Sunday, February 25, 2007


Before I begin discussing the topics which have come into the public forum as the result of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, I thought it would be helpful to discuss two topics to help you understand Mormonism: the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have a professional, paid clergy. Rather, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are selected for the several congregations of the Church throughout the world. Excepting only members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, all leadership positions within the Church are temporary callings.

Moreover, the Priesthood is more than an organization: It is the authority to act as representatives of Jesus Christ, the authority to officiate and preside within Christ's Church, and the power to perform great works and miracles
We believe that all the Prophets and Apostles of the New and Old Testaments held the Priesthood. But when the world rejected and murdered Jesus' Apostles, the power of the priesthood was lost.
On May 15, 1829, while Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he translated a passage which discusses baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. He and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, went to the banks of the Susquehanna River to inquire of the Lord concerning baptism. In response to their prayers, an angel appeared, identified himself as John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament who had been resurrected, and bestowed upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood. This Priesthood holds "the keys of the ministering of angels and the gospel of repentance and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins." (D&C 13:1). The angel also explained that this Priesthood was the lesser of two Priesthoods, but soon the higher Priesthood would be bestowed upon Joseph and Oliver.

Restoration of the Aaronic Priesthood

Soon after the bestowal of the Aaronic Priesthood, Peter, James, and John, as glorified, resurrected personages, appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and bestowed upon the the Melchizedek Priesthood. (See Hebrews chapters 5-7). And Peter, James, and John also ordained Joseph and Oliver Apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Offices Within the Priesthood

All worthy male members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are eligible to receive the Priesthood. When a boy reaches twelve years old, he is a candidate to receive the Aaronic Priesthood. At eighteen, a man is a candidate to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. But one cannot be ordained to the Priesthood unless he is worthy.
The two Priesthoods are divided into several offices.
Offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood (From most to least authority)
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
High Priest
Offices of the Aaronic Priesthood

Priesthood Line of Authority
Each holder of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can trace his authority directly back to Jesus Christ. To illustrate, I will give you my Priesthood Line of Authority:
I, Craig Pankratz, was ordained an Elder by Vernon Marion Pankratz.
Vernon Marion Pankratz was ordained a High Priest by Boyd William Furner.
Boyd William Furner was ordained a High Priest by Wilford Taylor Parkinson.
Wilford Taylor Parkinson was ordained a High Priest by Donald Ellison.
Donald Ellison was ordained a High Priest by Wallace Henry Gardner.
Wallace Henry Gardner was ordained a High Priest by Joseph Fielding Smith.
Joseph Fielding Smith was ordained an Apostle by Joseph F. Smith.
Joseph F. Smith was ordained and Apostle by Brigham Young.
Brigham Young was ordained an Apostle under the hands of the Three witnesses of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris.
Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris were called to choose the Twelve Apostles, and on February 14, 1835 were "blessed by the laying on of the hands of the Presidency," Joseph Smith, Jr., Sidney Rigdon, and Frederich, G. Williams, to ordain the Twelve Apostles. (History of the Church, Vol. 2, pp. 187-88).
Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery received the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained Apostles under the hands of Peter, James, and John.
Peter, James, and John were ordained Apostles by the Lord Jesus Christ. (John 15:16).

The Organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

We believe that Jesus Christ, Himself, stands at the head of our Church. He leads, guides, directs and watches over it. But because His second coming has yet to occur, there is a gap between Him in the Heavens and us on Earth. To fill this gap, Jesus Christ has called prophets in modern days, the first of whom was Joseph Smith, Jr.

The man whom Mormons refer to as "the Prophet" changes for our Prophet is also the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thus, during the time of Joseph Smith, he was "the Prophet;" during the time of Brigham Young, he was "the Prophet," and so it continues with each of their successors. Today, our Prophet’s name is Gordon B. Hinckley.

President Gordon B. Hinckley

The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the presiding authority of the Church. He holds all the authority and power to lead, guide, and direct the Church as the agent of Jesus Christ. The President of the Church, in addition to being a Prophet is also a Seer, Revelator, and the Senior Apostle upon the Earth. And when the President of the Church passes away, the Apostle who has served in that capacity the longest will become the next president of the Church. The man next in line to become the President of the Church is Thomas S. Monson, who is currently serving as the first counselor to the President of the Church.

Serving with the President of the Church are two, more if needed, counselors, and the three of them constitute the Quorum of the First Presidency, which is the highest counsel of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.. The counselors to the President of the Church, generally, are also Apostles, and they are prophets, seers, and revelators, too.
Next in authority to the Quorum of the First Presidency is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. This is a council of twelve men who serve in the same capacity as Peter, James, John, Paul, Andrew, etc . . . did when they were upon the earth. An Apostle is a Special Witness of the Lord Jesus Christ and are prophets, seers, and revelators, too.
Below the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy. Each Quorum can have up to seventy men. These men are also witnesses of Jesus Christ, but they are not prophets, seers, or revelators.
The First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy are given general authority over the Church throughout the world.
Assisting these Quorums in specific areas of the world are the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Quorums of the Seventy. These Quorums do not have general authority over the Church. Rather, their authority is limited to the geographical regions where they serve.
Our Church has divided the Earth into several Areas. Each area is presided over by an Area President—either a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or a member of the First or Second Quorums of the Seventy. Assisting each Area President are two counselors selected from one of the Quorums of the Seventy.
Each Area is divided into Stakes and Districts. I will talk about Districts in a moment to avoid confusion. A Stake is presided over by a President who is assisted by two counselors. This Stake Presidency is assisted by a High Council of twelve High Priests.
Each Stake is divided into Wards and Branches. These units are the local unit for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A Bishop presides over a ward while a Branch President presides over a branch. The difference between a Ward and a Branch is that Branches are only established in areas where there are few members of the Church.
Each Area is also divided is also divided into Missions. A Mission President presides over a mission and is assisted by two counselors. A Mission President has two responsibilities: First, preside over regions of the Church where Stakes have not been established and ,second, direct the work of Proselytizing which is carried out by full-time missionaries for the Church. To assist him in directing the work of Proselytizing, a Mission President calls two assistants from the number of full-time missionaries serving under him.
A Mission serves to support the various Stakes and Wards within its boundaries. Missionaries are assigned to serve within each Ward and Branch of the Stakes to assist the members of the Church in spreading the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. Moreover, in areas where there are insufficient members to create a Stake, a Mission establishes Mission Districts and Mission Branches. A Mission District resembles a Stake, and under the direction of the Mission President, a District President serves with two counselors. Assisting the District Presidency is a District Counsel consisting of up to twelve High Priests or Elders. A District is divided into Branches which are organized and run in the same way a Branch within a Stake is run.
Mission Branches are presided over by a Branch President but are not a division of a Stake or a District. Rather, they are merely a division of a Mission.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Redemption from the Fall

The Fall of Adam and Eve was necessary for the purposes of God to roll forward: It made it possible for us to be born and created the conditions necessary for us to be tested. But we must not fail to recognize that the Fall, without Christ’s Atonement, would have been enough to damn all mankind for eternity.

God kept His promise that Adam and Eve would die in the day that they ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. No, they did not forfeit their physical bodies the same day that ate the fruit, but they did forfeit the privilege of remaining eternally in the presence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Alma said that "our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; . . ." (Alma 42:7). By partaking of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve died spiritually in the day they ate of it. Furthermore, "it was appointed unto man to die [physically]" (Alma 42:6). These two deaths are what the scriptures call "the first judgment" (2 Nephi 9:7).

Speaking of what would have happened if Christ had not come, Lehi’s son, Jacob, said, "[save Christ should perform] an infinite atonement this corruption could not put on incorruption. Wherefore, the first judgment which came upon man must needs have remained to an endless duration. And if so, this flesh must have laid down to rot and to crumble to its mother earth, to rise no more. . . . [And] our spirits must become subject to that angel who fell from before the presence of the Eternal God, and became the devil to rise no more. And our spirits must have become like unto him, and we become devils, angels to a devil, to be shut out from the presence of our God, and to remain with the father of lies in misery, like unto himself; . . ." (2 Nephi 9:7-9).

In other words, if Jesus Christ had not saved us from the Fall, we could not be saved. In fact, we could live a perfect life and still be damned. Not even little children who die in their infancy could be saved (see Moroni 8). Consequently, agency would also have been destroyed because we would not be able to choose between God and Satan, eternal life and damnation, joy and misery, etc. . . . There would have only been one option: death.

Yes, the Fall was a good thing, but only because of Christ.

In the Meridian of Time, Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, the Son of an Immortal Father and a mortal mother. The duality of Christ’s physical nature enabled Him to have power over death (John 5:26) while at the same time allowing Him to become subject to infirmity, sickness, and death (Alma 7:10-12). Our Savior could have remained upon the Earth forever, but instead, He "suffer[ed] himself to become subject unto man in the flesh" (2 Nephi 9:5). "And the world, because of their iniquity, [judged] him to be a thing of naught; wherefore, they scourge[d] him, and he suffere[d] it; and they [smote] him, and he suffere[d] it. Yea, they [spat] upon him, and he suffere[d] it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men" (1 Nephi 19:9).And after He was mocked, scourged, and tortured, "he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world" (1 Nephi 11:33).

Truly, "it is wonderful that he should care for [us], enough to die for [us]" ("I Stand All Amazed," Charles H. Gabriel), especially when we realize that He didn’t have to.

Yet Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross was not the end of His gift to us. On the first day of the week after He was crucified, certain women went to anoint properly Jesus’ body for burial. But the stone which had covered Jesus’ tomb had been rolled away, and two men in shining garments shocked them all when they declared, "Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen" (Luke 24:4-6).

Later that day, Mary Magdalene wept outside Jesus’ empty tomb when a man, whom she thought was a gardener, asked, "Woman, why weepest thou?" (John 20:15). Mary requested the man to tell her where he had laid Jesus’ body, but when the Man spoke her name, Mary knew it was Jesus (John 20:15-16). Later, Jesus appeared to his apostles (20:19-23).

And Jesus’ appearances weren’t limited to Jerusalem. He appeared to the inhabitants of the American continent and declared, "Behold, I am Jesus Christ, whom the prophets testified shall come into the world. . . . Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world" (3 Nephi 11:10-14). And over two thousand men women and children went "one by one" and touched, and felt, and knew that Jesus Christ had been resurrected and was their Savior (3 Nephi 11:15)!

Because Jesus Christ was resurrected, all those who ever lived will be resurrected as a free gift (Alma 11:44-45). Our physical bodies, once subject to pain, sickness, and death will become perfect. And "not so much as a hair of [our] heads will be lost," and we will no longer be able to die (Alma 11:44).

In addition to freeing us from the physical death, Christ’s resurrection also redeems us from the Spiritual death which came upon all mankind because of the Fall of Adam and Eve, at least temporarily. Samuel the Lamanite, an ancient Book of Mormon prophet, taught that Jesus Christ died "to bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, that thereby men may be brought into the presence of the Lord. Yea, behold, this death bringeth to pass the resurrection, and redeemeth all mankind from the first death—that spiritual death; for all mankind, by the fall of Adam being cut off from the presence of the Lord, are considered as dead, both as to things temporal and to things spiritual. But behold the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea evan all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord" (Helaman 14:15-17).
No matter how wicked or vile a person is, he will return to see the God who gave him life. But this reunion may not be permanent. Rather, it is when he will be judged of his works, whether they were good or evil (Alma 11:44). And if a person failed in this life to accept Jesus as his Savior and to keep His commandments, then it is necessary to be cast off forever from the presence of his Heavenly Father. But if we have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior and obeyed his commandments, we will enter into eternal life, which is to dwell with God eternally.

Therefore, we must strive to be worthy when we return to our Heavenly Father’s presence. Before we came to Earth to be tested, we knew and worshiped our Heavenly Father. He loved us perfectly. Remember that "nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar His face is to us" (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, December 1988). I cannot imagine anything more painful that standing before the loving Father whom I knew for eons before I came to this Earth only to be told that I wasn’t worthy to remain with Him. (see 2 Nephi 9:38).

But Jesus Christ, by His resurrection, has given us the opportunity to return to His Father and Him and remain there. By taking upon Himself death and by being resurrected, Jesus Christ overcame the negative aspects of the Fall of Adam and Eve.

But to remain with our Heavenly Father, we must first be redeemed from our sins.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

On Faith

Faith is a difficult thing to articulate. But it is central to every theological discussion. I would add that it is vital to every scientific discussion, too, at least for those who profess to believe in God and carry on scientific discussions. It's not that science and faith are opposites. Science is not an inherent threat to faith. On the contrary, science can be the "evidence of things not seen."
For example, I marvel at the heavens. Often, I wonder which star is my Heavenly Father's abode. Recently, I found a picture on the internet taken by the Hubble telescope. The astronomers who took it focused on a dark part of the night sky which from the ground is the size of a dime. They found thousands of galaxies, each with its millions upon millions of stars. On that webpage, I saw "God moving in His majesty and power." Yes, such a scene is evidence that God lives. And considering the millions upon millions of stars hidden in one dime-sized circle in the night sky, how many stars do God's heavens veil?

Yet it is not God's desire to veil his purposes from us. We do that well enough ourselves. God's purpose is not the creation of galaxies and stars; it is the perfection of his children. You see, He forms the stars for the same reason He created the Earth: "This is my work and my glory," He said, "to bring to pass [our] immortality and eternal life." That is the impetus of all His works. And that is a statement of His purposes in the broadest sense.

Although God's children are legion, his purposes extend to us individually, not in some trickle-down sort of way but as a straight and strong rod directly from his throne. I've felt such purpose in my life as I've listened to the whisperings that come in quiet times. I suppose faith is trusting in those whisperings.

But faith in God's purposes may wane when it seems his promises remain unfulfilled. So why do promises fail? The answer is simple, "I the Lord am bound when ye do what I say, but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise." God's promises are always conditioned on our obedience.
But there is more depth to God's unfulfilled promises. When Oliver Cowdery first came to Joseph Smith to assist in the translation of the Book of Mormon, the Lord revealed that Oliver would also have the gift of translation, if Oliver so desired. Now, God knew that Oliver would fail, but the promise extended to Oliver.

We may think God is cruel to promise what He knows will not come to pass. But His purposes are deeper. Oliver did try to translate. He commenced well, but because he did not continue as he commenced, he failed. And I believe it was only in Oliver's failure that he, and we through him, could learn the lesson that the Lord wished to teach him.
The Lord's rebuke to Oliver is the single-most stunning description of the process of revelation: "Study it out in your mind and in your heart, and then ask me if it is true, and if it is true, I will cause your bosom to burn within you. But if it is not true, you shall have no such feelings."
I learn best after I have struggled and failed. It's not that failure makes me more susceptible to teaching; rather failure is humbling. God actually told Oliver how to translate, "I will tell you in your mind and your heart." But Oliver failed to learn. Most likely, Oliver was sure of himself; if a country bumpkin like Joseph could translate, how hard would it be for an educated man? It was not until after Oliver was humbled that the Lord could truly teach him. But great was the price of Oliver's failure. Will we fail to learn from his experience?

The process of revelation that the Lord tried to teach Oliver is the essence of faith. So often, we go to the Lord with a question, and so often, we take no thought but to ask Him. Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles compared this process to having a pillar of light surrounding us. Everything else is black. We don't know if we are to turn around, to step right or left, or to move forward, so we go to the Lord and say, "Lord, move the light, and I will follow."
To this the Lord says, "Study it out in your mind and in your heart; decide first which way to go, and I will tell you if you are going in the right direction." So we listen to Him and study it out. Then we ask again. "Lord," we say, "I'm going to step forward; please move the light." Instead of moving the light, He may send a stupor of thought to dissuade us, or He may send peace and say, "Take a step, and the light will move." He has revealed His will to us, but we must still trust.
This is faith: knowing God's will, and moving forward even though we cannot see the future consequences of our actions.

Then, as we look back on the path we have taken, we will see the ever present guidance of Deity.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Article about the Good Samaritan

Yesterday, I was priviledged to be present in Oral Advocacy for one of the best discourses about the Good Samaritan I have ever heard. And today, I read an article which discusses additional symbolism and meaning in the already doctrinally drenched parable.

To read the article, click here.