THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST TODAY
The Church of Jesus Christ Was Taken from the Earth
This lesson may well be a celebration of all of the previous lessons this year, as well as a celebration for what is to come in the remaining lessons. The Restoration is worth multiple celebrations.
The first question posed in this lesson is:
“Why was the Church of Jesus Christ removed from the earth shortly after the Savior’s death and Resurrection?” (p. 95)
It may be important for students to pull the answers to that question out of the second paragraph in this section. Those with manuals could share with those who don’t have one the day of the lesson. The answers would be as follow:
1. “…men changed the ordinances and doctrines…”
2. “…there was no direct revelation from God.”
3. “Men organized different churches that claimed to be true but taught conflicting doctrines.”
4. “There was much confusion and contention over religion.”
The first and third points are significant, since, as the Savior taught with emphasis:
For if a church be called in Moses' name then it be Moses' church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man… (3 Nephi 27:8)
The second statement is significant, since God always runs His Church by revelation:
Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7)
The last statement is significant, since it was the prelude for Joseph Smith’s first vocal prayer:
“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs…” (JS-History 1:13)
This last statement is also significant because of what Jesus Christ emphasized repeatedly concerning contention very early in His appearance in the Americas in 3 Nephi 11:22-30.
The wording in each of these is also memorable of what President Spencer W. Kimball explained about perhaps the most devilish event of the apostasy - - the destruction of the nature of God. Following is the statement, excerpted from this blog, Chapter 3, (January):
Men with keen intelligence got together...[at] Nicea and created a God. They made it just about like a political party would do, and out of their own mortal minds created a God which is still worshiped by the great majority of Christians. They did not pray for wisdom or revelation. They claimed no revelation from the Lord. They took away all his physical properties; they took the Father and the Son and made them into one undefinable spirit... (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 426)
In this section, Amos 8:11-12 is discussed. Elder Spencer W. Kimball read this scripture in conference and then declared:
After centuries of spiritual darkness, described by Amos and Jeremiah, we solemnly announce to all the world that the spiritual famine is ended, the spiritual drought is spent, the word of the Lord in its purity and totalness is available to all men. One needs not wander from sea to sea nor from the north to the east, seeking the true gospel as Amos predicted, for the everlasting truth is available. (Conference Report, April 1964, pp. 93)
For those of you who do not have a copy of Conference Report, April 1964 handy, there is a new way to obtain it. I actually found the above quote in “LDS Scripture Citation Index.” This is a terrific website produced by some BYU professors where you can click on any scripture and pull up every talk where any speaker used it in conference. Just Google “scriptures.byu.edu” and it is the first one up. I then put the site on my “Favorites” list so I can easily access it at any time.
The Lord Promised to Restore His True Church
I really like the promise of the Restoration as found in Acts 3:19-21 (see “Additional Scriptures,” p. 100) where Paul teaches:
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.
In conference, Elder M. Russell Ballard explained how we can help others who do not know about this wonderful Restoration understand it and prepare for the Second Coming:
Once these important principles are understood, we can then explain and expand the understanding of our Father’s children by sharing with them how Jesus Himself established and organized His Church in the meridian of time by giving “some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12)
From there we can help our friends and neighbors understand the Apostasy, or falling away from the original Church organized by the Lord, which was prophesied by those who helped to establish the Church in the first place. Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians who were eagerly anticipating the Second Coming of the Savior that “that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thes. 2:3). He also warned Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but … they shall turn away their ears from the truth” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). And Peter presupposed a falling away when he spoke of “the times of refreshing” that would come before God would again “send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:
“Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19-21).
Do you see how naturally and easily one principle of the Restoration leads to the next? Peter’s prophecy almost begs for a discussion of the restoration of the gospel in these latter days through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This in turn demands a dialogue about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the holy priesthood through the gift and power of God. From there it is so natural to share the principle of continuing revelation and the organization of the Church and its doctrines and programs. (Ensign, May 2000, 31)
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland gave a wonderful conference talk about how many anticipated the need for a Restoration. In this talk he declared:
…the incomparable Ralph Waldo Emerson rocked the very foundations of New England ecclesiastical orthodoxy when he said to the Divinity School at Harvard: “It is my duty to say to you that the need was never greater [for] new revelation than now.” “The doctrine of inspiration is lost. … Miracles, prophecy, … the holy life, exist as ancient history [only]. … Men have come to speak of … revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead. … It is the office of a true teacher,” he warned, “to show us that God is, not was; that He speaketh, not spake.” In essence, Mr. Emerson was saying, “If you persist in handing out stones when people ask for bread, they will eventually stop coming to the bakery.” (Ensign, Nov 2004, 6)
New Revelation from God
It should be understood that Satan understood the prophesy in Acts 3:19-21 and did not want the Restoration to lessen his hold on darkness. Here is repeated an excerpt from this blog, Chapter 9 (March):
Reverend Billy Graham, perhaps one of the most listened-to ministers of the past 50 years, expressed what most Christians believe about the idea that heavens are closed when he answered a question in the Charlotte Observer:
Question: Do you believe God has prophets that can deliver new truth to us today?
Answer: God’s revelation is complete, because "in these last days he has spoken to us by his son...." (Hebrews 1:2). Don’t be misled by those who claim God speaks to them and gives them new truth. He has given us all we need to know in the pages of the Bible. This is why the final verses of the Bible include a warning against adding or subtracting from God’s word (see Revelation 22:18).
You can go back to this part of the blog for discussion of the scriptures Reverend Graham used. The point here is that most Christians now share this view of “New Revelation from God,” as was also the view in 1820. When Joseph Smith received what we now refer to as the First Vision, a wonderful event marking the beginning of “refreshing” and “restitution” of revelation in the latter days, he tells of the reaction he received:
Some few days after I had this vision, I happened to be in company with one of the Methodist preachers, who was very active in the before mentioned religious excitement; and, conversing with him on the subject of religion, I took occasion to give him an account of the vision which I had had. I was greatly surprised at his behavior; he treated my communication not only lightly, but with great contempt, saying it was all of the devil, that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days; that all such things had ceased with the apostles, and that there would never be any more of them.
I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase… (JS-History 1:21 - 22)
President Ezra Taft Benson comments on this reaction to Joseph’s vision:Joseph was surprised to hear the minister say that there were no such things as visions or revelations in these days, that all such things had ceased (see JS-H 1:21).
This remark symbolizes practically all of the objections that have ever been made against the Church by nonmembers and dissident members alike. Namely, they do not believe that God reveals his will today to the Church through prophets of God. (Ensign, May 1975, 63)
From the same conference talk referred to earlier, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed how some in Joseph Smith’s time did not believe the false idea that God no longer spoke with us and gave us revelation:
Anxiety and expectation regarding the need for divine direction was not uncommon among those religious reformers who set the stage for the Restoration of the gospel. One of the most famous of the New England preachers, Jonathan Edwards, said, “It seems to me a[n] … unreasonable thing, to suppose that there should be a God … that has so much concern [for us], … and yet that he should never speak, … that there should be no word [from him].”
In the very year Mr. Emerson gave his Divinity School address implicitly pleading for such, Elder John Taylor, a young English immigrant to this country, was called to be an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, a prophet, a seer, a revelator. In that calling Elder Taylor once said in sympathy with honest seekers of truth: “Whoever heard of true religion without communication with God? To me the thing is the most absurd that the human mind could conceive of. I do not wonder,” said Brother Taylor, “[that] when the people generally reject the principle of present revelation, skepticism and infidelity prevail to such an alarming extent. I do not wonder,” he continued, “that so many men treat religion with contempt, and regard it as something not worth the attention of intelligent beings, for without revelation religion is a mockery and a farce. … The principle of present revelation … is the very foundation of our religion.” (Ensign, Nov 2004, 6)
The following questions and answers from Joseph Smith appeared in an earlier blog (Chapter 16, May) but probably fits better here in this lesson:
The Prophet's Answers to Sundry Questions.
Eighteenth—"Is there anything in the Bible which licenses you to believe in revelation now-a-days?“Is there anything that does not authorize us to believe so? If there is, we have, as yet, not been able to find it.
Nineteenth—"Is not the canon of the Scriptures full?“ If it is, there is a great defect in the book, or else it would have said so. (History of the Church, 3:29-30)
Additional information on “creeds…were an abomination” which is discussed in this section can be found earlier in this blog, (Chapter 3, January) under the section “A Savior and Leader was Needed.”
Authority form God Was Restored
From the “LDS Scripture Citation Index” referred to above, comes the following terrific quote from President Boyd K. Packer. He is discussing the Apostles of the New Testament:
We know little of their travels and only where and how a few of them died. James was killed in Jerusalem by Herod. Peter and Paul died in Rome. Tradition holds that Philip went to the East. Much more than this we do not know.
They scattered; they taught, testified, and established the Church. And they died for their beliefs, and with their deaths came the dark centuries of apostasy.
The most precious thing lost in the Apostasy was the authority held by the Twelve—the priesthood keys. For the Church to be His Church, there must be a Quorum of the Twelve who hold the keys and confer them on others.
In time came the First Vision and the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood by Peter, James, and John. (Ensign, May 2008, 83)
President Packer then references D&C 27:12, which is referred to in this section (p. 97).
A discussion of why President Packer stated that the authority of the Twelve was “The most precious thing lost in the Apostasy” may be helpful to class members.
Christ’s Church Was Organized Again
The first paragraph in this section refers to D&C 1:30 and the idea that this Church is “the only true and living church…” (p. 97). President Boyd K. Packer gave a wonderful conference talk entitled “The Only True Church.” It would be helpful to read the entire talk. In this talk he discussed the feeling some have that “only true and living church” sounds presumptuous. Following are some excerpts which may help with this lesson:
One doctrine presents a particular challenge. It is our firm conviction that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is, as the revelations state, “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” (D&C 1:30)
This doctrine often generates resistance and repels the casual investigator.
Some have said, “We want nothing to do with anyone who makes so presumptuous a claim as that.”
The early Latter-day Saints were bitterly persecuted for holding to this doctrine. They were the butt of many clever stories. We, of course, are not free from that today.
Inevitably (and properly) the “true church” doctrine emerges very early in any serious discussion of the gospel, for there is no better place to start such a discussion than with the First Vision. And there, in that very first conversation with man in this dispensation, the Lord presented it in unmistakable clarity.
Joseph Smith sought answer to the question “which of all the sects was right … and which … should [he] join?” (JS—H 1:18) Surely he supposed that somewhere the “right” church was to be found. A simple direction to it would end his search. He could then join that church, live the tenets it proclaimed, and that would be that.
But that was not to be. In response to his humble prayer, the Father and the Son appeared to him. When he gained possession of himself so as to be able to speak, he asked “which of all the sects was right, that [he] might know which to join.” (JS—H 1:18)
He recorded this:
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’
“He again forbade me to join with any of them.” (JS—H 1:19-20)
That is very blunt language. Little wonder that when he repeated it, the troubles began.
If ever he was tempted to disregard those words, they were repeated and sustained in subsequent revelations. A little more than a year after the Church was organized, the first section of the Doctrine and Covenants was revealed. In it the Lord said that the Book of Mormon was given in order that his servants “might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” (D&C 1:30; italics added.)
We know there are decent, respectable, humble people in many churches, Christian and otherwise. In turn, sadly enough, there are so-called Latter-day Saints who by comparison are not as worthy, for they do not keep their covenants.
But it is not a matter of comparing individuals. We are not baptized collectively, nor will we be judged collectively.
Good conduct without the ordinances of the gospel will neither redeem nor exalt mankind; covenants and the ordinances are essential. We are required to teach the doctrines, even the unpopular ones.
Yield on this doctrine, and you cannot justify the Restoration. The doctrine is true; it is logical. The opposite is not. (Ensign, Nov 1985, 80)
The sixth paragraph of this section discusses “stakes” (p. 98) and how they are organized. In a great First Presidency Message entitled “Strengthen Thy Stakes,” President Ezra Taft Benson explained:
The term stake is a symbolic expression. Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground.
The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth. That tent was supported by cords fastened to stakes. Those stakes, of course, are various geographical organizations spread out over the earth. Presently, Israel is being gathered to the various stakes of Zion.
Yet another revelation from the Lord gives this explanation of the purpose of stakes:
“Verily I say unto you all: Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations;
“And that the gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” (D&C 115:5-6)
In this revelation is a command to let our light shine so it becomes a standard for the nations. A standard is a rule of measure by which one determines exactness or perfection. The Saints are to be a standard of holiness for the world to see! That is the beauty of Zion.
The Lord then reveals that the stakes of Zion are to be “for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.” Stakes are a defense for the Saints from enemies both seen and unseen. The defense is direction provided through priesthood channels that strengthens testimony and promotes family solidarity and individual righteousness. (Ensign, Jan 1991, 2)
To conclude this section the following quote from President Gordon B. Hinckley is appropriate. It also ties in with the last section of this lesson:
Other churches also do much good, but this is the “true and living church” of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose name it bears (see D&C 1:30). Be true to it. Cling to it. If you will do so it will become as an anchor in the midst of a stormy sea. It will be a light to your lives and a foundation upon which to build them. I give you my solemn testimony that this Church will never be led astray. It is in the hands of God, and should any of its leaders ever attempt to lead it astray, His is the power to remove them. He has said that He has restored His work for the last time, “never again to be destroyed nor given to other people” (D&C 138:44; see also Dan. 2:44-45). (Ensign, May 1996, 91)
Important Truths Were Restored
This section of the lesson, like the entire lesson, could well be an entire year’s worth of lessons. In fact, there actually is two year’s worth - - which is this course. It may be useful to have students turn to the two pages of “Contents” at the beginning of the manual and discuss one at a time how numbers 1 to 8 in this section either were or will be chapters in this two-year course. This is not only a nice walk down memory lane, but a good preview of what is to come:
1 - - Chapter 1
2 - - Chapter 2
3 - - Chapter 13
4 - - Chapter 6 (implied - - see Chapter 6, February of the blog for clarification)
5 - - Chapter 20
6 - - Chapter 46
7 - - Chapters 36 & 38
8 - - Chapters 20, 38, & 41
Be sure to include Chapter 18 & 19 concerning “principles” as mentioned in the first paragraph and Chapter 10 concerning new scriptures as mentioned in the second paragraph in this section.
While looking at the “Contents” pages, it may be useful to also pause on selected chapters and have students share their gratitude of the Restoration. This could add to a wonderful celebration of the Restoration as well as provide significant answers to the last question in this section, “How have these truths influenced you and others?” (p. 99)
The Church of Jesus Christ Will Never Be Destroyed
This concept may be one of the most important for class members to understand. Our time is totally and completely unique in 6,000 years of the earth’s history! As stated in “Preach My Gospel”:
Biblical history has recorded many instances of God speaking to prophets, and it also tells of many instances of apostasy. (p.33)
In this section it is mentioned that the Church “has grown rapidly” (p. 100). The following is from an interesting study presented by Douglas F. Tobler in an Ensign article:
In a recent article, a non-LDS scholar gave a fresh and interesting perspective to the development of the Church and its spectacular growth throughout much of the world during its 157-year existence.
In his essay entitled “The Rise of a New World Faith” (1984), Rodney Stark, a sociologist specializing in religion at the University of Washington, describes Church growth as a “miracle,” a “rare event” which his fellow sociologists have not fully recognized. Establishment and growth of the Church has constituted, Stark says, “the rise of a new world religion” which “will soon achieve a worldwide following comparable to that of Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and the other dominant faiths. … Indeed, today they [Latter-day Saints] stand on the threshold of becoming the first major faith to appear on earth since the Prophet Mohammed rode out of the desert.”
Stark has been particularly fascinated with the consistency of Church growth against the backdrop of countless other “new” religions of the nineteenth century that sprouted, then quickly wilted and died. It is not just the steady increase of Latter-day Saints from six to six million that has caught his attention, but the rate of growth, which has never been less than 28 percent per decade, and in the past thirty years has exceeded 50 percent. And this has been achieved in an ever-more secularized world. Using his growth calculations, Professor Stark projects the possibility of 63 million Latter-day Saints in the world by the year 2080, if a 30 percent growth rate is maintained, and a dizzying 265 million if the higher 50 percent rate is used. (Ensign, Jul 1987, 33)
So far, in the last three decades, the Church has grown by over 25 percent each decade (about a million every three years). Of course, the above charting is man’s ideas, not necessarily God’s plan.
However, it is God’s plan is that “The Church of Jesus Christ Today” “Will Never Be Destroyed”!!!