What does it mean to have a testimony of JS?

In my Relief Society class today, women recounted how although they had a testimony that they should belong to the LDS church and of The Book of Mormon, they often struggled to have a testimony of Joseph Smith.  This begs the question, what do we mean when we claim to have a testimony of Joseph Smith?

The very phrase “having a testimony of Joseph Smith,” seems to elevate Joseph Smith to the divine status in which we hold other figures that we testify of—Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost.  The language pushes us towards seeing Joseph Smith as an infallible prophet, a semi-deity. But, of course, this view of Joseph Smith is incorrect.  We do not believe our prophets are infallible, and we do not believe that they are gods.

It seems, then, that what people typically mean when they say that they have a testimony of Joseph Smith is that they have a testimony that certain actions that Joseph Smith took to found our church were directed by God.  Our testimony is not in fact about Joseph Smith being sacred, but rather that we believe in the actions that God directed through Joseph Smith.  If this is in fact what we mean, then there is not in my mind a substantial difference between belief in The Book of Mormon or the church and what some people can a “testimony” of Joseph Smith.

Unfortunately, however, the phrase “having a testimony of Joseph Smith” obscures this meaning, leaving people with the impression that they should develop a testimony of Joseph Smith’s divine nature.  If this is not what we believe—and I don’t think it is—then we might do better to spell out more completely what actions, practices, or doctrines in fact form our testimonies.

Comments

  1. that is well said, thank you.

  2. Steve Evans says:

    Sure, it’s shorthand — fairly harmless in lots of cases, but you’re right that it might be misleading to newcomers or visitors.

  3. You’ve pinpointed what has been bothering me about our RS lesson all day. I’ve become really uncomfortable over the years with muddling the “he was such a great man, great leader, etc” with “testimony of JS.” While the quotes of his contemporaries certainly are interesting and perhaps faith promoting, many conflated the various meanings you describe above.

  4. Fwiw, it’s never crossed my mind that anyone who uses that phrase intends it to mean that they elevate Joseph to the status of the Godhead – or that we are supposed to see him as somehow uniquely divine.

    I think that phraseology is a shorthand way to say they believe he was directed by God as a prophet without having to do what you suggest – spell out exactly what he did, especially in the short time encouraged for a formal testimony in a first Sunday meeting when he isn’t the focus of the testimony being shared. I think it can serve to keep from having to spell it all out, but I also think it can serve to keep from having to differentiate those things that some people accept and those things they don’t accept. Iow, it can be a standard shorthand for members who see him as almost infallible and a “safe” shorthand for those who are conflicted about some of his actions and/or beliefs but still belief he was a prophet.

    In talks and lessons, I agree totally with you; in classic “testimonies” I’m fine with the shorthand.

  5. I see it as shorthand, too — a testimony that he was a prophet called of God.

    I am big on trying to use words and phrases, though, that aren’t befuddling to those not of our faith, so this gives me a simple something to just be careful about. Thanks.

  6. For me at least, it’s never bugged me one way or another; I’ve never thought that a ‘testimony of Joseph Smith’ meant he was seen as anything other than (or ‘higher than’) the prophet of the restoration . . . I’ve always taken it to mean that if you don’t believe that Joseph Smith did what he said he did, saw what he saw he saw, and was directed as he said he was directed, then the foundation of the restoration doesn’t make much sense. I guess a testimony of his role or something along those lines would be better wording that just a ‘testimony of Joseph Smith’, but I’ve never taken it as anything other than a confirmation of his appointed role in the Church.

  7. I was sincerely contemplating leaving church before RS today, because I read the lesson and it frankly troubled me. I’m glad I stayed, because our teacher did a great job of acknowledging Joseph Smith’s unique place in the history of the world and of the high regard that his contemporaries held him, and of somehow keeping it real.

    We came away with the notion that each of us has a responsibility to find how the Lord would use us in His service, and to serve Him.

  8. Peter LLC says:

    We had our Joseph Smith lesson last week.

    Teacher: “So what do you do if someone says we worship Joseph Smith?”

    I couldn’t help but think that we sometimes make it easy for outsiders to foster such an impression. One week we stand as a worldwide priesthood body to sing “Praise to the Man” and then follow up the next with a lesson devoted to his character, charisma and overall adroitness (and these to be followed up by more in future weeks).

    I suspect it’s the emphasis on Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling over, say, Harold B. Lee’s, that has people wondering if one is considered a little more prophetic than the others in Mormon circles. A review of the lesson materials indicates a common theme:

    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Harold B. Lee: “Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Living God”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young: “President Brigham Young’s Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor: “Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith: “A Personal Witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Heber J. Grant: “The Mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay: “The Divine Calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith”;
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Wilford Woodruff: “Joseph Smith: Prophet, Seer, and Revelator”
    Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball: “The Prophet Joseph Smith”

  9. You need to elaborate about the ‘testimony of Joseph Smith’. Are we discussing him as a prophet? As a man? What attributes do we ‘know to be true’?

    Though some members tend to deify him, I don’t think it can be asserted of LDS in general. My personal take is that he is a prophet of God, but he’s also a man susceptible to making big mistakes. I love to read D&C 3 to see his imperfections. One needs to separate the work with the man. Was he special? I would agree that his place within religious history can’t be disputed.

    To me a ‘testimony of JS’ is more about his calling and work that his individual traits, virtues and vices. I what Lorenzo Snow said about Joseph Smith in that if the Lord placed such a man to be his conduit, there was still hope for him.

  10. Of the places I’ve seen Joseph-worship going on, I’ve never seen it in that phrase. But I don’t know I’ve seen it used either. I’ve heard “I know that Joseph was a true prophet of God,” but the other one isn’t really coming to my (admittedly tired) recall.

    I have a testimony of the divine calling of Joseph Smith. I don’t believe he was divine, but I am deeply grateful for the role he played in restoring the gospel and translating the Book of Mormon. I’m not sure anybody is going to see a difference between what I just said and what they meant when they said the other phrase if they had actually said it.

  11. I wish I had been able to read all of this before our lesson yesterday. I taught it but not all that well I am afraid. The testimonies in the manual smacked of hero worship more than anything to me. We discussed how testimonies are developed and whether it was easier or more difficult for his comtempories to have a testimony of JS than it is for each of us. I hope the sisters at least got to think a little about Prophet Joseph and their own testimonies but I kept feeling I was missing something.

  12. I know that he was a true prophet of God. Not that he was infallible, of course. Not that he wasn’t a human person like the rest of us. Maybe he was just more willing to listen, and to act on what he heard, even when it cost him his reputation and even his life. I guess that’s the difference between us, how willing we are to act on the word of God. I’m not sure. I know that Joseph’s story gives me hope that even ordinary humans with human failings can do God’s work.

  13. I wonder if because Joseph is at the center of most “anti-mormon” arguments about the church, we as a general membership overemphasize his status/accomplishments at times in an unconscious effort to counterbalance the perceived level of antagonism towards him.

  14. Stephanie says:

    I think it means having a testimony that he was truly a prophet of God and that the things he proclaimed actually happened (he DID see God the Father and Jesus, he DID received the Golden plates, etc.)

  15. Antonio Parr says:

    Instead of having a testimony of Joseph Smith (who was, like everyone reading this post, a deeply flawed individual in desperate need of a Savior), a Latter-Day Saint can/should have a testimony that this deeply flawed individual (again, as is the case for us all) was used as an instrument in the hand of God to help build the kingdom in certain specified ways (i.e., bringing forth of the Book of Mormon; restoration of the Priesthood, etc.).

    What gets us in trouble (and justifiably so) is when we attempt to paint Joseph as “practically perfect in every way”, which gives fuel to opponents of the Church who have little difficulty in identifying moments when Joseph was deeply flawed (again, as are we all).

    Which brings me to the song/hymn “Praise to the Man”. First, I admit that the song rocks — I can hear U2’s the Edge doing a killer guitar intro to this song. However, to the ears of our fellow Christians, it is a song that does for a man what should only be reserved for God, i.e., a hymn of praise. I once brought some non-LDS friends to an area conference featuring a very well know leader of the Church, and the service included “Praise to the Man”. My guests, who otherwise had a nice experience, were visibly uncomfortable with the song, and did not join in the singing. I have no acceptable response to their question why we are using a worship service to praise a man instead of praising God. As taught so beautifully and clearly in the Book of Mormon (Alma 26:16):

    Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord? Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men?

    When we take time in a Sacrament Meeting or other worship service to glory in Joseph, then, in my humble opinion, we invite the criticism of others (including fellow Christians of good will) that we are missing the mark by focusing (even for a few minutes) our adoration on Joseph Smith instead of the One who saves him and us all from death and sin.

  16. Someone in my RS said “I’m careful about how I use the word testimony.” It only takes 3 more words to say “I have a testimony that JS was a prophet” than to say “I have a testimony of JS.” It’s an important distinction, and I think the shorthand can do damage.

    I also am increasingly uncomfortable singing “Praise to the Man.”

  17. The historical context in which ‘Praise to the Man’ was written is important. After the martyrdom, Saints needed a cohesive rally-song, which this fits perfectly. If understood under that logic it is a unifying song. However, I readily admit that to someone who’s not a member of the Church this would be quite bizarre. I also believe that it can feed the stereotypical perception that LDS worship Joseph Smith.

  18. “The very phrase “having a testimony of Joseph Smith,” seems to elevate Joseph Smith to the divine status in which we hold other figures that we testify of—Christ, God, and the Holy Ghost. The language pushes us towards seeing Joseph Smith as an infallible prophet, a semi-deity. But, of course, this view of Joseph Smith is incorrect. We do not believe our prophets are infallible, and we do not believe that they are gods.”

    But we don’t conflate having a testimony of the Bible or the Book of Mormon as saying that either book is infallible? I’m not sure this is quite the problem. It seems to me we are uncomfortable with it mostly because it appears to others that we deify him, and we do not want to be portrayed in such light.

  19. CJ Douglass says:

    I prefer the Joseph of Bushman. In him I see the power and grace of God.

  20. I struggled to teach this in EQ yesterday. The lesson lacks any of the subtlety discussed here in mixing together all sorts of worshipful quotes in one treacly jumble (I avoided the Emmeline Wells sections – she seemed quite smitten with him). Interesting that about 2/3 of the quotes were recalled 30-60 years after the fact. I can only imagine that nostalgia for the Nauvoo days was a powerful sentiment among the old-timers in 19th century Utah.

  21. alextvalencic says:

    I don’t think I have, at least in the past 10 years, ever uttered this particular phrase. But then, I am a word-snob, and I get really annoyed when people use short-hand in their vocabulary, as it leads to exactly this problem.

    Whenever Joseph Smith gets mentioned in my testimonies, which is not nearly as often some would like, it is always that I have a testimony of his calling as a Prophet to restore the Gospel to the earth in these last days.

    Incidentally, my wife and I are teachers in the Primary, and we switch off who attends PH/RS and who attends Sharing Time each week, so I am probably missing out on part of this discussion.

  22. Thomas Parkin says:

    “to the ears of our fellow Christians”

    Are we going to be apologizing to these people forever?

    Maybe Jesus is diminished by our adoration for our friends wives and lovers, as well? There is plenty of adoration to go around. Jesus did what He did, what none other could do, and to Him we are totally indebted. But that doesn’t mean no one and nothing else is worthy of praise. ~

  23. This makes me wonder, is there any online forum anyone’s aware of where people exchange ideas about the upcoming RS/EQ lessons?

  24. Molly Bennion says:

    Vin, try Feast Upon the Word.

  25. Feast Upon the Word is a great resource. Unfortunately, I think that Joe had a hard time with this lesson, too.

  26. Thank you Antonio Parr, and thank you much for this post, I am worried at times by how much members of the church tend to idolize the prophets, especially Joseph Smith. Nowhere in the New Testament will you ever see the disciples of Christ bearing testimony of Paul, or of an ancient prophet. Their testimony was of Christ and the cross, and that alone. I fear that Grace is becoming diluted by this and other cultural trends within the church that involve far too much “man” and far too little “God”. While I understand the importance of believing in what Joseph Smith restored, he was no more than an instrument in the hands of God, chosen because God is great, not because he was great. But I believe years will pass before we stop preaching and singing our hymn of “Praise to the Man oft-confused with Jehova.” Too far?

  27. Steve Evans says:

    Spencer, too far.

  28. Molly Bennion says:

    DCL, Yes, who wouldn’t struggle with a lesson with so little meat? I didn’t relish teaching it, but it turned out ok. Focusing on some recurring character traits in the testimonials, we considered how Joseph was able to retain his commitment to his calling (with good cheer no less) in the face of trial. Then, because so many are having trials today, we talked of how we might do the same. The sisters spoke honestly and wisely. They quickly identified with and drew strength from Joseph because we spoke of him as a man, marvelous and a prophet, but needing to improve and improving.

  29. Antonio Parr says:

    22. Thomas Parkin

    Thomas, I happen to care quite a bit about these fellow Christians, some of whom are my immediate family members, some of whom are my neighbors, some of them my coworkers, etc. Moreover, it is not a case of”apologizing” to them, but of ministering to them. (The scriptures teach us to trust in and praise God. What is complicated or controversial about this?)

    Faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the Restored Gospel, and a condition precedent to salvation. Since this is the case, why confuse things (and confuse our non-LDS family members) with songs of praise about a prophet who many of our non-LDS friends think we worship? (This misconception has been magnified during this curriculum year, in which we go from Sunday School to Priesthood talking almost exclusively about Joseph Smith and his admittedly extraordinary life. If Sacrament Meeting is about Joseph Smith (as it sometimes is), then focus on Joseph wins out over focus on Jesus 3-0.)

    In light of our absolutely extraordinary missionary program, I would think that there might be wisdom in discarding the non-essentials (i.e., anything less than glorfying God) for the sake of winning souls to Christ. In so doing, we not only keep the commandment to glorify God, we also better demonstrate to our beloved non-LDS brothers and sisters that our worship is on God the Father and His Son.

  30. Antonio Parr says:

    (Nothing in the prior post is intended to diminish respect for Joseph Smith or the extraordinary life that he lived. I am just of the opinion that the best way of honoring a prophet is to focus on the One that these prophets serve.)

  31. Good point on the short hand… the long hand versions seems to be what kids used to get whispered into their ears at the pulpit to repeat (before it was discouraged) that:

    “I know (or have a testimony” that Joseph Smith was a true prophet.”

    I think it’s ok to say it either way. I generally try to be as clear as possible in my communication, but sometimes I feel that I end up parsing and qualifying my words so often I can’t be concise.

    In this case I don’t know that it matters… generally I think everything we say could be prefaced with what Nephi said, that if I err, I err like the prophets of old in leaving out things which I should have.

    The more I live and listened to people’s words and try to think about them the more I realize how true that is.

  32. Since I butchered my summary of Nephi I’ll quote it here… and perhaps it’s a good thing Nephi wasn’t so concise!

    6 Nevertheless, I do not write anything upon plates save it be that I think it be sacred. And now, if I do err, even did they err of old; not that I would excuse myself because of other men, but because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh, I would excuse myself.
    7 For the things which some men esteem to be of great worth, both to the body and soul, others set at naught and trample under their feet. Yea, even the very God of Israel do men trample under their feet; I say, trample under their feet but I would speak in other words—they set him at naught, and hearken not to the voice of his counsels.

  33. Thomas Parkin says:

    Antonio,

    I know some evangelicals and care about them, as well. I merely suggest that submerging whatever aspect of Mormonism makes them uncomfortable for the sake of good feeling, or to protect the church from criticism, as if we could, may not only be counter productive but would be, for some of us, actively dishonest.

    I disagree strongly with your analysis of what we might want to “discard” – but haven’t got the energy or inclination to do anything more than say so. ~

  34. Antonio Parr says:

    Thomas —

    I, too, am energy-depleted on the topic, and appear to be very much in the minority with my feelings on the issue. My visceral reaction is that there is something seriously and fundamentally wrong when we talk more about Joseph Smith than Jesus of Nazareth in Church, which is something that occurs on more than a few Sundays. However, since so many of my beloved LDS brothers and sisters take the opposite approach, I will continue to give this matter careful reflection (albeit privately — I have now reached the point of redundancy, for which I apologize).

    (P.S. I certainly would not want to “discard” the Book of Mormon; the First Vision; respect and gratitude for Joseph Smith and other ancient and latter-day prophets; the restoration of the Priesthood; the pioneer trek; tithing; word of wisdom; modern revelation; etc. etc. etc. My concern lies with the modern application of 2 Ne. 25:26. That’s all.)

  35. StillConfused says:

    I get asked if I “know” that JS was a prophet etc. My response is “Do I know it, No. I wasn’t alive then. Am I willing to accept it? Sure” Some find that response flippant but I prefer it as I feel it is more factually correct

  36. Thomas – I am also of the opinion that no truth should be disregarded or unexplored for the sake of “good feeling” among the evangelical community. I do, however, see a pattern where we often go out of our way to establish the differences between our faith and theirs, rather than relish in the similarities. The doctrines shared – about Christ, about the Atonement, about grace, about a higher law and standard toward which we should always strive yet always fall short; these, in my opinion, are the meat of the gospel. When we neglect these doctrines in even a single Sunday School lesson, I think we have missed the point entirely. When we do discuss things that set us apart, let us do so in a way that praises God and rejoices in Christ. The Book of Mormon is replete with these doctrines, yet I feel that its message is so often watered-down. It is often presented more as a proof of Joseph Smith’s divine calling than it is of Christ’s divine sacrifice.

    (In regards to my previous line about “Praise to the Man”, I meant no disrespect for Joseph Smith; it was an exaggerated comment about a hymn written after his martyrdom that I believe Joseph especially would be (and probably is) very uncomfortable with.)

  37. StillConfused says:

    I note that some of you seem to be a little hard on Antonio’s comments. But I find that I relate very well to what he is saying. Antonio — keep up the good work!

  38. Most of this discussion seems to focus on a meta-level of what we think about showing praise for JS in general. When it gets to the very specifics of the recent MP/RS lesson, which I taught on Sunday, I found nothing troubling in the least. We didn’t have a lot of time for the lesson, so I focussed on the first Brigham Young quote, and especially the Eliza R. Snow statement.

    We narrowed in on this part: “In the cause of truth and righteousness—in all that would benefit his fellow man, his integrity was as firm as the pillars of Heaven. He knew that God had called him to the work, and all the powers of earth and hell combined, failed either to deter or divert him from his purpose.”

    I asked who wouldn’t want to be remember this way, and then we talked about what it really means to have integrity.

    No hand-wringing here. We had investigators in our quorum, and this lesson seemed to be a lot of fun for everyone.

    The lesson should have been a powerful reminder of what a testimony of Joseph Smith involves–not that he was perfect or divine, but a tool in the Lord’s hands. And that the Lord can use us as well if we will let him.

  39. Thomas Parkin says:

    Spencer,

    I think even the similarities lose much of their similarity when viewed in light of the Plan of Salvation. I think that our interfaith relations should center on mutual respect without doctrinal condition – or one-sided respect, if that is all that is possible – and that attempting to build that respect on doctrinal similarities has put some of us in a compromised position. I think the tension you feel between our talk of Joseph Smith and of Jesus is unnecessary. ~

  40. I guess that’s where we differ, Thomas. While I believe that there are very obvious and apparent differences, I don’t think finding common ground (especially a common belief as all-encompassing as the Atonement) has ever compromised anything; only built interfaith relationships and a humbler kind of mutual respect.

  41. Thomas Parkin says:

    Spencer,

    The differences in views of the purpose of life, the nature of God, the potential destiny and nature of humans, is so different as to create an unbridgeable gap. Similarities in language concerning the Atonement, grace, etc, are semantic. We can both say that we are entirely in need of Christ, and not have that really mean too much. I’ll continue to assert that mutual respect must be unconditional, a matter of principal and even love independent of doctrinal differences and similarities. The better we know, the more we know, the more we will move away from the evangelical positions concerning the nature of God, not to mention our own position. Tensions resulting from straining at inflating similarities where they barely exist potentially keep us from the path of actually coming to understand God, which is only achieved through personal revelation, most particularly as we contemplate the ordinances of the Temple.

    As always … ;) ~

  42. Glenn Smith says:

    Re: #34 Antonio
    Please remember that as we study scriptures in cycles, other aspects of the lessons, Ensign articles, etc. focus on the cycle at hand. When we study the New Testament, much is said and taught about Christ. As we study the D&C and Church history, we focus on the restoration and, naturally, on Joseph Smith. Perhaps the current Priesthood/Relief Society manuals coinciding with the Sunday School manual was part of a correlation plan. I’m curious about the move from Presidents to the Gospel Doctrine manual. There must be need for the basics in the broader Church, and not just in the “mission field”, but in the established population.

  43. Glenn, if studying D&C means refocusing from the Savior to the Restoration or to Joseph Smith, then I’d prefer abandon the study of church history altogether. I don’t think it does mean that, so I don’t plan on abandoning that study any time soon. Regardless of the lesson, regardless of the cycle, be it the New Testament or be it Doctrine and Covenants, the focus should always be Christ and the Atonement. Anything else is but an “appendage” to our religion, as Joseph Smith taught.

  44. Thomas Parkin says:

    Spencer,

    Whenever we are talking about the words of Christ, whether they directly mention with the doctrines of the Atonement or no, we are coming to Him by hearing His word and hence activating the Atonement in our lives. When we talk about tithing we are talking about Christ, when we talk about prophets we are talking about Christ, when we are talking about loving our wives we are talking about Christ, etc. We you start lopping off appendages, you are limiting the words of Christ.

    Cool. ~

  45. Antonio Parr says:

    Thomas:

    What’s wrong with the concept of actually talking about Jesus of Nazareth in order to fulfill the mandate to “talk of Christ”? Your approach seems to treat Jesus as if he is more of a principle than a person. Respectfully, there is enough substance and nuance in the four New Testament Gospels and in 3rd Nephi to foster discussion for the rest of our lives about the matchless, physical ministry of Christ. I would think that with three hours of worship and instruction each Sunday, we could do a better job of finding and/or creating opportunities to point to and reflect about the things that our great Examplar did while walking this earth.

    I’ll stop now, with apologies for both my redundancies and for breaking my previous promise to stop posting on this topic.

  46. Thomas Parkin says:

    “What’s wrong with the concept of actually talking about Jesus of Nazareth in order to fulfill the mandate to “talk of Christ”? ”

    Nothing. And I don’t disagree we could do better at studying closely the life of Christ. But it is wrong to think, I think, that is the only place to find Him. We find him in the example of others, including Joseph Smith, just for one example. I reassert what I said before, when we talk about tithing we ARE talking about Christ. Certainly when we are talking about Temple work we are talking about Him. etc. etc. etc. etc. ~

  47. Antonio and Spencer, this is a sincere question (two of them, actually), meant only to ask – and it is coming from someone who beileves deeply in finding common ground where common ground actually exists:

    What is the “proper balance” in your minds when it comes to talking about Jesus and Joseph?

    In my experience over the last 40+ years, the ratio in the Church is well over 9/1 in favor of Jesus and Heavenly Father. I agree that there are occasional Sundays where Joseph gets the lion’s share of the attention, but I certainly have seen many more Sundays where he doesn’t – where that share it laid at Jesus’ feet.

    Are your experiences really different than mine?

  48. Antonio, Spencer, if we don’t talk and teach about Joseph Smith, then we have no reason — *zero* — to be Latter-day Saints. You might as well go to the generic Christian church on the corner where you can ignore everything but some watered-down, sugared-up praises to a Jesus they don’t understand, instead of the Christ you have come to know in the gospel restored through Joseph Smith.

    Without knowing Joseph Smith (shorthand here for “a familiarity with his life, an understanding of his mission, and a testimony of his prophetic role”), you don’t understand anything about the priesthood or why you have it and why the saintly minister at that corner church does not.

    Without knowing Joseph Smith, you really won’t be worshiping Jesus Christ no matter how much you talk about him or sing praises to him, because you won’t understand who he is and what he has done for you, except in the most general, garbled, and distorted way he has been filtered through the philosophies of uninspired Christianity.

    Without knowing Joseph Smith, you have no reason to use the Book of Mormon. Despite its talk of Christ, without Joseph Smith and his testimony of where it came from, the BoM is no more worthwhile than “Ben Hur” or “Shoes of the Fisherman.”

    Without knowing Joseph Smith, you can skip the salvific ordinances of the temple because you won’t find enough in the printed scriptures to understand or value them.

    Without knowing Joseph Smith, you can ignore President Monson and toss out the whole idea of continuing revelation and prophetic leadership, because you won’t know or appreciate the unbroken transmission of that mantle from the time of the Restoration.

    Without knowing Joseph Smith, you can toss out every unique doctrine and teaching and practice of the church from the Restoration down to last Sunday, because without knowing Joseph Smith those things become merely the philosophies of men — you have no basis for believing otherwise.

    I repeat, without knowing Joseph Smith, you are not a Latter-day Saint. And how is anybody supposed to know him unless we talk and teach and bear testimony of his mission?

    Of all the things there are to complain about in this life, faulting some discussions and songs about Joseph Smith ought to be on your list somewhere down there with complaining about the sky being blue.

  49. Antonio Parr says:

    For the past 2 years, I have heard lessons about Joseph Smith’s life almost every Sunday during Priesthood. I have not heard any lessons about Jesus’ life during that block.

    For the past year, I have heard lessons about Joseph Smith’s life almost every Sunday during Sunday School. I have not heard any lessons about Jesus’ life during that block.

    Sacrament Meeting is more complicated. More often than not, I do not hear talks that reference either Joseph Smith’s or Jesus’ life. Instead, there are talks about commandments and principles of the Gospel, with stories and lessons taught by General Authorities in the most recent General Conference. The overwhelming majority of these talks include professions of faith about Jesus being the Christ and Joseph Smith being the prophet of the Restoration.

    How often should we talk about Christ? If I had my way, every single talk and lesson would use as source material something that Jesus said or did during His mortal ministry. The ideal talk and lesson would also reference other ancient and latter-day scriptures; teachings from modern prophets and apostles; the speaker’s own experiences and insight (and, since I am making a wish list, wisdom from great art and literature and wise teachings from non-LDS historical and contemporary figures).

    I am not wise enough to prescribe a proper “balance” between talking abouit Jesus Christ and talking about Joseph Smith. To me, that is like comparing basking in the warmth and light of the sun to basking in the glow of a full moon.

  50. Great comment, Ardis. Great comment, Antonio. I don’t think you can understand JS without understanding his relationship to the Savior. I can not think of any section of the Doctrine and Covenants that is based on Joseph’s opinion alone. The things written there are things he was inspired to write, truths that were revealed to him by the Lord. I don’t know that we shold talk less about the Prophet but we should probably emphasize the Source of his teachings more and not just the teachings themselves.

  51. Ardis, I pray that you don’t mean what you said in your first paragraph (#48). Let’s please never demean the love toward God that our fellow Christians carry in their hearts by calling it a ‘watered-down’ understanding. Because of their narrowed focus on the source of our understanding of His life, the New Testament, I believe they have a wonderful understanding of the who Christ is and who He loves. If anything, for reasons that Antonio mentioned in #49, we are the ones that sadly end up with a watered-down understanding. I don’t believe that needs to be the case, but it will be while we continue to talk about “The Book of Mormon despite Christ”, as you mentioned, Ardis. Joseph Smith was an inspired translator, a prophet; but the purpose of the Book of Mormon was never to testify of Joseph, though it does provide us with evidence of his calling. The purpose is and always was to testify of Christ, and unless we use it as a means to better know Him, and to come to Him, we will come away spiritually malnourished, having passed up a feast in favor of something much less. Antonio, I couldn’t agree more with your fourth paragraph of #49.

  52. Spencer, fwiw, you’ve just misrepresented what Ardis said about as egregiously as it is possible to do.

    Antonio, I understand your concern completely, and I agree that we need to do a much better job of making Sacrament Meeting a worship service. I’ve said so for years. My point is that the central focus of every church meeting and talk and lesson simply CAN’T be explicitly Jesus. It must include our canon, the commandments, our prophets, service and other things that carry an IMPLICIT foundation of Christ.

    As a simple example, we teach the Bible for two years in Seminary – and we teach the Book of Mormon for one year. Joseph does not play a primary role in any of that teaching (except as the translator of the BofM in the initial lessons); Jesus does in all of it – EVERY day in EVERY lesson. Church history and the D&C take the final year, and Jesus is as much a focus of that manual as Joseph is. I know; I’ve taught it.

    My only concern (and I mean my ONLY concern) with your comments about this topic is that you give the impression that we give the impression that we (the LDS Church)worship Joseph more than or as much as Jesus – and that simply is ludicrous on the larger, continuous scale. At the local level, I am sure there are areas where this is a bigger problem, but it certainly isn’t true for the apostles and prophets, General Conference, every Stake Conference I’ve ever attended and the vast majority of the Sacrament Meetings I’ve attended.

    I asked about the balance, because you made it an issue by saying that we talk about Joseph too much. My question, essentially, remains unanswered – although your comment was eloquent. I assert that we focus on Joseph less than 5% of the time in our worhip services – where the issue of “worship” is most relevant – and that those references NEVER encourage actual worship of him – and that we focus on Jesus or his commandments the other 95+% of the time – and that those references are focused explicitly on worship and emulation of Him. I simply don’t see them as in any kind of competition whatsoever.

    Antonio and Spencer, you have stated that you want an exclusive focus on his mortal ministry – or, at least, a reference to it in every talk and lesson. I want a comprehensive focus on His entire life – including His pre- and post-mortal ministries – and I want that to be balanced. That appears to be where we differ. I am fine with that difference, and I am not typing this comment to try to change your mind about that specific aspect, but please don’t insinuate or state explicitly that I, in disagreeing with you, somehow am not as passionate about worshiping Jesus, the Christ, as you are. That is your implication, and nothing could be further from the truth.

  53. Oh, gag, Spencer. Where I’m concerned, you needn’t “pray” anything — I mean what I say. If you’re really a Latter-day Saint, you ought to know a great deal more about the Savior than any non-Mormon could because your resources for that understanding are so much greater. That is true without disparaging in the slightest the deep love, sincere worship, or faithful reliance on Christ to the best of their understanding. If you’re a non-Mormon only masquerading as a Latter-day Saint, as I believe may be the case, then you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    In any case, what’s with the stilted, prissy writing style? It makes it hard for me to take you seriously — it’s the verbal equivalent of Little Lord Fauntleroy with his velvet breeches and blond curls, telling the other boys that they mustn’t, they really mustn’t, play so rough or make so much noise.

    I have a testimony of Joseph Smith. It is only through the fruits of his mission that I have come to know the Savior at all. The Bible is a difficult book for me, and without the clarity provided by the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith I doubt I would spend much time with it. I know very many good people of other faiths, but their faith as explained to me contrasts so weakly, makes so little sense, next to the Savior and the salvation taught by Joseph Smith that I doubt I would be any kind of a Christian in the absence of the restored gospel. Christ is the message, but you do violence to him when you discount his messenger the way you tend to do.

  54. Antonio Parr says:

    Ardis:

    Thank heavens you set Spencer straight about the way ~real~ Christians (i.e., Latter-Day Saints, of which I truly and honestly am one) act by pulling out the scornful sarcasm pen and accusing the fellow of a “stilted, prissy writing style” (which, I admit, is a catchy turn of a phrase, were it no so daggone mean spirited.) “Revenge!”, as stated so wickedly by Gene Hackman’s Lex Luther in Superman.

    If Spencer is a “non-Mormon only masquerading as a Latter-Day Saint”, then maybe you should have. to quote the Master, “Love(d) thy enemy and pray(ed) for those who despitefully use(d) you” instead of going right for the, err, ~thigh~ with the Rockwellian attack.

    Moreover, as taught so beautifully by the prophet Joseph Smith (remember him?),

    43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

    Waiting for your post in which you show Spencer some love, brother Ardis!

  55. Antonio Parr says:

    Ray:

    Thank you for the very gracious tone of your post. I am not sure that we are in material disagreement, as this is what I wrote above:

    How often should we talk about Christ? If I had my way, every single talk and lesson would use as source material something that Jesus said or did during His mortal ministry. The ideal talk and lesson would also reference other ancient and latter-day scriptures; teachings from modern prophets and apostles; the speaker’s own experiences and insight (and, since I am making a wish list, wisdom from great art and literature and wise teachings from non-LDS historical and contemporary figures)

    which, I think, is pretty much the same thing that you espouse.

    Like you, I am profoundly grateful for the added depth and light that the Church brings to doctrine, and would not for a moment suggest that we leave this out of our worship and learning. However, neither would I suggest that we ever minimize Christ’s role as Examplar by forgetting to point to his matchless mortal ministry in our lessons and talks.

    Honest to goodness, cross my heart, etc., I will not post on this thread again, no matter how tempting it may be. However, silence should not be construed as assent . . .

  56. Brother Ardis has all the love in the world for Spencer, and for you Antonio. Brother Ardis loves all humanity. Brother Ardis always takes accountability for his mistakes, including offering offense to his brothers, sisters, and neighbors.

    I’m sure if Brother Ardis were here, he would approve of my extending a heartfelt apology on his behalf.

  57. Wow, Ardis, I certainly wasn’t expecting that. I’m not offended by the affront to my writing style, but I am saddened at the claim that I’m only masquerading as a member of this church. If what I have said makes me what you have claimed, then I’d rather admit that you’re correct than deny what I feel is right. But again – I pray that that’s not the case. You can gag now.

  58. But Brother Ardis apologized to you Spencer. Brother Ardis loves your writing style, and your preference for dumping Joseph Smith down the memory hole. Brother Ardis doesn’t want you to be sad, nor to deny your feelings.

  59. Steve Evans says:

    I’m waiting for Mr. Peanut to show up – you guys are a bunch of nuts. Seriously, cut it out.

  60. Brother Ardis — and me, as well — are sorry once again to have disturbed the peace of By Common Consent and will once again withdraw from participation. I don’t know why I bother even to try anymore, Steve.

  61. Morgan Lee says:

    yuck

  62. Antonio and Spencer,

    There was a time when there was a deficiency of focus on Jesus Christ in LDS meetings (at least if we believe Elder Oaks). But that was in 1994. That was then, and this is now.

    “A few years ago I received a letter from a man who said he had attended an LDS testimony meeting and listened to seventeen testimonies without hearing the Savior mentioned or referred to in any way. He also wrote that the following Sunday he listened to a priesthood lesson, a Gospel Doctrine lesson, and seven sacrament meeting speakers without hearing any reference to Jesus Christ (see Ensign, Nov. 1990, p. 30). Some may have considered that report an exaggeration or an extreme case. The similar accounts I have received in subsequent letters persuade me that this was not an isolated experience. In too many of our classes, in too many of our worship services, we are not teaching of Christ and testifying of Christ in the way we should. This is one way we are failing to “remember the new covenant.”

    “To cite another example, I believe that for a time and until recently our public talks and our literature were deficient in the frequency and depth with which they explained and rejoiced in those doctrinal subjects most closely related to the atonement of the Savior. A prominent gospel scholar saw this deficiency in our Church periodicals published in a 23-year period ending in 1983 (see Daniel H. Ludlow, quoted in Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989, pp. 3–4). I saw this same deficiency when I reviewed the subjects of general conference addresses during the decade ending in the mid-1980s.”

    Dallin H. Oaks, “‘Another Testament of Jesus Christ’,” Ensign, Mar 1994, 60

    Actually, I personally agree with Antonio and Spencer that there still remains a deficiency of focus on Jesus. I do think things have improved some in the last few years (except, perhaps in 2005, when some people told me they were tired of constantly hearing about Joseph Smith repeatedly during the bi-centennial year of his birth.)

  63. I can’t help it. Even though I couldn’t disagree with Ardis more than I do on this subject, I find her particular brand of snark so intoxicating that the next time I’m in the family car, radio blasting, the Wu Tang Clan proclaiming that they’re “nothing to (mess) with,” I’ll be humming along, “straight outta SLC, Ardis Parshall…nothing to (mess) with.”
    Would it be weird if I got “Ardis” tattooed on my arm?

  64. So the question I asked on Sunday was, “So, really, what would it matter if JS was a just a guy? We could still be a church, right?”

    Not to get between a good Steve-Spencer-Ardis dustup, but Spencer — we only spend 5% of our time on JS vs. the rest of field? Come on, man. Even if you take out the Sunday School/Priesthood/RS lessons … that’s just ridiculous. If Ziff is still around, maybe he can do a comprehensive analysis of general conference.

  65. Antonio Parr says:

    First, sincere apologies to ~Sister~ Ardis. (Didn’t realize — sorry!) for my use of sarcasm. I know better than that.

    Second, sincere apologies to all for resorting to sarcasm when discussing topics so important as the worship of Christ. Again, I know better than that.

    This internet stuff is so hard to perfect. It is astoundingly convenient, but so easily stumbles into vitriol because of the lack of face to face interaction.

    Good will to all. God bless Ardis. God bless Spencer. God bless Ray. God bless us all, everyone.

  66. Antonio,

    So women are less fit to handle sarcasm than men? I know you know better than that!

  67. Queno… uh… might want to read back a bit, that was Ray. I’d say “I’m on your side,” but this whole discussion has become polarized enough as it is, and I don’t think that’s what any of this is about. Despite unmistakable differences, I think our core belief is in many ways the same; the manner in which we feel that belief ought to be embraced and expressed is where it seems we differ. I don’t imagine that will be reconciled via blog anytime soon.
    That said – God bless.

  68. Thank you, Antonio, for the tone of your comment.

    Just to do some simple fact checking, I looked at the talks that were given in General Conference during the April and October sessions. I counted those where the primary focus was Joseph Smith and modern prophets, those where the primary focus was the Godhead and those that were neither of those. In quite a few cases, I placed talks in the “neither” category that dealt with Gospel principles primarily – which means they I could have put them in the Godhead category but chose not to do so in order to be as strict as possible with the results.

    During the last two conferences there were a grand total of 3 talks that were focused on Joseph and modern prophets: Elder Callister (Joseph Smith – Prophet of the Restoration); Elder Holland (Safety for the Soul), which really was about the Book of Mormon, but I tried to stretch it as far as I could; Elder Watson (His Servants, the Prophets). That’s two Seventies and one Apostle.

    There were 21 talks focused explicitly on the Godhead and another 39 talks focused on other things – often principles of the Gospel where Jesus was mentioned prominently.

    That’s 60/3 – or 20/1 – or roughly 95%/5%.

    Sorry for polarizing a discussion with the facts. I will end on that.

  69. Ray,
    Shame on you for bringing facts and actual data into a debate.

  70. Thomas Parkin says:

    And it’s RAY for the win!!

  71. Left Field says:

    That reminds me of a year or two ago when someone claimed that general conference is almost always scheduled on Easter, and that when it is, Easter is *never* even mentioned.

    I took the trouble to do a little checking. It turns out that general conference falls on Easter an average of about 2-3 times per decade, and that going back at least 50 years, there has never been a conference on Easter without one or more talks focusing on Easter and the resurrection.

  72. There is a better reason for GC talks not explicitly focusing on Easter (although at least one always does, as you note)–GC is supposed to provide us with counsel and guidance for the next six months, not be a holiday fireside.

    How yawn-inducing would 4th Sundays be if every single TFOT lesson was about Easter?

  73. Antonio Parr says:

    OK – so I don’t always keep my word when it comes to “final” posts (although I always mean well when I say “this is it”) . . .

    Ray:

    I have no reason to doubt your assessment of the Savior/prophet ratio during the most recent General Conference. However, I am sure you recognize that 2 days in a given October (how ever wonderful they might have otherwise been) are not necessarily representative of the day-to-day/week-to-week/month-to-month experience of Saints everywhere. (In addition, you will note from the quote above from Elder Oaks in Comment No. 62 that even General Conference can be “deficient” in its reference of Christ and the atonement.)

    Second, talks about the “Godhead” are not necessarily the same as talks about Jesus of Nazareth (although theologically we know that Jesus taught that He and His Father were one). I dont think that the topic on this thread has been that we don’t talk about “God” — it was more concern about the attention (or, in my humble opinion, lack thereof) that we give to the life of Jesus as opposed to the time that we spend talking about the life of Joseph Smith.

    I have pointed to you to a longer test period, i.e., 2008-2009, where virtually all Priesthood/Relief Society meetings have been about the life of Joseph Smith, usually preceded in 2009 by a lesson about Joseph Smith during Sunday School. Contrast this with our study of the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which is limited to an approximately 5 month period once every 4 years when studying the New Testament. Thus, in terms of our formal curriculum, there can be no doubt that we spend substantially greater time talking about the mortal life of Joseph versus the mortal life of Jesus.

    Of course, this does not mean that Latter-Day Saints worship Joseph Smith. Our prayers are to the Father, in the name of His Son. We covenant each Sunday to “remember Him always”. And, of course, the temple is very much focused on our Lord.

    Still, when it comes to the “meat and potatoes”, i.e., how we spend our formal Sabbath experience, there is (for me, at least) not enough discussion about what Jesus said and did when he walked the earth. In order for him to be our Examplar, it seems that we need to focus consistently on the wealth of information found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and 3rd Nephi about the example He set during his bodily ministry, which is extraordinarily relevant to us as we go about our bodily ministries.

    (To address Ardis’ concern, this does not mean that we don’t study the Restoration and the parts played by Joseph and others in establishing this beautiful, beautiful Church. These miraculous events have much to teach us. But, as taught by Elder Howard W. Hunter during his last talk prior to becoming President of the Church, only Christ can say “come, follow me” — “do as I do”. For this reason, we should spend time considering exactly what it was that Jesus said and did, in order that we can fully understand His example.)

    If we can set aside 2 years to talk about Joseph Smith’s life and teachings in Priesthood and Relief Society, surely there must be a way to set aside at least a comparable amount of time to study — and I mean ~really~ study — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

    There is power in Jesus’ life and atonement, and I, for one, benefit greatly when my worship experience with my beloved Latter-Day Saints includes time spent remembering and talking about His matchless life and ministry.

  74. Glenn Smith says:

    This has been a wild and woolly discussion. I wager Natalie B. didn’t suspect the direction the posts would go when she made the original post . I’m glad this discussion took place. In my new calling as Sunday School teacher for our combined youth class (12-18; small ward) , I now will focus at least part of the lesson on Jesus of Nazareth. (I’m known for expanding the topic when assigned talks, etc. )

  75. There is an interesting contrast with Catholic and Baptist approaches. The Roman Catholic Church now follows a 3-year cycle, one year for each of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew,Mark,Luke), focusing strongly on the human side of Jesus. John is given short shrift (too theological). The two readings serve only to introduce the Gospel reading (and end with the lesser response “Thanks be to God” — which I often spoke aloud as “Thanks to be God” — instead of “Praise to you O Lord Jesus Christ”), one an Old Testament reading and the other one of St. Paul’s letters. Both are carefully picked through to avoid all possible intolerance parts (like Job or women not speaking in Church). The homily (sermon) is almost always Gospel-centered on humans (how we can be more like Jesus). The result: warm and caring water-into-wine Jesus action figure.

    Low-church preachers (like Baptists) do it backwards. Instead of stepping through the book and seeing what it says, the preacher decides what point he wants to make, writes that on the sign out front, then scours the scriptures with a concordance looking for evidence to corroborate it. The Synoptic Gospels are not amenable to this casuistry and are rarely cited. Instead, St. Paul, Acts, and Revelations are mined for ammunition. The result: you’re going to Hell, unless…

    You would not know that these two churches purport to believe in the same Jesus. I agree with Antonio that how — and how much — emphasis is placed on one or the other aspect of one’s beliefs strongly shapes the resulting faith. Catholics are do-gooders, and Baptists are scare-mongers. Mormons appear to me to be obedient-ones. It is no surprise to me that Catholics are infamously cafeteria: we have never been taught to obey or be afraid.

  76. If to be blessed with a testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, in those exact words, is good enough to be in a patriarchal blessing, then it’s not only good enough for me, but obviously good enough for the Lord.

    And really, His opinion is the only one that really matters.

  77. Personally, I’ve heard enough about the pioneers and could use a little less early church history in general. I would also think that many non-Americans might agree at least a little.

  78. Glenn Smith says:

    This Mormon Times article has a very pertinent comment:

    http://www.mormontimes.com/people_news/education/?id=11424

    ~~~~~~
    While preparing for this devotional address, Rasmus said she struggled to decide what to prepare. She finally got down on her knees and prayed for guidance, understanding, wisdom and the enabling power of Christ to know why this was so difficult.

    “With force and power, these words came streaming into my mind, ‘Because Satan does not want you to teach of the atonement of Jesus Christ,'” said Rasmus.
    ~~~~~~

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