Responses to Questions

by
April 18, 2008

There have been many thought-provoking comments made, which stem from the polygamy article that I posted earlier this week.  However, the discussion has moved away from polygamy to prophets, authority, faith, trust and so forth.  I feel that I should post my answers to these questions where all can see them easily.  These are in response to Jeremy LaDuke’s questions and my answers are addressed to him, but they apply to all.  To read his entire statement, please see the comments on the polygamy post.  I have taken his questions and other statements and inserted them as I have responded to them.

Sincerely,

Ben

Jeremy:

You have raised some good concerns and you think that there are contradictions in my statements. However, it is my hope that you will take this opportunity to learn about Mormon beliefs. What I have stated is the doctrine of our church and what I have come to know by studying the doctrine. The understanding of this doctrine has come at a high price of diligent study and seeking to understand. Therefore, it is easy for me to understand that you might not see things the way I do, because you have not sought for understanding of these truths the way that I have. Now, I am making some assumptions here, one that you are not a member of our Church and two that you have not sincerely searched pondered and prayed about such things as the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, revelation, prophets, priesthood (as Mormons understand it) and a plethora of other doctrines. I believe that if you were to go through these same sorts of experiences and sincerely desire to know if what I am telling you is true you would find that it is true. However, it appears that you and I are on different sides of the stadium trying to understand the game that we are watching and seeing different perspectives.

“In the first paragraph of your response you say that you put your faith in God and not man who can err. However most of the response after that seems to be defending the credibility of the men whom you call prophets.”

As far as me seeming to contradict myself by saying that I trust in God and then defend men whom I regard as prophets, I think I must not have been clear enough. I believe that God has called these men to be prophets, they are God’s mouthpieces. They teach us what God would teach us. Therefore, I am defending my beliefs in God and his reality when I defend these men. I trust these men, the prophets, because once again, I believe they are teaching me what God has told them to teach. Thus, if I choose to reject one then I am rejecting the other and vice versa. (See below also)

“In fact, most of the beliefs that you as a Mormon hold and that diverge from orthodox Christianity are dependent upon the validity of Joseph Smith’s testimony”

You are exactly right. The truths we proclaim and teach are dependent upon the validity of Joseph Smith’s testimony. Either he saw God or he didn’t, I think that we would both agree that it is that simple. Either there was an apostasy and the authority given to man to speak in God’s name was lost, or that authority continued on down through the popes and the Catholic church is right. Now, this puts Mormons in an interesting position. If Joseph Smith is a true prophet and what he said was true, then what we teach is true and the Mormon church is true as is the Book of Mormon, the reality of a living prophet, the concept that the Godhead is three separate beings and so on and so forth. If this is the case, well then we are the only church on the earth that can offer true and abiding salvation and the opportunity to gain it. However, if we aren’t right, then we are just another church, with our peculiar beliefs that diverge from mainstream Christianity. The last thing is that we believe that Joseph Smith didn’t diverge from orthodox Christianity, rather through him God restored the true Church and Gospel.

“Also, what exactly qualifies as God ‘removing someone from their place’? Joseph Smith was killed in a jail, Brigham Young died at 76. Were these men ‘removed’? If you answer no – why?”

No, they were not removed as a result of leading the Church astray. At any point in our lives if we ever question anything, we believe that we can ask God in prayer and he will tell us what is right. Therefore, we have the right to ask God if what the prophet has taught is true and God will confirm whether it is or isn’t through the Holy Ghost. Therefore, Jeremy I leave it up to you to find out if God removed these men because they led the church astray or if they were true and faithful to the end. Personally, I know that they were not removed because they led the church astray.

“You wrote:
When I do what the prophet says it is because I believe that what the prophet asks me to do is what God asks of me. Thus, there is no reason for me to doubt what the prophet asks. 
I want to say that there is plenty of reason to doubt what a prophet says sometimes. When Joseph Smith prophesied that he would never be overthrown and that God would continually strengthen him, and then less than two years later he was murdered – that gives me plenty of reason to doubt. I understand that many prophets have given sound advice, but so has Dr. Phil.”

I have no reason to doubt if what a prophet has taught is true, because I have already gained a confirmation from God that he is God’s prophet, therefore I believe that what he says is true. When a prophet speaks in the name of God, it is what God would say if God were there, as I alluded to before. It is then our opportunity to accept or reject it. Let me put it this way, if God is God and he knows all and if he does have a prophet on the earth today, do you think that God will call a person to be his prophet if he knows that that person will lead the church astray and cause, in our time, millions of people to be led astray. I sincerely doubt that will happen. God wants all of his children to come home, so why would he call someone to be a prophet who is going to hinder them from coming home?

“I am also curious if there is a list of the eternal laws, or if they can be deduced from the whole of scripture like you have done? For many of the prophecies that can be overturned are in your Doctrines and Covenants and hold the position of scripture, right?”

No, Jeremy there isn’t a master list of eternal laws. However, I think that it is pretty simple to see that when God or his prophets say “No unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God” that is an eternal law. Or when Christ, teaching Nicodemus says, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” These are eternal laws and these sorts of statements are what I was referring to.

The last thing that I would like to add is that I believe what I believe because of what I have experienced in my life. I do not blame you for not believing me, I assume that you haven’t experienced what I have. I can see that you want to understand and perhaps you just want to try to show the world how myopic you think Mormons are, but I cannot deny what I know. My testimony of the reality of the prophet Joseph Smith has been seared into my heart and soul by the Holy Ghost and I will not waver from that, nor will I waver from all that rests upon the validity of Joseph Smith’s testimony. It is a valid story, but you have to pay the price to find out if it is true.  Acquiring a testimony of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ comes by putting in the effort required to gain it and by showing God that you really want to know by sincerely seeking, not seeking to disprove it.  I will never regret the price that I have paid to gain the knowledge that I have of these things.

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4 Responses to “Responses to Questions”

  1. Thaddeus

    Great post, Ben. We all have had different experiences that lead us to our unique perspectives. After studying the restored gospel all my life (as well as the arguments against it), I have concluded that the LDS Church is right.

    Jeremy, regarding modern prophets, I would ask that you apply your standard to ancient prophets as well. Wasn’t Moses a fallible man? Yet we revere him as God’s messenger and attribute his writings to God. John the Baptist was beheaded, but should we say it was the Lord taking him out of his place?

  2. Jeremy LaDuke

    Ben,

    I appreciate your thoughtful response. I also appreciate your faith experiences you have had up to this point in your life. I would like to begin by saying that I have studied your scriptures and history enough to come to a reasonable conclusion about them. I would also say that I am fairly certain that I have studied and prayed about the scriptures of the historical Christian faith as much as you have with the Mormon texts.

    I think it would be helpful to lay out a few premises so as to help our discussion flow. I would first say that in ordinary life when we have a decision to make and we have multiple options we usually use a fair amount of reason and prayer to make the decision, especially if they are important decisions. And if on the outset one of those options is by all your reasoning a scam, false, impossible, etc. then you needn’t not pursue it – especially if there are many other options before you. And likewise, if there was option that seemed perfect, complete, true, and better than any other then it would be reasonable to pray about it and then go for it, excepting that God gave you a firm ‘No’.

    Now, the analogy isn’t perfect, but I believe we can compare the world of religions to this paradigm. I don’t really need to pray or search for whether or not Scientology is really true, because I can look at its founder, its history, its basic beliefs and decide on reason alone that it is not really worth my time.

    Another premise for our discussion I would like to set forth is that there needs to be some level playing field on which we can discuss ideas. If we can’t have that then we need not have a discussion at all. And by that I mean when one of us does not have a reasonable response we should own up to it and not fall back on purely subjective evidence similar to what you seemed to use about the validity of prophets (I prayed and God told me so). I can’t argue with that and neither could you if I were to use the same tactics.

    So, with those premises I would like to ask again two questions regarding things that are central to the Mormon faith, and if unable to be met with a reasonable and half-way plausible answer then would warrant no further examination of the Mormon faith except for purely scholarly ends. The first is simply a variation of the one to which you responded: How do you know when a prophet is false? You mentioned that a prophet would be ‘removed’ if he was false. Joseph Smith and the Bible itself also give ways to deduce a false prophet (prophecies not coming to pass, preaching anything other than the gospel, etc…) A spin-off to that question would be, why doesn’t Joseph Smith meet the criteria for a false prophet (since he made prophecies that were proven false, was killed, boasted)?

    The second question is: If eternal progression is true (that God the Father was once a man and there was a God before him, etc…) then how did we ever get to the present? To explain the question a little: if time never had a starting point but receded infinitely into the past then it is impossible for it to ever come to the present.

    I know text is a hard way to communicate so I hope you see this discussion as a challenge. I enjoy being challenged (which this blog does) and challenging others. Thanks for your time.

    Thaddeus,
    No I shouldn’t apply the same standards to ancient prophets because they aren’t my standards, Ben and others claimed them. The Bible does give standards for prophets that are upheld across the Old and New Testaments. ; )

  3. Ben

    Jeremy:
    I apologize that I didn’t follow the rules of objective debate. I agree that should we debate, we need to follow those rules. My desire though isn’t to debate. I only want to present the doctrine of my church. I believe that I have the truth, therefore, what point is there in engaging in philosophical debate? From my perspective, the premise of debate is for both parties to come to the middle as they seek for truth. Now don’t take this as me not wanting to defend my beliefs, but the assurance I have of truth, according to the rules of debate is subjective. My beliefs are based on faith, the assurance of things hoped for and not seen. I have studied and searched on my own, but ultimately, the assurance that I have of truth is found in the confirmation I have received from the Holy Ghost. And according to the rules of debate, this truth that I believe I have gained is subjective. Believe me, I have thought a lot about your questions and how I can best answer them. I could present objective evidence, that I think holds water, but why? All of the objective evidence of Joseph Smith being a prophet can be scoffed at, same with the Book of Mormon, even the Bible for that matter. In the end, I know that the only way that you will arrive at the conclusion that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God is through the Holy Ghost telling you in your heart and in your mind that he was—once again, subjectivity. Therefore, I will bow out.

    I have one question for you what are the standards of a prophet as defined in the New and Old Testament? I am not seeking to argue with you, but I just want to understand how you see a prophet?

    Sincerely,

    Ben

  4. Bus Gillespie

    I would add one thought to this interesting discussion: Is a prophet perfect? After reading “Rough Stone Rolling” about Joseph Smith, which I thoroughly enjoyed, I could definately see some chinks in the armor of Joseph Smith. He was fairly young when given his responsibility and he tended to vent once in awhile, and he sometimes let his temper get the best of him.
    In my experience within the church I have known some great leaders but all of them have had characher challenges to work on, I expect that a prophet might as well. So my conclusion is that a prophet isn’t perfect (but probably further along on the perfect scale than I am).
    Another thing I’ve watched in the church is the program cycle. New programs are occassionally introduced, some work, some don’t. Does God just give the church all the answers or is it the responsibility of the leaders to figure a few things out? Currently one of my ward members is serving on a General Church Committee to tackle the problem of the high inactivity rate of 18-30 year olds. He serves with some apostles, some general auxilary leaders, and others. They have been painstakingly putting together some data so they can come to some conclusions about the problem. Why doesn’t God just poof a program into place and save all the 18-30 year olds? Well there is that issue of Free Agency, and the process of looking for the answer might be the lesson others need to learn.
    All in all its a delicate balance.