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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, Chapter 15: Faithful, Energetic Service in the Kingdom of God

During 2013, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow. 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.

“Knowing our religion to be true we ought to be the most devoted people on the face of the earth to the cause we have embraced.”

I agree, if a person believes something is true, that aith ought to be embraced. I will repeat this several times throughout this article. Yet, at the same time, whatever we believe to be true ought to be tested; if it’s true, it will stand whatever test is given. Listen to what second President Brigham Young has said:

  • “Our doctrine and practice is, and I have made it mine through life—to receive truth no matter where it comes from” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 11).
  • “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter-day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 126).
  • “If I should hear a man advocate the erroneous principles he had imbibed through education, and oppose those principles, some might imagine that I was opposed to that man, when, in fact, I am only opposed to every evil and erroneous principle he advances” (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 251).

Other leaders have agreed:

  • Apostle George A. Smith: “If a faith will not bear to be investigated; if its preachers and pro­fessors are afraid to have it examined, their foundation must be very weak” (August 13, 1871, Journal of Dis­courses 14:216).
  • Fourth President Wilford Woodruff: “I am willing to exchange all the errors and false notions I have for one truth, and should consider that I had made a good bargain. We are not afraid of light and truth. Our religion embraces every truth in heaven, earth or hell; it embraces all truth, the whole gos­pel and plan of salvation, and the fulfilment of the whole volume of revelation that God has ever given” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, p. 17).
  • Apostle N. Eldon Tanner: “No matter how sincere one’s belief may be in an error, it will not change the error into truth. (“A Basis for Faith in the Living God,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1978, p. 46).

I say, embrace truth, but first make sure it is true.

Teachings of Lorenzo Snow

Because we have received the fulness of the gospel, we serve as ambassadors of Christ.

We testify to the whole world that we know, by divine revelation, even through the manifestations of the Holy Ghost, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that he revealed himself to Joseph Smith as personally as he did to his apostles anciently, after he arose from the tomb, and that he made known unto him [the] heavenly truths by which alone mankind can be saved. This … is assuming a very important and responsible position, knowing, as we do, that God will hold us accountable for the disposition we make of this sacred trust which he has committed to us.

To receive a “testimony,” Mormons challenge potential believers to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. D&C 9:8-9 says, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind: then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” James 1:5 in the Bible—which Joseph Smith supposedly read as a 14-year-old boy that caused him to pray and have God the Father and Jesus appear to him in 1820—is also cited as a reason for praying about truth.

There is a psychological edge that the Mormon missionaries have when someone agrees to their challenge of reading about the Book of Mormon and praying. After all, the investigator may eventually get the “right” answer in an attempt to please the missionaries, close family members, or friends who have come to the same conclusion. In the end, one’s good feelings may win the day, even if the object of the prayer is false. It should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of James 1:5, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In this verse James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims.

First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.”

When someone brings up Moroni 10:4, I always ask whether or not the person’s feelings have always been accurate. At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?

The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.”

Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16–17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works. Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected.

As the apostles appeared before the world, after they had received their commission from the risen Redeemer, to preach the gospel of the kingdom to all nations, promising all who believed on their word, the Gift of the Holy Ghost through the laying on of hands, so we appear. As they by virtue of their commission, declared with all assurance, amidst persecution and opposition, the gospel to be the power of God unto salvation to all those who believed and obeyed, so declare we. As they preached faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, baptism for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands, by those duly authorized, for the reception of the Holy Ghost, as being essential to salvation, so preach we. As they by the power of the Holy Ghost became witnesses of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the faithful bearers of his gospel message to the whole Gentile world, so, by and through the same Holy Spirit, we have become witnesses of him, and, having been called by the same divine and holy calling, we therefore assume the same position. Then, having assumed this position, we assume all the responsibilities of ambassadors of Christ, we become answerable for our individual acts and for the manner in which we use the talents and ability the Lord has given us.

As the other articles on this series have attempted to show, the LDS gospel is much different than what has historically been preached as Christianity. Mormonism teaches that a person must have faith in (the LDS version of) Jesus, receive (an LDS) baptism, and have the laying on of (LDS) hands. All of this is done through the LDS priesthood. Going back to the quotes given at the beginning of this article, sincerity or desire does not determine truth. Either Mormonism is true. . .  or it is false. If it is false, it cannot be true. If it is not true, then it ought to be rejected. As First Presidency member J. Reuben Clark said, “If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed” (J. Reuben Clark: The Church Years. Provo, D. Michael Quinn, Utah: Brigham Young Uni­versity Press, 1983, p. 24).

Membership in the Church is a call to help others receive salvation.

When the Lord calls an individual or a class of individuals out from the world, it is not always with an object to benefit that particular individual or individuals. The Lord has not in view merely the salvation of a few people called Latter-day Saints … , but the salvation of all men, the living and the dead. When the Lord called Abraham He made him certain promises concerning the glory that should come upon him and his posterity, and in these promises we find this remarkable saying: that in him and in his seed all the nations of the earth should be blessed [see Genesis 22:15–18; Abraham 2:9–11]. … The design of the Lord was to bless not only him and his posterity, but all the families of the earth. …

… When Jesus came, He came as a sacrifice not simply in the interest of Israel, or the posterity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but in the interest of the whole human family, that in Him all men might be blessed, that in Him all men might be saved; and His mission was to make provision by which the whole human family might receive the benefits of the everlasting Gospel, not, as I say, Israel alone, but the whole human race; and not alone those dwelling upon the earth, but those also in the spirit world. …

… We have the same Priesthood that Jesus had, and we have got to do as He did, to make sacrifice of our own desires and feelings as He did, perhaps not to die martyrs as He did, but we have got to make sacrifices in order to carry out the purposes of God, or we shall not be worthy of this holy Priesthood, and be saviors of the world. God intends to make us saviors not only of many that now dwell on the earth, but of many in the spirit world: He will not only place us in a position to save ourselves, but He will make us competent to assist in the redemption of many of the offspring of the Almighty.

Mormonism teaches in the possibility of salvation for the dead. Tenth LDS President Joseph Fielding Smith wrote:

“But greater than all this, so far as our individual responsibilities are concerned, the greatest is to become saviors, in our lesser de­gree which is assigned us, for the dead who have died without a knowledge of the Gospel, Joseph Smith said: ‘The greatest re­sponsibility in this world that God has laid upon us, is to seek after our dead.’ Why is this such a grave responsibility? For two rea­sons. First, because we cannot enter into the perfect life without our worthy dead who have not been blessed as we have with the Gospel. Second, because they who have lived worthy lives, but in darkness, because the Gospel did not come to them in life, are also heirs of salvation” (The Way to Perfec­tion, p. 153).

First of all, to say that a person can become a “savior”—a term that was also used by Snow in the church manual—is a foreign language to a Christian believer. Only Jesus Himself can be the “Savior.” Certainly God uses His servants to do His work. The Bible proclaims “how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Is. 52:7, Rom. 10:15). However, by even intimating that it is possible for a person to be a “savior,” whether for the living or the dead, is one step too far.

Then, when it comes to the dead, even the Bible and the Book of Mormon are in agreement when they proclaim that there are no second chances for salvation. For example, 2 Corinthians 6:2 says, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”Hebrews 9:27 adds, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” In the Book of Mormon, Alma 34:32–35 says,

For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked.

Mormons sometimes argue that this passage in Alma refers only to those who know better. This would include apostate Mormons or even so-called “anti-Mormons” who have done a great deal of study on Mormonism. But this passage does not support this premise. In fact, verse 32 says now “is the time for men (in general) to prepare to meet God.” It does not specify that the time is now only for those who have understood the gospel fully and rejected it. If the warning here really is intended for those who know better, then it seems to be directed to every member of the LDS Church. Second Nephi 9:38 puts it clearly: “And, in fine, woe unto all those who die in their sins: for they shall return to God, and behold His face, and remain in their sins.”

Every calling and responsibility is important in the Lord’s work.

Now the question is, do we sense our position, do we comprehend fully the nature of the work we have undertaken to consummate? I am sometimes led to believe that some of our brethren, Elders in Israel, are too ready and willing to shirk the obligations they are under by reason of their covenants, the faith they once possessed seems to be almost exhausted, and they appear to settle down into the quiet satisfaction of a mere nominal membership in the Church.

There are others who think because their names are not very widely known, because they are perhaps … occupying narrow spheres, that it does not matter much what habits they contract, or what kind of examples they set before their brethren. But then, if they held responsible positions, such as the Presidency of the Church, or a counsellorship, or if they belonged to the Quorum of the Twelve, or were they President of the High Council, or of the High Priests or Seventies, then they would consider it important how they conducted themselves. Herein they manifest great weakness or gross ignorance, their lamp is either growing dim or they never sensed the position they assumed in taking upon themselves the responsibilities of the gospel.

I have no statistics to back up what I am about to write, but I will say it anyway. With almost 15 million Mormons (as of 2013), there have been estimates that only a third are active. This is because there are a number of people still listed on Mormonism’s rolls who have not been deleted despite the fact that they have left the church for something else, including atheism, Christianity, or another religion. In addition, a number of Mormons are social Mormons—many call them “Jack Mormons”—who like the privileges associated with being a member but don’t take their faith seriously. They don’t possess valid temple recommends or regularly attend church meetings.

There is the same problem for the Christian churches. Many are by the wayside. As I tell inactive Mormons, if Mormonism is true, it ought to be followed completely. If it’s not, the person should leave for what really is true. To somehow just coast as a Mormon will not get a person to the Celestial Kingdom, even if the person stays true to the faith. Jesus said in Revelation 3:16, So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Latter-day Saint, is your religion true? If so, sell out. But as I said before, first do your study to make sure it’s true. The very fact that you have read this far into this article tells me that you are intentional in determining both sides.

When we serve God with faith, energy, and cheerfulness, He strengthens us and helps us succeed.

I say, let men serve God faithfully and energetically, and be cheerful. … There are times when persons are brought into conditions where it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to assume a cheerful aspect. But such times are very few.

Much of this chapter involves encouraging the tired Latter-day Saints to keep pressing on. Paul understood what it means when we get tired, for he wrote in Galatians 6:9, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” The problem for the Latter-day Saint is that so much is required—they are kept so busy—that many do get tired and even give up. Consider:

  • Many Mormons have large families—the responsibility of taking care of so many children and the financial responsibilities associated with this—creates burdens.
  • Mormons are required to go to church meetings
  • Mormons are encouraged to be involved with outside church organizations (i.e. priesthood organizations and women’s societies)
  • Mormons are supposed to attend the temple on a regular basis

And then, those Mormons who take on additional responsibilities—including volunteering with the Boy Scouts, duties in the bishopric and other leadership positions, and serving at the church’s welfare services—can find themselves overburdened. Doing good works is certainly important. But caution and prudence are important as well.

The Bible is clear that Jesus came to set us free from our sins (Matt. 1:21). Christians can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are forgiven from their sins, through no effort of their own (see Acts 10:43 and 1 John 5:7). Jesus said in Matthew 11:30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Latter-day Saint: Are you burdened? Do you need relief? Jesus is there and desires for you to have a relationship with Him that does not involve striving for perfection. Instead, He wants to make you perfect. Accept His offer of grace today! 

Knowing our religion to be true we ought to be the most devoted people on the face of the earth to the cause we have embraced. Knowing as we do, or should know, that the gospel we have received promises all our hearts can wish or desire, if we are faithful, we ought to be very faithful, devoted, energetic and ambitious in carrying out the designs and wishes of the Lord as He reveals them from time to time through His servants. We ought not to be lukewarm or negligent in attending to our duties, but with all our might, strength and souls we should try to understand the spirit of our calling and the nature of the work in which we are engaged.

As I stated above, I agree that, if Mormonism is true, the Latter-day Saint ought to “sell out.” The question I ask, though, is how do you know (for sure) that your religion is true?

The work of the Lord is sometimes difficult, but it brings great joy.

We meet many things associated with this labor that are not pleasant, but there is a great pleasure connected with it. When we look back upon our determinations to devote ourselves to the cause of truth and keep our covenants, we have great joy, because the spirit of our callings rests mightily upon us, without which spirit we cannot keep pace with the kingdom of God.

We should renew our covenants before God and the holy angels, that we will, God being our helper, serve him more faithfully during the ensuing year than we have in the past, that our public and private life, our actions and the spirit and influence we wield may be in keeping with the motto, “The Kingdom of God or nothing.” I trust … that we may devote ourselves entirely to the service of our God in the establishing of his Zion on the earth, zealously laboring in the interest of truth and righteousness on the earth, until it shall become a joy to us to be so engaged, that it may become second nature to us to serve God and keep his commandments, and to observe the celestial law, and that we may so enjoy the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we may overcome the world and establish the celestial law in our minds and establish it in our practice; that we may so understand ourselves and our privileges that we may in this life secure a considerable portion of the blessings that pertain to the celestial law, and which are to be enjoyed in the celestial glory.

And the $64,000 question is, Can anyone keep celestial law?  The answer is no. A relationship with Jesus is what a person needs to understand freedom.

Check out more Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow articles.

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