Dec 15

Imperfections Exist – What Does This Mean?

In the last few blog posts, I’ve hopefully made sure that everyone is aware that the Church is not perfect, its leaders are not perfect, and our standard works are not perfect. So, what do we do with all of this imperfection? How do we reconcile the changes made throughout the Church’s history? When a Church leader makes a mistake, does that mean the Church is not true? Those are actually the wrong questions.

What we should really be asking is, “Am I able to trust the Giver of the Law, the One who guides the Church?” Do we give Christ room to instruct the prophet to make these changes? Do we allow the Giver of the Law to be greater than the law? Do we gain a personal testimony that Jesus Christ leads His Church by revelation here on the Earth?

Joseph Smith taught, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” (History of the Church, Joseph Smith, 5:134-135)

Perhaps this is one reason that absolute truth is not necessarily attainable. It may change dependent upon our circumstances.

Sometimes, we get in this habit of trying to ascertain what absolute truth is. Believe it or not, this type of thinking comes from the Greek influence during the time of Christ. This is often referred to as the Hellenistic period. The Greeks thought in terms of absolute truth as an abstract idea. Imagine a perfect square. Or take the concept of 2+2. It will always be 4. They thought in terms of truth as immutable ideas such as these. This type of thought, inherited from the Greeks, drives our need to have truth as an absolute, unchangeable thing.

Dr. Jeffery L. Thayne and Dr. Edwin E. Gantt give some good insight:
“Not only do our beliefs hinge on different premises, but the premises of our questions matter as well. Many of the questions above are rooted in a single premise: They assume that truth is a set of abstract ideas or doctrines that never change.

“This may seem like common sense, and if so, that is because most of us accept this view unquestioningly. But this may be one of the ‘philosophies of men’ that can subtly change the way we think about the gospel, and ultimately ensnare us in doubt. This view has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greeks saw things that do not change as more fundamental than those that do, and this led them to focus on abstract ideas as ‘truth.’

“In the view we articulate in this book, truth is not a set of abstract ideas, but a living, breathing Person who loves us as His children. This view is inspired by Hebrew thought, which did not separate the search for truth from our journey to God. And once we adopt this view—even provisionally—all of our questions change. Not all of our questions will be answered, to be sure. But the way we frame the questions will change so that they no longer tilt us towards doubt. We explain how this is so throughout the rest of this book.

“But perhaps more important, this book may help you to reframe the way you think about your relationship with God. Our hope is that all of our readers will center their faith more on the Savior Jesus Christ and the covenants they have made with God, and less on abstract lists of doctrine or beliefs. We echo the words of Nephi, who write, ‘For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved’ (1 Nephi 6:4)”

Who Is Truth?, Thayne & Gantt, 15-16

We should be evaluating our relationship with the great Giver of the Law rather than focusing on whether a given point of doctrine is dead-on correct, or whether this or that new policy is the right thing to do. We can receive our own testimonies of these changes. The first part of this book goes over that entire process. It talks about how to gain a testimony of a thing about which we have a question, or something that is weighing on our minds.

And why would we even be bothered by changes that occur? We explicitly state in the Ninth Article of Faith that “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Such revelations, in this context mean that things will change! We believe in revelations that correct the Bible, as did Joseph Smith’s Translation. We believe in all the revelations that will yet come. They might be to make changes in existing canon, programs, or policies. The Ninth Article of Faith allows for all of this.

Let’s turn now to 2 Nephi 29:7, which says, “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?”

The Lord has given a portion of his word “unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth.” So far, the scriptures mentioned in this verse have not been brought forth. Also, we have the sealed part of the plates that Joseph Smith did not translate. There appears to be much that has yet to come forth.

The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. There have been times when He has changed His law as given to the people. Sometimes, these changes come so as to give us something that we can understand and live as a Church.

The Lord will give us milk before meat. Let’s take a look at some scriptures that illustrate this principle:

D&C 19:22 – “For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.”

1 Corinthians 3:2 – “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”

Hebrews 5:12-14:
“12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

1 Peter 2:2 – “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”

The Lord gives us just the right amount of His law and commandments for us to live at that moment. We could not handle the full and perfect truth all at once even if we wanted to. We learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (2 Nephi 28:30)

We grow and progress in the principles of truth. We do our best with the little that we get at a time. Gradually, we get more and more. Over time, we are able to handle the “meat.”
What if God did give us the full law all at once? We would be responsible to live it. Not being able to, we would stand completely condemned. The Lord gives us laws that we can live, laws that we can aspire to live, rather than the law in its full perfection. This would be utterly impossible. We would end up in a very hopeless state. Perhaps the scriptures can clarify:

“3 For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.
4 Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors; and justice and judgment are the penalty which is affixed unto my law.” (D&C 82:3-4)

We have to live whatever law we have been given. If we do, we will get marvelous blessings. If not, we are in danger of missing out on blessings we otherwise might have had.

Even though our priesthood leaders are not infallible, they are the men that the Lord has chosen. They are doing their best to do the will of the Lord. If we take the law as given to us by priesthood leaders as God’s will, we will be blessed:

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)

“I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

If we live the law that has been given to us through his servants, we will be blessed. If not, we may find ourselves in an undesirable condition.

We should remember that even though our leaders are not perfect, we have sustained them. This means that we uphold and support them. We do whatever we can to help them be successful in their calling.

We should do our very best to live by every word that comes out of the mouths of both our local leaders and the leaders of the Church.

Marion G. Romney said, “I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home… Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'” (Marion G. Romney (quoting Heber J. Grant), Conference Report, October 1960, 78)

Commit yourself to obey what the prophet says. If we so live, we will always be safe.

Speaking of the Apostles in the same manner, Elder James E. Faust said, “The keys I speak of never rust. These are the keys of life and salvation in the kingdom of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I will give you a key that will never rust, if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.'” (Sunday Afternoon Session, 2 October 1994, The Keys That Never Rust, Elder James E. Faust Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)

Even though our leaders are not perfect, we still sustain and support them. We are blessed for following their counsel. We should do as they direct, because their word is as though it came from the Lord himself.

Dec 11

On the Fallibility of Church Leaders

Our LeadersIt seems that there are some members in the Church who want to believe that its leaders do not or should not make any mistakes. People want to view these leaders as being infallible. After all, if God speaks with them, can He not just tell them the right thing to do the first time?

Or does He allow them to make mistakes in their leadership callings? Do they not grow and progress as any other person does? Mankind consists of imperfect human beings. Our Church leaders do the very best that they know how and the Lord consecrates their efforts. They certainly are not infallible.

Joseph Smith taught, “I told them I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith, 268)

The leaders of the Church do the absolute best that they can. They are some of the best people on the earth today. But they are in no way infallible. They make mistakes, just like the rest of us do.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf tells us:

“Some struggle with unanswered questions about things that have been done or said in the past. We openly acknowledge that in nearly 200 years of Church history—along with an uninterrupted line of inspired, honorable and divine events—there have been some things said and done that could cause people to question.

“And, to be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.

“It is unfortunate that some have stumbled because of mistakes made by men. But in spite of this, the eternal truth of the restored gospel found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not tarnished, diminished, or destroyed.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Come, Join with Us,” Ensign, November 2013, 22–23.

Leaders of the Church are human beings, just like the rest of us. We all make mistakes. So do they. However, that does not mean that the Gospel as taught by the Church is any less than perfectly true.

President Brigham Young also had some thoughts on the matter. He said:

“Can a Prophet or an Apostle be mistaken? Do not ask me any such question, for I will acknowledge that all the time, but I do not acknowledge that I designedly lead this people astray one hair’s breadth from the truth, and I do not knowingly do a wrong, though I may commit many wrongs, and so may you. But I overlook your weaknesses, and I know by experience that the Saints lift their hearts to God that I may be led right.”

The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1418

Again, there may be leaders of the Church who, no matter their best efforts, they are not perfect in every way. But President Young knew that the members of the Church were praying for him, as we should be doing for our current Prophet. We should be doing everything we can to sustain, uphold, and uplift him.

Let us discuss two examples of some mistakes that have been made. One by a Prophet, and one by a General Authority who later became an Apostle. When Joseph Smith had translated 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, he lent them to Martin Harris. This resulted in the loss of these pages. From Joseph Fielding McConkie, we read, “It will be recalled that Joseph Smith was severely disciplined by the Lord for the loss of the 116 manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon. Because of the Prophet’s disobedience, the Lord withdrew his Spirit from Joseph Smith and allowed him to walk in darkness (see D & C 10:2; 19:20). Speaking of those events the Lord said, ‘How oft you have transgressed the commandments and the laws of God, and have gone on in the persuasions of men…. You should have been faithful; and he would have extended his arm and supported you against all the fiery darts of the adversary, and he would have been with you in every time of trouble’ (D & C 3:6-8).” (Answers: Straightforward Answers to Tough Gospel Questions, Joseph Fielding McConkie)

So even Joseph Smith made some mistakes. How could we hold anyone else to a higher bar? They are growing and learning and progressing just like everyone else is.

Let us consider a case involving Bruce R. McConkie. He had written and published a book called “Mormon Doctrine” during the presidency of David O. McKay. The story continues:

“McKay’s first step was to obtain a copy of the book and study it. One of his secretaries noted, ‘He went through the whole thing. He had paper clips [on the pages where he had a question], and there were hundreds of them there’ Then he summoned two senior apostles, Mark E. Petersen and Marion G Romney. ‘I asked them if they would together go over Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s book, Mormon Doctrine and make a list of the corrections that should be made preparatory to his sending out an addendum to all members of the Church who have purchased his book.’ Having a General Authority send such an addendum would have been unprecedented, an indication of the seriousness with which McKay took McConkie’s breach of propriety.

“Peterson and Romney took ten months to critique the book and make their report to the First Presidency. Romney submitted a lengthy letter on January 7, 1960, detailing what he felt were the most egregious errors in the book and noting: ‘Its nature and scope and the authoritative tone of the style in which it is written pose the question as to the propriety of the author’s attempting such a project without assignment and supervision from him whose right and responsibility it is to speak for the Church on ‘Mormon Doctrine.” On the same day, Peterson gave McKay an oral report in which he recommended 1,067 corrections that ‘affected most of the 776 pages of the book.'”

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, Prince & Wright, 50

Eventually it was all sorted out, but President McKay certainly felt that it was an appreciably large mistake.

Though there are more examples, it would be error to dwell further upon our wonderful leaders’ mistakes. It is a very valuable thing to keep in mind that our leaders, though they do the best they can, are not perfect, neither do they claim to be. We absolutely do our best to sustain and uphold them, especially in their weaknesses. The point, though, is that we cannot expect them to be perfect in everything they do, all the time. They do their best just like we do. It is quite important that we remember this.

For further thoughts on this concept, see “Sustaining Our Leaders.”