Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Which Way Do You Face?", Lynn G. Robbins, Oct 2014

You can find this talk here.


  • Based on just the abstract at the beginning, this sounded great, but the first thing he does is incorrectly equate following the president of the Church to loving God. God and the president of the church are not the same person. One is omnipotent and cannot lie; the other is a mortal man. We're commanded not to trust in the arm of flesh, so we can't immediately assume that honoring one is honoring the other.
    • 2 Nephi 28:31 "Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, save their precepts shall be given by the power of the Holy Ghost."
    • We absolutely must not assume everything any human says is spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost.
      • We often assume that anything that makes us emotional or feel a thrill must be the Holy Ghost, though to be clear, I'm not claiming we're taught that by the Church, officially. A little reflection proves that must be a silly idea (I felt one of those thrills the other night at the rodeo because the riders looked really neat). Until we have a good idea what is and isn't the Holy Ghost, it would be especially unwise to assume a particular person is somehow always speaking by the Holy Ghost.
  • His example of the missionary who won't turn in his companion reminds me of a recent push noticed among missionaries, for "exact obedience." Charles has had this going on in his mission, and reports that he has lots better success following the Holy Ghost instead, and that in his opinion, the two aren't always in agreement. I get that from a letter I just sent, wherein he volunteered the information; it didn't come from, for instance, me prodding him.
    • I'm not sure encouraging missionaries to squeal on each other is proper. Matthew 5:23-24 says "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift." I can't find it right off (somewhere in section 42, 102, or 107 I'd bet), but the idea of the church disciplinary process is that when someone offends you, talk to them privately, and if that doesn't fix it, involve the bishop. Running immediately to the mission president isn't part of that program.
  • This topic of fearing God more than man is important. It's part of why Karlyn has done what she has done -- because it's important to show God you'll do what He wants, even if it's going to bother close friends, people in authority, family members, etc.
  • I can't help but find this talk duplicitous, because he's encouraging people to speak truth to power, while at the same time I can list lots of people who have been excommunicated for doing exactly that. The scriptural example of Christ preaching to the church leaders of His day seems decidedly a propos.
    • His accusation against Nephite churches of "dumbing down" the doctrine is also duplicitous. Dumbing down the gospel has been the widely recognized effect of the correlation program, to the extent that it seems we're only receiving the "lesser portion of the word" and will one day find we "know nothing concerning [God's] mysteries." (Alma 12:10-11) It used to be that members of the church studied doctrine, but today we're encouraged not to stray beyond the safe harbor of the manual, which itself has had all hint of nuance or complexity redacted.
    • Of course, it's possible Elder Robbins is preaching this message in the hope that Church leadership will take the lesson to heart and stop doing the dumbing down and unjust excommunicating for which it has become famous. If that's the case, may the Lord bless him in his effort.
  • Taken alone, his last paragraph is magnificent. Karlyn's leaving the Church has taught me to be more straightforward with those in authority, or in other words, I'm now less liable to "cower or fawn at the feet of intimidation." I'm very grateful for that.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"The Reason for Our Hope", Elder Packer, Oct 2014

Find this talk here.
  • Elder Packer did a nice thing for Oxford University, but quite honestly I find in it further evidence of our modern priestcraft. We generally claim that priestcraft means to pay our priests, but more generally it means to "set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion." (2 Ne 26:29) Elder Packer certainly does seek the welfare of the Church, which presumably includes the seeds of Zion, but he like the rest of the apostles and first presidency also preaches to get gain. It's his job.
    • The Church does not publish its financial details enough to know what General Authorities' salaries are, so there are some doubts about how their compensation works. One guy I know claims that when an apostle is called, he's given positions on the boards of various church-owned companies, and his compensation comes that way. I doubt that, personally, but if it's true, it's still receiving compensation for preaching. If he hadn't been called to that position to preach in the first place, he wouldn't have ended up on those boards.
    • Someone noticed, a while back, that the church's handbook for mission presidents gives some idea of the compensation they receive. This is one of the church's handbooks they don't publish for members, and instruct those who have copies to keep them close, but it made it to the internet anyway. I haven't read it. One person reports mission presidents are provided one round-trip ticket per child, so their kids can come visit once during their mission, and pre-college and undergraduate educational costs for children.
      • It bothers me, too, that the church expects its members to follow rules set forth in a handbook they can't read. Several of my acquaintances have been excommunicated for doing things that were just fine according to scripture, but didn't pass muster with the handbook they'd never been allowed to see.
  • I've been grateful for the Topical Guide and footnotes and indexes, too. It's helpful to realize they were compiled largely automatically, and that some of the footnotes and interpretive comments actually have nothing to do with the verses they're linked to, but it's still a valuable resource.
    • For instance, the index (not the topical guide, but the index after the Pearl of Great Price) in my Triple Combination refers to D&C 134:12 as saying that it's dangerous for societies to allow slavery. What it actually says is that the church believes it's dangerous to preach to bond-servants "contrary to the will and wish of their masters". It looks like that index entry has been removed from the Church website version of the scriptures -- which is also interesting, as now the entry doesn't mention section 134 at all.
  • I'm grateful to hear Pres. Packer talk of Christ. He should be the focus of our life.
  • I can testify of this: "Those who will repent and forsake sin will find that His merciful arm is outstretched still."
  • His story of the woman struggling to forgive is beautiful
    • "there came into her heart an immediate reply" -- that's how it often works for me, too.
  • "These numbers serve as evidence that the 'stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands' continues to roll forth and will eventually fill 'the whole earth'"
    • This is true only if you can prove the numbers apply to the stone Daniel mentioned. Other groups' claims (such as those of the RLDS / Community of Christ church) that they are the true heirs of Joseph Smith's restoration are much more valid than we generally give credit for, and our own claims somewhat more tenuous than we're often told. I don't buy the idea that some other faction of Mormonism is the right one, but still, their claims aren't all hogwash.
  • "the true success of the gospel of Jesus Christ will be measured by the spiritual strength of its individual members"
    • This is true, too, depending on how you define "spiritual strength". Fortunately, Pres. Packer defines it as a "testimony of the hope of redemption", which is an excellent definition for purposes of his statement.
  • "We need everyone’s wisdom and insight and spiritual strength ... We are at war with the forces of the adversary, and we need each and every one of us if we are going to succeed in the work the Savior has for us to do."
    • This is true, too. Unfortunately there are all kinds of people who get shunned from the church for sharing their particular insight. It's only mentioned here in passing, but I'm glad it was mentioned.
  • "[our testimony] must grow 'line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little'"
    • It's through trying to review my testimony "line upon line" that I ended up where I am today. I'm far more confident in my relationship with Christ because of it, and I'm grateful for that. It has been a hard road, and shows no sign of getting easier.
  • "He is no stranger to His servants."
    • Pres. Packer is sometimes criticized for language like this, and I think rightly so. The calling of an apostle is to bear witness of having seen Christ, as can be seen from the description of choosing an apostle to replace Judas, in Acts chapter 1 (esp. verse 22). Oliver Cowdery made that clear to the new apostles when they were first ordained. Oliver's charge to the apostles to seek an actual audience with Christ was continued for each new apostle until 1900 or so when Reed Smoot was ordained. Today people misuse the D&C phrasing of "special witness of the name of Christ" to ignore language from Acts, and suggest an apostle must only have a witness via the Holy Ghost. This kind of language encourages listeners to think Pres. Packer may have seen Christ, without actually saying as much.
      • Pres. Packer has said several times that someone who had seen Christ wouldn't share the experience, because of its sacredness. This makes some sense, and certainly one wouldn't share all the details, but if you have an apostolic commandment to testify that you've seen him, you can certainly do that with perfect propriety.
      • Elder Haight described a vision of Christ's ministry in General Conference of Oct 1989 which is a helpful example of one way to share such a thing.
  • "There is no end to His power to bless and direct the lives of those who seek truth and righteousness."  I can testify of this as well -- at least, I haven't found an end to it in my own life.
  • "After I shared with the chaplain some of the teachings of the Savior, the atmosphere changed..." Testifying of Christ does tend to change atmospheres. It's neat watching it happen in otherwise entirely secular circumstances.
  • I wish we took the verse in 2 Nephi 25:26 more seriously. We say "we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ", and Nephi's record suggests they actually did. We preach too much of other things. With a testimony of Christ, there rest comes naturally (actually, Pres. Packer's statement of a few years ago has proven itself to me many times: "The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior." (Oct. conference, 1986)
  • "Those who will repent and forsake sin will find that His merciful arm is outstretched still." This is true, of course, but too often we think of repenting as directly tied to sin. To "repent" means to return to God; "repent" and "return" are the same word in Hebrew.
    • One statement I found sums it up accurately, if crassly, is, "We equate in large measure, repentance, with whatever it is you're doing with your genitals." (Denver Snuffer, "Be of Good Cheer") My entire experience in the Young Men program, insofar as "spiritual" things were concerned, was to be instructed to keep my pants on, which served only to reinforce that idea. I haven't been involved in church adolescent programs much lately, but it seems they've improved.
    • Repenting isn't asking forgiveness for a specific sin. The Lord has probably forgiven you already ("The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy." Psalms 145:8). Repenting is about turning to Christ, and you can do it no matter what road you've chosen (Helaman 7:17, Alma 42:4, Helaman 14:17-19)
  • "We need to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ to men, women, and children, those of every race and nationality, the rich and the poor."
    • This is very true. We need to remember, as we're doing that, what the gospel of Christ actually is. 3 Nephi 27:13-21 describes it nicely. D&C 33:11-15 describes it as simply baptism, and then describes how the Holy Ghost is given by God, not man.
      • The doctrine of baptism by fire, and the idea that it doesn't come automatically the minute you're confirmed, is something we've quit preaching in the church, and it's unfortunate. We should all work to receive that baptism.
      • This is related to the incorrect idea we hold of what "church" means. D&C 10:67 tells us the "church" is those who repent and come unto Christ. Verse 68 then tells us that anyone who says differently is anti-Christ. This is one reason I'm not particularly worried about Karlyn having withdrawn from the earthy church corporation; I know she is repenting and coming unto Christ, with or without that membership. Of course, the main reason I'm not worried is that I know God told her to do what she did.
  • His reference to 1 Corinthians and the different members of the body should teach us that we need all sorts of people, even if they don't all abide by the traditional trappings of the religion we're used to.
  • "We are at war with the forces of the adversary, and we need each and every one of us if we are going to succeed in the work the Savior has for us to do." This isn't exactly true. We know that the Savior will succeed, and that if we align ourselves with Him, we'll succeed too. That happens independent of whether "every one of us" is involved.

"Welcome to Conference", Pres. Monson, Oct. 2014

Find this talk here.
  • We come from all over
  • The leaders who will speak have sought inspiration
    • I'm sure they have. We once lived in the same ward as Elaine Jack, who described to me something about what it was like to prepare a talk for General Conference. She was a thoughtful woman who took her responsibility seriously, and I'm quite confident the rest of them do the same
  • The church has been doing these conferences a long time
  • We're building temples
    • I'd like to study the history of the modern temple, sometime. In Kirtland, Far West, and Nauvoo, I know we built, or tried to build, temples in response to specific, canonized revelation, but what about the rest of them? Is there a revelation somewhere that says we should keep building them? Have the temples been ratified by the Church's vote?
  • It's interesting that the focus this time around would be to complete temples already in progress, and that we don't get the usual announcement of new temples. This seemed like a temporary plan when Pres. Monson said it, and indeed two more temples were announced in the conference after this one.
  • Where in the scriptures does it say that missionary work is a "priesthood duty"?
    • Lots of the D&C talks about duties, but outside of section 20, it's directed to specific individuals or presidents of specific groups. The "Go ye into all the world" commandment (Mark 16:15) was made to the apostles, and repeated to the apostles specifically in D&C 84:62.
    • Section 20 gives the duties of elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members, which where the original offices in the church. Of those, all but the members have the duty to preach and teach. The modern concept of offices within the priesthood didn't develop until later.
      • When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic priesthood in May 1829, they were told they'd be given the Melchisidek Priesthood "in due time", and known as the first and second elders of the church. We typically say they received that priesthood in 1836, with the events of section 110, but our history doesn't actually make clear when they received that priesthood. They were known as the first and second elder long before 1836, at least as early as 1830 when the church was established.
  • "As we listen, may our hearts be touched and our faith 
    • The word of God is supposed to increase our faith (Romans 10:16 "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.")
      • That's an interesting verse. I'd say "hearing" in that use means "understanding", not just "listening to" the word of God.