It is curious how often people in the Book of Mormon swing between righteousness and apostasy in the space of a few short years. The authors of the Book must have had a different view of their societies than the average person, because it can be difficult to see societal shifts when you are embedded in them. Old ideas lose favor and are dropped without fanfare, and new ideas are presented as though they had always been true. If nobody points out the change in people’s thoughts, attitudes, and behavior, then it is easy to imagine that things have always been the way they are. Here is a recent example:

On June 13, 2015, in response to reports from local leaders about large groups of members and former members who were at-odds with LDS Church policy and doctrine, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Assistant Church Historian Richard Turley traveled to Boise Idaho to hold a meeting. Story and audio here.

Someone in the audience recorded audio of the meeting and posted it online, and I listened shortly after. Their message deserves a careful analysis. In the last two years, one segment has stood out to me as especially significant. Around 1 hour into the recording:

Elder Turley: Another claim is that the church is not teaching what is necessary for exaltation, for example, some say that only those who see the face of Jesus Christ in mortality will receive celestial glory.

Elder Oaks: Of course, all of the righteous desire to see the face of our Savior, but the suggestions that this must happen in mortality is a familiar tactic of the adversary: To identify a worthy goal, such as to achieve exaltation, and then to use the desirability of that goal and people’s enthusiasm for it to obscure the new means the adversary suggests to achieve it.

Elder Oaks and Brother Turley’s arguments can be fairly restated as follows:

The Church is teaching what is necessary for exaltation.

Those [believing baptized members] who do not see the face of Jesus Christ in mortality can receive celestial glory.

It is the devil who suggests to anyone that seeing the face of Christ must happen in mortality.

Seeing the face of Christ is a “new means the adversary suggests” to achieve exaltation.

It should be pointed out that Elder Oaks doesn’t respond simply to the idea that “only those who see the face of Jesus Christ in mortality will receive celestial glory.” That idea, taken alone, is refutable because the revelations of God make ample allowance for those who didn’t receive the gospel in this life with sufficient probationary time to repent and prepare to meet God. Had Elder Oaks simply presented those scriptures I would not be writing this post. Instead, he attacked the notion that there is saving power in personal communion with Christ in mortality at all, instead agreeing with Brother Turley that the Church offers all teachings and experiences that are “necessary for exaltation.”

For those familiar with the scriptures, with Joseph Smith’s teachings, and with the doctrine taught by Church leaders within the last few decades, this collection of arguments represents the explicit abandonment of well-established doctrine, and the substitution of something new. Let’s briefly compare these arguments to the scriptures:

The scriptures teach that God alone can teach us everything necessary for salvation (JST Matthew 7; 2 Nephi 32:1-6; D&C 84:43-48; among many many others).

They teach that there is essential knowledge that men cannot write or speak (and thus that no Earthly Church can offer us) that must be received by revelation in the flesh if we hope to bear God’s presence in the world of Glory (D&C 76:114-119).

The scriptures command us all to seek Christ’s face, and teach that everyone who seeks Christ with diligence and faithfulness will find him “in the flesh” (Lectures on Faith 2:55-56; Lectures on Faith 3:23; Moses 5:9-10; D&C 93:1; 3 Nephi 18:25; D&C 67:10-14). If someone has not received this blessing it is thus due to insufficient faithfulness and diligence.

They also teach that those who harden their hearts and plan to delay that search will find themselves bitterly disappointed, because those who have received sufficient warning in scripture and by living witnesses will not be granted extra time to prepare after their deaths (Alma 34:30-35). Only those who did not hear the gospel but would have done so with all their hearts had it been offered will be given a space for repentance after their death; there is no provision in the scriptures for those who did hear the gospel, but lacked the faith or diligence to receive Christ as promised to repent after death and be exalted (D&C 137:5-10). Please correct me if I am wrong and we are invited by God to wait until after death to repent.

The scriptures teach that the purpose of gospel ordinances isn’t to provide an afterlife salvation to people who live out their mortal lives cut off from God’s presence, but to save them by bringing them into God the Father’s presence while in mortality (D&C 84:19-23). Only the hard-hearted hear the gospel as taught by God’s witnesses and yet refuse to repent and enter God’s presence (ibid, v. 24). If we are informed of the universal command to God’s presence in mortality, instructed on the path by messengers sent from God, and yet refuse to do so, do we imagine that this refusal carries no penalties? If the Israelites were cursed for their refusal of Moses’ invitation, will we not be cursed for our refusal of Joseph’s? Why would God include that story in a revelation to us if it had no relevance?

The scriptures teach clearly the reward for those who refuse that invitation in life through hard-hearted failure to repent and be faithful and diligent, but afterwards accept it: they will not be crowned exaltation in the presence of the Father, but will live uncrowned in terrestrial glory in the presence of the Son (D&C 76:74-79; Moses 7:56-57)

The scriptures teach that, from the days of Adam through all eternity, to know Christ  and the Father face to face IS salvation, and that all things pertaining to life and godliness are communicated by Christ through that relationship (Moses 5:9-10; John 17:3; D&C 93:1-2; 2 Peter 1:2-3; Lectures on Faith 7:18-19). Far from being “the new means the adversary suggests to obtain” exaltation, the scriptures portray the Second Comforter as an eternal ordinance of salvation through which every exalted soul must pass. Yet, if Elder Oaks is correct, then it was Satan who inspired the authors of those scriptures.

The scriptures positively refute every one of Elder Oaks and Brother Turley’s arguments from that excerpt, as do Joseph Smith’s other teachings for any who care to search them out. But it is not unusual for the doctrine taught in the Church to differ from those witnesses, and that is not the point of this post. What has most struck me about the Boise arguments is their rejection of what was, until recently, mainstream correlated LDS doctrine. In 1978, Bruce R. McConkie published this statement in the book The Promised Messiah:

In November 1831, the Lord said to the little flock of elders so far ordained in his newly established latter-day kingdom: “It is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am—not with the carnal neither natural mind, but with the spiritual. For no man has seen God at any time in the flesh, except quickened by the Spirit of God. Neither can any natural man abide the presence of God, neither after the carnal mind. Ye are not able to abide the presence of God now, neither the ministering of angels; wherefore, continue in patience until ye are perfected. Let not your minds turn back; and when ye are worthy in mine own due time, ye shall see and know that which is conferred upon you by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun.” (D&C 67:10-14.) That which had been conferred upon them by the prophet was the power to see the Lord. The name of that power is the Melchizedek priesthood. Many of these first elders in the kingdom did qualify in due course, while they yet dwelt in the flesh, to see the face of their King. How much spiritual progress we have made in the Church since the day of this revelation may be measured in terms of the number of the elders of Israel for whom the veil has been rent and who have seen the face of Him whose we are.

The rest of that chapter, entitled “Seek the Face of the Lord Always,” can be read here.  It is worth reading. Elder McConkie’s quotation of Oliver Cowdery’s charge to the Twelve Apostles (not quoted here) stands in stark contrast to Elder Oaks’ claims in Boise that Apostles are not called to bear witness of their personal knowledge of Christ. While Elder Oaks claims that their calling only obliges them to obtain and relay a conviction through the Holy Ghost of Christ and his plan and work, Elder McConkie lays a much greater duty that includes obtaining and bearing a full physical witness of Christ. I would include women and children among those who are commanded to seek Christ’s face, in addition to the Apostles and Elders discussed by Elder McConkie.

This was a consistent theme throughout Elder McConkie’s ministry. He taught the following in 1966,

I would like to deal with the matter of receiving personal revelation, particularly how to gain personal revelation—how each individual member of the Church can come to know of the divinity of the work, can have the whisperings of the Spirit in his heart and soul, and in addition, can see visions, entertain angels, behold the face of the Lord, and receive all the knowledge and wisdom that has been poured out upon faithful people in any age…

Now, I said we can entertain angels, we can dream dreams, we can see visions, we can see the face of the Lord. Here is one promise in that field:

“Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am” (D&C 93:1).

The Prophet said that the veil might as well be rent today as any day, provided we come together as the elders of the kingdom in faith and in righteousness and qualify to have the visions of eternity. Here is a statement from Joseph Smith:

“Salvation cannot come without revelation [and I am not now speaking about the revelation that gave the dispensation in which we live—I am speaking of personal revelation to individuals]; it is vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has a testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy. Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony. Men of the present time testify of heaven and hell, and have never seen either; and I will say that no man knows these things without this.” (Teachings, p. 160.)

We are entitled to revelation. Personal revelation is essential to our salvation

That address was republished in the Liahona and New Era in 1980, and was included as a preparatory reading for Seminary Teachers in 2004. These things were very recently main stream and correlated. They were taught to young adults and seen as essential material for Seminary Teachers to relay to teenagers. Neither believing these ideas privately nor teaching them publicly would bring Church discipline or earn the title “false prophet”.

Elder McConkie saw in his day that whether or not a person has received the Second Comforter IS a measure of their spiritual progress toward exaltation, and thus the presence of such individuals is a measure of the spiritual progress of a group of people. He saw in 1966, and the Church saw until at least 2004, that such personal revelation, including seeing visions, “is essential to our salvation”. In the space of 11 years those ideas became so egregious and dangerous that the Church will send an Apostle and a Church Historian to refute them.

Consider Jesus’ instructions that come to us in 3 Nephi 18:25

And ye see that I have commanded that none of you should go away, but rather have commanded that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world; and whosoever breaketh this commandment suffereth himself to be led into temptation.

Whatever Elder McConkie’s flaws, he forcefully, persuasively, and faithfully obeyed the injunction of 3 Nephi 18:25 to command all people to come unto Christ so that they might feel him with their hands and see him with their eyes. To the degree that Elder McConkie was diligent in obeying 3 Nephi 18:25, he retained Christ’s promise that he would not be led into temptation. To the extent that others would contradict the scriptures and encourage people to divorce their hope of salvation from their personal relationship with Christ, they suffer themselves to be led into temptation and find themselves fighting against Christ. I would expect lawyers to be doubly wary of doing this:

Luke 11:52 Woe unto you, lawyers! for ye have taken away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

I would ask Elder Oaks and Brother Turley what they believe the effect of the Second Comforter is?  What is Christ’s purpose in ministering to people? Why does he come? Does God grant it to some but withhold it from others who also keep his commandments? Is he a respecter of persons, or does he keep his promises?  How is it a “new means…to achieve” exaltation, when it has been taught repeatedly and clearly for thousands of years? When you declare that the people teaching this doctrine–including Joseph Smith, Jesus Christ, and all the holy prophets since the world began–are your adversary, where does that leave you? Why are they among those whose doctrines you traveled to Boise to oppose?

We should observe this change. We should acknowledge that it is real, that it has happened, and that it is ongoing. We should ask questions, and petition God for answers.

Why is this change happening?

Is this change good or bad?

Does it represent a return to eternal truth or an abandonment of it?

What else has changed, and what else will change?

How will I know it when it happens?

What is the purpose of the scriptures, if not to be put to use to identify and refute changes exactly like this (Mosiah 1:4-5)?

Are we excused from culpability when things like this change if we remain stubbornly ignorant of the scriptures and claim unfailing loyalty to our leaders?

Will our willful ignorance and  our trust in men save us when we leave this life?

What does repentance look like, for those who are alerted to this kind of change?

This is real and it does matter.