Friday, October 23, 2015

The Other Side of the Coin and Critics of the Church

My friend is upset because he heard that Joseph Smith once said that if he lived to be 70 he would see the Son of God and the millennium would begin. This is a big criticism of the Church and Joseph’s divine calling as a prophet. After all, everyone knows Joseph didn’t live to be anywhere close to that age and, of course, the millennium still hasn’t happened yet, 170 years later.

Well, friend, the quote you heard isn't quite complete. The quote is found in our D&C. (The Church isn't hiding it.) “I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man….”

That, unfortunately, is all the critics let you read or hear. After all, they can’t provide the entire quote (or other versions of it) if they want to use it as ammunition against the Church. So here is the rest of the quote, which will resolve any conflict.

“I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face.” (D&C 130:14-16)

Joseph clearly said he did not what that statement meant and mused that it could mean a variety of things IF he lived long enough. (Yes, there are other versions of this quote floating around but this is the version the Prophet, himself, approved for publication. The other quotes, if they are accurately recorded, did not merit that same approval. This is the version he placed his reputation behind...the one he knew most closely represented what he was saying.)

So, from this quote you mean a prophet of the Lord doesn’t know EVERYTHING?

That's right. And it is naive to expect that they do.

Prophets are not called for their infinite knowledge. They are called for their relationship with the Lord, to fulfill other purposes.

You are also upset because the Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith said that men would never walk on the moon. How, then, can he be a true prophet of God if he makes such an obvious mistake. Why didn't he know the coming truth?

First off, that statement was not a prophecy nor was it made by a Prophet. Joseph Fielding Smith made that statement in a stake conference in 1961. (Not the General Conference critics would lead you to believe.) He wasn't called as a prophet until 1970. Here is the quote the critics use from Elder Joseph Fielding Smith:

“We will never get a man into space. This earth is man's sphere and it was never intended that he should get away from it. The moon is a superior planet to the earth and it was never intended that man should go there. You can write it down in your books that this will never happen.”

They fail to tell you that Elder Smith was using that statement as he spoke on the faith (not space travel). His grandson, Joseph Fielding McConkie explained, “He reasoned that because the atonement that Christ worked out on this earth applies to all the creations of the Father, that our getting to other worlds and discovering that they had the same Savior and the same plan of salvation would dispense with the necessity of our accepting the gospel on the basis of faith. To dramatize the point he said, "I don't even think the Lord will let men get to the moon."

Joseph Fielding McConkie went on to say, “What he said (about faith), in my judgment, was right. The illustration he used to dramatize his point has since proven to be in error. It, however, has nothing to do with the point he was making. To dismiss everything else he said on the basis of one faulty illustration is, I would suggest, a far greater error and may frankly be grounds to question whether those saying it deserve credence, not whether Joseph Fielding Smith does.”

Yes, the “man” in Joseph Fielding Smith was incorrect. Men often are, doggonit. But that also means even critics of the Church are prone to being ‘incorrect’. Remember that if you face them and especially if you go looking for them.

But what about the Prophets, you ask. Don't they have to be perfect?

No. If we’re looking for perfect mortals to lead the Church then will have to throw out all of them. Goodbye Adam, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Joseph Smith, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, Joseph Fielding Smith…

We know that Christ was the only perfect person who ever walked on this earth, therefore we know, too, that all others have made mistakes--including the men He has called as Prophets, Seers and Revelators. Yet Christ clearly taught that "by their fruits ye shall know them." He didn't say anything about inspecting their bark to see if it was free of flaws. Why, then, do we feel we must pick apart the bark ourselves?

We are not here to find fault with others. God wants us to be of good cheer, to uplift and to edify those around us. I believe critical people tell me more about themselves than about the topic they are criticizing.

So, as we seek out our own learning and knowledge we must keep keep our eye focused on God. If we are doing as He wants we will be guided to paths that strength and brighten...not darken and taint.

So how do we know if something a prophet says is from God and not his own opinion? Here is a clear guide.

If it is from God it will be presented to the entire Church. It will be spoken from the housetops. It will not be a quote or two taken out of context. Everyone will know.

Neil L. Andersen said, “A few question their faith when they find a statement made by a Church leader decades ago that seems incongruent with our doctrine. There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by ALL 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many. Our doctrine is not difficult to find.”

So, if the topic is being talked about by the Prophet, First Presidency and the 12 Apostles then you can rest assured it has the Lord’s approval. A random quote or two does not a doctrine make.

“Not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. A single statement made by a single leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, but is not meant to be officially binding for the whole Church….Isolated statements are often taken out of context, leaving their original meaning distorted” (LDS Newsroom, “Approaching Mormon Doctrine”).

When you read a short comment that makes you question the Church, know there is more to that quote. Find the full quote, read the full talk, understand the history of the time and, above all, pray as your read. Ask God for knowledge and guidance. He is the highest source of information you can find. Higher than any blog and any Web site. If you aren't going to God you are failing yourself.

Finally, my dear friend, prophets are not perfect but they are called by God for the strengths and guidance they can give to the world. If everyone listened to and followed the Prophets as they spoke His doctrines and principles, the world would be a much better place. That is the fruit that is sweeter than all others.

Do not get upset when people, strangers or even close friends, throw comments at you to shake your faith. No matter their reason for doing so, there is a certain baseness of spirit in anyone who would intentionally try to shake another person’s faith.

I love what Elder Vern P Stanfill said in October General Conference about critics of the Church. "These ever-present naysayers prefer to tear down rather than elevate and to ridicule rather than uplift. Their mocking words can burrow into our lives, often through split-second bursts of electronic distortions carefully and deliberately composed to destroy our faith. Is it wise to place our eternal well-being in the hands of strangers? Is it wise to claim enlightenment from those who have no light to give or who may have private agendas hidden from us?"

We need to remember that--always. Let us cautiously pick the voices we will listen to. And let us also remember each time we hold some change in our hand that there are two sides to every coin...and every comment. The side you choose to view is entirely up to you. But it will also tell others more about who you are and who you are becoming than the side you are viewing.

Elder Stanfill's talk Choose The Light

To find answers to questions posed by critics or even raised by your own studies go to FairMormon


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