If one takes the temple endowment seriously, discerning between true and false ministers and messengers is unequivocally paramount to our salvation.
To Adam’s credit he asked the three Angel strangers, “How shall I know that you are true messengers?” Think of the audacity on Adam’s part to pose such a question that demonstrated he either A) did not perceive these messengers to be angelic beings from a different world and/or B) did not care.
Adam was firmly committed to KNOWING if these were the same messengers his Father promised to send, who would instruct him on how to re-enter into the presence of the Lord AND he simply would not be fooled.
The Messengers seemingly took no offense to Adam’s questioning, in fact, they commended him for his integrity and were all the more pleased to find in him such firm-mindedness.
Satan had apparently fooled everyone else, “Except for this man” who had discerned his false priests as only capable of sharing “the philosophies of men, mingled with scripture.”
With them Adam would have done as the scriptures teach — he would have listened to their words (the seed), with a soft heart (good soil), and would have pondered and prayed with real intent (water/sunlight) and then would have waited sufficiently to see if the seed that was planted was good. If it was good it would grow and eventually, with time and continued care, produce fruit. If it was bad, there would be no plant and no fruit.
With fruit a person can then KNOW and like the people at the time of King Benjamin would have been able to proclaim:
Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually (i.e. the fruit, see also Galatians 5) (Mosiah 5:2, my emphasis added).
But, during Adam’s time, there were no authorized teachers before the three Messengers appeared. There was no Holy Man named King Benjamin or Melchizedek or anyone else. Only Satan’s false priests and worldly philosophers.
The first of all the Holy Prophets was yet to fully awaken to his pre-mortal High Priest status (see Alma 13).
So, God, according to His plan, would make his Doctrines known unto Adam by the mouth of angels directly (Alma 13:26) and as he had been the Chief Angel in God’s presence, he would also would be the world’s first Holy Man a.k.a. the First Father. Then, and only then, would Adam be able to share the Heavenly message with others by the Holy Ghost in such a way that the message would carry unto the hearts of the children of men (2 Nephi 33:1).
“Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ.”
Holy men (including women and even sometimes children) can also speak with the Tongue of Angels after having been sanctified by and filled with the Holy Ghost.
This is the pattern or template (notice the word Temple in template). This is how we make our way back. I think it’s especially interesting that as Nephi is describing this Doctrine of Christ he seems to become frustrated and declares that the Spirit “stops his utterance and he is left to mourn,” because his audience seems to not be getting the message. They’re hearing it, but perhaps NOT totally understanding it. Right before he “stops” he says something I think is key:
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. And when he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh, the things which he shall say unto you shall ye observe to do (2 Nephi 32:6).
I take this to mean that the whole purpose of the Doctrine of Christ is to bring mankind into the presence of Christ in this life.
See Ether 13:3:
And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.
And so like Adam, once we decide rightly on the ministers, eventually messengers will come. This is where D&C 129:4 will be important:
When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
And hence how Adam KNEW they were True Messengers. They gave unto Adam the sign and token (handshake) that only they could give as resurrected beings who had authority. (Think about that one for a while).
For most of us, discerning between true and false ministers, is our current dilemma. Angels will only come to those firm-minded in every form of Godliness (Moroni 7:30) and it would seem to be that NOT proving to the Lord that we are capable of accurately detecting true ministers from false, will preclude us from receiving further instructions from Heavenly messengers. This seems to be the pattern. And it also appears that Gentiles are especially prone to not being able to discern between truth and error and are not known for our great faith.
In fact the only reason we have the Book of Mormon is because of the faith of some of its authors who had compassion on us, who they saw the Lord would use to bring their record to their future posterity. Otherwise we Gentiles may not even have been given the Restoration.
Ether 12:22–28 says:
23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;
24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
It seems apparent that even those who prayed for us to receive latter day scripture had very little confidence that we would believe it and overcome our great Gentile tendencies.
It’s interesting to note that this was believed to be the last thing Hyrum read before he and Joseph were killed at Carthage. The top corner of the pages of Ether 12, folded over. Was this Hyrum’s fear as his life concluded? That we the Gentiles (The Church) would mock, all while believing we are more righteous than everyone else? D&C 84 reminds us that we are in fact under condemnation precisely for doing as Moroni and Nephi and other prophets feared we would.
I don’t know about you, but I find all this to be very humbling. If Adam (Micheal, the Archangel) asked “How shall I know?” and labored to discern, then surely I, a lowly Gentile prone to mocking and being critical, have an uphill battle. And the scriptures testify to me that I am prone to skepticism, doubt and unbelief. How am I to find hope in Christ? How am I to trade my weakness for strength? Did Joseph have my skepticism in mind when he said: “I believe all that God ever revealed, and I never heard of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.” (TPJS p. 374.)
I also worry about the warning from Joseph that “The moment we revolt at anything which comes from God, the devil takes power.” (TPJS p. 181.)
How do I know that my revolting or my disbelief in some idea or to some preacher is not because I am in the devil’s power?
In looking more closely at why the Gentiles would mock it would be because of a true prophet’s weakness in writing. What does this imply?
Is it possible that a true prophet can deliver a message in such a weak fashion that the natural tendency would be to not believe even though the message is true?
As one interesting example, look at the message from John the Baptist to Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith as recorded in Joseph Smith History.
In this particular case, both Joseph and Oliver were worthy recipients of a message from an Angel. But, their messages are both worded very differently when they each go to record them. One could argue that because their messages vary even slightly from one another, that neither is reliable.
Look at the two different passages:
Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness!
Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.
I’m guessing that when Oliver read Joseph’s version, he very well may have felt inferior to Joseph. Perhaps frustrated by his weakness in writing in a way that properly conveyed what he saw and heard. But at the same time, I assume Oliver read every word of what Joseph recorded and agreed it was “accurate.”
In that heavenly realm it seems as though things are conveyed by thoughts rather than by words and so it’s more likely that they each “heard” the message differently and recorded what was conveyed to them in their own “weak words” with BOTH messages being “true” in every way. Joseph, being perhaps the more fine-tuned instrument, appeared more able to describe the account.
Many of us give the benefit of the doubt to our late prophets. We assume that two different testimonies from Matthew and Luke’s accounts or from Isaiah and John the Beloved, do not negate the truthfulness of the message. We trust that Oliver and Joseph were both reliable in their differing accounts from John the Baptist. The same goes for Joseph and Sidney when experiencing the heavens being opened in section 76 who may each have had different words BUT who each had the same experience.
Maybe what’s important is that we learn how to discern whether someone is delivering a message from Heaven or not by some other method than simply mocking what is written. Maybe the message, and its effect upon the hearer, are more important than the typos or other weaknesses.
If Joseph Smith were to be judged on typos alone, there would have been no believers in his day. The original Book of Mormon had plenty of typos as scholars such as Mark Twain pointed out. Remember Symonds Ryder, or was it Simons Rider? Because misspelling his name shattered his confidence in Joseph. How many are like him today?
As history has shown, God does send messengers and they are rarely recognized and embraced by their contemporaries. If we believe in Alma 13, they are foreordained to come down to this fallen world. They condescend from an exalted state. They come with great advantages (D&C 130). God speaks to them as He has throughout history. He provides them with messages to be shared. It then becomes the responsibility of those they preach to, to figure out if these witnesses are from God or not.
Non-Mormons, for example, are often quick to find the faults of the Book of Mormon. Or at least what they perceive to be mistakes and contradictions with other scripture. For this reason they “mock” when they receive it. We plead with them to do as Moroni suggested but often to no avail. Why would I “ask with sincerity” or “plant a seed into a softened heart” when I know this is all BS? That it’s from the devil? Would that not be an insult to God? An unnecessary temptation? I already know it can’t be true, because the Bible says no one can add to it!
Do we do the same today?
I also suppose that some members in Joseph’s day found his “re-translation” of the Bible to be silly. Surely that was the last straw for some of his critics. “I mean he’s just changing words willy nilly! Who does he think he is? This is the proof I needed. Now I know he’s fallen or a fraud.”
Or how about the Book of Moses? He pulled that one out of thin air? Or the Book of Abraham, which very few appreciate in our day even among the LDS faithful. Joseph surely would have been mocked online in our day.
Hugh Nibley showed that the entire Church more or less ignored the Book of Mormon’s existence until the 50s when he became the Church’s premiere apologist. This was especially true at the time the Spalding Letters were placed in the Library of Congress and accepted by many scholars as fact. Many Mormons were ashamed to admit they believed in the Book of Mormon during this timeframe. They felt it had been exposed by the world’s leading scholars as a fraud and some hoped it would simply go away.
Do we think we are so much better or smarter than those who have lived at the time of Joseph? Would you have stood by Joseph’s side when his critics shouted their loudest arguments against him? And when he replied with hand written letters that showed he could scarcely spell his own name? Would you have stood by John the Baptist or even recognized him in the first place? When the crowds mocked his attire and made fun of his diet? John the Baptist was like a homeless man, who as Chris Farley would say, “lived in a van down by the river.” Would you have noticed him?
I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.
My hope is that we will each turn to the Lord with a willing heart — one that is soft (usually broken), open to a new message, sincere — and with real intent — applying, nourishing, planting a seed we may be unsure of — with perhaps only the desire to believe — with only a thought it just might be true — if it should be that we receive these things.
I believe that then and only then will we be able to discover if some minister be of God or not. If not from God the seed will lead to nothing. If true the seed will become a plant, and then a tree, and will then bear fruit and will lead to further messengers that we will also need to pass by (discern) who will stand as sentinels.
This in my view is how we partake of the fruit of the Tree of Life — It must be from our own Tree that has grown in our hearts. This is how we partake of HIS LOVE and enter into His presence.
But if we don’t properly plant the seed AND if our hearts are hard and the message just happens to be true:
…the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word;
On the other hand:
…he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell. (Alma 12:10,11)
I have planted the seed and have witnessed tremendous fruits thusfar that I cannot and will not deny, lest God damn me for unbelief.
May we remember that:
To become a joint heir of the heirship of the Son, one must put away all his false traditions. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.321)
The devil has great power to deceive; he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.227)
May God bless us all. This will likely be my last post for some time.