On the Articles of Faith

Just like most people who grew up in the church, I memorized the Articles of Faith and can still mumble through a few of them. (Although I’m a bit too old to have sung them, thank goodness.) But as I think about them now, I’m not quite sure to make of them.

As most of you know, they were originally part of the Wentworth letter, written in spring 1842. The letter was a detailed introduction to Mormonism for non-members. Neither Wentworth or any other non-Mormon source published the letter; it first appeared in Times and Seasons in March 1842. They were included in the Pearl of Great Price, and were canonized as such in 1880.

What should I think about a letter written as an introduction to the church for non-members becoming canonized scripture?

To me, what the Articles of Faith should be is a list of the beliefs that are essential to being Mormon, the fundamental beliefs. And I think some of the Articles do that. But as a body of thirteen statements, I’m not sure they do.

It strikes me that some of them, specifically 11 and 12, were written to allay the fears associated with Mormons in the Nauvoo period: namely, that they’d live by their own laws and persecute non-Mormons. Should we look at how those Articles are invoked in light of that? (I’m thinking specifically of #12.)

JSJ didn’t include some of the doctrines and practices which were emerging at the time, namely the issue of eternal families. (Polygamy was already being practiced by a small group of men; baptisms for the dead had been announced as a doctrine in 1840.) Did he not yet consider them essential enough to mention in the letter, or was this a PR move? Considering that eternal families and eternal progression are much more central to the subsequent church, and more so to our church lives today, doesn’t it make the Articles of Faith more historical than doctrinal?

Ando we really believe all of the Articles equally, or do we believe some more than others? I’m not saying any of them are wrong, but that some of them are not very useful in defining the essentials of Mormon faith. To help make sense of this, I went to LDS General Conference Scriptural Index and counted the number of times each AoF had been referenced in a conference talk. Here are the results, in a nifty graph:

December_2007_graph2
Clearly the ones mentioned the most often contain doctrines that the authorities of the church think are most essential. What I didn’t have a chance to do, and what might be interesting, is to see how they are used by the speakers.

What role do the Articles of Faith play in church doctrine? They are evoked from time to time as a scriptural authority, as a reminder of what we believe, but inconsistently. Perhaps we need to look at them more in their context, as we do with so much of our other scripture.

Comments

  1. I must admit that I’m happy about the top two. Those should be the ones we focus the most on as members of the church. I’m not so sure about 9&4 being above 3, but I have a feeling that will change if we continue in the wanting-to-be-accepted-by-Christians path.

    How intriguing that the two on government (church and state, or 5 & 12) are quoted almost equally.

  2. Very interesting analysis, Norbert. Being a wonk for statistics I really liked it. I think that your questions about the canonical nature vs. historical nature are pretty interesting to think about as well. However, I think that the AOF could be just as spiritually-inspired as more tradition scriptures even though they were meant as an introductory statement.

  3. seriously, you can’t beat a graph. especially when it’s blue, I mean how can you argue with that?

    props to the AoF though for teaching me how to say paradasaical.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    I’m not convinced that anything having to do with the “12 Tribes” is particularly relevant or signficant, except as historical teachings that some of us want to assert are currently meaningful (even though they really aren’t).

    Aaron B

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Amri! Your paradisiacal comment really cracked me up. My first mission president’s wife really rode herd over us with that one; if anyone pronounced it paraDICEacal she would rip him a new one. So I’ve got the correct pronunciation emblazoned on my brain.

    And Aaron raises a good illustration of why I think Norbert is quite correct that some articles just resonate more than others do. I’m pretty confident that we had to come up with 13 articles of faith today from scratch they wouldn’t all correspond to the historical set.

  6. Does the more frequent use of some of the articles actually mean that those are the most important doctrines, or just that those particular articles happen to articulate those concepts in a more concise/understandable/attractive way than other scriptures? For example, I think it’s clear that we find the Atonement more essential than things that are generally of good report; however, we have many more scriptures that delve into the doctrine of the Atonement in relatively accessible ways as compared to the few verses that express the ideas of the 13th AoF in such a succinct way.

  7. I used to think I was better than other kids cuz I could say it right and they couldn’t. I think it was because I was more righteous than they were.

  8. Also, when I left on my Mission, I met with the SP & HC (Then, very close to being in the Temple). They all signed and gave me a Black Leather Book (Talmage AoF), with a look of “This is what you are to Testify of”.

  9. #5: “I’m pretty confident that we had to come up with 13 articles of faith today from scratch they wouldn’t all correspond to the historical set.
    So, why not do this for the same reasons they first appeared? (To help people understand Mormon beliefs). Is Romney’s run not reason enough?

  10. 5 & 10

    I think we were just commissioned (however that’s spelled) by Elder Ballard.

    #3 – You know how to say that word??

    6 – Melanie2 has the best point of the contest. Not that there is a contest. But anyway.

  11. So is it paradiSAIcal or what?

  12. #7 – Amri, that’s because you are a girl, and girls are naturally more spiritual than boys.

    I also think melanie’s point is excellent. When I give a talk on a subject addressed by an AofF, I always go to the scriptures before the AofF. I usually quote the AofF only if I can’t find the type of language I want from a scriptural verse or passage.

  13. Would the recent “Proclamation on the Family” and “Testimony/Proclamation on Christ” be modern day articles of faith? Could we add more proclamations/articles?

  14. “Clearly the ones mentioned the most often contain doctrines that the authorities of the church think are most essential.”

    This is not clear to me at all. It could easily be that some of the less-mentioned articles are simply well-understood by the general body of the church and therefore do not need to be emphasized in Conference talks. It could be that they are so basic that they don’t need to be invoked as articles of faith, but rather permeate the discourse. There are lots of explanations besides the one you seem to think is so “clear.”

  15. #12:”I always go to the scriptures before the AofF.” You don’t think of the AofF as Scriptures?

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    Paradisiacal is pronounced pear-a-di-SIGH-a-cal

    (Since I can’t do diacritics, I used pear and sigh to represent the sounds of those syllables.)

    The common Mormon mispronunciation is
    pear-a-DICE-a-cal. There are two separate syllables there, but we want to elide them into one.

  17. Marjorie Conder says:

    The AoF could never pass Correlation today!

  18. #14: “…are simply well-understood by the general body of the church…”
    You mean like #7 & #10?

  19. #16: Did you mean ‘pear-asi-hil-ton?
    “Mormon mispronunciation”? No. Since Mormons are the only ones seeming using it(?), speaking it takes priority over how it may be written. Dialects #101

  20. #15 – Frankly, I don’t think of the AofF as “scripture” in the same way I do the “Standard Works”. I know they are included in the same publication, but I doubt very many members would include them if asked to name the “scriptures” included in the Mormon canon.

    I just asked my wife and oldest daughter that question, and they listed the main four “books” as the canon – with a caveat about General Conference talks. I then asked them what is included in the PofGP, and they listed Moses, Abraham, JSH, JSM and the AofF. That’s basically how I think of them – as included in the “stuff” packaged with the PofGP.

    Technically, I do think of them as “scripture” – but I just don’t think of them when I think about our scriptures. I think of them more as summary statements of belief – kind of an early attempt to articulate our creeds. That’s probably just me.

  21. #20: Ray, We agree (pain and grin).
    But Norbert doesn’t: “What should I think about a letter written as an introduction to the church for non-members becoming canonized scripture? (Opening Post)

  22. I’m surprised people haven’t cited the scholarship suggesting Smith didn’t write the AoF himself. People like Kidder were offering their own versions of Mormonism 101, and there was a need to establish our own, particularly in light of the important role for many of theological controversies in denominational identity. I think Smith left esoteric doctrines off the list because a) we were already being mocked for baptism for the dead and polygamy, and b) they were esoteric. What business did Chicagoans have knowing the mysteries of the kingdom?

    I’m most interested in how we interpret the gifts proclamation now. It meant something central to truth claims back then, though complexly.

  23. #22: Sam, “I’m most interested in…now.”
    I am 62 ‘Now” becomes “then” very quickly. Should I just for forget all my “thens”? (Please no BRMc)

  24. Bob, that is a profound question – and perhaps the biggest difficulty for MANY members as they learn things now that they did not know then.

  25. #23. Not sure what you’re saying. The original then was an interesting time for gifts. I’m curious about how we use charismatic gifts in 2007.

  26. (Maybe it’s just me, but my Firefox session only showed Articles 1-12, cutting off 13. If you have issues with the graph, save it as a file to your desktop and then open it.)

  27. To me, what the Articles of Faith should be is a list of the beliefs that are essential to being Mormon, the fundamental beliefs.

    That sounds too much like a creed to me.

    Sam MB, I’m curious about how we use charismatic gifts in 2007.

    Very systematically (if we use them at all). Rationalism and reason seem to trump charisma in the modern Church.

  28. #27 – not in many countries outside the US and Europe. Even here in America, I have been witness to multiple instances of the exercise of charismatic gifts – but I won’t give any details here. As a generalization, they tend to occur where the people believe in them and don’t where the people don’t. No surprise, I would say.

  29. they tend to occur where the people believe in them and don’t where the people don’t.

    Charismatic gifts = Santa Clause
    ;)

  30. Ray: Technically, I do think of them as “scripture” – but I just don’t think of them when I think about our scriptures. I think of them more as summary statements of belief – kind of an early attempt to articulate our creeds. That’s probably just me.

    Wha…? The Articles of Faith are part of the LDS canon. That means they are as scripture as scripture gets for us Mormons.

  31. Ray, I didn’t mean to discredit the miraculous display of spiritual gifts today. I would imagine many people around the ‘nacle have witnessed some example of this.

    However, spiritual gifts have indeed been systematized in the Church today. The Church has routinized healing, shifted from an emphasis on glossolalia to xenoglossy, de-emphasized the revelatory nature of prophecy, etc, etc. All of this is not to say, however, that spiritual gifts do not exist in the Church today, just that they have been largely systematized.

  32. #30 – Geoff, I know. I said that they are scripture. I just don’t think of them when I think of “the scriptures”. Frankly, that happens with the “non-canonized” official declarations, as well. I accept then as scripture, but they don’t cross my mind often when I think of “the scriptures”. (That includes the recent Proclamations – and the 1909 Origin of Man statement – and any number of pronouncements.) Like I said, that’s probably just me.

  33. Ray I feel the same way you do. I take a look at the AoF as something historically significant and included within the scriptures, but not of equal caliber to the scriptures. If I had to rank them, I would place the AoF as a second-class citizen to the words of Nephi. I know that the scriptures were inspired of God as the prophets were “moved upon by the Holy Spirit” but I don’t have the same thoughts concerning the AoF. Maybe I’m wrong in that regard, but that’s just me too.

  34. Jonathan K says:

    We used to always hand out Articles of Faith cards on the mission – especially as bookmarks in BOM’s. Also, there have been several times, when asked about beliefs, where I basically quoted from the AofF. Having said that, I have never really given them much in depth thought or study.

    If, as Norbert is suggesting, they are more historical than doctrinal, I am curious if anyone has possible suggestions for what would be included today in a new AofF?

  35. Sorry I wasn’t here for the conversation: I’m in a dramatically different time zone.

    #6: I agree that, say, #4 is a very useful summation of something that isn’t articulated so clearly anywhere else. (And the change of wording makes it more so.) But when I look at the low ones, I think we don’t talk about those so much at any rate, or we’re not happy with the specificity of the Article (#7 and 10).

    #14

    It could easily be that some of the less-mentioned articles are simply well-understood by the general body of the church and therefore do not need to be emphasized in Conference talks.

    miles, I wonder which ones you had in mind. It seems to me that the ones best understood by the members of the church, #1 and 4 probably, feature quite highly.

    #27

    That sounds too much like a creed to me.

    In Protestantism, aren’t Articles of Faith and a creed the same thing? If they weren’t meant to be such, why did somebody call them Articles of Faith? (And, by the way, who named them?)

    I think the question of spiritual gifts is very interesting, and given the spectacularly low showing of #7 in the graph, is worth a look. And it probably deserves its own thread.

  36. As far as how we might perceive the Articles, here’s a few blurbs:

    From the Institute manual Church History in the Fullness of Times:

    [I]t has become one of the most important statements of inspiration, history, and doctrine for the Church. The Articles of Faith were written for non-Mormons and were never intended to be a complete summary of gospel principles and practices. They do, however, provide a clear statement about the unique beliefs of the Latter-day Saints. Each article is a positive statement of the differences between Mormonism and the sectarian beliefs of other denominations.

    From L. Tom Perry, “The Articles of Faith,” Ensign, May 1998.

    The Articles of Faith were not the work of a team of scholars but were authored by a single, inspired man who declared comprehensively and concisely the essential doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ. They contain direct and simple statements of the principles of our religion, and they constitute strong evidence of the divine inspiration that rested upon the Prophet Joseph Smith.

    Perry’s statement is interesting, considering the similarities between the Articles and Oliver Cowdery’s list in the 1834 Messenger and Advocate. But his talk is interesting also because of the way he deals with each Article: quoting some, paraphrasing others.

  37. Peter LLC says:

    The Church has […] shifted from an emphasis on glossolalia to xenoglossy.

    Thank goodness. I’d wager that speaking a natural language fluently did more to bring to pass eternal life than having a polished command of unintelligible utterances in nines cases out of ten, even in 1842.

  38. How much the AofF are seen by Church members as “scripture’, appears open. Where I’m adrift, Why were/are they the ‘Mother Milk’ for the Church Youth? Are they not the Mormon ‘Catechisms’?

  39. #37- Peter

    ROFL

  40. The Mormon Catechism used to be the Articles of Faith.

    This post may have gotten my off of my duff to prepare a post that I have been thinking about for some time. I’m fascinated how the church responded in the 1870s and 1880s when there was no cannonized teachings of Joseph’s Nauvoo doctrines. How and what was selected is perhaps the most improtant development in Mormon doctrine, perhaps second only to the systemization of the 1910s.

  41. #40:Sounds good.
    Was there a man (men) who lead this, or was it the lack of JS/BY that opened this possibility? Or just time?

  42. Brigham Young had Orson Pratt do the new D&C. I think that they finally got around to it. That and there were a lot of folk in Utah by then that had never lived in Nauvoo.

  43. In our family growing up we once argued about the correct pronunciation of paradisiacal (I think because my mom pronounced it one way and my dad the other). So, we pulled out the OED to look up the correct pronunciation, and it turns out both are right. “Pear-a-di-SIGH-a-cal” is the most commonly accepted pronunciation, but “pear-a-DICE-a-cal” is also a valid (if less frequently used) pronunciation. Or at least that’s what the OED says.

    And to make this not completely a thread-jack comment, I’ll add that I agree that some Articles of Faith are less frequently used simply because there are other scriptures that say the same thing in a better (or just different) way. I think the best example of this is AoF 2. It’s barely used in GC, but I think the doctrine that we are not born sinners but have to actually commit our own sins is extremely significant in our church. It’s just that we’re more likely to use scriptures from the BoM about the (lack of) baptism of babies to make this point.

  44. We define scripture as “words, both written and spoken by holy men of God when moved upon by the Holy Ghost”. Canon is just “a recognized, authoritative collection of sacred books”. If Joseph Smith was a holy man of God and was moved by the Holy Ghost to write the Wentworth letter, then it is scripture in the very same way Paul or John’s letters and Nephi’s thoughts and words are.

    All truth is part of the gospel canon-I’m just glad I don’t have to store it in my house or carry it to Church every Sunday.

  45. I must say that I don’t subscribe to the 12th article of faith. Governments are human constructs, as are laws. I don’t sustain judges who put elderly women in jail for protesting logging!

  46. Tosh, that’s a fine definition, but the issue is telling when those words are the product of the Holy Ghost and when they are the opinions of the person speaking them. “Canonization” in a Mormon context means that the words therein have been accepted by the membership “by common consent” as having originated from the Holy Ghost’s influence. If something has not been canonized, it has not been designated officially as the word of God by the united Church body – meaning that, while I personally try to understand and follow whatever is said by our apostles and prophets no matter the context, I am completely free to disregard a non-canonized statement that I feel did not originate from the influence of the Holy Ghost.

    Is that a tricky or even scary proposition? Certainly. What makes it even trickier is that even canonized scripture can be dismissed as having been God’s will at the time it was given but no longer applicable to a later day. (Paul’s silent women is a good example.) However, it lies at the very heart of what the Restored Gospel is all about – agency in its fullest, truest form – and its negation leads one toward the type of infallibility that smacks of the old Law of Moses restrictions that inhibit agency.

  47. The problem I have with “Canonized scripture”, is..that in Oz,there was only one: Everything the Wizard said was the Truth.

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