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Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Gift of Discernment Part 10: Put Away ALL Your Traditions


Throughout his life, Joseph Smith lamented his inability to convince people of truths which they had not personally experienced.
"There are a great many wise men and women too in our midst who are too wise to be taught; therefore they must die in their ignorance, and in the resurrection they will find their mistake. Many seal up the door of heaven by saying, So far God may reveal and I will believe." (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 309; History of the Church 5:424).
"It is the constitutional disposition of mankind to set up stakes and set bounds to the works and ways of the Almighty." (History of the Church, 5:529–30; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 13, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.)
"Men will set up stakes and say thus far will we go and no farther. Did Abraham when called upon to offer his son? Did the Savior? No." (Notes of James Burgess from a sermon in the temple grove 27 August 1843, The Words of Joseph Smith, p.243-248)
"I say to all those who are disposed to set up stakes for the Almighty, You will come short of the glory of God. To become a joint heir of the heirship of the son he must put away all his traditions." (History of the Church, 5:554; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Aug. 27, 1843, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards and William Clayton).
Then, only six months before he was martyred, Joseph Smith lamented,
“But there has been great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this people. Even the Saints are slow to understand. I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen [see D&C 121:40].” (History of the Church, 6:184–85; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on Jan. 21, 1844, in Nauvoo, Illinois; reported by Wilford Woodruff; Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, p. 520)
Joseph wasn't alone. During His mortal life, Jesus spiritually, mentally and even physically fought against false traditions. We also read in Ether 12:5 how Ether prophesied great and marvelous things to the people, which they didn't believe, because they never saw them. I suppose Lehi, who preached among, and was rejected by, his people could also relate.

But look at his last two quotes again. There, in crystal clear, black-and-white language:

Your ability, your destiny, to be a chosen, joint heir with Jesus Christ is directly tied to your willingness and ability to put away your traditions.


Traditions are knowledge, customs, practices, and beliefs handed down from generation to generation. They are often equated as the standards of behavior and expectations shared by all the members of a group about how people are supposed to act. For example, family traditions can be very worthwhile:
"Family traditions serve as a kind of emotional grounding for individuals as they go through life. These may be such traditions as those surrounding birthdays and such holidays as Thanksgiving and Christmas, traditions in saying hello and bidding farewell, traditions of planning and preparing for missions, of family prayer, of temple marriage, of the family hour, of Sunday dinner, of Saturday afternoon activities. These are security points in young people's lives, something they can depend upon, something they associate with joy and happiness, pleasure and love, and something they will always be able to identify with throughout their lives." (Stephen R. Covey, "Spiritual Roots of Human Relations")
Unlike family traditions, doctrinal traditions can be a double-edged sword. When it has a scriptural basis in the word of God, it can perpetuate righteous principles and serve as a marvelous support system in helping us employ our moral agency wisely. For example, righteous traditions like modesty, chastity, honesty, moral responsibility, sacrifice, and serving others are clearly doctrinally-based traditions. They're rooted in truth and light -- Christ's words (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:8), His behaviors and His gospel (D&C 74:6) -- and can be found, in their purest form, in the Standard Works:
"If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, Reports and Discourses, p. 69)
“All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (Pres. Harold B. Lee, “Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, p. 13).
In short, "the four standard works" are "the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine." Statements which are unsubstantiated by the scriptures are merely private opinions. And when these opinions become the norm, and are handed down from generation to generation, they become traditions.

Yet when we embrace traditions which deviate from the doctrines and teachings found in the Standard Works -- no matter how long they've been around -- we make ourselves vulnerable to Satan stealing away our light:
"And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers" (D&C 93:39)
This loss of light (which comes by aligning with false traditions) catalyzes our dwindling into ignorance (Alma 9:16) and ultimately unbelief (Helaman 15:15), which therefore disqualifies us from being joint heirs with Jesus.

Conversely, if we do the opposite, we entitle ourselves to far greater manifestations of God:
“[God] would be glad to send angels to communicate further to this people, but there is no room to receive it, consequently, He cannot come and dwell with you. There is a further reason: we are not capacitated to throw off in one day all our traditions, and our prepossessed feelings and notions, but have to do it little by little. It is a gradual process, advancing from one step to another; and as we layoff our false traditions and foolish notions, we receive more and more light, and thus we grow in grace; and if we continue so to grow we shall be prepared eventually to receive the Son of Man, and that is what we are after.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 2:309-318).


While some traditions are easily viewed within the spectrum of doctrinal truths, others I just can't find in the scriptures. For example:

  • Don't seek out or talk about the mysteries. It's dangerous to do so.
  • Don't drink caffeinated beverages. They're against the Word of Wisdom.
  • You shouldn't travel on Sundays.
  • You can only use your right hand to partake of the sacrament.
  • Temporal prosperity is an indication of righteousness.
  • Garments are a physical protection.
  • Clean shaven = worthy. Beard / mustache = unworthy (this makes me wonder when unworthiness kicks in -- 3-day stubble? 5-day stubble?).
  • "I would be ungrateful if I didn't stand and bear my testimony."
  • White shirts are a mandatory prerequisite for a priesthood holder to participate (they aren't; Handbook 2 20.4.1).
  • Gross vs Net vs "Increase" tithing.
  • We don't need to sparingly eat flesh of beasts and of the fowls of the air.
  • Non-face card games (like Uno) are evil.
  • Giving preference to manuals and handbooks over scriptures.
  • Stand when the President of the Church enters the room.
  • Blessing foods that are inherently not nourishing and weakening to the body to magically become both nourishing and strengthening.
  • We need God; God doesn't need us.
  • Miracles are wrought only by priesthood power.
  • If you're nice / compassionate to a sinner, you tacitly accept the sin.
  • It's OK to ostracize and even publicly condemn people (not just beliefs) who believe differently than we do. After all, we need to protect the flock (see Acts 5:38).
  • Only those who have been endowed / the Brethren can see Jesus or have their Calling and Election made sure.
  • We shouldn't even talk about seeing Jesus or Heavenly Father.
  • We shouldn't talk about Heavenly Mother.
How many of these have you thought, said or taught?

How many are rooted in the word of God?

Please note that I'm not criticizing or condemning anyone who believes, does or teaches these things. That's not my place.

But I think it's important to ponder one overriding possibility: By teaching man-made traditions as the word of God, people turn the profane into the sacred. They are "lighters of fires, who illuminate with mere sparks." (Isaiah 50:11).

How about you?


This is the Christmas season. The season of giving.

It's also a time when we should be reflecting on Jesus, and the gift His life was and is to us. After all, we've promised -- even covenanted -- to take upon us His name, always remember Him and keep His commandments.

Yet during this season of giving, of Christ, how enthusiastically are you going beyond these weekly-renewed doing as He would do?

As I reflect upon His life, I'm convinced that during the Christmas season -- if Jesus were alive today, here in the Western world -- He wouldn't be spending tons of time shopping nor mounds of money on presents. No Amazon, no Best Buy, no Walmart specials for Him. No ESPN, no hours upon hours engorging Himself with food to the point to where He feels like napping on the couch.

Instead, while the world would be celebrating His birth, He would be out in the cold, breezy winter weather bringing love and hope and understanding to the less fortunate, the mentally ill, the outcast, the suffering, the dying.

No microwaves nor TVs for Him. No, He'd be found in hospitals, senior centers and womens shelters. Armed with hot chocolates, hand warmers, maybe some granola bars and a few restaurant gift cards, He would be driving from street corner to street corner, seeking and searching for people with whom He could share a laugh, a pat on the back, well wishes and His goody bags.

So this season, I invite you to do something maybe you've never done before: Go beyond professing belief in Him, remembering Him and keeping His commandments. Be an ambassador of love, of hope, of caring. Go be Jesus' eyes and ears, legs and hands this Christmas season.

You know what you need to do. What you SHOULD do. What He very likely WOULD do.

After all, you're one of His disciples, right?

Please let me know how the new Christmas tradition goes!

Thus ends my miniseries on the Gift of Discernment. I hope you've enjoyed it, learned something from it, and perhaps even pondered implementing a few of the principles discussed.