Thursday, April 10, 2014

Conference Conundrums

General Conference is a good time to reflect on and evaluate ourselves, and consider the messages our leaders bring to us. I always use the semiannual event for this purpose. I am sometimes surprised by what I find.

The purpose of the restoration was to once again connect man with God, and not necessarily to connect man to a Church.  That's not all that radical of a concept, but it's true, and I think it's inspiring. The absence of such teachings from modern teachings is very surprising to me.  Christ didn't condescend and atone for our sins so we could be part of a religious organization, or be a follower of another mortal. It was so we could be "one" with Him.  Isn't that the primary focus of scripture? To the extent some other person, or some thing, comes in-between our connection to God it may just serve as an idol, or an impediment. This too is not a difficult concept but given it's importance it too is strangely infrequent in our teachings.

As was beautifully put by a friend over at "The main purpose in establishing a church is to gather and to teach others to connect with God. The church should be the means to the end, and not the end itself."

While listening to the most recent Conference I found myself with a few dilemmas.
One talk said this:
As the Lord says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). 
Having heard the voice of the Shepherd, they fully committed their lives to living the gospel and following the direction of the Lord’s prophet. Responding to the call to gather to Zion, they left behind their home in England, crossed the Atlantic, and gathered with the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Scripture from John is simple, but then becomes distorted in an all too common teaching. When the Lord says to follow Him we change it to mean we should follow a presiding authority.  We seem to insert an intermediary who is seemingly easier to follow. What happens is the focus shifts.  Those who hear His voice, yet then fully commit to following someone ELSE don't fit the description of his sheep as described in John. There's a bit of irony there. But that's up to you to notice.

Another talk said this.  (I'm not discounting the Christ centered and good things said.  Those things don't cause me dilemmas) However the below does.  Closely related teachings are flooding in on the Saints.  It's present in almost every talk, magazine, and every manual produced by the Church.  It's created such momentum that to even bring it up will almost always be rejected and misunderstood.  That doesn't bother me, it still needs to be said and pointed out.   
April 2014 Ensign:
As we follow President Monson and try to be more like him, we will inevitably succeed in being more faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Troubling how common such teachings are.  In its' true light that sentience should give us all pause.  It's the teachings I"m presenting for consideration, not making or passing judgement on the speaker.

This from April 2014: Conference:
If you have a question about counsel from the leaders of the Church, please discuss your honest concerns with your parents and leaders. You need the strength that comes from trusting the Lord’s prophets. President Harold B. Lee said: “The only safety we have as members of this church is to … learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet. … There will be some things that take patience and faith. You may not like what comes. … It may contradict your political views … your social views … interfere with … your social life. But if you listen to these things, as if from the mouth of the Lord Himself, … ‘the gates of hell shall not prevail against you … and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you …’ (D&C 21:6).”16

The part in bold is odd.  Strength comes from the Lord.  That's where his servants get strength too.  So why get strength from trusting the servant?  Why put your trust in man even if they are called of God?  Why, after all the invitations to trust in the Lord himself are we told to trust in his mouthpieces?

The original message quoted by Harold B Lee, then again by Elder Anderson has undergone two cycles of change.  If we go to the actual quote from Harold B Lee without the "..." we read this:

"We must learn to give heed to the words and commandments that the Lord shall give through His prophet, “as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; . . . as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith” (D&C21:4–5).

Again we get the "..." which prevents us from understanding the original message.  Lets to go D&C 21:4-5 and see what it is about this message that almost demands we use "..."  instead of the actual words of scripture.  We read in 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; 5 For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith.

Harold B Lee's quote removed "which he shall give unto you", and replaced it with dots. Ask yourself why would that be removed?  Were space constraints in the manual THAT bad that 6 words had to be replaced by 3 dots?  Maybe something else is actually going on worth noticing.  Curiously those 6 words do raise the question of who "he" is referring to. Which then requires us to read the D&C verse in context. Which if we do, we find D&C was NOT referring to whomever happens to hold the office of President of the Church. It was referring specifically to Joseph Smith.  Now we begin to get a clear picture. The Lord, in a revelation, authorized Joseph Smith by name to declare His word. And if we followed we'd receive the corresponding blessings. However to piggyback off of that scripture applying it to ALL presidents of the Church is not justified by the scripture.  Yet it's used all the time to accomplish that.

Of course the Lord can speak through a prophet or servant.  But in such instances, the Lord is still the author of the message, and therefore we should still be following the Lord's voice when and if a messenger or mouthpiece speaks by the Spirit.  Right?  In order to do that we need to distinguish inspired moments and statements made by leaders from all other moments when words are spoken as a man or woman, or spoken as just a well meaning person or leader.  The difference is vital.  Otherwise all you follow is a mortal.  That is not what the restoration was intended to accomplish.

The counsel above said that that if we have a question about counsel from the leaders we are to approach our parents or leaders.  However if I approach my leader about counsel from my leader, how can I then get counsel from my leader about the leader who's counsel I have questions about?

Conference Conundrums. 

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