Monday, November 16, 2009

"...except there come a falling away first..."

God has always called prophets, authorized by Him, to teach people on earth the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is a pattern that God has always followed. While the pattern is always followed, it doesn't mean, however, that God has had a prophet on the earth at all times.

Whenever there is an authorized servant of God, a prophet, on the earth to oversee the instruction of people and the administration of gospel ordinances it is known as a dispensation. Meaning it is a period of time when a prophet is called to dispense the glorious truths of the gospel to earth's inhabitants.

God has given all of His children agency; the privilege and freedom to choose whatever they want and to receive the attached consequences, good or bad, of those choices. God sends prophets to teach what is correct and good so that people can exercise their agency and choose that which is good. However, because people have their agency, people also have chosen wickedly throughout time. They choose to reject the prophets, rebel against them and God, and in many instances ultimately choose to kill the prophets.

When individuals or large groups of people, including nations, reject God-revealed truths and abandon the prophets sent to teach them it is known as apostasy. Whether an individual chooses to reject the truth or is born and raised and taught false ideas by their parents, in either case one is living in apostasy.

The scriptures are replete with examples and references of apostasy. In the Old Testament we read of the apostasy of the nation of Israel. After Moses led the children of Israel, or the Israelite nation, out of the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt the Lord offers them the same covenant and blessing that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel) received.
These are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel...That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord
thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day: That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deuteronomy 29:1, 12-13

In the same covenant, the Lord warns Israel of what will happen if they choose to reject this covenant.
Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; And it come to pass when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst: The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven. Deuteronomy 29:18-20

The words of Moses include the explanation of why these curses will have come upon Israel should they occur. It is because of the forsaking and rebellion against the Lord and His covenant that they will be cursed.
So that the generation to come of your children that shall rise up after you, and the stranger that shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the Lord hath laid upon it...Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt: For they went and served other gods, and worshipped them, gods whom they knew not, and whom he had not given unto them: And the anger of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this book: Deuteronomy 29:22, 24-27

The book of Judges chronicles the later generations of the Israelites who had received the covenant of which Moses spoke. The Israelites had settled into the land of Canaan and were led by the prophet Joshua. But we read of their apostasy from the true ways of the Lord.
And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders that outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord, that he did for Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being an hundred and ten years old...And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth. Judges 2:7-8, 10-13

Again the scriptures illustrate the Israelite apostasy as they elaborate on the actions of the Israelite nation.
And the children of Israel dwelt among the Canaanites, Hittites, and Amorites, and Perizzites, and Hivites, and Jebusites: And they took their daughters to be their wives, and gave their daughters to their sons, and served their gods. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and forgat the Lord their God, and served Baalim and the groves. Judges 3:5-7

God continued to reach out to the Israelite nation, sending them judges to try and bring them back into the way of the Lord. But it wasn't until a new prophet was called that Israel again emerged from the spiritual darkness of this period of apostasy. Samuel was the new prophet chosen by God.
And Samuel spake unto all the house of Israel, saying, If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only: and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines. Then the children of Israel did put away Baalim and Ashtaroth, and served the Lord only. 1 Samuel 7:3-4

Without divine guidance, an authorized servant of God receiving revelation, man is left to its own wisdom. No matter how sincerely a person may believe and practice their religion, if it is not founded in the divine gospel as revealed by God to His prophets it will not lead us on the correct course and is apostasy.

The pattern of divine guidance through prophets, followed by the rejection of their teaching and the apostasy of the people is repeated time and again in the scriptures. The prophet Isaiah spoke frequently of this.
Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof...The earth mourneth and fadeth away, the world languisheth and fadeth away, the haughty people of the earth do languish. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenant. Isaiah 24: 1, 4-5

As I said before, God always follows the pattern of providing authorized servants, but He has not always had prophets on the earth because of the wickedness of the people.
For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered...Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men. Isaiah 29:10, 13

The pattern of wickedness leading to apostasy continued throughout the Old Testament. When Jesus Christ was born and a new gospel dispensation commenced. He formally organized His church and called 12 apostles. The word apostle means "one sent forth." Apostles not only were prophets who received revelation (see Matthew 16:15-17 & Revelation 19:10) but were also called to be special witnesses of Christ's divinity and of His bodily resurrection from the dead (see Acts 1:22).

The Savior, Jesus Christ, set up His church with prophets and apostles guided by divine revelation. The apostle Paul made this clear in his epistle to the Ephesians.
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens 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. Ephesians 2:19-20

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. Ephesians 4:11-14

Before Jesus was crucified, Christ promised Peter that he would receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven or the authority to act in the name of Christ on the earth. This consisted of not only the priesthood authority, but special duties that only select prophets were given. These special duties are known as keys. Here is the promise Jesus made.
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Matthew 16:19

The fulfillment of this promise came to Peter, James, and John at the Mount of Transfiguration. For a complete accounting of this remarkable event, please see Matthew 17:1-13, Mark 9:2-13, and Luke 9:28-36. It was Christ's intention that the authority and power to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ would remain in the hands of His apostles after His death.

The Church of Jesus Christ did continue on for a number of years after the death of Jesus Christ. Matthias was called to fill the vacancy in the Twelve Apostles after the betrayal of Judas (see Acts 1:23-26). The apostles called others to serve with them in declaring the word of God (see Acts 6). Saul was chosen as an apostle and is known thereafter as Paul (see Acts 9 & 13). And missionary work is authorized to go to not only the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, or in other words the rest of the world (see Acts 10).

Yet even with so much early success, the Lord and the Apostles new that the church Christ set up and the authority to administer the gospel and its ordinances would be lost from the face of the earth. Even ancient prophets prophesied of the apostasy that would occur after the death and resurrection of Christ.
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12

Jesus taught His disciples of Jerusalem's impending destruction and of the apostasy that would follow.
And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many...For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Matthew 24:3-4, 24

Paul echoed the words of the Savior as he spoke to members of the church.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:28-30

Paul prophesied of our day to his fellow saint Timothy concerning evidences of future apostasy.
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. 1 Timothy 4:1-3

And later Paul said to Timothy:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4

The prophets, apostles and Jesus himself knew that there would still come another time when people would reject the gospel and the earth would fall into apostasy. They knew there would come a day when no authorized individuals would be found on the earth to administer the gospel and its ordinances such as baptism.

Perhaps the most glaring prophecy concerning this comes from an epistle that Paul wrote to the saints, or members of Christ's church, in Thessalonica. Paul writes concerning the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and is pleading with the saints to not be misled by teachings as though they were coming from the apostles. He states that there would first come a falling away from the truth before the Second Coming. Here are his words.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

The "falling away" that Paul spoke of is the loss of authorized servants of the Lord on the earth to teach the true gospel of Jesus Christ. This happened. The prophets and apostles were eventually killed or taken from the earth. This came about because people chose to reject the prophets and apostles and rebel against God. This brought about the long prophesied "famine of hearing the words of the Lord." This period of time began within approximately 100 years of the death of Jesus Christ. And it ended in the year 1820. Much of this time is known in history books as the "dark ages", for indeed without the true gospel of Jesus Christ found on the earth it was dark. This time is also known as the Great Apostasy.

Jesus Christ has always called prophets. Periods of apostasy have occurred all through human history. Jesus established his church on the earth, but it too fell into apostasy. These things did happen, but God has ushered in a new dispensation and we are living in it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What makes a prophet a prophet?

There are many things that distinguish prophets from other people. In this post I will elaborate on this idea. However, it is equally important to understand that prophets are ordinary men. They have their faults and weaknesses, just like every other human being. They each have their own challenges to face in this life. Each prophet has to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ and obey it just as we do. There is no free pass to heaven because one is a prophet. Prophets are ordinary people. I say that this is important to understand because the things that distinguish a prophet from all others are not plainly visible. My hope is to help you understand what a few of these distinctions are.

Among many, three things that distinguish prophets from other people are: #1 They are called by God. #2 They learn the gospel of Jesus Christ through revelation and teach it to others. #3 They possess the authorization of God to teach the gospel to others.

Prophets have always been called by God and no one else. This is done through revelation. Revelation is the act of revealing or uncovering. Revelation can come in the form of information, such as gospel teachings. Revelation can also be receiving visitations from heavenly beings; from angels to God himself.

We can see this pattern in the scriptures. Moses, a prophet, is the great revelator of the Old Testament. Most of the things that we know concerning Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob up until Moses' time we have learned from the revelations that Moses received. It is fitting then that we start with him.

And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God. Exodus 3:2-6

And later in Exodus.

And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend... Exodus 33:11
Jacob, also known as Israel saw angels and later saw God.

And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host...And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel [the face of God]: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. Genesis 32:1,2 & 30
The pattern continues with Isaiah.

Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 6:5
The second thing that distinguishes prophets from other people is that they learn the gospel of Jesus Christ through revelation and are commanded to teach it to others. The fact that each prophet learns the gospel by revelation is important because it means that each prophet does not have to depend upon previous prophets in order to understand the gospel.

Today, we are blessed to have the writings of prophets in sacred books called scriptures. However, scriptures as we know them today did not always exist. A prophet couldn't just learn the gospel by reading the scriptures. It had to be revealed to that prophet each time, anew. This way a people would not have to rely upon a previous prophet's teachings.

Throughout the Old Testament we see a prophet teaching and guiding a righteous people. Slowly the people exercise their agency and choose to reject God and His chosen prophet and they fall into great wickedness. They separate themselves from God and His teachings. When this happens it is known as an apostasy. During this period of time, there are not authorized servants of God, prophets or apostles, found on the earth to teach the gospel. It is only when God calls a new prophet and reveals the gospel anew that this period of apostasy or spiritual darkness can end. Perhaps the most striking example of this is found during the time of Noah.

And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Genesis 6:5-8
God calls Noah to be a prophet and establishes His covenant (or the teachings and understanding of the gospel) anew with him.

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark...And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant; and thou shalt come into the ark, thou and thy sons, and thy wife and thy sons' wives with thee...Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he. Genesis 6:13, 14, 17-18, & 22
After the flood, all except the people and the animals on the ark were destroyed. Through Noah, God gave commandments for the remaining people and taught Noah the gospel of his "covenant".

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you and with your seed after you. Genesis 9:1, 8-9

Prophets are sent to teach people the gospel and to testify of Christ. After the nation of Israel had killed some of the prophets and fallen into idolatry, the following is said of God.

Yet he sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. 2 Chronicles 24:19

The Lord, through His prophet Jeremiah, spoke of His desire for people to follow Him through the words of the prophets.

Since the day that your fathers came forth out of the land of Egypt unto this day I have even sent unto you all my servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them: Yet they hearkened not unto me, nor inclined their ear, but hardened their neck... Jeremiah 7:25-26

And as a witness of the truthfulness of this pattern of prophets being called by God and being taught the gospel by revelation and then being commanded to teach others, we read the words of the Savior himself.

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. John 20:21

The final thing that I will outline in this post that distinguishes prophets from all other people is the proper authorization. Much of the world believes that to be authorized one must study in a school or ministry. It's commonly believed that by seeking to learn about the gospel or God, that somehow one will be authorized to speak in the name of God. While studying and learning about God and the gospel is certainly worthwhile and admirable, it is absolutely false to think it authorizes you to speak in the name of God.

So then, what does authorize one to speak in the name of God? True prophets called by God are given the priesthood, or the power and authority to act in God's name for the salvation of His children. One cannot bestow or grant the priesthood to oneself. It must be given to an individual by one who has authority. Take for instance this scripture from the New Testament.

And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee. Hebrews 5:4-5

It is clear that just as Jesus Christ did not make himself a high priest (a position within the priesthood) but was given this priesthood by One who had authority, namely God the Father, so it is with every other man. The priesthood can only be given by those in authority to those who have been called by God.

The prophet Moses was commanded to call others to the priesthood. The previous scripture just quoted, Hebrews 5:4-5 has reference to the brother of Moses, Aaron. The command to call Aaron and his sons to the priesthood is as follows.

And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons...And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. Thus did Moses: according to all that the Lord commanded him, so did he. Exodus 28:1; 40:15-16

The same gospel message of priesthood authority was taught to Moses of the Old Testament as well as to Peter of the New Testament. Consider the similarities of these two passages of scripture.

Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel. Exodus 19:5-6

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: 1 Peter 2:9

Lastly, I call to mind the words of Jesus Christ as he spoke to His apostles concerning their ordination to the priesthood.

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. John 15:16

What makes a prophet a prophet? In short, God makes men into prophets as He calls them through revelation. He gives ongoing revelation to His prophets and authorizes them through the priesthood to act in the name of God for the salvation of His children.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Where does the knowledge of God come from?

The six major religions in the world are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Judaism. While I am by no means an expert on all religions, I have endeavored to understand, at least in basic, beliefs and ideas of these major religions. By my understanding, two tenets that run through these religions are: #1 The belief in a supreme being or state of being. #2 A teacher or teachers who explain how to get near to the supreme being or achieve the supreme state of being.

In Islam, this is represented by Allah and Muhammad. Hinduism has the Trimurti and Ancient Sages. In Buddhism, the goal is to achieve Nirvana and it is modeled and taught by Gautama Buddha. Sikhism believes in Waheguru and follows the teachings of the ten Sikh gurus. Judaism believes in the Creator as taught by Moses. Christianity believes in God the Father, God Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Ghost as taught by prophets.

I start here with these two similarities, a supreme being and teachers, to hopefully create a common ground from which to base what I will outline in this blog. This applies too if you do not believe in God. Even if you are Atheist, Agnostic or a non-believer the following question still applies. Who, What, Where, When, Why and How did everything and everybody that we know and experience each day come into existence?

To answer that question, it is necessary to understand the concept of truth. Truth is something that cannot be altered. 2 + 2 = 4, this is a truth. No matter if I want to believe this or not, it will still be just as true tomorrow as it was yesterday and as it is today. There is either a God or there is not. Each religion describes its beliefs; they are either true or false. In a future posting I will expand upon this concept. But it must be understood that when it comes to answering the question posed in the previous paragraph, I leave no wiggle room. It either is one way or not. And you can choose to accept it or reject it, just as I have had to do since I did not decide what the truth is.

With that said, the answer to the question is that there is a God, and He created all things. (Ecclesiastes 11:5, Acts 17:24) As I said before concerning truth, this either is or is not. It either happened or it did not. The truth, independent of what either you or I think, is that these are facts.

Now having this understanding, the question is how do we know these things? We know these things because we have teachers. But not just any kind of teacher, specifically we have prophets. A prophet makes known God's will and acts as His messenger. And when I say that a prophet acts as "His messenger" I mean exactly that. It is God that has sent that individual. God has authorized this person to act in His name. Just as Paul explained in his epistle to the Romans.
"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" Romans 10:13-15
God has always sent prophets to communicate His will.
"Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets." Amos 3:7

There are true prophets. This is a fact. Everyone else who teaches falsehoods, regardless of how sincerely that teacher may believe what they are teaching, is an impostor. This is how Jesus Christ explained it.
"And many false prophets shall rise, and deceive man...For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect." Matthew 24:11, 24

Back to the title question, where does the knowledge of God come from? It comes from God himself through His chosen prophets. This is truth. As I said before, one can chose to believe this or disbelieve, regardless this will be as true tomorrow as it was yesterday as it is today. God does exist. He created all things. And He works through prophets. These are facts.