Your Friday Firestorm #13

And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—

(D&C 1:30)

Discuss.

Comments

  1. Hmmm. It strikes me for the first time, reading this right now, that the text doesn’t necessarily say that our church is the only true and living church. Rather it seems to say that, out of the group of true and living churches that exist, ours is the only one that the Lord is well pleased with. This is probably just the result of an awkward writing style, though.

  2. …bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness…

    That’s the phrase being used by the Church’s new public relations program (at least in my area), where the focus is on contacting and working with “opinion leaders” in the local community.

  3. JNS, that’s a very intriguing idea, but unfortunately, I think the comma between earth and which might make that reading grammatically untenable.

    I have always understood, and my thought had always been that other LDS understood it this way as well, that this verse does not imply that other churches don’t have many or most truths or Truth but rather that this Church has the only priesthood authority with which God is well-pleased. That is the understanding I have had of “living” in this verse — that this Church, among churches, is the only one that is true and living, i.e. possessing the authoritative, restored priesthood of God.

    Despite growing up in the Church and serving a mission, attending BYU, etc., it wasn’t until I started reading and participating in the LDS blogs a few years ago that I realized some or many Latter-day Saints (both believing LDS and those who have left the Church or no longer believe in it) interpret the saying “the Church is true” as meaning that other churches have no truth or are not good or beneficial to their members. This ran contrary to my experience, including at BYU, where the crux of “this Church is true” is really that this is the only Church with authorized priesthood by which things sealed on earth are also sealed in heaven.

  4. John F., if you want to get picky, pretty much every reading of this passage is grammatically untenable. For example, the structure of the sentence really requires that “the only true and living church” modify the noun “darkness.” In a badly run-on sentence with stray phrases left and right, what’s a comma among friends?

    That said, I agree that the sentence was almost certainly not intended to mean what I said in comment #1. My point was really: wow, bad writing.

  5. In a badly run-on sentence with stray phrases left and right,

    Or maybe its an insight into the syntax of the Adamic language? teehee

    I also think that it refers to authority.

    I got in the habit of using the phrase ‘speaking collectively and not individually’ when talking to my classes, about essays I handed back or whatnot. I had an mormon kid two years ago that finally figured out the allusion in the second term.

  6. Last Lemming says:

    According to Preparing Early Revelations for Publication by Melvin J. Petersen (available at http://www.lightplanet.com/mormons/basic/scripture/petersen_changes.htm)

    Most of the revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated to scribes. Spelling and punctuation became a responsibility shared by them.

    Our usage of the term “only true Church” has become such a stumbling block, I think we should attribute the inconvenient comma to an uninspired scribe, jettison the “only true Church” language (from our rhetoric, not from the D&C) and focus exclusively on the “with which I the Lord am well pleased.”

    John F’s experience notwithstanding, it is entirely natural and understandable to conclude that if the LDS Church is the only true one, all others must be false. There is no way to spin that without giving offense. The no-comma reading allows for other true churches, even ones the Lord is mildly pleased with.

    So how do we spin, without giving offense, the fact that the Lord is only well pleased with the LDS Chuch? The notion that the LDS church has exclusive priesthood authority won’t cut it. That makes God look arbitrary in picking our church over all the others. There has to be a reason why he gave the LDS Church exclusive authority–something he found well pleasing. What is it? I believe it is the doctrines of sealing, eternal progression and ultimate exaltation. Nobody else is teaching these things. If they are true, how can the Lord possibly be as pleased with a church that doesn’t teach those doctrines as with one that does? Now because some people are demonstrably offended by those doctrines, we would certainly not make everybody happy by altering our rhetoric. But if we must offend people, let it be because of the doctrine, not because of the rhetoric.

  7. Last Lemming says:

    Incidentally, I tried diagramming the cited sentence one to see if the inconvenient comma was truly as decisive as John F. claims. Without ever really completing the diagram, I concluded that it is. But I think Google should fund a X prize for the first person to correctly diagram the sentence.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    That last part

    speaking unto the church collectively and not individually

    was surely written by a lawyer.

  9. Nick Literski says:

    I was about to bring up the fact that the revelations weren’t punctuated by Joseph, but someone else has done that. As I look at the wording, and take the punctuation into account, I think it’s equally tenable to place a dash after “darkness,” rather than a comma, to wit:

    “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness–the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—”

    If the verbal pause after “darkness” becomes a dash, rather than a comma, the remainder of the statement can be seen as the RESULT of bringing the church out of darkness. In other words, the “only true and living church,” etc. becomes a goal, rather than an accomplished fact. Personally, I really like this kind of reading.

  10. This post reminded me of an article I read yesterday on Salon.com. (If you go to that great site, you have to watch a little ad first, then scroll way down to The Mormons Are Coming).

    It’s a review by Andrew O’Hehir of Terryl Givens’ new book People of Paradox. Of course we all know Givens from the recent PBS program about the Church. He may be the most articulate member speaking in public these days. Good stuff.

    The review is surprisingly positive as you dig into it. One interesting argument he makes is that Mormonism and Islam are indeed similar, despite mutual protestations to the contrary.

    Says O’Hehir:
    “To their respective followers, Mohammed and Joseph Smith are not the inventors of new denominations but restorers of the original, uncorrupted monotheistic tradition of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Even the language of the two faiths’ central tenets is strikingly similar. In reciting the Shahadah, or principal declaration of faith, Muslims may say: “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is His Messenger,” or “I testify that Mohammed is the Messenger of God.” One of the most frequent forms of “testimony” in a Mormon meetinghouse comes when a worshiper rises to declare: “I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.” Both religions make claims to absolute and universal truth, and those declarations are meant to reflect knowledge rather than belief in the ordinary theological sense, which may be tinged with doubt.”

    (I know this comment may have been more relevant to the recent “doubt” thread, but that got shut down so I thought I’d jump in here– thanks Steve)

  11. NoCoolName_Tom says:

    I’ve always had to look at the phrase “true and living Church” differently since I started studying modern Christian theology. On my mission I got used to explaining that our Church was able to adapt to the world around it because of modern revelation (and I still believe it) and this is what the Lord meant by a “living” church—being able to change doctrine. Not knowing of such things as social trinitarianism, libertarian free will, and different Christian ideas of theosis I had previously (and wrongly) viewed Christianity as a static doctrinal body since the early days of the Apostasy (and perhaps it is for many Christians).
    We don’t have all of the Truth, and we’re not the only living Church. Thus, I now have to add the qualifier that I believe this is the only Church that combines Truth and a changing quality (“living”) in such a way that the Lord is well pleased with us.

  12. I heard a talk many, many years ago that suggested one key to this is the “living” part of the phrase. Other churches may be “true,” but this is the only true AND living church. The life comes through the spirit, given through the priesthood, and more specifically the gift of the Holy Ghost given to all members.

  13. re: 12 But only makes it worse, CS Eric, because it implies that non-LDS churches are spiritually dead and don’t have the Holy Ghost (except for the occasionally cameo appearance, perhaps). Surely that’s far worse than saying they are founded on false doctrine.

  14. The meaning of the verse is far obvious — the more I read it! I like what everyone has offered already. I also like something from the March 2007 issue of Sunstone March 2007: “A True and Living Church” by Brian Chapman. Here’s a quote from page 54:

    “B.H. Roberts drew great significance from the name of our church [as currently named]. It is not ‘The Church of Jesus Christ,’ nor is it ‘The Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days.’… The parallelism “of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ invoked in Elder Roberts’s mind a sense of joint ownership….The burden of making the Church true and living does not just fall on President Hinckley. It falls on us.”

  15. Buy MikeInWeHo (13), it is consistent with the PoGP version of the First Vision where Joseph was told that other churches had “a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” If they believe and teach heavens are closed to continuing revelation, then they are spiritually dead.

  16. “But..” not “Buy” oops.

  17. Essentially, what Nick Literski said in #9.

  18. re # 13, an argument can be made that churches who have confined themselves to a belief in a closed canon, in the inerrant and sufficient Bible, cannot be considered “living” churches.

    This is related, in an ironic way, to political conservatives who insist that there is no such thing as the “Living Constitution” with reference to the U.S. Constitution, i.e. strict constructionism/intentionalism is the only valid modality for interpreting the U.S. Constitution, as opposed to what political liberals often speak of as the living Constitution that must be made to adapt to the political landscape of the age.

    In this sense, it is completely natural for the same creedal Christian conservatives whose churches believe in an inerrant, sufficient Bible to also believe in a “dead” Constitution.

  19. Speaking of grammar in the D&C (this is a bit off topic), has anyone else heard the story regarding Section 89:13

    “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.”

    One of the counselors in our stake presidency told me that John Widstoe inserted the comma after “used”, during a revision of the Book of Commandments, to reflect his vegetarian leanings. It changes the whole meaning of the sentence if you take it out, essentially to mean “It is pleasing to me eat meat anytime, not just in times of winter, etc. Anyone else heard this?

  20. And, re # 13 & 14, none of that is to imply that those churches aren’t full of life, activity, energy, etc. It’s just a comment on how a church, even one containing essential truths, could be described as “not living” (although the verse in question doesn’t actually say that).

  21. Steve Evans says:

    Actually, didn’t Joseph Smith once say that the difference between our religion and other Christian denominations is that we have the Holy Ghost?

    I am somewhat disappointed at the watering down that seems to have occurred with regards to this verse.

  22. For a sense of a probable originally intended meaning of this passage, I think it’s helpful to read it in conjunction with 1 Nephi 14.

  23. Steve Evans says:

    JNS, I agree. There is little doubt in my mind that in Joseph Smith’s view, this scripture is a claim of exclusivity.

  24. Nick Literski says:

    Steve, with all the other LDS teachings which are being “watered down,” why does a weakening in the claim of exclusivity bother you in particular?

    You have a church president who brushes off Joseph Smith’s teachings regarding deity with “oh, I don’t know that we teach that….we don’t know very much about that.” You have a church PR department that denies it has ever been the doctrine (semantic issue, at best) of the LDS church that Jesus was married. A trend seems to be growing to dismiss the King Follet Discourse as unreliable for doctrinal purposes. The list goes on and on, as the LDS church positions itself to be more palatable to mainstream protestants. Why should a de-emphasis on exclusivity be any surprise?

  25. I have always treated this as a claim of exclusivity. I agree with #22 and #23. If I remember right this verse played a large role in the old third discussion where we told investigators that the LDS Church was the “true church”

  26. Anyone (Justin & J., I’m looking at you) have their CD with Robert Woodford’s thesis on the historical development of the D&C? Does that shed any light on this? (I’d look myself but am at work and don’t have my copy handy.)

  27. I think it is reasonable for any church with unique teachings to make a claim at exclusivity. In so far as that goes, “only true and living” does not in the mormon context equal ‘good’. It does equal ‘best.’ I think the prominence of aof #13 and the teachings of every prophet since JS make it clear we ought to seek out what is good among our associates and bring it into our own system.

  28. Randy B., Woodford says about Section 1: “Amazingly, there are few changes: the majority of them being spelling changes and errors.” (pg. 119) The only noted change for the verse in question is that some versions capitalize “church” while others do not.

  29. I don’t think the church downplays this scripture at all. We taught this specific scripture in the third discussion (back in 00-02, when I served) and went over this section of the verse particularly. I used to just say that we were the only church based on 100% truth, and I realize now that is overly simplistic, but I do believe that our church is the only one based an a completely accurate depiction of our relationship to God. What’s interesting about that, though, is that depiction wasn’t even revealed at this time. There was so much truth that hadn’t been taught yet. So I guess I’m kinda doing thought circles and not really arriving anywhere about this scripture. I still believe it, but I’m not nearly as sure how to explain it.

  30. re: 15 Absolutely, Eric. I understand that’s how it has traditionally been viewed.

    But for once I agree with Nick. You can’t really cozy up to the Evangelicals and other Christians without significantly re-interpreting the First Vision, D&C 1, I Nephi 14, etc, or at least greatly de-emphasizing them. This does seem to be happening, at least on the PR side. A Mormonism that is presented as simply high-octane Christianity is materially different from the idea that the Gospel and the Keys were completely lost from the earth and then restored.

    So there’s some tension here, definitely. My sense is that this is the theological expression of the social tension (assimilation vs. separation) that Givens explores in his new book, although I haven’t read it yet.

    I just noticed that somebody posted a side-bar link (“Bitten…”) to the article I mentioned in comment #10. Groovy.

  31. I don’t see this watered down at all in practice. I hear people talking about our church being the only true and living church often and without apology. The only place I see it being watered down is in this thread actually, but then I see that with a lot of doctrines on these blogs.

  32. MikeInWeHo, the side bar link beat you by about a day! BCC doesn’t sleep…

    Also, credit where credit’s due, Givens’s thesis on this tension is really a repackaging of the idea that Armand Mauss explored in his 1994 book, The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation.

  33. Jeff, nice swipe! Good to hear that the blogs provide you with your sole access to contemporary mormonism.

  34. Mike (30),

    I agree that you can’t both take the exclusivity of the traditional reading while “cozying up to the Evangelicals.” On the other side, if you take the reading that a church/denomination has to be both true and living, that allows us to at least be open to the idea that we don’t have a monopoly on truth–truth can be found in other places and other books than are published by Deseret Book. Otherwise, how can C.S. Lewis be quoted often enough to be dubbed the 13th Apostle?

  35. Nick, in #9, nailed my reading of the verse. As the resident parser, here goes:

    “And also those to whom these commandments were given” (Joseph was mentioned in v.29 in relation to the translation of the Book of Mormon, but also all of those “collectively” to whom the individual revelations were addressed)

    “might have power to lay the foundation of this church,” (lay the foundation does NOT mean or directly imply the entire construction, only the setting of the foundation; thus, there is a solid implication that others “to whom these commandments were [NOT] given” would continue the construction upon the foundation built by these people.)

    “and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness” (I think “obscurity” is self-explanatory; I read “darkness” as describing the spiritual darkness of an apostate world – a light shining from the darkness to be set on a hill outside of that darkness, if you will.)

    “–” (I always have read it as if it had a dash instead of a comma, for exactly the reason Nick gave in #9.)

    “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth,” (of all the possible meanings for “true”, I like the following – as it relates to a Church organization: “of the right kind; such as it should be; proper: to arrange things in their true order.” – That changes the concept in very real and, I believe, important ways. In that light, I like the following definition for “living”: “pertaining to, suitable for, or sufficient for existence or subsistence” – which implies feeding in such a way that life can continue – regenerating, as in “living” water.)

    “with which I, the Lord, am well pleased,” (From a scriptural basis, this simply means “very pleased” – as opposed to merely pleased.)

    “speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” (The Church as an organization is well-pleasing unto the Lord, even though any number of individuals, with no respect to position [even the Prophet himself], may not be – and even though only the foundation had been laid at that time.)

    (I favor a period at the end of this verse. The dash, in context, makes vs.20-30 a parenthetical comment and ties v.31 to v.19 – and I simply don’t see that as the proper connection.)

  36. LDS Anarchist says:

    I don’t like to deal with this scripture unless quoting it in its entirety (the entire sentence):

    CHURCH-DEFINED AS THE PEOPLE

    The Lord said, “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually-for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; and he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (D&C 1: 30-33)

    The first thing to do in order to understand the scripture is to define the term “church.” It is obvious, from the entire sentence, that “church” means “people.” “Church” does not mean “the prophet”, or “First Presidency” or “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” or “First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles” or “Corporation of the President of the Church.” It doesn’t mean “scriptures” or “doctrine” or “priesthood” or “priesthood holders.” So, once that understanding is given (that “church” means “people”) we can look at it again:

    The Lord said, “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this [people], and to bring [this people] forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living [people] upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the [people] collectively and not individually-for I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven; and he that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received; for my Spirit shall not always strive with man, saith the Lord of Hosts.” (D&C 1: 30-33)

    So, once “church” is defined as people, we can ask ourselves, in what manner are we, the baptized members, “the only true and living” people upon the face of the whole earth? What, in the gospel, makes us “true” and what, in the gospel, makes us “living?” Or, to be more specific, what is it that makes both a male member “true” and a female member “true” and what is it that makes both a male member “living’ and a female member “living?” How are we, the people, brought forth out of obscurity and out of darkness? These are the questions to ask, imo.

    I’d give my own answer to these questions, but this post is too long already.

  37. Anarchist, that’s a pretty shoddy definition of “Church,” and it’s in keeping with your prior trollish comments where you deliberately misinterpret scriptures to emphasize your own seemingly iconic views.

  38. When I look at what I think the verse does say, I am left to discount what I believe it does *not* say – even what has been assumed my many but simply isn’t there. The following are among the things I believe are INCORRECT assumptions – things the verse does NOT say:

    1) The Church’s structure was restored exactly as existed in the time of the ancient apostles. Any deviation from the ancient structure invalidates its “true” structure. (Hogwash. We do believe in the same organization, but it was only the foundation that was laid at the time of the Restoration. In mathematical terms, shapes can be the same – “similar” – without being equivalent. Architecturally, similar shapes can contain radically different internal components are still be the same shape.)

    2) All other Churches are bad. (Simply not said. They might not be ““of the right kind; such as [they] should be; proper: [arranged] in their true order,” but it does not say they are evil or bad. They might not make the Lord “well-pleased”, but there is nothing that says they don’t please the Lord in some or many ways.)

    3) Members of other churches are spiritually dead. (Stupid, imo. Their churches might not provide “life eternal” – since they don’t even teach life eternal, as is taught in Mormonism – but their is no statement about the individual members of other churches.)

    4) Our leaders are infallible and will never teach things that are not 100% true. (The verse itself says the Lord is NOT well-pleased with individuals, and it is followed by the numerous rebukes of Joseph, Oliver and others in the “commandments” it prefaces. The Church as a whole is well-pleasing and will continue to provide life to its members, but individual members, no matter their standing, still can incur the Lord’s displeasure.)

    There are more, but that is enough for now.

  39. Ray, you’re right. They’re not bad or spiritually dead. Just an abomination.

  40. Anarchist: “So, once that understanding is given (that “church” means “people”) … “…the only true and living [people] upon the face of the whole earth….”

    That doesn’t make any sense. The only living people on the earth? Huh?

  41. Anarchist – Does that man that our friends of other faiths are not true and not living? That would mean this world is “The Matrix”!!! Woooowww! (To borrow from Keanu) :)

  42. Steve Evans says:

    Three strikes against the Anarchist. No more feeding the trolls, people.

  43. The First Presidency released a statement on February 15, 1978, just a few months before the priesthood ban was lifted, that shed lights on the idea of a trua and living church. The statement is too long to reproduce verbatim in a comment, but you can find it through google. Here are a few of the relevant passages:

    The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.

    Consistent with these truths, we believe that God has given and will give to all peoples sufficient knowledge to help them on their way to eternal salvation, either in this life or in the life to come.

    We also declare that the gospel of Jesus Christ, restored to His Church in our day, provides the only way to a mortal life of happiness and a fulness of joy forever. For those who have not received this gospel, the opportunity will come to them in the life hereafter if not in this life.

  44. President Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say in connection with D&C 1:30″

    “May we live its teachings and work to fulfill the Lord’s purposes as we individually seek to model our lives after its true and living head, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    This the “only true and living church” because it is the only church with the Lord Jesus Christ as the true and living head.

  45. KyleM, don’t mix scriptures and messages when talking with a hardcore parser. This verse deals with churches and their members; the use of “abominations” in JSH 1:19 deals with “creeds” – and, in historical context, almost assuredly the Protestant creeds – like the Westminster Confession. Read it; there are some *truly* abominable (“disgusting or abhorrent”) statements in those creeds.

    D&C 1:30 says nothing whatsoever about other churches and members being abominable – and neither does JSH 1:19.

  46. Steve Evans says:

    Ray, bragging about being a hardcore parser doesn’t really do much for you here. Joseph Smith and other church leaders have not made so fine a distinction between creeds and the churches adopting those creeds.

  47. Ray – Most of us only participate sporadically in softcore parsing, and become very uncomfortable whenever hardcore parsing comes in. :)

  48. I agree, Steve, that the rhetoric leaders have used to describe the churches hasn’t drawn the distinction I am drawing, but I also don’t agree that it is legitimate to use this verse (or JSH 1:19) to justify calling the churches and their members abominable. If leaders have used or do use these verses to make that claim, they are quoting them incorrectly, imo. Having said that, I’m not aware of any quotes from apostles and prophets that refer to Christians as abominable – that take either of the verses and apply them collectively to individuals or even congregations.

  49. btw, I wasn’t trying to brag, Steve. If it came across that way, I need to try harder to soften the tone somehow.

  50. Brilliant, JacobM.

  51. Ray, 1 Nephi 14 explicitly says that all churches other than the Lord’s church are abominable. That’s a text we sometimes finesse, but there you are.

  52. Nick Literski says:

    I’m not so certain that Nephi’s usage of:

    “the Lord’s church”

    was identical with:

    “the legal entity which would be known after the mid-19th century A.D. as ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day (note the hyphen and lower case ‘d,’ to distinguish it from those Strangites, by golly!) Saints,’ to the exclusion of any and all religious corporations then extant.”

    After all, we know how far McConkie got with trying to label even one other church as “the great and abominable church of the devil.”

  53. Point of fact, Nick. Nephi called it “the church of the Lamb of God.” Not particularly important distinction, but oh well. Second, the legal entity to which you refer to is definitely part of what Nephi meant.

    Thirdly, your inclusion of the Strangites gave me a good chuckle! :)

  54. #18. Sorry this comment is a little late in the thread but feel a need to defend the conservative view of the Constitution. It’s a fair comparison and I’ll admit I hadn’t thought of it that way before. However, I still don’t like the idea of a “Living Constitution” because those who are adapting the constitution to fit the changing times are imperfect and have a different moral outlook than I do. They tend to be moral relativists and gradually it seems that the balance between Rights and Responsibility is way off. All of a sudden we have “rights” we didn’t even know we had. (Such as killing unborn babies)
    The Living Church is guided by a loving Heavenly Father who knows exactly what he is doing. So I trust Him. Incidentally, if I didn’t have a testimony of this Gospel I would be a little wary of a “Living Church” who can change their doctrine at will. It seems some churches do that already to appease the God of Politcal Correctness.

  55. Steve Evans says:

    Angela, killing unborn babies isn’t a right, it’s a responsibility.

  56. Nick Literski says:

    I have no quibble, Jacob, with the idea that the LDS church is “part of” what Nephi referred to. I just don’t think it’s necessarily all that he referred to. I suspect his meaning was somewhat more broad than that. Of course, he isn’t here to explain. ;-)

  57. I’ve always thought it made more logical sense to interpret the word true here in terms of fidelity rather than static correctness.

  58. They’re not bad or spiritually dead. Just an abomination

    While we are interpreting scripture (always an interesting exercise), we ought to look at what the Lord actually said to Joseph Smith. He didn’t condemn the churches per se, but condemned their creeds. I think those are two different things.

  59. #33- Huh?? Granted, I sometimes want to strangle my four-year old, but I didn’t realize I had a responsibility to do so?

    /end minor threadjack

  60. Steve Evans says:

    m&m, as has been mentioned, that’s a distinction that Joseph himself (or Brigham Young, or David O. McKay, or….) did not habitually make, and one that other scriptures (including the Book of Mormon) also do not make.

  61. #55 Ha! Am I a terrible person for laughing at that?

  62. Steve Evans says:

    Angela: no. You’re a terrible person for reading BCC. Everything else is just gravy.

  63. I’m with Nick. I think we in the modern era are hung up on denominational distinctions in a way that believers in other eras were not (branches of Judaism in either OT or NT–which one was “true”?). Also, I can only suspect that Nephi’s church of the devil is broad enough to include more than churches (e.g., corporations, NGOs).

    Something must be wrong with my browser. When I clicked Refresh, “moronic” changed to another word.

    I guess most can agree that this D&C verse supports some kind of exclusivity, but the text is polysemic and I’m comfortable finding multiple interpretations.

  64. Nick – I have the feeling that he wasn’t meaning something that much more broad than that, either.

    Angela – I like that you want to display the “conservative position” on the Constitution, but I think you’re going about it the wrong way. The Constitution, first of all, is a legal document that enumerates the specific powers of the different branches of the government, not an organization, so comparing it to a church is not a valid comparison. In the interest of time, I won’t go into the whole living constitution debate – and also that would be a great subject for a different firestorm. Suffice to say, in my view, you can have a living church, but not a living constitution.

    And Steve, that was just wrong! Hilarious, but wrong!

  65. JNS, I haven’t addressed 1 Nephi 14. I only have addressed D&C 1:30 and JSH 1:19. I said those two verses don’t make the claims I listed. I didn’t say those claims are not made in other scriptures – or that they aren’t accurate in many ways. *grin*

    Personally, I have no problem with the term “abominable” for churches that teach the creeds of the Westminster Confession. I have no problem with the description of the great and abominable church as the mother of abominations that infected the whole earth. Having said that, I would rather critique 1 Nephi 14 on its own merits, using its own wording, than to lump it with two other verses that say different things. Here’s why:

    I believe all of us hate defending the Church from mis-representations from the outside – both intellectuals and fundamentalists and every spot between. They are notorious for taking a scripture or a statement, twisting it out of context, claiming it says what it really doesn’t, then sticking to that re-interpretation no matter what is said. That really bothers me, because it sets up a false dichotomy that is impossible to assail.

    Here, I want to look at what each verse really says. I believe strongly that separate verses can say different things and still be correct – even when the first cursory reading seems to indicate opposition. In fact, I think limiting these verses to what they actually say widens and deepens our overall understanding of the full, complete picture the Lord sees – since we aren’t pigeon-holing complexities into one more narrow reading. After all, in each of these cases (D&C 1:30, JSH 1:19 and 1 Nephi 14), we claim that it is the Lord who makes the statements – two of them directly and one of them third person through an angel. If He uses multiple verses to flesh out a complex situation, but we insist on reading those verses to be saying the exact same thing, I think we miss out on part of the big picture.

    I hope that makes sense, since I don’t know any other way to say it. I don’t disagree with what you say about 1 Nephi 14; I just think it is incorrect to say that D&C 1:30 and JSH 1:19 teach the exact same message.

  66. “And Steve, that was just wrong! Hilarious, but wrong!”

  67. RE: #3 and #4 – Whatever “true and living church” means, it’s got to be more than just a matter of priesthood authority. I doubt you’d support the notion that in every other respect than authority, our church is no more “true and living” than any other. No doubt plenty of truths can be gained from other churches and belief systems around the world. And without question, God has got to be pleased with a great many non-Mormons. But surely the distinction between our church and every other one boils down to more than just a difference in authority?

    Another thought – I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that God was pleased with the Church and called it “true and living” on a day when it was organized with only six official members in an obscure log house. I wonder if He still feels the same way about it today, 177 years and millions of members later?

    RE: #18, #54, and #64 – Constructionists don’t consider the constitution dead, by any means. We just think that the document should be modified by the mechanism provided within itself – the amendment process – as opposed to five out of nine lifetime appointees who are not responsive to the process of democracy (they aren’t elected) deciding, on their personal whims, what adaptations need to be made to conform to “the political landscape of the age.”

    RE: #24 – I, too, have noticed a PR-driven watering-down of teachings such as those derived from King Follet. It’s unfortunate, imo.

    RE: #6 – I agree that sealing and exaltation are two, among many, unique and compelling doctrines. As for so-called eternal progression, the concept is certainly unique to our faith, but it’s also, imo, mostly wrong. You could say that the Gods continue to progress in the sense that their works and glories keep expanding, but I don’t think you could say that they continue to become more powerful, that they are constantly gaining new knowledge, or that they are in any way becoming more whole or more perfect, right?

    Anyway – fwiw.

  68. Perry, not one Mormon I know thinks of “eternal progression” in the way you describe it. “You could say that the Gods continue to progress in the sense that their works and glories keep expanding” is exactly how it has been described in every conversation I have heard, not “that they continue to become more powerful, that they are constantly gaining new knowledge, or that they are in any way becoming more whole or more perfect.” How is it mostly wrong when it is precisely what you agree “you could say…?”

  69. It’s mostly wrong only because the term itself too strongly invokes the concept of “continuous improvement.” I’m sure you’re right that no one intends to imply that God continues to get smarter and better, yet taken at face value, that’s exactly what “eternal progression” sounds like. I admire people who choose their words carefully and speak deliberately, and with precision.

    “Eternal progression” has long struck me as an inaccurate and poorly descriptive phrase, in the same way that “pre-existence” (literally, “before existence,” though Church leaders have repeatedly taught that we were all alive and well in the pre-existence) is problematic.

    Granted, a great many Church leaders have used the phrase “eternal progression” time and again as well, so hey, what do I know? I’m just an inconsequential nobody from Idaho (wink, wink).

  70. Ray,

    That is the JFS II/BRM position, which is what I would call “Mormon neo-absolutism” (i.e. that all the omnis are absolute and unrestricted).

    However, Brigham Young, had a different about eternal progression, including progression in knowledge. Most of the scientist apostles had a different position about divine absolute power. Talmage for example defended the proposition that divine power was constrained by eternal natural laws, that even miracles were performed in accordance therewith.

    Mormons (generally speaking, following Joseph Smith) believe that ex nihilo creation is impossible, that “God himself did not have power to create himself”, that matter and some form of intelligence are eternal and indestructible, that a suffering Atonement was necessary, and so on.

    Do you know any Mormons who believe that this earthly estate could be completely dispensed with? Or who does not believe that somehow the suffering in this life has an ineliminable purpose?

    So God is considered “omnipotent” with a laundry list of things he can’t do. And like Brigham Young, if he manages to be able to do a few more over the process of time, I hardly consider that a theological crisis.

    The people who have a real problem are the Calvinists, who believe that everything that happens (war, famine, holocaust), happens according to the eternal decree of God. That is the logical consequence of an absolute interpretation of the omnis-. A God who established the foundations of hell for the sake of his own glory.

  71. Mark, Did you mean to address Perry in #70?

  72. Ray: Not explicitly, no. I was raising counterexamples to your suggestion that no Mormons believed in eternal progression in knowledge, power, capacity, etc.

  73. Thanks for the clarification, Mark. I should have been more explicit in my response.

    I didn’t mean that I don’t know of any Mormons who accept that definition of eternal progression (as it relates to Godhood, not those who still are progressing toward that state) – just that I don’t know anyone (personally) who does. I just meant that every member I know personally accepts eternal progression to Godhood – which stops upon reaching perfection (complete wholeness) – except in the sense of expanding work and glory, as Perry already allowed.

    I think I forgot to submit the previous version of this comment, so if it gets double posted, I apologize.

  74. I don’t necessarily think that the church is watering down the doctrine. I think that the new approaches are the result of several factors:

    1) Why throw pearls before swine?
    2) Why spend alot of time discussing doctrines that we don’t understand completely and that not only seem strange to us but strange to the world.
    3) The leaders of the church are, I’m sure, cognizant of the fact that members take every word they speak to be canonized scripture.

  75. Brewhaha,

    One of the downsides is that no one has anything particularly relevant and non-trivial to teach for almost an hour a week in Gospel Doctrine class, because the requisite amount of approved, non-controversial doctrines can easily be covered in five minutes flat. That is perhaps why so many suggest we dispense with Sunday School entirely.

  76. It’s obvious we attend different Gospel Doctrine classes, Mark.

    I tried to respond earlier today to the eternal progression discussion, but it appears the filter ate the attempts. The only relevant point was that I know of a few who advocate the “neo-absolutist” position, but I don’t know any of them personally. Of the thousands of members I know personally, not one of them believes or teaches it.

  77. I certainly agree that GD and SS lessons have been watered down. I’ve sat through way too many dry and basic lessons. I recall one recent GD instructor that wouldn’t discuss any questions not in the lesson. If someone asked a tangential question, or even a deeper question, the teacher would say: You asked the question, you answer it.

    So in this respect I can see the watering down. However, the doctrine is still part of the church and part of our belief system even if we don’t talk about it during our 3-hr block.

  78. I think you are greatly overstating your case, Mark D. I still get a lot out of GD class, even now, and I find that most instructors are willing to follow questions with discussion, even if they are not strictly a part of the lesson.

    The problem is that some of these topics are not part of any lesson, and for good reason. When the prophet says “we don’t know much about it” he’s just stating a simple fact. Thus, any “lesson” about that doctrine is going to be nothing but a bunch of opinion and speculation. Fun? maybe. Spiritually fulfilling? Probably not.

  79. MCQ,

    My comments were lost due to some sort of BCC problem, but I would say that if anything the problem is worse. Sunday School is like ten minutes of testimony meeting plus thirty minutes of bull session – random ill-informed speculation based on a goulash of folk doctrines and pop religious psychology.

    As far as I can tell the root of the problem is that the powers that be do not want Sunday School to be a “school”. In comparison to equally church attending Protestants, most Mormons are scriptural ignoramuses. I think the difference is that Protestant Sunday schools actually cover the scriptures in depth, on a verse by verse basis.

    On the other hand the Mormon institutions that might do the same have anything that resembles academic instruction as the lowest possible priority, in preference to devotion and testimony building about a set of precepts any decent sixth grader could copy down on two sheets of paper.

    This is clearly intentional. As devotional institutions Sunday School, Seminary, and Institute are moderately effective. As learning instutions they are all positively pathetic.

    Since Sacrament Meeting is clearly a far superior environment for devotional purposes than the false pretense of a classroom environment where actual learning is going on, it would make considerable sense to abolish CES, dump Sunday School, and let Priesthood / Relief Society, etc. pick up the slack.

  80. Mark D, as I said, we obviously attend different Gospel Doctrine classes. I have had at least four GD teachers of the last eight who could hold their own here in this forum, and in the last 20 years I can think of one GD teacher who even comes close to what you describe – and it wasn’t really all that close. In our stake currently, there isn’t a GD teacher who is even what could be considered mediocre. Every single one of them is excellent.

    Mormons have close to twice as much canonical scripture as Protestants. Most converts focus on the Book of Mormon for some time after their baptisms. Most Protestants who attend church for any length of time close to what Mormons do are actively studying the Bible, and the Bible alone, for a particular purpose – usually in some sort of teaching capacity. They don’t spend the hours we do outside of the scriptures. You can’t set up a comparison like that and expect it to be valid.

    Finally, Sunday School and Seminary are pathetic? I have had multiple friends of my older children mention explicitly how amazed they are at the level of understanding my elementary school children possess – much less my older ones who have attended Sunday School and Seminary. One of our youth SS teachers right now is a former minister, and he tells me constantly how incredible the students’ understanding is. I co-sponsored a Fellowship of Christian Students group when I taught high school in the Deep South, and I can tell you unequivocally that the average Mormon teenager in that town knew the Gospel and the overall meaning of the scriptures *much* better than the average Protestant teenager. The Mormon students couldn’t quote as many Biblical verses as some of their Protestant friends (the most devout ones), but they could quote as many or more total scriptures – and they understood them much better. I even had one Protestant student who was studying to be a youth minister tell me flat out that he didn’t need to understand the scriptures – since salvation came from *hearing* the Word of God, not *understanding* it. He was going to preach it, not teach it, and he was perfectly fine with that.

    We disagree strongly on this one.

  81. P.S. – Many Protestants don’t even worry about the OT, so, in many cases, we study over four times the canonical scriptures that they do.

  82. Ray,

    You are putting words in my mouth. I said “equally church attending Protestants”. I am just using them as an example of a different educational philosophy.

    Clearly Sunday School is more effective for teenagers than for adults. The important test here is not Mormon vs. Protestant but the cost/benefit of our current approach to Sunday School vs. the alternatives, including eliminating it.

    Since Latter-day Saints learn gospel doctrines in other places besides Sunday School, it is not as if they are going to grow up radically more ignorant if the institution didn’t exist. Whether they would be significantly worse off as people is an even more important question.

    It doesn’t matter that we have a much larger canon, what we do cover is extremely spotty, usually a handful of verses pulled out of context, and often radically re-interpreted by the highest authorities. (Jews are Gentiles?)

    In practice, beyond a handful of fundamental doctrines, I do not think Mormonism is fundamentally a scriptural following religion anyway. It is a living authority following religion. Pres. Benson’s talk about the keys to following the living prophets is an excellent example.

    The living prophets more or less don’t bother to quote scripture. It is irrelevant. Their words are the scripture of the day. It isn’t canon, can be neglected in a few years, doesn’t need any sort of precision or rigor, doesn’t need to deal with anything more than an inch deep, can be contradicted in six months or six years, and contains everything essential for salvation.

    So why should anyone be a scriptorian? In the LDS Church a testimony of the scriptures is far more important than anything they actually say. Nothing they actually say matters one iota in actual practice, compared the the reigning (mis)interpretation of the day. Scriptural evidence simply does not matter.

  83. LDS Anarchist says:

    As I’ve looked over posts #70-82, I cannot help but see my own experiences stated here. Mark D., your post #82 was a perfect description of what I see in the church today. I actually only attend sacrament meeting and then skip sunday school and return for my priesthood meeting, the only two meetings I’m bound to attend. Sunday school meeting more often than not is a waste of my time. I can learn more just reading the scriptures myself or turning on a Christian talk radio station. Besides, in sunday school, any appeal to the scriptures is shot down. No one cares what the scriptures say, only what their leaders say.

    70- I can say that my understanding of “eternal progression” means an increase in knowledge, power and seed (children) after achieving exaltation, but that it does not apply to perfection, which is what occurs when godhood is obtained. What does the Lord say the exalted shall inherit?

    “…and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…and glory in all things, …which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” (D&C 132: 19)

    My understanding is that the “heights and depths” are limitless. I did not know that BY believed in more knowledge after exaltation. I arrived at this conclusion solely from a study of the scriptures. Maybe in another blog post, on this topic of eternal progression, we could get into it.

  84. Mark D., we obviously attend very different GD classes. Also, I have heard rumours of the abolishment of SS for many years, but I don’t see it happening.

  85. That goes double for you LDSA. Are you even Mormon?

  86. Mark, I second what MCQ has said. I apologize for stating this so bluntly, but the following is one of the most ignorant comments I have heard in this forum in the entire time I have been participating:

    “The living prophets more or less don’t bother to quote scripture.”

    If you sincerely believe that, then there are only two options: 1) You don’t attend or listen to General Conference or read the Ensign; and/or 2) You aren’t a member of the same Church as I. Actually, there is a third option, but it is so inflammatory that I won’t mention it here.

    I am done with this discussion for one simple reason. #82 was a very direct accusation against the Church – that it ignores and cares nothing for the scriptures, that the prophets and apostles misinterpret and intentionally distort the scriptures, that the local organizational structure is not inspired, etc., etc., etc. It is hyperbole of the worst kind, since it is blatantly and demonstrably false and confrontational in tone.

    LDSA, your first paragraph in #83 is just as bad. “No one cares what the scriptures say?” You have demonstrated here that none of us agree with your interpretation of the scriptures. Frankly, if I were in a HD class and heard most of what you have said here, I would ignore it and go back to the “boring” class discussion.

    Given what the powers that be here on this blog let through and allow to be posted (#82, for example), if your comments are being censored, it might be good to look at content and tone. If you have nothing positive whatsoever to say about the Church – if your only purpose in commenting is to throw hyperbolic insults at those of us who disagree, fine. Just be open about the intent and motivation.

    The End

  87. Ray,

    I certainly do not intend to insult anyone. And I admit that some of what I have said is a bit of an overstatement. Clearly the scriptural evidence does matter to many, just as long as it doesn’t conflict with anything a general authority has written in the past century or so.

    In practice, though, the scriptures are supplementary materials. It is not at all unusual in my experience for stake conference general session to conclude without any speaker making a single reference to a scripture – not even in paraphrase. Sacrament meeting talks are similar – other than youth talks, it seems that appeals to the scriptures are few and far between.

    One could argue whether this is good or bad, but it is definitely different.

  88. RE: #8

    Oliver Cowdery was most certainly a lawyer.

  89. If your GD class is boring its one of 2 things either your teacher needs to learn new skills or your just boring yourself. Of course I saw that in the most nonconfrontative way possible. The idea that you need to have controversial subjects for Gospel Doctrine is something that I just can’t understand. I was the GD teacher in my word for 1.5 years. and I could never even come close to being able to cover all of the things in the block of scripture that each lesson covered. I could spend a whole hour on 1 scripture. I never ever sought for materials outside of the Quad as I just didn’t have time for them. I am well versed with outside materials and many of the intellectual topics that are discussed online but I just didn’t see any need to go outside of the scriptures and basic doctrines.

    The most basic and simple doctrines of faith, and repentence could easily have filled many many hours.

    I’m not trying to brag or anything but I ended my calling 2.5 years ago and people still tell me I was one of the best teachers they ever had. It’s the simple doctrines of the church that need to be taught with power and authority. I’ve seen more than one comment say that they wished that GD class covered the controversial topics discussed elsewhere. I think that in many ways people are looking beyond the mark.

  90. In my ward I meant to say.

  91. Of course I may just be misunderstanding the intent of some of the above comments. If that’s the case then just ignore me anyway.

  92. Mark, I certainly agree that Mormons are different. I don’t think there’s a good counterargument for that. (*grin*)

  93. re # 52, I think Nick has a great point with that focus on “the church of the Lamb of God” and its relation to the legal entity organized under the laws of New York and spelled with a hyphen and lower case “d”. A great argument exists that people who believe in Christ, with a sincere belief and devotion, belong to and participate in a broadly conceived church of the Lamb of God, although the ordinances that have been performed for them are not binding in heaven. For these people, when every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus is the Christ, it will be just as natural as it is for Latter-day Saints. Proxy ordinances exist for a reason, and those who already opted in to the broader Church of the Lamb of God during life won’t have any trouble accepting the vicarious ordinances performed by the authorized priesthood of God on their behalf. The crux of the matter remains the priesthood authority that exists in the framework of this Church; it is plausible that this is also the reason for the caveat about speaking of the church collectively and not individually. The Church is the vessel of the priesthood authority. This also stands independent of the more mundane and temporal aspects of the Church organization, finances, practical policies, etc.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 8,690 other followers