During 2014, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding 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.
Chapter 4: Strengthening and Preserving the Family
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, (2013), 72–81
Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith
The family is the most important organization in time or in eternity. May I remind you of just how important the family unit is in the overall plan of our Father in heaven. In fact, the Church organization really exists to assist the family and its members in reaching exaltation.
Please don’t take me wrong, as I have a family myself and treasure my wife and children very much. What would you say, though, if I said I believe it is possible to turn a family into an idol? You would probably wonder what I mean by this. Let me explain. God was very definitive in Exodus 20 when he said that we were to have no other gods before Him. Is it possible to turn one’s earthly family into a god? After all, shouldn’t we consider anything that gets in the way of our relationship with God–no matter how good it might be–to be an idol.
It was Jesus, after all, who said in Matthew 12:
46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to 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.”
To Jesus, obeying the will of the Father is much more important than a relationship with a family. Another important passage to consider is Matthew 8:18-22. It says:
18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. 19 Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
This is not the Sermon on the Mount. What Jesus seems to be saying is that following Him means making everything around you of secondary importance, including families. This concept is different to what Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland said in a video that is played at the temple open house events throughout the world:
I don’t know how to speak about heaven in the traditional, lovely, paradisiacal, beauty that we speak of heaven – I wouldn’t know how to speak of heaven without my wife, my children. It would, it would not be heaven for me.
I wonder, is heaven really not heaven if my family isn’t there, even if Jesus is? The concept being advocated by Smtih and Holland makes no biblical sense. Is it possible that Mormonism so glorifies the family that the idea of being with one’s biological family into eternity becomes more important than the desire to be with God or worship Him? I don’t think I’m far from the truth. I realize that a Latter-day Saint could accuse me of not valuing families, but as I said above, this would not be accurate.
Family unity and family commitment to the gospel are so important that the adversary has turned much of his attention to the destruction of families in our society. On every side there is an attack on the basic integrity of the family as the foundation of what is good and noble in life. … Liberalization of abortion laws throughout the world suggests the existing disregard for the sacredness of life. Families are torn apart by increasing use of illegal drugs and the abuse of legal drugs. Contempt for authority by more and more young people usually begins with disrespect and disobedience in homes. …
Let’s talk for a moment on abortion, a very sensitive as well as controversial issue. According to the church manual True to the Faith:
Church leaders have said that some exceptional circumstances may justify an abortion, such as when pregnancy is the result of incest or rape. . . .or when the fetus is known by competent medical authority to have severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. (p. 4)
This manual goes on to say that “even these circumstances do not automatically justify an abortion,” but I wonder what the justification for these exceptions could possibly be. After all, if life is sacred, and the fetus is a human being—with half the chromosomes coming from the mother as well as the father and her own unique DNA—why should someone else’s sin (involving incest or rape) create a death sentence for the individual (person) in the womb? Or if there are severe defects not allowing the “baby” to survive, why should we kill it first? It seems that if Smith, writing before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in the United States, is correct, then Mormonism should not allow for these exceptions if the fetus is considered a human being.
There are certain old truths which will be truths as long as the world endures, and which no amount of progress can change. One of these is that the family (the organization consisting of father, mother, and children) is the foundation of all things in the Church; another, that sins against pure and healthy family life are those which, of all others, are sure in the end to be visited most heavily upon the nations in which they take place. …
There is no doubt that the family was not only under attack when Smith wrote this more than half a century ago, but this is even moreso today.
“The gospel is family centered; it must be lived in the family.”
There is no substitute for a righteous home. That may not be so considered in the world, but it is and ought to be in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The family is the unit in the kingdom of God. The family is the most important organization in time or in eternity. … It is the will of the Lord to strengthen and preserve the family unit. We plead with fathers to take their rightful place as the head of the house. We ask mothers to sustain and support their husbands and to be lights to their children. The gospel is family centered; it must be lived in the family. It is here we receive our greatest and most important training as we seek to create for ourselves eternal family units patterned after the family of God our Father.
While Christians believe in the importance of a “righteous home,” it has nothing to do with getting to heaven. The Bible never talks about “eternal family units.” No passages from the Bible are provided to support such a concept.
The Lord instituted the family to endure eternally.
Marriage, we have learned, is an eternal principle ordained before the foundation of the world and instituted on this earth before death came into it. Our first parents were commanded to multiply and replenish the earth.
I hate to be a broken record, but are there any biblical support for such ideas? Where were Adam and Eve told that this was an “eternal principle”? Is this an assumption based on LDS presuppositions?
It naturally follows that the family organization was also intended to be eternal. In the plan prepared for this earth the laws governing in the celestial world became the foundation. The great work and glory of the Lord is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” [Moses 1:39.] The only way this can be done is through marriage and the family, in fact this is the eternal order among the exalted and has been worlds without end.
A reference to the book of Moses found in Mormonism’s Pearl of Great Price is not sufficient for the Christian who does not accept this as scripture. Show me the biblical support and I will give this idea more of a hearing.
The plan given in the Gospel for the government of man on this earth is typical of the law governing in the kingdom of God. Is it possible to imagine a greater source of sorrow than to be left in the eternal world without claim on father or mother or children? The thought of a nation without the family unit as its fundamental foundation, where all the citizens are comparatively strangers to each other and where natural affection is not found; where no family ties bind the groups together, is one of horror. Such a condition could lead to but one end—anarchy and dissolution. Is it not reasonable to believe the same thing true in relation to the kingdom of God? If in that kingdom, there were no family ties and all men and women were “angels” without the natural kinships, as many people believe, could it be a place of happiness—a heaven?
It is silly to think that heaven could not be heaven or a place of happiness unless our family unit was there. Consider how many Mormons are going to be with the whole of their families in the celestial kingdom. Since every person has to make it to heaven on his or her own merits, nobody can be grandfathered in. Imagine just missing one individual who imbibed too much coffee or missed too many sacrament meetings. And whose family has no black sheep? (We all do!) If Mormonism is true, I’m sure there won’t be even one family that remains intact. Will missing one, two, or more individuals lessen the glory of the celestial kingdom? It would sure seem to be a problem if God intended for whole family units to be together forever. It would seem that even missing one person makes this family incomplete.
I’m not sure where Holland gets the idea that Christians believe they will become angels. This is certainly a straw man argument. Some have speculated that humans become angels after death, but this is not something taught in the Bible. We’ll leave this fairy tale to Jimmy Stewart and It’s a Wonderful Life. On the other hand, the idea that people can become angels appears to be more of a teaching of the LDS Church than anything taught by the Christian church; it certainly is not something taught in the Bible. After all, the righteous character Moroni in the Book of Mormon—his golden statue adorns the spirt of most LDS temples—supposedly returned to the earth as an angel, not a resurrected celestial being. Where in the Bible (or the Book of Mormon, for that matter) does it teach how people can return to earth as angels?
The concept that families can be forever just falls apart when this concept is scruntinized. Truly it makes no logical sense. My wife and I have three children, all girls. If I were a faithful Latter-day Saint who went to the temple and married my wife for not just time but all eternity, who would I be with in eternity if both of us qualify for the celestial kingdom? Suppose my parents and my wife’s parents were faithful Latter-day Saints. Will my wife and I be with them? This can’t be because they will have their own worlds. What about my children? If they married in the temple and lived lives worthy of the celestial kingdom, they won’t be with us but with their spouses. Logically, the only person on earth whom a faithful Latter-day Saint could hope to spend eternity with is the spouse. Those before and those after our marriage will either not qualify (probably this includes the majority of all Latter-day Saints) or, if they do, will be on worlds with their spouses, left to repopulate this new realm with new spirit children. And it continues into the eternities future.
A 2004 LDS student manual recounts a story about President Lorenzo Snow who, while visiting a kindergarten class in Provo, Utah, saw several children making clay “spheres.” Snow told the school official accompanying him,
These children are now at play, making mud worlds, the time will come when some of these boys, through their faithfulness to the gospel, will progress and develop in knowledge, intelligence and power, in future eternities, until they shall be able to go out into space where there is unorganized matter and call together the necessary elements, and through their knowledge of and control over the laws and powers of nature, to organize matter into worlds on which their posterity may dwell, and over which they shall rule as gods. (Presidents of the Church Student Manual: Religion 345, 90).
Earlier I quoted from Mormon 7:7. What Lorenzo Snow and other leaders envision seems to be contrary to what is taught in the Book of Mormon, which is considered to be the most correct book on earth. Actually, this idea is contrary to the entire Bible.
In the temple of the Lord, a couple goes to be sealed or married for time and all eternity. Children born in that union will be the children of that father and mother not only in mortal life but in all eternity, and they become members of the family of God in heaven and on earth, as spoken of by Paul [see Ephesians 3:14–15], and that family order should never be broken. …
Ephesians 3:14-15 reads like this in the NIV:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.
The section is titled “A Prayer for the Ephesians,” with the next verses reading:
16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
As it can be easily seen by looking at the surrounding verses, this passage has absolutely nothing to do with temples or eternal families. Using proof texts out of context like this cannot sufficiently support any doctrine, no matter how important an organization thinks it might be.
… Those children born to them have a right to the companionship of father and mother, and father and mother are under obligations before their Eternal Father to be true to each other and raise those children in light and truth, that they may in the eternities to come, be one—a family within the great family of God. We should remember, as Latter-day Saints, that outside of the celestial kingdom, there is no family organization [after death]. That organization is reserved for those who are willing to abide in every covenant and every obligation which we are called upon to receive while we sojourn here in this mortal life.
Just as the manual emphasized in chapter 3, a Latter-day Saint cannot attain the celestial kingdom without full obedience in this lifetime. Latter-day Saints are commanded to “abide in every covenant and every obligation.” Is any mortal even capable of finding success obeying such a gospel? Anyone who is honest with themselves would agree it is nothing less than impossible.
The kingdom of God will be one great family. We call ourselves brothers and sisters. In very deed we become joint heirs with Jesus Christ through the gospel of Jesus Christ [see Romans 8:16–17], sons and daughters of God, and entitled to the fulness of the blessings of his kingdom if we will repent and keep [the] commandments.
Another verse is thrown out, though once again totally out of context. Talking about “Life in the Spirit,” Romans 8:14-17 says:
14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
The secret to being able to dismantle verses taken out of context is to look at the surrounding context. First of all, Paul says that those who are led by God’s Spirit are His children. In chapter 3 of Smith’s manual, it (and other LDS sources) says that we are already God’s children from the pre-existence, regardless, because anyone with a body was faithful. This seems to be in contradiction with verse 14. And verse 15 says we are adopted to “sonship,” not inferring by any means that this is a natural progression every human being receives based on one’s behavior (and choosing Jesus in the Council of Heaven) during a premortal stage of life.
Then, in the verses quoted by Smith, it says that we (referring to the Christian believers) are God’s children. If this is the case, then was are made heirs, giving us eternal life and being endowed with glory that we share with Him. Justified by faith (see Romans 10:9,10), we are God’s children and are promised to reign with Him in glory. If Mormonism is true, and if everyone is a child of God (as LDS leaders regularly teach), then it would appear that repentance and keeping the commandments—never mentioned in this passage—are not necessary for being with our families forever.
The hope of eternal life, including the reuniting of the members of the family when the resurrection comes, brings to the heart greater love and affection for each member of the family. With this hope, husbands are inclined to love their wives with a stronger and more holy love; and wives in like manner love their husbands. The tender feeling and solicitude on the part of parents for their children is increased, for the children become endeared to them with bands of love and happiness which cannot be broken.
We return to the problem of missing just one member of the family: can this really be considered heavenly glory in Mormonism when it seems that the entire family is necessary to complete this glory?
We strengthen and preserve our families as we spend time together, love each other, and live the gospel together.
The primary function of a Latter-day Saint home is to insure that every member of the family works to create the climate and conditions in which all can grow toward perfection. For parents, this requires a dedication of time and energy far beyond the mere providing of their children’s physical needs. For children, this means controlling the natural tendency toward selfishness.
Do you spend as much time making your family and home successful as you do in pursuing social and professional success? Are you devoting your best creative energy to the most important unit in society—the family? Or is your relationship with your family merely a routine, unrewarding part of life? Parent and child must be willing to put family responsibilities first in order to achieve family exaltation.
By putting family ahead of God, idols are made. The goal of “family exaltation” seems to be much more of a priority with Latter-day Saints than the hope of living with God forever.
For more reviews on this manual featuring Joseph Fielding Smith quotes, go here.
For a three-part series on the Viewpoint on Mormonism broadcast concerning this issue, go here: