What Power Shall Stay The Heavens?
Anti-Mormons and LDS Church Growth
September 18, 2007
"...What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints."
--Doctrine & Covenants 121:33 March 30, 1839
This revelation given by Jesus Christ to the prophet, Joseph Smith, came as a response to Joseph's prayer of lamentation during a period when some thought the church was on the brink. In March 1839, Joseph and church leaders Hyrum Smith, Sydney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Alexander McRae, and Caleb Baldwin languished in Missouri's Liberty Jail. In the months leading up to their arrest they had seen their people attacked, raped, murdered and their property plundered.
Missouri Governor Lilburn Boggs had issued the infamous "Mormon Extermination Order" of 1838 (that wasn't repealed until 1976). 240 Missourians attacked Mormons at the Haun's Mill settlement. Some tried to take cover in a black smith shop, but Missourians overpowered them. 17 men, women, and children were massacred and 13 others were seriously injured. Others fled and were stalked through the forest. Meanwhile, The Mormon settlement of Far West was under siege by 2,000 Missouri militiamen.
Missouri had previously disarmed Far West so the militia easily sacked the town. Militiamen had Joseph and other leaders lying on the ground, rifle barrels pressed to their heads. Militia General Samuel D. Lucas ordered his men to execute the Mormon leaders. Joseph Smith and the others lives were only spared by the Grace of God, and by General Alexander Doniphan's refusal to comply with the execution order "It is cold-blooded murder. I will hold you [General Lucas] responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God." (History of the Church, 3:190—91) Fearing for himself, Lucas relented, arrested Joseph and the five others and marched them off for a trial in Richmond, Missouri and then on to Liberty Jail.
In the jails at Richmond and Liberty, Joseph and the other prisoners endured inhuman depravity and degradation. They lived in unsanitary conditions, were fed poisoned food which caused them to vomit, were almost fed "Mormon meat", (which turned out to be human flesh), and were forced to listen as guards bragged about how they sexually violated Mormon women in the crudest terms. While still chained up Joseph severely rebuked the guards and they apologized. Back at Far West, survivors were told they would never see Joseph alive again, and the 6,000 residents were driven out of the state in the dead of winter. This was the setting that caused Joseph Smith to lament from the jail's hay-strewn floor to The Lord, "O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?" (Doctrine & Covenants 121:1)
However, during this horribly dark time when hope for the church was bleak, The Lord reassured Joseph, declaring, "What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints." (Doctrine & Covenants 121:33)
The Missourians thought that separating Joseph from the Mormons would cause the members to disperse and the church to dissolve. But the church stuck together and six months later Joseph and the other five escaped and joined the saints in Nauvoo, Ill. The reunion was short lived though. Five years later in June 1844, mobs finally succeeded in murdering Joseph Smith, at Carthage, Illinois. The mob was sure the death of Joseph Smith would deal the final death blow to the Mormon Church. They were wrong.
Persecution was a constant in Joseph's life from the time he first testified of his "First Vision". He's been disparaged and brutalized both physical and verbally by the many books, publications, sermons, films and other media distributed to kill the testimony of Joseph Smith once and for all. Mormon critics spread half-truths, distortions, misinformation and in some cases flagrant lies to demonize Joseph, the church, its doctrines, members, history and leaders believing that they can wipe the LDS church from the face of the earth. Yet, no matter how many sermons are preached, pamphlets distributed, websites launched, and books and films professional anti-Mormons produce the church keeps growing.
Why is this? Because they still don't understand the same thing the mobs back in the 1830's and 40's didn't understand. This IS NOT the Church of Joseph Smith. It IS NOT the Church of Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, Spencer W. Kimball or even of Gordon B. Hinckley. It IS the Church of Jesus Christ. Church critics and anti-Mormons are essentially reaching out their puny arms to stop and divert the flow of the Missouri River. It's like they're the "big bad wolf" trying to blow the church's house in. The church is built on the rock and brick of Jesus Christ and continuing revelation, so it won't be blown down. (Luke 6:48)
Anti-Mormons, church critics, apostates and "concerned" Protestants may succeed in enticing individuals away here and there, separating them like buckets of water from the larger body of the flowing river, but they will never destroy the church. We can either choose to flow and sail in its Living Waters (John 4:10), or we can choose to separate ourselves from it, and soak in the cup of our own bitter gall and regret. (Acts 8:23) This church belongs to Jesus Christ, not the members, and it is true in spite of its members. It will continue to roll like the rock cut out without hands filling the whole earth. (Dan. 2: 35).
To illustrate this point I have put together a chart that lists prominent anti-Mormon publications and events compared to church membership growth. It's ironic to note that the busier church critics are the more the church grows. Why is this? Because while they weave contention, bitterness, hate and fear, the church shares Christ's messages of hope, knowledge, peace and truth. We bring with us the Spirit of the Lord - the Holy Ghost, not the spirit of contention.
This is reflected in converts. People that are truly converted and join the church share their feelings of peace, happiness, joy and a desire to share their new beliefs with others. They don't go on a vendetta to destroy their former religions. And you'll definitely never see a group of Mormons picketing outside other faith's churches, screaming profanities at parishioners or crashing weddings yelling "Satan's Whores" at the brides.
Ironically, by attacking Joseph they're simultaneously bringing Moroni's prophecy about Joseph to fruition, "He Moroni called me [Joseph Smith] by name, and said unto me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me, and that his name was Moroni; that God had a work for me to do; and that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people." (Joseph Smith History 1:33).
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and John Taylor prophesied The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would continue to grow and spread across the whole earth. Joseph F. Smith prophesied temples would fill up the land. Those predictions of growth were pretty grandiose at the time considering there were only tens of thousands of members and only 6 temples mainly centered in the Western United States.
100+ years later, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has 27,475 congregations in 151 countries speaking 178 languages. There are 123 temples that dot the Earth and more on the way. Since 1985, 163 countries have received $906 million in aid from the LDS Church, and that's not including service projects and contributions performed by individual wards or members. As predicted, Joseph Smith's name is known for both good and evil across the globe (thanks for the help on that, critics. *wink*).
The church will continue to grow because it is the church of Jesus Christ. Christ is at the helm, Christ sets the course. When people pray to learn whether it's true, He will confirm it through the Holy Ghost to those who ask in faith, nothing wavering. (James 1:5-6). Or to quote a Protestant church sign a neighbor of mine saw "Don't Pray, that's how the Mormons get you". I write this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.