I gave this talk this morning in my ward. It’s my second in 7 years of membership. The photograph is from a friend’s mission to Canada.
We are a living church. One of our greatest blessings is that we belong to a church with continuing, ongoing revelation. The heavens are open. Most Christian denominations have a closed canon of scriptures, meaning that they believe the Bible contains all of God’s words to his children, and that nothing further can be added or will be given to the earth. The heavens are thus sealed to Mankind. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Later-day Saints, we reject this notion. We believe in an open canon- meaning we have the limitless and hope-filled potential for more binding revelation to be given and received.
Joseph Smith wrote, in the ninth article of faith, “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and all that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
The Articles of Faith were written in Nauvoo in March of 1842 as part of Joseph’s response to an inquiry by Chicago newspaper man, John Wentworth, regarding the early events in the Restoration, including the first vision, and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. They serve to illustrate many important tenets of our faith, but my purposes here, I’ll narrow the focus to two things: First, they forthrightly sketch out the framework for our beliefs and our doctrine. Secondly, and most important for this talk; they illustrate exactly what Joseph professes in that ninth article. The articles of faith, while beginning humbly as a statement of belief, was canonized and made scripture for Later-day Saints in 1880, and can now be found in The Pearl of Great Price.
The Gospel is nothing if not personal. In that tiny grove in upstate New York, when Joseph pleaded with the Father for guidance and answers, the Lord answered, calling him by name, and pointing to the other “Joseph, this is my Beloved Son, hear him!” As members of the LDS church, we are inheritors of this rich tradition, being taught from the cradle that the Lord not only loves each of us, but that we are individuals, valued and known deeply and personally to our God.
Mormon 9:27 says, in part, “…doubt not, but be believing, and begin as in times of old and come unto the Lord with all your heart and work out your own salvation with fear and trembling before him.”
These are not the words of a distant God. We are not commanded to simply rely on the grace of another, or the oil borrowed from the lamp of another. Indeed we are cautioned against doing so over and over. We are given intelligence, agency and pondering minds so that we might study the words of our scriptures, hear our prophets, listen to the called and inspired, figure out what they mean to us personally, and apply them to our lives.
Joseph said “We consider that God has created man with a mind capable of instruction and a faculty which may be enlarged in proportion to the heed and diligence given to the light communicated from Heaven to the intellect, and that the nearer man approaches perfection, the clearer are his views, and the greater his enjoyments, until he has overcome the evils of this life and lost every desire for sin, and like the ancients arrives at the point of faith where he is wrapped in the power and glory of his Maker and is caught up to dwell with Him. But we consider that this is a station to which no man ever arrived in a moment: he must have been instructed in the government and laws of that kingdom by proper degrees, until his mind is capable of in some measure of comprehending the propriety, justice, equality, and consistency of the same.
It’s work. The Lord expects us to be active, not passive, in our search for answers. He expects us to use our agency- to study, pray and ponder, to use the gifts of intelligence and discernment- and apply this to our lives and our spirits.
The need for modern revelation is basic to a faith that believes in a living God and an open canon. Instruction given to past generations may no longer serve the Lord’s people, or be pertinent to future generations. In the Old Testament, the Lord instituted the law of animal sacrifice through revelation- in similitude of the coming sacrifice of the Savior. When Jesus Christ came to earth and performed the atonement, the need for symbolic animal sacrifice was done away with. A new law was revealed and as followers of Christ, we take the Sacrament in similitude of the sacrifice of the Savior. We have seen revelatory changes in our understanding- from the sacred writings of the Gospels in the holy land after the death of Christ, to Mormon carrying his record in the new world, to as recently as the 1978 Official Declaration 2, on all worthy men holding the priesthood.
What great hope there is in having an open canon!
As Later-day Saints, we are blessed to be led by a living prophet. The mantle has been handed down, from the Restoration through Joseph Smith Jr, to Brigham Young- down the generations of time to this dispensation in an unbroken line- to Gordon B Hinckley and finally to our current church president- Thomas S Monson.
A prophet is a special witness of Christ, called to be the Lord’s representative here on earth, testifying of his divinity and teaching his gospel. We sustain the President of the Church as prophet, seer and revelator- and as such, he is the only person on the earth who receives revelation to guide the entire Church. We also raise our hands and sustain his counselors and members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers and revelators.
It is our charge to listen to the words of our prophet- and of his counselors. It is also our charge, from God, to pray, ponder and deeply consider the words and guidance we are given by these Apostles of the Lord, and to decide with faith and pondering how we can and should apply those guiding principles in our lives. Their words are not to be dismissed lightly.
Doctrine and Covenants 21:6 says if we obey the Lords promises, “The gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yeah and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good and his name’s glory.”
When I first joined the church 7 years ago, so much was foreign to me, but most of all alien was the idea of putting my faith in someone else. I came from a tradition of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps and taking care of business. You relied on yourself, and you did what needed doing. The idea of measuring my actions and decisions against a yardstick other than my own internal moral compass was…peculiar. I was skeptical of this new premise, and held myself back from deciding how I could incorporate this obedience in my formerly-free life. I liked what I saw at church, and that was good enough for a while.
With my son’s permission, I would like to share a story about what changed me:
Next weekend, we will have the privilege of hearing and watching the disciples of the Lord address us a people. They will stand upon the dais in that very building where I sat crying with my hot, exuberant son last summer. They will stand and profess their love for us, teach of our Savior, and share what the voice of the Lord has prompted them to say. What an amazing, priceless gift those words are.
And because the Gospel is deeply personal, and because the Lord knows each and every one of us as we know our own children, there will be words uttered that are arrows to our hearts. Words that are meant for our specific pains, sorrows, questions or joys. It’s a promise.