Editor’s Note:  This is the tenth article in a 12-part Tuesday/Thursday Meridian Series that explores some of the most remarkable and exciting doctrines of the Restoration. Read the two-part introduction to this series  here, and here, and read article 1  here, and article 2 here, and article 3 here, and article 4 here, and article 5 here, and article 6 here, and article seven, here. To read the eighth article in the series, here and to read the ninth, CLICK HERE.

Author’s Note:  The three concluding articles in this series are the three parts of a long letter I wrote to the Right Hon. Rhodes Boyson, a British Member of Parliament who had become a close friend during our Mission Presidency in London.  Rhodes had become very familiar with the Church, and not long before our return to the U.S. he asked me the best Gospel question I have ever heard.  He said that he wanted to differentiate between the wrappings and the gifts—that he knew a lot about the “wrappings” of angels and gold plates and visions, but he wanted to know more specifically about the “gifts” of the actual doctrines that were restored. After the brief preface that starts this article, I am sharing all of the letters I wrote to Rhodes in answer to his question.

When I was nineteen years old I got on a train in Salt Lake City and went to New York City as a missionary. During the next two years, I discovered that what I was telling people was practical as well as true, and I watched the teaching of the Church, the answers of Christ’s Gospel, and the programs of His Church change the hearts and the lives of individuals and families. When my “mission” was over, I returned to college, finished my education at the Harvard Business School and began a management consulting career.

Seven years later, in the midst of building a national consulting company, and on the verge of running for Congress, I was called to be a Mission President in London. We brought four young children with us, and two more were born while we were there.

It was the most marvelous experience of our lives. I got up every morning knowing that what I would do (and what our missionaries would do) that day could genuinely help people, enhance their family and spiritual lives and add to their happiness. There were no ulterior motives or hidden agendas. We were there to share and to give the Gospel gifts that we had been given.

During that first period of time in England (we have been back frequently since and think of London now almost as a second home, and our youngest daughter and her family live in London) we formed many friendships, one of the most lasting of which was with Rhodes Boyson, a member of the British Parliament and England’s Minister of Education. Rhodes and I shared similar political and economic views and we also shared a penchant for and an enjoyment in discussing spiritual subjects (although we found much less time to do so than we would have liked).

The last time Rhodes and I spoke before we left England at the end of our mission, he said he’d like to know more about the spiritual beliefs that motivated me to leave my career and my other interests for three years. He said he didn’t want an answer right then, and didn’t want an answer by phone — he wanted a real letter — something he could ponder and think about. A month or so later he sent me a note to remind me, and in it he commented again on his admiration for my church and for the effect he had seen it have on the everyday lives of people. I wrote back to him with what I’ll call letter #1. 

Letter #1

Dear Rhodes:
Thanks for your note and for your ongoing interest in the spiritual things we’ve discussed (too briefly) over the last several months. I’m sure I’ve learned as much or more than you from our conversations. I particularly liked your metaphor about the “spiritual circuitry” that surrounds us always and our opportunity to “plug into it” and get impressions and guidance and spiritual perspective and energy whenever we are willing and humble enough.

With regard to my church, I agree with your allusion to its “practicality and pragmatism.” It really is more of a way of life than it is a place to go on Sunday.

Some particulars:

1. Youth programs: As you discussed, Latter-day Saint kids are really involved. Scouting programs and organized athletic, music and drama activities keep church buildings busy nearly every night of the week.

2. Lay ministry: Since there are no paid ministers, the local “Bishop” (head of the local congregation) might be a doctor, or an architect, or a plumber; and virtually everyone is involved in some “church job” . . . teaching a class, directing a play, coaching a team, visiting those in need, etc. It is, as you mentioned, a classic example of everyone helping each other. It’s not as insular as you might think, however. A lot of the “church jobs” involve service in the broader community.

3. Welfare program: Latter-day Saint members don’t generally need or use any form of state assistance because the church’s welfare program works so well. Groups of congregations operate volunteer-staffed farms, factories, etc. which produce basic necessities. People who are between jobs can work in these facilities and earn “credits” with which they can “buy” basic necessities. The church also has job training and job placement programs for members.

4. Health: Our belief that the body is the “temple” for the spirit is at the root of the health code that has existed since the earliest days of the church. Abstinence from alcohol and tobacco as well as coffee and tea along with an emphasis on exercise and natural foods has made Mormons a remarkably healthy people. Abstinence is also the operative moral code regarding premarital sex — not only for health concerns but because of our belief in the sanctity and the beauty of the marriage commitment.

5. Families: The church gives huge help to parents and families. It provides materials and guidelines for a “family home evening” once a week designed to improve communication and commitment with each other. The church sponsors frequent family activities, marriage and parenting classes, and all sorts of other efforts to strengthen family life.

6. Missionary system: Young men and young women have the opportunity around the age of twenty to spend eighteen months to two years in full-time voluntary service. They are “called” to some part of the world (over fifty thousand are now serving in over one hundred thirty countries) where they give service, strengthen families, and tell others about their beliefs. They return home, fluent in languages and cultures and usually with a clearer idea of their own educational and career goals. Retired people (as individuals or couples) also go throughout the world as missionaries — thus staying more active and involved than they would otherwise be.

Rhodes, there is so much more that I could mention in this vein — humanitarian projects, educational opportunities, neighborhood and community involvement — suffice it to say that ours is a hugely active and involved and involving church. But I don’t want to go beyond what you want to know. Write when you can and let me know what kind of further interest you have.

All the best, Richard

Well, Rhodes did have further interest, and he was a little impatient with my letter. He told me that I was covering things he already knew — that his observations of the practicality of the church, of how involved it was in people’s everyday life — were the very reasons that he wanted to know more . . . not about the programs of the church, but about its doctrines.

Could I please write back, he wondered, and this time tell him something that would help him understand why LDS people were the way they were. “What do you believe,” he said, “that makes you what you are? What is behind and beneath the kind of people you are. What separates you doctrinally from other Christian faiths?”

“What separates us . . . doctrinally . . . from other Christian faiths?” I thought about his question for several days and then wrote letter #2.

Letter #2

Dear Rhodes:

I hope all is well with you and yours. And I welcome the opportunity of trying to go a little further with our discussion about my church or, as I would say, about Christ’s church, and therein lies the start of my answer. I believe it is actually Christ’s own church.

In fact, Rhodes, the full name of the church is really the key to what I want to say in this letter, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Mormon, as you know, is only a nickname — and somewhat of an unfortunate one, I think, because it often prevents the real name — which says so much about what we believe — from being used. (“Mormon” as I think you know, comes from the Book of Mormon — an ancient book of scripture originating in the Americas that we use with the Holy Bible. I’ll get back to this book later.)

But ponder the church’s real name, because it says so much. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I believe that Christ’s original church — The Church of Jesus Christ of Former-day Saints — was established by the Lord, complete with a priesthood of deacons, teachers, evangelists, etc. as outlined in the Bible to safeguard His doctrines and to perpetuate the way of life that He taught. “Saints” was the Biblical name for members of His church. The twelve apostles were His church’s leading authorities next to Himself. They were to maintain unity and to delegate priesthood authority to the Bishops of local congregations. When an apostle died, as illustrated in the first chapter of Acts, the other eleven met together and by inspiration chose a replacement.

But after Christ’s crucifixion, as the persecution of His church escalated, the Apostles (who were scattered and out of touch with each other) were killed, leaving no one to ordain lesser priesthood officers or to maintain the purity of Christ’s doctrine. The apostolic “link” between God in Heaven and His church on earth was gone. Divisions and doctrinal disputes resulted and the priesthood or power of God vested in men died with the death of those who had received it from the Apostles. Doctrines were diluted, changed, compromised on. Constantine exacerbated the problem by making Christianity the official church of Rome and politicizing all aspects of it.

From then through the Dark Ages, Christ’s church and its teachings were progressively changed and corrupted. Finally the courageous men that we call reformers broke away from the Catholic Church, attempting to find and renew the old truths, and started the Protestant Reformation. Significantly, none of the major reformers — Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Williams — sought to form their own church or a new church. They wanted to reform the existing church. Furthermore, they recognized their own lack of Christ’s true authority and indicated that they were awaiting a restoration in which God himself would restore what had been lost.

Rhodes, I believe the reformation prepared the way and set the stage for a restoration that took place in the early 1800s through a boy prophet named Joseph Smith. Young Joseph was not a reformer or a learned man. He was an honest seeker who was used by God (in the same pattern that all biblical prophets were used) to restore truth and light to the earth. The whole Bible, in fact, is a series of “dispensations” . . . truth being lost from the earth and then being restored again through a chosen prophet. Why would God’s pattern change?

The restoration through Joseph Smith was a remarkable thing. Illuminating truths about God, about man, and about God’s relationship to man were returned to earth — restored by angels and by God himself. God’s plan for mankind’s progress and salvation was restored. Much of the enlightenment came through an ancient record called The Book of Mormon which told of Christ’s post-resurrection visit to the Americas — a book that complements, supplements, clarifies and expands the Holy Bible. God’s true Priesthood was restored and once again Christ’s full church, complete with Apostles and all other Priesthood offices was re-established. Hence the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Rhodes, the practicality and relevance of this church is not an accident. The fact that it may be  the fastest-growing church on earth is not a coincidence. It is the very church of Christ, and while all Christian churches carry the most important of all truths — that Christ is our Divine Savior — this church, His own restored church, is complete and carries all of the truths necessary to make sense of this life and to make a meaningful pursuit of happiness.

May you, through your pursuit find this to be so,

Richard M. Eyre

It wasn’t that Rhodes didn’t like letter #2. It just wasn’t what he was asking for. His return correspondence made that clear. He thanked me for the overview of Christian history and the apostasy and for my “logical-sounding” claim that a restoration had to follow the reformation. But he was blunt in saying that it did not help him with the personal questions and doubts he had. All his life, he said, he had tried to reconcile his faith with the inconsistencies and cruelties of life. He was deeply troubled by the huge inequalities and injustices in our world, by the bad things that happen to good people, by the huge percentages of humanity who would never hear of Christ and the things He taught. He wanted desperately to understand the spiritual promptings and frequent feelings of deja vu that came to him. He felt sure there was a world beyond this one and a spiritual reality but he could not define it or make sense of it.

Could I please, he asked, get to the root of what I believed and share with him the real source and essence of my own faith — not the wrappings but the gifts. The next day I wrote letter #3.

Letter #3

Dear Rhodes:
Thanks so much for your last correspondence and its invitation to express more of what was restored. I’m still hesitant to try to do so by letter. Personal, face-to-face visits with our missionaries, young and inexperienced as they are, is the best way to approach and receive these things. (Actually, it is the best way because of their youth and inexperience. They won’t convince you of anything so if you believe, you’ll know it’s because of the Spirit and not because of the missionaries.) While you’re deciding whether you want to take that step, let me pose to you eleven “what if” questions that I think you’ll agree that if they were true, then there may exist real answers for the difficult questions you pose about the human condition.

WHAT IF . . .

  1. What if . . .
    We, each of us, lived before this life, not inside another person or as something else but in another place as ourselves? Our deja vu and sense that we have deeper and older selves is accurate. We were spirit individuals before we were born. Spirit is matter more refined, with form and recognizability.
  2. What if . . .
    The fatherhood of God is more than a metaphor? We are His spiritual children. He is an all powerful being of spirit and body and we are His offspring in His image.
  3. What if . . .
    This earth was designed and created for us — a limitless-option school where experience could expand and enhance our awareness, our potential and our joy, allowing us to become more like our Heavenly Father in comprehension and in capacity? His “commandments” are the happiest ways to live — they are loving counsel from a wise father.
  4. What if . . .                                                                                                                          We are here on earth not so much to find comfort or fulfillment as to learn? Mortality is part of a much longer journey and first-time experiences like a physical body and parenthood to our spirit brothers and sisters are part of our eternal education and part of God’s eternal plan. Families, formed here, will become the basis of God’s eternal organization. Circumstances that may appear arbitrary and unfair will make more sense in an eternal perspective.
  5. What if . . .
    As spirits within bodies, we are still capable of receiving light and insight but with specific memory of our premortal life blotted out so agency and choice can exist? Through prophets, church, and individual inspiration, spiritual answers are available, but only as we ask and listen.
  6. What if . . .
    As spirits within physical bodies we are still close to the spiritual world, and it is close to us? Other spirits who have departed this life or not yet come can sometimes be felt nearby, and our Heavenly Father’s spirit guides our lives and answers our prayers.
  7. What if . . .
    Relationships and what we have learned (and become) are the two things we can take with us into the after life — an after life where we will judge ourselves and be with God if we are comfortable in His presence.
  8.  Those who have no opportunity to hear of this eternal plan receive that chance in the spirit world that follows so that all have a fair and equal opportunity to accept and follow it or to reject it?
  9. What if . . .
    Our eldest spiritual sibling helped create this world with His Father (and our Father), guided its destiny as the God of the Old Testament, and came to live on this earth and redeem its people as Jesus Christ? He had no earthly father and, as God’s only begotten son, without sin, had power to lay down His life and take it up again. This He did, in agony, mercy, and sacrifice, paying for our sins that we too might resurrect and return to God.
  10. What if . . .
    The spirit and the body constitute the complete soul of man? Physical bodies enhance our joy and increase our ability to comprehend and benefit from the temporal universe and grow to be more like our Father.
  11. What if . . .
    God’s word and will comes to this earth through prophets, but in deference to our agency and mortality’s purpose (of growth and self-determination), is not required or enforced? When truth is lost or distorted by apostasy or misinterpretation, God restores it through new prophets so that truth seekers, if they are diligent and prayerful, can always find it.

THEN . . .

There may be reasons and explanations for your questions about:

  1. The seemingly random unfairness of life and the bad things that happen to good people.
  2. Feelings of deja vu, flashes of unexpected but exceptionally clear insight, and a sense of “remembering” as we learn.
  3. Impressions of closeness to people long gone or deep longings and emotions that seem beyond the things of daily life.
  4. Our natural assumptions and feelings that life and love continue after death.
  5. The incredible and often disturbing variety of life — the intensity and “extremeness” of both the good and the bad.
  6. Why some hear and know of Christ and His gospel on this earth and others do not.

Rhodes, I’m not trying to be illusive or indirect. I Just want you to ponder the possibility of some of these things before I (or preferably two of our young missionaries) present fuller explanations.

With love and best wishes, Richard Eyre

The whole tone of Rhodes’ return correspondence was different.
“Now we’re getting somewhere,” he said. “You’re finally understanding my question.

“I’m not asking about the practical results of your church (your letter #1). If I hadn’t known about those I’d not have been curious in the first place. And I’m not asking about the process by which the church was restored and established (your letter #2). While the claim that God and angels re-visited the earth is exciting (and certainly intellectually challenging), it’s not how the parcel is wrapped and delivered that interests me most — it’s what was inside. What was restored . . . what doctrines, what insights, what understanding? What was restored that will help me make more sense of my life and of life in general? Your letter #3 began to get at it — but in an almost teasing, hypothetical way. It’s those answers I want — as direct and complete as you can give them to me. Don’t ask me questions . . . or give me answers in the form of questions. Tell me what was restored. Tell me what is inside the box. I know enough about the wrappings.  Now tell me about the gifts.

Finally, I understood what Rhodes was really asking about. He wanted to know the content of the restoration. I decided to use his own metaphor to write letter #4 — a much longer letter not about the “wrappings” but about the “gifts.” In the letter (which begins here and continues as parts 11 and 12 of this series), I made no reference to the source or the how or to the circumstances under which the truths were restored. In other words, I ignored the “wrappings” and talked only of the “gifts,” feeling more and more as I wrote that each gift carried with it its own independent ring of truth and needed no “proof” or “evidence” to be believed. It needed only a sincere and spiritual reader.

I wrote letter #4 in the mountains, parts of it on long horse rides alone where I pondered Rhodes’ questions as I climbed sagebrush ridges or passed beneath giant firs. When a “gift” became isolated and clear in my mind, I hobbled my horse, found a rock or a log to sit on, took out my paper and wrote it down. Then I rode on, trying to grasp and conceptualize the next gift.

Letter #4

Dear Rhodes:
Thanks for your last correspondence. I think I truly understand (finally) what you are asking me and I will try to be both more to the point and more detailed in this letter, which I’m afraid will make it LONG. I will use your metaphor — the one suggesting that I get to what was contained in the “package” of the restoration rather than dealing with the wrappings and bows of how it was restored.

Let me begin by expanding and personalizing that metaphor a bit. In our family, as I suppose is the case in most, we look forward to the first birthday of each child and to the first Christmas following that birthday — we long to give gifts to these little ones and we are anxious for them to be old enough to celebrate with us, to open presents and to feel our love as they enjoy what is inside.

But on these first holidays a fairly predictable and somewhat frustrating thing occurs: Our tiny children become pre-occupied with the wrappings and the bows. The crinkly paper and the bright colors fascinate them and so fully capture their attention that they never get to what’s inside, or if they do get to it, the gift isn’t flashy enough (or perhaps requires too much concentration) to take their minds off the spectacular wrappings.

The gifts of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are insights and truths about the nature and purposes of man, about the reality and the plan of God and about the relationship of men to God and the interrelationships between His plan and our purpose. The gifts are also His power and His peace and His ways, transformed to our voltage and available for our use.

The wrappings and the packaging are the circumstances and the people and the methods through which these truths were restored. The eye- and mind-catching wrapping paper includes a historical and scriptural record inscribed on sheets of gold. The spectacular ribbons and bows include revelations, modern day prophets and visitations and restorations by angelic messengers. No wonder so many become preoccupied with the wrappings and fail to see beyond them to the gifts. No wonder so relatively few know of the inner insights of the gifts and so relatively many know about the outer appearance of the package.

This is not to say that the “wrappings” are unimportant. Indeed, the way in which things were restored reveals truth about the “unchangeable-ness” and impartiality of God and of His methods, reassuring us that He loves us as much and deals with us as personally as He did with those of old.

But for so many people the packaging is so bright, so extraordinary, so outside the realm of their normal experience, that they dwell on it and either fail to look at the gifts inside or see them with a blurred or prejudiced perspective because of the wrappings they come in.

What I hope to do in this letter, Rhodes, is to reverse the usual sequence and order of things…to start off inside the package…..to focus on the gifts, paying attention to the wrappings only after the gifts themselves are perceived, and appreciated, and enjoyed.

The gifts are answers, insights and powers. They enable men not only to understand their lives better…..but to live them better. They are not new answers, but very old ones…..insights that have always been part of God’s revealed word to man, lost from the earth in times of apostasy, confusion and compromise — then recovered and restored in times of freedom and faith.

The word “restore” is the key. Please note that a restoration is fundamentally different than a reformation. In a reformation the initiative comes from man — a restoration must be at God’s initiative. The courageous reformers dared to acknowledge the contradictions and discrepancies of the altered Christianity that emerged from the Dark Ages. They elevated the minds of men and prepared the world for the restoration of the plain and precious parts of Christ’s gospel which had been lost. This letter is a listing of some of the gifts of that restoration:

You will quickly see that I have not tried to “present” the gifts of the restoration in an evidential or “selling” tone. Nor have I tried to back up every point with a biblical scripture or some form of evidence or “proof.” Rather, I’ve tried to simply state these gifts in the most simple and straightforward manner.

I’ve taken this approach for two reasons: 1. My purpose is not to “win you over” or to convince or compel you to agree with or accept each point — rather, it is simply to share with you, as my friend, the most precious insights I possess. 2. I believe (we both do, as we have often discussed) that truth carries its own “ring.” When truth is stated plainly, and when it is heard (or read) by one who listens without bias and who trusts his own feelings — then it needs no back up, no foot notes, no debate — it rings true in the heart and mind, and it stands alone for itself.

So let me now try to present to you twelve great Gifts that I believe are the heart of the Restoration:

Gift 1: Knowledge of Man’s Pre-mortal Existence and of the Eternal Fatherhood of God.

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting. The soul that rises with us, our life’s star hath had elsewhere its setting
and cometh from afar

not in complete forgetfulness
and not in entire nakedness
but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home.

— Wordsworth

Your great English Poet Laureate William Wordsworth (whose home on Lake Windermere we visited two weeks before leaving England) is not the only one who believes that each man’s spirit existed in another place (with God) before his birth into mortality (although he may be the only one to have ever stated it with such haunting beauty).

Many people believe they lived before birth because of personal experiences of deja vu ….. or because of things they seem to know that they don’t remember having ever learned ….. or simply because, in their deeper moments, they feel there is more to them than the sparse accumulation of a few years of earthly experience.

The Bible makes several references to man’s pre-mortal life, including God’s statement to Job that He knew him before He had formed him “in the belly” and “before he came forth out of the womb.” (Job 1:5)

Irrespective of how many people believe it or how many scriptures refer to it, no Catholic or Protestant church teaches or officially holds a belief in the pre-mortal life of man. All teach of some form of life after death, but theirs is a concept of “one-way eternity” because it couples with the doctrine that individual humans flare into existence at the time of their birth. The only exception is the restored Church of Jesus Christ which offers the knowledge of a pre-existence as one of its gifts.

Knowledge of a pre-mortal life answers the question “Where did I come from?” and allows man to approach the successive questions of “Why am I here?” and “Where am I going?” And it gives a perspective that allows us to deal with the seemingly random vicissitudes of life.

Prior to our life here, prior even to the existence of this earth, we lived as spirit sons and daughters of God. We were separate and individual, even as we are now. Our Heavenly Father’s goal, then as now, was our progress and happiness. Over the eons of time that we lived with our Father, we learned and grew — progressing not by changing our identities or taking on other life forms, but by moving through different types of challenge, different realms of experience.

The first-born spirit, and thus our eldest spirit brother, was Jehovah. Another leader and older brother in God’s family was Lucifer.

There came a time in the course of our “eternal progression” when the element of complete agency and individual choice was prerequisite to further growth. We needed the challenges and tempering of a physical existence in a realm of finite time; and we required the stretching, deepening experience of becoming parents ourselves in order to understand and more closely resemble God, our parent.

For these purposes God conceived a temporal earth, bounded by time and by a finite span of physical years where we would receive, for the first time in eternity, the power of procreation and the opportunity to operate and to discipline appetite-laden physical bodies of flesh and bone. Lucifer, possibly through an inadequate understanding of the need for agency but more

probably through his interest in recognition and power, proposed an existence of mandatory obedience and processed experience in which his control would insure that none would be allowed to make mistakes that would jeopardize their return to God.

Opposing him was Jehovah who defended and articulated the Father’s plan of agency wherein each individual could progress according to his own decisions, discipline and direction, wherein each would have the opportunity to fail as well as to succeed and whereby mortals could make independent choices through which they could advance themselves even as they glorified their Father.

Two-thirds of the hosts of Heaven followed Jehovah and the Father, becoming participants in mortality. One-third followed Lucifer and were cast out, creating a force of opposition which, ironically, was an essential part of a plan of agency.

Knowing of these “beginnings” gives us a perspective and a framework in which to view life’s circumstances as well as life’s purposes. Knowing where we came from is essential in understanding why we are here. These insights are one of the great gifts of the restoration.

Note:  The remainder of my letter #4, and the other 11 Gifts, are contained in the two concluding articles in this series which will appear here in Meridian on Thursday, and on Tuesday of next week. Please join me. And please comment with any thoughts or questions.