I have been thinking about the importance of church history to each of us and wanted to share some thoughts from two great talks that were given within the last year.
The first I will share from is a talk Elder Christofferson gave at BYU-Idaho on September 24, 2013.
Elder Christofferson opens by discussing what the angel Moroni told Joseph Smith, that his name would be had for good and evil and how that is being fulfilled. He then talks about the Joseph Smith Papers project and the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith manual, commending it to be studied. He had this to say in regards to the WHY behind the Joseph Smith Papers project,
"Our study of the Prophet’s life and ministry are more than an intellectual exercise to satisfy curiosity. Insofar as we can, we want to know what he knew; we want to understand what he understood; we want to draw near to God as he did, for as Nicodemus said of the Savior so we can say of Joseph, “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.” "
I want to just say that studying the life of Joseph Smith has provided me with insight into what he knew and has helped my perspective expand to begin to understand a tiny bit of what he understood. I just finished Rough Stone Rolling by Richard Bushman and I was inspired to be more humble, meek and trusting as Joseph was. There is so much that we can learn from studying his life as to how to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
Elder Christofferson mentions patience in dealing with evidences for the Book of Mormon and gives an example of steel being found in the America's by referring to a blog post from FairMormon that discusses recent findings. He concludes the thought here by saying,
"Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding."
I have found that to be true. In my few years of studying church history, scripture, doctrine and theology, I have seen things come to light that weren't available or known about 10 years ago! Patiently pressing forward, especially when you are frustrated or struggling with an incomplete answer or church history jig saw puzzle, is crucial and key to continue to grow in faith.
I also want to plug FairMormon as a reference for quick answers to difficult questions. It doesn't contain everything or even some of the best answers at times, but it is highly commendable. I guess I may call it a springboard into the waters of discussion on difficult topics.
He then says, "Don't be superficial." He clarifies,
"When I say don’t be superficial, I mean don’t form conclusions based on unexamined assertions or incomplete research, and don’t be influenced by insincere seekers. I would offer you the advice of our Assistant Church Historian, Rick Turley, an intellectually gifted researcher and author whose recent works include the definitive history of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. He says simply, “Don’t study Church history too little.” "
He then adds this by Alexander Pope,
"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again."
This is exactly how I feel! We have to dig in and commit. The more we study, the mite expansive our view becomes. This doesn't mean we won't run into things along the way that bother us.
The next point he makes is to not ignore the Spirit.
"Finally, don’t neglect the Spirit. As regards Joseph Smith, we seek learning both by study and by faith. Both are fruitful paths of inquiry. A complete understanding can never be attained by scholarly research alone, especially since much of what is needed is either lost or never existed. There is no benefit in imposing artificial limits on ourselves that cut off the light of Christ and the revelations of the Holy Spirit."
Faith and study compliment each other. Using our minds that God has given us to study those things which we have broaden our understanding and deepen our faith, if we let them. Studying with our mind alone can shut out faith, but so can studying by "faith" shut out the intellect. God wants us to use both! This takes more work than many of us have considered or been told, but it is extremely rewarding.
I am not going to cover anything from his last three points except I will quote Joseph's testimony of the resurrected Christ.
22 And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
23 For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father
24 That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.
The rest of the talk is great, so go read the whole thing!
The other talk I wanted to recommend is from President Uchtdorf when he gave the keynote address at the BYU Church History Symposium earlier this year. He said a few things that really resonated with me.
"History teaches us not only about the leaves of existence. It also teaches about the twigs, branches, trunks, and roots of life. And these lessons are important.
One of the weaknesses we have as mortals is to assume that our “leaf” is all there is—that our experience encompasses everyone else’s, that our truth is complete and universal. As I considered what I wanted to speak about today, it seemed that the metaphor of the leaf needed to be at the heart. But I also ran across an old Yiddish expression that goes, “To a worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.” I want to emphasize that the truth embraced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints extends beyond leaves and certainly beyond horseradish. It extends beyond time and space and encompasses all truth—from the mysteries of the tiniest atoms to the vast and incomprehensible secrets that the universe holds so tantalizingly before us."
Beautiful, right? This is how I feel about truth as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. We encompass ALL truth, wherever it comes from. We continue digging, searching, seeking, pondering, asking, praying, using our might, mind and strength to find truth.
Our little leaf is just that, little. We can and should expand our minds and understandings to stretch and understand the twigs, branches trunks and roots of life--not just mortal life, but our eternal life.
The scriptures are a starting ground, but we have our own history, our own teachings, ideologies and interpretations that require us to go beyond our current leaves to understand as much of the tree as we can.
Well, my last quote is lengthy, so you'll have to read the whole talk at this link:
Here's my final quote choice,
Here's my final quote choice,
"Throughout the record of sacred history, we find that our Heavenly Father teaches His children over and again not to place their trust in the wisdom of the world—not to overvalue what the world holds in high regard. He teaches us that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” And yet we have an almost irresistible desire to assume that the leaf of information we have in our possession is a representation of all there is to know. We assume that the horseradish that we see all around us is proof that the world is made of the substance.
We do the best we can with the information at our disposal to make assumptions and increase the body of knowledge—and this is a noble pursuit. However, when we assume that what we know is all there is to know, we miss the mark and our philosophies and theories fall short of the rich truths that populate heaven and earth.
In the words of Orson F. Whitney, an early Apostle of the Church, the gospel “embraces all truth, whether known or unknown. It incorporates all intelligence, both past and prospective. No righteous principle will ever be revealed, no truth can possibly be discovered, either in time or in eternity, that does not in some manner, directly or indirectly, pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ”
Our Heavenly Father teaches this lesson to His children over and again—He warns against setting aside the knowledge of God or dismissing its importance. He teaches us that we should not assume that what we know—what we can prove and test and verify—is all that there is. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.”
Truth is truth is truth is truth. However, we should not assume that it little slivers are the whole picture. Don't confuse the type and color of the paint for the painting.
God wants us to believe Him and to believe IN Him. As we follow Him, He will expand our understanding, strengthen our Spirits and lead us back to Him. We can't let our limited understanding keep us from Him. Whether we stumble over church history, science, doctrine, principles, theology, philosophy, what have you, don't lose sight of what is truly important. Keep pressing forward.