Note: Although I have dedicated my life to teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, I do not speak for the Church (nor does this article necessarily represent the views of the institution where I teach). There are men and women in Salt Lake City and in other parts of the world who are authorized to speak for the Church. The following constitutes my own thoughts and feelings about a book that is circulating among us. I am responding to issues raised in a book; this is in no way an attack on the man who is reported to have experienced these things (I do not personally know him), or the men who wrote and published them.
There is intense interest in the book that recounts the near-death experiences and visions of the future of “Spencer” (a pseudonym for a member of the Church who prefers to remain anonymous), as told to John Pontius, who actually wrote the book. Speaking with the publisher early in December 2013, I learned that over eighty thousand copies had already been sold, and it is possible that the total exceeded one hundred thousand copies by Christmas. It appears to be a sensation.
I have lived long enough to notice that prophets and apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always been cautious about publications that are sensational-“sensational” meaning writings that tend to arouse acute excitement, interest, curiosity, or emotional response.
Because so many people were asking about the book, and since I wanted to give an informed opinion, I read it.
The cover and inside first-page of the book present “What Readers are Saying about Visions of Glory,” including the following superlative comments: “If you want greater light and knowledge then read this book. . . . I can’t recommend this book enough to all who want to draw closer to Jesus Christ.” And others: “This book has profoundly impacted my life. I came away with a deep impression that I need to trust God completely and yield my heart to Him completely.” “This book will motivate you to cultivate your spiritual gifts.” “Totally changed my perspective on what is important in life and where my priorities need to be!” “If you truly want to get a bigger picture of what this life is about and how each decision you make ripples out into eternity, this is the book for you.” “This has truly opened my eyes. I will read this book many times.”
To be honest, the more of these comments I read, the more I paused to ask: “Wait a minute, isn’t this what we should be saying and feeling about the scriptures? Aren’t God’s own words what provide us with greater light and knowledge’ and help us draw closer to Jesus Christ’ and yield our hearts to Him, and cultivate spiritual gifts, and teach us what is important in life? Aren’t the scriptures the books that we should be reading many times’?”
After carefully reading and annotating the book, I went back to the Library of Congress Cataloguing-in-Publication Data (located after the title page), where the book is summarized as “An account of a man named Spencer’s out-of-body experiences and visions of the last days,” and filed under the topics: “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-Doctrines” and “Mormon Church-Doctrines.” But are the teachings presented in Visions of Glory really the doctrines of the Church?
Granted, there are interesting and perceptive teachings in the book. For example, the ennobling views of people around us being potential gods (page 34); that addictions can follow people into the spirit world, and that all addictions are purely selfish, guaranteeing the instant gratification of the flesh (104-105); that some “natural” disasters may be the result of humans veiling the earth with evil and darkness (115-116); that money, gold, and silver may become relatively worthless, and that food and other necessities will matter more (158); that in the next world righteous translated and resurrected beings will have a profoundly enhanced capacity for love (173); that the Internet and current hand-held devices will be inferior and primitive compared to the far greater gifts available to the righteous in the future (192).
Some things treated in Spencer’s visions I, also, have pondered: In the heavenly world being able to speak without moving lips, spirit communicating directly to spirit; moving from place to place by thought-transfer-moving at the speed of thought (88); that the earth “fell” from its original creation-place to its position in this galaxy and solar system, and when its Creator comes back, it will return to that original location (88); that God exists outside of time and can move back and forth through the construct of time-anywhere and any “when” in His creations, acting in the past, present, and future-one eternal “now”-seeing the beginning and end of all things and all people (100-101); and that intelligence dramatically increases, and the intellect will be able to absorb vast amounts of knowledge in the resurrected state (231).
Some of the above stimulating ideas have also been commented on by ancient and modern prophets. So there are encouraging and uplifting teachings throughout these Visions of Glory, but there are also matters that are troubling to me.
John Pontius wrote in the book’s Foreword that Spencer was consistently “admonished by the Holy Spirit to keep most of these experiences sacred and even secret. . . . These visions were given to Spencer to prepare him personally for what lay ahead in his own life. He has never considered that these visions of the future were for or about the latter-day Church.” “He [Spencer] is . . . reluctant to release these visions in such a way that they may appear to be an attempt to influence the Church in any way” (13). (If Spencer did not desire to influence members of the Church, however, he would not have allowed these accounts to be published. No book is published with the hope that readers will not be influenced.) Spencer “obediently kept his experiences to himself for most of forty years in part to avoid [the] very possible outcome of letting these visions be published” (xiii)-following the scriptural admonition to not boast of miraculous things, “neither speak them before the world” (D&C 84:73).
It may be important to note that the effect of Spencer’s visions on some of his children and his wife was negative and left them with doubts and concerns. In the original typescript manuscript of this book, the Foreword included these lines: “Some of my own children have ridiculed me and refuse to speak to me about spiritual things. My wife knows of my visions and believes they are true, but she can’t comprehend them, and at times has asked me to stop speaking to her about them.” Those two sentences were deleted before publication of the book. Spencer shared the visions with them despite the fact that he was repeatedly told by an angel to avoid sharing them with others (xiii).
The injunction from the Spirit to keep the out-of-body experiences and the visions private is certainly in keeping with modern prophets’ affirmations that certain experiences and enlightenment are to be kept secret and sacred.
Following are seven pointed instructions from those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators:
1. Joseph Smith: “Let us be faithful and silent, brethren, and if God gives you a manifestation, keep it to yourselves” (History of the Church, 2:309).
2. Brigham Young: “Should you receive a vision or revelation from the Almighty, one that the Lord gave you concerning yourselves, or this people, but which you are not to reveal on account of your not being the proper person, or because it ought not to be known by the people at present, you should shut it up and seal it . . . as secret as the grave. The Lord has no confidence in those who reveal secrets, for he cannot safely reveal himself to such persons” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, 43-44).
3. John A. Widtsoe: “Divine manifestations for individual comfort may be received by every worthy member of the Church. . . . Such manifestations most commonly guide the recipients to the solution of personal problems; though, frequently, they also open the mind to a clearer comprehension of the Lord’s vast plan of salvation. They are cherished possessions, and should be so valued by those who receive them. In their very nature, they are sacred and should be so treated. If a person who has received such a manifestation by dream, vision, or otherwise, feels impressed to relate it beyond his immediate family circle, he should present it to his bishop, but not beyond. The bishop, then, may decide upon its further use, if any, or may submit it to those of higher authority for action. The gift was a personal one, not for the Church as a whole; and the recipient is under obligation, in harmony with the established order, not to broadcast it over the Church” (Evidences and Reconciliations, 98-99).
4. Joseph F. Smith: “Not even a revelation from God should be taught to his people until it has first been approved by the presiding authority-the one through whom the Lord makes known His will for the guidance of the saints. . . .The spirit of revelation may rest upon any one, and teach him or her many things for personal comfort and instruction. But these are not doctrines of the Church, and, however true, they must not be inculcated [i.e., taught and distributed/published] until proper permission is given” (Joseph F. Smith Correspondence, Personal Letterbooks, 93-94, Film Reel 9, Ms. F271).
5. Joseph Fielding Smith: “If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself. . . . the Lord will give his revelations in the proper way, to the one who is appointed to receive and dispense the word of God to the members of the Church” (Doctrines of Salvation, 1:288).
6. Harold B. Lee: “Special manifestations should be kept sacred. Some people have had unique testimonies. . . . Some have even published them and had them broadcast throughout the Church. They tell of dreams and of administrations when they have been healed. These are wonderful blessings, but why do they think they have to publicize them all over the Church?” (The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 137).
7. Boyd K. Packer: “I have learned that strong, impressive spiritual experiences do not come to us very frequently. And when they do, they are generally for our own edification, instruction, or correction. . . . I have come to believe also that it is not wise to continually talk of unusual spiritual experiences. . . . I heard President Marion G. Romney once counsel mission presidents and their wives . . . I do not tell all I know; . . . for I found out that if I talked too lightly of sacred things, thereafter the Lord would not trust me'” (Ensign, Jan. 1983, 53).
It troubles me, then, with all the above teachings and cautions from our leaders, that John Pontius would press Spencer to petition Heavenly Father to allow him (Spencer) to divulge sacred, personal things that are reported to have been made known to him over the decades. Brother Pontius explained, “I was overcome with the potential tragedy of all this knowledge being in one person’s head alone and then ultimately lost” (xvi). Further, “they should be written down and not lost forever. . . . I’m hoping Heavenly Father will eventually let us publish them for the benefit of the whole world” (xvi). But was it the proper role of Spencer and John Pontius to benefit the whole world with these visions and their interpretations? I recall that a prophet of God whom we call the brother of Jared saw, in detail, the events of the last days, wrote it all down, sealed it up, and another prophet, Joseph Smith, was told millennia later that it was to remain sealed and not be published to the world, because the peoples of the world, and even the Saints of God, were not yet prepared for those sacred views.
I have been taught by inspired, authorized leaders that it is not the role of Church members to interpret the most sacred things of God-for example, temple teachings, covenants, and ordinances-for others. Elder John A. Widtsoe said, “No man can reveal to another the sublime, deep inner meaning of those symbols presented in the House of the Lord, for it is an individual matter, and every man must seek and obtain it for himself, and that alone, with God’s help only” (“Power from on High,” Salt Lake City: Genealogical Society, 1937, 48-49, as cited in Richard O. Cowan, Temples to Dot the Earth, 226).
Elder H. Burke Peterson expressed similar feelings when, after serving for a year as President of the Jordan River Temple, he said, “It is my impression that man does not have the capacity to explain the endowment to another man. I think that is good. I don’t think he is supposed to. I think there are many who try, and I believe that is unfortunate because I think we must be careful in trying to explain some elements of the endowment that have not been explained. . . . I don’t believe that man can explain the endowment adequately” (cited in Elder Royden G. Derrick, Temples in the Last Days, 75).
But Brother Pontius says he explained, at least in part, the meaning of Spencer’s visions. “My understanding and his visions fit hand-in-glove, giving both of us a far broader understanding. . . . I felt prompted to bring this book for you [he said to Spencer, referring to the Pontius book called The Triumph of Zion]. It may be that you will find some of your answers in here” (xv). And he admitted in the Author’s Note that “I have interpreted much of his [Spencer’s] narrative to make it clear, sequential, and understandable” (xxi). It is critical to emphasize Brother Pontius’s stated motive and purpose in wanting to write and publish Spencer’s visions: for him, John Pontius, to put in proper sequence, and clarify and make more understandable Spencer’s personal glimpses into the future.
I, Brother Ogden, find that objective particularly interesting because I have spent the past forty years studying and teaching the words of the prophets, and my conclusion is that not even the prophets-not even all of them harmonized together-have made their narratives about the last days “clear, sequential, and understandable”!
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<hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ /><hr class=’system-pagebreak’ />0001pt; text-align: left;”>John Pontius exclaimed in the book’s Foreword, “What you are about to read is, to my thinking, the most comprehensive and powerful insight into the latter days that has come to an average person” (xix). But is it proper for an “average person” to receive and publish “the most comprehensive and powerful insight into the latter days”? The book presents, a number of times, new doctrine-new concepts, ideas, details-that prophets of God have not disclosed to the world or even to the Saints. I will now briefly list and comment on some of this new doctrine that raises, in my mind at least, some red flags. And I will refer to Spencer and John Pontius as “the authors,” since Brother Pontius indicates that “Spencer has read and reread what I have written, and he has declared that this book is a true and accurate account of his visionary experiences” (xxi).
Specific Concerns about Visions of Glory
The authors recount that at Spencer’s birth “two of the nurses in the delivery room were not mortals but were angels. They were either translated persons or resurrected, because they had bodies” (8-9). Angels posing as mortal nurses is not in accordance with the scripturally defined role of the ministering of angels (see, for example, Moroni 7:31).
The authors report that evil spirits are “able to change their shape to morph into some other shape if they desired. I realized that a spirit who has never been mortal has no definite spiritual shape” (23). Actually, evil spirits are still spirit children, with spirit bodies, born in premortality to our Heavenly Parents. Doctrine and Covenants 77:2 tells us that they were formed in the likeness of man. Also, the notion that God would permit evil spirits to appear in the image of a dead prophet or someone’s spouse to deceive others (23) is without scriptural or prophetic precedence.
The authors’ conclusion that deceased family members have as their “first responsibility as departed spirits” (26, emphasis added) the watching over, guiding, and teaching of their living posterity seems to carry the notion of guardian angels to the extreme. Consider the following statements:
“There is an old and false sectarian tradition to the effect that all men-or if not that, at least the righteous-have guardian angels, heavenly beings of some sort who attend them and exercise some sort of preserving and guarding care. It is true that there are many specific instances in which angels, by special assignment, have performed particular works whereby faithful people have been guarded and preserved. . . . But to suppose that either all men or all righteous men have heavenly beings acting as guardians for them runs counter to the basic revealed facts relative to the manner in which the Lord exercises his benevolent watchfulness over his mortal children. The fact that angels have intervened to preserve someone in a particular peril does not establish the fact that all people generally have guardian angels, anymore than the fact that angels have ministered to selected prophets would prove that angels have ministered to all men. Actually the preserving care of the Lord is exercised through the Light of Christ” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 341-342).
“We have often heard of guardian angels attending us and many patriarchs have spoken of such protection. There are times no doubt when some unseen power directs us and leads us from harm. However, the true guardian angel given to every man who comes into the world is the Light of Truth or Spirit of Christ” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 1:54).
The authors go into great detail about a massive earthquake that caused serious destruction along Utah’s Wasatch Front, about a series of devastating earthquakes that occurred along the west coasts of North and South America, along with consequent tidal waves, about an immense landmass rising up in the Gulf of Mexico, about a “biological attack” (118), and about foreign troops landing on the east and west coasts of the USA (117-119). They noted that much of Europe, Asia, and Africa were spared the natural disasters, most of which occurred in North and South America (126). However, a few pages later they report the plague that struck Europe, Asia, and Africa, along with great natural disasters “taking place all around the world” (134), which seems to be inconsistent and internally contradictory with their previous assessment.
Due to the mass destructions, members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve were also casualties, and a list of the Brethren killed was published (137). Spencer indicated that he knew the names of those who perished (140-141), but that contradicts the order in which the Lord chooses to reveal things. “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, until he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (JST Amos 3:7, emphasis added; see also statements of prophets previously quoted).
The authors describe a gathering in the Conference Center (in Salt Lake City) held after several of the Brethren had been killed in a great earthquake, noting that only one member of the First Presidency survived, and he sat alone in their reserved seats. This report makes the recounting of the vision suspect, because when the President of the Church is deceased, the First Presidency is dissolved, and at the solemn assembly the Twelve take their seats in order of seniority and no one is left seated alone in the chairs of the First Presidency (all of which is based on the pattern of previous solemn assemblies when a new First Presidency is installed).
Spencer learned of the momentous gathering at Adam-ondi-Ahman, a preparation meeting for the Second Coming. He explains that “the group was small, so there was no need for a PA system” (143). That single detail disagrees with many other scriptural and prophetic descriptions of the scene as a very large gathering of the faithful from Adam’s day to the present, in fact one of the largest congregations of righteous souls ever assembled in the history of planet Earth (see, for example, Bruce R. McConkie, Millennial Messiah, 578-579; compare also Daniel 7:9-14; D&C 107:53-56; D&C 116).
The authors’ claim that “every translated person throughout history had been personally ordained by Jesus Christ” (191) seems contrary to the principle of priesthood delegation that we see operating in His Church today. If that were true, every translated soul in Enoch’s City of Holiness and in Melchizedek’s City of Peace (JST Genesis 14: 32-36) must have been individually ordained by the Lord Himself.
Perhaps one of the most unbelievable portions of the visions the authors report is Spencer’s assignment to gather to Zion, the New Jerusalem, a beautiful, righteous people of Israel who had been living in a giant cavern with lands and mountains under the Arctic icecap for thousands of years (194-196).The authors leave their readers uncertain about who these people are. According to the book, they are not the Ten Tribes (212), and they are not the City of Enoch (221). From a topographical and geological perspective alone, this account appears highly improbable since the Arctic has no land; it consists of nothing more than frozen water. I wonder about human life, even in translated condition, being perpetuated inside icebergs.
Now I am aware that President Wilford Woodruff did make an interesting statement about apocalyptic and eschatological writings (Greek eschatos = dealing with the end of times), such as parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, and John’s Revelation. He described the purpose of such unusual revelations:
“The Lord does communicate some things of importance to the children of men by means of visions and dreams as well as by the records of divine truth. And what is it all for? It is to teach us a principle. We may never see anything take place exactly as we see it in a dream or a vision, yet it is intended to teach us a principle” (The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, 286).
Therefore, even if Spencer’s vision were not to take place exactly as he saw it, and where he saw it, what could possibly be the principle being taught by such an account?
The authors speak of angels who baptized and ordained some of the lost tribes who were gathered into Cardston, Alberta, Canada, where Spencer was located. The doctrinal problem in this case is that angels do not perform ordinances when mortal priesthood holders are on the earth, not even the three Nephite disciples are permitted to do that (see, for example, Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 2:166, 178; Teachings of Harold B. Lee, 486; also Acts 10:1-6; JS-H 1:70).
The authors refer to gods and goddesses (228), but the term “goddess” is not used in any scripture, nor in any message of the First Presidency. Doctrine and Covenants 132:20 is clear that valiant men and women can eventually become gods (the Hebrew term is elohim, which is plural). Kings and queens, priests and priestesses, and gods.
The authors indicate that “among the 144,000 were men and women. . . . Women were High Priestesses, and men were High Priests” (230). This statement directly conflicts with the revealed word of God to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants 77:11:
Q. What are we to understand by sealing the one hundred and forty-four thousand, out of all the tribes of Israel-twelve thousand out of every tribe?
A. We are to understand that those who are sealed are high priests, ordained unto the holy order of God, to administer the everlasting gospel. . . .
The authors describe the Savior at his second coming: “He was clothed in spotless white with a red sash around his waist” (235). This description (along with a well-known painting used in the Church) contradicts the scriptures, which state: “The Lord shall be red in his apparel, and his garments like him that treadeth in the wine-vat” (D&C 133:48; see also Revelation 19:13; Isaiah 63:2-4).
There are other questionable accounts and details in this publication by Spencer and Pontius, containing claims that go beyond scripture and authorized statements of prophets and apostles-for instance, the notion of infinite numbers of planes or layers of “folded universes” in space (88-90); specifics about our life in the pre-mortal realm (94-99); and about evil spirits entering bodies (20, 103-107). Thoughtful Saints will agree with a former First Presidency who wrote the following about such experiences as recorded in Visions of Glory:
From the days of Hiram Page (Doc. and Cov., Sec. 28), at different periods there have been manifestations from delusive spirits to members of the Church. . . .
When visions, dreams, tongues, prophecy, impressions or any extraordinary gift or inspiration convey something out of harmony with the accepted revelations of the Church or contrary to the decisions of its constituted authorities, Latter-day Saints may know that it is not of God, no matter how plausible it may appear. Also, they should understand that directions for the guidance of the Church will come, by revelation, through the head. All faithful members are entitled to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit for themselves, their families, and for those over whom they are appointed and ordained to preside. But anything at discord with that which comes from God through the head of the Church is not to be received as authoritative or reliable (Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose, Messages of the First Presidency 4:285, emphasis added).
And one final caution. Regarding signs of the last days and the Second Coming of the Savior, it is always wise to stay with the scriptures and teachings of the living prophets, teaching “the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon” (D&C 42:12), and “expounding the mysteries thereof out of the scriptures” (D&C 71:1, emphasis added). President Harold B. Lee counseled members of the Church:
There are among us many loose writings predicting the calamities which are about to overtake us. Some of these have been publicized as though they were necessary to wake up the world to the horrors about to overtake us. Many of these are from sources upon which there cannot be unquestioned reliance.
Are you . . . aware of the fact that we need no such publications to be forewarned, if we were only conversant with what the scriptures have already spoken to us in plainness? . . .
Read the 24th chapter of Matthew-particularly that inspired version as contained in the Pearl of Great Price [Joseph Smith-Matthew].
Then read the 45th section of the Doctrine and Covenants where the Lord, not man, has documented the signs of the times.
Now turn to section 101 and section 133 of the Doctrine and Covenants and hear the step-by-step recounting of events leading up to the coming of the Savior.
Finally, turn to the promises the Lord makes to those who keep the commandments when these judgments descend upon the wicked, as set forth in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 38.
. . . These are some of the writings with which you should concern yourselves, rather than commentaries that may come from those whose information may not be the most reliable and whose motives may be subject to question” (Ensign, Jan.1973, 106).
Summarizing, then-although there are happy, positive teachings, and many people may feel genuinely encouraged and uplifted by the book Visions of Glory, there are cautions that Latter-day Saints need to be aware of-as clearly stated by authorized leaders of the Lord’s latter-day kingdom. Prophets and apostles have been plain with us for nearly two centuries about how revelation comes to the house of God-which is a house of order-and how that revelation, unless received by the constituted general authorities of the Church, should be guarded as private and sacred (please return and review the statements of seven prophets included earlier in this article). There is safety for the Saints in staying with the scriptures and the modern prophets.
Due to some comments made by uninformed readers, Meridian prints this statement by Terri Pontius, widow of author John Pontius who wrote Visions of Glory.
I am John Pontius’s widow. I receive questions nearly every day about John’s standing in the Church based on some regrettably inaccurate comments by some readers of Kelly Ogden’s articles on Visions of Glory. I would like to set the record straight on my husband’s character and standing in the Church. My husband was always in good standing with the Church. He held a temple recommend throughout his entire adult life (beginning with his mission). He was always very supportive of the Brethren and the Church. Anyone who has read any of his doctrinal books knows of John’s deep commitment to and love for the gospel and of his unwavering support of and for the Church. He was faithful, humble, sincere, believing, devoted Church member to the end.