When the new church handbooks were released last year, our stake president advised us to “press the reset button” on the way we administer the kingdom. Like everyone else, Mormons are susceptible to cultural accretions which soon take on the patina of gospel truth. For all the great questions of life (e.g. should we sit or stand for the intermediate hymn?), someone could point to some instruction by some visiting authority or something some leader heard when visiting some relative in Salt Lake or some such.
There is a different approach: check the handbooks. The new handbooks offer us the chance to cut back church government to its bare essentials, offering a minimal view of orthodoxy that represents the consensus view of the Brethren today. All else is spit and tradition. Here are some random ways in which the handbooks push against the Mormon tendency to invent all manner of jots and tittles. It’s not so much that there is anything new here but that current restatement is very useful:
- On tithing: net, gross, what is “income”? etc. — “The First Presidency has written: ‘The simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord himself, namely, that the members of the Church should pay ‘one tenth of all their interest annually,’ which is understood to mean income. No one is justified in making any other statement that this'” (Book 1: 14.4.1).
- On the Word of Wisdom: is cola verboten? — “The only official interpretation of ‘hot drinks’ (D&C 89:9) in the Word of Wisdom is the statement made by early Church leaders that the term ‘hot drinks’ means tea and coffee” (Book 1 17.2.11).
- On women praying in sacrament meeting — “Men and women may offer both opening and closing prayers in Church meetings” (Book 2 18.5).
There are other examples (the instruction on musical instruments in sacrament meeting gives more leeway than you think, for example) which further demonstrate that in the vast majority of cases the handbooks are the servants of the reasonable, orthodox church leader who wants to offer faithful advice and run the church properly without getting bogged down in cultural minutiae. I like them and would advise their studious/wise usage.
It would also be interesting to explore how the new emphasis on delegating to the ward council is being received.
Thoughts on the new handbooks?