Here a Smith, there a Smith, everywhere a Smith, Smith

“Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” by Richard W Linford

…Or, a few thoughts on a recent missionary experience
and the ritualistic invocation of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

When I was a missionary I knew I was surrounded by a million Joseph Smiths. Every day I’d anticipate meeting Joseph all around me–on the bus, at a front porch, on the street. When I found a Joseph I was sure all she or he would need is to hear me read James 1:5, hear me recite Joseph Smith’s words, “I saw a pillar of light…” and BLAM! the Holy Ghost would whack them in the heart with feelings of peace, love, joy, and the other fruits of the Spirit. I was even familiar with the folklore which told me that the adversary would certainly try to interrupt me just as I recited Joseph’s words–a phone ring, a visiting neighbor, a barking dog. If only these Joseph Smiths would just recognize that they were Joseph Smiths!

I had the chance to join my local elders the other day for their first appointment with a woman from Nigeria who was visiting a family on my street. The elders tenaciously stuck to their script, I recognized it from the last pair of elders I went along with. The woman we were teaching was very bright and inquisitive, but also cautious, a good combination, I think. At the outset she was chiefly interested in the Book of Mormon. What is this book? How does it compare to the Bible? What is it about?

The elders had other plans. The Book of Mormon itself could wait. First they needed to let this woman know that she was Joseph Smith, out looking for the true Church. I could tell it would take some convincing, though, and given her interest in the Book of Mormon itself, why not start there? Instead, the elders wanted to perform the extra work to place this “investigator” into a particular “seeker” paradigm, when in reality she wasn’t already within that paradigm. So they labored to first create a (somewhat unnatural) tension (which Church?) and then hoped to resolve it by recounting the story of a 14-year-old boy from 1820.

Don’t misunderstand me–I believe what we now call Joseph Smith’s First Vision is a powerful story, especially considering that the various accounts Joseph left on record offer multiple exegetical (and thus homiletical) possibilities which we largely ignore in favor of the “seeker” paradigm.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems with this shoe-horned approach is that Joseph Smith’s own words, his account of the First Vision canonized in the Pearl of Great Price, is now ritually employed in a quasi-mystical act of communication, through which the Spirit is expected to inevitably ratify by overwhelming the audience. Our exchange with this particular woman went something like this, wherein our elders tried to turn our friend into a Joseph Smith:

” ‘…This is my Beloved Son. Hear Him.’ How did you feel as I told you about Joseph Smith’s experience?” the elder asked her.

“Well, I thought it was interesting. It actually reminded me of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw, who was it, Moses or someone?”

I interjected, “ah yeah, and Elijah…”

The elder cut in, “Good, yes, but what sort of feelings did you feel while I shared it with you?”

There was an awkward pause as the elder intently looked into her eyes.

“I don’t quite understand what you mean,” she said.

The elder tried to coach her along. “Well, I know sometimes it’s hard to recognize the Spirit, to know what it feels like, but the Spirit gives us feelings of peace and assurance. Did you feel that?”

“Not particularly.”

I felt a bit sheepish for the elder, but after a moment he simply testified that he knows that Joseph Smith is a prophet who really saw God, who was told which Church to join (none yet), and that his example suggests that we all can receive answers to prayers about which church to join, too. But the woman was still a bit confused about that strange exchange about what she felt, and her questions about the Book of Mormon were still unanswered.

I walked away from our meeting realizing, again, that not everyone is a Joseph Smith, and that Smith’s First Vision account can’t be ritualistically invoked as the definitive way to bring on a particular feeling–the Spirit–to coerce any given listener that the somewhat archaic sounding recitation means they must be baptized into our Church. Again, I still fancy the accounts, and I believe they can, in certain cases, invite the presence of the Holy Spirit. But sometimes people just need to hear a little more about how Mormonism will impact their lives today. Or perhaps they’re interested in learning about this strange Book of Mormon they’ve recently heard about in the news.

Sometimes the people we meet simply aren’t having an existential religious crisis, and it may actually be counter-productive to attempt to provoke one. Careful attention to the desires, perspectives, and beliefs of those we teach would help prevent the shoe-horn effect. But that may be asking too much from some very sincere 19-or-21-year-old missionaries.

Comments

  1. Blair, I think the various interpretive possibilities of the different accounts of the FV is a very nice insight into how we might break down this one-size fits all approach to conversion. One of the other negative consequences of this narrative is the assumption that other trajectories into the Church are somehow less assured or that the conviction which results from such a transition is somewhat diminished.

  2. btw, I liked the painting a lot.

  3. Joseph Smith himself did not use the First Vision to convert others — he was very quiet about it during his life and in his teachings — rather, he used the Book of Mormon and Moroni’s visit as his authority from heaven to open the new dispensation.

  4. I’ve noticed this with missionaries–they are doggedly devoted to their script, and will ignore questions that don’t fit within its depiction of how a conversation should go. Ugh, our tour of the Beehive house last summer was so unsatisfying for this reason. I wanted to shake them and say, “I’m already a member! Please just tell me how Brigham Young built this piece of furniture so my kids can learn about talents and hard work!” I know it’s a lot to ask, and no doubt venturing outside the script has caused problems in the past, but I would really love it if the elders and sisters could learn to listen to the spirit and respond accordingly. Isn’t that something a missionary should be learning?

    I vehemently agree that the wrong approach can be counterproductive. Our ward mission leader drove away a wonderful young woman who had been happily coming to our ward and our mutual activities for months–he pushed her to take the discussions, and then insisted after the first one that she make the decision to be baptized. We haven’t seen her since. Sometimes we need to be content that the best we can hope for at the time is a positive impression of Mormons, not conversion.

  5. I don’t think it’s too much to ask- I thought one of the purposes of transitioning to Preach My Gospel was to give missionaries the flexibility to adapt the message to the audience. It takes some experience to judge that though, and probably some feedback to realize that an opportunity might have been missed because they weren’t listening so much as following their typical pattern.

  6. J. Stapley says:

    Great observations. But you are right, I think it is a lot to ask of 19-23 year-olds.

  7. In fact, it is a lot to ask of people in general. I am, all too often, not receptive to the other person and instead become stuck in my own way of seeing the world. Worse, I continue to try to persuade them that they should accept my paradigm.

  8. Also, seems counter-intuitive to a primary reason for the switch from standardized discussions to Preach My Gospel: to teach according to the actual needs and interests of the investigator and depart from shoehorning. I know, though, that some MP’s insist on proceeding with older methods, and of course I agree that 20 year olds would have a difficult time in general with this approach, though not just because of their age (I think, actually, they have much potential that is unrealized) but because of the way we fail to prepare any of the youth to actually really engage the scriptures and the Gospel in a way that produces 20 year olds capable of teaching in this way.

  9. Peter LLC says:

    Our ward mission leader drove away…

    Well, don’t we all in our own ways.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    This reminds me of a scene from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Judi Dench is a British woman now living in India. She needs money, and circumstances arise by which she gets a job coaching the Indians in a call center. The employees are all well educated and incredibly bright, and eager to do a good job. She has one of them pretend to take her call, and she points out what the person on the other end is thinking and experiencing (she had been on such calls in the past and been frustrated by them, so she knew whereof she spoke). In one of the examples she mentioned to the faux caller that her husband had just died–which was true, and a real situation she had been in when receiving such a call. The young woman kept on script. And Judi said, in effect, listen to yourself! This woman has just confided in you a heartwrenching development in her life, and all she’s looking for is a little human feeling and contact! So the young woman adjusted her approach to actually engage in what Judi was saying. Basically all the bad examples involved not listening, not actually interacting, but staying on script come hell or high water.

    It is perhaps a ten-minute segment of the film, and should be required viewinig by all yoiung missionaries.

  11. I feel strongly that we miss much when we fail to realize how the First Vision and the Book of Mormon were used in the early days of the Church within missionary work. When the Book of Mormon was used as the launching pad, as the catalyst in and of itself for an initial spiritual experience (“Here’s Moroni’s promise. Read this book from cover to cover with that promise in mind. Follow that promise. THEN, when you’ve done that, we’ll start teaching doctrine.”), missionary work flourished the most. When we started using the Book of Mormon as a doctrinal proof-text and started focusing on teaching doctrine over converting spiritual experience, missionary work flourished the least.

    The structure of the Book of Mormon (especially Moroni 10:3-5 – **all three verses**, not just the last two, which now are used as the Seminary scripture mastery passage) is laid out in such a way to inspire people who read it to believe that God can and will speak to them (let them know the truth of all things) – and to have such a recognition subsequently allow them to read the Bible and understand and believe what it really says (primarily about God, their relationship to God and what the “power of godliness” really entails). Iow, the Book of Mormon allows people to read the Bible with “new spiritual eyes” through which the “mists of darkness” caused by centuries of bad Christian doctrine and apologetics can be overcome and people can understand who they really are.

    I love the way Preach My Gospel is structured, and I love the flexibility it is supposed to provide for the teaching of doctrine, but I think we miss the mark when we don’t use the Book of Mormon in the way that I believe it was intended to be used – when we make the First Vision the keystone of our religion. Everyone and their dog were having spiritual experiences during that time period in that geographic area; the Book of Mormon, otoh, is unique.

  12. Aaron B says:

    Great post, Blair. Like you, I started my mission convinced that the whole world was preoccupied with some version of the question, “Which church is the true church?”. Didn’t take long to realize that many people had never thought about the question, and that when prompted to consider it, didn’t find it particularly interesting.

    Sometimes, I’m amazed we’ve had the missionary success we’ve had, given our ham-fisted and often clueless talking points.

  13. On my mission we were given very detailed instructions on teaching the first vision, what we called the “Kikuchi method” (based on a training given by the Seventy before I arrived). It went like this:

    Recite everything slowwwwwwwwlllly. “5 miles per hour!” Kikuchi was supposed to have said. Ask the investigators who they thought the personages Joseph were (hope they didn’t say “The Devil or something) and gently steer them toward the correct answer if necessary. Then came the “four testimonies”: Once the first vision is done, testify that it’s true (1). Then your companion does the same (2) and asks the investigators how they felt. Pretty much any positive answer is attributed to the spirit, which the companion testifies of (3). Finally, you confirm that the spirit is there and “seal” all your testimonies by testifying of everything all over again (4). Then, with the spirit hopefully having reached hurricane-force, you challenge them to be baptized and set a date three weeks out. Phew.

    I can’t say that it wasn’t effective sometimes (at least for setting dates; three week baptisms were quite rare), but when it didn’t work it led to some incredibly awkward moments. Plus the first vision took so long we often rushed right through the Book of Mormon. I wish I’d have been more flexible on those first lessons; maybe tried some old-school “Here’s a new book of scripture. Now what, sucka?”

  14. Chris Kimball says:

    I never understood the use of the First Vision. Notwithstanding a memorable confirmation of a rightness in the experience, it always seemed to me that the “so what?” that derives from that experience is “join none of them” where them quite easily includes the LDS Church as well as all the others.

    Of course, I am biased by the instructions of my second mission president who told us missionaries that our job in every conversation was to find out where the person was and then bring them one step closer to Christ. As 19-23 year old missionaries we weren’t very good at doing that, but we did understand.

  15. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    Layne: he pushed her to take the discussions, and then insisted after the first one that she make the decision to be baptized. We haven’t seen her since. Sometimes we need to be content that the best we can hope for at the time is a positive impression of Mormons, not conversion.

    I know people’s hearts are most often in the right place, but it seems to me that we walk a fine line between being “challenging and testifying missionaries” and practicing a form of subtle coercion when we try these tactics. We should be up front about the fact that we would love for them to join the Church, be baptized, and that is our goal. But we should also be extremely attentive to the need to avoid unrighteous dominion in the way we try to direct the conversion process. One plants, another waters, but the increase comes from God. Should we deluge the tender bud until we drown the plant? Do we run the risk of so drowning it?

    Regarding PMG, I too was under the impression that it was geared to do away with overly-structured approaches. The first time I went out with the elders in my new ward I noticed the rigid pattern but thought it might have been concocted by the elders themselves, so when I saw that the new elders were following the exact same lesson I came to believe it is top-down directed, at least in this mission. I wish it wasn’t.

    Aaron R: In fact, it is a lot to ask of people in general.

    I agree, it is a human thing, and we’re not always very good at it even outside of missionary experiences. We want to tell our stories.

    Jacob, (I think, actually, they have much potential that is unrealized) but because of the way we fail to prepare any of the youth to actually really engage the scriptures and the Gospel in a way that produces 20 year olds capable of teaching in this way.

    Interesting re: the unrealized potential. This should be explored more.

    Kevin: is the clip available online?

    Ray: the missionaries also introduced the Book of Mormon as a way by which she could know things, but as a way by which she could know things that, to an outsider, seem very disconnected from the text itself. “You can know Thomas S. Monson is a living prophet today” seems quite afield from the Book of Mormon. Why not get them digging into the text right away? That is the direction I started to move on my mission as we transitioned away from the set discussions.

    Aaron B: indeed!

    Casey: yes, that is a variant of precisely what I’m quasi-complaining about here. It’s an unnatural way of communicating, it can easily come across as condescending (slloooowly!), it assumes the First Vision is a mystical tool by which we can invariably invoke a spiritual confirmation, it seems logically disconnected from baptism as a goal yet it is coupled with baptism, it attempts to place the interlocutor into a paradigm they very well may not even be situated in to begin with, etc. etc. In a way, it can potentially be a profanation of the sacred when used as a coercive measure.

    Chris: yes, I also had people ask “so, am I supposed to see God or something?” and then we would scramble to say, oh no, that is what happens to prophets, or maybe you will, but I haven’t, but pray about the Book of Mormon instead and get baptized! Also, it seems that this method would be especially effective with highly impressionable people as opposed to people who like to take their time, ponder, chew things over, etc.

  16. So, as something of a n00b to church history (outside of Sunday School), I’d be interested in hearing more about the other “various accounts Joseph left on record offer multiple exegetical (and thus homiletical) possibilities…” you mentioned. Can you point me towards some resources for those, or can I look forward to another post (or series?)

  17. themormonbrit says:

    Interesting posts and comments. It is intriguing that the First Vision was largely ignored by church leaders until George Q Cannon started emphasising it in the mid 1880s.
    Yes, the Book of Mormon should be central to the LDS faith. But I think so should the concept of continuing revelation. These two pillars are what I see as the core of Mormonism – the idea of continuous personal revelation, combined with the closely related specific example of the Book of Mormon are keystones of our religion. I think you could conceivably have a Mormonism without such an emphasis on agency, or priesthood, or eternal families. Granted, it would be a Mormonism very different from the particular variety we are most familiar with, but I would comfortably call it Mormonism nonetheless.
    However, I don’t think you can have a Mormonism that doesn’t espouse some kind of belief both that the Book of Mormon is the inspired word of God and that God continues to speak to the earth, not just through new scripture, but also through the voice of His Spirit. The two go hand in hand, but are not identical.
    So, I suppose my opinion is that the Book of Mormon is, indeed, a keystone of our religion. But let’s be honest. A Mormonism that simply says that some guy in New York found some old plates and translated them into a new book of scripture, which, combined with the Bible is the sole legitimate authority on religious truth, really isn’t much of a Mormonism at all. For me, I am uncomfortable putting the label: “Latter Day Saint” on any faith which doesn’t have at its centre some variety of the First Vision and a vibrant faith in modern-day continuous personal revelation. These things (for me) are what constitute Mormonism.
    Ultimately, while forcing people into a paradigm where they don’t feel comfortable isn’t likely to get them to join the church, I think we need to be pretty honest with investigators about what the Church is all about, and why it is unique. If we don’t introduce them to the two pillars of our faith fairly soon after making contact with them, we are being dishonest.

  18. Thanks for this series of posts. I really identified with it. I majored in religious studies in college, and I used to go teach with the missionaries often. Some of the missionaries were great about listening and responding to the needs of the investigators. But a lot of times people would have very specific questions, and the missionaries would ignore them — or try to reframe it into what the missionaries wanted to tell, not what the person wanted to hear, much like your Nigerian woman / Book of Mormon example above. Sometimes college students would have set up a meeting with the missionaries because they were writing a paper about Mormons and just wanted facts, but the missionaries would ignore that and try to convert them spiritually instead. It drove me crazy. My attitude has always been to answer questions forthrightly, and invite to explain more if an inquirer is curious. (Sometimes I feel guilty about this, because it means I almost never “bear my testimony” to other people). But this results in me having many strong friendships with people of other faiths who now think highly of Mormons, but who will probably never convert. And honestly, I don’t think they need to. Having a more positive view of the church is enough.

    One of my friends I took this approach with did actually convert — and so I married him. But that’s by far the exception, not the trend!

  19. I’ll echo Kevin Barney’s take on that scene from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It speaks to the core of what our missionary approach ought to be, which is looking at investigators as our brothers and sisters, and learning to listen to them as real people. Be their friend first, interested in them as people. Try to find out why they are listening to the missionaries in the first place.

    I haven’t done any first discussions with the missionaries in our ward over the last few years, just a few later lessons. However, I do think that for some, the Joseph Smith/First Vision approach does work. The secretary in our Relief Society presidency, a convert of about three years, says that having the Holy Ghost and revelation in her life is what has made all the difference for her. She felt the spirit, and everything else fell into place after that.

  20. Chris Gordon says:

    As a guy with a soft spot for the FTMs, I’m going to put out there that hoping that missionaries transform into perceptive, adaptable, insightful individuals with or without an evolving methodology is and will always be a bit much to hope for. FTMs have a specific purpose and gift: to go out boldly and sift. That downside of turning off a percentage is the tradeoff for their ability to say things that people need to hear that we are afraid to say.

    In the end, the sooner we learn to do better at being the main source of gospel teaching and nurturing for investigators, whether they be our friends before or after they investigate, the better off we’ll be and the quicker we’ll be able to “fix” this “problem.”

  21. Chris Gordon says:

    Best part of the story, BHodges, is that you were there with the missionaries while they taught. Kudos.

  22. CS Eric says:

    Since I am our ward’s only competent piano player, I attend nearly every baptism. Each service has a “Missionary Moment” while the new member and person who performed the ordinance change back into dry clothers. And the highlight of each of those Missionary Moments is the long, drawn-out recitation of the First Vision. Maybe I am too much the cynic, but I have yet to feel any extra feelings of the Spirit during this performance. I feel it during the baptism at the words “Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen,” followed by the sound of cleansing water. I feel it even more strongly at the words “Receive the Holy Ghost.”

    But when I hear “….a pillar…of light…exactly…over…my head…” I feel more like I am in the special needs class listening to a slow reader sounding out the words as he goes along. It makes me feel a little better knowing that this isn’t just a quirk of our mission president, but part of a wider program.

  23. “Why not get them digging into the text right away?”

    Exactly.

    #17 – The idea of continuing revelation as central to Mormonism is precisely why I want people to be given the Book of Mormon and asked to read it, in its entirety first – with an explanation of Moroni 10:3-5 as the introduction to that request. Continuing revelation is the heart of what that passage promises for those who read and, therefore, seek personal revelation of their own. That approach sets the tone and pattern, if you will, for the rest of their lives in the Church. (remember, read, ponder, pray, rinse, repeat)

    The First Vision is a uniquely extraordinary experience; seeking and receiving an answer to a sincere prayer isn’t. If continuing revelation is limited to the meta-organizational level, it loses its real meaning and power. Yes, we believe in that kind of revelation – but it’s not the heart of what makes Mormonism work at the most intimate, individual level. An answer regarding a prayer about the Book of Mormon is a great foundation for that core Mormon concept – and, as I said, it then allows people to read the Bible (where most of our really unique beliefs are taught, btw) with a different approach, as well.

    The Bible literally reads differently to lots of people who gain a belief in the Book of Mormon.

  24. RickH, in addition to EmJen’s link, see Michael Ashurst-McGee’s video here:

  25. I guess when you start your own church you can run the missionary program however you see fit. But considering the LDS church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world and it got where it’s at today by the missionary program your criticizing, my guess is that it won’t be changing any time soon. But I’m glad the internets have granted you a medium to express your opinion in such a way that you cone off feeling like it even matters.

  26. @bhodges so what that video indirectly says is that JS’s vision changed every time he told it. I don’t know about you, but if I saw God and Jesus first hand it would make such an impression on me that I doubt I’d ever leave out any major details like if God was there or if it was just Jesus. That is of course unless I was making the whole thing up.

  27. Left Field says:

    Actually, if you recited the same story every time, never leaving anything out, that would make me think you made the whole thing up. People telling the truth don’t normally make a script and rehearse it.

  28. Peter LLC says:

    But considering the LDS church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world and it got where it’s at today by the missionary program your criticizing, my guess is that it won’t be changing any time soon.

    The missionary program changes all the time. See here for an overview.

  29. As soon as I received my mission call to a Catholic country, I started taking Catholic instruction just so I would understand a little about what people in that country thought of religion, hoping to avoid making really stupid assumptions. It was a large class, mostly of parents taking a refresher course as their children approached confirmation age. Nobody ever asked me why I was there. I kept my appointment with the priest at the end of the class. He was a little startled when he found out why I was there, and that it wasn’t to prepare for my own baptism, but he was a good sport about it, and answered all my questions frankly and seemingly without offense. He was a lot older and presumably more adaptable than young elders. I remember and appreciate his kindness 30-some-odd years later.

    And as a missionary I remember going off script a few times because it was the right thing to do, like teaching the Plan of Salvation out of order just because of a prompting, to a woman whose mother died later that week. Scripts are good for stage plays, and maybe for space vehicle takeoffs, and they give missionaries a fall-back if they’re struggling with language or too nervous to know what else to do, but scripts do not equal teaching, and need to be adapted to the needs of those being taught. (Missionaries following their scripts may not usually sink to the level of emotional manipulation, but they should guard against that possibility, even so.)

  30. Kristine says:

    Mike–it seems equally plausible to suppose that if you saw God and Jesus you’d be so startled it would take a long time to make sense of it, and that relevant details would return to memory over time, just as they do with overwhelming, but ordinary experiences–my rehearsals of the birth stories of my children have changed over time, not because I’m making them up, but because the experience was so rich that it is impossible to make sense of it all at once.

  31. Mike (the first one, not the one who ostensibly thinks JS made up the First Vision. I assume you’re different people?): I guess when you start your own church you can run the missionary program however you see fit. But considering the LDS church is one of the fastest growing churches in the world and it got where it’s at today by the missionary program your criticizing, my guess is that it won’t be changing any time soon. But I’m glad the internets have granted you a medium to express your opinion in such a way that you cone off feeling like it even matters.

    What’s with the attitude? It’s been pointed out above that the missionary program isn’t static. It has changed in various ways over the years, and while I’m not suffering under the delusion that my blog post will lead to any widespread changes I still think it’s worth discussing.

    The church’s growth (yay, one of the fastest!) is somewhat contestable when one considers the attrition of members leaving or becoming “less active”/”inactive.” Retention has been a serious concern to our leadership for years. Abusive missionary practices (like baseball baptisms) have been curtailed. A shift away from pre-programmed lessons toward more interactive, flexible discussions is said to be the impetus behind the newer “Preach My Gospel” program. But old habits die hard, and young missionaries often fall back on a highly structured, pre-created lesson, sometimes with the urging of their mission leaders. Differing cultural expectations bear directly on the relevance of our message and the potential receptivity to it, as Reid Neilson (of the Church History Library) indirectly points out in his book on the early Japanese mission. (http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2010/10/review-reid-l-neilson-early-mormon.html). High-pressure tactics are off-putting, and in my view (and direct experience) they seldom invite the Spirit.

    Ardis: yes!

    Kristine: Well, if I were to have a baby I think I would remember it in a certain way and tell it in a certain way which is different from how you remember and tell it, thus leading me to the only logical conclusion: you’ve simply never had children. Sorry!

  32. PS- Mike, in order to make your criticism more useful to me, could you be specific about what it is I’ve written that you find problematic/untrue/unfair/incorrect/unreasonable/weird/funny/etc.? You basically said “Hey, quit griping. The missionary program is doing fine, and nothing you say will change any of it anyway.” OK, I could grant you all of that but still be left wondering what you thought about the specific things I wrote. If you’re still watching the conversation I’m very interested to see what you have to say.

  33. Benjamin says:

    I strongly dislike the attitude of “things are working, so we shouldn’t change anything.” If the missionary program is working, the next question to ask is if it is efficient. We may be one of the fastest growing churches in the world, but at what cost? Assuming an annual conversion rate of 300,000 people per year and a missionary force of 50,000 people per year, we are producing 6 new members per missionary. In monetary terms, that works out to about $800 per new convert–that’s only considering the money that missionaries pay themselves.

    Is that too high a price? I don’t think so. I’d still maintain a missionary effort even if the cost per new convert was $100,000. It’s money well spent. but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make the process more efficient. What if we could make some changes that would result in a cost of $50 per new convert? The Church would grow even faster, and I suspect the membership would be far stronger if we were capable of such a feat.

    Complacency, stagnation, and failure to innovate are what drive companies out of relevance. It’s what will drive churches out of relevance. I vote we find our flaws where ever they may be and do our best to purge them, and I vote we do it while the system works so that we don’t ever have to sort out the kind of mess that comes about when the system doesn’t work.

  34. Ha, I typically don’t think of it in monetary terms, but yes, the “ain’t broke don’t fix” thing stifles innovation for sure.

  35. themormonbrit says:

    Ray, I didn’t mean to imply that personal continuing revelation was impossible without an acceptance of the First Vision, nor that the concept of continuous personal revelation isn’t one of the core themes dealt with in the Book of Mormon. However, I do think that some level of belief in some form of the First Vision is an almost indispensable central belief at the core of what Mormonism is all about. Certainly, we shouldn’t force the story of the First Vision down people’s throats. But the First Vision is such a perfect example of what our belief in continuing personal revelation means, because of what it signifies. It signifies that the heavens are open to all. It signifies that anybody can have direct answers to their questions and prayers from God. It signifies that God is no respector of persons, that He cares just as much about a 14 year old farmboy from New York as He does about the prophets and apostles of old.
    Now, again, I wish to reiterate that the First Vision is not the keystone of our religion. But continuing personal revelation is, in my opinon, on a par with the Book of Mormon as a keystone of our religion, without which Mormonism ceases ot be recognisable. And the First Vision perfectly encapsulates all of the concepts inherent in continuing personal revelation, and thus deserves to be given prominence in our faith tradition. There is no need to ram it down people’s throats, but I think in many cases it can be more useful in explaining the concept of continuing personal revelation than trying to explain it in complex theological terms, or in ‘MormonSpeak’ terms that might be incomprohensible to those of other faiths.

  36. themormonbrit says:

    Also, I personally am in the camp where I believe something significant happened to Joseph in the grove that day. I don’t think it was necessarily identical to any one of the multiple varying accounts he gave, but I think these are his attempts to describe to others something which was inherently indescribable and ineffable. I nonetheless strongly believe that he had a powerful and significant spiritual experience of communion with the Divine that had an enormous impact on him. Just my personal opinion.

  37. Mike (27) said, “I don’t know about you, but if I saw God and Jesus first hand it would make such an impression on me that I doubt I’d ever leave out any major details like if God was there or if it was just Jesus. That is of course unless I was making the whole thing up.”

    If I’d had the vision, I would have had different accounts because I wouldn’t have been sure what would have been good to tell people.

    Okay, angels is good. That no church is true is good. I saw God is good. Later, I might feel it appropriate to tell more (saw 2 people who were God, not one) – or even to leave out some stuff as probably extraneous (angels in there don’t really add much – all of this is speaking as if I were the one who had the experience). Is recounting the fight I had with darkness something I should mention – and how much detail is ideal for me to go into? Who is my audience? How much will they understand/be able to accept?

    Stuff like that, not to mention nuances one didn’t catch the importance of at the time of the experience, but time and wisdom showed the importance of, later.

  38. themormonbrit, I don’t disagree with anything you just said, but, in re-reading my comment, I understand why you obviously thought I was downplaying the First Vision. I wasn’t – not at all. I apologize for not being more precise and giving that impression.

    Objectively, as a historian by nature, all I meant was that there literally are hundreds of vision claims from that time and region, but there only is one Book of Mormon – and it was the Book of Mormon that was the focus of the earliest missionary efforts. It also was the Book of Mormon that was the key converting AND retaining keystone of those I taught on my mission.

    I believe that book was translated primarily for a purpose it claims – to be the great convincing and converting tool of the Restoration. I believe we should be using it as such, not primarily as a doctrinal proof-text – as I’ve seen it used too much in my life within missionary work.

    If you want more info about how much I value the First Vision and how I feel about the Book of Mormon, click on my name and read the posts on my personal blog under the labels “First Vision”, “Joseph Smith”, “Restoration” and “Book of Mormon”. There currently are 55 posts I have written about those exact topics – and there probably are literally hundreds of others that deal with it those topics secondarily in some way.

  39. Great post, Blair. The fact is that anytime you’re asking people to completely reinterpret everything they’ve learned about religion and to possibly upset family ties and traditions, almost any approach will seem inadequate.

  40. themormonbrit says:

    Ray, I think we basically agree on most of the fundamental issues here though. However, I am intrigued by your statement that the Book of Mormon should primarily be a converting tool, not a doctrinal proof-text. By that, do you mean that its primary role is to get converts to join the church, rather than establish any new or radical doctrinal concepts? If you do, then from one angle I can see where you’re coming from. I also get frustrated when missionaries triumphantly use some passage from the Book of Mormon to ‘prove’ the doctrine they are trying to convince the investigator of. It’s almost painful to witness such circular logic.
    However, I disagree that the Book of Mormon is primarily for proselyting rather than theology. While it is true that its doctrinal concepts were largely ignored (except by the Pratt brothers) in the early years of church history, and indeed most of the LDS Church’s most distinctive doctrines are to be found in the Doctrine and Covenants and teachings of modern prophets, I do think the Book of Mormon contains several rather radical theological ideas. Granted, a lot of it is traditionally Christian in its doctrinal orientation, but where else in Christendom are to be found the doctrines that: Christ suffered not only for our sins, but also took upon Himself our pains and afflictions, so that He knew how to comfort us; “Adam fell that men might be, and men are that they might have joy”; the Fall being a good thing that was central to our progression; the need for opposition in all things; or, as you pointed out, the idea of continuing personal revelation?

  41. themormonbrit, I’ll try to explain a bit better:

    Every one of the things you mentioned above is taught in the Bible – without exception. They are taught more clearly in the Book of Mormon, in some cases, than in the Bible, but once someone gains a testimony of the Book of Mormon they tend to see those things all throughout the Bible when they hadn’t been able to do so in the past. They read with “new eyes” that are open to “personal revelation” that contradicts what they previously had been taught.

    At least, that has been my expereince. Readin gthe Book of Mormon from cover to cover and letting it “cry from the dust” changes their vision in a fundamental way that proof-texting its doctrine doesn’t.

    Finally, nearly all of the most basic, core, fundamental “oddities” of Mormon theology are taught in the Bible and not in the Book of Mormon. Garments? Bible. Theosis? Bible. Universality of salvation in some form? Bible. The absolute need for prophets and apostles, even after the ministry of Jesus in the flesh, using those exact words? Book of Mormon, sure, but even more clearly in the Bible. Polygamy? Bible – with only a very short disclaimer allowance in the Book of Mormon. Godhood as a condition, rather than a title? Bible. etc.

  42. Benjamin says:

    BHodges (#35), to be honest, I think writing that comment was the first time I’d ever thought of missionary work in monetary terms. It just felt like a perfectly simple method of communicating the idea of efficiency.

  43. themormonbrit says:

    Ray, fair enough. I’m actually going to admit that, well, you got me. So perhaps the Book of Mormon doesn’t contain many, or even any, unique theological doctrines. I will, however, argue that it does make a significant doctrinal and theological contribution in that it clarifies what is often unclear and occasionally murky or confusing in the Bible (which I think is what you’re getting at in your comment). I recognise that it perhaps doesn’t contain exclulsive truths not to be found in any other book of scripture, but all I’m saying is that there is a very good reason that we, with our Book of Mormon, teach several core ‘oddities’ not found in other Christian churches that accept only the Bible as being authoritative.
    So, let me just make sure I understand you clearly. Basically, you think that the Book of Mormon’s primary role is not teaching unique doctrines, but rather convincing people that the Church is true, and teaching them to rely on the light of personal revelation to guide their study of the Bible (where all our ‘core doctrines’ are apparently found). Correct me if I’m wrong.
    I find this idea interesting. However, it makes me wonder why the Book itself is strictly necessary. If all it does is convince people of the validity of personal revelation as a means of interpreting the Bible, then it would seem to me that pretty much the only part of it that is relevant or necessary in any way is “By the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things”. If it has no major truths to convince us of besides the fact that revelation is a vital component in interpreting scripture, then I don’t really understand why the rest of it is at all necessary. It isn’t teaching us anything that isn’t already found in the Bible. So it seems horribly inefficient to waste so much time and paper teaching truths that people will discover for themselves anyway while reading the Bible, guided by the light of personal revelation.
    I’m simply raising questions here, not suggesting that I have any answers, because the points you make are all valid. And I was being sincere when I suggested that you correct me if I am misrepresenting your view.

  44. That’s a fair question, tmb.

    I tend to take things for what they say. In the case of the Book of Mormon, we have the title page that provides a “statement of purpose” (the “Why?”, if you will, bringing people to Christ) – but we also have a few very specific statements by the abridgers that I believe give more detail about the “How?” of that purpose. I’ll quote only one here (Mormon 7:8-10), since I think it’s the most explicit:

    Therefore repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus, and lay hold upon the gospel of Christ, which shall be set before you, not only in this record but also in the record which shall come unto the Gentiles from the Jews, which record shall come from the Gentiles unto you.

    For behold, **this isbwritten for the intent that ye may believe that;** and if ye believe that ye will believe this also; and if ye believe this ye will know concerning your fathers, and also the marvelous works which were wrought by the power of God among them.

    And ye will also know that ye are a aremnant of the seed of Jacob; therefore ye are numbered among the people of the first covenant; and if it so be that ye believe in Christ, and are baptized, first with water, then with fire and with the Holy Ghost, following the example of our Savior, according to that which he hath commanded us, it shall be well with you in the day of judgment. Amen.

    This could be read as being directly at those who literally are descendants of the people chronicled in the book, but it still is a very explicit statement of purpose – and I want to credit and honor such a direct statement.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t teach doctrine from the Book of Mormon – and I’m saying there is NO unique doctrine in it whatsoever. I have no problem using it to teach doctrine – but I don’t want to do that by isolating verses and passages in a proof-texting mode. I want people to read it from cover to cover and then go back for doctrinal understanding – and I want that doctrinal teaching to occur by using the Book of Mormon and the Bible simultaneously.

    I hope that helps clarify my meaning.

  45. themormonbrit says:

    So the Book of Mormon acts as a second witness to the truths found in the Bible? That’s the idea I got from reading your comment, and I think that seems to be what is taught in Mormon 7:8-10. The Book of Mormon is another witness of the truths already in the Bible; it bears witness to the truthfulness of the Bible’s teachings, and the Bible likewise bears witness to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon’s teachings.
    However, I think that this way of looking at things is also flawed from the viewpoint of personal revelation. Surely the only witness required to establish the truthfulness of any religious text is the witness of the Holy Ghost. If you are to receive a spiritual witness while reading a doctrine found in the Bible, then the fact that that doctrine is also found in the Book of Mormon really becomes irrelevant. Using the Book of Mormon to prove the truthfulness of the Bible, if one doesn’t already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, is circular logic. And if they do have a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon, then why can’t they have a spiritual witness of the Bible directly rather than relying on the witness of the Book of Mormon – cut out the middle man, so to speak?

  46. CarminaB says:

    I was converted and baptized at age 15. I have a Catholic background, I was baptized catholic at age 9, unusual because my Mom didn’t favor a particular religion and I was living with Catholic relatives at the time. At age 11 I attended an Evangelical church with neighbors and I started reading and learning more about the Bible. The book that I read and convinced me of Mormonism was “A marvelous work and a wonder” which was the book I read first ( I did not have a Book of Mormon and had not heard of it). It answers lot of questions with both the Bible and the BOM. It is full of doctrine. the only questions I had was about who Lehi, MOrmon, Nephi and other book quoted. That’s when the missionaries introduced me to the BOM, living prophet, church organization.

  47. First, there is a typo in my last comment that is important to correct. I wrote:

    “I’m saying there is NO unique doctrine in it whatsoever.”

    I meant to write:

    “I’m not saying there is NO unique doctrine in it whatsoever.”

    big difference – sorry

    Now to your comment and concluding question:

    “Surely the only witness required to establish the truthfulness of any religious text is the witness of the Holy Ghost.”

    Agreed.

    “If you are to receive a spiritual witness while reading a doctrine found in the Bible, then the fact that that doctrine is also found in the Book of Mormon really becomes irrelevant.”

    Except that it being found in the Book of Mormon can lead someone to be more accepting of modern prophets – thus making it more likely that someone can accept the Restoration as a legitimate possibility. That is not a trivial thing, when centuries of dogma and creed and interpretation have driven people away from that conclusion. Also, the idea that there are “true things taught in the Book of Mormon” is radically different than having a testimony of that book and its origin – and it also does nothing to open people’s eyes to other things that are taught in the Bible but not recognized by the vast majority of people who read it. Iow, recognizing that something is taught in both records doesn’t necessarily do anything to change someone’s spiritual eyes in a fundamental way – and, in fact, it can and does lead some people to dismiss the Book of Mormon as nothing more than Joseph Smith’s own personal treatise on the Bible. That conclusion is not a missionary tool in any way – and it is more likely to occur if the book is used as a proof-text than as the source of a spiritual experience.

    “Using the Book of Mormon to prove the truthfulness of the Bible, if one doesn’t already have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, is circular logic.”

    I know, but that’s not what I said. I said gaining a testimony of the Book of Mormon leads to seeing tbe Bible and what it teaches differently. That statement and your quote above are very, very, very different statements.

    “And if they do have a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon, then why can’t they have a spiritual witness of the Bible directly rather than relying on the witness of the Book of Mormon – cut out the middle man, so to speak?”

    They can, and many people do – but, all too often, that isolated witness of the Bible doesn’t alter in any way their understanding of what the Bible teaches. From my admittedly biased perspective, they continue to believe what has been taught about the Bible for centuries, not what I believe the Bible actually teaches – and, as a result, they continue to reject Mormon teachings that I believe constitute the heart and soul of the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth taught throughout the Bible and particularly in the NT Gospels.

    Iow, to alter Stephen Robinson’s statement, they believe in the Bible, but they don’t actually believe the Bible. A witness of the Book of Mormon changes that paradigm fundamentally.

  48. themormonbrit says:

    So, basically, what you’re saying is that gaining a spiritual witness of the Book of Mormon is necessary, not because the Book of Mormon teaches many (if any) unique doctrines, but because doing so leads to a testimony of the other elements of the restoration – modern prophets, etc. In other words, the Book of Mormon (if true) ‘proves’ that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and thus the church is true etc etc. It all hinges on the Book of Mormon. But what that leads to is the question of why one cannot simply gain a spiritual witness of these truths directly. Sure, a testimony of the Book of Mormon may ‘prove’ that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. But one could easily come to that conclusion simply by a spiritual witness of this proposition directly.
    In other words, sure, you could gain a testimony of the restoration by saying: I have received a spiritual witness that the Book of Mormon is true, thus the Book of Mormon is true, thus Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. But wouldn’t it be far easier to simply be able to say: I have received a spiritual witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, thus Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Again, there is the issue of cutting out the middle-man. If the Book of Mormon really has nothing unique to offer us except an additional testimony of truths that we could come to a spiritual witness of independent of the Book, then I don’t really see why it is necessary.
    I think you also seem to be suggesting that the Book of Mormon is necessary because it brings to light truths which are obscure, murky or somewhat ‘hidden’ in the Bible, things which the ordinary reader wouldn’t really pick up on ordinarily. For example, to take the example of prophets being an eternal necessity, even after Jesus had come in the flesh. Most people don’t pick up on that when reading the Bible. It’s there, true enough, but it’s hardly one of the things that sticks in the mind of some ordinary Christian reading the Bible. However, it is clearly a central theme of the Book of Mormon, and having read and gained a testimony of this truth that is so prominent in the Book of Mormon, and the book itself, one starts to see this concept clear and plain all throughout the Bible.
    The issue I have with this idea is that, again, I don’t particularly see why the Book of Mormon is necessary. Surely someone, if truly and genuinely and sincerely guided by the light of the Spirit and personal revelation, would see these truths in the Bible anyway, because the Holy Ghost would lead them to find them. So, again, all that is necessary is a testimony of the validity of personal revelation, and they have the Spirit to guide their mind to a discovery of these truths that are present, though somewhat unclear, hidden or murky, in the Bible.

    The only way that I can accept the Book of Mormon as being necessary, and indeed all scripture, for that matter, is that it is always useful, when going on a journey, to make reference to the experiences of those who have gone before you. The Book of Mormon is neither infallible nor inerrant. Same deal with the Bible. Same deal with all scripture. Only God Himself, and His Spirit, are infallible and inerrant sources of doctrinal truth. However, it helps to have the words and thoughts, at your fingertips, of hundreds of people who have walked the path of spiritual discovery that you yourself are now walking. Just as when scientists conduct experiments, they will generally conduct a literature review to see what others have said about the topic they are investigating, so it can be useful for us to know what others have found and said and thought about the truths we are hoping to discover. The Book of Mormon isn’t strictly necessary for uncovering the truths hidden in the Bible, but it is helpful. It makes us consider the issues at the very least, makes us ponder the ideas it presents. It is in this stage of pondering and thoughtful contemplation that we are most receptive to the Spirit, and the Spirit is most active in helping us get to the bottom of whatever truth we are contemplating. If this is what you meant, then I agree with you. If not, then I don’t.

    And besides, I do think that there are unique doctrines found in the Book of Mormon that I honestly cannot find anywhere in the Bible. Not even the vaguest, murkiest, most confusing reference. So I do value the Book of Mormon for its doctrinal input.

    Also, I just wanted to say how grateful I am for this discussion. I very much appreciate it, and have found it both enjoyable and stimulating. I hope I haven’t come across as dismissive or obnoxious, and you have made several very valid points which I am grateful for.

    Finally, I think I need to try and link this all back to the First Vision somehow. The First Vision is awesome. The Book of Mormon is awesome. In terms of which is more central to Mormonism, I would say the Book of Mormon. But the First Vision is an excellent example of continuing personal revelation, which I would say is at least equally as central to Mormonism as the Book of Mormon. You could say that the two are somewhat interdependent. The Book of Mormon teaches the truth of continuing personal revelation. However, it is itself a product of revelation, and its truth can only be known through revelation. I agree somewhat with the Quakers’ view of scripture (which I will apply to the Book of Mormon). They teach that the Bible is not the word of God. The Book of Mormon is not the word of God. As it says in John 1:1, Christ is the Word of God. He is the only inerrant source of truth and wisdom, which we can access through personal revelation. For that reason, I personally value personal revelation more than I do the Book of Mormon (whether that is good or bad, I leave to you decide). But the Book of Mormon is extremely valuable to me personally for the way in which it guides my contemplation, the way in which it has made me seriously think and consider various important truths that otherwise would probably never even cross my mind. I am grateful for it and love it and love to read it. It has had a profound impact on my life, and has been the source and root of many profound spiritual experiences. For that reason, I love and cherish it and value it immensely. But for me, the First Vision, being such an excellent example of what the doctrine of continuing personal revelation is all about, deserves to have a very prominent place in our theology, and hence our proselyting, almost as prominent a place as the Book of Mormon, and while we shouldn’t force it down people’s throats, ignoring it or downplaying it would be both foolish and somewhat dishonest.

  49. I don’t have time right now to answer adequately and comprehensively, but my core response would be that you’re reading into my comments things that others have said about the subjects – things that I’m not saying – extrapolations of what I’m saying that I personally don’t believe (like the idea that a testimony of the Book of Mormon validates or causes a belief in every doctrinal / truth claim in the LDS Church or the idea that we should ignore or downplay the First Vision – even as I believe we butcher that wonderous event quite regularly in what we claim it proves). That’s not a complaint in any way about how you appear to be reading what I’m saying; it’s just an observation – understanding that I’m causing it to some degree in trying to isolate and discuss one narrow aspect of a very complex discussion.

    I’ll try to respond later today, but it might take me a bit longer than that.

  50. themormonbrit says:

    Ray, I look forward to your comprehensive analysis of my comment. But just before you write it, I want to clarify something.
    You are right to say that I’ve been writing as if I’m accusing you of things that you don’t actually believe, and indeed things that you have distanced yourself from in previous comments. The reason I have included such things and adressed such points of view, even when you don’t personally hold them, is because I am trying to keep this discussion as broad as possible. I recognise that you don’t believe some of the viewpoints I adress, but that is because I want this discussion to be more than just your viewpoint and my viewpoint. So yes, sometimes I might attack or criticise a point of view, even though I recognise that you don’t personally agree with that. I apologise for the fact that, looking back, my writing style has seemed to imply that I was accusing you of holding viewpoints that I was attacking or ciriticising.

  51. Thanks for that clarification, tmb. I understand better where you’re coming from – but I don’t want to address things I don’t believe, simply because I don’t have time to write a doctoral dissertation. This will be long enough as it is.

    Honestly, I don’t draw the straight-line connection between a testimony of the Book of Mormon and an automatic acceptance of all other truth claims of the LDS Church, especially onward in time all the way to our day. There are way too many other factors that theoretically could come into play and break such a chain of logic. I think there is a direct link to the Book of Mormon being an inspired recording of the word of God, exactly as we view the Bible in that regard (where inerrancy of the text is not required) and Joseph Smith being a prophet of God, exactly as we view Biblical prophets – but everything else doesn’t have that direct correlation, imo. After all, there are prophets who recorded the word of God but didn’t establish new churches. In fact, those that did were the very small minority, especially within Judeo-Christian history. Most prophets are more like our modern prophets – caretakers more than radically innovative establishers.

    All I’m saying, at the core, is that I think we miss the real power of the Book of Mormon (the reason it is the keystone of our religion) when we have people read selected verses and passages to prove doctrine and fail to ask them to approach it as it asks to be approached – even if we insert the First Vision as the new keystone of our religion. I don’t see anywhere in that book that says, internally, in the words of the authors and abridgers, to use it as a doctrinal proof-text – especially by isolating and emphasizing specific verses and doctrines. What it asks internally – what the words themselves ask – is that the book be read in its entirety in order to open the reader’s mind to the reality that God has worked with people throughout history and, therefore, will speak directly to her and manifest truth to her.

    When I attended Seminary, one of our Scripture Mastery passages was Moroni 10:3-5. Now, as my children go through Seminary, the passage is only Moroni 10:4-5. I think that is a shame, since it is 10:3 that sets the stage for 10:4-5. Teaching Moroni 10:4-5 without 10:3 is an example of the proof-texting I’m addressing.

    Moroni 10:4-5 reads: “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”

    That is Moroni’s invitation (not a “challenge”, which is another personal soapbox) – the “doctrine” of prayer and personal revelation, if you will. It’s fine to use that text to teach that doctrine. However, leaving out Moroni 10:3 eliminates entirely a key part of the actual method Moroni is trying to encourage readers to use to go beyond proving doctrine and encounter really deep, meaningful understanding of and communication with God.

    Moroni 10:3 reads: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.”

    The proof-text approach “challenges” someone to pray about the Book of Mormon – or, in many cases, to pray about some specific passages from the Book of Mormon – or, in many cases, to pray about everything else the missionaries are teaching. It becomes a very generic, “Pray about what we are teaching you, including the parts of this book we’re quoting as we teach these things”.

    **That’s not what Moroni’s actual words exhort people to do.**

    Moroni says, “when you shall read these things” – which can be while reading or upon finishing reading the multiple records he and his father abridged into one volume, not a few proof-text passages. Furthermore, 10:3 includes the following prior to even starting to pray:

    1) Remember the Lord’s mercy throughout time (described for those of Israelite descent explicitly throughout the Book of Mormon and the Bible but, interestingly, also applicable to a Buddhist in Japan or a Muslim in Iraq with regard to their own understanding of God’s mercy to their own ancestors);
    2) Ponder that mercy.

    Moroni 10:3 does NOT say to ponder “these things” (doctrines) in “your mind” (by thinking about them). It says to ponder “it” (God’s mercy) in “your heart” (by feeling that mercy settle inside you).

    A reader of the Book of Mormon can’t have the experience Moroni is urging if the Book of Mormon isn’t used as he’s urging it to be used. That reader might gain a converting testimony, but it won’t be what Moroni is exhorting her to experience in her heart. That is important to me.

    A testimony of the First Vision can’t provide the experience Moroni is exhorting people to have, either. It is wonderful and a necessary part of the Restoration, but it is fundamentally different than the Book of Mormon.

    I don’t know how else to say what I mean.

  52. Btw, after writing the last comment, I read through the first missionary discussion in “Preach My Gospel” again. It spends time on the First Vision, but it ends with the Book of Mormon and a request to read “the message of the Book of Mormon” in light of Moroni 10:3-5.

    If missionaries are following the counsel in PMG, they are teaching about the First Vision as a natural part of the history of God’s interaction with his children, but they are focusing the request at the end of the lesson (the commitment associated with that lesson) on the Book of Mormon – not the First Vision. I’m glad to see that.

  53. themormonbrit says:

    Ah. I think I understand now. The Book of Mormon provides a further record of God’s dealing with humanity. It shows how much He loves them and how merciful He is towards them. It is this that then motivates the reader to ponder these things, seek God, and have an incredible spiritual experience (hopefully) of becoming aware ofr how much God loves them. In other words, the Book of Mormon primarily leads people to ponder and consider the mercy and love which God has towards His children. This realisation leads to a closer and more profound relationship with the divine, allowing people to have a much closer relationshiip with God.
    I must apologise for requiring you to rephrase this several times. I can be a bit slow sometimes.

    I can emphatically say that I fundamentally agree with you. I didn’t at first, but I think you have put up a good argument, and this understanding of the Book of Mormon’s purpose simply resonates with me. It resonates with my understanding of the nature of God, and with my belief that what is most important to Him is that we have a living and fruitful relationship with Him, not that we understand a bunch of doctrines.

    I am also pleased that you have acknowledged that the First Vision has a role to play in this – even if it is simply as an example of God’s interaction with His children. I would say it is a very good prime example, perhaps even a perfect example, maybe even on a par with the examples included in the Book of Mormon. We may disagree about that. But I am glad that you recognise it as being important in the context of a history of God’s dealings with His children. The Book of Mormon invites one to have a closer relationship with God, through the history and stories it records.

    Thank you for this discussion. It has been (for me anyway) both enlightening and enjoyable.

  54. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed the discussion, as well.

  55. themormonbrit says:

    Good :)

  56. michael says:

    I served in Japan about 35 years ago. What that missionary did to that Nigerian woman was pretty mild.

    A little lesson in Japanese is needed to get the full kick of this story:
    jin-usually means person
    Examples:
    -Nihon jin- Japanese person
    -gai-jin- foreign person

    But there are exceptions. Confusing ones.
    -Ninjin- carrot
    -Ningen-personage, odd word used in the LDS lesson plan to describe heavenly personages

    So I am teaching this philosophical young guy the memorized discussion on the First Vision as a green missionary. I get to the part where suddenly two personages appear (Totsuzen, futari no ningen ga arawarii…) and I MIX UP THE WORDS. I testify with all seriousness that Joseph saw two glorified CARROTS standing in a pillar of light.

    The Japanese guy sits there in deep contemplation muttering the word “ninjin” (carrots). “Very very interesting.” “I think I like this strange new religion.” Now, I’m about to mistake the typical Japanese sense of politeness and agreeableness with genuine interest. My wampaku companion doesn’t say a word, but he is chewing his lips off to keep from laughing so hard he wets his pants.

  57. themormonbrit says:

    hahaha that is hilarious!

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