The Doctrine of Eternal Lives
At the close of our High Priest’s group meeting today, I was surprised by a question from a good brother sitting next to me. “Why do you study so much?” I wondered why he asked that until I realized what I had done during the lesson. I had placed the piano bench in front of me, spread out my scriptures and was marking a copy of the General Conference talk we were studying.
So I took a minute to answer his question which turned to why I blog. I explained that my mother was a convert and a professional teacher when I was growing up. She ingrained in me a desire to continually study and learn. She had an insatiable appetite to know the history of our church. Our home library was filled with books about Joseph, Brigham, John Taylor and other early leaders.
As a family (or at least with my mother and sister) we attended Education Week and Know Your Religion lectures. Our gospel discussion before my mission was all about doctrine, especially the doctrines of salvation, the temple and the eternities. Mother loved nothing better than to teach what she had learned as a convert. She often taught the Gospel Doctrine Sunday school class.
I told my friend that I studied every possible moment I’m not working or attending to family duties because I want to thoroughly know and understand the doctrines of our church. I don’t want to be like so many I have read about online who say they have been shocked and dismayed when they learned something distressing about our history that they hadn’t heard in church.
I gave him an example. I said, “Do you know there are people in our church who believe in reincarnation? How do you feel about that?” He said, “I know we’ll be resurrected, but I don’t believe that’s the same as reincarnation.” I said, “You’re absolutely right. But there are people using quotes from early church leaders to suggest they believed and taught this as doctrine.”
He said he couldn’t understand how members of the church could believe such a thing. He was a convert and explained that he would think and pray about what he was learning before accepting it. Sometimes well-meaning people would try to tell him that Mormons believed this or that. “But I knew by the spirit that they were wrong, no matter how convincing their arguments.”
Strait and Narrow Path
We concluded our discussion of how we can know truth for ourselves. His unsolicited comment that he “knew by the spirit” was gratifying to hear. We use that phrase often in our church but I remain convinced that there are many who do not appreciate or know how it works. D&C 8:2 holds the key to understanding how we can “know by the spirit” in both our heart and our mind.
Those who approach the world primarily with an intellectual focus often disdain the emotional or sentimental aspects of knowing truth. They remain convinced that there is no place for sentiment in our church service, that the telling of faith-promoting stories is out of place or being moved to tears is not appropriate when considering the doctrines of salvation. I believe they are mistaken.
Those who pass through life responding mainly to how they feel about something but avoid any study of doctrine or history are missing out on the second half of the formula for understanding truth. We know something is true by the spirit when we are edified – when we both feel that it is right and we understand why it is right. It’s a fine line that includes both feeling and knowing.
A Book of Quotes
I recently came across a book that purports to contain Mormon doctrine being offered for sale on Amazonand a few other places. Now I have dozens of books in my library that claim to be full of Mormon doctrine but in reality are riddled with half-truths, innuendos and lies. The difficulty of these kinds of books is that they contain so much truth that the lies are difficult to see clearly.
Such is the case of the book entitled, “Teachings of the Doctrines of Eternal Lives.” Somebody who wished to remain anonymous has gone to a lot of trouble to collect hundreds of quotes from the early leaders of the church and arrange them in an order that seems to lend support for each succeeding section. I applaud the efforts but what is being implied is based on a false doctrine.
No, the idea of Eternal Lives itself is not a false doctrine but it’s not what the book is attempting to prove or justify by all the supporting quotes. Almost all the quotes themselves are wonderful. It’s a delight to see them all in one place. Any serious student of the gospel will be familiar with most of them or should be. If you’re not careful you can skip right over the few that are wrong.
Doctrine of Eternal Lives
The doctrine of Eternal Lives as I understand it is the idea that once exalted we will be able to have eternal increase. In other words, we can become Gods ourselves, parents of spirit children. I don’t pretend to fully understand it because I obviously haven’t experienced it but it is a core component of Mormonism. We can become like God. That’s the whole purpose of life to me.
This should be basic knowledge to every member of the church but if you want to understand this better, I’m actually going to recommend that you buy the book. I have read it online at Scribd and will be picking up a copy at the Confetti Book Store in Spanish Fork next week on my way to a family reunion in Ogden. Like I said, it is a worthwhile compilation of quotes.
You can look up some of the basics in the scriptures and in the words of the prophets using phrases like “continuation of the seeds, eternal increase, exaltation, celestial marriage, calling and election, Church of the Firstborn, Fulness of the Father, Godhood, joint heirs with Christ,” and of course, “eternal lives.” This really is a basic doctrine taught in our standard curriculum.
The Principle of Reincarnation
Even though the compiler adds very little commentary, there is some sprinkled throughout the book along with questions following specific quotes. He also bolds key phrases that he wants you to notice and ponder. As I read the book I kept feeling that there was something wrong with where the compiler was trying to lead me. I couldn’t put my finger on it until I read this quote:
“…his sister, the late Eliza R. Snow Smith was a firm believer in the principle of reincarnation and that she claimed to have received it from Joseph the Prophet, her husband.” This is from the journal of Orson F Whitney, recounting a conversation with Lorenzo Snow. So we have a third person account of what Joseph is supposed to have said (p. 73). Compare that to this exchange:
A Doctrine of the Devil
“I resumed conversation with Matthias, and desired him to enlighten my mind more on his views respecting the resurrection. He said that he possessed the spirit of his fathers, that he was a literal descendant of Matthias, the Apostle, who was chosen in the place of Judas that fell; that his spirit was resurrected in him; and that this was the way or scheme of eternal life—this transmigration of soul or spirit from father to son.
“I told him that his doctrine was of the devil, that he was in reality in possession of a wicked and depraved spirit, although he professed to be the Spirit of truth itself; and he said also that he possessed the soul of Christ. He tarried until Wednesday, 11th, when, after breakfast, I told him, that my God told me, that his god was the devil, and I could not keep him any longer, and he must depart. And so I, for once, cast out the devil in bodily shape, and I believe a murderer.”
The above quote from the prophet Joseph is found in the History of the Church, volume 2, page 307. Transmigration of the soul is the same as a belief in reincarnation. Joseph nailed it when he said that his guest was possessed of an evil and lying spirit. Unfortunately, that same spirit seems to be the source of what our anonymous quote compiler is trying to persuade us to believe.
A Dangerous and Damning Belief
Why is a belief in reincarnation so dangerous? To believe in reincarnation is to take away the focus and incentive we should have to make every moment of this life count in preparation for our continued schooling in the life to come. If one believes they will be given another chance then there is no real desire to do one’s best. Why knock yourself out if you can do it over again?
We are born once, we die once (Heb 9:27) and we are resurrected once to die no more (Alma 11:45 &12:18). That’s the doctrine of the church as taught by the Lord through the prophet Joseph Smith in scripture that we as a church have accepted as binding. Anything other than that is dangerous and damning because it prevents us from progressing in this life as we should.
In the words of Bruce R McConkie, reincarnation “is a false doctrine originating with the devil. It runs counter to the whole system and plan of salvation whereunder spirits are born in pre-existence, are permitted to pass through a mortal probation, and then in due course become immortal, incorruptible, and eternal in nature.” As a church, we do not believe in reincarnation.
Now, maybe I’m wrong that the compiler is trying to lead us to accept reincarnation. Perhaps he wants us to consider some of the other quotes about the resurrection suggesting that the way we are resurrected is to be born of a woman once again, only this time through an immortal or glorified mother. I confess I never heard of “baby resurrection” until I read it in this book.
This idea is not as damning as reincarnation as long as you assert that the baby being born is an immortal being and NOT about to go once again through a mortal probation. As I wrote when I explained my understanding of the doctrine of eternal lives, I know I don’t fully understand the doctrine of the resurrection because I have not experienced it and don’t have the keys to do so.
I have considered the idea Brigham taught when he said Adam came into this world the same way you or I came into it – born of a woman. That woman was his Heavenly Mother. Thus he was born an immortal being. That makes perfect sense to me. Yes, I know it’s out there and considered by some to be a part of the Adam God theory, but I like to think about these things.
Anyway, I’m going to buy the book and read it again. It’s really more of a reference work since there is so little of the author’s own words included. There are some questionable books about our religion that I won’t add to my library, but this is one that will find a home right next to “The Mysteries of Godliness” byDavid John Buerger and all of my D. Michael Quinn books.
I hope you don’t feel threatened by reading stuff from people who were once members of our faith but who are no longer formally associated with us, either by choice or by disciplinary action. I don’t feel there is anything wrong with reading well-researched material and drawing your own conclusions. I enjoy the intellectual challenge of discerning truth from error.
I think the Lord is serious about us learning truth and expects us to put D&C 8:2 to the test in all that we study. Our time is limited in this life so we should focus our doctrinal study efforts on those things that will prepare us to receive the Lord, preferably in this life (D&C 93:1) so that we may depart mortality with a perfect hope, knowing our standing before the Lord. That is my goal.