Gospel Doctrine Lesson #7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel”

Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.


The intent of lesson seven is to discuss the “first principles and ordinances of the gospel,” a reference to the fourth Article of Faith (AoF) in which they are presented:

We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

My take on this lesson will be to compare the doctrine of Article 4 with the related confessions in the Anglican formulation known as the Thirty-Nine Articles (39A). As a Mormon living in England, it seems worthwhile to consider what these ideas mean in the common religious tongue before considering whether there is a distinctly Mormon reading. (It would also be interesting, but beyond my ken, to understand these ideas in their Second Great Awakening context. Please add literature in the comments.) [Read more…]


“[I]n today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me.”

Tolkien: Cosmogony

Blogging the Ainulindalë and Valaquenta from Tolkien’s The Silmarillion


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Tree of Life II

A substantive discussion of one of the most interesting videos the church has ever made is taking place over at T&S. Just as interesting is the fact that the church media people seem to have employed Terrence Malick. [Read more…]

Tolkien: On Fairy Stories III

imagesHaving briefly considered Tolkien’s defense of fantasy fiction and asked whether the Book of Mormon partially treads the borderlands of Faërie, I want to finish this look at Tolkien’s thought by saying something about three works that further illuminate Faërie: the poem Mythopoeia, and the short stories Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major. We thereby cover the canon of Tolkien’s literary philosophy.  [Read more…]

A few words about Les Mis

Some of the puritanical naysaying is depressingly predictable (although it seems to be a minority view) and I suppose if you’re sniffy about the musical, you’ll probably find reasons to dislike the movie . . .

. . . but that aside, Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables (hereafter Les Mis because I’m too lazy to do the accent) is really great. [Read more…]

Tolkien: On Fairy Stories II

I think the Book of Mormon treads the borderlands of Faërie.


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Tolkien: On Fairy Stories

First let us raise a toast to “the Professor” on this his 121st birthday.

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A quick rejoinder to fool Huckabee

Some people seem to think Mike Huckabee (winner of the 2008 Boggs-Doniphan) is voicing some important truth when claiming that we shouldn’t expect God to intervene in school tragedies if we have ourselves removed God from school. (His subsequent “clarifications” aren’t helping.) Here’s why Huckabee is a fool: [Read more…]

Less than 1200 words on pants


The Scientology Rule asks adherents to ponder how their actions would look if performed by a Scientologist. If they look cultish when others do it, they are cultish when you do it. The point is to escape the bubble and see yourself from the outside. It is not always pretty but generally worth it if you want to try to avoid fundamentalist, kooky, or pernicious behaviour.

Looking at Pantsgate from the outside, one sees nothing of good report. I wish I could dismiss it as a brouhaha only boiling in the Mormon bubble. After all, I am in a faraway ward in which women would wear trousers without much notice, so I ought not to care. But when these things reach the pages of the Daily Mail it is my religion that is being defined for the masses over here, whether I like it or not. So it is my business. [Read more…]

BYU Europe

Let me tell you a dream. [Read more…]

Thoughts on the Anglican decision

I was primed yesterday to cheer the Church of England’s decision to allow women bishops . . . and then they didn’t. Around three quarters of the church’s General Synod voted in favour of women bishops, but requiring a two thirds majority in all three Houses (Bishops, Clergy, and Laity), the proposal fell short by six votes in the Laity.

The disappointment was palpable. The next Archbishop of Canterbury has described yesterday as “grim” and carpers on the left are talking about the church’s “suicide.”

To understand my interest in the internal affairs of another church requires an understanding of the Church of England’s role in the United Kingdom. It is the nation’s established church — its Supreme Governor (a woman, note the irony) is the Queen, its bishops sit in the House of Lords, its rituals (seen on state occasions) are part of the public religion. Thus the Church of England belongs in some sense to all of us.

I have four things to say about yesterday’s vote and I would welcome your comments: [Read more…]

BYUSQ: The Mormon Church in Italy

The latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly (51:3) has an article by James A. Toronto and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel that will be of interest both to scholars of European Mormonism and of ritual (“The LDS Church in Italy: The 1966 Rededication by Elder Ezra Taft Benson”). Jim Toronto responded to some of my questions: [Read more…]

Another thing…

The Pew Forum offers something of note — voter composition by religious affiliation (according to exit polls).

Romney won among all religious communities except Hispanic Catholics, Black Protestants, and “other [non-Jewish/Christian] faiths.” There’s a confirmation of demographic swing against the GOP there, which isn’t surprising. More interesting to me is that the Evangelicals turned out for Romney (79% vs. 20% for Obama) in greater numbers than in 2008 (73% vs. 26%) and 2004. This would seem to suggest that there was no Evangelical anti-Mormon problem for Romney, at least in the composition of the electorate. White Christians can vote for a Mormon.

More thoughts on missions

One of the reasons for lowering the missionary service age to 18 for men in the UK seems to have been to prevent the “dead space” that otherwise existed between school and missions. The British education system has historically not allowed a pause in university studies. The new system allows a seemless transition from school to mission to education/career which has been attractive to some. [Read more…]


A Mormon friend asked me to comment on a recent BBC series called Andrew Marr’s History of the World. He was a little put out by the first programme’s depiction of prehistory, with its account of the homo sapiens migrations from Africa c. 70,000 BP, Neanderthals, and the origins of civilisation, given its deviance from typical Mormon beliefs regarding the same. Given that British Mormonism’s chattering classes are currently scandalised by a high profile falling away over the issue of “no death before the fall,” I hastily bodged together the following reply: [Read more…]

Why the caffeine statement is important

For those of us who have been imbibing caffeinated beverages (of the cold, carbonated variety) all of our Mormon lives, the church’s caffeine statement comes as no radical surprise. It’s not that I doubt Joanna Brooks’s accounts of childhood Coke avoidance, it’s just that in my neck of Zion, such zealotry has always been a minority position. So far, no big deal. Held up for scrutiny, it’s always been rather obvious to me that the church could take no logical position against this particular alkaloid per se. So, the statement is no Manifesto . . . except that it kind of is.

I bet many of you have heard Mormons talk about the specter of tannic acid as proof for the wisdom of the prohibition against tea. Such a bizarre proof represents a Mormon need to have the Word of Wisdom be a code of health. I know why we do it — the Enlightenment compels us to want religion to make sense and tannic acid renders explicable the otherwise inexplicable avoidance of camelia sinensis, especially given what appear to be its health benefits. You have studies that show that green tea is awesome, I have tannic acid. I win because “acid” sounds awful.

I can think of three models for interpreting the Word of Wisdom: [Read more…]

In praise of the National Lottery?

When the United Kingdom initiated its national lottery in 1994 (imaginatively called the National Lottery), it was accompanied by much tsk-tsk-ing at church. Here was another sign of national decadence, further proof that Babylon was in control of the land. Good Mormons would eschew such evil, etc.

That’s how I left it when I went on my mission in 1995. When I returned, one of the new developments in my town was a shiny new refurbishment of the theatre. The theatre had once been the home of George Bernard Shaw and Edward Elgar’s Malvern Festival, but had since lost some of that lustre. Now it had a new foyer and looked beautiful, all paid for via a grant from the National Lottery. Malvern Theatre is now one of the best provincial theatres in the country. [Read more…]

The liberation of the resurrection

A quick thought for this Monday morning.

I have been wondering whether it is possible to divorce Jesus’ ministry from the supernatural claims that surround it. I have little problem in doing this for Guatama Buddha, for example, whose philosophy has value for me quite apart from the fantastical stories of his life. So, while mowing the lawn the other day (on the spiritual possibilities of mundane things, see here), I thought about the resurrection of Christ and whether my Christian faith needs it to be literal event. Certainly there are Christians who are moved by the metaphorical rather than literal truth of such things. However, I have come to realise that my faith requires there to have been an empty tomb and a fleshy theophany.

Death frightens me a great deal. I suppose I am not alone. It is our curse as thinking apes that we know we are going to die and it is this knowledge, I believe, that is at the heart of our evil. Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Establish a fame that endures. Accumulate and accumulate in the vain hope that we can escape our inevitable doom. Find every comfort, beat every foe, look after number one.

Reading George Handley’s account of Lowell Bennion makes clear that true goodness is found in wearing out your life in the service of others, but for the selfish among us that is so very hard to do when you believe that this life is the only life. Kant sensed this and so postulated the summum bonum. Rather than a crux, I see it is a liberation. I can sacrifice — forget myself — because this is not the end. This is Jesus’ gift to the world through his physical resurrection. Take no thought for tomorrow, for tomorrow is secure. Instead, serve God today.

The thing is, do we really believe it?

Gas Prices and the Mormon Commute

The average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK right now is £1.39. That is $2.23 per litre, which is $8.42 per gallon.

Yes, ouch. This post is about the cost in fuel of being an active Mormon in the United Kingdom. [Read more…]

On the road with Hyrum Thane

This is an account of books and friends, red rock and lichen-clad graves, science and serendipity. I am writing while listening to Neil Young’s The Old Homestead on the record player. I suggest you read it to the same.

Out on the floor
where the cowboys dance,
approaching slowly at a glance.
Here comes the shadow of his stance:
The reins are fallin’
from his hands.

I was born in the Shire, where there are no cowboys, only hobbits. [Read more…]

The Sunday Afternoon We Broke the Sabbath to Buy Lunch in a Seedy Downtown Bar Thread

With City Creek not open to Sabbath breakers, it was an effort to find lunch. Sunday pm coming up . . .

A banner is unfurled

Singing away the anti-Mormons

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The Sunday Morning Where Have All the Flowers Gone Open Thread

The weather is gross, but inside the choir is resplendent in lavender and all’s swell. Numerous comments about the British bringing the bad weather, but it hasn’t rained at home in . . . months. So, on to conference, blogged/tweeted by Ronan, Kristine, and Jacob. Hi Becky!

Braving the rain

Peanut Gallery

N.B. Quotes from speakers are not necessarily precise. We’re having to type fast here! Check official transcripts later.

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Dear BBC

[Available on Youtube]

To: James Jones, Producer, The Mormon Candidate

Re: This World: The Mormon Candidate (BBC2)

Dear Mr Jones,

If we are to follow the educational philosophy of Charles Dickens’s  Thomas Gradgrind — “In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts!” — then we would find little to complain about in John Sweeney’s BBC account of Mitt Romney’s Mormonism. Sweeney, the BBC’s go-to cult hunter, famous for his aggressive encounter with Scientology, provided a number facts about Mormonism that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints simply cannot deny.

They are, inter alia: Mormon prophet Joseph Smith married upwards of 30 women. The Egyptian of the extant fragments of the Book of Abraham is not directly related to Smith’s translation. Mormons once swore blood oaths in their temples. As a conservative religion, Mormonism can be a rather alienating place for those whose faith wanders from orthodoxy. The church maintains its own Vatican-like Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. &c.

Some of these facts, and others besides, are bound to make uncomfortable viewing for Mormons. Some are defensible, others are not. Many strike at the heart of Mormonism’s curse as a pre-modern religion that has come of age in a modern and post-modern age. The patina of history has rendered benign the strange beliefs and practices of some more ancient religions. Mormonism is not so lucky and this is why facts, polemically deployed, are not always as truthful as Gradgrind, and Sweeney, would have us believe. [Read more…]

Liveblogging “The Mormon Candidate”

Mormons across the UK are holding their breath tonight as Mormonism gets the John Sweeney treatment. Liveblogging in the comments below of the BBC’s The Mormon Candidate from 19.00 BST.


Gay marriage comes to the UK

I lived in America during the debate about the proposed federal marriage amendment in 2004, something which inspired one of my first posts in the Mormon blogosphere. By the time of Prop 8 I was safely ensconced back in England. Until now I have been able to maintain a relatively dispassionate distance, as the problem was an American one. No more. Gay marriage is coming to my corner of Zion’s vineyard. [Read more…]

Mormonism, a Trinitarian religion

My parents, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for almost 50 years, like to go to church on their many travels. Usually it’s the local Mormon congregation but not always. Every year they visit the Isles of Scilly, a tiny archipelago off the south-western tip of England, and attend services at the local Anglican church. Their commitment to Mormonism is strong but I think they enjoy an annual injection of native religion. They also take Holy Communion.

No doubt the latter admission would raise eyebrows among some Mormons although it’s difficult to exactly say why. Perhaps it is the Communion wine, although even if it were non-alcoholic, it would still encounter suspicion, I suspect. Certainly Mormons see a particular legitimacy to their own administration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but is that to deny the efficacy, even to a lesser degree, of this singularly Christian rite when performed by others? What are the intentions behind the rites and does one negate the other?

Modern Mormons see the sacrament as a renewal of covenants; other Christians tend to be less particular. The only theological agreement is that it somehow invokes the presence of Christ for those who partake. It seems to me that the Mormon who on occasion participates in a non-Mormon Eucharist is not betraying her own uniquely Mormon experience of similar things. I do accept, however, that a degree of discomfort might arise. [Read more…]

Apologising for historical racism

The General Synod of the Church of England apologised in 2006 for its role in the slave trade. The church, through the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, once owned the Codrington Plantation in Barbados, where slaves had the word “society” branded on their backs with a red-hot iron. One teaching that was used by Christians to defend their support of slavery was the notion that blacks carried the curse of Ham. [Read more…]

…groanings which cannot be uttered

Country walks often lead to interesting discoveries. [Read more…]

The Mormon Un-Moment and Its Consequences

Let’s face it, the “Mormon Moment” is rubbish. First off, I sort of doubt that it actually exists beyond a small segment of the chatterati. And even if it does exist, it is basically a miserable little thing, based on a politician nobody likes and a musical that rowdily takes the mick. So, yes, if that’s your Mormon Moment, it’s rubbish. [Read more…]


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