sabbath and he’s not,” someone may think to himself. This is the issue of pride where the Pharisees struggled. When we think we are earning our way to God’s favor, we hit a pothole and cause all sorts of problems for ourselves.

As we observe these and other standards taught by the Church, many in the world will respect us and find strength to follow that which they too know is right.

And, in the words of Isaiah, “Many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths.” (Isa. 2:3.)

Once more, this verse from Isaiah has nothing to do with the Mormons or their temple(s). It is talking specifically about the temple in Jerusalem.

We need not compromise. We must not compromise. The candle that the Lord has lighted in this dispensation can become as a light unto the whole world, and others seeing our good works can be led to glorify our Father in Heaven and emulate in their own lives the examples they have observed in ours.

Beginning with you and me, there can be an entire people who, by the virtue of our lives in our homes, in our vocations, even in our amusements, can become as a city upon a hill to which men may look and learn, and an ensign to the nations from which the people of the earth may gather strength.

If we are to hold up this Church as an ensign to the nations and a light to the world, we must take on more of the luster of the life of Christ individually and in our own personal circumstances. In standing for the right, we must not be fearful of the consequences. We must never be afraid.

Matthew 6:1-4 says,

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Generally, I think people will recognize that there is something different about the Christian believer. But when they observe a person’s keeping of the Sabbath or other legalistic laws, I think the blessing is completely lost. These personal acts of righteousness are not meant to be seen by other people. Pride, though, wants everyone else to know.

Something that a Latter-day Saint ought to consider is the pride many Mormons have in going to the temple. To be able to attend a Mormon temple, a temple recommend is required.  What does a person need to do to receive this special identification? First, he or she must be considered worthy. He or she must be a tithe-payer; if not, restitution must be made. Also, no hot drinks are allowed to be imbibed, the person must be sexually pure, the Sabbath must be honored, and other requirements are also necessary. It’s all based on merit and “personal worthiness.”

I have never been a Latter-day Saint, nor have I attended the LDS temple, but I can only imagine the pride that must be inside a person who realizes he or she is considered by the “Church” as  “worthy”to enter a place where most other Mormons are unable to attend. The Church promotes a pride that is not easily overcome.

We have nothing to fear. God is at the helm. He will overrule for the good of this work. He will shower down blessings upon those who walk in obedience to His commandments. Such has been His promise. Of His ability to keep that promise none of us can doubt.

… Our Savior, who is our Redeemer, the Great Jehovah, the mighty Messiah, has promised: “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 84:88).

“Therefore,” said He, “fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail. …

“Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.

“Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet; be faithful, keep my commandments, and ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven” (D&C 6:34, 36–37).

These verses are in the Doctrine and Covenants and are not accepted by biblical Christians. This is what Jesus says in John 15:

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

Yet Jesus never said or even suggested that if a person keeps “my commandments, … ye shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” This is someone (Joseph Smith) putting words into Jesus’s mouth. Rather, he said it was belief in Him that saved a person. Earlier in the gospel, John writes:

John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

John 6:40: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:47: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. “

John 11:25-26: “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Belief, not keeping commandments, is what justifies a person before an all-holy God. Works have nothing to do with justification. Until this concept is understood, the Gospel will be completely missed.

Unitedly, working hand in hand, we shall move forward as servants of the living God, doing the work of His Beloved Son, our Master, whom we serve and whose name we seek to glorify.

We must stand firm. We must hold back the world. If we do so, the Almighty will be our strength and our protector, our guide and our revelator. We shall have the comfort of knowing that we are doing what He would have us do. Others may not agree with us, but I am confident that they will respect us. We will not be left alone. There are many [who are] not of our faith but who feel as we do. They will support us. They will sustain us in our efforts.

Let us glory in this wonderful season of the work of the Lord. Let us not be proud or arrogant. Let us be humbly grateful. And let us, each one, resolve within himself or herself that we will add to the luster of this magnificent work of the Almighty, that it may shine across the earth as a beacon of strength and goodness for all the world to look upon.

Unfortunately, there are many—including those of us at MRM—who do not believe that Mormonism is what God intends for people to practice and follow. This religion is all about what a person can do for God. It is works-oriented. People go to their graves content with the works they are doing, and yet there will be many who miss the very heart of the Gospel. This is not what we intend. Don’t be satisfied in your works and think these somehow appease a God of justice. Only by allowing God to do His work in you can you be justified and cleansed from all sin. Consider these articles and come into a relationship with the Jesus described in the Bible!

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