The written text of my talk, given February 14, 1982, (when I was age 11 years, 10 months), reads as follows:
This is my Blazer Banner. These emblems show the different lessons we work on to prepare to receive and honor the priesthood. That is our motto, which is written here at the bottom of my banner.
I received these emblems for memorizing the 13 Articles of Faith. The Fifth Article of Faith talks about the authority of the Priesthood. The Sixth Article of Faith names a few of the priesthood offices in the church, such as prophets and apostles.
This emblem shows three Aaronic Priesthood holders at the Sacrament table. The lesson we had helped me understand the Sacrament better so that when I pass it, I will feel greater reverence.
This emblem shows John the Baptist giving Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Priesthood. I’m thankful for the Blazer program which is helping me to prepare to receive the Priesthood and for the great teachers who have worked with me.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
This is still my old Blazer Banner (pictured). Google image searches failed to turn one of these up online (it seems that “Blazers” these days are a basketball team and a kind of SUV), so I presume that this program has long since been phased out by the LDS Church.
As I mention in my talk, the program in the 1980s called for boys in the Blazer age class (10-11) to memorize the Articles of Faith (one at a time, not all at once), and receive emblems for each one passed. As I’ve looked at my old Blazer Banner recently, I was taken by the strangeness of this document that is the “Articles of Faith.”
In the first place, given the degree to which Joseph Smith and other early members of the church initially opposed all creeds, possessing and memorizing a creed is a shade ironic. Of course I realize there are lots of reasons why Mormons have traditionally seen this list of 13 statements that begin with the phrase “We believe…” to be quite different “creeds” (a word derived the first word of the Nicene Creed in Latin, “Credo in Unum Deum…,” i.e., “I believe…”) Nevertheless, what I find particularly strange is not whether this thing that looks and sounds like a duck actually is a duck, but rather, what an odd duck it seems to be for Mormons.
The First Article of Faith “We believe in God the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost” is the statement that most closely resembles in content the bulk of the famous Nicene Creed, adopted by mainline Christianity at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God. Begotten and not made, consubstantial to the Father, by whom all things were made….And we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is to be adored and Glorified….*
Lacking all the details about whether the Father and the Son are “consubstantial” and who proceeds from whom, the First Article of Faith is much more economical, and actually more ecumenical (pretty much everyone from Catholics to Arrians to Nestorians wouldn’t find objection). What it lacks is clarity. What do Mormons believe about the relationship between the members of the Godhead? Are the Father and Son of one essence? One substance? Or merely one purpose? The First Article doesn’t say. Moreover it fails to mention Mormonism’s unique theology of eternal progression, which Joseph Smith was beginning to develop and reveal at the time he composed the Articles of Faith, and which more recently has been falling prey to official de-emphasis.
The rest of the articles are an interesting list of beliefs that Mormons largely share with many Protestants and other Christians, alongside a few distinctives sprinkled in here and there, such as priesthood authority (#5), continuing revelation (#9), and the Book of Mormon (#8). Some of the distinctives are no longer emphasized, or they have been substantially reinterpreted since 1842.
From the Seventh Article, “We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, etc.” [“et cetera” in the original], the gift of tongues and interpretation thereof no longer refers to the 1830s Mormon practice of glossolalia. Instead “tongues” has been replaced with folk stories about General Authorities going to multi-lingual places like the Philippines, giving addresses in English, and being heard by every listener in their native language.
Likewise, the most important elements of the belief in the “Literal Gathering of Israel” and the construction of Zion on this continent had been the view that Mormons themselves were literally of the blood of Israel (generally Ephraim), as were Indians. Both were to be gathered to the Missouri/Indian Territory frontier and Zion would be in Jackson County. Some of these beliefs linger among Mormons (although apparently not Mitt Romney). Today, Mormons don’t gather and largely don’t think of themselves as blood Israelites. The literalness of this article has largely been transferred to the gathering of Jews in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, my favorite article (which I mentioned in my 1982 talk), the Sixth: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, etc.” requires some updates. We need to strike out pastors and evangelists and add in Relief Society Presidents, Stake High Councilmen, Ward Clerks, Scoutmasters, etc.
At the end of the day, what’s in the Articles of Faith isn’t half as strange to me as what isn’t. There’s not a single mention of the word “temple.” Is all of temple work less an essential article of LDS belief than the 13 beliefs that do make the cut? How about an article that says “We believe that all mankind will have the opportunity to learn the gospel and be baptized, whether in this life or the next”?
Likewise, there’s absolutely no mention of the belief that has become the cornerstone of the LDS Church’s outreach: “We believe that marriage is eternal. We believe that families can be together forever.”
What do you think? Is it time for Mormons to come up with a few new Articles of Faith? (If so, what do you propose?)
*The complexity of the doctrine of the Trinity, over which Christians have literally fought wars, has resulted in many variants to this creed.