By Meridian Magazine

When Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke to students at Harvard Law School on 21 March 2012, he thanked them for taking religion seriously, quoting a New England cleric who said one hundred years ago:

“The loss of respect for religion is the dry rot of social institutions. The idea of God as the Creator and Father of all mankind is to the moral world, what gravitation is in the natural; it holds everything else together and causes it to revolve around a common center. Take this away and any ultimate significance to life falls apart. There is then no such thing as collective humanity, but only separate molecules of men and women drifting in the universe with no more cohesion and no more meaning than so many grains of sand have meaning for the sea.” (Adapted from Henry Martyn Field)

Elder Holland continued: “In the western world religion has historically been the basis of civil society as we have known it, and if I am not mistaken, men and women of the law are committed to the best-that is the most just-civil society possible.”

He said, “I can understand that it is a little shocking to have had not one but two Latter-day Saint candidates vying for the presidential nomination of their party, and I confess I did not believe I would live to see the day that yellow cabs in Times Square would be scurrying about with “taxi toppers” saying, “See the Book of Mormon.” Of course our quick rejoinder to that has been, Now you have seen the show, read the book.’

After telling the crowd that to know Latter-day Saints, one has to know that “we believe in God and angels and divine manifestations of all the scriptural kinds”, he recounted the Joseph Smith story and then proclaimed “that young Joseph Smith’s declaration in 1820 is our declaration today and forever-that there was a true Church once in the meridian of time, in which Jesus Christ was the chief cornerstone and the personification of its divinity, with mortal men called as prophets and apostles to form a foundational footing around him. These apostles, with other teachers and priests, pastors and members in general constitute a figurative building, a Church, which Paul described as being “fitly framed together” . . . “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, [and] for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Eph. 2:19-22; 4:11-12) That is our first testimony-of Jesus Christ as the literal Son of God, of the merciful and redeeming gospel he brought from the Father to the earth to share with all of God’s children, and of the Church Christ established to be the vehicle for communicating those truths and offering those ordinances.

“But our next testimony is that after Christ’s ascension and with the death of those early apostles the Church and its divinely ordained succession of priesthood authority was lost, taken, removed from the face of the earth.

“So what ensued was a millennium and a half of destroying Paul’s hope-that there would be a unity of the faith, and [a] knowledge of the Son of God, . . . That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.’ (Eph. 4:13-14, emphasis added) It is commonplace to note that in the Christian world we see anything but a unity of faith’ or any real Christian cohesiveness that could remotely be called the building fitly framed together,’ (Eph. 2:21) that would reaffirm One Lord, one faith, one baptism.’ (Eph. 4:5)

“And so it was in Joseph Smith’s day. This young boy-prophet lamented that his region was a scene of great confusion and bad feeling . . .-priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; . . . so that [any] good feelings . . . were entirely lost in a . . . war of words and tumult of opinions.’ (Joseph Smith History 1:6, 10) A war of words and tumult of opinions.’ That says so much about post-New Testament Christianity.

Elder Holland said:

“Our basic message about Christ’s restored Church and its doctrine is not limited to, but might begin with, the truth that:

  • Every man, woman and child who has ever lived, now lives, or will yet live so long as the earth shall last is a son or daughter of a loving and divine Heavenly Father. He is the God in Whose image we were created, which is not surprising in that children are always created in the image of their parents. (See Gen. 1:26-27) As the spiritual offspring of God we are “heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17)
  • In order to gain a mortal body and experience moral growth available in no other way, a real Adam and a real Eve chose to leave a paradisaical setting-Eden if you will-to learn all that was necessary for children of God to learn, especially about living together in love and realizing that the guidance God would give them is the only answer to the personal and familial, social and political, economic and philosophical problems they would face in mortality.
  • Because mistakes would be made in the course of that mortal education-sometimes horrible mistakes, wrenching mistakes, global mistakes-a Savior was provided in such a plan, one who would atone not only for Adam and Eve’s initial transgression (one necessary to bring the human family into mortal existence) but also for every individual transgression made by all those in that human family-the sins and sorrows, the disappointments and despair, the tears and tragedies of every man, woman and child who would ever live from Adam to the end of the world.
  • Such a plan was necessary and such a Savior was required in it because life is eternal. Our hopes and dreams mattered before we came to this earth and they will most certainly matter after we leave it. If the following sentiment was good enough for a Harvard graduate, it is good enough for me:

“Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!

And the grave is not its goal;

Dust thou art, to dust returns,

Was not spoken of the soul.”

                      (from H. W. Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”)

The Apostle Paul said it even better, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (I Cor. 15:19)

  • Lastly, this plan, this divine course outlined for us-including the fortunate Fall in Eden and the redemption of Gethsemane and Calvary-is universally inclusive.

    All are children of the same God and all are included in His love and His grace.”For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22) Everyone is covered, though it remains to be seen whether everyone cares. But if there is a failure to respond, it won’t be because God didn’t try and Christ didn’t come. That is at the heart of what I have been introducing to you as the restored gospel.”

So, asked Elder Holland, “why do these Mormons stir up such emotions in people and why are they not considered “Christian” by some?

He answered, “We are not considered Christian’ by some because we are not Fourth Century Christians, we are not Athanasian Christians, we are not creedal Christians of the brand that arose hundreds of years after Christ. No, when we speak of restored Christianity’ we speak of the Church as it was in its purity, not as it became when great councils were called to debate and anguish over what it was they really believed. So if one means, Greek-influenced, council-convening, philosophy-flavored Christianity of post-apostolic times, we are not that kind of Christian. Peter we know, and Paul we know, but Constantine and Athanasius, Athens and Alexandria we do not know. (Actually we know them, we just don’t follow them.)

“Thus, we teach that

  • God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ are separate and distinct beings with glorified bodies of flesh and bone. As such we stand with the historical position that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament]” (source). We take Christ literally at His word-that He “came down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of him that sent [him.]” (John 6:38) Of His antagonists He said, “[they have] . . . hated both me and my Father.”   (John 15:24) These, along with scores of other references, including His pleading prayers, make clear Jesus’ physical separation from His Father. However, having affirmed the point of Their separate and distinct physical nature, we declare unequivocally that They were indeed “one” in every other conceivable way-in mind and deed, in will and wish and hope, in faith and purpose and intent and love. They are most assuredly much more alike than They are different in all the ways I have just said, but They are separate and distinct beings as all fathers and sons are. In this matter we differ from traditional creedal Christianity but agree with the New Testament.
  • We also differ with fourth and fifth century Christianity by declaring that the scriptural canon is not closed, that the heavens are open with revelatory experience, and that God meant what He said when he promised Moses, “my works are without end, and . . .my words. . .never cease.” (Moses 1:4) We believe that God loves all His children and that He would never leave them for long without the instrumentality of prophets and apostles, authorized agents of His guidance and direction. The Book of Mormon and other canonized scripture, as well as the role of living oracles, witnesses to the fact that God continues to speak. We agree enthusiastically with the insightful Protestant scholar who inquired, “On what biblical or historical grounds has the inspiration of God been limited to the written documents that the church now calls its Bible. . . If the Spirit inspired only the written documents of the first century, does that mean that the same Spirit does not speak today . . . about matters that are of significant concern?” (Lee M. McDonald)
  • Lastly, for today, we are unique in the modern Christian world regarding one matter which a prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called “our most distinguishing feature.” (David O. McKay) That is, divine priesthood authority to provide the saving sacrament-the ordinances-of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The holy priesthood, which has been restored to the earth by those who held it anciently, signals the return of divine authorization. It is different from all other man-made powers and authorities on the face of the earth. Without it there could be a church in name only, and it would be a church lacking in authority to administer in the things of God. This restoration of priesthood authority eases centuries of questions and anguish among those who knew certain ordinances and sacraments were essential, but lived with the doubt as to who had the right to administer them. Breaking ecclesiastically with his more famous brother John over the latter’s decision to ordain without any divine authority to do so, Charles Wesley wrote:

“How easily are bishops made

By man or woman’s whim:

Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,

But who laid hands on him?”

Elder Holland, “In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we can answer the question of who laid hands on him’ all the way back to Christ Himself. The return of such authority is truly the most distinguishing feature’ of our faith.”