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Monday, April 18, 2011

The Purifying Power of Gethsemane by Bruce R. McConkie

Color Key:
Quotes from the Ensign article will be in blue.
Quotes from the Bible will be in red.
All my own words are black.

“The Purifying Power of... Gethsemane”
The article chosen from the April 2011 Ensign is from the sectioned titled, “Gospel Classics”.  The title of the article is “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”.  It is a talk given by Bruce R. McConkie in General Conference on April 6, 1985.  McConkie passed away on April 19, 1985.

The article begins, “I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord, that the most important doctrine I can declare, and the most powerful testimony I can bear, is of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

This one sentence says a LOT.  I need to break it down.

“I feel…”  As a Mormon, I was taught to trust my feelings.  I was taught that the Holy Ghost witnessed truth to me through a burning in my bosom, or a “feeling”. 

The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”  (Jer. 17:9) and “He who follows his heart is a fool.  But he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.” (Proverbs 28:26).

The “heart” described in the Bible is referring to our feelings and emotions.  It says we are fools if we follow our hearts/ feelings.  They can deceive us. 

I was a senior in high school when McConkie gave this talk.  I was making life altering decisions at that time – college, dating, getting married, etc.  I followed my feelings and believed they were inspirations from the Holy Ghost.  When I was 18, in love, and presented with a diamond ring, my “feelings” were not at all objective, reliable, sane, or rational.  But I followed them without questioning.  I never turned to the Bible for answers.  I never thought I had to – I had already been given a “feeling”, therefore, I believed I had my answers.  (My first two marriages resulted in heartache, frustration, and divorce.) 

McConkie goes on, “I feel, and the Spirit seems to accord…”

The “feelings” come first, and it “seems” like the Holy Spirit is going along with his feelings.  This is a “man-centered” view being backed up because it seems like God is in agreement.  No matter what the topic is, this is NOT the way God works.  God has given us His Word in the Bible.  Our feelings about it don’t matter.

McConkie “declares” and “bears testimony” of the atonement.  This is a common Mormon practice – using one’s own testimony to validate the truthfulness of something.  Our feelings about something are not only irrelevant, but can be deceitful.  They cannot be trusted.

“[The atonement] is the supreme act of goodness and grace that only a god could perform.”

“A” god suggests that Jesus was one of many gods.  It also suggests that Jesus is a separate god from God, The Father, and lesser than The Father.  The Bible does not teach that Jesus was “a” god, but that Jesus was THE God. 

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory…”  (John 1:1, 14)

If the “Word” became flesh, it means the “Word” was Jesus.  If the “Word” was God, it means that Jesus IS God. 

“I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another…”  (Isaiah 42:8)

God will not give His glory to anyone else.

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”  (John 17:5)

In both John 1:14, and John 17:5, Jesus is glorified – even with the Father.  If no one else can share in God’s glory other than God, this means that Jesus is God.

The article refers to the Garden of Gethsemane as “this holy ground where the sinless Son of the Everlasting Father took upon Himself the sins of all men on condition of repentance”.

The word, “Garden of Gethsemane” is only used in the Bible twice.  Each of these times, it is just mentioned as the place where Jesus prayed.  On the other hand, the word “cross” is used and referred to all through the Bible in many ways:

The message of the cross:  “For Christ did not send me [Paul] to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.”  (1 Cor. 1:17)

The power of the cross:  “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to use who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 1:18)

The reconciliation of the cross:  “and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.”  (Eph 2:16)

Disciples are commanded to carry their own cross:  “If anyone should come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23)

There are no references like these to the Garden of Gethsemane.  ‘The garden’ is not made void; ‘the garden’ is not the power of God; we are not reconciled to God through ‘the garden’; and we are not commanded to deny ourselves, take up our ‘garden’ and follow Christ.  If God points out over and over again throughout the Bible that the cross is important and significant, then it must be!  If the Garden were the sacred place where Jesus took upon the sins of the world, the GARDEN would be referenced either instead of, or at least in addition to the cross – but it’s not.

As a Mormon, I understood that Jesus overcame sin in the Garden of Gethsemane, and overcame death when he rose from the dead.  The cross, as I was taught, was merely the method of torture and death.  So to acknowledge the cross was disrespectful.  To wear that symbol on a necklace, or have it in your home was to ignorantly honor the cruelty and gruesomeness of Christ’s death.  When I saw someone with a cross for a necklace, I would feel a little sorry for them, because they didn’t understand what I believed about the truthfulness of Christ’s atonement (how it really happened in the Garden), and their beliefs were misguided. 

I tried to avoid people with crosses.  The cross made me uncomfortable.

McConkie says, “We know He sweat great gouts of blood from every pore…”

Many claim that Jesus actually sweat blood.  But reading the entire verse puts the analogy in context:  “And being in agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.”  (Luke 22:44)

His sweat was LIKE drops of blood.  It wasn’t actually drops of blood.  The words "as it were" is a word picture explaining that he was under a great strain and sweating so much that the amount of sweat was seemingly equal to the amount of blood he would have lost had he been bleeding profusely.

Regarding the resurrection, McConkie states, “… and arose in that glorious immortality which made Him like His resurrected Father.  He then received all power in heaven and on earth, obtained eternal exaltation, …”

As I pointed out earlier, the Bible teaches that Jesus IS God.  God the Father is NOT a resurrected man.  So this idea that Jesus is now like His resurrected Father is not Biblical in any way. 

According to the Bible, Jesus never had to “obtain eternal exaltation”…
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”  (Heb 13:8)

On May 18, 1873 (as recorded in the Journal of Discourses, Vol. 16 p. 46), Brigham Young issued a challenge:  “Take up the Bible, compare the religion of the Latter Day Saints with it, and see if it will stand the test.”

I have accepted that challenge from Brigham Young.

In the March 2011 issue of the Ensign, the LDS religion fails this test.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank my research partner, Art Haglund.