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How Joseph Smith Translated the Book of Mormon

By the Gift and Power of God

Joseph Smith Translating the Book of Mormon

Painting by Del Parson courtesy of Flickr user: More Good Foundation

The title page of The Book of Mormon said it would be interpreted and “come forth by the gift and power of God.” Joseph Smith said, in the now-famous letter to John Wentworth, that he translated the Book of Mormon “through the medium of the Urim and Thummim . . . by the gift and power of God.” The three witnesses also testified that they knew the plates “have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.” In D&C 17:6, the Lord himself says that Joseph “has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.”

Joseph’s Seer Stone

While these statements are faithful and true, they do not explain exactly how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon. Elder Russell M. Nelson said at a seminar for new mission presidents, 25 June 1992 that “the details of this miraculous method of translation are still not fully known. Yet we do have a few precious insights.” (See A Treasured Testament by Elder Russell M. Nelson, Ensign July 1993.) Then he quoted David Whitmer who wrote:

“Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887, p. 12.)

The seer stone referred to above was found when Joseph and his brother Alvin were digging a well in 1822. It was “about the size of a small hen’s egg, in the shape of a high instepped shoe. It was composed of layers of different colors passing diagonally through it. It was very hard and smooth, perhaps from being carried in the pocket” (see Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon by Stephen D. Ricks).

The Urim and Thummim

During the translation of the Book of Mormon, multiple processes and different instruments were employed. Another way Joseph translated, which is more commonly known to the Latter-day Saints, is that he used the Urim and Thummim, also referred to as “spectacles” or the “Nephite interpreters.” Joseph explains the following in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:34-35, when he tells of the Angel Moroni’s visit to his bedroom on the night of September 21, 1823:

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants; Also, that there were two stones in silver bows—and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and Thummim—deposited with the plates; and the possession and use of these stones were what constituted “seers” in ancient or former times; and that God had prepared them for the purpose of translating the book.

There is also ample evidence that at times Joseph dictated the translation of The Book of Mormon without use of the seer stone, or the Urim and Thummim, or even the plates themselves. The question, then, naturally arises as to why Joseph Smith needed these instruments at all in the translation process. Orson Pratt reported that the Prophet Joseph told him that the Lord had given him the Urim and Thummim “when he was inexperienced in the spirit of inspiration. But now he had advanced so far that he understood the operation of that spirit and did not need the assistance of that instrument.”

Similarly, Zebedee Coltrin, an early acquaintance of the prophet, said in 1880 that he had asked Joseph what happened to the Urim and Thummim and that “Joseph said that he had no further need of it and he had given it to the angel Moroni. He had the Melchizedek Priesthood and with that Priesthood he had the key to all knowledge and intelligence” (see Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Book of Mormon by Stephen D. Ricks).

Testimony of Joseph Smith and The Book of Mormon

These sources give us much additional light and knowledge concerning how Joseph Smith translated The Book of Mormon. Yet these facts and historical quotes alone are insufficient in developing a testimony that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and that he translated The Book of Mormon correctly, and that it is indeed new scripture given to us by God. That knowledge can only come from the Spirit of the Lord, and it will come through sincere study, pondering, and prayer. Elder Quentin L. Cook, in the April 2012 General Conference, said,

“The essential doctrine of agency requires that a testimony of the restored gospel be based on faith rather than just external or scientific proof. Obsessive focus on things not yet fully revealed, such as how the virgin birth or the Resurrection of the Savior could have occurred or exactly how Joseph Smith translated our scriptures, will not be efficacious or yield spiritual progress. These are matters of faith. Ultimately, Moroni’s counsel to read and ponder and then ask God in all sincerity of heart, with real intent, to confirm scriptural truths by the witness of the Spirit is the answer.”

Moroni’s counsel referred to above is found in Moroni chapter 10. In verse 4 he exhorts us to read, ponder, and pray in sincerity and faith about the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. Then he says in verse 5 that “by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth.” I have taken this challenge and I know The Book of Mormon to be true. I have received a witness from the Holy Ghost of this and also that Joseph Smith was an inspired seer and true prophet of God. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established by God through Joseph Smith and President Thomas S. Monson is his authoritative successor and possesses all the priesthood keys on the earth. Our missionaries bring this message and the accompanying blessings to the world, and we are blessed to be part of this great and marvelous work.

How is the Next Prophet Chosen in the LDS Church?

Summary: Based on the authority bestowed by God and historical precedence, the senior apostle becomes the next prophet and president of the LDS Church when the current prophet dies.

President Thomas S. Monson

If the President of the LDS Church were to die, how is the next prophet chosen? This is an important doctrinal question and one that many missionaries will likely face in the course of their daily missionary work. Let’s discuss it.

Confusion at the Death of Joseph Smith

The first time the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had to face the issue of succession in the presidency was at the martyrdom of the prophet Joseph Smith. Joseph was the founder and president of the Church from its formation (see the revelation from the Lord in D&C section 20). After the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, there was some confusion as to who should lead the Church. Sidney Rigdon, who had been a member of the First Presidency with Joseph Smith, was among those who claimed to be the next leader of the Church. Parley P. Pratt, an original member of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, spoke of this time in his autobiography.

“I had loved Joseph with a warmth of affection indescribable for about fourteen years. …But now he was gone to the invisible world, and we and the Church of the Saints were left to mourn in sorrow and without the presence of our beloved founder and Prophet.” With many questions in his mind, Parley was making his way back to Nauvoo when “On a sudden the Spirit of God came upon me, and filled my heart with joy and gladness indescribable… The Spirit said unto me: ‘Lift up your head and rejoice; for behold! it is well with my servants Joseph and Hyrum….Go and say unto my people in Nauvoo, that they shall continue to pursue their daily duties and take care of themselves, and make no movement in Church government to reorganize or alter anything until the return of the remainder of the Quorum of the Twelve. But exhort them that they continue to build the House of the Lord which I have commanded them to build in Nauvoo.”

The Lord Chose Brigham Young to Be Joseph Smith’s Successor

Brigham Young appeared to be Joseph SmithSoon the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles did return to Nauvoo, and on August 8, 1844, the Lord showed to a gathering of the saints that Brigham Young, the president of that Quorum, was to be the new prophet and president of the Church. After Sidney Rigdon had spoken and made his case to be “guardian” of the Church, Brigham Young arose and addressed the congregation. George Q. Cannon described how in this moment, Brigham Young appeared and sounded like Joseph Smith in a miraculous manifestation from the Lord:

“It was the first sound of his voice [Brigham’s] which the people had heard since he had gone east on his mission, and the effect upon them was most wonderful. Who that was present on that occasion can ever forget the impression it made upon them! If Joseph had risen from the dead and again spoken in their hearing, the effect could not have been more startling than it was to many present at that meeting. It was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. A more wonderful and miraculous event than was wrought that day in the presence of that congregation we never heard of. The Lord gave His people a testimony that left no room for doubt as to who was the man He had chosen to lead them. They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy. There had been gloom, and, in some hearts probably, doubt and uncertainty; but now it was plain to all that here was the man upon whom the Lord had bestowed the necessary authority to act in their midst in Joseph’s stead” (“Joseph Smith, the Prophet,” Juvenile Instructor, Oct. 29, 1870, 174–75).

Doctrinal Basis of Church Leadership

Upon the death of Joseph Smith, the First Presidency, which consisted of president of the Church and his two counselors, was dissolved, but priesthood authority was not lost. Brigham Young, as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, held the keys of the priesthood and had the authority necessary to lead the Church.  In D&C 107: 23-24, a revelation given to Joseph Smith, the Lord explained that the Quorum of the 12 held the same authority as the First Presidency: “The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling. And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.” (See also D&C 112:14–15, regarding the keys of the Quorum of the Twelve.)

In another revelation, the Lord affirmed that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles holds the priesthood keys, the same as the Savior’s apostles of old, to direct the Church: “And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them; Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (D&C 27: 12-13).

Brigham Young, as president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, began leading the Church from the time of the martyrdom of Joseph Smith. In time, the First Presidency was reorganized under that authority, and new apostles were called to fill the vacancies in the Quorum of the 12. And so it is today, if the prophet dies, the First Presidency is dissolved. Presiding authority to lead the Church remains with the Quorum of the 12 and the senior apostle becomes the new Church President.

Succession in the Presidency of the LDS Church

Since the time of the Brigham Young, the choosing of the next prophet and president of the Church has happened in a similar fashion. Here is the process, in more detail, as outlined in the Mormon Newsroom article called Succession in the Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: “When the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints passes away, the following events take place:

  1. The First Presidency is automatically dissolved.
  2. The two counselors in the First Presidency revert to their places of seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Seniority is determined by the date on which a person was ordained to the Twelve, not by age.
  3. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, … headed by the senior apostle, assumes Church leadership.
  4. The senior apostle presides at a meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve to consider two alternative propositions: Should the First Presidency be reorganized at this time? Should the Church continue to function with the Quorum of the Twelve presiding?
  5. After discussion, a formal motion is made and accepted by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
  6. If a motion to reorganize the First Presidency is passed, the Quorum of the Twelve unanimously selects the new president of the Church. The new president chooses two counselors and the three of them become the new First Presidency. Throughout the history of the Church, the longest-serving apostle has always become the president of the Church when the First Presidency has been reorganized.
  7. Following the reorganization of the First Presidency, the apostle who has served the second longest is sustained as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve…
  8. The president of the Quorum of the Twelve, along with the rest of the apostles, sets apart the new president of the Church through a formal laying on of hands.

The Lord Is In Charge of Who Leads the Church as Prophet

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe the the Lord Jesus Christ is at the head of our church and is firmly in charge of who leads it on the earth. The authority exists to provide continuous priesthood keys on the earth, and an orderly pattern has been established. We believe that with the Lord in charge, He will not let the wrong person become our Church President. Here is the testimony of some of our modern prophets on the Lord being in charge of who becomes the next prophet:

  • President Harold B. Lee, 11th president of the Church, explained: “[The Lord] knows whom he wants to preside over this church, and he will make no mistake. The Lord doesn’t do things by accident. He has never done anything accidentally” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 153; or Improvement Era, Dec. 1970, 127).
  • President Ezra Taft Benson, 13th president of the Church, taught that “God knows all things, the end from the beginning, and no man becomes president of the church of Jesus Christ by accident, or remains there by chance, or is called home by happenstance” (“Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” New Era, May 1975, 16–17).
  • President Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th president of the Church, explained that each member of the Quorum of the Twelve “holds the keys of this dispensation in latent reserve. Inherent in that divine residual is the assured ongoing leadership of the Church” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1983, 4; or Ensign, May 1983, 6).

Though we often refer to the president of the Church as “The Prophet”, it is important to remember that we sustain all the apostles in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve as prophets, seers, and revelators. I know that these brethren have been called by God and have the priesthood authority necessary to lead the Lord’s Church. It is a beautiful process to see how smooth the transition is from one president of the church to the next. It is a process ordained by God and guided by Him.

For much more information on this subject, see the Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual, 2015, Chapter 23: Succession in the Presidency.

Joseph Smith’s First Vision

I was in a recent stake conference priesthood leadership meeting where Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve presided and spoke. He opened up the meeting to questions, and one brother asked for his advice in preparing young people for a mission. Elder Nelson gave two pieces of advice: one, study the word of the Lord in the scriptures, and two, gain a testimony of the prophet Joseph Smith. I’d like to focus on the latter today, particularly on Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

Joseph Smith's First VisionMany of the important gospel truths that LDS missionaries teach were restored through Joseph Smith–that we lived with God before our birth, the importance of gospel ordinances, the necessity of priesthood authority,  that families can be together forever, and much added depth of understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. One of the most profound truths restored through Joseph the Prophet was about the nature of God and Jesus, and much of that was learned in the First Vision.

Summary of Joseph Smith’s First Vision

In the spring of 1820, after much meditation and studying of the bible, 14-year-old Joseph Smith followed the counsel in James 1:5 that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” Joseph desired guidance in his life, he wanted to know which church was correct, and he desired to be cleansed from his sins. He left his home one morning and found seclusion in a grove of trees and prayed. In response to this prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. This sacred experience was the beginning of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It led to other visitations by angelic messengers, to the coming forth of new scriptures such as the Book of Mormon, and to the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with priesthood authority from God.

Four Accounts of the First Vision

Some young people are surprised to learn that Joseph Smith wrote, or dictated, his First Vision experience four times. Each account of the First Vision was written in response to different needs and addressed different audiences. The four accounts were written in 1832, 1835, 1838, and 1842 respectively. Critics of the Church like to focus on the differences in these tellings of the First Vision and use such differences as they can find to attack Joseph Smith. But I have found that the four accounts of the First Vision are rather complementary of each other, and come together in beautiful harmony. Each emphasizes different aspects of his experience, and gives different insights about Joseph and his interaction with Diety.

  • 1832 Account: Though it was written twelve years after the experience, this is the first written account we have. It was part of Joseph’s autobiography and emphasized his search for religious truth and his desire to be forgiven of his sins.
  • 1835 Account: This one comes from a conversation Joseph Smith had with a visitor to Kirtland, Ohio and was recorded in his diary by one of his scribes. One detail unique to the 1835 account is Joseph’s statement that in addition to two personages, he saw many angels.
  • 1838 AccountThis is the version found in LDS scriptures, in the Pearl of Great Price. It is clear that the Prophet Joseph more carefully prepared this account and intended it to be the primary one used in the telling of the history of the Church. The emphasis of this description of the First Vision is Joseph’s initial confusion regarding the various religions and God’s declaration regarding the true Church.
  • 1842 Account: The fourth account by Joseph Smith was included in a letter he wrote in 1842 to a newspaper editor named John Wentworth. In this account, Joseph included a statement implied in the other accounts but not specifically stated—that he was told “that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.”

For more information, please refer to the gospel topic article called Accounts of the First Vision on LDS.org or the article appearing in the Ensign magazine in January 1985 called Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision.

The First Visitation

Though we call it a “vision”, the Mormon scholar Truman G. Madsen liked to refer to it as a “visitation” to emphasize that it wasn’t just a dream that Joseph made up in his mind, but that he was truly visited by heavenly beings. Furthermore, we call Joseph’s experience the First Vision, because it was the first in a series of heavenly visions, revelations, and visitations. But to Joseph Smith at the time it was not the First Vision. It was an answer to his prayer. It was a message of forgiveness and it gave direction to his life. Joseph said his “soul was filled with love and for many days I could rejoice with great Joy and the Lord was with me.”

Another LDS scholar named Richard Lyman Bushman noted in his book, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, that at the time of the First Vision, Joseph didn’t tell many people, not even is family initially,  much about the experience. He seems to have viewed it as a personal religious experience. The day of the event, Joseph only reported, “I went home. And as I leaned up to the fireplace, mother inquired what the matter was. I replied, ‘Never mind, all is well—I am well enough off.’ I then said to my mother, ‘I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.'” (JSH 1:20)

I was in a meeting once where Elder David A. Bednar spoke. He mentioned the scripture above and pointed out that a key doctrine in that verse is that Joseph Smith learned the truth for himself. Learning the truth for ourselves is something we all must do. Missionaries especially must gain their own testimony that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration, that the Book of Mormon is true, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer.

My Testimony of the First Vision

During my two years in Rosario Argentina as a missionary, I bore my testimony countless times of the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the truthfulness of his First Vision. I had the following scripture memorized from the frequent telling of the experience:

“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me…When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (JSH 1:16-17)

I knew it then and my testimony is even stronger now. I know that this event really happened. Joseph was personally visited and called by God to be a prophet and to be the instrument in the Lord’s hand in restoring the full gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.

I highly recommend that all future missionaries memorize this verse now. As you do so, your testimony will grow. Your purpose as a missionary is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ as restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is powerful convincing evidence that Jesus Christ lives and loves us, that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s true church. I pray that you can develop your own testimony of these things and “learn for yourself.” The gospel will bless individuals and families, it will help meet their spiritual needs, and it will help them gain their deepest, truest desires in this life and in the eternities. And as a missionary you will have the pleasure of being an instrument in the Lord’s hands to deliver those blessings. 

A New Eliza R. in the World

Eliza Ruth SmithThis week we welcomed Eliza Ruth Smith into our family. She’s our fifth baby and second girl. She weighed in at 6 lbs 13 oz. My wife, Heather, and Eliza are both doing well. We love them both so much.

Eliza is named after three great women: Eliza comes from LDS pioneer Eliza R. Snow, and both my wife and I have grandmothers named Ruth.

Brief Biography of Eliza R. Snow

Eliza R. Snow was the second president of the Relief Society and served in that capacity 21 years, from 1868 to 1887. Many people called her “Zion’s Poetess” because she wrote so many poems and songs. In fact 10 of her songs are in the present day LDS Church hymnal. Eliza was instrumental in the organization of the Young Women’s and Primary organizations in addition to her work with the Relief Society.

Joining the Church

Eliza R. Snow was among the first people to join the Church in these latter days. Joseph Smith visited the Snow home in 1831 and baptized Eliza’s mother and sister that same year. Eliza wasn’t baptized for a few years later, however, in 1835. She moved to Kirtland, Ohio, at that time and there lived with Joseph and Emma Smith working as their family school teacher. in 1836, Eliza’s brother, Lorenzo, decided to join his family in Kirtland. He joined the Church that year, and eventually succeeded Joseph Smith as the fifth prophet and president of the LDS Church.

Organization of the Relief Society

Eliza R. Snow was present at the first Relief Society meeting in Nauvoo in 1842. She is credited with suggesting the name that was finally settled on by the group: The Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. She departed Nauvoo with many of the other Saints in the winter of 1846, and carried with her the records of those first Relief Society meetings on the long journey west.

Re-organization of and Presiding over the Relief Society

Eliza R. SnowIn 1866, Eliza was called by Brigham Young to help reorganize Female Relief Society. She traveled all over Utah encouraging sisters to join Relief Society “for the good of the poor,” for “saving souls,” and “for the accomplishment of every good and noble work.” Among the programs instituted by the Relief Society during Eliza’s tenure as president were a grain-saving program, and a special emphasis was placed on hygiene and nursing. Also during this time, Eliza and other LDS women published their literary writings in the Women’s Exponent. Relief Society news and national political updates, often related to women’s suffrage, were also included in the publication. (see Mormon Wiki’s article on Eliza R. Snow)

Trip to Jerusalem

In 1872, President Brigham Young called his First Counselor, George A. Smith, to go to the Holy Land and dedicate the land to the Lord. Lorenzo Snow, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his sister Eliza R. Snow were among those who traveled with President Smith. The group left Utah in October 1872, traveled to New York, and then took a steam ship to Liverpool England. The group visited Rome and Naples, Italy, Alexandria and Cairo, Egypt, Athens, Greece, and other sites in Europe and the middle east. In due time, the group arrived in Palestine and beheld the city of Jerusalem. The group slept in tents and traveled by horseback on roads that Eliza R. Snow described “uneven” and George A. Smith called “a rocky, barren and almost desolate country.” (See The Path of Jesus on LDS.org) All this took place in Eliza’s seventieth year.

The delegation of Church leaders had been sent to Europe and Palestine to see what opportunities there might be for preaching the gospel and to rededicate the Holy Land for the return of the Jews. Orson Hyde had conducted a similar mission in 1840–41 but had been forced to go alone. Now the Brethren felt it was time to reassert the great interest the Church had in a regathering of the Jews to Palestine while the Saints were gathering to a new Zion in the West. On March 2, 1873 both President George A. Smith and Elder Lorenzo Snow offered prayers of dedication on the Mount of Olives (see Church History in the Fulness of Times Institute Student Manual Chapter 32). The group returned to Utah in July 1873, nearly a year after leaving.

Eliza R. Snow was a dedicated, faithful, stalwart Latter-day Saint and servant of the Lord, and we hope our new Eliza R. follows in those footsteps.

Learning the Language: Tips for Mormon Missionaries

A large percentage of Mormon Missionaries are sent to a foreign land, and the majority of them, and even some that stay state-side, are asked to learn a new language.  This is the next in a series of posts on learning the language of your mission. This language learning series will be good for both future and current missionaries striving to better master their mission language.

mormon-missionaries-with-manReceiving the Gospel In Their Own Tongue

The Lord declared to Joseph Smith that “every man shall hear the fullness of the gospel in his own tongue, and in his own language, through those who are ordained unto this power” (D&C 90:11). Regardless of the language you are called to teach in, whether it be your native tongue or not, you have been “ordained unto this power.” If you have been called to learn a foreign language, part of your calling is to learn to speak your mission language well so that you can help others come unto Christ.

In order for investigators to feel the truth of your message and seek to gain a testimony of their own, people must be able to understand your message clearly. It is true that sometimes missionaries who do not speak their mission language well are blessed to be able to communicate with people through the Spirit, but such instances are rare. Generally speaking, missionaries who speak the language better are more successful at helping others come unto Christ.

My Experience Learning Spanish

When I received my call to go to Argentina and learn Spanish, I was a little afraid. I hardly knew a word of Spanish, but I had faith in the Lord that he would help me.  I knew that thousands of missionaries who had come before me had learned to speak a foreign language, and learned it well. And I knew if the Lord helped them learn a new language, he could certainly help me. And thanks to a lot of hard work, early mornings of extra studying, good companions, and the help of the Lord I was able to learn Spanish. (See the post I wrote last year on learning a language for more detail on my experience learning Spanish)

Prepare Yourself Spiritually

Studying and understanding the doctrines of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will strengthen your testimony and, in turn, increase your capacity to teach and testify convincingly. The strength of your personal testimony will bring converting power to your words. You must, therefore, then learn to express in your mission language what is in your heart and mind. To succeed in this, you must be spiritually prepared and willing to work hard and be obedient to mission rules and the commandments so you can have the Spirit with you.

Below are some tips from the Preach My Gospel manual on ways you can strengthen your faith that the Lord will help you teach and testify in your mission language:

  • Recognize that you have been called of God by a prophet.
  • Live worthy of the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
  • Be obedient to the commandments and to missionary standards.
  • Pray sincerely for divine assistance.
  • Study, practice, and use the mission language each day.

Work Hard and Be Persistent

Learning to teach effectively in a new language requires great effort. Do not be surprised if the task seems hard, or if progress comes slower than you expect. It will take time, but if you are persistent, work hard, and seek the Lord’s help, your language skills will grow.

You may be tempted to memorize the discussions or give the lessons word for word from memory, but to truly be effective as a missionary, you must take it to the next level. You must be able to interact well with others, understand the nuances of meaning, deal with uncertainty, and make adjustments as you teach.

As you improve your ability to speak the mission language, the people you meet will listen more to what you say than to how you say it. You will then be less worried about how to communicate the thoughts and feelings in your mind and heart, and you will be better prepared to respond to the needs of your investigators and to follow the promptings of the Spirit.

Continually strive to master the language throughout your mission and even beyond your mission. The Lord has invested much in you, and He may have uses for your language abilities later in your life. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained,

“We would also hope that every missionary learning a new proselyting language would master it in every way possible. Every missionary in this Church can improve his or her mission language skills. And as you do so, your proselyting and testifying skills will improve, you will be better received and more spiritually impressive to your investigators. Keep pushing on language mastery the entire length of your mission. . . . Don’t be satisfied with what we call a missionary vocabulary only. Stretch yourself in the language, and you will gain greater access to the hearts of the people. They will love you for trying to speak and honor their language” (Missionary Satellite Broadcast, August 1998).

You’re Not Alone in Learning the Language

I’ll conclude with another thought from the Preach My Gospel manual:

You are not alone in learning your mission language. Whenever the Lord gives a commandment, He provides a way to accomplish it (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Seek His help. Be dedicated in your study. In time you will acquire the language skills necessary to fulfill your purpose as a missionary.

Mormon Polygamy

Today’s post is in response to a question received on the Web site.  A young man who is preparing for his mission asked me how I would respond to his non-member friend who asked why Joseph Smith practiced polygamy.  The polygamy question is one I got only a time or two on my mission, but one that missionaries should be prepared to answer. wilford_woodruff

First, I would answer that polygamy is part of our past, but not part of the present Mormon Church.  Joseph Smith began publicly teaching the principle of plural marriage (polygamy) in the 1840s, but by the year 1890 (119 years ago), polygamy was officially discontinued by the Church.  The book of the Doctrine and Covenants contains the official declaration from Church President Wilford Woodruff ending polygamy. Also, last year, the Church created a site with a lot of good resources for people seeking the truth about Mormon polygamy. Bottom line, today there are over 15 million Mormons around the world, and none of them practice polygamy.

Now, having established Mormons do not now practice polygamy, it still doesn’t address the question of why Joseph Smith instituted the practice in the early days of the Church.  To answer the why question, I’d like to quote the Church’s official statement on polygamy. It reads:

“At certain times and for His specific purposes, God, through His prophets, has directed the practice of plural marriage (sometimes called polygamy), which means one man having more than one living wife at the same time. In obedience to direction from God, Latter-day Saints followed this practice for about 50 years during the 1800s but officially ceased the practice of such marriages after the Manifesto was issued by President Woodruff in 1890. Since that time, plural marriage has not been approved by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and any member adopting this practice is subject to losing his or her membership in the Church.” (emphasis added)

Jacob Blessing His SonsThe statement from the Church goes on to cite instance in the Bible where Abraham, Jacob, and others of the Lord’s servants had plural wives (see Genesis 16:1–3; 29:23–30; 30:4, 9; Judges 8:30; 1 Samuel 1:1–2).

Joseph Smith also asked God why he had been commanded to restore the practice of plural marriage and was told simply that the Lord has His reasons.  One of those reasons given by the Lord is mentioned in the Book of Mormon: “If I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall [have only one wife]” (Jacob 2:30; see also v. 27).  In other words, it was to bring more children into the world who would be raised up faithful to the Lord.  (sourced, again, from the Church’s official declaration on polygamy)

The polygamy question is a tough one to answer, and missionaries should know it’s okay to say they don’t know all the reasons why.  We know Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and we know it came as a commandment from God. As a missionary, the conversation should then turn to helping the investigator gain their own testimony of Joseph Smith which can be gained by reading the Book of Mormon and praying to know its truthfulness. (see my previous post on The Power of the Book of Mormon)

Finally, I’ll leave you with two video clips.  The first is from President Hinckley’s October 1998 General Conference talk where he reiterated the Church’s position against polygamy.  The second video is from Truman Madsen where he explains more of the history of Mormon polygamy and the doctrinal reason’s why Joseph Smith was commanded to do it.