Sunday, July 22, 2012

Inherited Mormonism

While sitting in church today I got to thinking about some of the profound topics Joseph Smith was working on restoring towards the end of his life.  I've read about them, but never heard them so much as mentioned at church.  I did come across one talk by Bruce R Mckonkie down at BYU from the late 1960's that still spoke of the fuller Gospel topics. Such talks are so scarce that I wanted to put a link to it here. Link

I wondered how the religion we have now would look compared to what was originally being restored. Sometimes I think the version of Mormonism that is predominant in our day is an inherited form. There are appearances, traditions, understandings, and beliefs that are simply inherited, or passed down by tradition and spoken about with great emotion. We relive the faith-trying experiences of others with treks and parades and the like. This may not be a bad thing at all. However if the religion we live is inherited, and animated by sentiment, rather than revealed and animated by God himself, then we may want to immediately reconsider our current state. The scriptures call the state of a the modern religious audience "awful".

Found this quote from a friend's blog super super well put.

"This terrible modern day dilemma we find ourselves in is not completely our fault.  We've inherited many ideas about the gospel.  Some are correct and have their roots in the restoration the Prophet was trying to accomplish.  Others are innovations or alterations from more recent history.  But you shouldn't be surprised you didn't know that.  How could you?  When a man walks into a room that is painted blue, he does not naturally begin wondering what color the room used to be painted.  Not until the paint begins to peel away does he entertain questions about the original. "

The understanding Joseph had, the experiences he had, and the remarkable divine agenda he was pursuing causes me to entertain questions about the original. He spoke differently, had experiences I no longer hear about, and spoke of topics that the correlation committee now blocks from all approved Church curriculum. I have to wonder what else may have gotten lost since the restoration began. There appears to have been a great deal lost, altered, and watered down. Which is what always happens when God reveals the Gospel. But that doesn't mean it's not still available. It does mean you have to wake up to the fact that what we've inherited may not be entirely what the original looked like. We are not immune from the same apostasy that everyone else has had to fight off in any age of the Gospel. We may think we are above that, and that due to our superiority or some misinterpreted scripture we will not face another apostasy, but going down that path makes us probably just as blind as the last group of God's people who thought the same thing.

So what do we do? Where is the fullness? What does "The fullness of the Gospel" even mean? What if the original definition of the word has been forgotten and we now err because we guess what it means due to not knowing and not being taught (2 Nephi 28:14).

Every dispensation of the Gospel is the "last Dispensation" until it fails. Then another is sent and it is the "last" until it fails. This will continue for so long as man continues to fail. God is in no hurry. Apparently we are not either.  (Snuffer)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Overfull Prayer Roll Boxes?

I attended the Temple here in Oklahoma City today. It was a good experience. It was one of the few times while living in this state that I got some relief from the pit or knot in my stomach that seems to have taken up residence there.

Boot Camp

The training I'm in is intense, and quite difficult. It wouldn't have to be, but they have decided to make it this way. Most of the students in the class agree this is the hardest thing any of them have ever done. I would have to agree in many ways. The years of school, the months of specific training, the money invested are all dependent on successful completion of this course. If you fail, you get escorted out, sent home without a job and loose it all. If you pass, you continue on with your training at your respective facility. They impose some time frames upon the students in which they need to gain a degree of proficiency. They sometimes loose good people in this process, but for them I suppose it's worth it in order to also weed out those not able to be what they need in the time allotted. It also helps those who probably would not excel at the job get a push away from it. In any event, to sum up, it's like P90X or boot camp for the brain. Aside from the imposed time frame, I really enjoy the work.

The Temple

Some classmates and I decided to attend the temple today and help clear our minds and gain some perspective. Least that is one of the reasons I had with me as I attended. The session was jam packed. This is a smaller temple and they had to bring in at least 30 folding chairs. There was not room for any more chairs without closing off the already severely narrowed walkway. I joked with my classmate that we had exceeded the maximum occupancy established by fire code for that room. We both enjoyed that there were many patrons today at the temple. By the way, the chandelier in the Celestial room of this temple takes the cake for my favorite.

Prayer Roll Box Limitations

Since this is a very small temple there is no waiting room or chapel to wait in. So before we began, about 20 of the guys were stuck waiting in lines up and down the isles of the dressing room. I happened to be waiting in a spot directly across from the prayer roll box. While waiting, I noticed something that struck me as odd. It was what was written on the prayer roll box plaque. There is a little placard that reads like this: "The practice of submitting long lists of names of for the prayer roll is inappropriate". Those were the words used. Apparently at some point temple attendee's were simply praying for too many people and such immature, unchristian, total mischief like had to be stopped. Or something like that..... It's absurd if you ask me.   

As I read the little placard some questions immediately had to be answered. What about that practice is inappropriate? And who is the person who presumes to evaluate the act as not appropriate? Would the slips of paper become too much to fit into the box? Is that it? Would the need for a bigger prayer roll box not speak well of the temple patrons?? Is it inappropriate to pray or intercede on behalf of multiple people if you felt so inclined? In this world of pain and suffering and affliction should we limit the prayer roll to only a few select? Is our Charity too overwhelming? Can God only handle a couple at a time? Why not put a scripture as the placard and say something useful?  Maybe a scripture that invites the Spirit of prayer.

When Jesus came to the Nephites, to the temple (3 Nephi 11:1).  Verse 23 says And now Father, I pray unto thee for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words.  WHOA stop right there Jesus.... you came to the temple and are submitting prayers to God for TOO many people.   That's inappropriate you know.  It's so inappropriate we have had the message engraved onto placards in our modern temples.  Forgive my sarcasm but that was the discussion in my mind while waiting for the temple workers to get the session organized for such a large group.  During the prayer at the temple where the persons on the prayer roll are actually prayed for, the prayer will usually include a request to also bless "the missionaries" "those in the military" "the youth".  These are groups comprising lots of people.  Yet were we to submit a list of names from among those very groups the author-less placard on the box informs us such a thing is inappropriate. Little disconnect there? To me it merits some consideration even if you disagree with what I'm saying here. It makes me think of the scribes and Pharisees and how much of what Christ did that they viewed as inappropriate.

So I'm just not sure what would be so very inappropriate about submitting a long list of names that it merits a little gold placard. Would it not speak to the charity of the person who's heart is inclined towards their fellow man? Or who was aware of a group of people who are in need? I guess we could sit and impose all sorts of motives upon the person participating in such a practice; but at the end of the day none of us will know their heart and whether it was inappropriate or pure. What a shame to call inappropriate what in reality may have been pure.

Do not prophets and authors of scripture often pray and intercede on behalf of entire cities? Do the heavens not morn over all Gods children? I would never complain if my name was one in a long list submitted for prayer. And even IF members got carried away with it all.... is that not the least of our problems as Latter Day Saints trying to live in 2012? I think most people would be grateful someone thought to petition God on their behalf. Even if they were just one of a list of long names. I took a moment just now to consider all those people who are not prayed for due to that placard.....

I mean I guess it may possibly look funny if the pray roll box became a huge prayer bin, with folks putting lists with everyone they know on them. But who does that hurt?  What could possibly have triggered a gold placard?

--------Side Note------------

Speaking of inappropriate. Being obligated to make a covenant with God seated, unable to to observe the physical gestures without invading the space of the patron beside me seems inappropriate. There used to be a disclaimer that if patrons had trouble sitting and standing frequently during the session they were allowed to remain seated, while those able to would stand. However it was changed. The disclaimer apparently wasn't enough, so now I'm forced to remain seated which I find an inappropriate way to approach God to make a covenant. I suppose what I find inappropriate and what others have deemed inappropriate are simply different. What's more important, that we limit how long a list a person makes for the temple prayer roll? Or that we alter the ordinances and require people to be in the most casual, sleepy of positions while they make covenants with God?

While making a covenant with God my view is you should be standing, or kneeling. But then again, I sometimes submit long lists of people for the prayer role, I guess I'm a rebel.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Untangling the Priesthood Pt 2

As an example I’ll use my father, who won’t mind me doing so. 

He was baptized a few years ago.  Following his baptism he had conferred upon him the Aaronic Priesthood, and was ordained a priest.  He remained active, and fulfilled his callings, and almost a year later had the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon him, and was ordained to the office of Elder.  Some time after our family had gone to the temple, he was ordained an High Priest.  Each of these ordinations was accompanied by “the vote of that church” (D&C 20:65). 

There is the progression, and also the equation used for obtaining Priesthood in the Church.  In case it wasn’t clear, that which was required of him to become an high priest in the Church was 1) activity in the Church, and 2) time.

I may be overemphasizing the point, but not much.  I don’t mean to downplay the role of worthiness, service, or commitment to the Lord in my father’s example, or in the case of anybody else.  Only the Lord knows our determination and dedication to Him.  We have a system of interviews in place that is intended to ensure only those who are keeping themselves clean receive these ordinations.  There are inevitably unsavory, and uninterested fellows who slip through the cracks and deceive men in leadership positions.  I only use this example because it brings to light a couple of important points worthy of our consideration; points that stand in contrast to the high priests you read about in Alma 13 (and various other scriptures in the scriptures). 

My father and I have talked about this.  He’d be the first to admit that this is the formula as it’s currently laid out.  As a matter of fact, my father had been attending the same High Priests Group since before his baptism.  As a non-member, priest, elder, and high priest, he has enjoyed the company of the High Priests Group. 

When he was ordained to the office of high priest not too long ago, he went to a few of the brethren that he respects and asked them what it meant to be ordained an high priest.  They couldn’t provide an answer for him that made him feel satisfied he truly understood the ordination.  What was the significance of the change from elder to high priest then?  Did it confer the right to perform new, different, or higher ordinances?  Did a greater endowment of the gifts of the Spirit accompany that ordination?  What changed?  

This had been my experience in the past, too.  After many inquiries into the matter I decided that there were few people, if any, who might understand what is really going on.  Nobody had a valid insight for me to help dispel the confusion.
There’s a reason few seem to understand what high priest in the Church means.  Likewise, there are few who understand what high priest in Alma 13 means.  Because the same words are used to describe both, we tend to think they’re the same.  They’re not.  They are different.  Because we think they’re the same we understand neither as we should. 

At an early point in our history we began conflating "the priesthood of God" and "a church office".  We have fused and confused the two.  This is not always the way it was, but the way it quickly became. 

When Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith worked together to write what is now section 20 of the D&C they explained the offices of elder, priest, teacher, deacon, and member as offices in the church (“high priest” was not a part of that original document and was added later in 1835 when the D&C was first printed).  These offices belonged to the Church, and not to the priesthood.  Even “member” is described as though it is one of those offices, and the duties pertaining to that office are laid out in that section (D&C 20: 38, 68-70).   

These offices provided order and established authority in the Church.  These offices were the authority given, by which baptism was performed, the ordination of others as officers in the church was performed, and administration of the sacrament was performed (D&C 20).  The organization itself, or the entity, empowered these offices, and the offices were established by vote of the church.

One example from the life of Brigham Young illustrates this point well:

“On December 27, 1847, in Winter Quarters, when Brigham Young became president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he recorded he was ‘elected’ to the office.  The common consent, or election by church members, was the power by which the president’s office became his.  He did not believe he needed any ordination to the office, only the common consent through a sustaining vote.  He was in fact, never ordained president of the church, only elected to the position.  He explained why it was unnecessary to have anything other than a vote to ascend to the office: ‘If men are elected by this Church, it is by Election - Joseph was ordained an Apostle – but the Church elected him as a President, Prophet-Seer and Revelator – But he was never ordained to that office.’  Because a sustaining vote was all Brigham Young thought necessary to assume the president’s mantle, it was all he ever received.  If his view is correct, then any person elected to the position has all authority required by reason of the vote or consent of the members of the church.  The members consent or elect a person to the position, and the position exists through such consent.” (Snuffer,emphasis mine).
It is important that I bring up what little I did.  These things are important to consider in order that we can get to the truth about these high priests in Alma 13.  That’s the whole reason we’ve talked about any of it.  I’m quite certain I may have caused considerable confusion to some people.  If it doesn’t taste good, spit it out.  If it begins to be helpful in understanding Alma 13, then consider it.  Plant the seed, and let it work.  See if it produces any fruit.  That is the simple method Alma revealed to us to test the word (Alma 32).  If you begin to see some discrepancy, you begin to believe that you don’t have all the answers.  That is a good and necessary and humbling thing.  That realization will cause you to begin asking the right questions.           

Today, unlike the other ordinations we perform, ordination to the office of high priest in the Church comes to a man at a non-age-specific, leadership-selected time in his normal progression in the church,  predicated upon his continued attendance and activity (the exception to this would be when a man’s calling in the Church requires him to be a high priest – i.e. a Bishop, for example).  As with all other offices in the Church, the ordination can only take place after “the vote of that church” (D&C 20:65). 

It is apparent to me that my father was ordained to the office of high priest in the Church.  It is also apparent to me that this was something different than what we find going on in Alma 13.  We’ll take a look at that next.  Considering the text at face value, divorcing it from our expectations and prejudices, helps us learn what Alma’s message is.  It is worth our attention.  It’s an invitation to come unto Christ and to receive that which man and office cannot give. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Untangling the Priesthood

This is an exerpt from a friend's comments on the Priesthood.  It brings up some very very interesting truths.  Sometimes our modern definitions of scriptural terms are not the whole story, and it sometimes makes us misunderstand the scriptures.  

It begins after he has used the term "high priest"  but not how we typically use that word in our Mormon vocabulary.  It has come to have a very different definition in today's church that the definition the scriptures use.  One refers to an office in the structure, the other refers to something quite different.    

"I don’t have the time to write as much about it as I’d like.  So we can only consider some ideas.  When we don’t understand these things we unintentionally take them lightly.  When we don’t understand the words in the Book of Mormon, we tend to take it lightly (D&C 84). 

The problem goes deeper than just the issue of high priests, however.  Our understanding of priesthood in general has been bent.  At the root of it all is that when men receive a little authority “as they suppose” they begin to abuse it, and misunderstand it (D&C 121:39).  We looked at this in the Noah and Abinadi emails.  We seem to view ordination to offices in the Church as a right of passage.  We view these ordinations as stages or levels of advancement indicating our personal progression in gospel maturity. 

The system, as it is currently established, is an age-based progression through offices.  I’m not being critical of that system, but want you to keep that fact in mind as you try to piece together how that may influence your understanding of priesthood.  To be sure, order is a good thing.  We need it.  God’s house is a house of order (D&C 132:18).  But don’t let today’s order or practices undermine your ability to perceive the truth of any matter.  For instance, if all we understand about the Aaronic Priesthood is that priests are ordained at age 16, teachers at 14, and deacons at 12, we really don’t understand anything about the priesthood.  Those ages tell us nothing about priesthood, but they are a part of the church structure.  Those ages were different in the early 20th century, and didn’t even exist in the early part of church history.  We have to separate church policies and cultural practices from our understanding of what priesthood is if we will begin to make any headway.  

In another significant way, a part of the problem is our vocabulary.  We use words that we think have a certain meaning, or that have culturally assumed a certain meaning, that distract us from obtaining a proper understanding.  Some common phrases or expressions that we hear in Church help illustrate our dilemma: 

-We’d like to thank the priesthood for blessing the sacrament. 
-How was High Priests today? 
-I’m so grateful for the priesthood, without them I don’t know how we could’ve gotten those girls all back from girls’ camp.
-Home teaching is a responsibility of the priesthood.
-As priesthood holders you are under obligation to serve others.

These statements turn the priesthood into a body of men instead of the power of God.  They also assign obligations to “the priesthood” (the body of men holding the priesthood) that are simply obligations devolving upon all of god’s children, men and women alike, irrespective of priesthood.  Without any malicious intent whatever, statements like these have the potential to pollute our minds and cloud our eyes.  We become capacitated, by and by, to thereafter hear the scriptures read to us, or to hear quotes from church leaders who correctly expound certain principles, but then so easily revert to the understanding that has been presented to us and engrained through our everyday cultural exposure to the words.

So, in response to the requests for clarification about high priests I’d like to point out a few things from church history and ask you to consider some questions about the scriptures.  If we ask the right questions we are bound to begin discovering the right answers.  Sometimes we can’t understand because we haven’t figured out what the right questions are.  Perhaps we aren’t asking any questions.  If what follows does not persuade you to come to Christ then you are free to discard it.  What will follow in the next couple of days is my understanding of things."

I'll be posting more from the series next post.