Thursday, November 4, 2010

By God's own voice of the voice of servants

Wanted to write about a few common D&C verses that are quoted frequently enough that they have developed into a piece of the LDS culture itself.   The problem is they are taken out of context and misused to teach something the verses themselves do not teach.  If this sounds like just my opinion keep reading.  I think by the end hopefully it's clear that the context of the actual scripture cannot be removed without altering the meaning of the verses completely. 

LDS religious culture has roots to these scriptures so I think them worthwhile to take a closer look at. 

D&C 1:38

Doctrine and covenants 1:38. ".... whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

Sound familiar?  That passage of scripture is typically used and quoted just as I have used it above.  Without context and using and ellipsis: "....".  The verse is short enough to not merit "...." but people use one anyway.  Why?  Why cut out such a small part of such a small verse?  Are we really that short on a attention span?

As it turns out this is a pattern of omitting half the verse and it's really common in LDS culture and LDS General Conference talks.  It causes the verse to seemingly saying something which is not supported by the scripture itself.   I'd watch out for this.  You could almost make a verse say whatever you want by removing half of it.

Here's a bit more context
D&C 1: 36-38 And also the Lord shall have power over his saints, and shall reign in their midst, and shall come down in judgment upon Idumea, or the world. Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.
The only portion typically quoted in Sunday School or even General Conference is the last part. ".... whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."

What's the message you get when that is the only part of the verse you are given?  The message comes across that we have no reason to doubt anything a leader of the Church says because it’s the same as if the Lord Himself had said it, right?  Wrong.  Tuns out our high school English teachers were right about a little thing called context.  And when we misquote people or manipulate source material for some other agenda we risk doing damage to everyone involved.  Seems it would be even more important to keep this in mind in matters of God's word.  Perhaps we should be double careful when we use scripture to teach something.
But back to this verse.  When you look at the entire context of that verse we learn that the oft quoted  tiny phrase is actually just a small part of a whole idea. That idea is a continuation of the preceding verse, and as you can read above is basically stating that the Lord has given us many prophecies and they will all be fulfilled. Because God cannot lie.  The Lord will not make excuses for seemingly unfulfilled prophecies or things He has said.  Even though the heavens and the earth, which are practically eternal in comparison to human lifespans, will pass away, His Word will never pass away.  All His word will be fulfilled.

But what about mans words?  What about mans' philosophies?  What about man's opinions?  What about false and vain things said in the name of Jesus Christ by people in religious authority?  What about someone giving their best ideas and best advice?  Does this verse promise those will be fulfilled?  Nope.  Those are not promised to be fulfilled. The only thing promised to be fulfilled are God's words, His promises, and prophecies He gives.  

Then comes the familiar part where The Lord says whether that fulfillment comes by His own voice or by the voice of His servants, "it" is considered the same.  Regardless of who the players are.  Even enemies of God sometimes unknowingly fulfill Gods prophecies.  The entire premise of this verse is God keeps His promises.  He owns what He says.  Doesn't matter who the mouthpiece is.  God can speak through any means and when he does, he owns it.  But it ends there.

What is "it" referring to anyway when it says "it is the same"?  The object of "It" has to have reference to the previous part of the verse "What I the Lord have spoken". Whether the Lord speaks it himself or he authorizes someone else to speak it, "it" can be viewed as the same.  But if He didn't speak it, nor authorize it, and if the message is not in alignment with Him then it's clearly not the same.  So we have to discern if what we hear originated from God or not.  Because the only promise we have of fulfillment is if God was the originator.

What this verse being discussed is not saying is that a person's Church office or calling automatically makes their words the same as if God spoke. That's backwards. If the words spoken are not in aliment with God's words, then it's a false claim to say "it" is the same as if God spoke.  No one can can just say stuff that makes you feel good, or share their own ideas and opinions and philosophies then claim it is the same as if God said it. And therefore it will be fulfilled. Nope. That's a little ridiculous when you think about it. That would amount to God being obligated to honor man's words simply because the man held a religious position of authority. That's making God obey man.

Whatever someone holding a Church office says obviously does equate to God's word unless God gave the message.  This makes discernment all the more important.   Joseph Smith remarked that a Prophet is only a Prophet when acting as such. (TPJS pg 278).  Everyone has the freedom to think and act for themselves. Our duty is to discern when God's Spirit accompanies a message.  God vouched for Joseph Smith's words.  I have not seen any revelation since Joseph's day with any similar endorsement.  I believe we should honor and value what Joseph Smith said and gave us.

D&C 68:2-4

Another example of a verse often (mis)used to communicate and validate the cultural belief that whatever someone in authority says is scripture:
D&C 68: 2-4 And, behold, and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who were ordained unto this priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth— 3 And this is the ensample unto them, that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. 4 And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.
This verse says: And whatsoever "they" shall speak....shall be scripture.  So there are some limits.  Who is "they"?  The chapter heading identifies some specific Elders.  They is also those who are ordained unto "this" Priesthood.  So what Priesthood is that?  Aaronic?  Melchizedek?

The other limit stated in the verse are those who have a mission appointed unto them to go forth.

Another limit stated in the verse is "as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost".   Ok so the obvious limit here is it's only the mind and will of the Lord, and scripture, if the speaker is moved upon by the Holy Ghost.  Even if "they" and "their" priesthood meet the requirements.  The person still has to be "moved upon by the Holy Ghost".

The priesthood office alone in the LDS church doesn't confer this ability to speak the mind and will of God.  Despite some traditions stating it does.  The condition is "as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost".  The Holy Ghost as we know bares record of the Father and Son.  It's the instrumentality through which God works.  So rather than someone sharing their own opinions, their own ideas, or own philosophies, this limitation to me seems to clearly limit the "scripture" to only things coming from the Holy Ghost. Not the man. Seems like common sense that God isn't obligated to own words and messages a man speaks that God never gave, never endorsed and never vouched for.  As 2 Peter says: For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

D&C 21:4-5

Here's another verse that is often used out of context, and manipulated to say something different than what the text actually says.
D&C 21:4-5 " Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
I'm surprised the English teachers of the word don't notice this one being blatantly removed from it's context, and the grammar, which is right there in the heading and in the verse.  That verse is used consistently in general conference as support for why the members should look to the (Current) President of the LDS church and what he says as if from God's mouth.  See example from General Conference here.  Yet, if you read the scripture verse in context it's unmistakably clear and unmistakably NOT saying what many speakers, top leaders, as well as manuals have used the verse to teach.   

Here's the verse in context.  The revelation heading is important. It reads: Revelation given to Joseph Smith the Prophet, at Fayette, New York, April 6, 1830.  This revelation is to Joseph Smith.  As the first few verses indicate. This is a revelation to Joseph, about Joseph.  That's why the first few verses use "he" and "his" in the singular.  (parenthesis below are mine).  Because it's about Joseph.  Which is obvious if you don't take this out of context.
Behold, there shall be a record kept among you; and in it thou (Joseph) shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder of the church through the will of God the Father, and the grace of your Lord Jesus Christ,  Being inspired of the Holy Ghost to lay the foundation thereof, and to build it up unto the most holy faith. Which church was organized and established in the year of your Lord eighteen hundred and thirty, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April. Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his (Joseph's) words and commandments which he (Joseph) shall give unto you as he (Joseph) receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his (Joseph's) word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.
The revelation is referring specifically to Joseph Smith who's message God vouches for.  I says so right there in the heading.  There is no justification for taking the verse, ignoring the singular grammar see before my red words above, and the context, and go applying it to any subsequent leaders of the Church.  Where in the verses is any such license given?  In what industry or arena is it ok to take what specifically applied to 1 individual, and apply it to future other people?  This type of thing wouldn't be tolerated in even the political sphere.  Yet it's passed by in the religious sphere in matters of God speaking to man.  That misuse and out of context utilization of these scriptures would seemingly concern people but it doesn't.

What's also of note here is how important God things Joseph Smith's words are. The LDS church drifts or discards what Joseph Smith taught more each year.  Many topics taught by Joseph are never taught or mentioned.  Just look at the manuals and seminary and institute manuals.  In place of Joseph's Teachings are more and more conference talks. Because as you saw last post, a living prophet is more important than a dead one.  God vouched for Joseph.  I have not heard God vouch for subsequent Church leader's words.  That doesn't mean people don't say nice things.  Of course they do.  But if nothing else, we should appreciate, value what Joseph taught.  Based on what God himself said.  

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