You can’t teach everything you know

Back in the day when we had missionary farewells, I prepared and delivered my farewell talk with lots of fasting and prayer. I wanted it to be special for everyone in attendance, especially my own family. As I was giving the talk, I could tell it wasn’t going well but couldn’t figure out why. I plowed through anyway because I had spent so much effort in preparing the darn thing.

I later asked my family what they thought. “Oh, it was nice,” was the response I got from almost everyone. It wasn’t until I asked one of my older sisters for her opinion that I got an idea. “Well, you certainly knew what you were talking about,” as if to imply that she had no clue. That was my first experience in speaking over someone else’s level of understanding.

I didn’t think such a thing was possible. My sister was a BYU graduate and had sat through four years of mandatory religion classes but she didn’t understand my efforts to teach the basics of the conversion process that I was so excited to have experienced. I had spent the previous six months of my life going through an intense immersion in spiritual things and wanted to share it.

Not everybody is at the same level

Now this may seem like a very rudimentary piece of advice to share, but it is a major key to a successful teaching or speaking experience in the church. Sometimes in our zealousness, we can over-prepare and find ourselves teaching things that require much more time to understand the background information before the actual point can be accepted by the listeners or students.

For example, what if I were to tell you that there is absolutely no concurrent written record of one of the most important events in the history of the church? I’m referring, of course, to the restoration of the Melchizedek priesthood. We have Joseph’s record in the History of the Church 1:72, indicating that it would be conferred in time, but we do not know the exact date.

Now this may not seem to be a big deal, but to a historian, the lack of an original source document attesting to this fact is tantamount to a lie. The story is that the event was recorded in an early edition of Joseph’s history, but someone apostatized and took it with him. It was never seen again. Never mind that Joseph and every other prophet since has testified that it happened.

Implied occurrence of events

We have the word of thousands who have declared that the event did occur. For example, President Hinckley said, “We do not know exactly where it took place, but, from the description given, it was not far away. Nor do we know the exact date. However, by piecing together various accounts and bits of history, we may assume that it occurred in the following month of June.”

Do you see my point? It is a simple thing to state, “I know the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith through Peter, James and John.” That’s all that really needs to be said. There is just no need to say anything more unless asked. Nothing needs to be said about the incomplete historical record. It’s not like we’re hiding anything or trying to deceive anyone.

When the missionaries first teach about the restoration of the priesthood or when it is taught in seminary or institute classes, there is usually no mention made of this little fact that we have no actual written record of the event. I’m not a historian and I’m not a scientist trained in the importance of empirical evidence so I don’t know why this is such a big deal with some people.

To bear witness

Knowing that we possess no first-hand journal evidence attesting to the visit of Peter, James and John does not stop me from adding my witness that I know it occurred as Joseph said it did. What? How can I say that? I wasn’t there. There were no witnesses other than Joseph and Oliver and neither one recorded it in a journal on the day it happened. How can I be a witness?

Ah, there is the beauty of the gift of the Holy Ghost and the promise of personal revelation as found in Moroni’s promise: “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” President Packer gave us a wonderful corollary to this promise when he said that “a testimony is to be found in the bearing of it.” It takes a leap of faith to do this.

I have taught this principle so many times that it has been ingrained into my soul by the spirit of the Holy Ghost. I could no more deny it than I could deny that I was born in Covina, California in 1957. I don’t remember the event but I’m told I was there. I have much evidence of the fact. Having or not having a birth certificate does not change the fact that I was born and I live.

Milk before meat

Back to the point of this essay. I know some people hate the analogy of milk before meat. Wait, that’s not an analogy, that’s scripture. Didn’t Paul say that? Yes, here it is in Hebrews 5:12-14. I’m sure you know what it says. The principle is that we simply don’t and can’t teach some of the more deep or obscure doctrines of the church before investigators or new converts are ready.

If you have ever taught a Primary class you know what I am talking about. That is the obvious example but unfortunately, it still applies even to whole congregations at the ward, stake and entire church level. The Brethren are so very careful when they prepare their General Conference talks to not present material that might be confusing or easily misunderstood.

I know what they are going through. I have experienced the same thing so many times as a High Council speaker. As much as I wanted to talk about some of the complex and difficult nuances of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, I felt impressed by the spirit to keep my talk simple. I felt I should only bear witness to those things that are easily explained and understood.

Summary and conclusion

I have studied the restored gospel of Jesus Christ all my life. I continue to do so and hope to do so until the day I pass into the spirit world. I love the wonderful discussion that is occurring on the Internet as so many other faithful members of the church share their understanding of the gospel and experiences in living it. Unfortunately, there are also some not so faithful dialogs.

I have yet to find a conflict between what I know and what is supposed to be shocking as found on the anti-Mormon, ex-Mormon or post-Mormon websites. I’ve confessed previously that I have visited and read many of the things on those websites. I read books that are considered controversial or apostate. I enjoy the research but not the conclusions of D. Micheal Quinn.

I guess I have simply come to different conclusions about the history of the church than Grant Palmer, Mike Quinn and others who have found what they consider to be irrefutable evidence of falsehood, lies, a cover-up and re-write of our history. As I’ve said before, I haven’t seen it. What I have seen is the Kingdom of God rolling forth in glory until it will fill the whole earth.

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