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The Best Conference Talk You Never Had the Chance to Read!
By Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy
Introduction One of the little ironies in modern church history was that In The Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Four, someone in the church hierarchy pulled a stunt right out of George Orwell's totalitarian novel, 1984. It was in October conference of that year that Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy delivered an address that was hailed by many members as one of the best conference talks they had ever heard. But the following month when those members picked up the conference issue of The Ensign magazine to read the text of the speech, they were baffled to find that the words on paper bore little or no resemblance to the televised talk they thought they remembered hearing the month before. What's more, anyone seeking the video record of Elder Poelman's talk would find that Poelman's segment had been pulled from the official Church archives and replaced with a counterfeit. Thus one of the most interesting -and some would say most important- conference talks of the latter half of the twentieth century simply disappeared down the memory hole. You'll remember that George Orwell first coined the term "the memory hole" in his novel 1984 to describe what became of information deemed unworthy by The Powers That Be. Whenever a particular truth interfered with the reality put forth by Big Brother, a new version of "truth” was created to replace it. The old evidence was dropped into a slot leading to a series of pneumatic tubes, “whereupon it would be whirled away on a current of warm air to the enormous furnaces which were hidden somewhere in the recesses of the building.” What had once been common history gradually faded
from the collective memory. Eventually it was forgotten altogether. Something similar occurred with Elder Poelman's conference talk. Someone, or someone in the church correlation committee -we still don't really know who- consigned the original record to outer darkness and replaced it with some type of evil twin. Video Cassette Recorders in the early 1980's could cost anywhere from $600.00 to $1300.00 dollars, and by 1984 fewer than ten percent of American households owned one. The number of Mormon households with VCRs at that time would have been minuscule. So unless you were one of those privileged few and you happened to use your machine to record general conference, you were not likely to ever see that conference talk again. So What Was The Big Deal? There was nothing radical about the talk itself, although Poelman did touch on some concepts that had not been openly discussed in the church for a while. The address contained pearls of pure Mormonism; treasures of truth that could just as well have come from the lips of the prophet Joseph Smith during a conference at Nauvoo. Church members old enough to remember how things were in the 1950's said that listening to Poelman's talk took them wistfully back to the days of President David O. McKay. Now let's dive into the actual, original, talk itself. When you read it for yourself be sensitive to the witness of the spirit, and see if these truths are carried into your heart. We have been given the gift of the Holy Ghost, and a way by which we can judge. Let us therefore test these words and find out for ourselves if they are true. As Alma taught " Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your
unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me."1
Sunday Morning Session 7 October 1984
The Gospel and The Church
Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy
Ronald E. Poelman, “The Gospel and The Church,” Ensign, Nov 1984, 64
Both the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the Gospel and the Church. Failure to distinguish between the two and to comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme cases, disaffection. As I attempt to describe and comment upon some distinguishing characteristics of the Gospel and The Church, noting at the same time their essential relationships, it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our individual lives. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time,
place, or circumstance. The principles and laws of the gospel never change. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a divine institution, administered by the priesthood of God. The Church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances. The gospel is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement God’s plan in each individual’s life. Procedures, programs, and policies are developed within the Church to help us realize gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. These policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes. Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles contained in the scriptures. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centered. Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and even personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity. The conformity we require should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in
fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual. It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable, and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance. The source of this perspective is found in the scriptures and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganized and untidy format. The Lord could have presented the gospel to us in a manual, systematically organized by subject, perhaps using examples and illustrations. However, the eternal principles and divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions. In reading the scriptures we learn the gospel as it is taught by various messengers, at different times and places. We see the consequences as it is accepted or rejected, as its principles are applied or not, by varying degrees and by many different people. In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures, regulations, and ceremonies were utilized - all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not. Through scripture study we may learn eternal principles and how to distinguish them from, and relate them to, institutional resources. As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, (1Ne. 19:23) we can better utilize the resources of the restored Church to learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ. A favorite scriptural source for me is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals, and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us. It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone.
It is interesting and enlightening to read the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices. In the first two verses we read, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel.” (Lev. 19:1-2.) Here is the principle of revelation. God speaks to his children through prophets. He does so today. Continuing, the Lord said to Moses, “Say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2.) Many years later, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Here is an eternal gospel principle. There follow other eternal principles, some from the Ten Commandments. Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances. For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, namely, providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (See Lev. 19:9-10.) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern: those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity. In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught, accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day. Generally, today that rule is not necessary. The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices. Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming. It is clearly not applicable to us. However, we also have standards of dress and
grooming. Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and share gospel principles. The principle of forgiveness is set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” with the added divine imprimatur, “I am the Lord.” Every Church member has not only the opportunity right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance by exercising his free agency, thereby fulfilling one purpose of his mortal probation. Without such assurance one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Indeed, it is not enough to obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to study, prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilizing the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment. Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to Gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we understand the difference between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. institutional discipline is replaced by selfdiscipline. Supervision is replaced by a righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability. The Church should aid us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values, principles, and interpretations, but to discover and adopt the eternal truths of the gospel. Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal
and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God. My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training, and experience most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason. I continue to do so. However, that which I know most surely and which has most significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit. By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and that he is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us. Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance, and sacred covenants. May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel as revealed in the scriptures by utilizing fully and appropriately the resources of the divine, restored Church. In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran “May [we] rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.” (Alma 61:14.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Testimony Elder Poelman began his talk by reminding the congregation that there is an important difference between the Gospel and the Church. "There is a distinction between them which is significant", he said, "and it is very important that this distinction be understood." Poelman cautioned that failure to distinguish between the two, and to comprehend their proper relationship, could lead to "confusion and misplaced priorities". The gospel, he explained, is the substance of the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church, on the other hand, is supposed to be the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement that plan. As Elder Poelman explained it, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is eternal and unchanging. The Church of Jesus Christ is not. “Policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes.” “When we understand the difference between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons.” Elder Poelman admonished the congregation to remain mindful that every church member has not only the right, but also the obligation to exercise his free agency and receive a personal witness not only of gospel principles, but also of Church practices. “In response to study, prayer and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired.” or not. Makes perfect sense, right? Well, not to everybody.
Someone sitting on the stand that day was apparently not too keen on the idea of the common folk thinking about or questioning Church practices. But what really seems to have set off alarm bells among the Brethren was this bombshell: According to Elder Poelman, the ultimate goal of each of us should be to eventually get to that point in our spiritual and intellectual growth where we will no longer need the institutional Church in our lives. Here is how Elder Poelman put it: “As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become Gospel centered.” If you had been one of the pontifical authorities sitting on the stand that day overlooking the crowd below, I suppose I can understand how you might have thought Poelman's words were heresy. You may have come to believe during your lengthy career of service in the church that you and your vatic brethren had the sacred responsibility of making decisions for, and protecting the testimonies of, those you deem to be "beneath" you. People do make unwise decisions for themselves, after all. They do not always choose the right. Many members are new to the fold and should be fed milk before they are exposed to the meat of the gospel. They need looking after. They need supervision. They need to be taught to obey. To most of us listening, Elder Poelman's reminder was consistent with what we had been taught all our lives growing up. Didn't Brother Joseph preach similar distinctions? Are we not on our individual paths to perfection? At some point in our progress shouldn't we expect to no longer require someone holding our hand? Sadly, there have always been those in positions of authority who are suspicious of unsupervised freedom and see it as a
dangerous thing. And so it was that within days of the close of general conference, when the tabernacle was pretty much empty except for a cameraman and a teleprompter, Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the First Quorum of the Seventy was secretly escorted back to the podium and instructed to deliver his talk a second time. Only this time it wasn't the same talk. The text had been fundamentally altered to make it more palatable to the corporate Church. Afterward, an audio "cough track" was added into the background to give the impression that Elder Poelman was speaking live before a full auditorium. This reworked video was then spliced into the existing conference record where it replaced the original, then it was filed with the Church archives. Copies were dubbed into foreign languages and sent to missions abroad. This new version was now the official "truth." Meanwhile the original, true, and accurate video record of Elder Poelman's conference address simply disappeared. It vanished down the memory hole; Except not quite. The Rise Of Information Technology As it turns out, there actually were a handful of church members here and there who owned some of those expensive video cassette recorders, and some of them had used their machines to record general conference.2 The disparity between the words spoken by Elder Poelman on their video tapes and the redacted text in the Ensign were glaringly obvious. They didn't match up at all. Sensing an awkward controversy developing, Church spokesmen trotted out a
Thanks to someone on YouTube, the original address before the congregation in the tabernacle is finally available for viewing! www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcM7koDc-jg
statement that Elder Poelman had "decided, on his own," to revise his address for purposes of "clarity." But few were buying it. Those who read the bowdlerized doover in The Ensign could tell that it didn't clarify a darn thing. The new version of the talk entitled The Gospel And The Church was a rambling muddle of platitudes. Elder Poelman seemed to be saying the exact opposite in the text from what he had asserted from the pulpit. L. Jackson Newell described it like this: "The text was not edited -his ideas were turned inside out.” Indeed. Poelman's conference address, originally a rare and inspiring defense of free agency became yet another cry for blind obedience.3 There has been a subtle shift in the way some in the Church hierarchy have come to view their relationship to the rank and file membership. The once pre-eminent doctrine of free agency has been, shall we say, “de-emphasized” in LDS teachings for almost four decades now. Joseph Smith's view that his role was to “teach the people correct principles and let them govern themselves”4 has been supplanted by the relatively new dogma that asserts obedience as the first law of the church. It goes without saying that we ought to render obedience to God, but more often than not these days what is expected is unquestioning obedience to Church leaders, whether they are right or not.. The mainstream belief has mutated from a belief in "The Gospel And The Church" To the idea that "The Gospel Is The Church." So it was that the entire meaning of Elder Poelman's inspired dissertation was palpably inverted. For example, in his
An Echo from the Foothills: To Marshal the Forces of Reason Dialogue, a Journal of Mormon Thought Vol. 19 Issue 1 p.28 by L. Jackson Newell 4 As Quoted by John Taylor, in the Journal of Discourses, 10:57-58
original address, Elder Poelman declared that “it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.” That line was changed to “We should obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders.” Poelman's statement that “the orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded on fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual,” became this: “The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles, eternal law, and direction given by those authorized in the Church.” Every reference to free agency in the original was deleted except one, and that had been altered to imply that free agency is only effective under Church aegis! The new version completely eradicates any distinctions between the church and the gospel. One would get the impression from Elder Poelman's new talk that the church and the gospel are one and the same. In the redacted version, allegiance to the corporation had become no less important than adherence to the gospel of Jesus Christ. How's this for a metaphor: As I've sat at my desk this morning writing the words above, I've also been excitedly awaiting the arrival of a special visitor. His name is John, and he's my local UPS driver. Now, it should be obvious that it's not really John that I'm excited about seeing today; what I'm all a-dither about is what he's bringing with him. When John arrives I'll answer the door and sign his electronic gizmo, he'll hand over the box, then he'll leave. He will be entitled to, and he will receive, my effusive thanks.
Every couple of months or so John brings me something. Sometimes it's food. More often he brings me books that teach me things I didn't know or hadn't thought about before. So I suppose you could say that in some small way I am indebted to John for my spiritual and intellectual edification. I like John. John and his wonder truck are part of an impressive system that delivers sustenance to me. But neither John, nor his truck, nor that system is the actual sustenance. You would certainly think it odd if I were to fawn all over John and his delivery truck to the point of forgetting all about any package he's trying to hand me. Likewise I would think John a bit screwy if he were to hint that I should accept deliveries from no other source but him, or that I obey his pronouncements and follow his counsel because he is so adept at getting stuff to me. I greatly appreciate the role John plays in my life. But I keep that role in perspective. So here's my point. As Poelman taught, the Church as an institution has a divine function. It provides resources and materials that edify us and enrich our lives. The intrinsic purpose of the Book of Mormon is to bring people to Christ, so by publishing and distributing that book, the Church is providing an incalculable service. The Church also manages a way for us to gather together as a community of fellow believers. Perhaps most importantly, the Church was originally commissioned to disseminate the word of God and boldly proclaim the gospel of the restoration. The Church can provide us with spiritual sustenance. But the Church is not the sustenance. The Church is merely the vehicle that delivers the sustenance. As Elder Poelman insisted, it is very important that this distinction be understood. How often do we hear our fellow saints extol the virtues of The Brethren and remark upon what a blessing they are in our lives?
It's been my experience that few of these adulators exhibit the same high level of passion for Christ and His gospel. They seem to have a crush on the delivery man. Many of our testimony meetings are filled with the curious practice of a lot of members bearing testimony of the delivery system while virtually ignoring the plain and precious goods being delivered by that system. Or even forgetting to mention the name of He who is the source of all those goods. Is it not more than a little ridiculous, once one understands the distinction between eternal gospel principles and the group of people you may meet with on Sunday morning, to hear people say: "I know the church is true!" rather than saying: "I know the gospel is true!"? The people of George Orwell's futuristic dystopia had come to believe that they existed to serve their leaders, rather than the other way around. They were not concerned that knowledge was being kept from them; their daily mantra included the slogan, "ignorance is strength". Some of these people would have been right at home with those among us who insist that "not everything that is true is useful."5 All truth is useful to those seeking their way back to The Father. That is why we are taught that the very essence of eternal progression is to be ever increasing in knowledge. Ignorance is not strength, it is weakness. Ignorance is not power; Knowledge is power! For the Glory of God is intelligence.6 We Mormons are a peculiar people indeed. We join the Church because the Book of Mormon brings us to Christ. But once we are enveloped in the church we often allow our allegiance to be
Boyd K. Packer, “The mantle is far far greater than the intellect,” BYU Studies 21:3, 5 6 D&C 93:36
nudged ever so gently away from Christ and directed toward the institutions of men. God has not abandoned us, but when we lose the distinction between allegiance to Him, and allegiance to our leaders, we are setting up an idol and abandoning Him. It is loyalty to principle that must be our standard, not loyalty to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or any other church. If we abdicate our agency to others, even if they are often led right, we fall short of the blessings God has in store for us. Brigham Young taught: "What a pity it would be if we were led by one man to utter destruction! Are you afraid of this? I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by Him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God in their salvation, and weaken that influence they could give to their leaders, did they know for themselves, by the revelations of Jesus, that they are led in the right way. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not. This has been my exhortation continually. . . . "Let all persons be fervent in prayer, until they know the things of God for themselves and become certain that they are walking in the path that leads to everlasting life; then will envy, the child of ignorance, vanish, and there will be no disposition in any man to place himself above another; for such a feeling meets no countenance in the order of heaven. Jesus Christ never wanted to be different from his father: they were and are one. If a people are led by the revelations of Jesus Christ, and they are cognizant of the fact
through their faithfulness, there is no fear but they will be one in Christ Jesus, and see eye to eye."7 As we strive to live the gospel of Jesus Christ, and simultaneously struggle to navigate the subculture of the church, it can be difficult to overcome the cognitive dissonance between the teachings of the prophets and some of the statements of current leaders. I exhort you not to lose faith in the gospel; Jesus Christ knows your name and your heart, if you strive to serve him he will lead you home. There will come a time, or perhaps that time has already come, in your life when you face a crisis of faith. I hope when faced with this crisis you will remember who it is that is the only sure foundation of your faith: Jesus Christ. As the scriptures teach us: "And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." (Helaman 5:12) To build your testimony on others, even the president of the church, is to build on the sand. But the rock of your redeemer will never fail you. If you need help navigating the waves and winds of doctrine, I hope that you will contact the missionaries listed on the back of this booklet before you lose faith. Give the Spirit the chance to renew your faith, and he will not disappoint you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, Vol. 9, p. 150, 12 January 1862
In this little booklet we hope you will find greater understanding by learning of the distinction between the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ and His ever changing Church. This is a distinction of vital importance for us to have a proper understanding of God's plan for us. We hope that these words will help you to dispel misunderstandings and develop faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. If you will allow the spirit to work in you, you will come to know that these things are true. If you have a desire to serve God, then I exhort you to pray fervently to know this for yourself. For further information please contact the missionaries at: Right.Branch@Gmail.com or 1 (801) 769-6279 There are many other books and pamphlets that reveal this eternal truth. Please ask those who gave you this booklet for more information. May God bless you as you search to know Him.
THE RIGHTEOUS BRANCH OF THE CHURCH OF
OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
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