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Review of Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, Chapter 21: Loving God More than we Love the World

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.

Teachings of Lorenzo Snow

When people allow worldliness to pervade their minds and hearts, they turn their backs on eternal principles.

The Bible is clear that this statement is true. For example, Romans 12:1-2 says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)

One thing that we appreciate about Latter-day Saints is how so many of them take personal holiness in a serious manner. Of course, we have said before that we don’t think that this is what God requires in order to enter into His presence. But we acknowledge that most Mormons we know do their best to live according to God’s standards, not man’s.

I remember very clearly the troublous times which were experienced in Kirtland … , where the Prophet of God resided, where God Himself, even Jesus, the Son of God, appeared and showed Himself in His glory. He stood upon the breastwork of the pulpit of the Temple, built by commandment. There was under His feet a pavework of pure gold, in color like amber. His hair was white as the pure snow. His countenance shone as the sun in its strength. His voice was as the sound of rushing waters. This wonderful manifestation was in the temple which had been reared to His honor. I was in Kirtland at that time, where we passed through scenes which, I sometimes think, we are now beginning to repeat. The circumstances which surrounded the Latter-day Saints at that time were of a peculiar nature; at least, the effects upon the people were of a peculiar character. … At that time a spirit of speculation pervaded the minds of the people of this nation. There were money speculations, bank speculations, speculations in lands, speculations in city lots, speculations in numerous other directions. That spirit of speculation rose out of the world, and swept over the hearts of the Saints like a mighty wave or rushing torrent, and many fell, and apostatized.

Some of them [the Saints in Kirtland] began speculating; they forgot their religion, they forgot the principles that had been revealed to them, and many of them fell into the spirit of the times and were carried away with speculating. Difficulties arose—envy and strife—and the Lord, being displeased with them, brought destruction into their midst and they were broken to pieces as a settlement.

Just previous to this great apostasy the Lord had poured out wonderful blessings upon the people. The gifts of the Gospel had been poured out to a remarkable extent—the riches of eternity. Angels had visited them. The Son of God, as I before remarked, had talked with His servants. At the dedication of the Temple the blessings which the people received were marvelous. During that rich time of God’s favors I, myself, attended the various meetings which were held in the Temple. We had prayer meetings, and testimony meetings, and such testimonies as the brethren and sisters could bear were wonderful. They prophesied, they spake in tongues, and had the interpretation of tongues to a remarkable degree. These blessings were almost universal upon the people in Kirtland. Their hearts were then devoted; they felt as though they could sacrifice anything they possessed. They felt that they were dwelling almost in the presence of God, and it was natural that they should have that feeling under such marvelous influences.

All these blessings, and many others that I have not time to enumerate, were enjoyed by the Latter-day Saints just previous to the time when this spirit of speculation began to pervade the hearts of the people. One would have imagined that after receiving these wonderful manifestations no temptation could have overthrown the Saints. But it did, and it scattered them, as it were, to the four winds.

Singular as it may appear, this spirit of speculation pervaded the quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the quorum of the Seven Presidents of Seventies; indeed, there was not a quorum in the Church but was more or less touched with this spirit of speculation. As that spirit increased, disunion followed. Brethren and sisters began to slander and quarrel one with the other, because their interests were not in harmony.

Will this be the case with the Latter-day Saints I am now addressing? I fear it is coming, but how far it will affect you it is not for me to say. You will have the experience, however; and perhaps it is very necessary that you should.

… One-half the quorum of the Apostles, in the days of Kirtland, fell beneath these evil influences. It was this speculation, this love of gold—the god of the world—which produced this doleful effect. And if it had this effect upon those who held the highest priesthood upon the earth, how would it affect us who, perhaps, have not had the intelligence, the information and the experience they possessed? …

The manifestations that supposedly took place in Kirtland are open to debate. One thing that can be shown historical is the Kirtland Bank Note Scandal where people lost their life savings when Joseph Smith’s bank went under and he left the town at night. See UTLM’s article on their site for more information. Interestingly enough, this debacle is not mentioned here by name in this church manual.

The Latter-day Saints ought to be too far along in wisdom and intelligence to fall into snares of this character. It does not pay. It will pay no man to turn his back upon these glorious principles and those things which have been received from the eternal worlds—to turn our backs upon these things and mix up and devote ourselves to the beggarly things of the world. It will not pay us. Whatever temptation may come upon us or to which we are now exposed we should listen to the history of the past and not allow ourselves to be overcome, or we will much regret it.

We have covenanted to separate ourselves from worldliness and devote ourselves to the kingdom of God.

The god of the world is the gold and the silver. The world worships this god. It is all-powerful to them, though they might not be willing to acknowledge it. Now, it is designed, in the providence of God, that the Latter-day Saints should show whether they have so far advanced in the knowledge, in the wisdom and in the power of God that they cannot be overcome by the god of the world. We must come to that point. We have also got to reach another standard, a higher plane: we have got to love God more than we love the world, more than we love gold or silver, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

With this said, I wonder, What do the LDS leaders think about their gold and silver? One thing I find disconcerting is that the “Church” is not required to make their financial affairs known. They hide behind their non-profit tax status, which allows them to not detail their many land, stock, buildings, and cash positions throughout the world. The information I have is severely outdated, but consider the words of journalists Richard N. and Joan K. Ostling in 1999 in a chapter they titled “Mormons, Inc”:

What makes the LDS Church distinctive is not just the amount of money coursing through its congregations each week—though that is also singular for the size of the denomination—but the church’s heavy investments in corporate enterprises. The research for this book produced an estimate that its investments in stocks, bonds, and church-controlled businesses were worth $6 billion as of 1997, and that church-owned agricultural and commercial real estate had a value of an additional $5 billion. Asked for guidance, one insider told us that those figures “do not appear unreasonable.” The worth of other categories of assets: U.S. meetinghouses and temples, $12 billion; foreign meetinghouses and temples, $6 billion; schools and miscellaneous, $1 billion. The estimated grand total of LDS assets, by a conservative reckoning, would be $25-30 billion. If assets have appreciated as much as they should have in recent times, the figure could go well beyond that. (Mormon America, pp. 114-115)

Now remember, these numbers are almost two decades old. Could the church’s holdings and income be twice or three times as large today? Very likely. What is frustrating is that many Latter-day Saints are under the mistaken notion that their leaders somehow work for free. How often do we hear this claim on the streets of Utah! While it is true that the bishops and local leaders don’t get paid, it is inaccurate to say that thousands of other leaders volunteer their time—there is compensation, whether it’s called “living expenses” or a salary. (Isn’t a “salary” the same as “living expenses,” as that money pays the bills!) We invite the Latter-day Saint to walk into the church’s administration building and look up the “Payroll department” on the wall near the elevators. Somebody must be receiving just remuneration.

Consider all the people who receive salaries and are paid, including janitors, secretaries, drivers, security, gardeners, and so many other staff members necessary to run an organization. I once spoke to a seminary teacher who sat next to me on a plane. He told me that he received wages in line with the public school system. He said that the institute teachers had the same deal.

When it comes to general authorities, I have heard the argument that they live on their personal investments made over the years. Certainly some of these men are “self-made.” What proof do we have, though, that any one of them don’t take money for their living expenses? The current president of the church, Thomas S. Monson, has worked for this organization all of his life! (Until his 30’s, he worked for LDS Church-owned Deseret News.) Are we to assume he hasn’t received any income or expenses from church coffers?

 Others acknowledge that the top leaders do receive church monies, but they point out how the local leaders to not. First, not paying the bishops is a direct violation of what God supposedly commanded in D&C 42:71-73 and D&C 75. (See here for more details.) Some knowledgeable Mormons argue that, of course, these folks get paid. It’s only the local leaders who don’t. Yet while bishops and others at the local level must work at their outside jobs full-time to pay the bills, why should a mission president receive a six-figure payment of their expenses? Again, it’s playing with semantics when the Mormon says these leaders don’t receive wages, just living expenses. Finding a mission president’s handbook online in early 2013, I have shown (using conservative numbers) that the average LDS president who might live in Provo, UT has receives at least $100,000 of expenses on an annual basis. (For more information to support what I’m saying, see here.)

Why does the church not become more transparent with its financial records? I believe the Ostlings make a great point on page 115 of their book:

The strict secrecy with which the hierarchy guards the financial facts is unique for a church of this size. Officials refuse to divulge routine information that other religions are happy to provide over the phone to donors or inquirers. Outsiders’ money estimates always raise disclaimers from officialdom, presumably because of the danger that fat-looking figures might weaken members’ tithing compliance. This had led to a cat-and-mouse game with various journalists who have attempted over the years to unveil the vast empire of corporate Mormonism.

Am I on a tangent? I don’t think so. My point is that, in this manual being read by all the church’s adults and studied on the second Sunday of November, the leadership is attempting to show how an emphasis on money (the “god” of silver and gold) is to be avoided. Yet I am not convinced that the church hierarchy lives up to this teaching.

If we … fail to keep the covenants we have made, namely, to use our time, talent and ability for the upbuilding of the kingdom of God upon the earth, how can we reasonably expect to come forth in the morning of the first resurrection, identified with the great work of redemption? If we, in our manner, habits and deal[ings], imitate the … world, thereby identifying ourselves with the world, do you think, my brethren, that God will bestow upon us the blessings we desire to inherit? I tell you no, he will not! … We must build ourselves up in the righteousness of heaven and plant in our hearts the righteousness of God. Said the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” This is what the Lord is endeavoring to do, and this he will accomplish in us if we conform to his will.

Keeping the members motivating by mentioning the keeping of covenants is a no-brainer for a manual like this–how often have we seen this done in other similar manuals as well as general conference talks? Yet, if members only knew the deep pockets of their church, then the Ostlings are correct. The number of Latter-day Saints willing to pony up their tithes to a multi-billion dollar organization could very well worry the LDS Church leaders, keeping their finances ever-secretive, while commissioning the membership to work even harder at keeping covenants.

We follow the Savior’s example when we refuse to trade the glories of eternity for the riches of the world.

You may expect … to encounter obstacles in the path of life, which will task to the uttermost your best resolutions, and some of you may be tempted to swerve from the path of truth and honor, and, like Esau, feel to relinquish the glories of eternity for a few passing moments of gratification and pleasure’ then … seize your opportunity to emulate the example of our Savior when offered the glory of this world, if he would stoop to an act of folly; he replied to his tempter, “Get behind me, Satan!” 

I find in reflecting on life, that this world is short compared with eternity; that our intelligence, the divinity within us, has always existed, was never created, and will always exist through all eternity. In view of these facts, it becomes us as intelligent beings, to realize that this life closes in a few days, then comes the life which is eternal; and in proportion as we have kept commandments, we have the advantage of those who failed to make those improvements.

Can you hear the not-so-subtle message? Don’t hoard up your silver and gold while giving to what is eternal (i.e. the Mormon Church). How many Latter-day Saints give, thinking that their tithing and offerings is somehow counted as “good,” all the while they receive no assurance of salvation based on the LDS gospel they are so faithfully following.   

The gospel binds together the hearts of all its adherents, it makes no difference, it knows no difference between the rich and the poor; we are all bound as one individual to perform the duties which devolve upon us. … Now let me ask the question, Who [does] possess anything, who can really and truly call any of this world’s goods his own? I do not presume to, I am merely a steward over a very little, and unto God I am held accountable for its use and disposition. The Latter-day Saints have received the law of the gospel through the revelations of God, and it is so plainly written that all can understand. And if we understood and comprehended the position we assumed in subscribing to it when we entered into its covenant through baptism for the remission of sins, we must still be conscious of the fact that that law requires us to seek first the kingdom of God, and that our time, talent and ability must be held subservient to its interest. If this were not so, how could we expect hereafter, when this earth shall have been made the dwelling place of God and his Son, to inherit eternal lives and to live and reign with him?

I believe Matthew 6:33 is so true, as it is important to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. But if Mormonism is not a true gospel, then is this a system worthy of sacrifice?

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