Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Apostolic Witness of Christ

Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 defines the latter day calling of an apostle to be "special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world." This distinction is important because it provides the qualifying characteristic revealed by the Lord as pertaining to the function of apostles in the latter days. Cultural assumptions rooted in New Testament scripture regarding the physical need to see Christ tends to result in preconceptions in our day that overlooks this qualifying distinction. One of the key New Testament passages that serves this perception, reads:
(Acts 1:) 21 Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 
Following this discussion, Matthias was chosen as a replacement for Judas through a drawing of lots. Modern emphasis is typically placed upon the apostolic successor being "ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection," but the other qualifying attribute the apostles considered important was somebody who had been with them from the beginning. Matthias apparently satisfied both of these tests. Paul, on the other hand, fails the history test but passes the witness test: "Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord are not ye my work in the Lord? If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:1-2). It would seem, then, that the history qualification has limited relevance, and is certainly secondary to the witness qualification. There is some controversy regarding Paul's claim to the apostleship since 20 of the 22 references to his apostolic role is self proclaimed, while the other two references are asserted by Luke, who wasn't an apostle. Other aspects contribute to the controversy as well,1 but ultimately, as Latter-day Saints, we accept Paul's writings in the New Testament as canonical and like other Christians, we accept Paul's authority as an apostle.

The New Testament never addresses the succession of apostles beyond Matthias and Paul, but it isn't unreasonable to interpret Matthias' selection as a potential precedent and Paul's calling as anomalous. Paul's calling did not originate with the quorum, rather, he was chosen by the Savior directly. As far as the quorum was concerned his calling wasn't planned for. Matthias, on the other hand, was chosen by the quorum through the casting of lots (Acts 1:26) in order to replace Judas. Regarding this replacement, Peter refers to Psalm 69:25 and 109:8 in declaring that his "bishoprick, let another take" (Acts 1:20). It should be noted that Acts 1:20 uses episkopē (Gr), and Psalm 109:8 uses pĕquddah (Heb), which both mean visitation, oversight, or office. Thus, the reference to a "Bishoprick" is a translation issue, rather than an issue of transferring Apostolic authority to another office. Accordingly, the apostleship is characterized in terms of continuity. With respect to Paul's apostolic calling, if his lack of history with the mortal Savior and disciples didn't preclude his apostleship, then presumably it wouldn't necessarily affect other potential future Apostles as well; the point of consistency between the two subsequent apostles was their witnesses of Christ. In our day and age, the acceptance of one having a literal witness of Christ in terms of apostolic authority is a comfortable perception, but the seemingly superstitious method of drawing lots seems rather cavalier in approach, and unsettling for such a weighty matter. Nonetheless, Christians essentially take assurance in the underlying inspiration regarding the ultimate selection of the apostle as being aligned with God's will.

In the Book of Mormon, twelve disciples were chosen by the Resurrected Savior. Interestingly, they are not specifically identified as "apostles" in the text. Throughout the Book of Mormon the limited usage of the term "apostle" seems to always refer to the original twelve. Nephi had seen in vision both the old world twelve and the new world twelve, and his angelic ministrant referred to the latter as "twelve ministers" in contrast to the former "twelve apostles of the Lamb" (1 Nephi 12; 14). Mormon and Moroni consistently refer to the Nephite twelve as "disciples" throughout the text. However, these twelve disciples selected by the Lord in Bountiful clearly mirror the twelve in Jerusalem in terms of functionality and responsibility, but not in jurisdiction or presidency. Both groups of selected disciples witnessed the resurrected Savior and received power and authority and were given a commission to take the gospel to the world. From Nephi's vision, we learn that the original twelve would serve as judges over the tribes of Israel and that the Nephite twelve would be judged by them. Thus, it seems that the Nephite apostleship ('sent forth messengers') was subordinate to the original twelve, even if the original twelve were unaware of this relationship.

The twelve disciples in the new world were specifically chosen by the Lord and while Mormon provides the text of this sacred history, neither Mormon nor Moroni provide any details outlining authoritative succession following the death of the disciples. If the attributes required for succession in the new world were consistent with those in the old world, then the selection of potential apostolic candidates wouldn't be problematic for their immediate successors. Individuals present during Christ's ministry would satisfy the history and witness qualifications. These circumstances make the calling of the twelve in the Book of Mormon unique since a sizable temple-going community witnessed the resurrected Savior together in comparison to the limited number of individuals identified in the New Testament. One may wonder what the ultimate role of the apostles in the Book of Mormon served (in terms of witnessing Christ), since so many others had also seen Christ. It must be remembered that this was a relatively small population present at the temple in comparison with the overall body of the new world inhabitants, so sharing their witness of Christ extended far beyond those present during Christ's ministry. However, the power and authority received to administer ordinances and govern the Church also provide obvious resolution to that inquiry since the Savior bestowed the priesthood on the chosen twelve. Another less obvious solution in the Book of Mormon is particularly interesting as it relates to links between the New Testament and Doctrine and Covenants, and that is the role of the apostles with respect to Christ's name.

In 3 Nephi 27, the twelve were gathered together "in mighty prayer and fasting" when Christ appeared and "stood in the midst of them." They inquired regarding the naming of the Church and the Lord told them that the Church must be called after His name. He then provided further clarification that, " must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name....For by this name shall ye be called at the last day; And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day" (vs. 5-6). Although the name of the Church was addressed, the Lord emphasized the necessity of taking His name upon themselves. The prominence stressed upon this aspect of His gospel echoes King Benjamin's discourse given about 150 years previous regarding the act of taking upon the name of Christ, which was directly connected with covenant making (Mosiah 5). Later, Moroni provides us with some of Christ's private teachings to his disciples and the same emphasis is explicit in the revealed sacramental prayers where covenant making is rooted in taking upon Christ's name (Moroni 4 and 5).

Interestingly, in the New Testament it is asserted that Paul was responsible for testifying of the name of Christ to gentiles, kings, and Israelites (Acts 9:15).  He was to "bear" or "carry" the Lord's name to others in performing his missionary work, and he stressed the significance of the name of Christ in several of his letters. Notably, to the Philippians he wrote, "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11). Paul also wrote that those calling upon the name of the Lord would be saved (Romans 10:13). To the heirs of salvation, John relates that to those who overcome, the Lord would, "write upon him the name of my God...and I will write upon him my new name" (Revelation 3:12). In 1 John 5:13, the apostle declared that "These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God." Accordingly, the emphasis in the New Testament upon the name of the Son of God has not been given its deserved attention. The consistency of Doctrine and Covenants 107:23 with the Book of Mormon and New Testament regarding the name of Christ and the Apostolic witness of His name is worth noting.

Questions regarding what this means and why this is significant seems to have received little to no attention from those inquiring as to whether latter-day Apostles have physically seen the Savior. Elder Dallin H. Oaks wrote about the significance of His Holy Name in an excellent 144 page book, and recently spoke on the subject of seeing Christ in a multi-stake conference held in Boise on June 13, 2015:
Brother Turley: Another claim we see sometimes here is that current apostles have no right to run the affairs of the Church since they do not meet the New Testament standard of Apostles because they do not testify of having seen Christ.
Elder Oaks: The first answer to this claim, I think is that modern Apostles are called to be witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world. Doctrine and Covenants 107:23. This is not to witness of a personal manifestation. To witness of the name is to witness of the plan, the work, or mission, such as the Atonement, and the authority, or priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Which an apostle who holds the keys is uniquely responsible to do. Of course, Apostles are also witnesses of Christ, just like all members of the Church who have the gift of the Holy Ghost. This is because the mission of the Holy Ghost is to witness of the Father and the Son. In addition, while some early apostles and other members of the Church have had the sublime spiritual experience of seeing the Savior, and some have made a public record of this, in the circumstances of today, we are counseled not to speak of our most sacred spiritual experiences. Otherwise, with modern technology that can broadcast something all over the world, a remark made in a sacred and private setting can be sent abroad in violation of the Savior’s commandment not to cast our pearls before swine.3
This answer is incredibly insightful. First, the assumption that one must physically see Christ in order to qualify as an apostle is not in accord with latter-day revelation, nor is it actually in accord with the definition of that term ('sent forth' and 'messenger'). Elder Oaks teaches that performing the work of the gospel, by the authority to perform that work, uniquely qualifies the apostleship. Nonetheless, sharing their personally "sublime spiritual experiences" is not the function of the apostleship as revealed by the Lord in the latter-days. This isn't to say that these experiences do not happen, rather, in connection with the change in culture and technology, these experiences are no longer necessarily for the public. Even though some experiences, most notably Joseph Smith's, have been published for the world, Elder Oaks clarifies that they have been counseled not to cast pearls before swine. What isn't addressed is why previously published accounts of sacred experiences were appropriate for public dissemination but modern-day experiences are precluded from public dissemination, since past or present shared experiences would both potentially constitute casting pearls before swine. Perhaps it is the scope and magnitude that has changed as a result of modern technology. Perhaps there are other reasons. One is left to a degree of conjecture, which is the primary ingredient for problematic interpretations. Nonetheless, counsel has been received regarding apostolic speaking of personal sacred experiences.

Oliver Cowdery gave a "charge" to the apostles when they were chosen and ordained, counseling them that it was necessary that they received a testimony from heaven to themselves: that you can bear testimony to the truth of the Book of Mormon, and that you have seen the face of God. That is more than the testimony of an angel. When the proper time arrives, you shall be able to bear this testimony to the world. When you bear testimony that you have seen God, this testimony God will never suffer to fall, but will bear you out; although many will not give heed, yet others will. You will therefore see the necessity of getting this testimony from heaven. never cease striving until you have seen God face to face.4
It should be noted that this was a personal charge given by Oliver Cowdery to the ordained apostles. Previous to this, he explained to them their responsibilities as outlined in D&C 18 (vs. 26-47). Nowhere in the revelations was it required that the apostles see the Lord face to face, rather, this should be their objective, as counseled by Oliver Cowdery. It should also be noted that Cowdery had not seen the face of the Lord at this point either. Thus, his comments must be understood in context. Their ordinations were not deferred until a realization of this theophany took place, but instead they were ordained as apostles with the standing objective in view of seeing the Lord. If we turn to the Lord's words to the apostles in the old world, He declared to Thomas, "because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed (John 20:29). Commenting on this story, Ted Cannon related an incident in the life of President David O. McKay:
On May 5, 1961, Mr. John Cook, a newspaper feature writer, was granted an interview with President McKay. Toward the close of the interview he said that he hoped the President wouldn't mind if he asked a question, and said that the President wouldn't need to answer the question if he felt that he shouldn't but for his own information, not for publication, he would like to know if President McKay had ever seen the Savior.
President McKay answered that he had not, but that he had heard his voice, many times, and that he had felt his presence and his influence. He then told about Peter...and he told how Peter had spoken of being partakers of the divine spirit, of a divine nature, and explained what he felt that to mean.
Then he told how some evidences were stronger even than that of sight, and recalled the occasion when the Savior appeared to his disciples and told Thomas who had doubted, "Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless but believing." And then President McKay said that he liked to believe Thomas did not actually look up, but knelt at the Savior's feet and said unto him, "My Lord and my God." And then President McKay repeated the words of the Master, "Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed." President McKay then smiled and said, "That is quite a testimony I have given you. I do not know when I have given this before."
Mr. Cook was visibly moved, and after leaving the office said it had been the greatest experience of his life, that President McKay was like no other man he had ever seen or heard. He was so greatly moved that tears were in his eyes as he left President McKay."5
In this account, it was observed that "some evidences were stronger even than that of sight." President Harold B. Lee echoed this concept when he declared, "I know with a witness that is more powerful than sight....I know as though I had seen, that He lives, that He is real, that God the Father and his Son are living realities, personalities with bodies, parts, and passions--glorified beings.6 On another occasion, he said, "Jesus lives! I bear my witness to you this morning....Many things are too sacred to share at this time. I have received a witness that I cannot or dare not deny. When I see Jesus, I cannot mistake His identity. I know that He lives!7 Again, he also declared, "I come to you with a witness as sure as was the Apostle Paul's, perhaps in a manner in which the Apostle Paul received his. A witness more perfect than sight is the witness by which the Holy Ghost bears witness to one's soul that he knows these things are true. I witness to you tonight, with all my soul, that I know, as the Spirit has borne witness to my soul, that the Savior lives."8 Thus, in these limited examples, we understand that obtaining a certain witness from the Holy Spirit is taught as actually being stronger than that of sight. Accordingly, while 'seeking the face of God' (D&C 88:68) is an apostolic objective (although certainly not limited to the apostleship),9 being a witness of His resurrection doesn't necessarily need to imply that the Apostles have received the Second Comforter.10

Cowdery's admonition, however, has proven true. While the apostles were personally admonished to seek the Lord's face, and while he qualified those testimonies, nonetheless, their testimonies have not failed and have borne them out, and many give heed but others do not. For those of us satisfied with the personal revelations and witnesses that we have received from the Spirit, the testimonies of the apostles - through that same spirit - is more than sufficient for us in knowing that Jesus Christ lives, and that they are His apostles. Their personal experiences and witnesses increase the faith of the receptive humble, but it should be remembered that these experiences, when shared, are at the discretion of the Spirit's promptings. And while latter-day apostles are qualified to serve based on their witnesses of the resurrected Savior based on the Spirit, it needs to be remembered that the Lord gave revelation regarding His qualifications for apostles in the latter days, and that is to witness of the name of Christ. Accordingly, we shouldn't let preconceptions based on a single verse shape our expectations of the apostles without understanding what the Lord has revealed on the matter in the latter days.

1 See for example, James D. Tabor, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), see especially, 203-226; it should be noted that the lack of apostolic attribution by other apostles is a negligible argument since so few of the apostolic writings are extant or part of the New Testament canon. Paul could have been referenced in other, noncanonical writings from the apostles that are no longer extant, and the New Testament itself is hardly a comprehensive treatment of 1st century Christianity.
2 Arie Zwiep writes, "in Jewish and Greek sources we find casting of lots accompanied with prayer (ora et labora!). This is indicative of the fact that in ancient thinking lots were not purely seen as instruments of magic, but as means of divine control. The casting of lots is a procedure to rule out human subjectivity and to ensure that a decision was divinely approved," in Arie W. Zwiep, Judas and the Choice of Matthias: A Study on Context and Concern of Acts 1:15-26, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe 187 (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 171
3 Dallin H. Oaks, Transcripts of a Conference in Boise, Idaho with Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Brother Richard Turley, June 13, 2015 [this conference has been dubbed the "Boise Rescue Mission" by critics of the Church; however, Church spokesman Eric Hawkins stated that "Elder Oaks was not scheduled for an assignment that weekend so decided to use his free time to visit an area with a concentration of members, knowing that some members have questions from time to time that trouble them." Daniel Woodruff, KUTV News, June 17, 2015]
4 Joseph Smith, Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols., ed. B.H. Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904), 2:195
5 "Tributes to President David O. McKay," Improvement Era 66/9 (Sept 1963): 785-786
6 Harold B. Lee, "Be Loyal to the Royal Within You," BYU Speeches of the Year (1973), 103
7 Harold B. Lee, Teachings of Harold B. Lee (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1996), 636
8 Ibid, 640; in sharing his testimony on another occasion, President Lee said, "'...Jesus is the Savior of this world. He lives and He died for us.' Why did I know? Because there had come a witness, that special kind of a witness, that may have been the more sure word of prophecy that one must have if he is to be a special witness" (Ensign (Feb 1974), 18); see also D&C 131:5.
9 "God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them,” Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, ed. Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1938), 149.
10 Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 150-151; John 14:16-21

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