For my Conference blogging, I'm going to highlight specific talks. In addition, I'm going to use the various topics to explore the new book Statements of the LDS First Presidency: A Topical Compendium (Signature, 2007), retailing for $23 at Amazon and which I'll refer to as "FP Statements." [The book was recently reviewed by J. Stapley at BCC.] To start things off, I'm going to look at Elder Bednar's talk on spiritual rebirth from the Saturday morning session (the pickle talk).
Elder Bednar likened spiritual rebirth (or "the mighty change") to making pickles out of cukes, which requires preparing, cleansing, immersing, and sealing. I helped make pickles once. Hint: measure the salt carefully.
The FP Statements book has three short entries under "Born Again," all taken from the 1976 book Principles of the Gospel. Here is one of them:
A person is spiritually reborn when he receives the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. He receives forgiveness of his past sins and the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Those who gain exaltation in the celestial kingdom will have been born of God and have become the sons and daughters of God (see Mosiah 27:24-26).
Pretty basic stuff. There's a much longer section under "Conversion," with over 20 entries. They are presented in reverse chronological order; I'll show excerpts of three entries, with the source noted and explained in blockquotes at the end of the quote to give you a sense of where the editor has pulled the material he is holding out as "statements" of the First Presidency. Some entries come straight from topical LDS publications:
"Conversion includes a change in behavior, but it goes beyond behavior; it is a change in our very nature. It is such a significant change that the Lord and His prophets refer to it as a rebirth, a change of heart, and a baptism of fire." [from "Conversion," True to the Faith, 2004]
Many entries are excerpts from 1998 version of the Church Handbook of Instructions ("CHI"), including this one:
"Conversion is a lifelong process that includes: (1) Having faith in Jesus Christ and exercising faith unto repentence; (2) Receiving the saving ordinances of the gospel ...; ... (7) Attending Church meetings and serving in Church callings and assignments; (8) Sharing the gospel with friends and relatives; (9) Identifying and submitting deceased ancestors' names for temple ordinances and doing temple work as often as circumstances allow." [from the 1998 CHI, Vol. 2; I added enumeration for clarity]
There are several more entries, including the "every new member needs three things—a friend, a responsibility, and spiritual nourishment" quote from President Hinckley's talk in 1997. But one of the real strength of FP Statements is it includes excerpts from older, less available material, such as the following:
"The welcome of new members should be instant, spontaneous, and genuine. All the converts must be made to feel that they have come into a brotherhood and sisterhood which is warm and real. When converts join the Church they often give up their former associates and turn to the Church for companionship and direction. The bishopric, the branch officers, the ward teachers, the quorum officers, all the auxiliary leaders, and neighbors particularly should at the very first opportunity extend the hand of fellowship." [from a "Dear Brethren" letter of the First Presidency to local leaders, 1956]
For a letter written fifty years ago, that sounds remarkably like the recent counsel that has been given to local leaders and the general membership. Obviously, on other topics sometimes the older statements give a different perspective. But this topic nicely illustrates that there's no obvious agenda to the editing or the material, at least from the sampling I've done so far. It's a useful resource, although it would be going too far to regard it as authoritative in any official sense. It's particularly nice to have some excerpts from the "Dear Brethren" letters that get read from the pulpit once and are largely inaccessible after that.