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A few weeks ago I was asked by our local missionaries to find some people willing to share their conversion story with one of the people they were teaching. I knew of a lot of my friends from various walks of life who had converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) so I asked for their conversion stories.
I appreciate the responses and will have a little “series” of posts called Mormon Conversion Stories. Each person’s story is unique and very personal, but it illustrates just how personal our Heavenly Father is when we open our hearts up to Him.
The first story I would like to share is from one of my friends named Brandon. He is a gifted illustrator and has a website: http://www.drawingfaith.blogspot.com where he has drawn images from various stories in the scriptures.
Here’s his story:
Brandon’s Conversion Story: From Catholic to Mormon
I was born Catholic, to a great family. My dad is an incredibly family-centered man who has always sacrificed for our family. My mom (with Dad’s support) made sure that my brother and I got a traditional upbringing in our native faith, complete with us going through most (if not all) of the Catholic ordinances, and I remember Mom reading to us from the Bible a lot as we grew up. I believe this instruction helped prepare and build my faith in the Lord.
By the time I was 19, I was in art school and working at a local movie theater. It was a wonderful time of making new friends, learning, and growing. Somewhere around that time a young man completed his mission in South Africa, Johannesburg. He went by “Fritz” and came back to work at the theater. Being ignorant of what being “Mormon” was, I have to admit that when I heard Fritz was Mormon I thought it meant that he was Amish ;) He was a very interesting and cool guy. My best pal from those days and I became fast friends with him. As we hung out, as recently-returned missionaries are wont to do, he shared with us about his faith. I can remember being at McDonald’s as he shared with us about the Plan of Salvation—God’s plan for us that includes our pre-mortal life and choice, as His spirit children, to come to earth. I can’t remember all the details of what he shared that night, but I can say that neither I nor my friend had ever heard anything religious that made so much stunning, intellectual sense as what we were told that evening. After that conversation both my friend and I expressed the sentiment that we were ready to “sign-up,” so to speak. But it would be some time before anything would truly gel for me about the faith.
Fritz also shared with us about the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Eventually I requested a copy from him. One day as my friend and I were working in the box office, Fritz came up to us with two copies of the Book of Mormon, and said, laying them at our stations, “Here’s two free tickets to Heaven.” That makes me chuckle to remember.
I began to read the book, every night going through a chapter or so. The book had been prepared with tabs to key chapters. There was a tab at Moroni 10:3-5, still a favorite for me. As I opened to the tab and read those yellow-highlighted verses, I understood I needed to pray to know if the book was true. (It is interesting to me just how much my faith was growing at this time. I was at a point where I feared that God would actually answer me. Funny, I know. But the gravity of actually connecting with the Divine was a very new and startling idea for me.) That scripture in Moroni promises that an answer will come to those who ask in sincerity of heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ—that the answer will come, “by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Now, over a decade later, I understand better how the manifestations of the Spirit can be sometimes subtle and small, or sometimes dramatic, warm, and unmistakeable. But as a younger man I didn’t know what it would mean to get an answer, or how it would come.
With the best faith that I had at that time (certainly like a grain of mustard seed), I began to pray and ask. I believe I had only (or very mostly) Catholic training regarding prayer, so each night I would pray the Our Father and then add some of my own words to ask for the truth of these things.
Nothing happened right away. I read through quite a bit of the Book of Mormon, night by night. Then, when I was somewhere into the Book of Alma, while reading one of the war chapters, I began to envision the armies, the scenery, as I read. When I finished reading, an overwhelming feeling of warmth and peace came upon me. It was a better feeling than I had ever had. I was by myself in my bedroom. I looked up at the ceiling and said something along the lines of, “Wow. There is a God.” The feeling was so wonderful that I did not want it to leave and it stayed with me for quite some time. It was enough for me to recognize not only the existence of God, but also the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.
I learned that the next natural step, having received a witness that this is true, was to be baptized. My pal, Fritz, was at BYU during this time, so we would write letters to each other. I asked what I needed to do to be ready for baptism, and he helped to guide me (I wanted to be worthy of it and had some behavioral clean-up to do). I soon began to meet with the missionaries, got baptized, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience I do not regret. My membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been life-changing and so very positive.
I must add, among so very many other things I could share, that in recent years I have pondered why, though I was nightly praying and reading, I had to wait those many nights before I got an answer from God (I had made it into the chapters of Alma for Pete’s sake). And why was it that I was reading a war chapter on the night He gave to me to feel the Holy Spirit that first, dramatic time? As I pondered this while driving home from work on a wintry day, I received a distinct impression in my mind about how important it is to fight for those things that are best in life. Anything worth it is worth fighting to obtain. In fact, if you’re fighting through life to stay true and/or to gain truth then you’re on the right road. The things we struggle to obtain are often the things we treasure the most. To anyone who is pondering about the Book of Mormon, or wondering whether joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the right move, I say hold on. Seek the Lord about the truth of it. He will answer, in His time and way—in the best and most instructive way for your needs.
I also believe that John 7:17 shoots us straight, that the proof is in the pudding: “If any man will do (God’s) will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” We should try these things out, try to live what we’re reading in the Book of Mormon to know the truth of it. Walking the path of truth paves the way for the Holy Spirit to find us.
Illustration & Design
The conversation was interesting because there were some investigators (people considering joining the Mormon church) as well as some “seasoned” Mormons in attendance. When I asked questions about the importance of scripture, I noticed that most of the non-Mormons revered the Bible and most of the Mormons in the class acknowledged the Bible, but didn’t hold it as high as the Book of Mormon.
Mormons’ View of Scriptures
For those of you who are not as familiar with Mormons’ view of scriptures, I’ll briefly go over each scripture along with some quotes by LDS prophets on each.
If you ask a Mormon if they believe in the Bible the answer will always be “yes”. However, for most Mormons there is a little asterisk next to that yes because, according to Mormon belief:
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly (see Articles of Faith 1:8)
Mormons believe that there was an apostasy after the original apostles died and over the years, parts of the Bible were removed, therefore the Bible is not the complete book that it once was.
In fact, the Book of Mormon has scriptures that discuss the “plain and precious truths” that were taken away from the Bible, thus making the Bible an incomplete book as to containing the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith worked throughout his life on what he called the “inspired version” of the Bible, which includes additions to the King James Bible that he received through revelation. Although he never was able to complete the version, Mormons have the Joseph Smith Translation included in many of their scriptures (they do not claim this to be the official Bible, but have it to offer “insight”.)
I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book (Book of Mormon Introduction)
Many Mormon Apostles and Prophets have voiced of the importance of the Book of Mormon and even declare blessings that will come into ones’ life when studying the Book. The late prophet, Ezra Taft Benson said:
It is not just that the Book of Mormon teaches us truth, though it indeed does that. It is not just that the Book of Mormon bears testimony of Christ, though it indeed does that, too. But there is something more. There is a power in the book which will begin to flow into your lives the moment you begin a serious study of the book. You will find greater power to resist temptation. You will find the power to avoid deception. You will find the power to stay on the strait and narrow path. The scriptures are called “the words of life” (D&C 84:85), and nowhere is that more true than it is of the Book of Mormon. When you begin to hunger and thirst after those words, you will find life in greater and greater abundance. (see talk: The Book of Mormon: Keystone of our Religion)
Since this talk was given by Ezra Taft Benson in 1986, I feel that many Mormons have focused heavily on reading the Book of Mormon above any other scripture, which is what I witnessed in the Sunday School class.
The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) are revelations that were given to Mormon prophets (mostly Joseph Smith) dealing with various doctrines and organizational structure of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) that aren’t found in either the Bible or Book of Mormon in detail.
Some of the key revelations (in my opinion) include: how to receive answers to prayer, organizational structure of the Church, Priesthood defined and execution of callings within the priesthood, revelation on the Three degrees of glory (heaven), and The Word of Wisdom (no alcohol, coffee, etc.).
The Pearl of Great Price (PGP) has two books (Moses and Abraham) that Joseph Smith translated from papyri that was found. It contains more details on the first books of Genesis in the Bible.
Joseph Smith’s history is also included here. The history is mainly his account of his First Vision, or when God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him and told him to reestablish Jesus’ church.
In addition to these books, the PGP has the Articles of Faith (similar to a Creed), a revelation from a later prophet declaring it illegal to practice polygamy anymore, and a revelation extending the priesthood to black members.
One of the unique aspects of Mormonism is the claim that their church leaders are prophets, or mouthpieces, for the Lord. As such, most Mormons believe that the writings of the apostles and prophet found in Church publications such as the Ensign are to be considered scriptural.
Which Scripture is Most Important?
A case can be made for each scripture. For example, without the Bible, there wouldn’t be any of the other scriptures because Joseph Smith was led to pray for guidance from a scripture he read from the Bible.
On the other hand, Mormon prophets have declared the Book of Mormon the most important book…but if Mormons only had the Book of Mormon, they wouldn’t know exactly how to run the church and additional components to the faith such as the Word of Wisdom, eternal marriage, etc. wouldn’t exist.
Finally, I can see how some people would feel that Modern-day Prophets’ revelations trump all of the other scriptures (such as doing away with polygamy and using water instead of wine for communion).
Just for fun, I’ll close with a poll for you to rank what you feel is the most important scripture.
While I was talking with one of my family members, they mentioned that some Mormons were baffled with the fact that Romney had lost. Especially since signs had been pointing towards the fulfillment of some parts of the “White Horse Prophecy”. (For those of you not familiar with this prophecy, it is described in detail here). They felt our constitution is “hanging by a thread” (as do I in many respects) and all signs were leading towards Romney winning.
Since the “White Horse Prophecy” is so en grained into Mormon culture, it seems that any time a Mormon does anything significant in politics, many Mormons jump on the bandwagon of wondering if the prophecy is about to be fulfilled.
I feel that there are flaws with this way of thinking. First, the prophecy has not been cited as something definitely prophesied by Joseph Smith. Secondly, there is not a clear definition of what is meant by the “constitution hanging by a thread” and how the elders will participate in saving the constitution. I get a feeling that Mormons assume it means a Mormon in the White House, but the prophecy does not state this and is rather vague in defining exactly what role the elder will play.
Even though there are flaws in the prophecy, and LDS public affairs has even publicly denounced the prophecy, I’m sure that many Mormons will still hold this “prophecy” to be true merely based on the fact it has been told so many times and become a part of Mormon culture.
That being said, let’s have a little fun. Now that Mitt Romney is out, who do you think will be the next Mormon politician to be dubbed as the Elder who will fulfill the White Horse Prophecy?
I’m having a hard time coming up with anyone. Jon Huntsman is probably out of the picture. Marco Rubio was a Mormon in his youth, but is now a Catholic….is there anyone in the foreseeable future that you can think of?
I was emailing Mormon Heretic who also contributes over at the Wheat and Tares blog and he had a great idea about a Sunday Devotional. So giving credit where credit is due, this devotional idea is actually inspired by his email. I thought I would start sharing an evening thought each Sunday about an insight from the week or something I learned in Church.
Receiving Revelation from God
Each Sunday, the men’s group has a 1 hour meeting during the third hour of church right after Sunday School. The group I am in is called Elder’s Quorum.
Today the discussion was on how to recognize and receive revelation from God.
One comment that was made stood out to me. The Elder in our group shared an experience where he felt that as long as we are doing “all the right things” we will be in the position to receive revelation from God. According to him, the “right” things included going to church, reading scripture daily, praying, and trying to be perfect essentially in word and deed.
I argued that while doing those things is good, God can and will give revelation to anyone based on how He views them and feels that they will respond after the revelation is given and received.
We see in the scriptures (i.e. Paul in the Bible, Alma in the Book of Mormon) where people who were complete sinners who were in complete rebellion towards God. Yet they received revelations in the form of visions from God. These examples blow the theory out of the water that we need to be doing all the “right” things to receive revelation. Once they received the revelation, they opened their hearts completely to God and were humbled.
I shared a personal example of when I was off track and in rebellion towards God and received a dramatic revelation that changed my life. This is the main reason why I attend the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).
To be fair to my friend in Elder’s Quorum, I have also received revelation when I was doing all the “right” things such as praying, scripture study, church attendance, etc. and I do think that when we are trying to tune our lives in with God, we will be doing those things. However, some people who haven’t experienced communication from God are also entitled to revelation from God and God will choose who He wants to reveal truth to. Just because we are doing all the “right” things doesn’t necessarily guarentee that we will receive revelation.
What are your experiences with receiving and recognizing revelation?
It seems to me that people in the early Mormon church talked about visions and heavenly visitations much more than they do today. I’m not sure if that means there are less visions from God, or if people just don’t talk about it as much.
In the early church, it wasn’t uncommon to have a prophet get up and talk about a vision or dream he’d had for the church as a whole. In modern times, I’ve only occasionally heard a prophet or apostle get up and discuss a heavenly dream or vision they had. The main one that comes to mind for me is when an apostle, David B Haight, gave a talk in General Conference about a vision he had of Jesus Christ.
With this in mind, I found the most recent quote from Elder Holland interesting. The following quote is from the article:
Elder Holland said that because many Africans are spiritually in tune, they experience spiritual privileges “not always seen in this day and age elsewhere in the world.” As an example, he mentioned a woman of another faith at a press conference in Sierra Leone who explained that she had seen his face in a dream. Having such an experience “isn’t a common experience in my life,” Elder Holland said, “but I think it’s quite a common one in theirs.” He said that people like her, guided by the Spirit, will identify and cling to the Church. “This is one way that God responds to their faith. It’s intuitive; it is fundamental. I’ve said repeatedly that it seems to me what life hasn’t been able to give them materially, heaven has more than made up for spiritually.”
This quote implies that if we don’t experience the gift of heavenly visions that we are not as spiritually in tune with God.
I don’t remember reading anywhere that one spiritual gift is better than another. I do remember reading that God gives the gifts out how and to whom He wants to and the Church benefits as a whole as members utilize their gifts they’ve been given. Although one gift isn’t better than the other, a person needs to be spiritually in tune to receive the gift, which is what Elder Holland is talking about, I think.
I believe that if we seek a gift humbly, and if it is God’s will to give the gift, that we can experience visions. Personally, I’ve had a couple times in my life where certain events of the future have been shown to me by God. One was at a very young age warning me that I needed to change direction in my life. The other was a vision when I was seeking guidance on marrying my wife. In both of these situations, I didn’t just sit down and pray and God granted me a vision. I needed to humble myself through fasting, worship, scripture study, and prayer. I wasn’t expecting a vision in either instance, but that is how God chose to answer me and it came unexpectedly.
As I reflect on my personal experiences, I agree with Elder Holland that the gift of having a vision is something uncommon, or at best not discussed today like it was before. Perhaps modern technology and medical advancement have clouded our spiritual senses and we don’t rely on God as we once did. Perhaps we are more materialistic and hence less likely to receive a vision. Perhaps we rely more on our own knowledge and less on God.
The more I reflect on the subject, the more I agree with Elder Holland that one must be more spiritually in tune with God to receive a vision.
What are your thoughts?
Recently I was preparing for a lesson with my Sunday School class of 16-18 year olds. We’re studying the New Testament this year. I found it interesting that in the early Christian church, there was continuous revelation. The example in this lesson is found in the book of Acts chapter 15.
In this example, Paul and Barnabas come across some church members who are still requiring circumcision as in the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabas are not certain if that should be a requirement, so they go to Jerusalem and meet with the apostles for guidance on the matter. After the apostles discuss the matter, they make a decision through guidance by the Holy Spirit (verses 19-28) and then they write an epistle for Paul and Barnabas to bring back to the church members for sustaining (verses 22-31). They also send an apostle (Judas) back with them to deliver the message.
This process of revelation to the church is similar for the LDS church of Jesus Christ. From what I understand, apostles contemplate an issue, pray for guidance by the Spirit, come up with a decision, then present it to the church for sustaining. On occasion, there will be a letter sent out to congregations from the apostles and read by the local bishop, or the apostles or prophet may read it to the whole body of the church in General Conference (or General Relief Society Conference as President Hinckley did with the Family Proclamation).
Rarely will revelation actually be canonized. Over the last 150 years, I can only think of a few revelations that were canonized: Official Declaration 1: that announced the disbanding of polygamy in the 1890s, Doctrine and Covenants section 138 that addresses a vision given to President Joseph F. Smith (Joseph Smith’s nephew) regarding where our spirits go after we die, and Official Declaration 2 that announces that the Priesthood can be given to all worthy males (prior to this revelation black men could not hold the Priesthood).
I have seen Mormon church antagonists take off-the-wall things that a prophet (usually Brigham Young) said or wrote in a book and highlight that as official church doctrine. LDS apologists will be quick to answer that in that situation, the prophet wasn’t inspired and spoke without the Spirit on that occasion and since it isn’t canonized it is not official revelation.
However, there are many things that Mormon prophets and apostles have officially stated either through a letter to congregations or announced in General Conference that are not necessarily canonized. Therefore, I can see how it could be hard for members of other faiths to see a distinction between what is revelation and what is opinion.
Personally, I feel that revelation is official as it is outlined in the New Testament example I shared. If the apostles have gathered together, prayed, and received guidance from the Spirit on a matter, then announced it to the church officially through writing, it is “official”. If an LDS leader decides to write a book, or say something off the cuff that’s wacky then that is not official revelation.
What are your thoughts?