Saturday, April 2, 2016

Messengers and Messages from God

Two Men With Messages

What if there were two men... one of the men never claimed that he was a prophet, never claimed that he had received a message from the Lord to deliver to the people, and never claimed that the words he delivered were from God.

What if people assumed he were a prophet because of his administrative position in an organization and assumed that what he spoke was God's will for them and was God's message to them? Would he be responsible for people assuming things about him and his message that he never claimed himself? Would the people who assumed those things be justified in doing so?

What if the second man did claim that he had spoken with God and what if he did claim that God had given him a message to deliver to the people? What if the message was consistent with the scriptures and brought light and truth?

But what if that man did not hold an administrative position in the organization? Would the people be justified to ignore the message because the second man did not have the required credentials they expected him to have? Would God be wrong to allow something like this to happen or to work in this way?

Has this happened before?

What if the first man were Caiphas, the High Priest of the Jewish people during the time of Christ? What if the second man were John the Bapist?

Looking back at these men through the lens of what has been passed down through history and the scriptures, we don't see this as a problem.  We don't find it upsetting to think that God chose to speak through John the Baptist who had no administrative position and not through Caiphas who was regarded by the people to be their religious leader.

But how did the Jewish people in that day feel about it?  What did they think of John's claims when they believed Caiphas to be the high priest? What if the Jewish people had been taught that God would only deliver his words through the high priest?  How many disregarded John's message just because he held no position in their religious hierarchy?

Could it happen again?

If God is the same today, yesterday, and forever; was he just being inconsistent when he chose to deliver his message through John the Baptist when there already was a religious leader in place?

How about Lehi?  Was the message he received from God rejected by the Jews because he wasn't a religious leader?  Did it contradict what they had come to believe about Christ?

How about Abinadi?  Was he the religious leader in the eyes of the people or was King Noah and his priests considered the religious leaders at the time?  Why did some of the people not accept the message from Abinadi that he said God had told him to deliver?  When Alma wrote down and shared that message, what did the people think about the authority of Abinadi?  What would they have thought about Alma who was once a priest in the courts of Noah and had now been cast out?  Would some consider him an apostate?

How about Samuel the Lamanite?  Was it wrong of him to stand on the wall and deliver a message that he claimed was from God when the people already had Nephi as their prophet?  Why would God send a message through Samuel the Lamanite when a prophet (Nephi) was already there among the people?

How about Joseph Smith?  Was he a credentialed leader or an obscure farm boy?  Why would anyone have believed him?  Was it him and his standing in the community or his message that was his credential?

How about Christ?  Was he a credentialed leader or was he an obscure person in his community?  How was the Son of God regarded in his day?

Mosiah 14

3.   He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Matthew 13

55.   And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogues, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this Jesus this wisdom and these mighty works?
56.   Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us?
57.   Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended at him.

What is the true pattern?

I believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  I believe that the pattern is actually the same in every generation.  The people are given a choice.  Choose between the credentialed leader with standing and authority or the obscure messenger whose only credential is the message itself and the light and truth contained therein.

It also appears that the pattern is the same with the people who are given the choice.  Most of the people will chose incorrectly.  They will choose the credentialed leader over the true messenger of God.  They often are looking for status and authority to be the true messengers from God.  Those without it, are often rejected.

Samuel the Lamanite spoke about this:
Helaman 13

25.   And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out.
26.   Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
27.   But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth--and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
28.   Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him.

Joseph Smith spoke about this:

The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men.
Others have spoken about this:
"How often the Lord chooses to send His messengers in exactly the same way as He came! Without rank or office, and without social significance or recognition; as with Abinadi, Samuel, Peter, Luke, Joseph Smith, Amos, and Elijah. The test remains exactly the same in every generation. We can know Alma would have received Christ, because he received Abinadi's teachings. Against the opposition of the society he lived in, Alma heard in the message something from the Lord.

How difficult would it have been to have seen in the obscure and lowly station of Christ the reality that this was the Son of God? For the most part, the "Christian" world flatters themselves into believing they would have recognized and accepted Him if they lived in His day. The only reason most people claim Him now is because of the two millennia of Christian conquest, and traditions of their fathers. If they had to choose a living, teaching Christ of obscure and uncredentialed origin, they would reject Him. They want buildings, budgets, hierarchies, and social acceptance. Today Christianity offers all that to them."
Do we face the same test today?

What if God chose to do this same type of thing again in our day? Is He (God) allowed to work like this in our day? or would He be constrained by the teachings of modern day leaders that have taught us that if God is going to send a message; it can only come through the leader at the top who is the  administrative head of a religious organization?  What if the message that teaches that God will only send a message through the administrative head of an organization was not from God, but was a teaching of man?  Which pattern is more consistent with scripture?  Which pattern is more consistent with how Christ came?

People assume someone is a messenger from God who has never claimed to be one while dismissing someone else who says they have received a message to deliver.  They do this because the way in which the message comes doesn't fit their current paradigm. This turned out to be the main stumbling block of the Jews in Christ's time. Many of them couldn't see what was happening because it was outside the box of their belief system so they ended up repeating the pattern and rejecting a true message from a true messenger while clinging to others they esteemed as true messengers - even though that person may have never made such a claim.

Sometimes we are content with the philosophies of men mingled with scripture instead of waiting to receive a true message from a true messenger.

We are often quick to throw out anything that doesn't fit our current understanding or beliefs. If we aren't willing to even consider that some of our beliefs could be in error or could be a false tradition, we essentially damn our progression and limit what God can give to us.

What about the leader of the LDS church?

A prophet of God and the President of the LDS church are two separate and distinct roles. A prophet is someone who has obtained a relationship with God, who communicates with God directly, and who has been given a message from God to deliver to a people. The President of the LDS church is an administrative position who with the help of his presidency and other quorums, manage the affairs of a church.

I am not saying a president of the LDS church cannot be a prophet. In fact, D&C 107 tells us that it is part of his calling as president to become one. However, you can't ordain someone a prophet. You can't ordain someone a seer. You can't ordain someone a revelator. You can ordain someone as president of the church. A prophet prophecies; a seer sees; and a revelator reveals. These are gifts of the Spirit and are controlled by God - not by man.

In the LDS church, there has been a shift that has happened related to understanding regarding prophets.  Most of this shift in perspective has happened in the last 50 or so years.  In the first 120 years of the history of the LDS church, people understood that they were not the same thing and that they were two different roles. Up until David O. Mckay - people generally referred to the leader of the LDS church as president - not as prophet. Up until that time, when people referred to "the prophet" they were usually referring to Joseph Smith.

Delivering a good sermon that people enjoy does not make someone a prophet. As Joseph Smith taught, a prophet is only a prophet when he is delivering a message from God. At any other time, he is just speaking as a man and is giving his own opinion. A message from God is almost always given in the voice of God. If you look at the revelations in the D&C, you can see this. "Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of Him that dwells on high" is how D&C 1 begins. If you go through the different sections you will notice that they are given in first person using the pronouns I and me and my in the voice of the Lord.

Because the LDS people in general conflate the two roles of president and prophet as one, they also have a tendency to think that a prophet cannot exist outside the role of the president. In other words, they also tend to think that God only calls prophets as a leader of an organization.

Men do not control God. They cannot control who he will call as a prophet or messenger. They can not ordain a prophet for themselves. Only God can do this and He will do it however He wills to bring about His purposes.

Whose fault is it?

 Back to the original questions - ask yourself the following:

Has the person that you believe to be a prophet ever claimed to be a prophet?

Other people saying he is a prophet doesn't count.  If there are others around him saying he is a prophet all around you, that is not the same thing as him personally making the claim.

Has the person that you believe to be a prophet ever claimed to have a message from God?

Delivering a message every six months in a conference or in a monthly publication does not count unless the deliverer of the message is willing to testify that the message is from God.

If the answer to the first two questions are no, then why do you feel justified in thinking of this person as a prophet?

Picture yourself standing at the judgment bar of God with this person who you esteem as a prophet.  God asks the man, "Did you ever claim to be a prophet?" "No"  "Did you ever claim to have a message from me that you delivered?"  "No" God turns to you.  "Why did you follow this man and treat him as a messenger from me?"

Does it matter?

Does it matter whether or not you correctly determine who is a true messenger and who is not a true messenger?  Does it matter whether or not you hear and receive a message from a true messenger?  Did it matter in the days of Alma and Abinadi?  Did it matter in the days of Nephi and Lehi?  Did it matter in the days of Samuel the Lamanite and Nephi?  Did it matter in the days of Joseph Smith?  Did it matter in the days of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ?

Does it matter today?

After Samuel the Lamanite spoke about how the people accepted false prophets and cast out the true ones, he said the following:

Helaman 13

29.   O ye wicked and ye perverse generation; ye hardened and ye stiffnecked people, how long will ye suppose that the Lord will suffer you? Yea, how long will ye suffer yourselves to be led by foolish and blind guides? Yea, how long will ye choose darkness rather than light?
30.   Yea, behold, the anger of the Lord is already kindled against you; behold, he hath cursed the land because of your iniquity.
Another pattern in the scriptures is that usually when a messenger is sent, they are sent to call the people to repentance and warn the people of pending judgments.  What happened to those who rejected Lehi's message?  What happened to those who rejected Abinadi's message?  What happened to those who rejected Nephi and Samuel the Lamanites message?  What happened to the Jews who rejected John the Baptist and Christ?

What will happen to people today if they fail to receive the message, the call to repentance, from a true messenger?

A new messenger is sent

An obscure LDS man made a claim similar to Joseph Smith that he had seen and spoken with Christ.  In 2006, he wrote a book about how to receive the second comforter.   He wrote a book about how LDS history fulfills the prophecies in the scriptures - especially the prophecies in the Book of Mormon.  This book upset the current leaders of the LDS church.  They demanded he stop publishing it or they would throw him out of the church.  He offered to make corrections to anything that was in error.  No reply ever came as to what needed to be changed.  Instead, they threw him out.

In 2013, this man claimed that the Lord had asked him to give a series of 10 talks.  He claimed the 10 talks contained a message that the Lord wanted delivered to the LDS people.  One year after the last talk, a book with that message from the 10 talks was compiled and published.

The message is the credential
This man, Denver Snuffer, has no authority in the LDS church.  In fact, he has been cast out and has been labeled an apostate.  Those who have heard and accepted the message he delivered as being from God have in many cases also been cast out and labeled apostates. 

For many LDS people, that is enough for them to also disregard the message without ever hearing it or studying it or taking the time to find out whether or not is it a message from God.

Lehi was probably labeled as an apostate or a crank.  There were probably disparaging labels for Abinadi, Alma, Nephi, Samuel the Lamanite, John the Baptist, Peter, Isaiah, and almost every prophet that has come to this world with a message from God.  The test is always the same.

How did the people in the past who received the message decide that it was actually from God when society in general rejected it?

The message was the credential.  Not the person who brought it.  Not how that person was perceived in the culture.  Those who received the message were able to break through false traditions and receive more light and truth - bringing them closer to God.  The message will bear fruit in those that repent and follow it.  The true message will point the people to Christ - never to the messenger.  The message is the credential.

Those who receive the message will be able to hear the Lord's voice in the message itself.

John 10

24.   Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.
25.   Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not; the works that I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me.
26.   But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.
27.   My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
28.   And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
Update April 2, 2017:  This post regarding the Chiasmus in Testimony of St. John chapter 2 discusses
the importance of receiving true messengers from God in Christ's discussion with Nicodemus.

John Chapter 2: Conference Chiasmus

Scripture, prophecy, and covenant

Joseph Smith's Big Mistake