Lecture on Faith 1

“Lecture First”, 1835

This is intended for those who, whether they have read the Lectures on Faith or not, need an explanation of why the Lectures are worth studying.

I first opened them as a teenager, and found the language a little hard to grasp. They seemed to ramble on in spirals and circles, like a dumb person trying to sound smart. I had no way to contextualize them, and gained nothing from them.

I read them again on my mission, this time knowing  that they were the curriculum for the School of the Prophets in Kirtland in the early 1830s. I saw this time that there were nuggets (such as the oft-quoted statement from Lecture 6 about religions that do not require the sacrifice of all things), but if there was any unified argument made by the Lectures as a whole it escaped me.

Now, in my third decade of studying them, I can say that they make a very cohesive and powerful argument,  and that the various topics they address are all essential to that argument.  Read the rest of this entry »

Among those who are aware of their existence, the Lectures on Faith are a source of controversy. Their canonization and decanonization, force us to contemplate the fallibility of Church leaders, and to question whether we are collectively gaining or losing light.

Their decanonization is often defended by an appeal to the infallibility of Church authorities, such as “If the brethren removed them, then there was a reason,” and “their removal can’t have been in error, because we have modern prophets and apostles.” This, of course, requires overlooking the Lectures’ initial authorship and canonization, the work of leaders who were the wellspring of any authority held by those who championed decanonization. One could just as easily say “If the brethren canonized them, then there was a reason,” and “their canonization as scripture can’t have been in error, because we have modern prophets and apostles.”  So this isn’t to be settled by an appeal to authority.

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Part 1

New bottles for new wine – Christ and the Pharisees

Jesus was teaching during a meal, at which were present publicans, blatant sinners, Pharisees, and disciples of John.

Likely prompted by the presence of John’s disciples, whose baptism Jesus respected, the Pharisees present asked

“Why will ye not receive us with our baptism, seeing we keep the whole law?

But Jesus said unto them, Ye keep not the law. If ye had kept the law, ye would have received me, for I am he who gave the law.

I receive not you with your baptism, because it profiteth you nothing, for when that which is new is come, the old is ready to be put away.

For no man putteth a piece of new cloth on an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up, taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish, but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Joseph Smith translation of KJV Matthew 9)

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Here are some references and questions I keep in mind when attending a religious conference.


Questions to ask for personal preparation: 

Alma 26:21-22, D&C 93:28&39

Am I repentant, ceaselessly prayerful, and diligently obedient to the commandments so that God can reveal his mysteries to me?

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I find Hugh Nibley’s description of Abraham deeply moving.

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The Saintly Throng in the Shape of a Rose, by Gustav Dore

As I pointed out in my last post, the scriptures and their authors consistently maintain the need for firsthand experience in gaining knowledge, while we don’t always correctly teach that principle.

When the Lord softened Nephi’s heart and spoke with him in 1 Nephi 2, Nephi knew he had spoken with the Lord. But he could only say he “believed” Lehi’s words, because he hadn’t yet had Lehi’s experience.

Later, when Nephi wanted to know what Lehi knew, he prayed to see the things Lehi had seen for himself: Read the rest of this entry »

Those who study the early history of Mormonism sometimes note many startling differences. Among them is a notable absence of references to Joseph Smith’s now-familiar First Vision. One former Bishop noted:

it would appear that the First Vision account as we have come to know it, was virtually unheard of for the first decade of the Church’s existence. What we now regard as pivotal to our claim to divine mandate was absent for the first members. Leaving many questions over what those founding Mormons actually believed about the nature of the Godhead, and what caused them to join the church?

What is now seen as the inaugurating event of the restoration and an essential narrative tool for conversion was, during Joseph Smith’s lifetime, not widely known. It wasn’t a feature of people’s conversions or testimonies, nor was it mentioned in missionaries’ lessons. I think there are a couple of factors that help explain this. Read the rest of this entry »

Attending a Latter-day Saint testimony meeting, or listening to testimonies at the ends of talks, you will hear a pattern. We talk in shorthand, about how we know the truth of “the Gospel” or “this Gospel” or even “the Church”, and we assume everyone else knows what that means. Those terms function as bundles of many different ideas, and we use them as shorthand to avoid having name their contents. Sometimes we may use them to avoid having to think about the ideas in detail. What do these bundles contain? Some common bundles of ideas Mormons may include in “the Gospel” are:

  • Current doctrine and practice of the LDS Church
  • Past but currently unpopular doctrine of the LDS Church
  • Doctrine and widely accepted culture of the LDs Church
  • All teachings of all Church leaders since the founding of the Church.
  • All teachings pronounced by the united voice of the current First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles
  • The scriptures and the doctrines explained and taught by Joseph Smith
  • Messages delivered by all true messengers, regardless of Church leadership or even membership status
  • Truth learned by personal revelation, by observation, and by reason

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D&C 133 offers beautiful details about Christ’s coming in glory.

Among them is this description of those who will stand with Christ at that day:

52 And now the year of my redeemed is come; and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord, and all that he has bestowed upon them according to his goodness, and according to his loving kindness, forever and ever.

53 In all their afflictions he was afflicted. And the angel of his presence saved them; and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them, and bore them, and carried them all the days of old;

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ensoWhen Moses was lifted high above the Earth and shown the creations of God, the father described how the work was done:

by the word of my power, have I created them, which is mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth. (Moses 1:32)

The Only Begotten Son of the Father was full of grace and truth at the time the Father spoke to Moses. Since Christ was at that point still dwelling as a God in a timeless, eternal state, having not condescended yet to mortality, he was full of grace at the foundation of the world as well. Read the rest of this entry »