Monday, November 30, 2009

LDS Lesson #9

When I arrived at the LDS Church at 6:30, it wasn't quite open yet; however, Lysistrata and Sappho--whom I hadn't expected to see again after the Center for Young Adults activity two nights ago--were standing outside teaching a Finnish potential convert (an attractive young woman who doesn't feature again in this narrative) Bible and BoM stories from a picture book, or something of the sort; one of the sisters told me that they're the same pictures used to teach her when they were little. Admetus and Alcestis finally arrived and opened up the church--it gets sealed behind a lowered sheet of metal akin to a garage door when not in use--and we all went inside. As they took the elevator up, I opted for the stairs so as to make a quick stop on the way.

And when we all reached the third floor it came to pass that the sisters took the main room for their lesson with the aforementioned Finnish girl, and I spent some final time in Admetus' little office space. When Creon and Orestes arrived, we took a few pictures to keep the memories alive, and then Creon and Orestes took me down a level to a room that would be suitable for our last meeting. As we waited for Admetus, it came to pass that the three of us looked at a pamphlet that had been left there; it was in Greek and evidently concerned LDS temples, because it contained numerous pictures of the insides of various rooms in some of them. I got to see what Orestes had been talking about when he spoke of 'grapes' hanging from the ceiling in the celestial room of the Salt Lake City Temple, and I could understand why Creon considers that temple to be a bit too "gaudy". It was nice to finally have some images to put with my impressions of what such a temple might be like. I said I was disappointed that it didn't have flickering candles in dark, secret chambers; when I said that I liked dark and creepy rituals, Orestes said, "But dark and creepy is so... weird."

And it came to pass that, when Admetus finally arrived and we opened the session with a quick time of prayer, they wanted to talk about revelation, and although looking forward to my final questions, I was happy to let them. It started out with a reading from Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9 ("Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right then I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me"). As my missionary friends explained, Oliver Cowdery, who had been a scribe for the Book of Mormon, wanted a promotion, as it were. He wanted to try his hand at the act of translation itself. Joseph Smith consented to allow him to, but when Cowdery attempted it, he discovered that he was unable. The ninth section of Doctrine and Covenants was given in response to this event. Cowdery, they explained, failed in two respects: he failed to do the necessary legwork for receiving the gift, and he failed to bring the matter to God first.

And it came to pass that the next scriptural passage they brought up for discussion was Acts 1:22-26 ("Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles"). According to them, there is no actual record of Matthias having personally seen the risen Christ. They used this passage as a biblical illustration of the procedure outlined in D&C 9:7-9. First, the eleven remaining apostles of Christ used their own powers of discernment to find two candidates for the position. In the words of D&C 9, they studied it out in their own minds. They then brought the issue to the Lord for a final decision on the matter, allowing it to be his choice rather than theirs. Of course, I note now that even if we accept this schematization, the two passages there diverge. Where D&C 9 urges the believer to take refuge in private feelings, Acts 1 shows the disciples using a more public venue of verification: visible lots. Whatever one may think about the merits of choosing by casting lots, at least it's a publicly visible result, if not a publicly visible mechanism. I wish I had thought of this during the meeting. Would've been fun to ask them.

And it came to pass that Creon said that it establishes a pattern, as Luke frequently does in Acts: when one apostle dies, another one must be appointed. I take issue with this. The reason for replacing Judas with Matthias was not so much Judas' death as his defection, as is essentially declared in Acts 1:25. When Jesus spoke of his disciples sitting on twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28), this seems to keep the number at a strict twelve, and any other apostles (for which the biblical requirements seem to rather clearly include having seen the risen Christ, cf. 1 Corinthians 9:1) would not be among the Twelve. So I question, for example, the LDS practice of continuing to claim to have a legitimate Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, since these must then be seen as supplanting Jesus' disciples after their death. (The Book of Mormon, by the way, reaffirms that Jesus' twelve disciples will judge the twelve tribes of Israel--see 1 Nephi 12:9 and Mormon 3:18--but doesn't really seem to grapple with the problem. On my reading of those passages, the Old World apostles will judge the New World apostles, and the New World apostles will judge the New World Israelites, so it seems. But this is all so foreign to Matthew 19:28 that it's difficult to take it seriously without an overriding reason to do so.)

And it came to pass that Orestes said that revelation is the key to God's one true church--namely, theirs--from top to bottom. Every person, he explained, has a responsibility to gain revelations for themselves from God. This requires preparation on the part of the seeker; as with the case of Oliver Cowdery, there's no license for being lazy and waiting on God to speak. Christ said, "ask, and ye shall receive" (John 16:24; D&C 4:7), and since what church to join is such a fundamental issue, surely it falls under the purview of that passage. Thus, we have biblical counsel to ask Christ what church to join. The hard part, he said, is knowing when one has done enough to receive such a revelation. Humility and sincerity are crucial. The exact words?
Revelation is so key to God's church, so key all the way up from the very top, all the way down to the very bottom. I mean, the prophet has a very big responsibility to be in tune with the Spirit and to get revelation for the Church as a whole. But in the very same, in a very serious sense, us personally, we have the responsibility to get personal revelation for ourselves, to know what things we need to change in our lives, what things we're doing good, to be really guided by the Spirit, and to receive, you know, that what we need. That is our communication, that's our link between us and God, through revelation, through the Holy Spirit. This is so important, especially because at least right now in your life this is exactly what you need. You need to be able to get an answer from God. You need to be ready to receive that answer. We've kinda talked a little bit about it, and we've said that you're kinda in the in-between phase, maybe it's true, maybe it's not, you just feel like you haven't really gotten an answer. And it's hard for me to believe really in any situation - especially for something as basic as this, like 'what church should I join?', like 'is the Book of Mormon true?', something-- such a basic question - when Christ said so many times in so many different ways, "Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"... I don't think that-- I mean, maybe rarely, God-- I don't try to limit what God can do, he can do what he wants, but according to my opinion I don't believe that God would make you wait to-- as long as you've done your part, I believe that he will give you that answer. Now, and that's the hard part, knowing if you've done enough, knowing if you've done your part. And so if you feel like you're not getting an answer, I'd like to invite you to check everything. Check first your motives. Why do you want an answer? Is this, is this, is this a sincere motive? Is this something that you would act upon? Think to yourself, you know, the Book of Mormon's a good book, you've read it and you liked it, but you don't know yet whether it's inspired, whether it's of God or not. So I guess that, that's the goal, you need to know where you're going with it, you need to have the goal, you need to have the answer. But you need to make sure that you're humble enough that you're ready to act on whatever God has for you, whether it be a yes or a no. But that, you know, that your intentions are-- you have every intention to act on the answer God will give you.
And it came to pass that Creon added that there is a difference between having a "desire to know" and having a "need to know". People who simply have a desire to know the truth--out of, say, academic curiosity--have no right to a revelation. Only those who have a felt need, who burn with passion to get to the heart of the matter, are ready for such a revelation. Since (or so he thinks) if the Book of Mormon is true, then it follows that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and the church and its priesthood have been restored, it is truly a matter of great consequence, and "baptism by this authority means salvation". (And, once again, salvation has been seemingly shifted away from Christ and onto their church's baptism, or at least that's how it comes across. And yes, of course I'm aware that one could say that the necessity of proper baptism derives from its inherent power as an identification with the death and resurrection of Christ, and so forth, so that salvation is from Christ through baptism, or some such formulation.) Thus, we must clearly perceive our own need to receive an answer. And as he put it:

Either you've been saved by the church that you're in already, or you haven't been. And it's either somewhere else, or you already have it. Um, the Book of Mormon is that perfect key, to say, "Alright, well I can know, if the Book of Mormon is true, then that means everything else about, you know, the steps behind that, there's certain precautions. So it means, 'Is my soul saved?' Because I have a need to be with God again. I have a need to be baptized, to be cleansed from all my sins, because if I'm not baptized by proper authority, then I won't be able to be in the kingdom of God and I have these sins still on me." So there's a big difference between just having a desire and having a need, and when God sees that our need is true, that we see our need, that's when I think he'll give us the answers as well. That's when he'll feed us the knowledge, because he knows that you are sincere and you will act upon these things.
And it came to pass that Orestes then turned to another passage of LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 8:1-3 ("Oliver Cowdery, verily, verily, I say unto you, that assuredly as the Lord liveth, who is your God and your Redeemer, even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive a knowledge concerning the engravings of old records, which are ancient, which contain those parts of my scripture of which has been spoken by the manifestation of my Spirit. Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground"). Here we find three criteria for receiving a revelation: (1) ask in faith, (2) have an honest heart, and (3) believe that an answer will be given. Another passage that he cited, Moroni 10:3-5 ("Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things"), the famous promise passage adored by Latter-day Saints everywhere, also lists three criteria: (1) have a sincere heart, (2) ask with real intent, and (3) have faith in Christ. (Notice how none of these 'promise' passages are from scripture that Latter-day Saints share in common with orthodox Christians?) We need to seek out of a true desire to please God. When Orestes asked me how that promise makes me feel, I answered, "That's a very, very strong promise, and if it is one that God really has given, then it's absolutely the most reliable method of coming to the truth." He replied, "I believe that wholeheartedly, and I don't think I could have put it better myself."

And at this point it came to pass that Creon chimed in with a biblical passage, Galatians 5:22 ("But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith"), and said that the fruit of the Spirit shows the quality of the "feelings that we're going to feel", the different forms that the feeling of confirmation takes. (I might add that this is such a peculiar interpretation of Galatians that I hardly know where to begin. None of the fruit of the Spirit are, properly speaking, 'feelings', or would not likely have been understood as such by the original hearers of Paul's letter.) The fuller statement, for context:
One of the things that sticks up to me is, "by the power of the Holy Ghost", which reminded me of Galatians, chapter 5, verse, uh, 22. Previously Paul is kind of mentioning all of the things that are not of the Holy Spirit, and then he talks about what is of the Spirit. So the kind of feelings that we're going to feel through the Holy Ghost, that's the power of the Holy Ghost, it says in verse 22 of Galatians, chapter 5, it says that "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance"--now temperance, the Greek word is a little bit different, the Greek word is 'self-control', it says "against such there is no law". So you can see that the fruits of the Spirit, the power that we're going to feel, it's a feeling, it's a power, and it's a converting power within us. In Doctrine and Covenants it says that there's a 'burning within the bosom'. Other people have said that it feels like a-- some people feel something from the top of their head to the bottom of their toes.
And it came to pass that Orestes, tying into this, brought in another LDS scripture, Doctrine and Covenants 6:20-23 ("Behold, thou art Oliver, and I have spoken unto thee because of thy desires; therefore treasure up these words in thy heart. Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of thy love. Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"), which Admetus read. Orestes explained that the peace given upon the request was an answer and a sufficient witness to the truth. "By fruits", he added, "we can know the false prophets", but he glossed this by saying that these fruits are whether the spirit of the teaching feels good or not so good. (Inside of my head at this time, a little man was banging his skull against the inside of my skull, shouting, "No! No! No!" When John exhorts people to "try the spirits" in 1 John 4:1, or Paul exhorts people to "prove all things" in 1 Thessalonians 5:1, our feelings were emphatically not the recommended measuring stick.) A fuller statement, for context:

Now I think many times, everyone of these days, they think, you know, "I, I gotta have something big", but in reality this-- Oliver had already received an answer to his prayers. He had prayed, and he had received that peace, that peace of mind, that-- those feelings that only come from the Spirit of God, and it spoke peace to his mind, he felt good about it. But yet he didn't trust that, he just thought, "You know, I, it feels good to pray." But that is a fruit, that is the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus Christ said that by fruits we can know the false prophets, I mean, by things as simple as, 'the spirit doesn't feel good', you know, or 'the spirit does feel good', by small things can we judge how to work, how to act, and so it's still-- it takes faith, it takes a little bit of faith, because it's not, you didn't see an angel, you didn't see anything, but then he says, "What greater witness can ye have than from God?" Because that feeling comes from God himself.
And it came to pass that Creon hearkened back to the clip we'd watched called The Restoration, particularly to a line given to Lucy Mack (Joseph Smith's mother) to the effect that he should obtain from God that which no man can take away, meaning a direct, private testimony of the truth that isn't susceptible to external disconfirmation. As Creon explained, no reasoning, no philosophy, no way of man can possibly undermine a 'personal testimony'--and therein, I think, lies one of the chief problems. Orestes encouraged me to engage in some introspection as to whether I'm truly open to the LDS faith and whether I meet the criteria outlined. (I do, save for believing firmly that God will indeed answer prayers in the way they describe, because I am neither persuaded from the Scriptures nor by reason that that's how God works.)

And it came to pass that Creon added that there's more involved than just reading the Book of Mormon; if one applies the Book of Mormon's principles to one's life, one will invariably become closer to God than someone else who abides by the principles of any other book, including the Bible itself. Needless to say, this proclamation of the Book of Mormon's practical superiority intrigued me, so I asked for some examples of principles that are in the Book of Mormon but are lacking in the Bible. The first example I was given was from 1 Nephi 3:7 ("And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing that he commandeth them"), wherein it is taught that the Lord will provide a path to accomplish any commandment he gives. (And yet, I find it curious that the practice of 'plural marriage' seems to have been stopped precisely because the government disapproved, and God purportedly commanded his church to acquiesce rather than follow the commandment that, in the teaching of many early LDS leaders, was essential to having eternal life.) They did concede, fortunately, that 1 Corinthians 10:13 ("There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it") stands as an obvious corollary. I personally would have to say that anyone who couldn't see that "God will make a way, where there seems to be no way" (in the words of Don Moen's now-classic song) would probably be a bit of a dullard, so color me unimpressed thus far with the Book of Mormon's alleged 'greater-than-the-Bible' insight.

And it came to pass that Admetus jumped in with another passage from the Book of Mormon, this time using Mosiah 2:17-18 ("And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God. Behold, ye have called me your king; and if I, whom ye call your king, do labor to serve you, then ought ye not to labor to serve one another?"). Service to others being service to God, he said, surpasses all biblical injunction, and Mosiah 2 is all about service. On the contrary, it seems to be that the Book of Mormon's statement here could be easily extrapolated from several verses in the New Testament, such as Matthew 25:40 ("And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me") and a synthesis of Ephesians 6:7 ("With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men") and Galatians 5:13 ("For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another"). Admetus also referenced Alma 36 as teaching about the afterlife and 2 Nephi 2 as teaching about the fall, and both of these go beyond what the Bible says. However, since we were supposed to be focusing on principles for practical, day-to-day living, these were both irrelevant.

And it came to pass that, since they had already lost sight somewhat of the point of the question, I wasn't surprised when the trend continued. Creon brought up Alma 22:18 ("O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day. And now when the king had said these words, he was struck as if he were dead"), one of his favorite verses for the (admittedly very beautiful) phrase "I will give away all my sins to know thee". Admetus, with perhaps a slightly greater focus on the issue at hand, noted that the Book of Mormon is much clearer than the Bible on the proper mode of baptism. (He cited no verses other than the entire book of 3 Nephi.) He related a story from his youth when he and his father went to see a movie about the life of Jesus, and it featured a scene where John the Baptist led Jesus down into the river, and then proceeded to baptize him by sprinkling. His father had, of course, burst out laughing, as I probably would have as well. Orestes tossed in Alma 37:42-45 ("Therefore, they tarried in the wilderness, or did not travel a direct course, and were afflicted with hunger and thirst, because of their transgressions. And now, my son, I would that ye should understand that these things are not without a shadow; for as out fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so with things which are spiritual. For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land. And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise"), which he said gave a very clear interpretation of the brazen serpent from Exodus, though the brazen serpent actually appears nowhere in those verses; he must have been thinking of something else. And the allegorical use of the story of the Nephites, while quite nice, has probably been done ages before Joseph Smith's time by Christian commentators on the Exodus narrative. Creon hearkened back to Alma 37:6 ("Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say to you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise"), saying that LDS missionary work is an excellent example of "small and simple things" doing great deeds, because their church sends out such young missionaries. These things, they summed up, all cohere with the gospel but are not taught clearly in the Bible.

Finally moving back to the issue of revelation, it came to pass that Admetus related a story from former LDS Church president/prophet/seer Gordon B. Hinckley's famed interview with Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. When Wallace asked him directly how a prophet speaks with God, Hinckley alluded to 1 Kings 19:9-13 ("And he came thither to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away. And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?") and said that promptings come quietly and frequently to him as a "still, small voice". Admetus said that most people receive revelation, not via various objects (he gave as examples the Urim and Thummim and the Liahona), but quietly in the midst of prayer, as "thoughts in your mind and feelings in your heart". He cited some footnoted material from Joseph Smith-History to the effect that "these were days never to be forgotten", and he said that he was sure that our encounters would be days that none of us would ever forget. After all, he said, I was the first person they'd met who actually could understand the Christian creeds (which is rather sad), and we were leaving as good friends. Admetus also said that he was quite certain that I could have gone after them far more aggressively and vigorously than I did--which is very, very, very true.

And after this it came to pass that Creon related how some of our mutual friends go about receiving revelation, to give some concrete examples. Tiresias, for example, learns doctrine according to an interesting process. His first step is philosophizing, studying out the matter, developing an idea, and writing it down. He then talks to others about it, bounces the idea off of them, and revises and refines it. Then, he prays about it and asks God to enlighten his mind. After this, he spends some time in silence just staring at the paper on which he wrote down the idea. At times, he feels led to simply crumple it up and toss it; on other occasions, he sees points where it can be improved and then kept. Solon, on the other hand, alternates prayer and writing. He gets down on his knees to pray, then gets up to write something down, then gets down on his knees again, and repeats. When Creon asked what was going on, Solon said that he was going through the preceding day with the Lord, asking God to bring things to his remembrance or not, and seeking knowledge.

And it came to pass at this point that Orestes turned to me and said that "what you felt here tonight is the Holy Ghost". He urged me to trust in that feeling, however it happens to feel precisely, and to remember it always. If I do so, he said, I will "never go wrong", and that it would be the same feeling I'd get while praying about the Book of Mormon.
What you felt here tonight is the Holy Ghost, and if you learn to trust that feeling, learn to follow that feeling-- Never forget what the Holy Ghost feels like. For me, I can think of what I'm feeling right now and I can say, "Okay, I know exactly what it's like for me to have the Holy Ghost." For you, it might be different, but I think, I think you feel very much how I feel right now. I feel full right now. I feel very, very full inside, and I don't know how to explain it, I've always fallen short with words, but the Holy Spirit has borne witness to me tonight that the things that we've talked about were true principles, that these things were all true, and the Holy Ghost continues to bear witness in my life of the things that I do. It's so great because it's kinda like, sometimes you gotta know, like, "God, are you really happy where I'm at? Are you really needing me? Am I really-- am I a good person?" And it's so great to have that, that comfort, the Comforter to come and to witness to me time and time again that, 'Yeah, you're doing okay', or maybe, 'You can just fix this thing', and then I feel better. But never forget that feeling right now, because if you always remember that feeling, then you'll never go wrong, as long as you obey that. Now, know how it feels, and when you pray about the Book of Mormon, you'll receive that same feeling. You'll know that the Book of Mormon is true, through the fruits of the Spirit. [. . .] The Spirit is just delicious to my soul, I don't know how else to describe it, but right now I just feel full, I know the Spirit's here with us right now. That would be my one greatest counsel to you, is to know how you feel and to always live your life as to feel the Holy Ghost with you, to always feel this, to always have your spirit full, full of gratitude, full of faith, through all these things that the Spirit brings. And I know that the Book of Mormon also will help you with that, 'cause it helps me every day. These things-- I just am not the same person without it.
And it came to pass that around this time, during the earlier portion of this monologue, I could almost have tricked myself into believing that I was feeling a 'burning in the bosom', to use that term to cover all revelatory/confirmatory experiences of the sort that Latter-day Saints emphasize. That is, I felt happy and peaceful, of a sort; it's difficult to put into words in retrospect, though I tend to find that with most emotions. It was interesting to evaluate the process while it was happening, though. If I were an uncritical investigator, I probably wouldn't have given it a thought, but instead would have acclaimed it as the feeling of which they had spoken, and taken it as solid proof for the truth of their position. I can easily see how a person who wants to believe and has an uncritical epistemology could be taken in--and believe me when I say that I did want to believe, wanted to feel that 'burning in the bosom'. With a bit greater reflection, however, it was obvious that it was more or less the exact same feeling I always tend to have when having a good conversation with friends whom I really, really like. The feeling was, in all probability, no more than the psychological component of positive social experience. At least, so I think. But hey, what do I know?

Well, what I do know is this: that I have--or at least believe that I have; I'd be willing to reinterpret these experiences in light of forthcoming evidence, if necessary--felt the Holy Spirit very powerfully at various points in my life, in diverse ways. I've had what some might call 'mystical experiences', for example, those moments of God-intoxication in which I can feel the Spirit rush through my body, eliciting exuberant praise for God, and in which I'd hardly be surprised to see the heavens open, revealing the throne of God. I'd say I've felt the Spirit on other occasions, such as the day I ascended the steps toward my current church home; I felt a sense of peace, as though a burden were removed from my shoulders, of a kind that I've seldom felt since. And, as a lesser example, one might ascribe to the Spirit the sensation of recognizing Truth with a capital 'T' that I can feel coursing through my veins as I read the Nicene Creed--a liveliness and excitement and inner rejoicing at the lofty nature of God and his immense condescension to meet us where we are. If we're going to go by feelings--which I don't, because feelings can easily mislead, as I've learned the hard way at times--then no feeling I've had while talking to the missionaries or while reading the Book of Mormon can compare with the feelings I've just described as Spirit-inspired. If the Holy Spirit wanted to communicate with me via feelings and impressions, any of those would work fine for catching my attention, I think.

And it came to pass that, after I promised to use these tools to further investigate the Book of Mormon and the LDS Church, I was asked again if I had anyone I could possibly refer to them who might like to chat with LDS missionaries. They told me a bit about how exactly the referral process works. While I was fairly sure that I didn't know anyone in Athens who'd be interested, I said that I'd continue to think about anyone back in America who might be interested. After that, I got a bit of time to ask some last questions. The first one, which I didn't have on my list but which had occurred to me at some point over the last few weeks, was rather simple, and they actually had an answer of sorts. Noting that Joseph Smith claimed to have been visited by a number of 'resurrected personages' (e.g., Moroni, John the Baptist, Peter, the sons of Zebedee), I asked when they were resurrected. Creon answered that on Easter, many other saints rose from the dead along with the resurrection of Christ (cf. Matthew 27:52-53). If this had been the whole answer, it obviously wouldn't have worked. Creon, however, added that they understand the 'first resurrection' spoken of in Revelation 20:5-6 ("But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years") as beginning with the resurrection of Christ and continuing throughout the current age and up until the conclusion of Christ's millennial reign (which Latter-day Saints consider to be a future period, whereas as a tentative amillennialist I consider the present period to be the millennial reign). Thus, he explained, resurrections are actually ongoing in the present age, particularly for those who need to be raised from the dead for a given purpose, as was the case for the figures in question. With respect to the precise point in history at which any of them were raised from the dead, however, Creon professed an understandable ignorance. This was actually one of the few questions for which they had a decent answer, and I congratulated them on it.

My final question was one I had been saving, since it wouldn't have been appropriate at an earlier stage in the game. I noted that LDS evangelism places a high premium on urging people to pray for a direct revelation from God as to the truth of the message, and I asked whether Acts showed this to be the dominant apostolic method. And it came to pass that Orestes went to bat first, saying that conversion necessarily happens through the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit can work through a variety of media. The Book of Mormon is of course one but not the only one. The Holy Spirit can also reach people through the modern-day prophet, through talks, through pamphlets, and other ways as well. Admetus cited Matthew 28:18-20 ("And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen") for reasons that remain a tad inexplicable, while Creon raised the more relevant passage of Acts 2:37-41 ("Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you into the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls"), focusing on the phrase "pricked in the heart", which he said indicated that they felt the leading of the Holy Spirit; that is, they were receiving revelation. He said that "the way that we teach as missionaries is inspired of God", insofar as it's a clear case of God working through human weakness.

And it came to pass that, when I asked whether the rest of Acts bore out their analysis, Creon referenced his previous remarks about Acts as a book of patterns, and said that this is one of the patterns assumed throughout the rest of the work. He said that it doesn't appear as much in the case of Paul because much of Paul's mission was to strengthen those already converted in the faith, as can be seen in his letters. (Notice, of course, that at best, this just says that Acts assumes that the leading of the Holy Spirit will be involved in all true conversion, which is an uncontroversial proposition. I didn't challenge them on it there in the interest of time, though in retrospect I should have, but nowhere did they show that their methods in evangelism are at all parallel to those of Christ's apostles. The apostles appealed to verifiable facts and urged people to make the rational decision; Latter-day Saint missionaries frequently appeal to unverifiable private experience and urge people to follow their feelings.)

And it came to pass that this brought our very last meeting to a close at last. And it came to pass that I said the closing prayer:
Heavenly Father, God and Lord of all, I thank you for having had so many opportunities over the past couple months to meet such wonderful friends as these three men and to converse with them about things that do concern you and do concern what truly matters in life. I thank you for having watched over our conversations and having had a great deal to do with them. I pray that you would see fit to guard over all of us, guide us into all truth, and strengthen us in the days to come. As I depart to go back to the United States, I pray that you would continue to work in my life to show me truth and in their lives to show them truth, and that you would-- that it would be your will to allow us to keep in frequent contact and to continue to share with one another. We're so grateful for all of the many things that you've done in each of our lives, and we pray that we would all find the places that you have marked out for us in your grand plan for the renewal of the earth and the bringing of mankind into your love. Thank you, Lord, for everything. In Christ's name, Amen.
Saying goodbye wasn't easy, though it hasn't really hit me yet that I may never see these guys again, at least in this world. But I certainly hope I do. Creon and Orestes and I walked part of the way back from the church before our paths diverged; we shook hands one last time before I walked forward into the darkness once again...

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