Saturday, January 19, 2008

CTM Missionaries, Russell Ballard & Lorenzo Snow's As God Once Was Man May Become

President James E. Faust taught missionaries that they can hear the word of the Lord from their mission president:

"Where can we hear the words of the Lord? We can hear them from our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the other General Authorities. We can also hear them from our stake presidents and bishops. Missionaries can hear them from their mission presidents. We can read them in the scriptures. We can also hear the still, small voice which comes through the Holy Ghost. Hearing the words of the Lord lifts us out of spiritual blindness “into his marvelous light.”

As a missionaries in Canada Toronto we were fortunate to have Elder M. Russell Ballard speak to us as one having authority and being an especial witness of Christ. Our mission president was so secure in the gospel that he allowed us to ask him any question we wanted at our zone conferences. The practice is still continued today at our annual mission reunion which is held in the Halliday Stake Center the Friday before the fall conference.

Elder Ballard taught us many principles of the gospel. One of his favorite principles was that we should teach the first principles of the gospel and leave the mysteries alone. As old men now we seem to be inclined to ask him about more mature gospel subjects like the mysteries and less basic principles like article four. As missionaries I can see the wisdom of the first approach since we would confuse our investigators who would think of us as out there. I remember the muddle many missionaries would make when they went around teaching the Lorenzo Snow concept "as God once was man may become." President Ballard told us to knock off doing that.

Elder Melvin J. Ballard in General Conference, April 1921 said: "It is a 'Mormon' truism that is current among us and we all accept it, that as man is God once was and as God is man may become." The Encyclopedia of Mormonism 4:1474 says "This process known as eternal progression is succinctly expressed in the LDS aphorism, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.'"

Gordon B. Hinckley said: "On the other hand, the whole design of the gospel is to lead us onward and upward to greater achievement, even, eventually, to godhood. This great possibility was enunciated by the Prophet Joseph Smith in the King Follet sermon (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 342-62) and emphasized by President Lorenzo Snow. It is this grand and incomparable concept: As God now is, man may become! (See The Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, comp. Clyde J. Williams, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1984, p. 1) Our enemies have criticized us for believing in this. Our reply is that this lofty concept in no way diminishes God the Eternal Father. He is the Almighty. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. He is the greatest of all and will always be so. But just as any earthly father wishes for his sons and daughters every success in life, so I believe our Father in Heaven wishes for his children that they might approach him in stature and stand beside him resplendent in godly strength and wisdom. (Conference Report, Oct. 1994)

Gerald Lund in "I Have a Question" in the Ensign after my mission clarified whether the concept was held as doctrine by the Church: "To my knowledge there has been no “official” pronouncement by the First Presidency declaring that President Snow’s couplet is to be accepted as doctrine. But that is not a valid criteria for determining whether or not it is doctrine.

Generally, the First Presidency issues official doctrinal declarations when there is a general misunderstanding of the doctrine on the part of many people. Therefore, the Church teaches many principles which are accepted as doctrines but which the First Presidency has seen no need to declare in an official pronouncement. This particular doctrine has been taught not only by Lorenzo Snow, fifth President of the Church, but also by others of the Brethren before and since that time.

In her biography of her brother, Eliza R. Snow explains the circumstances which led Lorenzo Snow to pen the famous couplet: “Being present at a ‘Blessing Meeting,’ in the Temple, previous to his baptism into the Church; after listening to several patriarchal blessings pronounced upon the heads of different individuals with whose history he was acquainted, and of whom he knew the Patriarch was entirely ignorant; he was struck with astonishment to hear the peculiarities of those persons positively and plainly referred to in their blessings. And, as he afterwards expressed, he was convinced that an influence, superior to human prescience, dictated the words of the one who officiated.

“The Patriarch was the father of Joseph, the Prophet. That was the first time Lorenzo had met him. After the services, they were introduced, and Father Smith said to my brother that he would soon be convinced of the truth of the latter-day work, and be baptized; and he said: ‘You will become as great as you can possibly wish—EVEN AS GREAT AS GOD, and you cannot wish to be greater.’ ” (Eliza R. Snow, Biography and Family Record of Lorenzo Snow, Salt Lake City: Deseret News Co., 1884, pp. 9–10.)

Lorenzo Snow was baptized a short time later and began his service in the Church. In the spring of 1840 he was called to serve a mission in the British Isles. Before his departure he was in the home of a Church member who was preaching a sermon on the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. (See Matt. 20:1–16.) According to Elder Snow, “While attentively listening to his explanation, the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me—the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noonday, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown me, and explains Father Smith’s dark saying to me at a blessing meeting in the Kirtland Temple, prior to my baptism. …

“As man now is, God once was:”

“As God now is, man may be.”

“I felt this to be a sacred communication, which I related to no one except my sister Eliza, until I reached England, when in a confidential private conversation with President Brigham Young, in Manchester, I related to him this extraordinary manifestation.” (Eliza R. Snow, pp. 46–47; italics added. Brigham Young was President of the Quorum of the Twelve at the time.)

President Snow’s son LeRoi later told that the Prophet Joseph Smith confirmed the validity of the revelation Elder Snow had received: “Soon after his return from England, in January, 1843, Lorenzo Snow related to the Prophet Joseph Smith his experience in Elder Sherwood’s home. This was in a confidential interview in Nauvoo. The Prophet’s reply was: ‘Brother Snow, that is a true gospel doctrine, and it is a revelation from God to you.’ ” (LeRoi C. Snow, Improvement Era, June 1919, p. 656.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith himself publicly taught the doctrine the following year, 1844, during a funeral sermon of Elder King Follett: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! … It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1938, pp. 345–46.)

Once the Prophet Joseph had taught the doctrine publicly, Elder Snow also felt free to publicly teach it, and it was a common theme of his teachings throughout his life. About ten years before his death, while serving as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Snow incorporated his original couplet into a longer poem. He addressed the poem to the Apostle Paul, who had written the following to the Philippian Saints:

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” (Philip. 2:5–6.)

Part of the poem reads:

The boy, like to his father grown,
Has but attained unto his own;
To grow to sire from state of son,
Is not ’gainst Nature’s course to run.

A son of God, like God to be,
Would not be robbing Deity.
(As cited in LeRoi C. Snow, p. 661.)

Numerous sources could be cited, but one should suffice to show that this doctrine is accepted and taught by the Brethren. In an address in 1971, President Joseph Fielding Smith, then serving as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said:

“I think I can pay no greater tribute to [President Lorenzo Snow and Elder Erastus Snow] than to preach again that glorious doctrine which they taught and which was one of the favorite themes, particularly of President Lorenzo Snow. …

“We have been promised by the Lord that if we know how to worship, and know what we worship, we may come unto the Father in his name, and in due time receive of his fulness. We have the promise that if we keep his commandments, we shall receive of his fulness and be glorified in him as he is in the Father.

“This is a doctrine which delighted President Snow, as it does all of us. Early in his ministry he received by direct, personal revelation the knowledge that (in the Prophet Joseph Smith’s language), ‘God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens,’ and that men ‘have got to learn how to be Gods … the same as all Gods have done before.’

“After this doctrine had been taught by the Prophet, President Snow felt free to teach it also, and he summarized it in one of the best known couplets in the Church.

“This same doctrine has of course been known to the prophets of all the ages, and President Snow wrote an excellent poetic summary of it.” (Address on Snow Day, given at Snow College, 14 May 1971, pp. 1, 3–4; italics added.)

It is clear that the teaching of President Lorenzo Snow is both acceptable and accepted doctrine in the Church today."

Even if the doctrine is accepted missionaries shouldn't go down that road with investigators. It may be a beautiful concept that is true but should missionaries be blasting it out there as an opening for discussing the gospel. Elder Ballard told us that missionaries need to preach simple concepts and don't get caught up in the mysteries. He said he knew this from his own missionary experiences and reading the words of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Boyd K. Packer had a friend who as a missionary had an opposite experience:
Years ago a friend, who long since is gone, told this experience. He was seventeen-years-old and with his companion stopped at a cottage in the southern states. It was his first day in the mission field and was his first door. A gray-haired woman stood inside the screen and asked what they wanted. His companion nudged him to proceed. Frightened and somewhat tongue-tied, he finally blurted out, “As man is God once was, and as God is man may become.”

Strangely enough, she was interested and asked where he got that. He answered, “It’s in the Bible.” She left the door for a moment, returned with her Bible. Commenting that she was a minister of a congregation, she handed it to him and said, “Here, show me.”

He took the Bible and nervously thumbed back and forth through it. Finally he handed it back saying, “Here, I can’t find it. I’m not even sure that it’s in there, and even if it is, I couldn’t find it. I’m just a poor farm boy from out in Cache Valley in Utah. I haven’t had much training. But I come from a family where we live the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it’s done so much for our family that I’ve accepted a call to come on a mission for two years, at my own expense, to tell people how I feel about it.”

After half a century, he could not hold back the tears as he told me how she pushed open the door and said, “Come in, my boy, I’d like to hear what you have to say.”

Even though it might have converted one person Elder Packer's friend taught it doesn't mean in our mission it might have worked. The mission president gives guidance in the area he presides over and knows whether his set of missionaries are mature enough to teach complex doctrines. Missionaries should not teach something if their president says don't do it. I think if the brethren thought it was an important concept for missionaries to teach it would have been included in the missionary discussions and even today in the Preach My Gospel manual.

I stopped teaching that concept although I did hear a couple of my senior companions disobey our mission president and work it in. Both times the two investigators really didn't get much out of what my companions said and dropped us immediately. This proved in my mind that he knew what he was talking about.

My generation of CTM missionaries now include three former mission president: Tom Mullen (Ithaca New York), ? Glasser and I think David Harding. I wonder if they passed this same advice on to their missionaries.

I wonder how many other missionaries had mission presidents that instructed them to stick with the basic principles and not teach this Lorenzo Snow's concept. Is there ever a time when a missionary should teach a concept despite being told not to by their mission presidents?


Nick Literski said...

I'm amazed you can write this post, while completely ignoring the fact that Gordon Hinckley has publicly disavowed the "As man now is, God once was" portion of the Snow couplet. Many younger LDS are using this fact to deny not only the Snow couplet as doctrine, but the entirety of the King Follet Discourse as doctrine.

Matt Witten said...

Nick, I don't know many younger LDS who do any such thing. Most evidence I see is that most LDS feel Hinckley was misquoted and that he did not disavow any such thing. I believe he went on to clarify as such in General Conference.

Dr. B.- In my mission, we were also taught to leave the mysteries alone. I believe this comes from a sermon by hyrum smith and another by joseph smith in history of the church.

Nick Literski said...

Misquoted three times, by three entirely separate reporters, Matt?

That's almost as good as the old Mark E. Peterson story that there was only one sermon where Brigham Young taught Adam-God (JD 1:50) and that it was "obviously mistanscribed."

As for as Hinckley's follow up in general conference, yes--he essentially claimed to have been misquoted. That would be much more convincing if he hadn't made the same "misquote" in more interview than one.

Dr. B said...

If you check the internet many detractors have used jumped on the disavowal bandwagon. Saying that he was using misdirection in his responses. The intention of my post was to discuss something that happens on missions. I just traced the quotes for historical context. That is why we have blogs to discuss the various angles. Check out the recent discussion on Mormon Matter on it. There is a quote in the new Joseph Smith manual that says that is true doctrine.

Dr. B said...

There has been a coupling of the Lorenzo Snow couplet with Joseph Smith's statement which is quoted on page 40 in new manual: "God Himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! You would have to repudiate both in order to get away from the couplet.

Check out the Mormon Matter blog for more analysis on this subject.