Recently, the CES (Church Educational System) outlined a new approach to help its students learn how to recognize, understand, and apply gospel principles in their lives. It’s called Doctrinal Mastery. It is a supplement to the previous Scripture Mastery program that we had as curriculum back in the 90’s. Instead of just memorizing scriptures (which is still an excellent idea by the way), the CES is helping and teaching and encouraging the students to learn how to search for and answer their own questions. I encourage everyone to go here and read all of the material available (but especially the talk by Elder Ballard, Chad Webb, and the 2016 annual broadcast), because it is outstanding information and is well worth your dedicated and repeated study time (not to mention how great it would be for FHE and/or other family discussions).
In case you don’t follow the link above right away and hope that I will recap some of the main points, below is an overview:
- Students acquire spiritual knowledge and are better prepared to respond to questions as they follow the principles and patterns that Heavenly Father has established for us to learn and understand truth.
- Students will deepen their conversion and commitment to Jesus Christ, be protected against the influences of the adversary, and be better prepared to bless the lives of others as they come to understand, believe, and live according to the Savior’s doctrine.
Learning and applying divine principles for acquiring spiritual knowledge and responding to questions by
- Acting in faith
- Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective
- Seeking further understanding through divinely appointed sources
Each one of these three desired outcomes is outlined in great detail in the various talks/devotionals/messages that are available through the link above, and each one of them is worth spending hours reading/learning about, but for the purpose of this particular message, I want us to understand number 2 – Examining concepts and questions with an eternal perspective.
An eternal perspective means not limiting our questions or our concerns or our doubts to our own little tiny 20th century timeframe, nor to our little tiny understanding of a particular principle/application. Part of examining concepts in this eternal perspective is the acknowledgement that opposition and temptation have been around since the very beginning of what we call time, and the understanding that we certainly are not the first ones to struggle or deal with a particular issue – no matter what it is. Even if our pride thinks it is. We need to understand that the scriptures (the divinely appointed sources referenced in item 3 above) are in fact a compilation of scenarios, situations, stories, that produced the entire gamut of burning questions and riveting answers – all recorded by righteous individuals with the express intent of being available for us to “examine concepts and questions with an eternal perspective”.
Maybe the next time we have a doubt, or a serious question, or something that makes us ‘wrestle’ with the Lord – no matter what it is – let’s ask ourselves a guiding question that will start our search for answers on the right path: “Has someone already asked this question before”? “Has someone in the history of recorded time struggled with an issue similar to this”? Has someone then “acted in faith” and “sought further understanding through divinely appointed sources” and received an answer – and then recorded that answer”? In most cases the answer is yes. As a note, that’s what the scriptures are – the most true and correct FAQ document the world has ever seen.
A “yes” answer to the questions above places some of the question finding responsibility on our shoulders because I doubt the Lord loves when we ask a question that he has already answered – especially when that answer has been asked, answered, and then recorded in the scriptures. After all, most successful companies refer you to the FAQ section before they connect you with a representative right? Right.
To help us understand exactly what and how awesome the scriptures really are – which will in turn help us really feel the possibilities that it holds for us – let’s think of some of the times that angels have come down from heaven to visit the earth to deliver a particular message – or when a beloved prophet is sent to do the same. Moroni comes to Joseph Smith and quotes some scriptures. Abinidi gets sent to King Noah and ends up quoting/reading scriptures (Isaiah). Christ himself (not to mention Nephi, Jacob, and many other prophets who wrote in the Book of Mormon) comes down to minister among the Nephites and spends a whole lot of time reading and expounding the scriptures. Talk about answering questions – maybe he was making sure they really did have all the scriptures, so that when they recorded the Book of Mormon, it would ensure that we really do have the full set of FAQ.
There is a scripture passage that helps us solidify how we should approach and deal with any questions that we may have surrounding the gospel. The setting is approx. 29-23 BC and the Lamanites are the good guys and the Nephites happen to be the bad guys. At this time, there was an especially bad group (secret band of robbers) who were led and named after their especially bad leader Gadianton. It’s found in Helaman 6:37-39: So, when we read this passage, and understand how these two groups dealt with the robbers, we can understand and liken it to the two options we have when questions or doubts arise in our hearts – because the doubts we have about the gospel are in fact, the robbers of Gadianton.
The Lamanites did hunt the band of robbers of Gadianton; and they did preach the word of God among the more wicked part of them, insomuch that this band of robbers was utterly destroyed from among the Lamanites.
And it came to pass on the other hand, that the Nephites did build them up and support them, beginning at the more wicked part of them, until they had overspread all the land of the Nephites, and had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.
And thus they did obtain the sole management of the government, insomuch that they did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek, and the humble followers of God.
The Lamanites preached the word of God among their doubts and questions, until they were utterly destroyed.1 I expect this preaching of the word of God (pure, scripture truth) was not a one-time sermon, but more of a repeated, continual effort that took place over time.
On the other hand, the Nephites did build them up, and support their doubts until they had overspread all the land, seduced the more part of them, until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them. If we build up and support our doubts, it won’t be long until they overtake all our land, and we will come down to believe in their works, and partake of their spoils (please notice how enjoying fruit is the end goal of Lehi’s dream, Jacob 5, and Alma 32, yet spoils are the result of Gadiantons plundering and Satan’s offering to us). Worse yet, if we to continue to build them up, these doubts will have “sole management of the government” – and they will drive away all faith, hope, and love until we become cynical, bitter, and then we trample under our feet all of the things we once loved.
1 Questions are good – critical even. They lead to answers. They lead us to and through the process of becoming a seeker of truth and a seeker of answers. So much of our history (both ancient and modern) is the result of diligent searching for answers.