Sacrament Meeting talk delivered in New Glasgow on 21 November 2010.
A recent sociological study entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us had some particularly interesting findings. I am going to quote a passage from the report of the study.
The study … reports that Mormons are among those most friendly toward those of other faiths. …While data suggest that Mormons are among those viewed least positively by many American religious groups, they themselves hold relatively positive views toward members of other faiths, including those outside of Christianity.
Of all American faiths, Mormons are most likely to affirm that there is a “true” faith. However, in what might seem a paradox to those unfamiliar with Mormonism, study data also indicate that while many Mormons believe that there is a “true” religion, Mormons are also the most convinced of any group that those outside their faith — including non-Christians — can “go to heaven” or gain salvation. While this belief is general among American believers, it is, according to the study, strongest among Latter-day Saints.
It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with our doctrine that we hold two superficially inconsistent beliefs. First, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the single true and living church upon the face of the earth; and second, that even those who die without sharing our faith may yet gain eternal salvation.
When we see, hear, touch, smell or taste something we believe that what we have thus perceived is real. Everyone is aware of illusions and other tricks which can fool us from time to time but by and large these are exceptions and, in the absence of reasons to doubt, we accept the evidence of our senses as positive proof. In other words, usually “seeing is believing”.
Now what about the time we do not see or hear for ourselves but only hear about something from someone else who claims to have witnessed it. This happens so often, and the information we obtain in this manner is so often, so valuable that it is entirely reasonable for us to accept the testimony of others and to act on the assumption that there testimony is true.
Again there are exceptions. When someone with a history of lying or exaggerating speaks we take it with a grain of salt. When someone with something to gain by persuading us speaks, prudence requires that we get a second opinion before taking action. However, when someone tells us something, even though it may cause him harm, we take it seriously. When that person has lead an exemplay life and sticks to his story to his dying breath, we have cause to believe the story is true.
Consider the ancient prophets. The books of the Old Testament are replete with accounts of their warnings, and how those who heeded their warnings were saved while those who rejected them perished. Noah and the flood; Abraham and Sodom and Gomorah; Jonah and Ninevah, Moses and the plagues, Jerimiah and the captivity – all these repeat the pattern of good men saying unpopular things which later came true. Those who believed them were saved and those who rejected them were lost.
Consider those whom Jesus called as his apostles. Many were fishermen. In that time fishing was a profitable business but one with a large initial capital requirement, i.e. the boat, nets and gear. At his call they left all this behind and became, as He put it, “fishers of men”. They spent the rest of their difficult lives as full time missionaries and eventually they were martyred. They had nothing to gain and much to lose from following Jesus – unless what they testified about him was true.
They testified of what they saw and heard. They saw Jesus perform many great miracles. They heard him teach uplifting precepts full of love and hope and saw him live those precepts. They heard him testify of His Father and of His plan of happiness for all his children. They heard Jesus declare himself to be the Son of God and promise that if we follow him there would be a way in which we could be joint heirs with him to all that the Father has. They saw Jesus suffer and die but miraculously rise again and promise to go and prepare a place with the Father for all those who believe in him.
The apostles saw and heard all this first hand. They lived and died true to their testimony.
Consider a latter-day prophet. A boy who was confused about which church he should join. Having faith in God and in the Bible he put James 1:5 to the test:
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.
When he asked God which church he should join it became clear that God had a great work for him to do. Joseph Smith became the first modern prophet. Like his ancient predecessors he too was persecuted for declaring what God had told him and eventually paid for it with his life. Just days prior to his assassination he said:
I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.
Like the prophets and apostles of old, with nothing to gain and everything to lose he testified to what he heard and saw and gave us reason to believe.
Among that which God revealled through Joseph were the writings of ancient South American prophets, including the prophets named Alma and Moroni. Alma taught that there was a way for us to discover for ourselves whether the testimony of the prophets and apostles were true.
But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, … and ye will begin to say . . . the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.
I suggest that Alma’s “experiment” can be broken down into the following steps:
1. Pay serious and careful attention to the testimony. Read it. Study it.
2. Decide whether it would be desirable if the testimony were true.
3. Start acting as if the testimony were indeed true.
4. Consider how this makes you feel.
Here again is how Alma describes how you should expect to feel if the words are true:
Does it make you feel as if you are a part of something great? Do you have a better understanding of the purpose of your life? Do more things make sense to you? Do you feel happy? Content? Peaceful? Even when trouble comes, do you feel a comforting feeling that things will be all right as long as you live true to these words.
Moroni taught a similar principle. Speaking of the testimony of the prophets and apostles he said,
… when ye shall receive these things, … ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Just as Alma tells us to awake and arouse our faculties, Moroni tells us to ask with a sincere heart and real intent. And to ask in faith, but remember that Alma told us that the mere desire is the beginning of faith. So if we truely want to know if the words of a prophet are true, and we hope they are, the Holy Ghost will give us the feelings that Almoa spoke about and we will know for ourselves that their testimony is true.
In 1820 a 14 year old farm boy wanted to know if the words of the apostles were true. He hoped they were, he read them, he pondered them and he acted upon them. He asked God if they were true and found out for himself. He said:
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!
Joseph Smith’s prayer was answered. He discovered that the testimony of the ancient prophets and apostles were true but that the full truth, and the authority to teach it, was lost and had to be restored to earth, and that he would be the instrument by which the full truth would be restored.
Since then millions and millions around the world have heard the testimony of Joseph and have put his words to the same test and received the same answer – that they are true. That God lives and that he has once again established his church, with the full truth as well as his divine authority to teach it. That is why we declare the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint to be the only true and living church upon the face of the earth.
But what is the purpose of this church? Is it only to save the several millions who belong to it and to cast away the countless billions who do not. The Lord has declared his work, and the work of the church, to be to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, all men, and women. To that end we are engaged in a great missionary effort, in literal fulfillment of ancient prophecy that in the last days the Lord would gather Israel from out of all parts of the earth. To that end as well we are engaged in another great work, the geneoligical record extration program by which all those of God’s children who died without the gospel are identified and for whom saving ordinances such as baptism can be done performed.
Church members collect the records of deceased ancestors and thake those records to holy temples where they act as proxies and are baptised for their ancestors. Jesus taught that baptism was essential for all those who would enter the kingdom of heaven and so we are baptised for all those who did not have that ordinance performed in life. They are then free to accept or reject that work but modern prophets have declared that there are very few who do not accept it.
Joseph Smith said, “The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead.” The church employs modern technology to help us fulfill this responsibility. Members as well as non-members are encouraged to register on new.familysearch.org where the largest geneological database in the world is freely available to all. There we can discover family members we were not aware of and we can also add new information that the database may grow.
The work of seeking our dead builds family ties that extend from this world to the next. Performing temple ordinances for those unable to do it themselves helps us become more like the Savior who did for us what we could not do for ourselves regardles of how much good work we do. Through this great work we strive to unite all of God’s children, living and dead, into one eternal family unit and give effect to the prayer of Robert Burns who wished that whether in good times or in hard we would remember,
That man to man the world o’er would brothers be for a’ that.