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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Nature of the Godhead

The LDS Church has begun a new series of articles in the Ensign which are for the purpose of "explaining the basic beliefs of the restored gospel, doctrines unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The first article in the series, The Nature of the Godhead appears in the January 2006 issue on pages 50-51.

The portion of the article that I find most interesting is the part titled The Nature of Man. It states, "…from this restored understanding of the nature of God flows the Latter-day Saint belief regarding our nature and potential." The author (who is not named) continues by quoting a portion of Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse. Joseph's teaching that God [the Father] was once a man is quoted, but the author leaves out much of Joseph's important doctrinal exposition on the nature of man and God. For instance,
"…it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea… Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,—namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one;…"

This omitted teaching is important because, as the quote of Joseph's sermon in the Ensign article continues, readers are given the principle that
"When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation."

When Joseph's words are removed from their clarifying context, as they have been in the Ensign article, the doctrines he taught become veiled; this leaves the article's conclusion wide open for a more orthodox personal interpretation.

The author closes by quoting LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks: "…the purpose of mortal life is to prepare us to realize our destiny as sons and daughters of God—to become like Him." But what does it mean to "become like Him" if the only information we're given is the selective quoting included in the article? The reader may be able to go a step beyond thinking it means merely sanctification; but surely he will not understand he's being told that as he faithfully climbs the ladder he will one day become a God just like Heavenly Father.

Looking back in an older edition of the LDS Sunday School book Gospel Principles I find, "We can become Gods like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation" (1988 ed., p, 290. Emphasis mine.). But today's edition reads, "We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation."

Isn't it odd? What's the purpose of the LDS Church fostering doctrinal confusion among its members? Why not just spell it out clearly? Either Mormons accept Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse as true teaching on the nature of man and God, or they don't. But wouldn't it better accomplish the goals of the Church if leaders were to stop obscuring the "basic beliefs" of Mormonism and let people—both members and non-members—see what they really are?

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