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I teach a class at our local Mormon church called Gospel Principles.  It is a course designed for people who are not familiar with the Mormon faith who are wanting to learn more, or for those who need a “refresher” course.  This week’s lesson is on the Priesthood.

According to the lesson manual, the definition of priesthood is: the eternal power and authority of God.  The lesson continues by sharing that God has a certain order and delegates this power and authority for people to act in his name.  It also goes on to share the in God’s church only those who have been ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of hands can lead God’s church.

As I read through the lesson, I became distracted by a certain phrase that kept popping up in various ways.  I’ll highlight some of them:

Our Heavenly Father delegates His priesthood power to worthy male members of the Church.

If a man does not have the priesthood, even though he may be sincere, the Lord will not recognize ordinances he performs

Men need the priesthood to preside in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

A worthy male member of the Church receives the priesthood “by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority..”

Men cannot buy and sell the power and authority of the priesthood.

When a man uses the priesthood “by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41), he can do many wonderful things for his family and others.

Men use priesthood authority to preside in the Church in such callings as branch president, bishop, quorum president, stake president, and mission president.

…every man who uses the priesthood in righteousness that he “will find his life sweetened, his discernment sharpened to decide quickly between right and wrong, his feelings tender and compassionate…”

As you can probably see, the word “man” or “men” was mentioned with almost every paragraph.  There was one mention of women in the whole lesson, which is:

Men and women who hold positions in the Church as officers and teachers work under the direction of priesthood leaders and under the guidance of the Holy Ghost.

Women Still hold the Priesthood

Mormon Heretic points out that the original intention of Priesthood (the power to act in God’s name) was that men and women have a share in the priesthood.  Priesthood has evolved into meaning hierarchical positions in the church, but that wasn’t it’s original intention.  As pointed out in the article, women received the priesthood when they received their endowment in the temple.

Today, women still receive endowments in the temple and they perform priesthood ordinances, so they have the priesthood but only use it in the temples (to my knowledge).

Is that enough?

Although technically, Mormon women have the priesthood, they do not use it to give blessings, perform ordinances, and function in leadership positions such as pastor for a congregation.

As a Mormon male, I can not speak in behalf of Mormon women.  I just know that if I were a Mormon woman, I’d have a lot of questions about why men run everything and how it evolved from leaders talking about both men and women sharing the priesthood to where it is now discussed that only men have the priesthood (although that is technically not true).  It appears that many women from the Mormon Woman Project feel that way as pointed out in a recent Salt Lake News Tribune article, in that they want to see greater equality in the church.

If you are a Mormon woman, please share your thoughts about the priesthood.  If you are fine with how things are, please explain why.  If you would like some changes, why and what would you change?

church callingToday one of my friends, who is serving as a counselor in a bishopric for a Mormon Church, told me he couldn’t hang out this weekend because of his schedule with a church assignment.  I jokingly told him that the main reason I keep moving around is to avoid getting a “big” church calling.  I’ll explain.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) are assigned jobs, otherwise known as church callings.  The callings are assigned under the inspiration of the local minister, or bishop and his leadership team.  From my experience, callings usually last no more than 3 years and can range from working in the nursery with kids during church, being the humanitarian representative in the community or even being a Relief Society President (for women) or Bishop.

I have been an active member of the LDS church for a number of years.  Just to give those of you who are not familiar with Mormon callings an idea, I’ll list some of the callings I’ve had over the years along with a brief description of what the job entailed:

Home Teacher: Visiting an assigned group of families within the congregation once per month and sharing a spiritual message with them along with making sure their needs are met.

Deacon’s Quorum President:  As a 12 year old boy, the Deacon’s president functions under the supervision of the Deacon’s adviser  who is an adult.  He mainly organizes youth activities and makes sure the sacrament (communion) is passed out accurately each week.

Teachers Quorum President: This is very similar to a Deacon, except the boys are 14 years old.

Priest’s Quorum 1st Assistant: Same as Deacon and Teacher, except the Priest also blesses the communion during church.

Elder’s Quorum President: The Elder’s Quorum President is responsible for seeing that all the Elders (usually males in the congregation 18-50 years old) are being spiritually in line with the Lord, making sure their needs are met, assigning home teaching assignments, receiving feedback on how to help members in the congregation with various needs, working with the bishop to help new members move out or move into the “ward” (i.e. congregation).

Elder’s Quorum Instructor: Teaching a spiritual lesson in Elder’s quorum class on Sunday.

District Leader:  Leader of a group of 4-10 missionaries.  Can also be a leader of Elders in a large Elder’s quorum.

Zone Leader:  In a mission, the District Leaders report to the Zone leader.  Usually about 2-4 district leaders to each zone leader.

Substitute Primary Teacher: Primary is Sunday School for children ages 3-12.

Executive Secretary to the Bishop: Note-taker and organizer for the bishop to keep him on track with all his duties.

Ward Missionary:  Works with the full-time missionaries to teach investigators (people considering being baptized into the Mormon Church)

Gospel Principles Instructor: Teaches investigators and newly baptized members basic gospel principles each week in Sunday School.

Youth Instructor (ages 16-18): Teaches youth each week during Sunday School

Sunday School President:  Responsible for calling all Sunday School instructors and ensuring they are properly taught on how to best teach.

There are also “callings” mentioned frequently over the pulpit from our church leaders that are things assigned to us as being disciples of Christ such as being a good neighbor, parent, spouse, etc.

The culture within the Mormon church is that it is sort of taboo to turn down a calling.  I’ve heard people say that if you turn a calling down from a leader, you are turning down the Lord.  Since the leader is (ideally) receiving revelation on who should be called to what position, that may very well be the case, but my purpose in writing this article isn’t to debate turning down a calling.  I mention it, just to let those of you unfamiliar with Mormon culture in on the mind set many members of the Church have when asked to do something.

Personally, I have turned down a calling on a couple occasions, but I usually accept the calling, even if I don’t necessarily want to do it.  I have found that in most cases I learn and grow a lot from the various callings I have been given.

That being said, I will rank my favorite callings (being a father and husband are my number one callings that I thoroughly enjoy, but I am referring to callings that are formerly issued) as well as my least favorite.

Favorite Church Callings

1. Elder’s Quorum Instructor: I loved this calling because I only taught once/month and had a whole month to dive deep into the lesson plan and scriptures.  The conversations and discussions with the Elders in church were very inspirational for me and I learned a lot from them and mostly from the Holy Spirit.  Plus, I love teaching.

2. Zone Leader: I remember on my mission as a zone leader thinking if I could find a job that was like that, I would love it!  I am a Regional Manager in sales now, which is very similar to what I did as a zone leader.  The upside now is that the product I sell isn’t as hard of a sell as religion was!

3. Sunday School President: As I oversaw all the instructors in the congregation and made assignments, I felt I had the best of both worlds in teaching as well as administrative tasks.  It was an enjoyable calling.

Least Favorite Church Callings

1. Executive Secretary to the Bishop: I absolutely hated this calling.  I do not do well with organization and being the executive secretary was nothing by trying to keep the bishop organized.  I also do not do well with taking orders and this calling is nothing but taking orders from the bishop.  I will admit that I didn’t have the best attitude while I had this calling and so the experience wasn’t as good as if I had humbled myself more…or just not said I would do it.

2. Elders Quorum President:  This was a love/hate calling for me.  There were aspects that I completely loved about the calling.  The group of men I served had 92 elders in it.  It was a massive group.  I had 3 counselors and 1 secretary along with 5 district leaders (I divided the group in to 5 districts with nearly 20 men in each district).  I loved visiting the men in the group, teaching them, praying with them and for them, etc.  The only part I didn’t like was how draining it was on me emotionally and time consuming.  I was in graduate school at the time and working full time as well.  This calling took about 15 hours/week.  After about 2 years I asked to be released because I just couldn’t emotionally keep up with the demanding schedule and something had to give.

Conclusion

I think from my experience that I have learned that I do best in a role that gives me some flexibility to “call the shots” such as with teaching, or in some leadership roles.  My preference is that of teaching because I don’t have as many people who are reporting up to me and what I have to worry about is making sure what I am teaching is in line with what the Spirit is leading me to teach.

If you are a Mormon, what have your favorite and least favorite callings been and why?

If you are in a different faith, what is your understanding of being “called” to something and what callings have you had?

Brandon-Flowers_2031941cI’ve been waiting to write this for a while now, but I laughed out loud when reading a comment on this post , so I thought it was time to share my thoughts on the issue with music in the Mormon church.

When discussing the issue of Mormon church meetings lasting so long, one of the comments was:

…my friend has a full-fledged band in her Methodist church. Where the (heck)’s (he used a different expression) our band! I wanna band!

After reading this,  my thoughts went back to when I was 21 years old and just home from my LDS mission to Germany.  I had been asked to sing in church so I sang my own arrangement of the hymn “Beautiful Savior” on the acoustic guitar (playing guitar isn’t normally done in LDS churches, so I thought it would be a good thing to add variety to the worship).

I felt very moved when preparing for the song and also singing the song.  When playing the song, I didn’t go crazy on a blues scale or put a pop flare into it.  I simply did a simple picking and strumming pattern and played it softly and worshipful.    I truly felt the Holy Spirit when singing and playing the song during church.  After the meeting many people came up and mentioned how it had moved them too.  However, when the bishop approached me, he had other things to say.  He whipped out the bishop’s handbook (this is a handbook issued by the LDS church President that has guidelines and policies about how to conduct meetings in church and other issues leaders need to deal with) and was polite about telling me that I sounded good, but that sacrament meeting wasn’t a place for guitars (even though the book doesn’t explicitly state that).

I disagreed with him and I still do.

I have family members who attend various other Christian denominations including: Anglican, Foursquare, Presbyterian, and non-denominational.  I have been to their services when their band is playing songs and the congregation joins in.  The argument I have always heard against a full band in church from Mormon leadership is that guitars and drums drive away the Spirit.  However, when I have attended their church I have felt the Spirit during songs with a full band just as much as I have with the traditional organ-accompanied hymnals we hear in Mormon or traditional Christian churches.  Plus our kids pay more attention and enjoy it more as well!

The official policy from the latest Mormon Church Handbook states the following about music selection for sacrament:

Organs and pianos, or their electronic equivalents, are the standard instruments used in Church meetings. If other instruments are used, their use should be in keeping with the spirit of the meeting. Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting.

I can understand not wanting percussion, although do not completely agree with them that drums are less worshipful.  I’ve been to meetings where drums are played and there is definitely a more worshipful experience with the drummer and congregation compared with what you usually see in Mormon meetings where people are half asleep as they play a slow hymn and fight kids during the song.

Where I do agree with the Mormon leaders’ philosophy on music in church is that before the Sacrament (Communion) it is appropriate to play reflective music.  This should be a very reflective time.  However, once the Sacrament has been conducted the other songs that are sung during the meeting can be upbeat with various instruments, I think.

Finally, I am a member of a band in our local Stake.  We play songs that relate to pioneers, Jesus, scriptures, missionaries, and the gospel in general.  The songs we play the range from very slow to very upbeat.  I feel a closeness to God as I express my praise through music and many other people have expressed how close they feel to God when listening to us as well.  We use a full band and I think there wouldn’t be a problem playing our stuff in sacrament meeting with most of the songs we perform.  Although they are more upbeat than hymns, they are worshipful.

I do not believe that God only listens to organ music.  Heaven wouldn’t be Heaven if that’s all we heard up there!

So in conclusion, I share the same sentiment to a certain extent with the comment on the other blog:

Where the Heck is our band?  I want a band in church!!!

It was like a good old boys club as each of us sat around joking and telling stories.  I was having a good time surrounded by friends and colleagues, but I noticed the only lady in the group sitting on the side trying to stay calm as her face turned various shades of red.  She was not amused.

After the meeting, she approached me and expressed her frustration with the direction the meetings were going.  She felt that we rarely stayed on topic and that there wasn’t a purpose to the meeting.  Furthermore, she wondered why we were wasting time meeting anyways when we could be doing more important things like visiting people who needed our help.

She was the Relief Society President and I was the Elders President in a local singles congregation.  I was primarily responsible for over 90 young men (Elders) and she was responsible for primarily the young ladies and we also collaborated to help each other.  The meeting was a leadership meeting that was held each Sunday with our Bishop (Pastor) and the purpose was to keep him informed of the needs of the young people in the congregation.

While the intentions were good and important, some, including our Relief Society President thought the meetings were a waste of time in that we could be using that time more effectively.

Mormons are notorious for having meetings, as referred to in this blog I read today.  We have 3 hour meetings on Sundays and if we are in a leadership position that can be as much as 6-8 hours in meetings on Sundays.  It can be exhausting (believe me, I know from personal experience)!

Using Technology to Address the Issue

I think that meetings are an important part of building unity between the various groups and also keeping the lead pastor (bishop) informed on what each auxiliary is doing.  However, I don’t think we need to physically meet for every meeting.

For example, much of what is discussed between auxiliaries could be handled in emails that with each leader receiving a copy.  Meetings could also be held via Skype or teleconference.

Additionally, for Mormons who find it hard to attend their church meetings, perhaps there could be a live stream or recording of sacrament meeting so they can view it from home.

Conclusion

I think there are many resources that we aren’t using and as a result some members are getting frustrated.  Implmenting some additional technology into our mix could only help the situation.

What are your thoughts?

 

Excommunication is defined by the LDS church as “A disciplinary process used only in extreme situations. This includes removal of an individual’s name from the records of the Church“. 

From my experience (which isn’t that extensive) with excommunication, one is removed for serious, repeated sexual sins or by having a very rebellious attitude towards the Church of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the years, I’ve often heard LDS members of the church say that the worst thing you can do is be excommunicated because the gift of the Holy Spirit is removed from you and you’re left to your own devices.

I believe that that statment is a falsehood designed by Satan to put despair into the hearts of those who are excommunicated.

I’ll share a story with you as to why I believe it is false that the Lord removes his Spirit from those who are excommunicated.

We were alone in a room in a church building.  The young man in front of me had just been excommunicated from the church and was sobbing in front of me.  I was the Elders Quorum President (mens group leader) at the time and I didn’t have answers for him that seemed to help.  He asked questions such as: Why did I choose to do the things I did?  How can I gain membership back into the church?  Did God abandon me?  Will I have the Holy Spirit and strength to re-commit myself to the Savior and His gospel?

As he cried and shared his feelings with me, I prayed silently “God help me help him feel your love and give him answers”.  Suddenly I remembered something I had done numerous times on my mission with investigators of the gospel.

I looked at him and told him I didn’t have the answers to his questions, or the ability to heal his heart and offer forgiveness and healing for his sins, but Jesus did. 

We dropped to our knees and I offered the first prayer.  I opened my heart to God thanking Him for the blessing of the gospel and for the Atonement of Jesus.  I asked Him for guidance and direction for this young man and that He would pour His love into the young man’s heart.

Next, the young man prayed.  I have seldom heart a more honest and sincere prayer as I did that day.  As the young man prayed, the Holy Spirit came into both of our hearts and we both knew the young man was forgiven.  We both knew the compassion and mercy God has for us when we are humble and come to Him offering our hearts to Him.

We both cried and were both strengthened in our relationship with the Lord.

One year later, I was able to witness and assist this young man as he was re-baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ.

If this young man had believed the lie that the Spirit couldn’t be with him after he was excommunicated, he would have lost complete faith in God and never experienced the love of Jesus in such an amazing way.  He would have let go and never come back. 

For those of you who know someone who has been excommunicated I encourage you to reach out to them as Jesus would and show an increase in love.  Don’t judge them or look down on them or think they are not capable of feeling the Lord’s Spirit.  If you do judge them, you’re commiting a sin and have need of repentance!

For those who may be excommunicated, I know that God loves you and that you can still feel the Lord’s love and He will increase his love and spiritual protection for you as you open your heart in prayer, read his Holy Word, and remain humble.

For the third year in a row the Jehovah’s Witness church grew significantly more than other churches (with the exception of Seventh Day Adventists, who also showed very strong growth).  According to this year’s Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the Jehovah’s Witness church doubled its growth jumping from 2% in 2009 to 4.37% growth in 2010.  Seventh Day Adventists were very close behind with a growth rate of 4.31%.

Other churches that showed growth were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with growth of 1.42% (down from a growth rate of 1.71% in 2009), the Catholic Church up .57% (down from a growth of 1.47% in 2009), Assemblies of God up .52%, and the Church of God in Cleveland (up .38%).

Below is a list of the top 25 churches with their growth rate.

The top 25 churches reported in the 2011 Yearbook are in order of size:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,503,456 members, up .57 percent. 

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,160,088 members, down.42 percent. 

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,774,931 members, down1.01 percent. 

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6,058,907 members, up 1.42 percent. 

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no membership updates reported.

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000  members, no membership updates reported.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,542,868 members, down1.96 percent. 

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000 members, no membership updates reported. 

9. Assemblies of God, 2,914,669 members, up .52 percent. 

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2,770,730 members, down 2.61 percent. 

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported. 

11. National  Missionary Baptist Convention of America,  2,500,000 members, no membership updates reported. 

13. The Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,312,111 members, down 1.08 percent.

14. The Episcopal Church, 2,006,343 members, down 2.48 percent.

15. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, no membership updates reported.

16. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no membership updates reported.

18. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000 members, members, no membership updates reported.

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,310,505  members, down 1.55 percent.

20. Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,162,686 members, up 4.37 percent.

21. United Church of Christ, 1,080,199 members, down 2.83 percent.

22. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), 1,076,254 members, up .38 percent.

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ , 1,071,616 members, no membership updates reported.

24. Seventh-Day Adventist Church. 1,043,606 members, up 4.31 percent.

25. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000 members, down 59.60 percent (due in part to a new methodology of counting members).

What do you think contributes to the huge jump in growth by the Adventists (who enter the top 25  list for the first time this year) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?  Should other churches do what these churches are doing to attract members, or do you think it matters which church people attend?

My wife found a pretty cool map on the LDS.org website. It has a satellite view of all the churches in the world.

This link shows all the LDS churches in North America.

So if you’re traveling and need to drop by a meeting, you can find one anywhere…even in Barrow, Alaksa!

On one of my most recent posts, some LDS and non-LDS christians were having a great discussion about what the definition of scripture is for each of us.  I do not claim to be the expert on this topic for either LDS or non-LDS, but I can definitely share my personal thoughts and also point to what others have said that I agree with on this topic.

My first thought when researching this is to turn directly to the LDS Bible Dictionary.  The definition is:

The word scripture means a writing, and is used to denote a writing recognized by the Church as sacred and inspired. It is so applied to the books of the O.T. by the writers of the N.T. (Matt. 22: 29; John 5: 39; 2 Tim. 3: 15). For an account of the process by which the books of the O.T. and N.T. came to be recognized as scripture, see Canon. Latter-day revelation identifies scripture as that which is spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 68: 1-4).
This definition gives us a good start, but it can lead to various interpretations.  According to this, it states that scripture is writing that is recognized by the Church, but also scripture are words spoken under the influence of the Holy Ghost.  Therefore, one could interpret scripture to mean that it is anything shared by inspired men or women prophesying.  This can be confusing for people.  Especially if what one is speaking by the power of the Holy Ghost may not reflect one’s personal convictions.  Or worse yet, may not be validated with other scriptures.
I believe that according to this definition, scripture has two parts, or definitions to it.  The first part is scripture for the Church.  The second is prophecy or divine revelation for individuals. 
Scripture for the Church as a Whole (Canon)
Once again, a great first step is to research the Bible Dictionary under “Canon”.  According to the Bible Dictionary, LDS believe Canon is “used to denote the authoritative collection of the sacred books used by the true believers in Christ”.  The dictionary then goes on to attempt to describe how our current Bible became canon and the test of how to decide if writings should be considered scriptural or not.  The test to see if something is scriptural includes these three questions:
Is it claimed that the document was written by a prophet or an apostle?
Is the content of the writing consistent with known and accepted doctrines of the faith?
Is the document already used and accepted in the Church?
Personally, I like the similar definition given by George Cobabe from FAIR.  In his article on The White Horse Prophecy, he describes how the LDS church deems a writing to be considered scripture for the Church as a whole.  First, it needs to be revealed through the prophet.  Next, it needs to be accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  Finally, it needs to be presented to the members of the Church and accepted.  After all of these steps are met, then a writing is considered to be “scripture”. 
This process shouldn’t be foreign to other non-LDS Christians.  It is similar to the councils held thousands of years ago to determine what should be considered scripture.  The second part of scripture should also be familiar with non-LDS christians.
Scripture as Personal Prophecy
The second definition of scripture for LDS according to the Bible Dictionary is “that which is spoken by the power of the Holy Ghost”, which in my mind is essentially prophecy.  From my experience in the LDS church, one of the main ways one can recieve personal scripture is through a Patriarchal Blessing.  In the LDS church, there are men who are set apart and called as “Patriarchs”.  These men give inspired blessings and through the power of the Holy Ghost, prophecy personal revelation for individuals.   
On rare and special occasions, I’ve also seen people prophecy directly to someone but usually I’ve seen things come to pass through giving blessings.  In either case, by definition, this could be called “scripture” as it is given by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Another way people in the LDS church receive “scripture” is through the prophet and apostles speaking.  Typically what I’ve heard is when they speak in general conference and their talks are published you can consider that scripture.  However, I’ve seen people quick to dismiss some things, especially things that were “prophecied” by former prophets such as Brigham Young or Joseph Smith that may have been published but didn’t go through the aforementioned process of canonization.  Therefore, there is some gray area around what to consider as “scripture” or just “inspired”. 
Conclusion
The two parts of defining scripture should be familiar to both LDS and non-LDS christians.  I’m confident that both parties can agree on how the Church as a whole accepts scripture.  The second part, which is less structured, may not be considered to be “scripture” per se for both parties.  A safe way to measure if we can consider what someone prophesies to be deemed as “scripture” is if it lines up with what has been canonized. 

Recently, a fellow friend from another Christian faith asked me to share my thoughts on Jesus Christ with the intention of posting it on his site in order to help other Christians with the concept of Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) being Christians.

I’ll open with a quote taken from C.S. Lewis’s book, Mere Christianity.  When defining what a Christian is, Lewis references Acts 11:26 and states: “the original, obvious meaning…Christians was first given at Antioch to the disciples, to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles” (pg XV).

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ (LDS) bible dictionary shares a similar definition of what a Christian is: “A name first given to believers in Jesus Christ at Antioch in Syria, about A.D. 43 (Acts 11: 26).”

Therefore, the heart of what it means to be a Christian is first believing in Jesus Christ and then following Jesus as His disciple.

With this definition in mind, I will move on to share my thoughts on a brief history of Mormonism and what following Jesus Christ as a disciple, or in other words, being a Christian means for me as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Following Jesus Christ was the young boy, Joseph Smith’s most pressing desire.  In the early 1800′s he was seeking truth and struggling in knowing where to find it.  He saw much truth in many Christian faiths, but at that time, the Christian faiths were contending with each other.  In regards to this time he states the following (which can be found in Joseph Smith’s History):

…there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.

He goes on to write:

…so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

 My mind at times was greatly excited, the cry and tumult were so great and incessant. The Presbyterians were most decided against the Baptists and Methodists, and used all the powers of both reason and sophistry to prove their errors, or, at least, to make the people think they were in error. On the other hand, the Baptists and Methodists in their turn were equally zealous in endeavoring to establish their own tenets and disprove all others.
 In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
 While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
 
Joseph Smith then decided to act on this scripture.  He went to a nearby forest, knelt down and prayed out loud and in pure sincerety and earnestness.  As he was praying, he received an amazing answer to prayer and saw a vision, similar to the one Stephen has in the new testament.  Joseph Smith says in his own words:
I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
 
Through a sincere desire to follow Jesus Christ by searching, showing faith, humility, and prayer, Joseph Smith was able to be instructed by Jesus Christ himself as to how He wanted His church and followers to be.  One of these included bringing forth the Book of Mormon, which acts as another witness of Jesus Christ, which the Bible states is necessary for all truth to be established (see 2 Cor 13:1).  It is a collection of writings that are similar to the Bible about the sermons and letters of other prophets that believed in Jesus, but didn’t live in the same area as Jerusulem, where the Bible takes place.  The Book of Mormon is necessary because it confirms and clarifies truths about the gospel of Jesus Christ that are found in the Bible.
For example, we read in the Bible about how to be saved through faith, or confessing the name of Jesus, and we read about people needing to be baptized in order to enter into the kingdom of Jesus.  We read about the Holy Ghost and we read about salvation through the grace of God and being judge for our works after this life.  For someone seeking to follow Jesus Christ, it can be confusing to know how exactly to follow Jesus,  just as it was for Joseph Smith. 
Thankfully, we have the answers in the Book of Mormon.  In the book of 3 Nephi, Jesus appears to a group of his disciples after his resurrection.   This group of disciples was struggling with issues on how to follow Jesus Christ completely.  Some of what Jesus tells them is that the church should be called by His name and that the gospel of Jesus Christ that leads to salvation is: Faith, Repentance, Baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring in faith until the end (see 3 Nephi chapter 27).
I will conclude by sharing some personal experiences along with my testimony.
At a certain point in my life, I too was struggling with faith and a testimony of Jesus Christ.  Similar to the experience of Joseph Smith, I read scripture found in the Bible and also in the Book of Mormon that testified of Jesus Christ.  I wanted to have my own personal witness that there is a Jesus and how to follow Him.  As I prayed for the first time in sincerety to know, I was filled with a sweet, peaceful feeling that spoke to my soul.  I knew it was God speaking to me through his Holy Spirit.  I decided to embrace the Church of Jesus Christ’s teachings and follow the gospel of Jesus Christ through faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. 
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ I have made a commitment to God through being baptized that I will be His disciple.  Baptism was just the beginning though.  Being a disciple of Jesus to me means asking for His Spirit to give me strength in following His example in all things and repenting and asking for His mercy and grace when I fail (daily) and enduring in faith by “taking up the cross and following Him” (Matt 16:24).   Taking up the cross means that I should deny myself of ungodly things and strive to do what Jesus would have me do as a father, neighbor, employee, brother, husband, son, and friend.  As I do this, my life is richly blessed and so are the lives of those around me.  I believe this is the greatest contribution I can make to society to help fight the evils we see around us today.  Through the blessing of the Lord’s atonement, when he suffered for me in the garden of gethsemane and died on the cross,  as I do these things, I have faith and hope that someday I will sit at the feet of Jesus and hear him say “…well done thou good and faithful servant.  Thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
Belief in God Importance of Religion in One’s Life Church Attendance Religious Affiliation Believe their Religion is One True Faith
71% Absolutely Certain 56% Very Important 39% Once a week 79% Christian 24% Their religion is one true faith leading to Eternal Life
17% Fairly Certain 26% Somewhat Important 33% Once/Twice per month 16% Unaffiliated 70% Many religions lead to Eternal Life
4% Uncertain 16% Not Important 27% Seldom or Never 2% Jewish 3% Neither
      1% Muslim 4% Don’t Know
      1% Buddhist  
A few things I find interesting included:
- Most of the country are Christians, yet most of the country believe in more than one way to eternal life.  I am personally under the impression that most Christians are pretty direct and cut-and-dry with who goes to heaven or not.  I’m suprised by this statistic, but also happy.  I feel God is very merciful and also just and therefore, the many mansions in heaven that await those who accept Him.  I just wasn’t under the impression that this many people were Christians.
- An overwhelming majority of the country believes in God, yet our laws dictate how we are or are not supposed to pray in public schools.  If the overwhelming majority of the country is Christian, wouldn’t you think Christian prayers would be a given for the 1% of other faiths who are in the country as well?  I think it is absurd not to allow prayers and talk of God in public places when the overwhelming majority of the country expresses belief in a Christian God.
- Finally, I’m impressed that so many people still go to church.
What stands out to you about these statistics?

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