General Conference – October 2014 – Saturday Afternoon Session Review – by Pastor Tony Brown

Joseph Smith

 

Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.
(Bruce R. McConkie, compiler, Doctrines of Salvation: Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, (Bookcraft, 1954), vol. 1, p. 188)

The expectant crowd gathered at the October 2014 General Conference, heard Elder Neil L.Andersen deliver a talk on the Prophet Joseph Smith. He, unsurprisingly, affirmed that Joseph Smith was indeed the prophet of the restoration, a man chosen by Heavenly Father to bring the, hitherto, apostate church back into line.
Andersen begins by recalling how the Angel Moroni visited young Joseph, telling him “that his name would be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues.” Joseph Smith—History 1:33.

There is an issue with what Smith claimed. An angelic visitation!

From a Biblical point of view, angels exist as messengers of God, and there are accounts of angelic visitations recorded in Scripture, the most obvious being the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). A visitation from an angel is not necessarily a problem (God can do anything) the problem lies in what the ‘visiting angel’ may say or do.

The Apostle Paul worried that the believers in Galatia had begun to move away from the simplicity of the Gospel, wrote:

I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from
heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:6-9)

Paul warns that those (including angels) who preach a different gospel should be accursed. Martin Luther in his commentary on the Galatians 1:6-9 said:

“Here then is a plain text like a thunderbolt, wherein Paul subjects both himself and an angel from heaven, and all others, doctors, teachers, and masters, to be under the authority of the Scriptures.”

The plain fact is that the ‘alleged’ visit of the angel Moroni to Joseph Smith, set in motion a move away from the simplicity of the Gospel. Mormonism not only promotes a ‘different gospel’, it adds extra Biblical revelation (Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price) relegating the Bible to a place where it can only be trusted ‘as far as it is translated correctly’. (8th Article of Faith LDS)
Smith claimed that the angel told him “that his name would “be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues” which is recorded in Joseph Smith History. This was to become true, not that the angel told him this, but rather because Smith himself knew that the ‘different gospel’ he was espousing would lead to him being vilified by those who knew him and his message to be a fraud.
Andersen says:

Joseph wrote, “How very strange it was that an obscure boy … should be thought … of sufficient importance to attract … the most bitter persecution.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:23).

Mormons argue that Smith was persecuted because he was a man of righteousness but, as Bill McKeever contends in the following video clip, Mormons are often unaware of what Smith’s persecution was really about.

Andersen continues: ‘Should we be surprised with the evil spoken against him? The Apostle Paul was called mad and deranged. Our Beloved Savior, the Son of God, was labeled gluttonous, a winebibber, and possessed of a devil’.

Likening Joseph to Paul & Jesus, Andersen shows the reverence Mormons have him, but then Smith had a high view of himself. He claimed that the Lord told of his destiny:

“The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee;

“While the pure in heart, … the wise, … and the virtuous, shall seek … blessings constantly from under thy hand.” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:1–2)

Andersen claiming that Smith was maligned because he was like Jesus would not in any way bother his hearers at the General Conference. They have been fed in many ways that Joseph was one like Jesus.

When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous 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.” (Doctrine & Covenants 135:4)

In an April 5, 1896 conference address, Franklin D. Richards said, “Well before the temple was completed our Prophet laid down his life, having been led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Collected Discourses 5:109).

The allusion of Smith being ‘led like a lamb to the slaughter’ cannot fail to lead a Christian to the conclusion that the LDS are claiming Smith to be on a par with Jesus (see Isaiah 53:7).

Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the LDS Church, writing in 1891 shows that to the LDS, Jesus and Joseph are intrinsically linked. He wrote :

I have always rejoiced in the assurances I have had, from my youth up, of the righteousness and purity of our cause, inspiring my soul with a fervent conviction of the verity and authenticity of the divine mission of our great Redeemer, the Son of God; and also that of His servant Joseph Smith. And I hold that to accept Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world I must necessarily accept Joseph Smith, as a divinely inspired servant and prophet of God. Their works tally exactly; the spirit pervading their mission upon earth is one and the same; the power by which they acted emanated from the same source; their precepts and teachings had the same end in view; and the power of their Priesthood, and the validity of their doctrine have the same force and effect. And for similar causes were they condemned unto death by wicked men.” (Contributor, vol. 12, no. 9 (July, 1891): p. 352.)

Andersen continues by saying: Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the Restoration. His spiritual work began with the appearance of the Father and the Son, followed by numerous heavenly visitations. He was the instrument in God’s hands in bringing forth sacred scripture, lost doctrine, and the restoration of the priesthood. The importance of Joseph’s work requires more than intellectual consideration; it requires that we, like Joseph, “ask of God.” Spiritual questions deserve spiritual answers from God.

“More than intellectual consideration’…’ask of God”

Is what Joseph claimed true? Is the Book of Mormon a true record of the ancient Americas? These are not ‘spiritual questions’, so there need not be a ‘spiritual answer’.

LDS members know that what Joseph claimed cannot be considered merely intellectually, it requires an act of faith. This is because what Joseph claimed does not stand up to close scrutiny. Just like the Book of Mormon, when considered intellectually, archaeologically, anthropologically and historically fails miserably.

That is why the LDS missionaries will lead you to Moroni 10:4 in the Book of Mormon.

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would 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.

Mormonism is all about subjective feelings not objective truth.

Many of those who dismiss the work of the Restoration simply do not believe that heavenly beings speak to men on earth. Impossible, they say, that golden plates were delivered by an angel and translated by the power of God. From that disbelief, they quickly reject Joseph’s testimony, and a few unfortunately sink to discrediting the Prophet’s life and slandering his character. (Andersen)

Not impossible Elder Andersen, but it doesn’t mean it is true. Truth is objective NOT subjective. The Bible tells us to: Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) When Joseph talks about gold plates (which were too heavy for him to carry away to translate) and Reformed Egyptian Hieroglyphics (which had never before, or since, been heard of) we are to test the validity and reasonableness these things.

We are especially saddened when someone who once revered Joseph retreats from his or her conviction and then maligns the Prophet… “Studying the Church … through the eyes of its defectors,” Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, is “like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.” (Andersen)

Andersen suggests that there is nothing to be learned about Mormonism from those who leave Mormonism, from those ‘who once revered Joseph retreats from his or her conviction and then maligns the Prophet’. He likens this exercise to ‘interviewing Judas to understand Jesus’.

What is he really saying here? Well firstly, he suggests that just as Judas betrayed Jesus, ex-LDS betray Joseph, are these really the same? Secondly, Andersen is wrong in suggesting that nothing can be gleaned about the LDS by its defectors. Sure there may be those who are bitter and angry, but there also will be many who left for valid reasons and have much to share with current LDS members.

It is often the case with ’New Religious Movements’ that they seek to stop their adherents listening to, or reading anything by ex-members. Andersen says:

Jesus said, “Bless them that curse you, … and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”12 Let us offer kindness to those who criticize Joseph Smith, knowing in our own hearts that he was a prophet of God and taking comfort that all this was long ago foretold by Moroni.

How should we respond to a sincere inquirer who is concerned about negative comments he or she has heard or read about the Prophet Joseph Smith? Of course, we always welcome honest and genuine questions. 

My experience is that LDS missionaries do often offer kindness when you are asking questions. They will allow you to say pretty much anything, but the only time I have seen them get a little upset is when you question the validity of Joseph as a prophet of God. In fact they are often far more offended by comments about Joseph than Jesus.

Andersen continues:

To questions about Joseph’s character, we might share the words of thousands who knew him personally and who gave their lives for the work he helped establish. John Taylor, who was shot four times by the mob that killed Joseph, would later declare: “I testify before God, angels, and men, that [Joseph] was a good, honorable, [and] virtuous man— … [and] that his private and public character was unimpeachable—and that he lived and died as a man of God.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (2001), 83; see also Doctrine and Covenants 135:3.)

Taylor’s description of Joseph as a ‘good, honourable, virtuous man… that he lived and died as a man of God’ seems a little at odds with what Taylor recorded elsewhere:

[John Taylor testified that Joseph Smith] “snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed, died, I had in my hands a large, strong hickory stick, brought there by Brother Markham, and left by him, which I had seized as soon as I saw the mob approach; and while Brother Joseph was firing the pistol, I stood close behind him. As soon as he had discharged it he stepped back, and I immediately took his place next to the door, while he occupied the one I had done while he was shooting. Brother Richards, at this time, had a knotty walking-stick in his hands belonging to me, and stood next to Brother Joseph, a little farther from the door, in an oblique direction, apparently to avoid the rake of the fire from the door. The firing of Brother Joseph made our assailants pause for a moment; very soon after, however, they pushed the door some distance open, and protruded and discharged their guns into the room, when I parried them off with my stick, giving another direction to the balls.” (History of the Church, Vol.7, Ch.9, p.103)

Taylor’s testimony does not indicate that Joseph was the ‘lamb led to the slaughter’ ’virtuous’ ‘man of God’, that the LDS are led to believe.

We might remind the sincere inquirer that Internet information does not have a “truth” filter. Some information, no matter how convincing, is simply not true.

Years ago I read a Time magazine article that reported the discovery of a letter, supposedly written by Martin Harris, that conflicted with Joseph Smith’s account of finding the Book of Mormon plates.

A few members left the Church because of the document. Sadly, they left too quickly. Months later experts discovered (and the forger confessed) that the letter was a complete deception. You may understandably question what you hear on the news, but you need never doubt the testimony of God’s prophets. (Andersen)

Andersen tells his hearers to blindly trust ‘God’s prophets’ and not to believe ‘some information, no matter how convincing…’

Of course it is true that we cannot trust everything we read or see on the internet. We are to test all things and check them out, but NOT just dismiss things as untrue because they question or challenge our beliefs. This again sounds like a group telling its followers not to read, listen or watch anything that might challenge what the LDS church teaches.

We might remind the inquirer that Joseph was not alone in the visit of angels.The Book of Mormon witnesses wrote, “We declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and … we beheld and saw the plates.” We could quote many others as well. (Andersen)

Can the Book of Mormons witnesses be trusted?

For a discussion on this click this link

 

A sincere inquirer should see the spreading of the restored gospel as the fruit of the Lord’s work through the Prophet. There are now more than 29,000 congregations and 88,000 missionaries teaching the gospel across the world. Millions of Latter-day Saints are seeking to follow Jesus Christ, live honorable lives, care for the poor, and give of their time and talents in helping others. Jesus said: “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. … By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Andersen)

Here are some questions. Does growth prove truth? Because there are many more Muslims than LDS, does that prove there is more truth in Islam? More fruit in Islam?

Of course the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘NO’. Growth is not evidence of truth. The context of Matthew 7:15-20 shows that Jesus is speaking about the fruit of false prophets. You shall know false prophets by their fruit. What is the fruit of a false prophet? False prophecy!

Speaking of false prophecy:

“Yea, the word of the Lord concerning his church, established in the last days for the restoration of his people, as he has spoken by the mouth of his prophets, and for the gathering of his saints to stand upon Mount Zion,i which shall be the city of New Jerusalem. 3 Which city shall be built, beginning at the temple lot, which is appointed by the finger of the Lord, in the western boundaries of the State of Missouri, and dedicated by the hand of Joseph Smith, Jun., and others with whom the Lord was well pleased. 4 Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation. 5 For verily this generation shall not all pass away until a house shall be built unto the Lord, and a cloud shall rest upon it, which cloud shall be even the glory of the Lord, which shall fill the house . . . 31 Therefore, as I said concerning the sons of Moses for the sons of Moses and also the sons of Aaron shall offer an acceptable offering and sacrifice in the house of the Lord, which house shall be built unto the Lord in this generation, upon the consecrated spot as I have appointed.” (Doctrines and Covenants 84:2-5,31.)

Another question: Was the temple built-in Missouri in Joseph’s generation?

The negative commentary about the Prophet Joseph Smith will increase as we move toward the Second Coming of the Savior. The half-truths and subtle deceptions will not diminish. There will be family members and friends who will need your help. (Andersen)

In support of this Andersen cites: President Henry B. Eyring who said:

“In your love for them you may decide to try to give them what they ask. You may be tempted to go with them through their doubts, with the hope that you can find proof or reasoning to dispel their doubts. Persons with doubts often want to talk about what they think are the facts or the arguments that have caused their doubts, and about how much it hurts. … “You and I can do better if we do not stay long with what our students see as the source of their doubts. … Their problem does not lie in what they think they see; it lies in what they cannot yet see. … We do best if we turn the conversation soon to the things of the heart, those changes of the heart that open spiritual eyes” (“‘And Thus We See’: Helping a Student in a Moment of Doubt” [address to Church Educational System religious educators, Feb. 5, 1993], 3, 4; si.lds.org).

The pattern continues… don’t let doubters sway you with objective truth (facts or arguments) lead them to subjective truth (things of the heart).

A testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith can come differently to each of us. It may come as you kneel in prayer, asking God to confirm that he was a true prophet. It may come as you read the Prophet’s account of the First Vision. A testimony may distill upon your soul as you read the Book of Mormon again and again. It may come as you bear your own testimony of the Prophet or as you stand in the temple and realize that through Joseph Smith the holy sealing power was restored to the earth. (Andersen)

The testimony may even come whilst singing as President Gordon B. Hinckley recalls:

“Many years ago when at the age of twelve I was ordained a deacon, my father, who was president of our stake, took me to my first stake priesthood meeting. … [The opening hymn was “Praise to the Man.”] They were singing of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and as they did so there came into my heart a great surge of love for and belief in the mighty Prophet of this dispensation. … I knew then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God” (“Praise to the Man,” Ensign, Aug. 1983, 2; Tambuli, Jan. 1984, 1, 2).

In a recent discussion with LDS missionaries I asked about a person who pray’s with a sincere heart and a real intent, but they do not receive the testimony. I asked what their counsel would be to such a person. Their answer was simple ‘keep on praying until you do get the testimony’. This appears to me like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Moroni 10:4 says that the truth will be manifest by the Holy Ghost (a feeling will be experienced). Those with the testimony tell the seeker to expect a feeling and then eventually the ‘burning in the bosom’ is felt, a testimony is gained and suddenly the LDS church is the true church and Joseph a prophet of God.

Is that the way to test if something is true? To pray for a feeling? Can a feeling be trusted? Can the enemy produce a feeling? I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther who said:

Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving
My warrant is the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.

The Word of God says: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) 

To the youth listening today or reading these words in the days ahead, I give a specific challenge: Gain a personal witness of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Let your voice help fulfill Moroni’s prophetic words to speak good of the Prophet.

Here are two ideas: First, find scriptures in the Book of Mormon that you feel and know are absolutely true. Then share them with family and friends in family home evening, seminary, and your Young Men and Young Women classes, acknowledging that Joseph was an instrument in God’s hands.

Next, read the testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price or in this pamphlet, now in 158 languages. You can find it online at LDS.org or with the missionaries. This is Joseph’s own testimony of what actually occurred. Read it often.

Consider recording the testimony of Joseph Smith in your own voice, listening to it regularly, and sharing it with friends. Listening to the Prophet’s testimony in your own voice will help bring the witness you seek. (Andersen)

Andersen here reveals the true heart of Mormonism. Read the Book of Mormon (not the Bible); read Joseph’s testimony (not the life of Jesus); receive a personal witness proving Joseph was a prophet (not a witness of the Spirit that you are a child of God – Romans 8:16).

I give you my witness that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. He chose a holy man, a righteous man, to lead the Restoration of the fulness of His gospel. He chose Joseph Smith.

I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, did appear to him. He did translate the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God.

In our society beyond the veil of death, we will clearly understand the sacred calling and divine mission of the Prophet Joseph Smith. In that not-too-distant day, you and I and “millions [more] shall know ‘Brother Joseph’ again.” (Andersen)

Andersen’s closing thoughts find him bearing his testimony of Joseph and quoting from the beloved LDS hymn ‘Praise to the man’. Though Mormons pay lip service to the importance of Jesus and claim to follow him, what we really find is that Joseph Smith truly is the chief cornerstone of Mormonism.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

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