Sunday, November 15, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #43 "Take Upon You My Whole Armour"

THE ARMOUR OF GOD

     Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
     For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
     Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
     Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness;
     And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
     Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.
     And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:
                                                              (Ephesians 6:11-17)

THE ARMOUR OF MORONI

     ...Moroni, had prepared his people with breastplates and with arm–shields, yea, and also shields to defend their heads, and also they were dressed with thick clothing--
     Now the army of Zerahemnah was not prepared with any such thing; they had only their swords and their cimeters, their bows and their arrows, their stones and their slings; and they were naked, save it were a skin which was girded about their loins; yea, all were naked, save it were the Zoramites and the Amalekites;
     But they were not armed with breastplates, nor shields—therefore, they were exceedingly afraid of the armies of the Nephites because of their armor, notwithstanding their number being so much greater than the Nephites.
                                                                  (Alma 43:19-21)

Just as Moroni outfitted his soldiers with armour which Zerahemnah's army did not have, we as Christian Soldiers have armour that Satan and his troops do not have.  It doesn't matter if there are less in the Army of God; the armour makes each member much less vulnerable and much more able in battle than the soldiers of Satan.  With the Armour of God, we are certain to win.

LOINS GIRT ABOUT WITH TRUTH

The loins were considered the seat of the emotions and passions in Biblical times.  Jesus said things such as, "My bowels are filled with compassion toward you." (See, for example, 3 Nephi 17:6.)  The reproductive organs are also in the loins.  The human passions and emotions can be  protected from sin and error by being "girt about with truth," which is a knowledge of things as they were, as they are, and as they will be (D&C 93:24). Truth gives us the ability and the perspective to make virtuous and compassionate choices.  "Girding up your loins" was the action of pulling up the long robe to make a shorter skirt and tying it around the waist, converting the attire to make it suitable for work or battle.  Therefore, it implies action, not just squelching passion or remaining innocent.  We must use our passions and our emotions to reach out virtuously and compassionately, to do the work of the Lord in service to others, and to act in ways of truth. "But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God" (John 3:21). 

THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

The heart, in Biblical times, refered to thoughts and motives:  "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8). "Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28). "And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?" (Matt. 9:4)  "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts" (Matt. 15:19).  The protection for the heart, or in other words, the thoughts and motives, is the breastplate of righteousness.  Paul defined righteousness very specifically for us, when in his Epistle to the Thessalonians he refered to this breastplate of righteousness as "the breastplate faith and love" (1 Thess. 5:8). This aligns perfectly with the two great commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39).  Our motives will always be correct if they are based on faith in God and love for him and for others.  They will always be incorrect if they are based on anything else.

FEET SHOD WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE

The feet symbolize our foundation, and also our motion.  If our feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, there is neither a better foundation, nor a better direction. "And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom" (D&C 39:6).  With the purity provided by the Atonement through repentance, the covenant of baptism, and the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, our foundation is sure, and as long as we continue to repent, continue to keep our covenants, and continue to listen to the Holy Ghost, nothing will be able to shake us from our firm stand, and we will always be moving in a heavenward direction.

THE HELMET OF SALVATION

The helmet of salvation protects the head, of course.  If the heart, in Biblical times, was the center of thought, what would the head be?  One interpretation might be that it is the center of receiving direction from others (the ears), providing direction and focus to the rest of the body (the eyes), and giving direction to others (the mouth).  If we are wearing the helmet of salvation, we are going to be attuned to the voice of the Lord, and we are going to have the things of eternity, or our salvation, as our priority and our direction in all that we do.  Eight times the Savior said, "He who hath ears to hear, let him hear," as he preached his gospel.  He also said, "And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things" (D&C 88:67).  Having ears to hear the Lord, and eyes single to his glory, our words will be as the words of the Lord.  "If ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels" (2 Nephi 31:13).

THE SHIELD OF FAITH

As an active defensive measure, we have the shield of faith.  A shield can protect any one of the other body parts, as an attack is waged against it.  The greater our faith, the larger and thicker the shield of protection against the wiles of the devil.  A shield requires active use, however; it is not simply a force field.  We must watch for the fiery darts, and block them with our faith.  Hard trials may come upon us, injustices may be done to us, or doubts may be inflicted upon our beliefs.  We must actively call upon our faith to endure the challenges, be healed from the hurts, or outlast the doubts.

THE SWORD OF THE SPIRIT

Lastly we have the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  The sword is the only weapon needed in the battle against evil.  It is the only article of the Armour of God to be used in the offense; its purpose is not just to defend or protect, but to conquer.  "And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God"  (Alma 31:5).  The preaching of the Word was very effective for Ammon and the Sons of Mosiah, and brought many Lamanites to become converts to the Church and friends of the Nephites.  "They did lay down the weapons of their rebellion, that they did not fight against God any more, neither against any of their brethren" (Alma 23:7).  The sword of the Spirit can also be effective for us against our enemies, if we use it in harmony with the breastplate of faith and love, as did Ammon with his benelovent service to the King of the Lamanites.

SOLDIERS OF CHRIST

Every bit of the Armour of God pertains directly to Jesus Christ and his Atonement, and is employed only through his grace.  The words of Alma the Younger to his son, Shiblon: "And now, my son, I have told you this that ye may learn wisdom, that ye may learn of me that there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ. Behold, he is the life and the light of the world. Behold, he is the word of truth and righteousness"  (Alma 38:9).



(For Elder Harold B. Lee's interpretation of the armour of God [some elements of which were included here], see http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=690&tid=2, or the LDS Institute manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, p. 352-353.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #42 Continuing Revelation

(D&C 1:38; 68:1-4; 84:109-110; 107:25,34,93-98; 132:8; OD 2; OH p. 117-119; 125-127)

THE REVELATION ON THE PRIESTHOOD

June 8, 1978 a joyous letter was sent to all the local Church leaders throughout the world stating that "the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple." (Official Declaration--2) Thus ended the 140-year era when the policies of the Church withheld the blessings of the priesthood from the blacks.

Not many people know, however, that there was a very brief time period at the beginning of the Restoration, when the priesthood was denied to no man. Why did that policy of exclusivity arise, and why did it take so long for it to come full circle and allow blacks the priesthood again?

THE FIRST BLACK PRIESTHOOD HOLDER--ELIJAH ABEL (1810-1884)


"A black skin may cover as white a heart as any other skin, and the black hand may be as neat and clean as the white one, and all the trouble arises from want of familiarity with the two." --Willard Richards, 1838

Elijah Abel was a free black man who was baptized by Ezekiel Roberts in 1832, just two years after the Church was organized. He was ordained an elder on March 3, 1836, and a member of the Third Quorum of the Seventy within the year. Elder Abel moved with the Saints from Kirtland to Nauvoo and was a friend to the Smith family, being one of seven elders sent to rescue the Prophet Joseph when he was arrested in Quincy, receiving a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith, Sr., and visiting Father Smith on his deathbed. He was a member of the Kirtland Safety Society; he helped build the Nauvoo Temple and the Salt Lake Temple; and he served three full-time missions, first in the 1830's, then in the 1840's, and the last in 1884, when he was 74 years old. He returned home from that last mission early because of illness, and he died on Christmas Day.

THE CULTURAL DIFFICULTIES PREVENTING EQUALITY

In 1832 when Elijah Abel joined the Church, both he and Joseph Smith were perfectly capable of understanding the concept that all men were created equal, that, as the Book of Mormon says, Christ "denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female" (2 Ne. 26:33). But the rest of the world was not ready. Trouble arose. It quite soon became apparent that the social climate in America did not allow for this kind of equality. Elder Abel, in his position of priesthood authority, chastised some white women in 1843 and they were appalled and affronted. In consequence, the Brethren decided to limit his ministry to those of his own race, and segregated the Cincinnati congregation where he lived. Elijah obeyed humbly, and continued to serve in that limited capacity. Later he moved to Salt Lake City. Although he was able to do some baptisms for the dead, Elder Abel's requests to receive his endowments in the temple were denied by several consecutive Church Presidents.

THE LAND OF THE FREE (WHITE MEN)

The gospel was restored in the place best prepared for it: The United States of America, the most religiously free country in the world. But it was a country that still practiced slavery. In the very early days of the Church, when Elijah Abel was ordained, this wasn't a big problem. Only a handful of blacks lived in Kirtland, and Ohio was a free state. But when the Saints moved to the regions in and around Missouri, black Church membership was a very touchy situation. Slavery was legal, and Joseph Smith's Articles of Faith stated that "we believe in honoring and sustaining the law." How does a slave join the Church, obey the Prophet, and gather with the Saints? Sometimes Joseph Smith solved the dilemma by buying the slave's freedom, but that couldn't always work. Surprisingly, moving the Saints to Utah did not eliminate the problem, just changed it a bit.

JOHN BROWN AND THE MISSISSIPPI SAINTS

In 1846, John Brown, a missionary to the Southern states, following the Prophet's orders, emigrated a group of 14 convert families west to join with the Saints. Yes, that date of 1846 is correct: due to lack of communication, John Brown's Mississippi saints actually went as far as present-day Colorado the year before Brigham Young and the vanguard group left Winter Quarters. When it was discovered that the rest of the Saints had wintered over in Nebraska, the Southern saints waited out the winter at a fort, and in 1847, they met up with Brigham Young's wagon train, and finished the rest of the journey to the Salt Lake Valley. And here was the challenge: These 14 families were slaveholders from Mississippi and brought their slaves with them. From day one, there were slaves in Salt Lake City.

Feb. 15, 1851, Elder Orson Hyde addressed the subject in The Millennial Star: "We feel it to be our duty to define our position in relation to the subject of slavery. There are several men in the Valley of the Salt Lake from the Southern States who have their slaves with them. There is no law in Utah to authorize slavery, neither any to prohibit it. If the slave is disposed to leave his master, no power exists there, either legal or moral, that will prevent him. But if the slave chooses to remain with his master, none are allowed to interfere between the master and the slave. All the slaves that are there appear to be perfectly contented and satisfied."

JOHN BANKHEAD

John Bankhead was a slaveholding Southern plantation owner who tried to teach his slaves to be self-sufficient. He provided each family with their own little home, a garden plot and farming equipment. He got medical care for them when needed. If one of his slaves wanted to marry a slave from another plantation, he either bought the mate or sold his slave so they could be united.

John Bankhead joined the Church, moved west with his slaves, and settled in--believe it or not--Wellsville, Utah. His slaves were some of those "perfectly contented and satisfied," mentioned by Elder Hyde, well provided for and looked after. Following the Civil War, he had to force some of his more loyal slaves to leave his service and accept their liberty. "Now the war is over," he said. "You must be free men." He set them up, and offered to help them in any way they needed. They, in turn, promised that they would defend him to the death.

Many years passed, as the Lord influenced people and nations to change the culture of inequality, in order to make it possible for everyone everywhere to partake freely of the full blessings of the gospel.

CONVERTS IN BLACK AFRICA

In 1965 Anthony Obinna, a black Nigerian schoolteacher and convert to Christianity, had a remarkable dream in which a man showed him the rooms inside a beautiful building. In 1971 he saw a picture of the Salt Lake Temple in the Reader's Digest and recognized it as the building from his dream. He wrote to the Church for literature, read it prayerfully, and gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel. Then he began writing letters, asking for baptism for himself and a congregation of believers he had taught, including his own family. There were hundreds of non-baptized Latter-day Saints meeting in other various groups in Ghana and Nigeria as well, brought to the knowledge of the gospel by the Spirit in various ways. Petitions from these saints came before President Spencer W. Kimball and weighed heavily upon his mind. As had been previously evident in the South African Mission, the Church's growth and direction would not be possible if local members could not provide priesthood leadership. In South Africa, President McKay had revised the policy from requiring potential priesthood holders to prove themselves free of black ancestory, to allowing ordination unless there was proof that there was a black ancestor. In Nigeria and Ghana, there was no doubt the unbaptized saints were completely black.

President Kimball and the Brethren studied and considered what should be done for many months. He reported, "I prayed with much fervency. I knew that something was before us that was extremely important to many of the children of God. I knew that we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place. Day after day I went alone and with great solemnity and seriousness in the upper rooms of the temple, and there I offered my soul and offered my efforts to go forward with the program. I wanted to do what he wanted."

Finally, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve met and all expressed their views. They felt an outpouring of the Spirit upon them. They knelt around the altar and prayed, with President Kimball as the voice. Elder Gordon B. Hinckley later recalled, "For me, it felt as if a conduit opened between the heavenly throne and the kneeling, pleading prophet of God who was joined by his Brethren...Every man in that circle, by the power of the Holy Ghost, knew the same thing...Tremendous eternal consequences for millions over the earth are flowing from that manifestation."

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (who had previously published his opinion that the blacks would not receive the Priesthood until the Millenium) said, "On this occasion, because of the importuning and the faith, and because the hour and the time had arrived, the Lord in his providence poured out the Holy Ghost upon the First Presidency and the Twelve in a miraculous and marvelous manner, beyond anything that any then present had ever experienced." There was no doubt in anyone's mind that the Lord wanted the blacks to now have every blessing. Opening the temple to the living blacks also provided for every blessing to their ancestors.

JOY IN AFRICA

Immediately after this revelation was received, three missionary couples were sent to Africa. On November 21, 1978, they baptized Brother Obinna, ordained him to the priesthood, and set him apart as Africa's first black branch president. He baptized his wife, Fidelia, and set her apart as the first black Relief Society President. His two brothers were set apart as his counselors. 19 members joined that day, forming the first branch of the Church in which all members were black.

Within one year these three missionary couples baptized over 1,700 black Africans.

WHY THE WAIT?

Decades passed between the ordination of Elijah Abel (and a handful of other early black saints), and the revelation rescinding the policy that had evolved in the Church prohibiting blacks from the priesthood. Why did the black members have to wait so long for equal blessings? Let's look carefully at what President Kimball said: "I knew we could receive the revelations of the Lord only by being worthy and ready for them and ready to accept them and put them into place" (emphasize added). I personally believe that the fact that black people, including slaves, joined the Church and endured to the end during those 130-140 years despite being denied blessings is a testament to their faith and their worthiness, but it took much longer for the social climate to evolve in the world in which they lived so that the non-black members of the Church and society as a whole could be "ready to accept it and put it into place."

It took many years for the "want of familiarity with the two" to be alleviated.

But, step by step, it eventually was.

In March 1954, three weeks after his return from a visit to the South African Mission, President David O. McKay stated to Sterling M. McMurrin, "There is not now, and there never has been a doctrine in this Church that the Negroes are under a divine curse...It is a practice, not a doctrine, and the practice will some day be changed." Leonard J. Arrington reported hearing Elder Adam S. Bennion say that President McKay "had pled with the Lord without result and finally concluded the time was not yet ripe."

President Harold B. Lee remarked during a United Press interview, November 16, 1972: "For those who don't believe in modern revelation there is no adequate explanation. Those who do understand revelation stand by and wait until the Lord speaks...It's only a matter of time before the black achieves full status in the Church. We must believe in the justice of God. The black will achieve full status, we're just waiting for that time."

The Lord is patient with his children. He waits and works and influences ideas to change and cultures to evolve in order to bring about his purposes. He touches one person at a time, and eventually moves whole nations. Then he steps outside the constraints of time to make blessings available through vicarious temple ordinances to those who missed them in life. He works everything together perfectly to accomplish his divine plan, despite the faults and ignorance of men, and the persistent efforts of Satan. Sometimes it takes many centuries, as it did for the Restoration of the Gospel, and sometimes it only takes 130 years.


(Sources: Kate B. Carter, Negro Pioneer; History of the Church 4:365; Leonard J. Arrington, "Mississippi Mormons," Ensign, June 1977; Garr, et. al, Encyclopedia of L.D.S. History; Gregory A. Prince, et.al., David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 79-80; Marjorie Draper Conder, "A People Prepared: Latter-day Saints in West Africa," Ensign, August 1993; Our Heritage, p. 126-127; Anthony U. Obinna, "Story of a Nigerian Member," Liahona (Tambuli), June 1981)

For a brief, carefully documented treatment of this subject, see
http://en.fairmormon.org/Blacks_and_the_priesthood/Origin_of_the_priesthood_ban#endnote_lee2


For a huge and detailed treatise on President McKay's role in preparing the way for the revelation later received by President Kimball, see Gregory A. Price, et. al, "Blacks, Civil Rights, and the Priesthood," David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Update on Joseph's and Emma's Posterity

I ordered the new DVD mentioned in my Lesson 40 post, and it came within days. It is a half-hour documentary, not really dramatized but with a few clips from the Emma movie. Most of it is Joseph's and Emma's descendants who are members of the Church speaking, as well as other historians, giving the history of the family briefly, and then the history of the gathering they have been doing.

As of the production time of the DVD, which was very recent, there were 129 descendants of Joseph and Emma who have joined the Church, but each time they gather, they find the number has increased. There are only about 1,000 living descendants altogether, so over one-tenth have been gathered back to the Church in these fourth and fifth generations, the generations in which it was prophecied by Elder George A. Smith that their children would return!

A few people claiming, through their family's oral history, to be descendants of Joseph Smith through plural wives have gone through DNA testing, and all have been proved not to be descended from Joseph Smith, so all of the known descendants of Joseph are Emma's children. (See http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith/Polygamy/Children_of_polygamous_marriages for explicit test results. The results are also noted in the DVD.)

"I believe that Joseph and Emma are deeply involved from beyond the veil in all the things that are unfolding in our lives today." --Gracia Jones, Great-Great Granddaughter

(Source: "Children of Joseph: The Unknown Story" DVD)