Friday, August 18, 2017

On Special Witnesses of Christ

I have heard, so often, that Apostles are "Special Witnesses" of Jesus Christ.   Somehow, we are to look to these individuals as having a special relationship with Christ in a way that the rest of us don't. Many Mormons believe that this means each of the Apostles have seen the Savior in the flesh.

Yet, this claim is seriously flawed for many reasons.

In reading Spencer W. Kimball's autobiography, he had no such experience.  Instead, as he was called to be an Apostle, he struggled mightily with the idea that he had to be a special witness, but in his life, he had no such witness in his mind.  As he walked the mountains to contemplate this, he came to a feeling of peace, that his witness is more that peace.

In like manner, Harold B Lee explained his experience in a mission conference in Great Britain:
"Much of what is said is too sacred to repeat. But I may say that my first responsibility is to bear witness of the divinity of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It is a humbling trust. A member of the Twelve is a special witness. My own witness came to me when I was assigned to give the talk on the Easter following the conference when I was sustained as a member of the Twelve. As I received the assignment, I was enjoined, ‘Now you understand that you are now to be a special witness of that great event, meaning the resurrection of the Lord.’ With that in mind, I closeted myself in one of the rooms of the Church office building. I read the Gospels carefully, particularly concerning the last days of the Master’s life. I read of his crucifixion, his resurrection, and then his return for forty fays following his resurrection, when he appeared to his disciples. Then I went to Nephi [in the Book of Mormon] and read about his appearance to the Nephites. As I read the story, I became aware that something was happening to me. It was not just the story I was reading. It seemed as though I was seeing. Those people were more real to me than I had ever known them before. I wondered if this was the more sure word of prophesy that I was experiencing. …
“So I come to you with a witness as sure as was the Apostle Paul’s. Perhaps in the manner which the Apostle Paul received his. A witness more perfect than sight is the witness which the Holy Ghost bears to one’s soul so that he knows these things are true. I witness to you tonight with all my soul.”
I think most of us have had similar witnesses to what Harold B Lee describes.  Most of us, as well, have felt the same peace that Spencer W Kimball had.   One cannot read St Ignatius' spiritual exercises, or the experiences of Emmanual Swedenborg, or any number of other great spiritual people throughout time and not come away with the impression that there are common threads in the varieties of religious experience, as William James so effectively notes. What, then, does it mean, then, to be "Special Witnesses" as Apostles are asked to do?  How is the apostolic experience any different than what we spiritually receive as we engage with the divine?

Dallin Oaks clears this up in describing that the role of Apostle as "Special Witness" refers not to a "Witness of Jesus Christ", but rather, a "Special Witness of the NAME of Jesus Christ".
"The first answer to this question is that modern apostles are called to be witnesses of the “name” of Christ in all the world (D&C 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 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."
Dallin Oaks, Boise Conference, June 15, 2015
Oaks is essentially equating "Name" with "Authority". To do something in someone's "name" is to do so with their authority. Oaks is acknowledging a core doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: that the Apostles and First Presidency are "Prophets, Seers, and Revelators", uniquely embued with the responsibilty to hold all priesthood KEYS of AUTHORITY. Thus, what makes an Apostle a "Special Witness", above all the rest of us who are "merely" witnesses of Christ, is not the extent of our personal encounter with Christ, but rather, whether we have KEYS of AUTHORITY.

I wonder. I really wonder if this is what it means to be a Witness.

Alma in Mosiah 18 calls us to be willing to be witnesses of God at all times, in all things, and in all places we may be. I think we as LDS think this means that we, as Members, are to do missionary work all the time. But when we include the term "in all things", how does that in any way mean "do missionary work"? Are we supposed to be converting things?

Is it possible, that to be a "witness" means more than bearing testimony. After all, in order to testify in court, we need to actually *observe* something. So to "witness" or to "be a witness", means that we are there when IT happens, whatever IT may be, and we have paid attention to IT by becoming mindful of all the facts around IT. And what is "IT" in this case? God. Not resoration, not authority, not Church, not book of Mormon. We are to witness all times, in all things, and in all places we may be.

This is a call to deep mindfulness. Our scriptures are full of allusions to this mindfulness:
"The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things."
D&C 88:13
"Unto what shall I liken these kingdoms (referring to natural phenomena), that ye may understand? Behold, all these are kingdoms, and any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power."
D&C 88:46-47
"And behold, all things have their likeness, and all things are created and made to bear record of me, both things which are temporal, and things which are spiritual; things which are in the heavens above, and things which are on the earth, and things which are in the earth, and things which are under the earth, both above and beneath: all things bear record of me."
Moses 6:63
When Elder Lee expressed that these experiences are too sacred to repeat, I accept his statement to a point. However, William James expresses that the spiritual experience -- either epiphany or theophany -- is characterized by being "ineffable" -- something that cannot be accurately described. Joseph Smith expressed the singular idea that to "see the face of the lord" does not have to mean a literal event. Note, above, that in D&C 88:47, we have "seen god moving in majesty and power" when we observe the workings of nature; and I would add that this would have to mean a *mindful* observation of nature.

In addition, he expresses the actual experience of seeing the face of the lord:
"And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things. Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will."
D&C 88:67-68
This lays out that the precursor to "seeing the face" is to have your "eye" single to the glory of god, and your whole body will be filled with light. In the Bhagavad Gita, this concept is "Buddhiyogad" - Enlightened Unity: it is the basis of mindfulness, and the core of the non-dual, mystical experience: we become One with all that is--subject and object become indistinguishable.

Once cannot describe the mystical experience of nondualism, of divine unity using words of dualism. This is why the spiritual/mystical experience is ineffable.

And I believe that this experience is accessible to many, if we but come to realize it. The experience of the Buddha is not that enlightenment is a far-off attainment, but rather, an enfolding into the here and now and a deep realization that we are *within* the spiritual experience in the eternal now. The problem is that our words, our dualistic descriptions of personal visions, visitations, and angelic experiences take on a mythic character, that once literalized, makes the spiritual experience unobtainable.

When I was a missionary, my Mission President was ordained to the First Quorum of Seventy, when this was re-organized in 1975. Along with it, he received his second anointing, although he didn't say that at the time. What he did preach, after going to that October 1975 conference, was that he had his calling and election made sure, and that we all ought to seek to have our calling and election made sure.

This motivated me to seek the same for myself. I studied the scriptures endlessly, and came to the conclusion that having one's calling and election made sure was that the Lord had manifest himself "face to face" and that by that revelation, one knew that one was sealed up to eternal life. This became my obsession and quest for years, for I felt all the way through my life most unworthy and needed that confirmation.

In time, and after my initial faith crisis, I had multiple experiences where I came to know that the Lord loved me and had fully forgiven me my sins. I felt a deepening relationship as I developed wordless prayer in connecting with God.

Then, one night in around 1990, I awoke to a brilliant experience. I could use the term "light", but it would not quite be adequate. I was enfused in every part of my soul, and connected with a Presence so real, so tangible -- to this day I cannot deny this Presence. And this Presence made it clear that THIS is what it meant to "see the face of god", and that my calling and election -- whatever that meant -- was sure.

Within months from this experience, I found out what the church REALLY meant when it said "calling and election made sure" -- that you had received, by virtue of your connection to the LDS elite, the second anointing. It had NOTHING to do with spiritual experience, nor actually seeing the face of god or Christ.

Needless to say, having not received the Second Anointing, and at that point being such a renegade that I would probably never be so anointed and chosen, that my perspective on the Church radically changed. The Second Anointing, to me, along with the entire "Special Witnesses of the Name of Christ" stuff concretely demonstrated that such Church concepts are entirely man-made, and personally destructive. In effect, most members will work their entire lives to try to feel worthy, yet only a very small elite are actually given the promised blessings. It's the primary deal-breaker for me.

So, yes, I know, down to my bones, that it is possible to be a Witness of Christ. And in having my experiences, I also witness that such witness is available to all, and should NEVER be considered a "special witness of the name of Christ" as a way to hold authority over and enslave others, by dangling a carrot of promised blessings that will never be achieved for 99.99% of members in this life.