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 »

temple_center_towerTwo Types

The covenants in the Temple endowment are of two types. In the first, the initiate covenants to abide by certain principles, codes of conduct, laws, and commandments. In the second type the initiate promises to keep secret what D&C 124 calls “the keys of the holy priesthood,” and the “keys whereby [you] may ask and receive” (verses 34 & 95), which are ritual elements symbolizing mysteries received from heaven (Alma 12:9). Read the rest of this entry »

There is often discussion about the need to distinguish between “doctrine” and “culture” in the Church. I think it is a productive exercise, but not as simple as one might think. usually, the examples given are surface-level behaviors or attitudes, like the white shirts and affected postures of the deacons passing the sacrament, or the scrupulous use of the right hand by those taking the bread and wine…er…water. I think we sense there is a more deep-seated issue, or we wouldn’t keep bringing it up. In the end, white shirts don’t matter that much.

If you want to dig deeper and find a more meaningful lode of conversation, the tricky part is actually defining “doctrine”. Read the rest of this entry »

Baptism, rebaptism, and rebaptism again

When I was 20 years old, I was one of two designated witnesses to the baptism of an eight year old girl by her father. The father pronounced the blessing as he had memorized it, almost exactly as it is written in our current Doctrine and Covenants section 20. He called her by name and said:

…having been commissioned of Jesus Christ I baptize you, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

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I was reviewing the 1949  and 1969 First Presidency letters which reaffirmed and defended the ban on people of black African descent holding the priesthood or receiving Temple ordinances. Both assert that the ban was a commandment from God (a claim the Church has since abandoned), and the 1949 letter ends with this spectacular gymnastic dodge to lay the blame back on the blacks themselves: Read the rest of this entry »

I was recently reminded of Elder Orson F. Whitney’s  famous statement:

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God. (In Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.)

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From Cabala of Light by Jaime Barylko p 73-74, anonymous translator


In Babylon, Crete, Egypt, Sumeria, in all the world, it is known that existence is divided into well differentiated sectors: the divine and the human; heaven and earth; the world of ideas and the market; the family relationship and relations with other people.

The prophet is an overstated extremist: he wants everything to become One. He is a burning bush. It doesn’t warm. It burns. Read the rest of this entry »