Firstly, I have to say that I am very jealous of MikeTea getting to write a response to a talk given by Randy D Funk. I would have filled plenty of lines just commenting on what a great name he has!
From the Sunday Afternoon Session, I have chosen to focus on a talk given by Kevin Hamilton who is a ‘Seventy’. I believe this puts him on what could be a similar footing to a Catholic Cardinal or Anglican Bishop, although I am happy to stand corrected as I am not an expert in Catholic or Anglican leadership hierarchy. Regardless, he is worth listening to if you are a member of the one and only church that contains the authentic, restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
Hamilton’s talk was on the theme of “continually holding fast to the iron rod”. Hamilton referred at length to Lehi’s vision from the Book of Mormon. This vision has remarkable similarities to a vision that Joseph Smith’s father, Joseph Smith Senior, was said to have had in 1811 according to Joseph Smith Jr’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith. At this time, Joseph Smith Jr. was a young boy. It is well documented that Smith Sr. was prone to vivid dreams or visions, and it is very likely that Smith Jr. was well versed in his father’s ‘tree of life’ vision when he came to write the Book of Mormon.
In the Book of Mormon version, Lehi, Nephi’s father, is sharing a vision with his family. There are many people in this vision who are trying to reach the path that leads to the tree where Lehi is standing. Alongside this path, is a rod (like a handrail) that you can hold on to in order to keep on the path leading to the tree of life. Alongside the path is a river and across from the river was “a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth.” People in this building were looking out at those on the path and mocking them. (It has been noted by some that artistic depictions of this building used in LDS teaching material, seem to have an uncanny resemblance to the relatively recently built LDS conference centre. Do an online search for images of both and decide for yourself!) The vision talks about different groups of people who attempt to walk along the path. Some lose their way because there are mists obscuring their sight (obviously, they should have held onto the rod), others hold onto the rod and reach the fruit, but when they partake of the tree they become ashamed because they are being scoffed at so they fall away onto ‘forbidden paths’, some are drawn to the ‘great and spacious building’ and fall into the waters as they feel their way, and of course some hold continually to the iron rod, reach the tree and partake of the fruit and remain there. As visions go, there is plenty of imagery here, and this always captured my imagination hearing this story as I grew up.
Hamilton quotes Elder David Bednar, who emphasised the importance of continually holding fast to the rod of iron, and suggested that this is symbolic of people consistently reading, studying and searching the words of Christ. Hamilton says that for those who are in God’s church (i.e. the LDS church), they have covenanted to keep God’s commandments and repent as needed, since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) I feel it is a shame that Hamilton is here encouraging the LDS to consistently read Christ’s words, yet they do not take them seriously when they do not concur with LDS teaching. An obvious example would be John 3:16, “whosoever believeth in him (God’s Son) should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Or how about: “And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” (Luke 7:48-50) Or, “But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:40-43) It is also a shame that Hamilton is using the quote from Romans 3 about falling short of the glory of God in order to keep God’s commandments and repent, when the whole point of what is being discussed in Romans 3 is that we will never satisfy the law and keep all the commandments. We can only be justified by faith. It is worth quoting the next five verses after Romans 3:23, not only to show that the LDS emphasis on works is unbiblical, but also to illustrate just how selective LDS leaders are in their use of Bible verses and how these verses are put into the context of LDS teaching rather than kept in their own context. So, here are those next five verses: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”
Hamilton also appears to be equating ‘continually holding to the rod’ to assiduous attendance of Sunday church meetings. He outlines what the purposes of the three separate parts of LDS Sunday church activities are. These three points do not include worshipping the Lord, learning of Jesus and coming to know Him more fully, or fellowshipping with God’s family.
Hamilton goes on to set himself and his family up as the perfect examples to be emulated: “Our family has committed to attend all of our Sunday meetings… We have learned that we feel good about our decision to attend our Church meetings, especially as we return to our home and continue to observe the Sabbath. We even attend all of our Sunday meetings when we are on vacation or traveling. One of our daughters recently wrote to say that she had attended church in a city where she was travelling and then added, ‘Yes, Dad, I did attend all three of the Sunday meetings.’ We know that she was blessed for this righteous decision.” So why attend your statutory three hours of Sunday church services? So that you can be just as proud as Kevin Hamilton is here. So that you can feel good about yourselves afterwards. So that you can ooze smugness by not even taking a Sunday off when you are away from your home ward, and of course, most importantly, so that you can top up your own personal righteousness account with another blessing. It all goes towards ensuring that you’ve made the grade for the Celestial Kingdom.
A couple of paragraphs on, Hamilton defines ‘holding to the rod’ in many ways. These include: striving to keep all of God’s commandments, having daily personal and family prayer, studying the scriptures daily, showing faith in Jesus, repenting, changing our hearts, being baptised, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and pressing forward, feasting upon the word of Christ until the very end of our lives. Yet since the early days, the LDS church has taught, and sung, that “The iron rod is the word of God” (LDS Hymn no. 274) So to hold to the rod means to hold to God’s word. Hamilton teaches that “We simply hold fast to the word of God by worshipping and attending our Sabbath meetings.” Yet if the LDS church took the word of God (i.e. the Bible) seriously, they would find that what takes place and what is taught in a Mormon church on a Sunday does not chime with it in any meaningful way. Mormons feel that they are holding fast to ‘the iron rod’ or ‘the word of God’, but in fact they are being told to hold on to a habit of unquestioning Sunday church meeting attendance.
Towards the end of Hamilton’s talk, he refers to covenants made by the LDS. He is here referring to temple covenants. These include the covenant of the law of sacrifice, wherein the solemn promise is made to be willing to sacrifice all that one possesses, even one’s own life if necessary, in sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God. (i.e. the LDS church). Hamilton reminds the listeners that the promised blessing for keeping their temple covenants is to receive ‘all that the father hath’. Yet we know that receiving ‘all that the father hath’ according to Galatians 3, Romans 8 and Titus 3 means to be an heir with Christ, and that receiving ‘all that the father hath’ in Mormon teaching is ultimately to become a god (see point 2 under the heading ‘The Blessings of Exaltation’ in Gospel Principles Manual: Chapter 47). Again, Hamilton refers to the fruit that is
mentioned in Lehi’s vision, using the description of it being ‘most precious and most desirable above all other.’ The juxtaposition here of the reminder to the LDS that keeping their covenants can lead to receiving ‘all that the father hath’ and the allusion to partaking of desirable fruit, brings to mind the serpent’s words to Eve in relation to the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden: “ye shall be as gods.” One cannot help concluding that the carrot being dangled here, is that through doing everything the LDS church tells you to do, you will ultimately be able to attain that which was used to tempt Eve, namely the lie that you can become gods. This is the false gospel of Mormonism, based on the teachings of Joseph Smith, rather than the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.