Do ordinances change? Part 2

On June 11, 1843 Joseph Smith preached a sermon at the Temple stand in Nauvoo. From the History of the Church version of his words, we have the pithy phrase that “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed.” [n1] This was included in the Teachings of the President manual a couple years back, and I’ve seen a few folks wave this about lately to show how the church is bull crap, neener, neener, neener. [Deep breath]

We are going to go back to the sermon reports. WVS has kindly gathered those together for us (thanks!). But first I want to talk about the work “ordinance” and how JS used it. [edit: n2] A great example is the foundation of our articles of faith: “We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” [source – note that I accidentally had the wrong link when first posted]. John Wesley, of Methodist fame, wrote that believers were required to attend “all the ordinances of God,” namely, public worship, the Lord’s Supper, family and private prayer, fasting, and a few other items. [n3] Note that “laws and ordinances” is a legal doublet (laws = ordinances), and that redemption is contingent on the ordinances of faith and baptism. Now JS does also refer to the “ordinances of the temple,” but it is clear that what we mean by ordinances today is not an exact translation for what JS meant in 1843.

In the summer of 1843 JS is sort of rebooting the temple. He had revealed the temple liturgy to a few folks in May 1842 and then revealed a sealing text later that summer. Things stalled for several reasons, but when Hyrum came aboard the polygamy band wagon, the temple quorum got together and re-endowed everyone a few weeks before this sermon. Women joined the temple quorum later in 1843 and JS finished the complete temple liturgy at that time.

The most comprehensive reports of the sermon are Willard Richards’ and Wilford Woodruff’s. Note that these are not shorthand transcripts. WVS is the pro here, but we should take these reports as trying to capture the sense of what is going on. JS is talking about building a temple and bringing people to it. From Richards we have: “Ordinances were instituted in heaven before the foundation of the world of in the priesthood, for the salvation of man. not be altered. not to be changed. all must be saved upon the same principle.” I think it is a wild misreading to assert that JS is talking about some platonic ritual forms that must not be changed. No, Richards captures the idea that before the world, God established the basis and principles–“upon the same laws ordinance”—by which people are saved. How is this manifest according to Joseph Smith? Per Woodruff: “the ordinance of the baptism for the dead as well as the other ordinances the Priesthood.” JS’s logic here was to make a point about the work of the temple and how all people can be saved (universalism, FTW).

But can we learn anything from how JS managed the liturgies of the church? Well sure. We learn that he was constantly revising them. As did Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff, and Heber Grant, and David McKay, and Spencer Kimball, and Ezra Taft Benson, and Gordon Hinkley, and Russel Nelson.

________________________

  1. History of the Church 5:423–25, 427.
  2. Catholics called salvific rituals sacraments, which has a specific theological meaning that protestants rejected. They used the term ordinances instead, and rejected the salvific character. Instead things like baptism (and scripture reading), were “ordinances” or laws. Think municipal ordinances. Mormons followed the linguistic pattern, while also asserting sacramentalism. Rereading the D&C with in mind changes a lot.
  3. John Wesley, “The Nature, Design, and General Rules of the United Societies”; “Directions Given to the Band,” in Rupert Eric Davies, ed., vol. 9 of The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1976– ), 73 and 79

Comments

  1. On my mission in the mid 90s, my president gave a talk at a mission conference with Elder Maxwell in attendance. My president told us, citing the Article of Faith, that faith and repentance are ordinances. The next month, the president spoke again in zone conferences informing us all that Maxwell had corrected him, saying that faith and repentance are the laws, and baptism and confirmation are the ordinances.

    Anecdotal, I know, but for what it is worth.

  2. Correction. Maxwell said faith is a principle, not a law, as I said above. The AofF 4 speaks of principles and ordinances, not laws and ordinances. My mistake.

    You have a direct quotation up there but when I click on the link to your source, I cant find the quotation.

  3. John, Maxwell was referring to contemporary LDS usage following the change to the language of that article of faith and not to JS’ use of the word “ordinance.” I think J’s link may be incorrect. The Wentworth letter with the article of faith as J quotes it is in https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/1#full-transcript

  4. Yes, I believe this is the right way of looking at it. Ordinance = law, NOT ordinance = salvific rite.

    The laws of heaven, the laws that govern salvation are eternal and unchangeable (faith, repentance, baptism, further sacred covenants, etc), whereas the exact form of particular rites have malleability in what satisfies a particular law, the proper authority presumably among the essential elements to satisfy that law.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    I did have the wrong link in the post. Sorry about that. Thanks for the correction, JR! I fixed it in the post. Here is the link to the specific page:

    https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/church-history-1-march-1842/4

    The popular meaning and usage of “ordinance” shifted in our tradition after JS’s death. Here is how I note the shift in *Power of Godliness,* p. 93:

    By the end of the nineteenth century, Smith’s categorization of faith and repentance as ordinances had become sufficiently incomprehensible to Mormon leaders that despite its then-canonized status, they rewrote the section of the “Articles of Faith” dealing with them. Discussing the matter, the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency “decided to change the fourth article of Faith to read ‘We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are,’ etc. This is to overcome the error which occurs where it says in the third article ‘We believe that mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel’, and fourth ‘We believe that these ordinances are,’ etc., when faith and repentance are not ordinances but principles.”[n55] Or, in other words, faith and repentance were not rituals performed by priesthood officers.

  6. Then if baptism is an ordinance, and we can all agree on that, then why has the wording on that changed? It is shown in the Book of Mormon saying, “having authority given me of Jesus Christ”. Yet, while Joseph is writing the lectures on faith, and through many of the revisions in the D&C not authored by Joseph, others had changed it to say instead, “having been commissioned of Jesus Christ”. So the baptism ordinance currently administered is not according to the pre-determined verbiage established in the heavens. If it were, why do we then have a different prayer dictated in Alma? Were they all wrong, and we are right? We might as well build ourselves a rameumptom to shout this from.
    Also, since the sacrament prayer for the wine, remained the same from joseph’s establishment, all the way until 1921 when a committee (without either direction from the Lord nor by common consent) changed the word in that prayer to say water instead of wine, wouldn’t that also be breaking the ordinance? The correct answer is yes, it is now an invalid ordinance. The committee caved to societal pressure because of prohibition, and this change had neither commandment nor permission from the Lord to support it.

  7. J Stapley, but the erroneous link you had up originally has Smith using the word ordinance according to modern LDS understanding. So it wasnt just after his death that the change began.

  8. J. Stapley says:

    [second deep breath] Navy, reread the post.

    John, was he using it that way, or were you reading it that way? There is no question that Protestants and JS, for that matter, referred to the Christian liturgies and activities such as sacrifice as ordinances. That is not in dispute.

  9. J. Stapley says:

    I also added another note to the point to hopefully help people like Navy a bit more.

  10. J Stapley is responding to my comment on the other post about changes to the ordinance which he first dismissed as trolling, but apparently decided to create another post to try to further dismiss.

    Here you appear to be making the case that temple is actually not all that necessary and that all that really matter are the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, because of the article of faith and this notion that ordinance supposedly had some nebulous meaning (I really don’t see what John Wesley has to do with this) that didn’t really refer to temple ordinances. And yet the teaching of the modern church is that people cannot be saved without either for themselves or by proxy making a certain number of covenants in temple, one of which is for women to covenant to obey their husbands as long as they obey God, which was changed. So this wasn’t just some change in the grammar or style of the temple ceremony, but a complete change to covenant needed for salvation. Think on that for a while.

    You’re also missing a larger point, which is that Joseph Smith repeatedly taught that he was restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ to its fullness and that this gospel was not to be changed or compromised. The idea that ordinances cannot be changed or altered fits this narrative that he was emphasizing. Well what happened? Joseph Smith changed the rules all the time as did subsequent leaders, and sometimes it appeared that these changes were in response to pressures from within the membership, the government, and from the wider changing culture.

    I find it kind of funny that the response is that the change to the temple covenant is OK because leaders changed stuff in the past too. You don’t get it. What this shows is that the leaders made claims to authenticity and changelessness that they could not possibly adhere to and set the bar way too high and put themselves in a position where they would frequently contradict themselves and compromise the integrity of doctrines and even specific ordinances and other things that they said were umcompromisable. On many occasions they claim revelation meaning that they are attributing the changes to God, which then makes God appear to be a tricky guy who is claiming to be immutable all while moving the goalposts right and left.

    At some point you have to ask yourself is there a change that would ever cause you to think that the leaders are just making things up as they go along? For I constantly hear the refrain uttered by believers to former and non-believers that they were “expecting perfection” from the leaders and that they need to give them a break. That isn’t the case. Most non-believers I’ve talked to were perfectly fine with minor flaws here and there. It is the magnitude of the flaws that mattered, not the existence of minor ones. The issue is that you treat the current leaders as beyond question whose motivations must always be interpreted as pure and divine. It is OK to throw past leaders under the bus, but it is taboo to question the current ones. Solid reasoning on the LDS Church will always be compromised because of this attitude.

  11. The rites take their form and authority from the ordinances, or laws. Joseph said ordinances – which would include the things ordained, or commanded – are not to be altered. They are not to be changed. All must be saved upon the same principle – meaning inviolable rule of behavior.

    If, therefore, the form of a ritual – be it baptism, sacrament, or the temple ceremony – is given by law, or ordinance, then the form is not to be altered. It is not to be changed. If the ritual is changed, then what is being done is not that which was ordained, and what is being done is therefore without power and authority, being outside the law. If that ritual was originally necessary for salvation, then the altered version is not.

    If a rite is alterable or changeable, then it is not salvific, by Joseph’s declaration. Sacrament as administered within the Church is observably and officially changeable (D&C 27:2). Therefore what the LDS Church practices as the Sacrament is not salvific, and is not the administration of the flesh and blood of the Lord that was ordained in the heavens for the salvation of men (John 6:53). For that Sacrament, we must look for the Lord himself to administer it (John 6:51; Luke 12:43, JST).

    Likewise, Brigham said the following was told him by Joseph Smith about the temple ceremony: “Brother Brigham,” he said when he was finished, “this is not arranged right, but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I want you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies.” (L. John Nuttall diary, Feb. 7, 1877, typescript, Church Archives.) If we assume Brigham was telling the truth about this charge from Joseph Smith, then the LDS temple rites are not and never were necessary for salvation either, being not fixed and unalterable, but expressly changeable.

    Literalism is the hermeneutic of belief.

  12. J. Stapley says:

    I’ll let the intellectual heft of Wilson’s comment stand for itself.

  13. New temple workers in their training are given the JS quote about the non-changing of the “ordinances”, with the implicit implication that ordinance is referring to the temple. How do you explain this?

  14. Stapely, thanks for this pair of excellent posts. It never ceases to amaze how many people would rather adopt fundamentalist views than open their minds a little.

  15. One possible reason that the Protestants may have preferred to use the word “ordinances” is because the KJ Bible uses that word in Corinthians when Paul admonishes the Saints to “keep the ordinances, as I have delivered them.” He then goes on to list what he is referring to specifically, namely hairstyles and the Lord’s supper. The NIV and most other translations uses the term “traditions” instead.

    That sort of undercuts the strength of the passage, from a Mormon perspective. Surely the Lord’s Supper is more than just a tradition, right?

    The only other time in the NT when the same Greek word is used (in 2 Thessalonians 2:15), even in the KJV it is also translated as “traditions.” “Hold fast the traditions that you were taught.”

    I think this is significant, and presents a very interested view of the Lord’s Supper. It is just a tradition? Well…technically, it can be both a tradition and an ordinance, in the modern LDS use of the word. But that fact that Paul is commanding its observance but only calling it a tradition is an interesting choice of words.

    It would be interesting to think that this whole debate about “ordinances” comes down to a rather anomalous translation choice by King James’ men.

  16. Wilson and Jared Livesey, it seems like you are unnecessarily boxing yourself in, and it’s not clear to me why either of you would want to do that.

    See my first comment above, it’s not difficult to reconcile that sacred rites can be essential for salvation and yet the outward manifestation or form can vary. By your same logic merely translating the ritual’s language to people’s native tongue would invalidate the ordinance or imply it’s not essential for salvation. If you concede that there is not one perfect unchangeable language that ought to be used, then you have to concede that there is at least some level of malleability that is acceptable.

    Also Joseph Smith taught that even more malleability than mere language was acceptable. For example baptism for the dead was in it’s more perfected state something that “belongeth to [the Lord’s] house”. But given the current state of the Saints, the Lord was willing to accept baptisms for the dead outside of the temple for a time. Joseph taught that these were still valid, and furthermore specifically essential for salvation, not only for the dead but for us (we without them cannot be made perfect, etc.)

    Therefore it is clear the forms and exact parameters of a rite can have some level of malleability and still be acceptable to the Lord in fulfilling the underlying law (ordinance), and that does not in anyway imply that the law is therefore not essential to salvation, the scriptures teach the exact opposite is true.

  17. J. Stapley says:

    Danny, I don’t believe there is any formal temple worker training. I can’t speak to isolated cases.

    Thanks, JKC.

    John, the KJV and the NIV use those words because the respective Protestant translators (Anglican and Evangelical) were making theological points.

  18. Steve LHJ, you’re not being fair to my argument in saying that according to my logic the translation of an ordinance into a different language would invalidate the ordinance. Please note that the recent change now no longer requires women to obey their husbands as long as their husbands are obeying God. It isn’t a simple change in the verbiage but an actual change in how gender roles are defined in the temple.

    Baptisms for the dead being valid in the river temporarily is different from actually changing a covenant made in the temple ordinance.

    If you concede that some changes to the covenants on how they define gender relations is acceptable, then you have to concede either that the LDS God is a tricky guy or that the leaders are making stuff as they go along but then imposing very strong expectations on the members to treat many things they say, most specifically the temple covenants, to be the precise immutable words of God that cannot be treated with even the slightest degree of lightness.

  19. Thank you for these posts J. Stapley. They are well written an informative.
    Wilson, off of the top of my head I cannot think of times when I’ve been taught that the church is changeless; and certainly not as an aspect of its authority. But off of the top of my head I can think of being taught that things will change. Phrases like “We believe that He will yet reveal many great and important thing”, or “continuing revelation” or “living church” or “living prophets and apostles.” All of these bear connotation of change.
    So either when you’ve been taught that the church is changeless either the person was wrong, or the person was speaking about something narrow and you wanted to apply it broadly.
    Isn’t this a great time to be learning about all of these things?
    As for the question of pondering over if there’s anything that could change that would cause me to question my church membership; that comes up all of the time in lessons. As a result I’ve had lots of opportunity to ponder it. It’s one of the reasons why personal conversion through gospel study at home, as an individual, is so important.

  20. On my comments not being intellectual, true intellectualism should be driven by philological motivations and not by the impulse to defend the integrity of religious leaders at all costs.

    On my comments being “fundamentalist” and closed-minded, consider the fact that a good number of bloggers and commenters here believe that there is some core truths about history (I.e., ancient Americans saw Jesus) and nature (I.e., God gives revelations to a select few human beings about doctrine) that is beyond question and that if engaged cannot suggest that this core not be truthful and must always be defended and considered to be within the realm of plausibility. I see this as a phenomenon of absolutists/fundamentalists masquerading as open-minded intellectuals. The wider intellectual community does not regard neither these claims nor the methods to arrive at these claims to be legitimate. Think on that.

  21. Wilson, you are wrong in your assumptions about bloggers and commenters here.

  22. J. Stapley says:

    Yeah, he appears to have jumped in the wrong end of the pool.

  23. Wilson, I was not attempting to be unfair or dismissive to your argument, having a discussion even if we disagree doesn’t bother me, I was only trying to point out in the simplest way I knew how that most people, and it seems by your response you included, can logically accept some degree of malleability to the form of the ordinance.

    If we accept that, we’re already very close on the same page, it only becomes a matter of degree. Logic alone could not determine when a certain change crosses the line or not and is therefore against the will of God. I do believe such a thing could happen, and therefore rely and my personal witness and relationship with God to help me navigate what I believe and do or do not accept. I do understand the argument that the language of a covenant or the nature of a particularly covenant changing does seem more significant, and I think it’s a fair argument. But that it is a more significant change still in my mind doesn’t imply that it necessarily crosses some line that therefore makes it wrong before God, or invalidates the endowment past or present.

    Personally, I view the Endowment at it’s very core, like other covenantal salvific rituals to be a matter of being done and offered by the proper authority. I’m not sure there is anything essential beyond that, although if God reveals a more proper way to do the form and we go against it, I could see the ordinance then getting rejected having gone contrary to the revealed will of God. For the endowment I see the washing and anointing as being the most appropriate form to accompany the ritual, and the necessary covenant at its essence being something akin to the law of consecration – where we establish a full conviction to God and in return take the name of Christ upon us in full and become His children.

    Does this covenant even need to be explicitly stated as part of the ritual? In baptism the covenant is not, so I’m comfortable with the idea that it doesn’t. I think all the other covenants in our current endowment are great things to promise pointing to that final covenant, but I don’t see them as being eternal portions of a changeless endowment ceremony. The form of our current ceremony is largely a repurposing of masonic symbolism. I think in whatever way historically that the masonic rituals were put together, Joseph Smith was correct in recognizing that they had tapped into archetypical and eternal symbolism that was well suited to be repurposed, expanded, and clarified as a pattern of truth that attends the endowment ritual. I find the symbolism inspired, and sublime, and in large thanks to Brigham Young for systematizing it further by inspiration after the death of Joseph Smith. At the same time I don’t think it is the only eternal and unchangeable form that would be acceptable before God to satisfy the underlying law of salvation that the endowment is.

  24. I see this as a phenomenon of absolutists/fundamentalists masquerading as open-minded intellectuals.

    Yeah, I thought we were supposed to be heretics?

    Joseph Smith repeatedly taught that he was restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ to its fullness and that this gospel was not to be changed or compromised.

    I don’t see how one can view the restoration—including the part that occurred during Joseph Smith’s lifetime—as any other than a work in progress.

    That said, the First Presidency’s characterisation of this work in progress as a series of “adjustments” seems to (unnecessarily) downplay the significance of the changes. https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/temple-worship

  25. “you have to concede either that the LDS God is a tricky guy or that the leaders are making stuff as they go along”
    This is absolutely a false dichotomy, and it’s that kind of false dichotomy which is resulting in the label of “fundamentalist thinking.”

  26. Steve LJH,

    I appreciate that taking Joseph’s words as true can be seen as unnecessarily limiting when one finds their logical implication to be distasteful.

    The logical implication of Joseph’s words does not ceast to be the logical implication merely because we might find the conclusion distasteful. It remains the conclusion so long as we take Joseph’s words as true. Once we drop that condition other conclusions may be drawn. If we start from a different point – assuming, say, that the LDS Sacrament, or, perhaps, that the LDS temple ceremony, were actually salvific despite Joseph’s declaration – then Joseph’s words are false. But that conclusion, of course, is circular resoning, since the assumption that these two rites are salvific by itself entails the falsity of Joseph’s statement.

    And as Joseph is allegedly the source of these two rites, just to take them for an example, if he is not trustworthy on the subject of salvation, it suggests anything built on his words is not on a sure foundation.

  27. J. Stapley says:

    It is like we won the fundamentalist lottery! Jared, your snufferism isn’t really welcome. Move along.

  28. The idea behind Process Theology is that everything is in a state of flux. I think the Church could learn quite a bit from this concept. Elder Uchtdorf in a conference talk alluded to the fact that the truths of the Gospel are still being revealed. This would suggest that rather than a creation of the Earth there is an ongoing creating. We are co-creators of the Earth with God.

    More to the point, there is a restoring, not just a restoration. As humanity changes and evolves so does our need for continuing revelation. Our leaders aren’t perfect, there is a need to continually update the truths of the Gospel. Otherwise there is no need for modern revelation.

    We all need to understand the need for change. And not fear it.

  29. Joseph Stanford says:

    All religions need to change and most like to maintain the idea that they are unchanging at the same time. It’s just human nature.

  30. I tend to see things in a probably over-simplistic way. The rites are the pitcher. The ordinances are the water in the pitcher.

    Goodness knows I have a lot of issues with things Church leaders have done/taught and still do/teach, but this isn’t one of them. Right now, we see through a glass, darkly. I find it easy to believe that I’m missing the point that God is trying to make—or, if you prefer, more productive to assume that I’m missing the point. I’m just a kid trying to figure out what an adult is telling me.

  31. Can someone give me an example of what a comparable change to the sacrament prayer would be? I’m thinking something along the lines of the prayer being restructured to an individual prayer blessing the Sacrament for yourself, not on behalf of others?

    But the end result of personal Holiness is still the same.

    Equally true, with the temple, the end result of a wife hearkening to the counsel of an inspired husband, if she’s actually following God in the first place. After all, if he’s inspired and she’s following inspiration, she’s going to listen to that. Likewise, in the former condition there is no example anywhere of a holy, temple covenant honoring man who thought he didn’t have an obligation to listen to his inspired wife’s council.

    So the thought then comes to, why the wordage then, and why now? Well, maybe it’s a cultural condition of the men and women of the time and now?

    Which gets back to angst some have about cultural impact on generations being accounted for in how God expects us to approach discipleship. Shouldn’t we rise above culture in our misconceptions of hearken? Or shouldn’t saints in years past have been asked to rise above the cultural expectation that women should hearken?

    Well, ok, sell all you have, give it to the poor and go follow God.

    Clearly, even the micro/macro historical culture impacts the very weighty requirements of the Lord on his (would be) disciples.

    The extent that these changes create frustration, is because it intersects with so many cultural issues that are popular at the moment.

    Well, if all you can muster as a disciple of Christ is beating ideological opponents over the head with an aspect of the Gospel… (Or just arguing about it) Well then you’re not much of a disciple to begin with.

    Get to work serving God and your fellow man, then if your a good conservative fundamentalist disciple, let those who aren’t worthy, scorn or walk all over you; all the while you’re patiently persuading and pointing then to Christ. That’s closer to real discipleship to arguing about covenants connections to gender.

    All the while, gender matters and is eternal.

  32. Rick Chandler says:

    The historic challenge which we are overlooking is the historic emphesis on the narrative of the great apostasy as a gradual corruption of the ordinances. Some of the reactions of borderline members is because the church is going contrary to the narrative they were taught, which is that changes to ordinances was the core of the apostasy (baptism by sprinkling as a common example).

    I feel that the church has repenting to do from its departures from “teaching nothing but faith and repentence”. Using sales tactics like the apostasy/restoration narative (and the underlying anti-papalism) wasnt exactly the pure doctrine of Christ, and there are consequences for the pridefulnes of those narratives. Focusing members of those narratives is a poor foundation, and was poor preparation for the continued evolution of the ceromonies. I’m thinking of the writings of Talmadge and Legrand Richards specifically.

    Another point is that we often point the word restoration to the early church. Did the early church ever have a fullness? Or should restoration be pointing to the celestial church?…

  33. Shouldn’t we rise above culture in our misconceptions of hearken?

    What if the hearken wording itself is the product of the culture of a particular time and place? If so, why treat it as though it must be preserved at all costs? Why not let it go and get on with, you know, “serving God and your fellow man”?

  34. If you are going to believe the “apostasy/restoration” narrative, you have to consider something very difficult to consider. Pretend you are living in 200 CE. You are a Christian. You are 50 years old. Doctrines you were taught when you younger are no longer being emphasized. Rituals you were familiar with when you were younger are changing. You accept that your local bishop has authority passed down to him from an apostle. He says so. The Church says so. So who are you to doubt it? The gates of Hell will not prevail against the church!

    Now…it is 2019 CE. You are a Mormon. You are 50 years old. Doctrines you were taught are no longer being emphasized. Rituals you were familiar with when you were younger are changing. You accept that your priesthood leaders have authority passed down to them from apostles. They say so. The Church says so. So who are you to doubt it? The Lord will never allow his prophet to lead you astray!

    The LDS church tells you today that despite the obvious similarities between your situation now and your situation in 200 CE, the church was in apostasy back then, but the church is not in apostasy now. How can you be so sure?

    Personally, I reject the “apostasy/restoration” narrative, so this isn’t a conundrum for me. But it is a real dilemma for all of those who do accept it.

  35. ““As the centuries passed, the flame flickered and dimmed. Ordinances were changed or abandoned. ” Boyd K. Packer, Ensign. May 2000.

    This is Packer speaking of the Great Apostasy. Some here in this discussion are trying to define exactly what an ordinance is, and what can or cannot be changed. Someone give a nice analogy about a pitcher of water. The water is remains the same, but the pitcher may change.

    Packer is saying that ordinances changed. Does he mean the water changed or the pitcher changed? Well…let’s take baptism: Sprinkling vs. immersion is simply a matter of a change of pitcher. The “water” remains the same. The meaning of the Catholic baptism is the same as the meaning of the Mormon baptism. It cleanses sin; it represents the beginning of a covenant relationship; it symbolizes the dying and rising with Christ; it marks the entrance into the Body of Christ. The water is all there. Only the pitcher has changed. Yet…Packer is saying the ordinance itself was changed. Therefore, an ordinance, whatever else it may be, is also the form, the ritual itself.

    I grew up being taught that the rituals were the ordinances, along with the meaning and the symbolism communicated through the ritual. There was no doubt about that in my neck of the Mormon woods. None. Period. I am 43 years old. It was only within the last two decades or so that this apologetic has come out trying to divorce the ritual from the ordinance, and claiming that the ordinance is something other than the ritual.

  36. So many of these comments boil down to “when I was a kid growing up in the church I never thought about it this way, so it can’t be true unless the whole church is in apostasy.”

    The thought that doesn’t seem to be pursued is maybe we didn’t know everything when we were kids, and maybe the people teaching us also might not have known everything.

  37. JKC, that is a convenient dodge. I posted seven paragraphs of what I believe are compelling arguments. You chose to deal only with the eighth paragraph in which I chose to share some personal and anecdotal information, as if that small paragraph was somehow the summary of my entire argument.

  38. But you are wrong to assume I didn’t pursue the thought that maybe I didn’t know everything and maybe the people teaching me didn’t know everything. I did pursue it. I learned a lot from doing so.

  39. John, your comment was not the only one that exhibited that, though it might have been one that did so most explcitly. I read the rest of your comments. I don’t find them compelling in the slightest.

  40. J. Stapley says:

    John, I think you will find that most the people here just don’t find your complaints all that compelling. Familiar with church history, teachings, and changes during every time period, there just isn’t a lot of anxiety about the narrative you are describing. When it is held up as some sort of silver bullet against the church, we just sort of roll our eyes. Packer was a church leader during major liturgical changes, so the question isn’t one of change. There has to be something else going on. Do a few push ups and see if you can figure it out. If you are interested in Apostacy narratives, read Early Christians in Disarray: Contemporary LDS Perspectives on the Christian Apostasy.

  41. ” historic emphesis on the narrative of the great apostasy as a gradual corruption of the ordinances. Some of the reactions of borderline members is because the church is going contrary to the narrative they were taught, which is that changes to ordinances was the core of the apostasy”

    This is a simplification. The core narrative of the apostasy is loss of priesthood authority.
    The problem is not change per se, as much as unauthorized change.

  42. Change happens. I tend to look at it first from the standpoint of what it means for me in terms of the basic questions that I need to be asking myself. Do I need to be less prideful? Am I being compassionate enough to others around me? How is my relationship to my Heavenly Parents right now?

    What follows is less academic in nature than a personal response to all of this.

    I think that my experience in high school and college debate (yes, I was one of those nerds) helped me to deal with uncertainty and being able to see issues as not being binary in nature. I learned to be able to see both sides of an argument, and convincingly argue either for or against at a moment’s notice.

    The people who seem to struggle the most with change, with new disclosures about the history of the Church, or with what appear to be changes in doctrine/principle/practice tend to be more steeped in the binary mind state of right/wrong, true/untrue, you-are-faithful/not-faithful. I have come to understand that my moral compass points in a direction, but doesn’t give me all the details I will find along the way. There are times that I see things in a more absolute way, but those seem to be less frequent than in my youth.

    I can understand to some extent why some struggle with changes, and some of it seems to be part of our innate uniqueness as individuals. I struggle with change at times. But my moral compass, which has proved helpful in the past, points to continuing my life in the church, despite the struggles and difficulties along the way. Which leads me to two thoughts.

    First, the path to the celestial kingdom is indeed straight and narrow, clogged with fallen trees, boulders, and other obstacles, and lined with many brightly lit, well maintained off-ramps.

    Second (my epitaph), “He remained an optimist despite all evidence to the contrary.”

    Keep up the good work, Stapley.

  43. Ditto what JKC, J., and Ben have said. It’s not even remotely controversial that our ordinances are sacramental-wrapped-in-the-language-of-Protestantism, or that they’ve changed, sometimes radically, throughout the history of the church. Also, that it’s absurd if we want to read back our precise sacramental forms and language into the past. I appreciate J. laying it out so clearly and in one place, but his evidence is purely one of the mutability of these things. There’s no way to take his history and transform it into a “The church is not true” or a “The church is true” narrative, without importing preexisting values into it. The fact of change isn’t evidence for or against truth.

  44. In addition to J.’s recommendation on apostasy narratives, I’d also recommend Standing Apart, edited by Miranda Wilcox.

    Bottom line: from the very beginning of the Latter-day Saint movement there have always been competing versions of the apostasy narrative. The idea that it was this one unified message that took all ordinances as unchangeable and that it only started to change in the past ten years just can’t be squared with reality.

  45. J. Stapley says:

    JKC, that is actually the one I was thinking of! Crap. Yeah, read this:

  46. It seems to me that you all are being a little hard on John (and others promoting the same point of view). ByCommonConsent is probably the wrong forum for the discussion and he/they/we maybe should know better, but it is pretty clear that there has been an apostasy-restoration story taught in many of the Correlation/CES inspired classrooms of (my approximation) 1980-2010, that is in fact challenged by changes in the forms of sacraments/ordinances/works. It is somewhat incredible that the story could be sustained in the face of almost two centuries of continuous change in the Mormon restoration movements alone, but it did happen and it is causing whiplash for some people.

    And then there are challenges to people’s concepts of God and the God-man interface. When we see change that happens in 30-year periods, who’s talking with whom? (I could tell a ~30-year story about polygamy, about priesthood, about temple changes, dating from when there was talk and some understanding of the need for change to when change really happened; there are almost always people around who can say “I saw that and said that 30 years ago.”) The point is not that I’m troubled or haven’t a working theory for myself, but that every time there is noticeable talked-about change some people’s imagination of how things work is challenged. One of the current stories is “President Monson was not strong enough to move things forward for a period of time.” Probably true, but a challenging concept for someone using a micro-manager model for God.

    Again, this isn’t the right forum for that discussion. But it’s not wrong to say the whiplash is happening.

  47. Chris, I don’t think anybody’s objecting to individuals’ shock or surprise at learning that things—including ordinances—change. I mean, I have people close to me, lifelong members of the church, who didn’t realize JS was a polygamist until reading Rough Stone Rolling.

    What J. and JKC are being impatient with is the people who insist that change is evidence of decline. Not everybody is a sophisticated consumer of church history, and there’s no reason everybody should be. But there’s also no excuse for a rigidity that says, Since people have believed this my whole life, it must be the True and Defining feature of the church, and a church that doesn’t maintain the precise things that I grew up with must be a fallen and untrue church. And then doubling down to insist that believing in a changeable church is some indication of a fundamentalist viewpoint. Those two steps—which have manifested themselves a bunch of times in the comments to J.’s most recent two threads—deserve far more scorn and dismissal than J. has been leveling.

  48. Part of me prefers the idea that Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith, handed him a piece of paper with English words on it and said “This is how I want Ordinances done from now until I return as part of the Second Coming. If you have problem refer back to this document.” But that doesn’t seem to be how it happened at all. When you study how Joseph struggled with writing down his visions, sometimes the same vision over a period of years, you get the impression that the Lord is allowing his prophets to experience learning too.

  49. I no longer have a pony in this race. My brother who frequents this blog texted me and told me about J.’s post, thinking I might be interested in reading it. I left the church several years ago and have moved into Anglicanism. It is a hallmark of Anglicanism to embrace a wide range of theological and doctrinal positions within its communion. You have Anglo-Catholics (which is how I am coming to identify), Evangelical Anglicans, Broad Church Anglicans, … You have Anglican parishes in the United States that pray the rosary and perform an ad orientum Eucharist. In the next city you might have a parish that has ordained a lesbian priest.

    It is not change that I rejected in the LDS Church, actually. I left the church because I rejected a few key doctrines as I began to study religion and Christianity specifically about four or five years ago.

    C. S. Lewis once explained to Roman Catholics in an essay why he could not be a part of the Roman Catholic Church. He said…”the real reason why I cannot be in communion with you is not my disagreement with this or that Roman doctrine, but that to accept your Church means, not to accept a given body of doctrine, but to accept in advance any doctrine your Church hereafter produces. It is like being asked to agree not only to what a man has said but to what he’s going to say…”

    Now, I do in fact disagree with this or that Mormon doctrine. And accepting Mormonism requires one to do what Lewis could not do with Catholicism. This is my problem with the concept of the “ongoing restoration.” It isn’t about doctrine at all and it really never has been. It is about accepting the authority of the group. That is the heart of a Mormon testimony.

  50. And unless you have any questions of me, I’ll bow out of the discussion. Thanks for the stimulation.

  51. J. Stapley says:

    John, in the case you read any further, I think you would have found the conversation flow a bit different (and better here) had you led with your last comment. Most of the writers and readers here have found a home in Mormonism, but also would reject the constraints that you seem to have rejected. That said, we also mostly will all envy the Sunday worship music at your new home. Cheers.

  52. John, There is indeed a version of Mormonism that would require one to do what Lewis could not do with Catholicism. There are also versions of Mormonism that do not require that. “Accepting the authority of the group” is certainly not the heart of a number of Mormon testimonies I know of. I expect the difference from your experience results from the facts that the Church is not the same everywhere and at all times, nor are individuals and their spiritual experiences the same. It is a bit unseemly of both some Mormons and some ex-Mormons to pretend to the contrary and try to tell others what they believe or must believe. Congratulations on your move into Anglicanism. I have a bit of “holy envy” for a lot of Anglicanism.

  53. Another Roy says:

    “The idea behind Process Theology is that everything is in a state of flux. I think the Church could learn quite a bit from this concept. Elder Uchtdorf in a conference talk alluded to the fact that the truths of the Gospel are still being revealed. This would suggest that rather than a creation of the Earth there is an ongoing creating. We are co-creators of the Earth with God.
    More to the point, there is a restoring, not just a restoration. As humanity changes and evolves so does our need for continuing revelation. Our leaders aren’t perfect, there is a need to continually update the truths of the Gospel. Otherwise there is no need for modern revelation.
    We all need to understand the need for change. And not fear it.”
    RogerDHansen, I love that I see this concept creep into the church dialogue more and more. I believe that this can help us to 1) grapple with some of the imperfections, contradictions, limitations, and challenges of early LDS theology, 2) have a greater degree of humility about the eternal permanence of our own understanding of modern Mormonism, and 3) perhaps we might be better prepared and adaptable to various changes as they come along.

  54. J., but the old Reynolds-edited one is good too. It’s a bit dated, and Standing Apart is better, but Early Christians in Disarray does show that the conversation about competing apostasy narratives has been going on for a while, not something that just popped up in the past decade.

    John (if you’re still reading) and Christian, I’m sorry for being impatient. Like Sam says, it’s not the whiplash I object to; it’s the suggestion that the church always presented ordinances as this static, unchangeable monolith until the change du jour. I’ll be the first to admit certain narratives taught in CES materials, etc. are problematic, but my experience growing up in the church was that I was taught by parents, Sunday School teachers, seminary teachers, and to YM advisors to always to take all CES materials with a grain salt, and that everything else took a distant back seat to faith, repentance, the atonement of Christ, the prophetic role of Joseph Smith, and the need for priesthood authority. I guess if I were a particularly overzealous partisan type, but stopped reading about church history sometime in early high school, and never discussed church history with the kind of parents and teachers I had, I could come away with the black-and-white sort of attitude about the changeability of ordinances described in some of the comments, but it just wasn’t my experience that the church ever presented the unchangeability of ordinances as some kind of essential sign of truth. I recognize that my experience isn’t universal, but that’s kind of my point. In any case, I am sorry if my impatience caused hard feelings.

  55. Ok…one last comment. Sorry if this is sort of hijacking the thread and knocking it off topic.

    JR. For most of my adolescence and young adulthood, I too had a “holy envy” (nice expression) for,…well…I wouldn’t have called it Anglicanism at the time, because I was not as well-versed in the different Christian denominations. But I had a holy envy for traditional expressions of Christianity. I am talking about the contemplative chant and plainsong, the candles, the traditional and historical European expression of Christianity.

    When I received the green light from God to leave the faith of my youth, I was also informed in mystically transcendent ways that an essential part of my soul was waiting for me to do this all along. In my youth and adolescence, a part of my soul had been staring in awe into the face of God all along, so to speak. It was a moment of the most powerful affirmation I have ever experienced. I realized in ways to complicated for speech what Christ meant when he said we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    But what I was experiencing and what I was “seeing” was not what the LDS Church told me I would see. The LDS church told me I would find God by going on a mission. I didn’t. The LDS church told me I would find God by engaging in the temple ordinances. I didn’t. The LDS church told me I would find God by lifelong service in callings in the LDS Church. Well…I tried that, not for a lifetime, but for a few decades. I, personally didn’t find God there.

    HIndsight is 20/20, but all throughout my life, I now can see moments where a living prophecy was taking place. God was leading me out of it since the day I was born into it.

    This Holy Envy you speak of – it turns out that in my life, it was actually the Holy Spirit.

    I guess we all follow our one paths, because I certainly don’t believe all must become Anglican to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Good luck all on your respective journeys. Sometimes what we think may be our own selfish desires are actually the echoes of the divine affirming the glorious gift of identity that He has bestowed upon us. Embrace it. Let Him make of you what he wills.

  56. Owen Witesman says:

    As I was reading some of the comments above, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would want God to be such a total tool. Apply this thought to whichever posts you would like!

  57. John’s comments get at one of the most compelling things about my own experience of Mormonism: in principle, my commitment is always contingent on whatever might come next. In a living church, we must expect change. We must be grateful for the fact that change is possible. We must also accept that change can make things uncomfortable for us. We have to be willing to reevaluate, pretty much constantly. That doesn’t mean that I question the foundations of my belief every time a change pops up. I have very good and deep reasons for being committed over the long term. But if I have a boilerplate answer to every question before it’s asked, where’s the vitality and growth in that? I know that this is not a type of faith that every Latter-day Saint shares. It is my faith, though, and I consider it an absolutely authentic type of Mormon faith. In fact, I think it’s more authentic–because it is more nimble and responsive–than the lockstep fundamentalism that seems to trouble many of the commenters here.

  58. J just to inform, there is official temple worker training around the various ordinances presented in video form and clearly created by the Church temple committee. It’s not comprehensive and sinceI’m recently not a temple worker then I can’t speak to anything new. But this was as of mid last year.

  59. John, thank you for your final and poignant comment.

  60. Utah County EQ Pres says:

    A thought on christiankimball’s comment about the whiplash people might have coming out of the way CES taught the gospel in the recent past: I have a bunch of really old dudes (70-90 yr old) in my priesthood quorum, and I’ve come to know most of them quite well. They’ve seen scads of changes in the church in their days, yet to a man they still subscribe to ideas of inerrancy and prophetic infallibility. To them, the gospel and the church is all a giant jigsaw puzzle that fits together perfectly, if we can just winkle out the cabalistic logic of it. So I don’t see what Christian was describing as something new or limited to a recent time period. These guys are the preservers of all the tortured explanations of yesteryear, from “less-valiant in the pre-existence” to “polygamy increased the birth rate of righteous members”. They will follow the prophet anywhere, but it won’t be by repenting of past mistakes. They can hold any number of contradictory ideas in their minds, so they don’t need to jettison any of the old ones. On the surface, they teach wise words about the perfecting of the saints and further light and knowledge, but if you get into specifics, they’re as nutty as any John Bircher ever was forty years ago, and Anything President Benson ever said at any time in his life remains Law. I love them dearly, but there are wounds in the church that will be difficult to heal while they are alive.

  61. Good grief, Utah County EQ Pres, I know people like that ages 4 – 95. Better put off the estimated healing time a bit longer.

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