What is the Proper Manner for Confessing Sins?

It is one of the basic parts of the doctrine of Christ that the believer repents of their sins. Because it is so basic and common a part of the core of the gospel, it is also easily exploited by false leaders and incorrect policies. But first, let’s look again at the definition of repentance.
The Lord said in a revelation to Joseph Smith, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). This accords with a translation Joseph Smith did of Mark 9:40: “Therefore, if thy hand offend thee, cut it off; or if thy brother offend thee and confess not and forsake not, he shall be cut off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell” (Joseph Smith’s additions in italics).
The first entry for “confess” in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary reads:

CONFESS‘, verb transitive [Latin , to own or acknowledge.]

1. To own, acknowledge or avow, as a crime, a fault, a charge, a debt, or something that is against one’s interest, or reputation.

The other entries are not much different than the first, so this definition will suffice.
The full entry for “forsake” is as follows:

FORSA’KE, verb transitive preterit tense forsook; participle passive forsaken. See Seek .]

1. To quit or leave entirely; to desert; to abandon; to depart from. Friends and flatterers forsake us in adversity.

Forsake the foolish, and live. Proverbs 9:6.

2. To abandon; to renounce; to reject.

If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments – Psalms 89:30.

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath. Psalms 37:8.

3. To leave; to withdraw from; to fail. In anger, the color forsakes the cheeks. In severe trials, let not fortitude forsake you.

4. In scripture, God forsakes his people, when he withdraws his aid, or the light of his countenance.

The word history for “forsake” reads:

forsake (v.) Old English forsacan “object to, oppose, refuse, deny; give up, renounce” (past tense forsoc, past participle forsacen), from for- “completely” + sacan “to struggle, dispute, wrangle; accuse, blame” (see sake). Related: Forsaking. Similar formation in Old Saxon farsakan, Dutch verzaken, Old High German farsahhan “deny, repudiate,” Danish forsage “give up, refuse.” Forsake is chiefly applied to leaving that by which natural affection or a sense of duty should or might have led us to remain: as, to forsake one’s home, friends, country, or cause; a bird forsakes its nest. In the passive it often means left desolate, forlorn. [Century Dictionary]

The reason we have gone to a greater length to lay out the definition of “forsake” will become obvious in a moment. If you look at the word history, the prefix “for-” means “completely”, and together with the suffix, the possible full definition includes “object to, oppose, refuse, deny; give up, renounce.” Each of these similar verbs and behaviors are still different enough as to lead to ambiguity over what it means to forsake one’s sins. Does it mean to completely “give up” and abandon the behavior, with no slip ups in the future? Or, does it simply mean to completely “object to” the behavior in one’s heart, even if you continue to make the same or similar mistakes throughout your life? This ambiguity has led to religious leaders holding sins over people’s heads so long as they continue to fall prey to temptation. They would likely have denied Nephi a temple recommend with the “completely abandon” definition, though, as he confessed:

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted. (2 Nephi 4:17-19)

However, Alma’s example proves that forgiveness from repentance is immediate, and not a process over time:

Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:18-20)

Character development over time is indeed a legitimate teaching, but it is not what repentance is defined as. Denver Snuffer contrasted the two by saying, “The development of a godly character happens in stages, gradually. We are forgiven in an instant, suddenly” (See Denver Snuffer’s posts here and here).
It is for this reason that we think the scriptural definition of forsake is “to completely oppose a behavior in one’s heart”. A criminal may admit that stealing is wrong, for example, but he may still love doing it; but, if he has confessed it as wrong, and forsaken it in his heart, he may still be tempted and commit a crime if he were homeless and wanting bread, all the while hating what he is doing. In the latter example, the criminal has repented, but hasn’t developed the necessary character to sacrifice for principle’s sake.
Confessing to the priests is an extension of the Lord’s command to let your yea’s be yea and your nay’s be nay (3 Nephi 12:37). If, in your understanding, your culture commits you to certain agreements with your priests, then you are duty bound to make an accounting of your discharge of those duties. The duties, in and of themselves, however, may not be moral issues at all. What is at issue is your understanding of what you agreed to, your priests’ understanding of what you agreed to, and whether or not you truly broke that trust, and if that agreement between the two of you (or between you and the rest of your fellow congregation) is mutual. A bishop of an LDS Ward offers a convenient way to confess the breaking of that trust you owe to your congregation and your leaders.
However, if you gain correct insight into the meaning of the scriptures and the true requirements of the Lord, the truth shall set you free (John 8:32). There may be some moral issues you owe to your congregation to confess to if you cross certain lines, but certainly many traditional views on what needs to be confessed to another person go out the door the more you understand the scriptures. Most things are between you and the Lord, and reconciliation with others follows common sense principles that the scriptures often touch upon (see D&C 42:88-93). If no one else is offended by your actions, leave it between you and the Lord. However, if “thy brother hath aught against thee–Go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother” (3 Nephi 12:23-24). A bishop need not be involved unless you’ve offended the Bishop with an actual offense (and not a made up one they are persecuting you about). If you’ve done something that affects your standing in society, like committed a crime worthy of jail time, you probably owe it to your Bishop to mention that fact so he can take the necessary precautions for the group he represents, and so that he can do his duty in removing any privileges you have among a congregation that you shouldn’t have, for as long as is necessary.
What is most important is to see that the Bishop is not a representative of the Lord in this role, with whom you must go to for spiritual absolution. There is no intermediary between you and God. The Bishop is merely a representative of a congregation appointed to hear confessions of crimes AGAINST THE GROUP ONLY, who mediates reconciliation efforts between you and that group…PERIOD. He does not, and never can, represent God’s absolution of your private sins against God. A church and church representatives only offer an official community confession forum. Other sins are not their prerogative. The same goes for Priesthood holders. Priesthood is a relationship with the heavens, and the only rank and file leader you need to be concerned about is God Himself. You take care of your own Priesthood stewardship, and if you are not worthy in the Lord’s definition of the term…which more often refers to procedural worthiness, like having the correct priestly qualifications, common consent, and most importantly, the Lord’s permission for every act in the Priesthood, then you meekly excuse yourself from service for the necessary time (see Mosiah 21:33). If you have done something serious that affects your standing in the community, like adultery, then you ought to confess to your community and relevant concerned groups.
We are far away from understanding what it means in the scriptures where some few are given power to retain or remit sins on earth and in heaven (see John 20:23 and D&C 132:46), and certainly the Bishop’s role as judge amongst the people (D&C 107:74) does not rise to this level of trust. It is merely a common place role of being a representative chosen by a group. This is the outward ordinance style of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the temporal labor appointed someone who should take caution not to go beyond their bounds in authority with the Lord. And, as the Lord has ended the priesthood claims of the leadership of the LDS Church (see here), there is certainly no Stake level or General Authority level leader with this power to absolve sins as a representative of the LDS Church.
When we were in the Church, we felt the obligation to confess to our leaders when we went contrary to the cultural expectations there, and we were not rebellious. We confessed every time our consciences told us we weren’t towing the line like it was expected of us. I was a lifelong member and my wife was a convert. From the days of my youth, when I needed to confess serious sins, I did so. As I got older and established a family, I kept pace with smaller concerns. My wife did as well. We had no serious transgressions needing confession at the time of our resignation and we have none now. We have clear consciences when it comes to the discharge of our duties and obligations as former members of the LDS Church, and we have “gone not only the second mile, but paused and considered what more we could’ve done” to paraphrase an injunction in my Patriarchal blessing that we both took very seriously as it concerned our work in every calling, and for me, as it concerned my Priesthood service. Anyone who knows us and our labors in the Church over the years can attest to this fact. We only mention it to qualify what we are saying concerning the true nature of confessing sins as the scriptures outline them, having faithfully jumped through the hoops, implied and explicit, that the LDS Church has set up concerning this topic. We know somewhat of the contrast, and we appreciate the plainness of the Lamb of God and His requirements for forgiveness, in comparison to the traditions within the LDS Church. That being said, we are always learning more about the Lord’s intended meanings and are astonished at His doctrine as the Atonement plays a role in our lives. We hope you find the same measure of peace that we have found in going directly to the Lord for forgiveness, and in reconciling with your neighbor in the way and manner He reveals to you when necessary.
The Lord invites: “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18).
The scriptures talk about a godly conversation (1 Peter 1:15; 2 Peter 3:11; D&C 20:69). Perhaps confession to God is more about understanding the category of sin, than it is about the particulars He already knows about. Surely acknowledging the incident with God can play a part, but overall, do you think God would be more satisfied with the person who confesses that the time they stole bread was wrong, but then goes on to steal time from their employer, ignorant of the continuation of their stealing mentality; or with the person who recognizes how their desires and actions are contrary to His commandments in general, and forsakes the breaking of those commandments no matter how sin manifests itself? Like King Benjamin said, “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them” (Mosiah 4:29), and Jacob: “O be wise; what can I say more?” (Jacob 6:12).
Overall, what is important is that, as a part of our confession of faith, we acknowledge the law of God and confess which activities and behaviors really are sinful, showing a godly conversation in that we have the intelligence communicated to us about what is the wrong course for our lives, and we know how to articulate right from wrong. Besides, this gift is given freely (see Helaman 14:30-31, 2 Nephi 2:4 and 2 Nephi 26:27). Denver Snuffer mentioned how the Lord’s instructions for prayer benefited the person confessing sins: “In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ said prayer should be in secret. Matthew 6:5-8…When praying in secret, we do not need to consider what others may think of our vocabulary, content, sentence structure, dangling participles, or embarrassing confessions. It is between the individual and God” (Preserving the Restoration, p.382). The Lord articulated more in the law to the church in D&C 42:

If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. D&C 42:92.

Embarrassing private sins can remain between an individual and the Lord. For the example the Lord set for how to pray, Denver mentioned, “John chapter 17 is the great intercessory prayer. Look at how He addressed His Father: ‘These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven.’ [He did not bow His head or fold his arms. He spoke aloud with His eyes lifted upward.]…How would you like it if someone spoke to you with his back turned? Look up. Speak to heaven above. as we reach up to Him in prayer, He will reach down to us….If receiving His fullness required a course in rabbinical reasoning, or an advanced theological degree, there would be almost none who are saved. But the Book of Mormon gives us account after account of encounters between mankind and God where the only qualification was a broken heart and a contrite spirit” [and we might add, there was no qualification to confess to a priest or bishop in these examples, only instances where the repentant endeavored to repair the wrongs they had done when their crimes warranted it…see Helaman 5:17] “Those who do not have the required broken heart and contrite spirit come away saying, ‘God maketh no such thing known unto us.’ Like Laman and Lemuel, their iron necks and brass brows prevent them from looking up to God to be saved” (Preserving the Restoration, pp.382-383).
We’ll end this post with a simple review of the story of the ten lepers who were cleansed by God who was with them, for He was the true Priest. Having leprosy made someone unclean under the Mosaic Law, much like many of the transgressions maintained by Latter-day Saints as warranting a need to confess to a bishop make someone “unclean” in LDS culture.
And it came to pass, as he went to Jerusalem, that he passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. Luke 17:11-19.

To the cleansed leper that found the true Priest, even Jesus Christ, the Lord said “Go thy way,” as in, there was no need for him to go to see his ecclesiastical priests.

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How Do I Pay Tithing and Fast Offerings, and How Do I Live the Law of Consecration?

In looking for strictly scriptural guidance on how to pay proper tithes and offerings, the first scripture we came to was the Joseph Smith Translation of Genesis 14, found after the Bible Dictionary in the LDS scriptures:

And this Melchizedek, having thus established righteousness, was called the king of heaven by his people, or, in other words, the King of peace. And he lifted up his voice, and he blessed Abram, being the high priest, and the keeper of the storehouse of God; Him whom God had appointed to receive tithes for the poor. Wherefore, Abram paid unto him tithes of all that he had, of all the riches which he possessed, which God had given him more than that which he had need. (JST Genesis 14:36-39)

Tithing in Abraham’s day was defined as “[that] which God had given him more than that which he had need.” It was not a tenth, but more accurately, the “surplus”. This accords with D&C 119, but of course, D&C 119 introduces a change in policy that shifted the responsibility of part of the surplus administration…

O! Lord, show unto thy servents how much thou requirest of the properties of thy people  for a Tithing?
Answer. Verrily thus saith  the Lord I require all their surpluss, property to be put into the hands of the Bishop of my  Church of Zion, for the building of mine house and for the Laying the foundation of Zion, and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the presidency of my Church, and this shall be the begining of the tithing of my people, and  after that, those, who have thus been tithed, shall pay one tenth of all their interest anually, And this shall be a standing Law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood saith the Lord, Verrily I say unto you, it shall  come to pass, that all those who gather unto  the land of Zion, shall be tithed of their surpluss properties, and shall observe this Law, or they shall not be found worthy to abide among you. and I say unto you, If my people observe not this Law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the Land of Zion unto me, that my Statutes and my Judgements, may be kept thereon that it may be most holy, behold verrily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you, and this shall be an ensample unto all the stakes of Zion, even so Amen. (D&C 119, spelling as in earliest manuscript Revelation, Far West, MO, 8 July 1838; in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p.56; handwriting of George W. Robinson; CHL).

In the historical context included in prior revelations in the D&C, tithing maintained the definition of all surplus properties as administered in United Orders through the Law of Consecration. Because of the abuses of John Whitmer, William W. Phelps, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and other leaders (the Missouri Presidency and committee members who spent the tithing/surplus monies to buy land in Far West, who sold properties in Independence against the express command of the Lord, and pocketed some of the land sale proceeds for themselves; see Minute Book 2, The Far West Record, beginning with 7 Apr 1837 entry until the 5-6 Oct 1838 Conference entry), the Lord gave D&C 119 to reduce the law to the following:

  1. Instead of all surplus properties being given to the leadership of the church as a tithe, (since they royally screwed things up such that these abuses were cited in many of their excommunication trials), the Lord dissolved the United Order in Missouri and…
  2. Instead required the Saints to make one more surplus contribution (see D&C 119:1-3), and then…
  3. The Lord removed from the leadership the responsibility of administering the surplus amounts on an ongoing basis and instead retained the requirement for individuals to administer to the poor of their surplus on their own, and…
  4. The Lord required for the members to only have to contribute a tenth of their surplus to the church for the poor who appealed to the church itself for relief (D&C 119:4, and also verse 1 which lists the first instruction for both the contributed initial surplus, and the tenth thereafter to be put into the hands of the bishop of the church, who in Joseph Smith’s day only administered the storehouse for the poor. Verse 2 also includes the stated purpose of “laying the foundation of Zion,” which if the leaders understood the scriptures, expressly includes having no poor among them), and for other legitimate debts, to be governed by “the voice of the Lord” to the council on the disposition of the tithes (D&C 120).

D&C 120 reads:

Revelation Given the same day July 8th 1838
Making known the disposition of the properties  tithed, as named in the preceeding revelation—
Verrily thus saith the Lord, the time has now  come that it shall be disposed of, by a council  composed of the first Presidency of my Church and of the Bishop and his council and by <my> high Council, and <by> mine own voice unto them saith the Lord, even so Amen. (D&C 120, spelling as in earliest manuscript Revelation, Far West, MO, 8 July 1838; in JS, Journal, Mar.–Sept. 1838, p. 57; handwriting of George W. Robinson; CHL.)

Obviously the poor have no surplus, and hence no requirement to give anything to the church, and “interest” is defined in Webster’s 1828 dictionary of that era as being synonymous with “surplus” and not “income”.

This accords with Numbers 18:25-32:

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Thus speak unto the Levites, and say unto them, When ye take of the children of Israel the tithes which I have given you from them for your inheritance, then ye shall offer up an heave offering of it for the Lord, even a tenth part of the tithe. And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshingfloor, and as the fulness of the winepress. Thus ye also shall offer an heave offering unto the Lord of all your tithes, which ye receive of the children of Israel; and ye shall give thereof the Lord’s heave offering to Aaron the priest. Out of all your gifts ye shall offer every heave offering of the Lord, of all the best thereof, even the hallowed part thereof out of it. Therefore thou shalt say unto them, When ye have heaved the best thereof from it, then it shall be counted unto the Levites as the increase of the threshingfloor, and as the increase of the winepress. And ye shall eat it in every place, ye and your households: for it is your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation. And ye shall bear no sin by reason of it, when ye have heaved from it the best of it: neither shall ye pollute the holy things of the children of Israel, lest ye die. (Numbers 18:25-32)

Therefore the people paid a tenth of the tithe, or a tenth of their surplus, to the priests who made use of this tenth for the poor, the Lord’s house, and other legitimate church debts.

Contrary to current LDS practice, however, legitimate church debts do not include a paid ministry, which is priestcraft, and shouldn’t be seen as covering living expenses, but would be the equivalent of getting a free temple cafeteria dinner only while you worked your shift as a temple worker. The Levites and Priests still would have to work for their own support on their off time. This is a much misunderstood principle which the Book of Mormon corrects and makes abundantly clear (see Mosiah 18:25-29 and Alma 1:26-31 for instance).

After giving a tenth of the surplus to a community storehouse for the poor, the rest of the surplus, or the other 90% of one’s increase, is to be used first to increase your own stewardship if needed (such as buying new equipment to produce your marketable items next year, see D&C 42:29-39), then the rest is to be distributed to the poor as well (see D&C 73). If you don’t need certain items in your stewardship for the next year, then instead of taking from the 90% of your increase, you add more to the surplus. All of the 90% (plus or minus your stewardship adjustments) are to be given to the poor. You do not need to belong to a United Order to live the Law of Consecration (see Lectures on Faith, L6). All it takes is one person willing to live these principles who has faith that, whatever they give up one year when it is not needed, will be obtainable another year, even if it has to come through a miracle in your view. An old proverb in Ecclesiastes says, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). You can give 90% of your net increase to the poor on your own and tithe 10% to a fellowship in your community or to another worthy charitable organization. The argument that you would pay on your net increase and not your gross is well documented in the scriptures concerning consecration after providing first for your own legitimate wants and needs (see D&C 42:32-33).

Denver Snuffer outlined ways in which anyone can participate in paying tithing, no matter what denomination or faith they belong to:

“I talked about paying and administering your own tithes in Grand Junction. I want to remind you that if you do that, none of it should go to the priests. None of it should go to anything other than helping the poor” (Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, p.4).

“In Grand Junction I spoke about tithing. I talked about organizing yourselves, collecting your own tithing and managing it yourselves, to assist the poor who are among you, and to do this by the voice of your own local group. Do it by common consent. Provide for those who need housing, food, clothing, healthcare, education and transportation. Do it by the voice of united agreement of you all in small groups in which all know one another. Since that time there have been several groups that have begun. Two groups are assisting single mothers with their needs. One group is assisting a family. One group has no needy among them, and they’ve accumulated for large charitable purposes, and they bought for a quadriplegic, a sophisticated electric wheelchair with the tithing money that they gathered.

I have also heard of some failing experiments, where frustration and contention have been problems. As the scriptures warn, and I discussed in Grand Junction, we must overcome ‘jarrings,’ ‘contentions,’ ‘envyings,’ ‘strifes,’ ‘lusts’ meaning ambitions, and ‘covetous desires.’ These conflicts need to be worked out before any gathering. All of the social ills of our day are in the churches of our day. Every denomination that came from Joseph Smith’s ministry is plagued with the same shortcomings. Before any gathering, we must be put through a refining process. We must grow; we must rise up first, before God will gather us to Zion.

There is no reason to pay for priesthood service. Serving should always require sacrifice. Do not pay for ministers. I would recommend if you choose to participate in a tithing group, you do it in the same manner described in Grand Junction. Do it voluntarily among yourselves. Community is necessary. I do not know how you can bear one another’s burdens without administering your own tithes, administering your own fast offerings, doing things to help those people who are in need.

Some are giving tithing to an organization that is purchasing commercial and residential real estate, farms, and developing shopping centers, but has little left by comparison to give to the poor. Even though they give money to help the poor, billions spent in commercial ventures dwarf the amount. If you choose to participate that, that is up to you, but try and care for those among you who have needs. Try to participate in helping others and fellowshipping with them.” (Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, p.21)

Fast Offerings are another way someone can give more to the poor…not through the increase they have earned or produced, but through sacrifice. Therefore, fast offerings can even be for when you don’t have any increase one year, but want to live your religion of giving to the poor. You can always sacrifice something you need in order to give to those even less fortunate than yourself. It is how you can still give out of your own free will and good desires even if you have a loss one year, or for many years, so you don’t lose the habit of living that pure religion that is undefiled (see James 1:27). In acknowledging this option for the poor, we emphasize that there is no scriptural support for tithing, or even fast offerings, being required by the Lord of the poor, or at least, no support for priests or any leaders to have any authority to require it. In fact, there are many scriptures that suggest that the poor are only to receive, unless they sacrifice through freewill offerings to be able to give some small amount themselves, or to make reconciliation for crimes committed in a much discounted way proportionate to what they are able to afford (see Leviticus 5:7,11; Leviticus 23:22; Matthew 12:1-9). And, concerning the latter, the Lord quoted scripture and said, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7).

How Do You Cope With the Shaming?

It’s patronizing to have people assume you have troubles in your life because of leaving the LDS Church, but we understand the sentiment. We have felt the same way before as members sometimes act towards us now. Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10), and it is assumed leaving the LDS Church is a wicked thing to do.

It can be, but isn’t always.

Turning against the light and knowledge you’ve gained is a wicked thing (D&C 93:39). Sometimes leaving the LDS Church is synonymous with turning against light and truth, depending on your circumstances. But, the Gospel path is a lonely and difficult road, full of persecution when you are learning more and getting closer to God (3 Nephi 12:10-12). In such cases, leaving the LDS Church could be equated to Lehi leaving Jerusalem (1 Nephi 2:2), Abinadi preaching against the wicked priests (Mosiah 12), or Christ before the Jewish council (Matthew 22:66-71), if what you are learning is higher knowledge than what the priests in your day have received (3 Nephi 7:18).

If you are truly on a higher path, it doesn’t make you better than anyone else, just more believing. You will still make just as many mistakes and sin as often as others, but perhaps in different ways than them as you reject old sins that are no longer desirable. True belief is villainized, ridiculed, and thought to be impossible to achieve. Very few others believe.

Ironically, gross errors and wild imaginations are also rarely believed, and rightly rejected by others, leading some to think those forbidden paths are the “correct” paths simply because they are not popular. The phenomenon looks the same as true belief. People who indulge in wild fantasies are as heavily persecuted as those who truly believe in God and the resurrection of Christ, and who love His appearing. But, those who indulge in fantasy sometimes believe they are on the right path simply because they are being persecuted. It will always be this way, so that our faith might be tested and true. You cannot detect a true path simply because it involves being persecuted, or is a lonely path in and of itself (3 Nephi 12:10-11 says that the only ones who are blessed are those who are persecuted for “[Christ’s] name’s sake” or “[Christ’s] sake”. No one is blessed for being persecuted for any other reason). Likewise, while on the true path, there is no escaping the shame of the world, there is only the opportunity to despise their shame, and reject it and move forward in faith (Hebrews 12:2 and 2 Nephi 9:18), but you must also test the path you are on to make sure you are pleasing God and truly following His ways.

Remember, “blessed art thou if men shall revile you and persecute you for MY NAME’S SAKE.” The formula does not work for being persecuted for any other reason or system of belief. You are only blessed for being persecuted for Christ’s name and belief system.

To truly follow God’s ways, one must know the character of God. That is why Joseph Smith called the Lectures on Faith the “leading items of our religion” (see Preface to the 1835 ed of the D&C), as they contain the tests whereby you may know if any communication is from God or not, being that you begin to understand his character, perfections, and attributes in such a way as to not be deceived by any other communication below the standard of absolute love, power, truth, justice, mercy, and judgment. Conversely, many follow after blind guides dressed in white robes (1 Nephi 8:5-8). Both the blind guides and those that follow them shall fall into the ditch (Matthew 15:14). It is interesting to note that when Lehi realized what the man in white was doing, he beheld that he had led him into a lone and dreary waste. It took Lehi pleading with the Lord for his tender mercies to get himself out of such a predicament. He also beheld that those who didn’t follow the true path set themselves up in a large and spacious building, wore costly apparel, and mocked and pointed the finger at those who found the tree of life (1 Nephi 8:26-28).

It is just that sort of mocking that the scriptures inform us we must expect, and then despise it, being an example of the believers (1 Timothy 4:12) and never reviling against those that revile (D&C 31:9).

After all is said and done in being Christian towards those that shame you, it is important to fellowship with those who have similar beliefs in the doctrine of Christ. Kids benefit from a community of fellow believers as well (see our post here and find a fellowship here).

Can an LDS Baptism Still Be Valid After April 2014 Conference?

We have mentioned that the LDS Church has lost its rights to the Priesthood of God as a collective body, but individuals may maintain a connection to heaven if they consistently qualify themselves in the Lord’s eyes. (See posts here and here).

Those who baptize as representatives of the LDS Church have common consent to use their priesthood within an LDS Church setting, so if they are properly ordained (see here and read the comments on the post here) and follow the Lord’s instructions (see here) while ignoring the LDS Handbook of Instructions when it contradicts the scriptures, (as Boyd K. Packer admonished in the training meeting on the handbook –see 2010 Worldwide Training Meeting – Concluding Remarks, and as our Lord and Savior showed by his example against the Pharisees of his day –see Matthew 23), then you can be confident the Lord will acknowledge such faith, even within an LDS setting, and signs will follow those that believe (see Ether 4:18).

For example, missionaries (or those who baptize) should not make baptism dependent on answering the question “Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God?” (Preach My Gospel Manual, pp. 203-212). See our post here and the post entitled “Baptism is Mandatory” here. Otherwise, the scriptures make it very clear that “anything more or less than this cometh of evil” (see 3 Nephi 11:40), with “this” referring to the doctrine of Christ, requiring only believing in Him and repenting of your sins to be qualified to be baptized (see post here).

 

Am I Violating My Temple Covenants If I’m Failing In My Church Calling, etc.?

This question assumes a certain definition of “failing” in a calling given by church leaders, presuming also that the calling has come from God, but let’s break things down a little further.

In this post where we addressed what God authorizes and allows an individual to do, and whether or not an individual can do what Latter-day Saints do on their own, we said we would address the issue that not all things that the Latter-day Saints do are approved of God. This ties into the opposite concern about what God does not authorize someone to do. The obvious answer to this concern lies in what he has revealed we should not do, contained in all of the “thou shalt not’s” that we are familiar with in the commandments.

Of particular importance to this post are the commands to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to “not do any work” therein (Exodus 20:10), and to “not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7).

The LDS Church claims inspiration from God in callings given to members. The command to not take the name of the Lord in vain presumes that an authority figure CAN make a mistake in claiming that a particular call has come from God. It certainly may be inspired, but it also may be for personal motives, or to get a job done, or to gather like-minded individuals into quorums and presidencies to affect a personal agenda they want to implement. Whatever the reasons, it is evident that some of the motives for calling individuals are not of God.

The 5th Article of Faith accepted by the LDS Church says:

“We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.” (Articles of Faith 1:5)

What most LDS members don’t understand is that the prophecy inherent in the call in this verse is to the individual as much as it is to the authority figure making the call. The authority figure’s prerogative and right is addressed in the prophetic call being confirmed by them, as it says: “by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority”. This allows for the authority figure(s) to have a check against imposition from calls that are not from God. But in the case of a legitimate call from God to service, the prophecy comes to the individual: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work” (D&C 4:3). The subject that receives the desires and the call is the individual. It does not say, “if the elders of the church have desires for you to serve God, ye are called to the work.” If you are to take the position that the desire comes to the individual and the call comes from the authorities upon their notice of an individual’s desires, then you still need to account for the inspired desire that God says must be in the individual. There are many individuals who receive a call who don’t want to do it at all. It is one thing to want to serve God at first and then change your mind after, but it is another thing to not have any desire to do what a leader proposes in the first place. There must be a balance.

It is entirely possible that lacking a desire to do as a leader asks is not an indication of laziness or insubordination at all. It may be your conscience telling you that what they are asking of you is not inspired by God, and that they are using the name of the Lord in vain. As a member of the LDS Church, you not only have the obligation to consider what the leaders ask of you, but you have the obligation to your God according to these scriptures to consider whether or not God has inspired in you a desire to do that particular task as well. If after cleansing your heart from impurity, the inspiration and desire still doesn’t come, don’t do it. Don’t sacrifice your conscience in the name of obeying a leader.

With the clarity of purpose for the commandments that Jesus expounded in his Sermon on the Mount, no one has any excuse for not understanding what God asks of us and what God forbids. In the Sermon and elsewhere, he has commanded that there should be no priestcrafts, which are that someone sets themselves up for a light to get gain and the praise of the world (2 Nephi 26:29). Any agenda in a church meeting fitting this description is forbidden by God. We are not authorized by God to support meetings or individuals when they cross this line. We can support them in good endeavors, but we must have our own moral compass to make a stand against unrighteous and vain endeavors.

The definition that the Lord gives of the church that we covenant to support is the same as his doctrine: “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church” (D&C 10:67-68). We are authorized to build up this definition of the church, especially within the LDS Church if we can. The two are not necessarily synonymous, though, because as soon as any agenda in any church meeting runs contrary to helping people repent of sin and come into Christ’s presence in this life, that meeting is not a meeting of Christ’s church as defined by him. On the other hand, even outside of the LDS institution, where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name, there he will be also, and there is his church (Matthew 18:20). If one were to draw a Venn diagram, the LDS Church and the Lord’s Church might have some overlap, but it would still be a Venn diagram nonetheless, with the definition of the Lord’s church necessarily encompassing a much broader scope than what an earthly institution can offer.

Therefore, we are not authorized to labor on a Sunday, especially if that labor is a vain meeting imposed on us by a calling or assignment not from God. Contrarily, if a calling or assignment is from God and requires legitimate service to your fellow man, you will be filled with righteous desire and can confidently offer up your vows on the Sabbath or any other day, even if a church leader disagrees with your behavior. One only needs to skim the New Testament to see that the Lord Himself contradicted his own church leaders on what he decided to do on the Sabbath or in any other context (see Matthew 9:11, Matthew 12:2, and Matthew 12:12-13 for instance) and what he refused to do even when pressed by authority figures (see Luke 22:67).

Because some have mistakenly equated the institution as synonymous with the church of Christ in every moment and every circumstance, they have been led astray by language in secret covenants that imply complete devotion to the institution. Much vain labor, and even wicked practice, has been indulged in “for the oath’s sake” (see Moses 5:50), and without regard to whether or not it was a righteous thing to do. If the definition of “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is taken to mean those who repent and come unto Christ as outlined in D&C 10, and referring to those of us today who are or who are attempting to be Saints in these latest days in contrast to those Saints of former days, then the covenant can be fulfilled without regard to any earthly institution, even institutions claiming to protect or be the true church of Christ. One only need to concern themselves with the words and their meaning as opposed to an organization putting those words together as its title.

Interestingly, David O. McKay summarized (or directly quoted) the covenant in question in a speech to departing missionaries as “I will consecrate my life, my time, my talents to the advancement of the Kingdom of God,” (Anderson, Devery S. editor, The Development of LDS Temple Worship: 1846-2000, A Documentary History, Signature Books: SLC, 2011, p. 268), suggesting that the language of the covenant may’ve been altered some time after this 1941 speech to include the name of the Church. Since many LDS members and leaders view the “kingdom of God” as synonymous with the LDS Church as well, this may be a moot point in persuading them to look at the scriptures differently. Regardless, it can be seen that definitions matter in how one perceives if they have “failed” in their callings, and whether or not those calls to service are from God or not. Failing in an assignment that was vain to begin with, might very well be doing service to God as you fill your time with more meaningful purposes.

An institution that believes it is the sole provider of authoritative ordinances from God and continuously regards itself as being the only true church upon the face of the whole earth, irrespective of its shifting doctrines and irregardless of whether or not it actually is built upon Christ’s Gospel at any given moment in time (see 3 Nephi 27:8), will definitely have agendas from time to time that are not of God. In such instances of departure from Christ’s Gospel, these institutions will more likely resemble a corporation trying to retain employees that makes them do unauthorized labors on the Sabbath day, all while claiming in vain that the Lord instructed the false service and sacrifice they have demanded of you. Refusing such impositions is not failing in your calling or your obligations to God at all. Realistically, it is honoring the institution you belong to just as much as it is for a child to refuse to do wrong even if their parent tells them to. When an institution fails to meet up to its own standards, honor the best version of that institution instead. If it really does claim to be of God, they ought to thank you for that if and when they come to their senses. Honor God.

Is the LDS Church the Only Resource For Authoritative Ordinances?

The answer is a resounding “no”.

We’ve touched on this briefly in other posts (see here and here), but it deserves further treatment.

In the post about exercising faith outside of any church, we didn’t elaborate on this much, but it is implied and inclusive in the quote from the Lectures on Faith about individual faith:

“…the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him…” (Lectures on Faith L2 ¶55)

There is more than one way to obtain knowledge respecting God’s character and glory than just reading the revelations God has given man. In a revelation given to Joseph Smith in 1832, the Lord said:

“And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God. Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest. And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh; For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live.” (D&C 84:19-22)

Ordinances are a ritualistic communication of symbols and ideas through experiential ceremony. Everyone understands that sign language can convey as much meaning, if not more, than the spoken or written word. The concept is no different for ordinances. Ordinances represent a legitimate way by which abstract concepts concerning God’s character can be communicated through concrete symbols and allusions. But, who can guarantee that a representation, or even a revelation for that matter, is from God, and properly reflective of what he wants to reveal about himself?

The issue of authority is one of trust in the individual conveying the message, as well as trust in the content of the message.

-Is the individual in question sent by God to convey the message or ordinance? and,

-Is the information accurately conveyed?

Both questions are vitally important to get an accurate view of something revealed by God through others. In addition to this, God can and does reveal himself without intermediaries (see James 1:5), speaking straight to individuals. This all goes to the heart of our conversation about these topics. When priesthood is viewed as a legitimate relationship between the true and living God and a messenger OR an individual, the phrase, “without the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh,” makes sense. It is a plain statement of an obvious conclusion. The “authority” lies in whether or not an individual or messenger truly has spoken with God, at each event and communication in question.

Read this scriptural thought again like so: “without the authority of [an actual communication or connection with heaven], the power of godliness is not [communicated] unto men in the flesh.” It is so obvious as to seem ludicrous to have to mention it, but still, the obvious is sometimes not-so-obvious for those with selfish ambitions. The point of such a statement is to highlight the fact that God himself governs any and all communications about himself, and forbids anyone to take his name in vain, and say they are representing knowledge about him when he hasn’t asked them to. The only way to know if another person is properly authorized by God to convey a message is to have a communication from God yourself about the content of that message.

Hopefully, one has enough trustworthy information from others about God to enable them to get an answer from the true and living God concerning other messages he sends or communicates. Fortunately, God has endowed man with common sense and reason to begin to form their first opinions concerning the legitimacy of messages about God’s character. Anti-Christs have twisted reason to appeal to this basic, fundamental skill of all intelligent beings (see Helaman 16:18), but that doesn’t mean we ought to throw out the use of all good reason. As the Lectures on Faith point out in general, it is not reasonable to assume that any being could obtain and preserve power in the universe without being just, merciful, loving, truthful, faithful, AND fair, or else some other more desirable figure would have at some point dethroned him. Therefore, after obtaining the idea that such a being as a God actually exists, any rational, intelligent soul can exercise faith in such a being so as to obtain answers from Him directly. Messengers can and do offer a benefit to others, but all messages can be independently obtained, and in fact must be, to be verified as coming from God.

This connection to heaven, or “priesthood” as the scriptures denote it, is the essential authority needed for seeking out the Lord through faith, so as to obtain the foundation of knowledge concerning his character and attributes upon which salvation is obtained. All of this is done and described in scripture without any reference to church membership. Only the authority of the priesthood, or connection to heaven, is required.

The LDS Church necessarily has common sense protections against the imposition of claims to “priesthood” or connections with heaven upon its members. However, such protections extend only to the group’s common consent to allow any communication to stand as the accepted voice of the group, and to reject any communication as a group. Can you see how unreasonable it is to suggest that one individual can claim that a private communication is acceptable to the group without the group’s consent? An individual can claim to have a message for a group, but it is up to the group to decide if it accepts or rejects that message as having come from God. An imposition comes if an individual claims their message is accepted by a group before the group decides to accept it.

In the case of the LDS Church, one man has been appointed to have the final say as to what the group accepts, and this man is the President of the Church. The members have long since given up their rights to confirm what that one man proposes, and instead they only sustain it after it is decided, but that is besides the point. Others may deliver messages from God to the group, but according to what the LDS have agreed upon, only one man can decide if the group accepts or rejects the message (according to their interpretation of D&C 43:5-7). Individuals in the group must decide if they accept or sustain that man’s decisions for the group. D&C 43:5-7 does not mean that no one can deliver messages to the group other than the President of the Church. Even the LDS interpretation of that passage only means that no one but the President can claim on behalf of the group that the message is a revelation from God to the group. If the LDS allowed for it, the President could accept revelations from others, even non-members, as binding upon the group as revelations to the group, but with traditional LDS interpretations of “the gate” as being only an LDS baptism, and “ordination” as being only an LDS ordination, it is unlikely that will ever happen.

Despite their faulty interpretations of D&C 43, a message can still be shared by an outsider, and it may in fact come from God. What the Lord advised the LDS people to be looking for was a messenger who had entered into the scriptural “gate” and had been “ordained” as the scriptures outline, whether they be a church member or not. The President of the LDS Church is accountable if he rejects a true message from God and refuses to give it the status of “revelation for the group” if it has indeed come from God from an outside source. It is possible that the terms “gate” and “ordination” in D&C 43 can refer to the works of God independent of any other servant’s authority, but by God himself (see 2 Nephi 9:41 and JST, Genesis 14:25-29 for other possible scriptural interpretations as to what God meant in D&C 43 when he said “as I have told you before” concerning the manner of entering in by the gate and receiving ordination).

Can you also see how unreasonable it is for the group to likewise suggest that what they have consented to as coming from God for the group is imposing on all individuals, except as those individual are involved in group practices? The group can claim to have a message for all individuals (like the Family Proclamation to the world), but it is up to individuals to accept or reject that message as authoritative. The group and the individual stand independent of one another and accountable to God for what they accept or reject. But by the same token, neither have a monopoly on God’s communications and ordinances (see 2 Nephi 29:8-11 , and read it carefully, likening it to the Latter-day Saints or yourself).

Therefore, the LDS Church is not the only resource for authoritative ordinances. Those who have a legitimate connection to heaven, or who have priesthood, are resources for communications and ordinances from God, as God directs. Likewise, obtaining communication from God yourself is equally available to test and vet communications from others. No priesthood holder (whether they belong to any church or not) can impose their messages on a group without the group’s consent, and neither can a group claim to have sole communication rights with heaven. Joseph Smith himself was a priesthood holder without a church for quite some time before the church was organized, as were many scriptural examples such as John the Beloved, Lehi in the wilderness, and so on. It is God who rules over all, and who requires us to be one in these matters (D&C 38:27), without contention (3 Nephi 11:29).

Am I Allowed to Do the Things Latter-day Saints Do Outside of Church?

Of course! God is no respecter of persons.

The Lectures on Faith written and edited by the Prophet Joseph Smith teach:

“But it is also necessary that men should have an idea that he is no respecter of persons; for with the idea of all the other excellencies in his character, and this one wanting, men could not exercise faith in him, because if he were a respecter of persons, they could not tell what their privileges were, nor how far they were authorized to exercise faith in him, or whether they were authorized to do it at all, but all must be confusion; but no sooner are the minds of men made acquainted with the truth on this point, that he is no respecter of persons, than they see that they have authority by faith to lay hold on eternal life the richest boon of heaven, because God is no respecter of persons, and that every man in every nation has an equal privilege.” (Lectures on Faith L3 23)

Anyone, Latter-day Saint or not, may approach God and receive from Him the richest of blessings. No church membership is required. Church membership can be a means by which to help, aid, and assist in that effort, but sometimes it can also be a hindrance if you look beyond the mark.

The Lectures continue:

“Such, then, is the foundation, which is laid, through the revelation of the attributes of God, for the exercise of faith in him for life and salvation; and seeing that these are attributes of the Deity, they are unchangeable—being the same yesterday to day and forever—which gives to the minds of the Latter Day Saints the same power and authority to exercise faith in God, which the Former Day Saints had: so that all the saints, in this respect have been, are and will be alike, until the end of time; for God never changes, therefore his attributes and character remain forever the same. And as it is through the revelation of these that a foundation is laid for the exercise of faith in God unto life and salvation, the foundation, therefore, for the exercise of faith, was, is and ever will be the same. So that all men have had, and will have an equal privilege.” (Lectures on Faith L4 ¶19)

As is mentioned here, the authority to exercise faith in God unto life and salvation comes from the revelation that God makes of his character and attributes, which are unchangeable, and lay a sure foundation. The authority to exercise this kind of saving faith does not come from any church, even if it is considered God’s church…and this stands to reason: If a group of people were given the power to determine how far someone could exercise faith, the power would likely be abused, but if it is widely known what God has revealed about his character and attributes, so that there can be no mistake as to which God someone is attempting to worship, then there can be nothing stopping anyone from approaching this same God.

To deny the opportunity for someone to exercise faith, which is a principle of action and power, is to exercise unrighteous dominion and horde that power over others.

“For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Nephi 26:33)

The result of such independently exercised faith is further explained in the Lectures:

“Let us here observe, that after any portion of the human family are made acquainted with the important fact that there is a God who has created and does uphold all things, the extent of their knowledge, respecting his character and glory, will depend upon their diligence and faithfulness in seeking after him, until like Enoch the brother of Jared, and Moses, they shall obtain faith in God, and power with him to behold him face to face.” (Lectures on Faith L2 ¶55)

Therefore, with or without a church, an individual can obtain an audience with the Lord, and secure for themselves everlasting salvation. It must be so, or else at times when there is no legitimate church of God on the earth, individuals would perish in unbelief, and even if there is a church of God available, such opportunities must exist or else God would be a changeable God, and his word would be void. Salvation is not dependent upon membership in a church.

But, be careful…not all things that Latter-day Saints do is acceptable to God. We’ll address what God does not authorize us to do in another post.