CES Reply: Shake It! (Also Masons.)

Continuing my reply to Jeremy Runnells “Letter to a CES Director,” with Jeremy’s original words in green:

The Shakers and Ann Lee:


The Shakers felt that “Christ has made his second appearance on earth, in a chosen female known by the name of Ann Lee, and acknowledged by us as our Blessed Mother in the work of redemption” (Sacred Roll and Book, p.358).  The Shakers, of course, did not believe in the Book of Mormon, but they had a book entitled A Holy, Sacred and Divine Roll and Book; From the Lord God of Heaven, to the Inhabitants of Earth.


More than 60 individuals gave testimony to the Sacred Roll and Book, which was published in 1843. Although not all of them mention angels appearing, some of them tell of many angels visiting them. One woman told of eight different visions.

Here is the testimony statement:

We, the undersigned, hereby testify, that we saw the holy Angel standing upon the house-top, as mentioned in the foregoing declaration, holding the Roll and Book.

Betsey Boothe. Louisa Chamberlain. Caty De Witt.  Laura Ann Jacobs. Sarah Maria Lewis. Sarah Ann Spencer. Lucinda McDoniels. Maria Hedrick.

So we shouldn’t accept the testimony of Book of Mormon witnesses because the Shakers, who no longer exist and who’s central claims have been completely discredited by the passage of time, claimed to see angels? How is that anything but a non sequitur? Each testimony should be evaluated on its own merits. As it stands, the Shakers no longer exist, so I don’t see much value in reviewing their testimonies.

Joseph Smith only had three witnesses who claimed to see an angel. The Shakers, however, had a large number of witnesses who claimed they saw angels and the Sacred Roll and Book.

And the Shakers no longer exist, which pretty much destroys the credibility of Shaker witness claims.

There are over a hundred pages of testimony from “Living Witnesses.”

And yet the Shakers aren’t living any more – it’s a completely dead and discredited movement. Are you arguing that we ought to resurrect the dead Shaker movement based on these witnesses?

The evidence seems to show that Martin Harris accepted the Sacred Roll and Book as a divine revelation. 

No, it doesn’t, no matter how many times you recycle the same tired hearsay quotes. (I think it’s four for this one.)

Clark Braden stated: “Harris declared repeatedly that he had as much evidence for a Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon” (The Braden and Kelly Debate, p.173).

Braden, who never met Harris, passed along this uncorroborated hearsay years after Harris’s death and decades after Harris allegedly said it. I resent having to type that again. You may enjoy repeating yourself, but I find it tedious.

Why should we believe the Book of Mormon witnesses but not the Shakers witnesses? 

Because time has conclusively demonstrated that the Shaker witnesses were wrong, based on the fact that the Shakers no longer exist.

What are we to make of the reported Martin Harris comment that he had as much evidence for the Shaker book he had as for the Book of Mormon?

We are to make that you are obsessed with unreliable hearsay nonsense and enjoy repeating yourself.

In light of the James Strang/Voree Plates witnesses,

who claimed to see something as mundane as a fish in a tent,

the fact that all of the Book of Mormon Witnesses – except Martin Harris – were related to either Joseph Smith or David Whitmer,

which is overblown – third cousin once removed? – and largely irrelevant,

along with the fact that all of the witnesses were treasure hunters who believed in second sight, 

which is not true,

and in light of their superstitions and reputations…

which were mild superstitions in line with conventional 19th Century thinking, and the undeniable fact that they enjoyed very good reputations for honesty and good character,

why would anyone gamble with their lives in believing in a book based on anything these men said or claimed or what’s written on the testimonies of the Witnesses page in the Book of Mormon?
If the entirety of your faith in the Book of Mormon is based on the written testimony of these witnesses, then you may have a point. Fortunately, the Lord has made provision for each of us to receive our own direct witness from heaven as a result of our own study and prayer. That’s the witness people cite when they stand up and bear their testimonies of the Book of Mormon on the first Sunday of every month.

On Fast Sunday, have you ever heard anyone attribute their testimony to the statement of the Three or Eight Witnesses? I surely haven’t, but, given that you were apparently teaching missionary discussions that cited these statements as legally binding affidavits, your experience seems to be quite different from my own.

The testimony of the 11 witnesses, like all signs from heaven, are designed to confirm faith, not create it from scratch. You proceed from a false premise here. Your assumptions are what are unreliable, not the Book of Mormon witnesses.

The mistake that is made by 21st century Mormons is that they’re seeing the Book of Mormon Witnesses as empirical, rational, nineteenth-century men instead of the nineteenth-century magical thinking, superstitious, and treasure digging men they were. 

No, the mistake is that 21st Century ex-Mormons like you condescend to 19th Century men and distort harmless beliefs in antiquated superstitions into something more significant than they actually were.

They have ignored the peculiarities of their worldview, and by so doing, they misunderstand their experiences as witnesses.

It’s very easy to misunderstand witnesses when you ignore everything they actually said in favor of a handful of hearsay statements that you repeat ad nauseum, each time pretending they’re something new.

At the end of the day?  It all doesn’t matter.  

It doesn’t? Then why are you wasting my time?

The Book of Mormon Witnesses and their testimonies of the gold plates are irrelevant.

They are? Then why didn’t you say so? I could have moved on to the next chapter.

It does not matter whether eleven 19th  century treasure diggers with magical worldviews saw some gold plates or not.

Well, it matters somewhat that you misrepresent farmers and schoolteachers as professional treasure diggers, as your eagerness to label them in the most negative light possible demonstrates your unwillingness to engage this issue with any attempt to keep an open mind.

It doesn’t matter because of this one simple fact:

OOoo! Here it comes…

Joseph did not use the gold plates for translating the Book of Mormon.

What? That’s it? Please don’t tell me you’re still hung up on the rock and the hat.

rock in hat


I don’t know what else to say. The deeper I get into this reply, the less I think we understand each other. I honestly do not understand why the rock in the hat is such a huge obstacle for you. If Joseph had translated the record by means of plucking his own eyebrows and lighting them on fire, it would make no difference to me whatsoever. The product of the method, not the method itself, is what matters. The Book of Mormon is here; it exists, and it’s a powerful work of scripture that has brought millions of people closer to God. You can’t make it vanish in a puff of smoke just by posting pictures of Joseph looking like he’s throwing up in a hat.

Moving on…

Temples & Freemasonry Concerns & Questions:

1. Just seven weeks after Joseph’s Masonic initiation, Joseph introduced the LDS endowment ceremony in May 1842.

While there are elements of the temple ceremony that demonstrably precede Joseph initiation into Masonry – chunks of the Book of Moses are in the endowment ceremony, for instance – I think you’re absolutely right not to chalk this up to coincidence. The pattern Joseph set was that events served as catalysts for seeking revelation. Remember, the Word of Wisdom came as the result of Emma getting tired of cleaning up tobacco stains. The revelation on plural marriage came after Joseph asked a question in the course of translating the KJV. Answers from heaven are received only after someone asks.

Since revelation doesn’t come in a vacuum, my guess is that Joseph sensed something ancient in the Masonic ceremony and asked about it, which led to the endowment. I don’t think there’s anything sinister in acknowledging the possible connection.

2. President Heber C. Kimball, a Mason himself and a member of the First Presidency for 21 years, made the following statement:

“We have the true Masonry. The Masonry of today is received from the apostasy which took place in the days of Solomon, and David. They have now and then a thing that is correct, but we  have the real thing.”

– Stanley B. Kimball, Heber C. Kimball and Family: The Nauvoo Years, p.458

Sure. In other words, the Masons have some ancient practices – “now and then a thing is correct – mixed in with apostate corruptions, and the endowment represents the truth of what masonry should be.

3. If Masonry had the original temple ceremony but became distorted over time, why doesn’t the LDS ceremony more closely resemble an earlier form of Masonry, which would be more correct rather than the exact version that Joseph Smith was exposed to in his March 1842 Nauvoo, Illinois initiation?

Two things. One, you’re frankly acknowledging here that the Mormon endowment ceremony is different enough from Masonry to be its own thing and not just a pale copy of Masonic ritual, which is the accusation that most critics of the Church make. Second, why should an earlier form of Masonry be more correct? The rituals of Solomon’s temple preceded Masonry by thousands of years. Whatever changes modern Masons have made to their ceremony took place over a relatively short period of time in comparison, so they would be unlikely to have any bearing on whatever portion of truth survived the intervening millennia between Solomon and the Masons.

You’re making assumptions again and not recognizing that you’re likely to be proceeding from a flawed premise.

4. Freemasonry has zero links to Solomon’s temple.  

Define “links.” You would be correct to say that it’s impossible to demonstrate that the rituals of Masonry have been handed down from the time of Solomon in an unbroken chain. You would be incorrect to say that Masons have not appropriated their understanding of ancient practices into their ceremony. The “link,” then, would not be a passed-down line of authority but one of similar ideas, many of which the Masons undoubtedly got wrong but a few, apparently, they got right.

Although more a Church folklore, with origins from comments made by early Mormon Masons such as Heber C. Kimball, than being Church doctrine, it’s a myth that the endowment ceremony has its origins from Solomon’s temple or that Freemasonry passed down parts of the endowment over the centuries from Solomon’s temple.

The Church makes no attempt to claim that either Freemasonry or the endowment claim their authority from being “passed down” from antiquity.

By way of comparison, the Roman Catholic Church claims their priesthood authority through apostolic succession, while the Mormons claim that their priesthood authority was restored after a long period of apostasy. So while one group claims to have their authority passed down in an unbroken chain while the other claims it was lost and then restored, both groups agree that there is such a thing as priesthood authority, and that there was such a thing as priesthood authority anciently.

Similarly, our authority to perform the endowment ceremony and sealing ordinances does not come from a claim of “masonic succession,” so to speak. While many, including me, believe that what we do now in temples bears a resemblance to what they did anciently – although we don’t know the extent of that resemblance – our authority to perform these ordinances came by means of modern revelation, not from being passed down.

Solomon’s temple was all about animal sacrifice.

Oh, nonsense. Solomon’s temple had a whole lot more going on than just animal sacrifice. If you doubt me, then consult the infallible Wikipedia.

Freemasonry has its origins to stone tradesmen in medieval Europe – not in 950 BC Jerusalem.

True, although Freemasonry was attempting to mimic the rituals of what happened in 950 BC Jerusalem.

If there’s no connection to Solomon’s temple, what’s so divine about a man-made medieval European secret fraternity and its rituals?

I don’t know of any prophet or apostle who has ever claimed Freemasonry is divine. If they did, we’d all be counseled to become Freemasons.

5.Why did the Church remove the blood oath penalties and the 5 Points of Fellowship at the veil from the endowment ceremony in 1990?  Both 100% Masonic rituals?

Probably because both were 100% Masonic rituals and unnecessary.

What does this say about the Temple and the endowment ceremony if 100% pagan Masonic rituals were in it from its inception?

It says somebody made a mistake, and that we don’t believe in infallibility.

What does it say about the Church if it removed something that Joseph Smith said he restored and which would never again be taken away from the earth?

Joseph Smith said that penalties and the 5 Points of Fellowship would never be taken from the earth? When? Perhaps you’re referring to the sealing power, the keys of the priesthood, and the spirit of Elijah, all of which are still very much a part of temple worship.

6.Is God really going to require people to know secret tokens, handshakes, and signs to get into the Celestial Kingdom?  If so, Masons, former Mormons, anti-Mormons, unworthy Mormons as well as non-Mormons who’ve seen the endowment on YouTube or read about the signs/handshakes/tokens online should pass through the pearly gates with flying colors.

So should every person who has ever lived on the earth, as we intend to do temple work for every child of God who comes to earth in mortality.

7.Does the eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal sealings of families really depend on medieval originated Masonic rituals in multi-million dollar castles?

Earlier, you admitted that the endowment ceremony has significantly departed from Masonry, and now you call the endowment nothing more than “medieval originated Masonic rituals.” Which is it? Make up your mind.

Eternal salvation, eternal happiness, and eternal sealings depend on the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rituals are symbols that connect us to God, but it is God that saves, not the rituals.

Is God really going to separate good couples and their children who love one other and who want to be together in the next life because they object to uncomfortable and strange Masonic temple rituals and a polygamous heaven? 

Why should he? All those children will have these rituals performed on their behalf, so there will be no need to separate them. The temple doctrine of redemption of the dead are extraordinarily inclusive and know of no parallel in the wider Christian world. But it’s nice that you got another dig in there about polygamy instead of one more mention of the rock in the hat.

Tomorrow: Science!


Of Brock and Bill
CES Reply: Science!

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