For those of us who consider ourselves to be believers in the basic claims of the Restoration and the authority claims of the LDS Church, I offer the following query:
In your opinion, what would constitute a signal that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had drifted into institutional apostasy? I do not pose the question flippantly. In fact, I don’t even really want an answer. Instead, I propose a thought experiment to be played out jointly with BCC readers over a series of polls and discussions. Here’s the basic premise: imagine the Church announces some serious or radical change in doctrine and/or policy. What do you consider to be on the table? Where is the line that separates a Church governed by continuing revelation and a Church for whom the conduits of heavenly influence have been shut off? Are there fundamental doctrines and practices that are so central to the Restored Gospel that, to dispense with them or fundamentally alter them is to break with the claim of being Christ’s true Church?
Here are some examples, deliberately positioned at (what I presume to be) the extremes of both ends of this question. 1) The Church announces that Mormons no longer accept the claim of a virgin birth for Jesus. Here, I presume, many people would be surprised, some shocked, some gratified, but virtually no one would take that as a sign that the Church was no longer true. 2) The Church announces that the canon is officially closed. There is no more knowledge to be had from God, we have all we need, and there is no longer need for continuing revelation. Here I presume that the overwhelming majority of LDS would see in such an announcement that the Church, as an institution, by dispensing with the principle and practice of continuing revelation, had fallen into apostasy.
Such an experiment might seem at first to be a tad speculative, adolescent, even arrogant. Or, at least, an exercise in extreme navel-gazing. But I think that it can actually be very helpful. It helps me to isolate those precepts and propositions, those practices and forms of worship, that lie at the core of my testimony — my sense that the Church is “true” — and bracket them off from the rest. If a doctrine or practice is not worth leaving the Church over (as a response to perceived institutional apostasy), then it really isn’t central to the Restoration or the Everlasting Gospel.
So here is this week’s question and discussion point: