Jesus Christ organized a Church; men changed it, and it has been re-established.
Joseph Smith is a very divisive figure in American religion–to found a church is one thing, but to have God and Jesus Christ appear to you is quite another. Joseph Smith has been maligned time and time again, but his story, his life, and the events surrounding God calling him to be a prophet are not absurd, rather it is all congruent with how God has called a prophet and spoken to his children in all ages of the world.
The crux of any claim or statement that attempts to malign or discredit a Mormon’s belief, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in general, originates in the validity of Joseph Smith’s testimony of The Father and The Son coming to visit him (Please see Joseph Smith History 1:13-20). Either They did in fact visit him, or They didn’t. It is not my wish to convince you that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet, rather it is my hope that you will see that Joseph Smith meets the qualifications of a prophet as found in the Bible. I urge you to ponder these points as you read them, and please do so with an open mind and heart.
- According to the Bible, God has always led His church and people through a prophet. “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7, emphasis added). This doctrine of governing the affairs of the church through a prophet was reaffirmed when Christ established the new covenant and built His church upon prophets and apostles, Jesus, Himself, being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). This is shown clearly by Christ giving Peter the keys of the kingdom, or the right to direct the affairs of Christ’s church, when Christ himself was not on the earth (Matthew 16:18-19). Joseph Smith received instructions from Jesus Christ on how to govern His church, and these were compiled into what is now known as the Doctrine and Covenants.
- Prophets have always had direct authority from God to act in His name. They did not just “feel” that they were called of God, they were actually given this right by either God Himself, or by another who could trace his authority back to God. As clear example of this, before Aaron could officiate in the ordinances of the tabernacle, he was anointed and given the authority to do so by Moses who was a holder of this priesthood. This same pattern of conferring the priesthood is still employed today in Jesus Christ’s church. Furthermore, this practice is in accordance with what Paul teaches the Hebrews, “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrew 5:4). John the Baptist who held the right to administer baptism for the remission of sins visited Joseph Smith in May 1829 and gave this authority to Joseph Smith (D&C 13:1 and section heading); furthermore, Peter, James, and John, Christ’s head apostles, came to Joseph and gave to him the authority to govern Christ’s church shortly after John the Baptist visited Joseph (D&C 27:7-8, 12).
- Prophets have always written down their revelations to be handed down to the future generations. Their writings, however, weren’t to be intended as the end of all revelation (and no where in the Bible does it say there will be no more revelation). Thus, we now have the Bible–it is the compilation of some 4000 years of God’s revelations and teachings. Once again, this has been the pattern and will continue to the pattern. Through Joseph Smith came The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These are physical evidences that God not only spoke to those of his children in Israel and the regions round about, but to others on a different continent and continues to speak to us today through prophets.
- Peter himself prophesied that before Christ would come again, all things would be restored (Acts 3:19-21). Paul taught of a dispensation of the fulness of times when all things would come together (Ephesians 1:10) and he also taught that before the second coming of Jesus Christ there would come a falling away, or a turning from the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Furthermore, there is evidence from the New Testament that this falling away was already beginning to happen (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 2 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:18-19). This restoration of all things began with Joseph Smith being visited by The Father and The Son.
- God has always had only one church that He personally endorses. Paul taught this to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:5) and it is clear that Jesus Christ (Jehovah) was leading only one house of Israel. As another example, if Jesus Christ is the head of multiple churches, then why was Paul not content with letting the wolves enter the flock and lead them astray? Why was he so concerned that the doctrine is being corrupted and changed by others? This further underscores that Christ leads only one church. Yes, there are many good churches who do many good things in Christ’s name and sincerely strive to do what Christ taught-they have many pieces, but not the whole pie. Through Joseph Smith, Christ declared, “And also those to whom these commandments were given, 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).
- A prophet of God does not doubt who God is–His character and attributes, because he knows God personally. This pattern was established with Adam and has been reaffirmed over and over again down through history. Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling is not out of context, rather it fits perfectly with the pattern that has long been established for God’s calling of a prophet. He did not doubt if they came or what they looked like, he knew who it was that came to him in the spring of 1820. He firmly declared the true character of God and His Son, Jesus Christ from that spring day until he gave his life.
- The last point is that a prophet giving his life for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something that has frequently occurred throughout the course of time. Joseph Smith was true to his testimony–of the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–to his death. There will always be those that scoff and point the finger of scorn towards Joseph Smith. There will always be those who try to lay subtle traps and search for supposed loop holes in the teachings and doctrine that Jesus Christ gave to the world through him. But just as the prophets of old, Joseph Smith’s blood was shed as a final testimony of the validity of Jesus Christ restoring His church and authority once more. How can a man suffer what he suffered–beatings, being tarred and feathered, whippings, persecution wherever he went, being arrested multiple times and being incarcerated in the worst of circumstances, being rejected and maligned by even some of his closest associates, seeing his fellow disciples be beaten, driven from their homes multiple times, and suffering all manner of cruelty, and then to finally lay down his life, and all the time be living a lie? (Please see Elder Jeffrey Holland’s most recent General Conference address, text and on YouTube.)
I wish to emphasize that it cannot be proven empirically by me or any other human being that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. There will always be those who want this type of proof, but God does not work this way. He teaches his children truth when they are willing to hear it and when they are willing to believe, and act accordingly. God does not confirm his words through complex philosophical methods, rather through the undeniable feelings of the Holy Ghost, a burning in the heart so to speak. In this way, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I cannot deny those feelings–I know it and I know that God knows I know. You, too, are free to embrace the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and you are free to accept Joseph Smith as one of God’s prophets. This will take belief and action, pondering and sincere prayer, but the answers will come. Please feel free to contact me through the question box by leaving your e-mail address, or by contacting the missionaries of our church through the link on the side bar of our website.
We often receive questions from readers in our question box at right. We have had several asking about romantic relationships between Mormons and non-Mormons and what they should do about it. It’s our policy not to become involved in personal problems since we are not an advice column, but we do want to give some general principles touching this topic from an LDS perspective. If you have a question that isn’t addressed here, ask about it in the comment section.
This was a question from a reader named Jim:
I have a general question…
I currently find myself in a rather difficult situation where I (a non member) of the Church of LDS have fallen for a devout believer. This is not a whimsical interest, we have known each other for nearly a year now, it is also a mutual interest, we have discussed our feelings for each and agree that there is a real potential for a relationship.
Now as I explained before she is a devout believer. This immediately creates some obvious obstacles given the fact that I am not a member, the main ones being:
No sex before marriage
Restricted activities on Sundays
Now I appreciate that these are only a few of the more general restrictions/guidelines that are in place. But we talked about them. Regarding the no sex before marriage I said why not give the relationship a go, then if in six months or so time we find out we are not that compatible, we could part, but if it is going very well we can continue. I have had sex before but have also been for long periods without it, and explained to her that if we were in a serious relationship that we both thought was heading somewhere I could handle holding off having sex until we were married. As for the other things, I feel confident that we could work around them.
Anyway, just as it looked like we were reaching a situation where we might be about to give things a go, she told me about the temple, and how in order to be sealed/united together in this life and the next you need attend a ceremony there after your civil marriage ceremony in order for this to happen. The catch…only LDS members can enter the temple. Now this seems to have put the brakes on anything potentially happening between us. She’s of the view (as am I) that if we start dating it would become fairly serious and could well lead to marriage, but that as I am not a member we would not be able to be sealed united at her temple. This idea crushes her I think. She is also concerned about the difficulties of raising a family (she wants four children) that has a parent who is not a member of LDS. She obviously wants to give her children the opportunity to join and is worried a non-member partner would make this difficult. I have tried saying that I don’t think this would be such an issue, although not a member of LDS I do believe in god and live a clean lifestyle that would fit in with hers.
I think she is also worried that if she did have a crisis of faith, having a husband who was not a member would be difficult as he would not understand what she was going through and offer support/advice etc. on the subject.
So anyway, I have rambled on long enough, but I do have a couple of questions for you…
1) Is there any way of being sealed/united together in life without going through a temple
2) Are there strictly no exceptions whereby a non member could enter a temple?
3) And thirdly what sort of general advice could you give us concerning the situation we find ourselves in?
Thanks for your help
Here is my response:
Jim, thank you for your question. You seem to be very understanding and willing to be patient. I can’t say there are any easy answers, though.
1) Is there any way of being sealed/united together in life without going through a temple?
You can be united together in life without going through the temple, because the church recognizes all legal civil marriages as binding for the duration of life, “as long as you both shall live.” And such a relationship can be very rewarding, but the problem (as you already know) is that it falls short of the goal your paramour has dreamed of since she was young: “For time and for all eternity.”
It’s a powerful motivating force in my life. My family plans on being together forever, and because of that we are interested in creating worthwhile bonds now. It also helps us make good decisions in other areas of life, since we don’t want to diminish the family by letting our standards slip and losing our promise. The promise is obtained through covenant with God and is known as “sealing.”
The ordinance of sealing is only performed in holy temples by men who have been authorized by God. It isn’t available anywhere else.
2) Are there strictly no exceptions whereby a non-member could enter a temple?
It’s a lovely thought to want to have this ceremony for the sake of your girlfriend, but even if you had the sealing, without you believing in it and devoting yourself to it, there is no more promise in it than a civil marriage.
Only those who have prepared themselves in every way may enter the temple, and this includes baptism for remission of sins by an authorized priest, and reception of the Holy Ghost. It also includes an interview with a Mormon bishop to ascertain faithfulness (do you hold to chastity, honesty, temperance, etc?). You must also be willing to enter into certain covenants with the Lord.
In short, even just being a member is not enough to enter the temple. I’m sorry. There are no exceptions allowing anyone unprepared (including non-members) into a temple.
3) And thirdly what sort of general advice could you give us concerning the situation we find ourselves in?
There are three distinct scenarios I can see. It depends on how strongly you and she are willing to pull.
- You marry civilly “until death do you part”
- You receive baptism and prepare yourself for eternal marriage.
- You split up.
#3 (split up) will happen if you decide against converting and she doesn’t give up her desire for eternal family. You might each still find a mate compatible with your ideals, so it’s not all bad, but obviously not what you want to hear.
#1 (civil marriage) is a possibility. A quick visit to the local Justice of the Peace will have you married in the eyes of the law. Plenty of latter-day saints belong to part-member families and many have found a way to “make it work,” but the heart of the issue isn’t the same as any other interfaith marriage. It goes beyond being able to understand your spouse’s religion and deciding on where to take the kids on Sunday. To a Mormon, marriage itself is a fundamental part of the gospel and the crowning glory associated with salvation.
She would see a civil marriage as compromising her long-standing commitment to herself and to God to be sealed for all eternity. It would certainly be difficult for her, as you pointed out, Jim. She may harbor secret hopes that you will eventually come around and join the Church after perhaps years of marriage; also, after your death she may wish to have you sealed to her by proxy — after a baptism for the dead. But even that is contingent on your posthumous desire for it. If you didn’t want it in life, it’s unlikely you’ll change your mind the minute you die. And without your permission, it will not be binding.
I do not endorse a civil interfaith marriage with a Mormon. Not for you or anyone that is in any position to choose it. The Mormon usually leads life pining for a relationship with eternal promise and despairing that it isn’t happening; often they let themselves slip away from God. The non-Mormon feels constant pressure to convert and becomes annoyed that the problem doesn’t go away. I’ve seen too many problem relationships. If this heartache can be prevented, I advocate preventing it.
Such a marriage does not solve the problem you are facing right now, Jim. It only delays solving it. It will present you every morning with the same dilemma: ask her to surrender hope for an eternal family, get yourself to convert, or dissolve the relationship. Avoiding the question is to choose the first option.
#2 (eternal marriage) can happen if you allow yourself to investigate the religion seriously. This is the path that I advise. Invite the missionaries over for a few lessons and read the Book of Mormon with them. After learning a bit more about the Church and understanding why we believe the things we do, you might find your original notions of Mormonism misplaced. People usually find the missionaries’ lessons much more substantive and credible than they anticipate.
You indicated that you have faith in God, which is essential. Believe that He will answer your prayers, and ask Him whether you should join. Believe that He will give you the desire for eternal family that will lead you to unite with her forever.
Jim, I hope I’ve added some clarity to your dilemma. I hope you can see it from her side as well. Meditate on it and pray for guidance. I know the Lord will answer. He answers my prayers frequently.
I’d also invite you to look around at our website. You might find some more answers there. And you are always welcome to email me directly. In fact, I’d very much like to know what you decide.
The addresses delivered at the most recent general conference (a world-wide meeting of church leaders and members) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were fantastic, as Jan pointed out in her most recent post.
Today, I want to share with you a talk given by Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the 12 apostles. His testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon is powerful. I invite all to listen to this address, “Safety for the Soul”, and ponder what is taught and then study the Book of Mormon for yourself (you can get a free copy by following this link). If you do so with a sincere heart and pray to know, with intent to act, if the book is from God, God will tell you in your heart and mind by the Holy Ghost that it is from Him. The validity of Joseph Smith as one of God’s prophet goes hand in hand with knowing that the Book of Mormon is from God–if the book is from God, the man by whom God brought forth the book must also be of God. Enjoy.
(I have embedded the talk from YouTube and included a link as well if you want the video to load faster.)
Q. What happens to people who die without being taught/accepting baptism in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?
Heavenly Father has prepared another chance for them to hear the gospel and choose to accept or reject it.
The official Church website explains: “Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John 3:5) Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. Individuals can then choose to accept or reject what has been done in their behalf.”
Baptism is the first ordinance of the gospel. It is so important that even Jesus Christ asked to be baptized in order to fulfill all righteousness. Because Heavenly Father desires for us all to return to Him, He has made it possible for the dead to have the same opportunities as the living through the temple ordinances.
Some have the misconception that this temple work forces the deceased persons into covenants against their will. This is entirely false. All spirits maintain their free will after death and can opt to accept or refuse the ordinance of baptism. When a living person is baptized and receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost in behalf of a deceased person, it is only to give the deceased person the opportunity – the option of redemption.
LDS.org also reveals: “Many in the spirit world embrace the gospel. However, they cannot receive priesthood ordinances for themselves because they do not have physical bodies. In holy temples, we have the privilege of receiving ordinances in their behalf. These ordinances include baptism, confirmation, Melchizedek Priesthood ordination (for men), the endowment, the marriage sealing, and the sealing of children to parents. The Lord revealed this work to the Prophet Joseph Smith, restoring a practice that had been revealed to Christians shortly after the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:29).
Part of the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to Redeem the Dead. Because of this, we participate in genealogy/family history work to find our ancestors who were not able to hear and accept the gospel while on earth. Many in my family are involved in this work because of our desire to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the children to their fathers as mentioned at the very end of the old testament.
I love going to the temple. There is such a special feeling that accompanies me when I’m in the House of the Lord. Doing the physical ordinances for my ancestors who have passed on is an amazing experience because I know that many of them have been waiting for hundreds of years to finally have their baptism performed. Being a part of their spiritual progression is remarkable. I know that God is merciful and mindful of each of us because He gives everyone a fair chance at accepting or rejecting the message of the gospel.