Mormonism has a focus on gaining knowledge that is unique in Christendom, largely due to the emphasis that Joseph Smith placed on learning. Joseph’s total open-mindedness to both revelation and all forms of learning are central to the Mormon religion; this open-mindedness had potential for both good and bad outcomes. The lesson discusses two main concepts: what is “knowledge,” and how do we gain it?
What is Knowledge?
“Mormonism is truth; and every man who embraces it feels himself at liberty to embrace every truth: consequently the shackles of superstition, bigotry, ignorance, and priestcraft, fall at once from his neck; and his eyes are opened to see the truth, and truth greatly prevails over priestcraft.” (1839)
(Note the singular use of the word “truth.”) How does an open canon (ongoing revelation) enable members of the church to accept all truth as it is revealed regardless of the superstition, bigotry, ignorance or priestcraft of the day? How does ignorance, bigotry, superstition and priestcraft still creep in? What can individual members do to embrace truth and eschew superstition, priestcraft, bigotry and ignorance?
“Knowledge is necessary to life and godliness. Woe unto you priests and divines who preach that knowledge is not necessary unto life and salvation. Take away Apostles, etc., take away knowledge, and you will find yourselves worthy of the damnation of hell. Knowledge is revelation. Hear, all ye brethren, this grand key: knowledge is the power of God unto salvation.” (1843)
Joseph Smith takes his definition of “knowledge” for granted. He seems to use it to mean revelation, not facts, scientific evidence or information. How does this definition alter our view of the role of knowledge in our salvation?
How to Gain Knowledge
The lesson gives examples of how to gain knowledge, all of which are based on learning from those who know more, not through scientific experimentation or scholarly research. Even revelation can be viewed as gaining knowledge from a Person (God) who knows more than we do.
How can we seek out the best teachers?
What Are the Obstacles to Gaining Knowledge?
The lesson outlines several obstacles to gaining knowledge (or one might say obstacles to revelation): Word of Wisdom violations, creeds, and doubt and darkness.
Word of Wisdom. When the School of Prophets was convened for 4 months of study, the Word of Wisdom was given to the members of the school so their minds would be clear and open to “knowledge.” (Not as a temperance movement or a cultural marker of obedience as it is used today). How does considering this original view of the Word of Wisdom change your perception of it?
Creeds. JS specifically felt that other religions’ adherence to creeds was an obstacle to “knowledge” (remember that he used the word knowledge synonymously with revelation).
“I stated that the most prominent difference in sentiment between the Latter-day Saints and sectarians was, that the latter were all circumscribed by some peculiar creed, which deprived its members the privilege of believing anything not contained therein, whereas the Latter-day Saints are ready to believe all true principles that exist, as they are made manifest from time to time.” (1843)
“I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes [limits], and say, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further’; which I cannot subscribe to.” (1843)
“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, one must put away all his false traditions.” (1843)
How do creeds limit our ability to receive revelation or accept changes to our current thinking and interpretations?
How do creeds compare with the efforts to correlate church materials (rather than remaining completely open to multiple interpretations and speculations)?
There are times when this total open-mindedness seemed to cause Joseph problems (e.g. Kinderhook, etc.). Are there ways in which this complete open-mindedness can cause current members problems (e.g. speculation, wishful thinking, foolish notions)? How can we avoid that?
Doubt and Darkness. When we listen to teachers who do not have more (spiritual) knowledge than we do, or we allow doubt to overcome belief, we stop gaining additional (spiritual) knowledge.
“Knowledge does away with darkness, suspense and doubt; for these cannot exist where knowledge is. In knowledge there is power. God has more power than all other beings, because He has greater knowledge; and hence He knows how to subject all other beings to Him. He has power over all.” (1843)
“When men open their lips against [the truth] they do not injure me, but injure themselves. When things that are of the greatest importance are passed over by weak-minded men without even a thought, I want to see truth in all its bearings and hug it to my bosom. I believe all that God ever revealed, and I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief.” (1844)
“As far as we degenerate from God, we descend to the devil and lose knowledge, and without knowledge we cannot be saved, and while our hearts are filled with evil, and we are studying evil, there is no room in our hearts for good, or studying good. Is not God good? Then you be good; if He is faithful, then you be faithful. Add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, and seek for every good thing. A man is saved no faster than he gets knowledge, for if he does not get knowledge, he will be brought into captivity by some evil power in the other world, as evil spirits will have more knowledge, and consequently more power than many men who are on the earth. Hence it needs revelation to assist us, and give us knowledge of the things of God.” (1842)
How do we sometimes let doubt create distance between us and additional spiritual knowledge? How does listening to bad (spiritual) teaching cause us to lose (spiritual) knowledge?
Does pursuit of knowledge (facts, information) sometimes lead to loss of knowledge (spiritual knowledge, revelation, closeness to God)? How can we avoid that while still embracing learning?
So, this is a pretty good lesson, IMO. What do you think of some of the questions it poses? Discuss.