Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Alma 1

April 10, 2007 - Original Post

The Gospel Warrior

V1 – “having warred a good warfare, walking uprightly before God.” I remember in the October 2003 General Conference, at the very beginning President Hinckley spoke. After he spoke, he called Elder David Haight to come up and wave at the audience. Elder Haight was the oldest apostle ever to live since the Gospel was restored. As President Hinckley was commenting on this, he mentioned that Elder Haight was a great warrior in the Gospel. Elder Haight died in 2004. He truly was a warrior of the Lord … he fought for the Gospel truth all his life.

I hope that I can war a good warfare all my life. I need to be steadfast in keeping the commandments and in doing good.

On a related note, I was thinking the other day about how much life is like chess. We must live with purpose and we must limit mistakes in order to get to the endgame and have a fighting chance to win the battle. In chess, one of the levels of play a player must reach is being able to play with no tactical mistakes. If he can reach this level, then he prepares himself to move on to greater challenges of strategy. I think life is the same way. If we (I) can simply rid myself of the small mistakes and omissions, then I would be a position to receive greater understanding of the mysteries of God. I would serve with greater conviction. For example, if I could consistently read and study the scriptures every day and consistently pray every day, then I would be getting somewhere. If I could achieve 100% home-teaching every month and have FHE every week, then I would be accomplishing something. To not forget these commandments and to shun sin … this is what I need to work on.

Priest Craft

Nehor introduced priest craft among the Nephites. Priest craft, from what I understand, is teaching the gospel (or purported gospel truths) for the gain of money. I am unsure of some of these “conferences” and seminars that some members go to. In order to listen to the speakers at these conferences and seminars, people must pay money.

Elder Oakes said the following regarding priestcraft:
Another illustration of a strength that can become our downfall concerns charismatic teachers. With a trained mind and a skillful manner of presentation, teachers can become unusually popular and effective in teaching. But Satan will try to use that strength to corrupt teachers by encouraging them to gather a following of disciples. A Church teacher, Church Education System instructor, or Latter-day Saint university professor who gathers such a following and does this “for the sake of riches and honor” (Alma 1:16) is guilty of priestcraft. “Priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion” (2 Ne. 26:29).

Teachers who are most popular, and therefore most effective, have a special susceptibility to priestcraft. If they are not careful, their strength can become their spiritual downfall. They can become like Almon Babbitt, with whom the Lord was not pleased, because “he aspireth to establish his counsel instead of the counsel which I have ordained, even that of the Presidency of my Church; and he setteth up a golden calf for the worship of my people” (D&C 124:84). (Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, Oct 1994, 11)
I am a leery of the practice of merchandising the Gospel. I love the fact that the Church has done almost everything in its power to make available the conference talks and past articles from Church publications. Practically every conceivable document in recent history is found on the lds.org website. I love to be able to search on Gospel subjects (such as this one) and find exactly what the Apostles think of the subject. The Church truly “impart[s] the word of God …. without money and without price (v. 20).

2 Nephi 26:29 has this to say about priest crafts, "He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion."

Nehor not only preached for riches, but he mixed scripture with the philosophies of men. The lies he taught – that all mankind should be saved, meaning eternal life, regardless of having sinned or not. He taught that we need not repent. The truth he mixed in was that the Lord created all men. This was the one truth amidst all the lies.

Thus a whole church was based on the “vain things of the world” (v. 16). We will see that this church hardened many Nephite hearts against the truth.

The proper attitude for teaching the Gospel is to have "faith, hope, charity and love with an eye single to the glory of God." (D&C 4:5) If the teacher strives for these things, then he will teach the true and pure doctrine of Christ.

Persecution … it is a word that is used a lot within the Church. There are a couple of definitions from Webster’s on-line dictionary. The first is, “to harass in a manner designed to injure, grieve, or afflict; specifically: to cause to suffer because of belief.” The second is, “to annoy with persistence or urgent approaches (as attacks, pleas, or importunities).” I think the whole reason for persecuting someone for his or her beliefs is to make that person change or leave. For example, Laman and Lemuel constantly persecuted Nephi. They did not want Nephi to act the way he did because it made them feel uncomfortable … they didn’t want to have to live up to Nephi’s standard of living, so instead of raising their standards, they wanted to lower Nephi’s.

The pioneer Saints were persecuted for various reasons. Some of the persecutors were former members. These former members were usually offended in some manner and wanted to get their revenge on the members of the church. I think most of these members were angry in one-way or another with Joseph Smith. They ultimately killed the Prophet. The martyrdom of Joseph did not stop the persecution. The Saints were driven from Nauvoo across the plains to Utah. For a season they were not persecuted, but once the Civil War ended, the federal government focused on the Mormons again. I don’t know all the reasons why the early Saints were persecuted, but I think a lot of it has to do with former members who were offended in one way or another.

Even today, there are those who will do anything to speak evil of the Church. If you go and look at that person’s history, you will more than likely find that that person did not strive to cultivate a true testimony. They probably had doubts and never resolved to truly address those doubts. I think it was Elder Maxwell who said that there are those who leave the church, but for whatever reason, they can’t leave the church alone.

As for members persecuting others … we are commanded to not persecute anyone. It seems that the members had problems persecuting non-members (if you will) in Book of Mormon times. They were commanded to not persecute anyone … within the church or without the church. President Hinckley gave a similar warning to members in a General Conference.

A holier-than-thou attitude is not becoming to us. I am in receipt of a letter from a man in our community who is not a member of the Church. In it he says that his little daughter has been ostracized by her schoolmates who are Latter-day Saints. He sets forth another instance of a child who, it is alleged, had a religious medal ripped from his neck by an LDS child. I hope this is not true. If it is, I apologize to those who have been offended.

Let us rise above all such conduct and teach our children to do likewise. Let us be true disciples of the Christ, observing the Golden Rule, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us strengthen our own faith and that of our children while being gracious to those who are not of our faith. Love and respect will overcome every element of animosity. Our kindness may be the most persuasive argument for that which we believe." (Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Bear Witness of Him,” Ensign, May 1998, 4)
Those who would detract from the Church are always quick to point out mistakes made by members. Persecuting others does no good. It is not Christ-like nor does it advance the work of the Lord.

Steadfast and Immovable

Another verse that I really love from this chapter is v.25, “they were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments of God.” My true heart’s desire is to be steadfast and immovable. To me, this means that I am an anchor when it comes to keeping the commandments of God. I need to remain steadfast and constant. This is my hope: that I become a rock in my loyalty to God. I need to be more diligent in reading the scriptures, obeying the commandments and magnifying my callings. I need despise sin in all forms and shun that which is evil. I hope I can become like those few saints described here in Alma 1.

Because the saints were steadfast and immovable in keeping the commandments, they prospered. And instead of becoming wicked (and thus beginning the so-called Nephite cycle), these saints "got it." They did not become prideful because of their prosperity. Rather they "did not set their hearts upon riches" and they were "liberal to all." (Alma 1:30). And because they were liberal to all, the Lord prospered them even more and they became "far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church." (Alma 1:31)

Did Indulge Themselves
I think that Alma 1:32 perfectly sums up the world in which we live today. All those who were not steadfast and immovable "did indulge themselves." In other words, they did not check their natural desires in the least bit. Rather than feast on the word of God, the indulged themselves in the things of the world.

April 10, 2012 - Addition

Another Look at Nehor's Teachings

Alma 1:3-4 are the core of Nehor's teaching.  Let's examine them line by line to see if they are philosophies of men or if they are scripture.

First off, Nehor claimed his teachings were "the word of God".  How do we know when someone is teaching the word of God as opposed to a philosophy of men?  This topic alone can take up an entire post.  But to be quick, I would say the burden is on the individual.  We must each, on our own, gain a testimony of each General Conference talk; each Ensign article; every Sunday School lesson; every theory proposed by man; every proposed leader. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost to filter out the false and to allow the true.

Next, he "[bore down] against the church"  Just to make it clear, "bear down" means "to advance in a threatening manner" or "to apply maximum effort and concentration"  Similarly, "to bear down on" means to "effect in a harmful or adverse way" (link).  In other words, Nehor was aiming to bring the church down - to bring about its fall.  Further reading of the book of Alma shows that Nehor's teachings were widely successful in their intent.  How do we prevent from "bearing down" against the Church today?  I would say that each of us ought to focus on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  If we focus on learning, studying and living the Gospel, we will not go astray.

Nehor's next principle is "every priest and teacher ought to become popular."  I think it is fairly safe to say this is a philosophy of men.  Bishops, Stake Presidents, Sunday School teachers, seminary teachers, Church-sponsored university professors, General Authorities, Apostles ... all of them should be keenly aware that they should not focus on becoming popular.  I think almost all of these people have a clear intent not to become popular - that that is not their main focus.  But sometimes, do we, the congregation - the receivers of the word - do we make them popular?  Do we idolize them?  There is a very subtle slippery slope here.  Again, I think the answer to this problem lies in focusing on the message and not the person.  If we use our spiritual antennae to detect truth and to detect lies, we will not get caught up in the "favorite apostle" or "favorite general authority" or "favorite teacher" game - and thus begin the false doctrine of popularity in preaching the word of God.  Another way to look at this in a succinct matter is to turn Nehor's teaching upside down to get this: "every priest and teacher ought not to become popular."

Nehor next teaches that our priest and teachers "ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people."  Wow!  Let's break this down.  What does "labor with their hands" mean?  To me, it means to work for a living.  In today's terms, it means that our Church leaders should support themselves.  Elder Oaks just gave a talk in the April 2012 General Conference.  In it he talked about the sacrifice of our local leaders and congregation members.  As for our top leaders - the General Authorities - there is a lot of discussion on that - with lots of varied opinions.  A search in the LDS Bloggernacle is probably a good starting place.  So is this Nehor teaching a philosophy of men or is it scripture or is it mingled?  Personally, I think it is a philosophy of men.  At the core (strip everything else away that is not needed), what the Church provides that is of utmost importance to me is the Priesthood and sealing power.  I was baptized, bestowed the Priesthood, endowed and sealed to my wife and children and I did not have to pay for any of that.

Now we get to the grit of Nehor's message - the part that everyone is quick to point out.  He says, "all mankind should be saved at the last day."  Let's use the "flip method" and turn that statement upside down.  "All mankind should not be saved at the last day."  If you take away the need to repent - to change and make better you life - then you change one's perspective on life.  If there is no need to be kind, to serve, to be good and we are left with nothing but our base desires, civilization would revert to the jungle - to anarchy.  And this is the teaching that was so dangerous in Alma's mind.  To be truly sanctified, we have to overcome all our natural desires.  That is at the core of Christ's teachings.  We each have an instinct to choose the wrong in so many ways.  But if we can fight to overcome those instincts, we sanctify ourselves - we purify ourselves - we strip out all that is useless.  And what we have left is beautiful.  Indeed, this philosophy of men that Nehor taught was and is dangerous.  This one thought caused the destruction, both spiritual and temporal, of thousands of Nephites and Lamanites.  This one thought deceives millions of people today.  This one thought is what makes Nehor an anti-Christ because this teaching stands in violent rebellion of what Christ taught.

He goes on by teaching that people "need not fear nor tremble."  This is where the mingling begins.  We are not to live our lives in constant fear and trembling.  We are to let the realities sink deep within our hearts.  In other words, if we truly know what will happen to us if we do not keep the commandments, we ought to fear and tremble unto repentance.  But once we've done that and once we are on constant guard, we can focus on the joy and the abundance of the Gospel.  Nehor would have us believe that we have to always be in a state of fear and tremble.  But if we live and love the Gospel, I just don't think that would be the case.  I can't see a sanctified person fearing and trembling all the time - rather, I see them looking forward to eternal bliss.

The mingling continues, "but that they might lift up their heads and rejoice."  Again, as I noted above, we ought to let the fear of God work within us to repentance.  But once we've entered into the straight and narrow path, we ought to continue in repentance, but we can then begin to look forward to a better life.  God wants us to lift up our heads and rejoice - but with the proper base of repentance and faith on Christ and baptism.

Now Nehor inserts pure scripture, "for the Lord had created all men, and had also redeemed all men."  All those statements, by themselves, are true.

But he completely goes astray again by saying, "all men should have eternal life."  Instead, he should have said, "all men should have immortality."  Maybe he mis-understood this scripture - I don't know.  But all men will not live in God's presence for eternity.  Many men will receive a lesser degree of glory because they won't be able to abide the presence of God.  Men not living in the presence of God is not necessarily an act of punishment, but rather an act of mercy.


Jill said...

I enjoyed your comments today and was just thinking as I read through Alma 1 that this was Alma's first year in the judgement seat and what a first year that was! Priestcraft was introduced, Gideon was killed by Nehor and all the persecution! No wonder Alma gave up the judgement seat and went and preached! It brings to mind the wonderful word that Alma uses in chapter 5 "have you been born of God." These people really needed to re-think their testimonies and comittments as we do today!

David said...

One thing that stuck out to me was the "order" by which Alma adjudicated the sins and crimes of Nehor. He didn't start with the murder of Gideon. He addressed first the fact that Nehor introduced priestcraft. That to me speaks volumes as to the severity of this sin. Alma knew that Gideon's salvation was secure but I'm sure he was indeed saddened at the news of his death. Instead of condemning Nehor for the murder of Gideon, he went right after priestcraft. Very interesting indeed.

ssto said...

Interesting perspectives. Man, I love the <a href="http://mormon.org/book-of-mormon/>Book of Mormon</a>. What a divinely inspired book.