Sunday, May 26, 2013

Things Old

This is a copy of a talk I gave in church in October 1997. I'm now divorced and no longer active in the Church, but this talk still captures much of my belief.

I would like to start by reading Alma 32:26-27:

Now, as I said concerning faith--that it was not a perfect
knowledge--even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at
first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge. But
behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment
upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more
than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in
a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.

I shall return to this passage in a little bit. It was my wife that
first got me interested in the Gospel. At the time, I was a fairly new
member of a local Baptist church, and with the zeal of a new convert, I was
sure that my decision for Christ had been the right one. When I found out
that Carrie and her boyfriend of the time were LDS, I decided that it would
be a good idea to learn more about the Latter-day Saints and their beliefs.
So I went to a local Christian bookstore and picked up a book on
Mormonism. It was, of course, an anti-Mormon work. I knew that I should not
take the inflammatory remarks too seriously, but what facts I could confirm,
I was able to, usually from Mormon sources, and on a few occasions,
confirmation came right out of Carrie's mouth. Hateful and mean as the
anti-Mormon works were, I apparently could come to no other conclusion than
the Church was not true.

If only I could leave it at that. But I could not. I soon found myself
trying to convert Carrie and my friend away from Mormonism, using the facts
that I had gathered, inviting her to confirm them for herself. On one
occasion that I remember, she did try to confirm or deny certain facts found
in the anti-Mormon works. She came back shaken; my facts were dead on. But
she did not give up her faith, either in Joseph Smith or the restored Gospel.
I actually wound up envying her faith and hating it for its emotional

But there were a few things that I liked very much about the Mormon
gospel. To begin with, I liked the idea of celestial marriage, wherein one's
family could be sealed for time and eternity. Likewise, I liked the idea of
the degrees of glory described in D&C 76, since it fit my conceptions of a
just God far better than the either heaven or hell theory of most Christians.
I also liked the command to "seek learning, even by study and also by
faith." I definitely came to the point where I desired to believe.
And yet I could not. Always hanging at the back of my mind were those
anti-Mormon works which got their facts right. Faith is not a perfect
knowledge, but the Latter-day Saints' faith is based on verifiable
information. The Latter-day Saints themselves were the ones who suggested
that faith must be grounded in reason, else why should they actively
encourage learning at all? My studies had thus far shown that the Gospel of
the Latter-day Saints could not be true.

This problem intensified somewhat when Carrie and I started dating and
talking about marriage. Throughout this time, we kept on discussing our
faith openly, and we encouraged each other solely on the basis of commonly
held beliefs. But Carrie wanted the temple, and that meant I had to become a
Latter-day Saint. And this I could not do unless I could be convinced from
the facts that the Church was what it said it was. We had many arguments
over this point; I insisted that she had to prove that the Gospel was true if
she expected me to accept it.

She tried, and she tried hard. She checked out books from her Institute
library. She bought Sorenson's An Ancient American Setting for the Book of
. Through a friend of her family's, I received a little book called
Why I Believe by George Edward Clark. I dutifully read everything that she
got, and rejected them all. Few of them addressed the problems I had with
the Church, or glossed them over. Sorenson may have achieved plausibility
for placing the Book of Mormon lands where he did, but he never approached
the probability demanded by archaeologists.

So we always reached an impasse, with neither one of us getting anywhere.
We even broke up for a short while, but our love drew us back together. Our
problems remained. We were both convinced that God wanted us to marry each
other. But Carrie remained convinced that she was to marry in the temple,
and I was sure that it did not matter.

Lets go back to Alma 32 and read verse 28:

Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a
seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good
seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the
Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and
when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within
yourselves--It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is
good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my
understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.

Actually, even a good seed must be placed in good soil, or, even if the
seed is good, it will not grow very well. The soil must provide the right
nutrients. It was not the seed that was bad. The only soil I had was the
soil of the anti-Mormon books leaving its undeniable hold on me. As I said,
I had the will to believe, I just did not have a reason to believe.
Part of the problem was my view of the Bible. Like most conservative
Baptists, I viewed the Bible as being completely inerrant. 1 Ne. 13, 2 Ne.
29, and the eighth Article of Faith were direct attacks on the Bible, and
often used as an excuse for ignorance. One time, Carrie used the excuse of
"mistranslation or missing parts" one too many times, and I yelled at her
something to the effect of, "Don't try to hide behind that excuse ever again!
Unless you can offer hard evidence that something is missing from the Bible
or that mistranslations have not been corrected, I don't ever want to hear it

She never did that again to this day. If I still harbor any resentments
of any kind from this period, it is this: Latter-day Saints try too often to
get around problems with the Bible by assuming the mistranslation or removal
of certain parts. This begs the question, never resolves the problem.
Having looked into the issue very carefully, I have no choice but to conclude
that the Bible is basically reliable.

And this is was the key. The Bible is basically reliable, but it is not
completely inerrant, as I had been led to believe. This nearly undermined my
whole faith in Christ.

It was a book meant primarily for Catholics which finally gave me some
good soil in which to plant the seed of the Gospel. It pointed out to me
many new spiritual insights which I could reconcile a Bible with errors of
fact without undermining faith in Christ. It also pointed out a few things
about the nature of prophecy and inspiration that I had never even thought of
before. I was now well on my way not to Catholic faith, but to a knowledge
of the restored Gospel.

With the idea of complete inerrancy taken care of, I could look at the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with new eyes. There were still
several problems with Church history that needed to be taken care of, and so
I turned to newer sources to resolve these problems. The turning point,
ironically enough, came when I read Fawn Brodie's No Man Knows My History.
Where she saw evidence of fraud, I saw evidence of inspiration from God.
Finally, I had a good seed, planted in good soil, and starting to swell
in my breast. Back to Alma 32:

Now behold, would not this increase your faith? I say unto you, Yea;
nevertheless it hath not grown up to a perfect knowledge.
But behold, as the seed swelleth, and sprouteth, and beginneth to grow,
then you must needs say that the seed is good; for behold it swelleth, and
sprouteth, and beginneth to grow. And now, behold, will not this strengthen
your faith? Yea, it will strengthen your faith: for ye will say I know that
this is a good seed; for behold it sprouteth and beginneth to grow. And now,
behold, are ye sure that this is a good seed? I say unto you, Yea; for every
seed bringeth forth unto its own likeness.

"Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things," said
Moroni, "that ye would . . . ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall
receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal
Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall
ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will
manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by
the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things."
Did you know that the Hebrews considered the heart the seat of the
intellect? This passage could easily read, "Ponder it in your minds."
Moroni was telling us to ponder it in our minds, to study it out, then ask
God for confirmation of the Holy Ghost.

Oliver Cowdery was told the same thing in April 1829 while he and the
Prophet Joseph Smith were working on the Book of Mormon. D&C 9:7-8 reads:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it
unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. 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.

In March 1836 at the dedication of the temple at Kirtland, Joseph Smith
offered these words as part of his prayer:

And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words
of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning
even by study and also by faith. (D&C 109:7)

Notice how study again is first. By study and by faith. It was a long
and sometimes torturous path for me. But I finally gained a testimony of the
restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that Joseph Smith was a
Prophet inspired by God. Moreover, I have a testimony that diligent study,
hard work, and performing an experiment will eventually lead to a perfect
knowledge, if guided by faith.

I opened with Alma, and I will close with Alma. The final verses of
chapter here offer me the same hope that it should offer you who are willing
to nourish the word by study and by faith:

But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to
grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward
to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree
springing up unto everlasting life. And because of your diligence and your
faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root
in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most
precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above
all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast
upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall
ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your
diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring
forth fruit unto you.

I leave these things with you in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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