News of the Church

By Anita C. Andrews

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    Tahitians Feel Spirit of Peace in New Temple

    In addition to its stately earthly beauty, the new Tahiti Temple left visitors impressed with the spirit of peace and reverence they felt as they streamed through it before its dedication.

    Saints who live in these Pacific islands had no trouble identifying the source of their feelings. They gave thanks to our Heavenly Father for inspiring the First Presidency to build a temple in their midst. President Gordon B. Hinckley, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, offered the dedicatory prayer October 27.

    President Hinckley expressed gratitude for the restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith. “While he was yet alive and while the Saints were yet in Nauvoo, he was inspired to call the first missionaries to these beautiful Society Islands of the Pacific. From their dedicated labors in those early years there came a great harvest.”

    He spoke of the growth of the Church in the islands and added: “There is now strength and maturity among the many thousands of the Saints of French Polynesia, for which we express gratitude unto thee. As a capstone of all this effort we now have this beautiful and sacred house to present unto thee.”

    He asked that the temple might “be holy to thy people, a sanctuary of peace from the noise and the conflicts of the world, and a house in which they may labor for eternal blessings for themselves and for those who have passed beyond the veil of death.

    “We ask that thou wilt preserve it as thy house. May it be protected by thy power from any who would defile it. May it stand against the winds and the rains that beat upon it. May it be beautiful to all who see it, and sacred to all who enter it.

    “We pray for those who govern these islands,” he added, “that they may be guided by thy spirit to conduct the affairs of government in such a way that those who live here may rejoice in the privileges afforded them, and may the government and the people of these beautiful islands always be hospitable to thy appointed servants.

    “We pray for thy people who walk in faith and obedience wherever they may be found. Reward their faith and prosper their labors.”

    Nearly five hundred Tahitian Saints packed the chapel of the temple for the first of six dedicatory services held there October 27 through October 29.

    During the opening dedicatory service, President Hinckley recalled a tragic shipwreck that occurred twenty years ago, during his first visit to the Society Islands. It claimed the lives of many Saints. He said he felt that they were now looking on approvingly at the dedication of the temple and that the prayers of these departed Saints were influential in the decision to build a temple in Tahiti.

    Georges Bonnet, regional manager for temporal affairs of the Church in Tahiti, said Saints at the services felt strongly the presence of these other onlookers as President Hinckley spoke of the shipwreck, inviting those who survived to use the temple well.

    Polynesian members, including a group of singing grandmothers, gave a warm island greeting to the visitors from Salt Lake City. In addition to President Hinckley, visiting General Authorities included Elder L. Tom Perry and Elder David B. Haight of the Council of the Twelve; Elder Jack H Goaslind, Jr., and Elder Rex C. Reeve, Sr., of the First Quorum of the Seventy; and Presiding Bishop Victor L. Brown.

    The temple attracted attention among Tahitian Saints and nonmembers alike. More than sixteen thousand visitors toured the structure before its dedication. Many enthusiastic nonmember visitors recruited others to go back with them. “My friends visited the temple four or five times,” Brother Bonnet said. Missionaries received more than five thousand referrals.

    “Most Polynesians, whether members or not, are very, very glad to have the temple here,” Brother Bonnet added. They take pride in its beauty. Visitors were enthralled by the simple elegance of its decor.

    Many visitors requested more information about the purpose and meaning of ordinances to be performed in the temple. Among them were the highest-ranking French government official on the island, High Commissioner Alain Ohrel, and the head of the local government, Gaston Flosse.

    The 8,500-square-foot temple, the twenty-fifth currently operating in the Church, is located in downtown Papeete. It will serve the 8,000 members of multi-cultural French Polynesia, offering services in French, English, and Tahitian.

    [photo] More than sixteen thousand visitors toured the new Tahiti Temple before its dedication. (Photography by Armis Ashby.)

    Missionary Fireside Scheduled January 5

    Full-time missionaries, stake teaching missionaries, and friendshipping families throughout the United States and Canada are being invited to bring their investigators to a missionary fireside that will be broadcast the evening of 5 January 1984 to stake centers with satellite receiving antennas.

    Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve will speak on “Our Acceptance of Christ,” which is the topic of the first discussion presented by missionaries to investigators.

    The fireside is designed to let investigators, missionaries, and local priesthood leaders alike hear a General Authority testify to the truth of the precepts in that discussion, said Elder James M. Paramore of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who has responsibility for coordinating satellite programming for the Church. He said this fireside will be the first in a series of seven to be broadcast during the first few months of the year. Each fireside will cover concepts taught in one of the missionary discussions. It is anticipated that each fireside will feature an address by a member of the Council of the Twelve.

    Elder Paramore said missionaries and local priesthood leaders may want to tape the fireside for reuse. Videotapes will also be available from the Salt Lake distribution center in February.

    A Stake in Kirtland—Fulfillment of Prophecy

    Kirtland. The name recalls past triumphs and tragedies for Latter-day Saints. But the focus was firmly on the future recently when a new stake was created there. It was the first time since the early 1800s that there has been a stake in Kirtland, Ohio.

    President Ezra Taft Benson of the Council of the Twelve presided at the creation of the new stake October 16. He told those assembled for the service, “I promise you as a servant of the Lord that as you unite in moving the work of the Lord forward in this part of the Lord’s vineyard, your prayers will be answered and you will be magnified even beyond your natural talents.”

    The original Kirtland Stake was the first organized in the Church, on 17 February 1834, and the Prophet Joseph Smith was its president. “This was headquarters of the Church for seven years. Here the first temple of the Church was erected in modern times. From this place the gospel was first carried to foreign lands,” President Benson recalled.

    Kirtland played a pivotal role in Church history. It was there, in the temple, that the Savior appeared, that Moses, Elias, and Elijah committed sacred priesthood keys to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, under the Lord’s direction, so work of this gospel dispensation could be carried out. It was there that nearly half the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were given.

    President Benson noted that the Lord finally withdrew his blessings from the early Saints in Kirtland because they were not obedient to his commandments. “But I rejoice because I feel there is a new spirit in this beloved Kirtland area and in all of the entire state of Ohio,” he continued. “The Lord made it very clear when he said, ‘I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland.’ (D&C 124:83.) Today we are witnessing the fulfillment of that promise.”

    The 2,400-member stake, formed by restructuring units in the Cleveland and Akron stakes, includes eight wards and branches in northeast Ohio.

    Just four years ago, on 14 October 1979, President Benson presided at the groundbreaking for the Kirtland chapel, which is now the stake center. On that occasion, he referred to a prophecy of the Lord written 31 October 1841 in a letter from Hyrum Smith to the Saints still in Kirtland. It warned them to leave because they would not be able to possess their lands in peace, “yet your children may possess them, but not until many years shall pass away; … and then I will send forth and build up Kirtland, and it shall be polished and refined according to my word.”

    Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Executive Administrator for the Church’s North Central Area, conducted the business of the conference, under President Benson’s direction. He noted the presence of many past and present leaders from the Cleveland, Akron, and other nearby stakes. Then he commented, “There are others who look in on this scene with tenderness and emotion.”

    Elder Tuttle explained that as the living identify and perform ordinances in behalf of the dead, these ancestors will “assist us from beyond the veil.” But, he added, because of what transpired in Kirtland’s past, “more—much more—will be expected of us in the future. We can either talk about the faith and sacrifice of the early Saints, or we can emulate their faith by our actions.”

    President Benson and Elder Tuttle attended two special gatherings for some of these descendants. At the first, family members organized a Samuel and Susanna Kimball Whitney family association, named for the parents of Newel K. Whitney, called as bishop at Kirtland in 1831, and later as presiding bishop. At the second meeting, members of the John Johnson family met President Benson for a luncheon and tour of the farm where Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon received the revelation that is section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 76].

    Karl Ricks Anderson, Regional Representative for the Cleveland Region, commented that fostering of such family associations, to join families from the East and the West, is a prime objective in efforts to bring the gospel to descendants of the early Kirtland settlers.

    The president of the new Kirtland Ohio Stake is Zane F. Lee, who is assisted by Walter C. Selden, first counselor, and Robert A. Payne, second counselor.

    [photo] Karl Ricks Anderson, Regional Representative for the Cleveland Region, escorts President Ezra Taft Benson and his wife Flora during a visit to the historic John Johnson home at Hiram, Ohio. (Photography by Michael Mooney.)

    Friendships, Testimonies Grow during Arizona Cleanup

    They wouldn’t ask for the opportunity again, no doubt, but many Saints in southeastern Arizona have found their lives were blessed in the aftermath of October flooding that left some of them homeless.

    No Church members lost their lives in the flooding, brought on by heavy rains that pushed several rivers over their banks. But the disaster cost the lives of several other Arizonans, including two who died in a helicopter crash during rescue efforts.

    The Gila River, the San Pedro River, the Santa Cruz River, and the San Francisco River all overflowed their banks. The result was destruction in parts of eight Arizona counties.

    Estimates of damage to property soared above $400 million. Church members were among the many who lost their homes or saw their property severely damaged, and that accounted for the opportunities and blessings that came from the flooding. Testimonies and friendships grew during the following weeks as Church members pitched in to help clean up the damage and provide necessities for members and nonmembers alike.

    Priesthood leaders coordinated the efforts of hundreds of volunteers, many of whom traveled long distances to help.

    E. Claire Gardner, Regional Representative for the Phoenix Arizona East and Prescott regions, and chairman of the Area Emergency Response Committee, said the willingness of members to donate both labor and funds was exemplary. “The significant and timely assistance seen is a direct result of many Saints following counsel from Church leaders to be prepared and pay a generous fast offering,” he said. “Through such efforts, we were able to have on hand food commodities and other needed items.”

    Examples of cooperation were numerous. In Clifton, for instance, business executives and professionals joined students, athletes, coaches, farmers, and other citizens in shoveling mud and digging away silt and debris. Larry Baker of Las Cruces New Mexico Stake put into words the attitude of many of the workers: “It’s not that I’m enjoying this, but I feel good about what I’m doing.”

    One young man, who had left home before 5:00 A.M. and traveled for nearly three hours to reach Clifton, spent the day shoveling mud and debris. His comment: “I sure hope I get to come back next week!” He did.

    Volunteer workers came to Clifton from the Safford, Thatcher, and St. David stakes in Arizona and the Silver City and Las Cruces stakes in New Mexico, as well as from sister wards within the Duncan Stake that had not been hit so hard by flooding. Stakes as far away as Texas volunteered their help, but their offers were graciously declined because of the distances they had to travel.

    In other communities, members were just as diligent in helping clean up the devastation. In Maricopa, for example, where the flood waters reached the four-foot level in some homes, priesthood brethren and Relief Society sisters from the Mesa and Chandler stakes helped clean silt out of damaged homes and businesses. In Marana, Tucson North Stake members assisted one member whose home was lost and more than half a dozen others whose homes were damaged by water.

    Brother Gardner wrote in a letter to other Regional Representatives and stake presidents: “The response of Church members in affected areas and throughout the state and region has been truly gratifying. Indeed, many lives have been and continue to be blessed as we help each other.”

    Food, clothing, bedding, appliances, and boxes used in cleanup efforts came to flood victims through individuals, stakes, and the Church’s welfare system.

    The spirit of helpfulness was everywhere. James Carter, bishop of the Clifton-Morenci Ward, reported that all of the twenty-four families in his ward who were left homeless by the flooding were placed without his help. “Some had relatives to go to, but those who did not were taken in right away by other members of the ward and made more than welcome. I didn’t have to make a single assignment for housing.”

    Members in other areas were equally thoughtful in caring for fellow Saints. In Marana, one man whose own home was flooded risked his life crossing a flood-swollen river to check on an elderly sister for whom he serves as the home teacher. Ward members whose houses were undamaged went to a local school which served as an evacuation center, found ward families who had been forced to leave their own property, and took them home.

    Brother Gardner summed up the experience: “The past few weeks have taught us all more about being prepared. Also, many have given of themselves, and many, many lives have been blessed as we have all worked together.”—Don L. Searle and Jacquie Felshaw.

    Symposium Examines Apocryphal Literature

    “It’s time, and appropriate, for the Religious Studies Center to do something on the subject of apocryphal literature,” said Robert J. Matthews, dean of Religious Education at Brigham Young University, during a symposium at BYU October 11 and 12.

    Under consideration at the symposium were (1) the Apocrypha of the Old Testament (a collection of books considered scriptural by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches but held as noncanonical by Latter-day Saints and most Protestants); (2) the Pseudepigrapha (Jewish—and a few Christian—writings stemming from around the time of Christ and preserved individually in various monasteries, museums, and libraries around the world; the word literally means “falsely attributed”); (3) the Dead Sea Scrolls (discovered in 1947 near the Dead Sea, written by an ancient Jewish sect before and during the lifetime of Christ); (4) the New Testament apocrypha (Christian books generally written between the second and ninth centuries A.D. in imitation of books in the New Testament); and (5) the Nag Hammadi Codices (a collection of thirteen Gnostic papyrus books dating from the fourth century A.D. and discovered in Egypt in 1945).

    Using the Holy Spirit to evaluate apocryphal literature was a consistent theme throughout the symposium. Speakers often quoted the Lord’s words to Joseph Smith concerning the Apocrypha: “There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly;

    “There are many things contained therein that are not true, which are interpolations by the hands of men. …

    “Therefore, whoso readeth it, let him understand, for the Spirit manifesteth truth;

    “And whoso is enlightened by the Spirit shall obtain benefit therefrom;

    “And whoso receiveth not by the Spirit, cannot be benefited.” (D&C 91:1–6.)

    Although this guidance from the Lord had reference only to the Old Testament Apocrypha, speakers echoed the view that it could be applied to all other apocryphal books.

    C. Wilfred Griggs, director of Ancient Studies at BYU, detailed the reversal in meaning of the term apocrypha through history. Originally it was a label given to books that were to be kept hidden from public view and reserved strictly for the faithful. For centuries, the only distinction made among sacred writings was between “scripture” and “special scripture.”

    During the second century, however, the word apocrypha began to be corrupted as scribes and teachers diluted and falsified genuine apocryphal (sacred, secret) writings in order to further their own interpretations. At first, the fathers of what was left of Christianity fought this corruption of good apocryphal literature. Later, however, they began to oppose the very idea of secret sacred literature, considering such works worthless.

    In the fourth century, use of the term shifted again and was attached to the noncanonical—though popular—works of the Septuagint. Centuries later, Martin Luther found these apocryphal Jewish records “not to his liking and is essentially responsible, at the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, for giving them a bad name,” Brother Griggs said.

    Speakers at the symposium offered varying degrees of allowance for apocryphal writings. Robert J. Matthews spoke in favor of a tolerant approach toward them. Labeling something apocryphal or canonical is the work of people or councils, he said, and is sometimes influenced by preference and religious conditions. “Items that are regarded as canon by one group might not be by another. The selection of what is apocryphal and what is canonic varies with who is making the decision.

    “There is much interesting and useful reading in the apocryphal literature,” he continued. “And one can often decide what is correct by the Spirit. But if we try to make those decisions without the Spirit, we may make colossal errors. Much apocryphal literature is obviously spurious,” he warned. However, “the presence of ideas and names in latter-day revelation that are not found in the Bible but are found in apocryphal writings should quicken our interest in these ancient things.”

    Stephen E. Robinson, assistant professor of religion and chairman of the honors program at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, urged caution in using apocryphal writings to buttress revealed truth. “It has been my experience,” he said, “that Latter-day Saints are usually much too anxious to accept ancient documents at face value and seldom bother to ask themselves whether the apocrypha they so readily employ to support their modern arguments might not have been forgeries even when they were first written.

    “Of course,” he pointed out, “not all the apocryphal books involved the possibility of deceit. Some of the documents were written anonymously merely for edification and entertainment and were circulated in antiquity merely as good and useful books. They were never intended to be taken as inspired or authoritative.”

    He detailed the history behind some apocryphal writings—texts written by well-meaning authors who, “driven by the needs of their theology or by their perceived role as advocates for God and defenders of the faith, adopted the falsehood of ancient authorship to gain credulity for what they believed to be the truth.” Thus, they created “scripture” and attributed it to a well-known prophet or Apostle. “They deceived for the very best of reasons—but they deceived. They became ‘liars for God.’

    “Sadly,” said Brother Robinson, some members, “finding the standard works and the revelations of the modern prophets inadequate for their purposes—although I do not know why—turn to the apocrypha for more concrete ‘proof’ that the Church is true. And in that crusade to defend the faith, they inevitably distort and misrepresent the texts and so become, as much as the original author, ‘liars for God.’ Some are even guilty of “proof-texting—selecting certain passages to prove a particular point while ignoring the rest of the text. Is it not dishonest,” Brother Robinson asked, “to represent the apocrypha as firm evidence of the truth when it agrees with us and yet quietly look the other way when it does not?”

    Apocryphal literature is of great value, he concluded, because of the enhanced understanding it gives us of biblical history, biblical languages, and the background of the biblical books themselves—“not because it teaches Mormonism, for by and large it does not.”

    S. Kent Brown, chairman of Ancient Scripture at BYU, extended similar cautions to Latter-day Saint use of the Nag Hammadi library. He explained that although teachings that resonate with LDS doctrines are from the oldest texts in the collection, other teachings which are alien to LDS theology also come from the earliest Nag Hammadi writings.

    “I do not mean to imply that the [Nag Hammadi] texts are not worth careful study,” he continued. “On the contrary, they are—and I have spent a good deal of my life doing such. What I am suggesting is that their potential worth as something akin to scripture should be soberly approached. There is a good deal in them that is uplifting and edifying. But a significant presence of other elements which have a very strange ring about them obliges us to be cautious where we Latter-day Saints place our support.”

    Richard L. Anderson, director of Bible studies at BYU, gave five guidelines on how to avoid apocryphal pitfalls: (1) Don’t accept a document just because it’s in print. (2) Consider it only after determining if there’s an original manuscript or a responsible copy. (3) Check out the historical correlation between the work and known fact. (4) The more sensational the document, the more care ought to be used in checking it out. (5) Read the text for yourself.

    “Some apocryphal texts are rich sources for important insights,” he said, “and surely qualify for the Lord’s comment to Joseph Smith that we should test them by the Spirit.” However, the Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament apocrypha seem to be, in many cases, “imagination running riot.” Much of it “may be hazardous to your spiritual health.”

    It is easy for Latter-day Saints to be receptive to the idea of “new scriptures” for a couple of reasons, said Gerald E. Jones, director of the LDS Institute at Berkeley, California. The concept of certain truths being hidden and reserved only for the faithful is repeated several times in scripture. And the idea that truth may come from noncanonical sources is also found in Latter-day Saint scripture. He noted, however, that the position of the General Authorities concerning apocryphal literature has been one of restraint.

    Robert L. Millet, assistant professor of Ancient Scripture at BYU, reviewed how the four New Testament Gospels were formed, contrasting their origin and content with apocryphal works, He defended the authenticity of the New Testament gospels—both in authorship and content—while noting that it is possible they are abbreviated versions of the originals. “The canonical Gospels combine simplicity with the power of their message and present a dignified and appropriate glimpse into the life and words of the Savior,” he noted. “It is wise for us to recognize the hand of Providence in the formation, inspiration, and preservation of the four canonical Gospels that we have.”

    Robert Matthews summed up the conclusions of many who attended the symposium: “What we have in the present-known apocryphal literature,” he said, “is a poor transmission from the earlier, more correct sources. We’ll just have to wait until the better sources are discovered and are made available—through a prophet—before we can drink from the pure spring. In the meantime, from Latter-day revelation—and to an extent, less reliably, from the noncanonical, apocryphal writings—we can catch glimpses of what the ancient prophets knew and wrote.”