Friday, August 17, 2018

They Teach for Doctrine the Commandments of Men - A Game

This post has an activity in in that myself and many others have found helpful in distinguishing between the unnecessary complexities and changing priorities of our Church environment and returning to the simplicity of the Gospel.  A blog is the worst forum to try and do this.  Much easier with a whiteboard and in person.  So bear with the limitations of this forum.  I tried to keep it as short as possible to not loose you.  

A few scriptures to set the stage for this post:  (underline mine)


RE Matthew 8:8

Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees who were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honor your father and mother, and he that curses father or mother, let him die the death which Moses shall appoint. But you say, Whoever shall say to father or mother, By whatsoever you might be profited by me, it is a gift from me — and honor not his father or mother — it is well. Thus have you made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. O you hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people draw near to me with their mouth and honor me with lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching the doctrines and the commandments of men.

RE Colossians 1:10

Wherefore, if you be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances which are after the doctrines and commandments of men who teach you to touch not, taste not, handle not all those things which are to perish with the using? Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in self-willed worship and humility, and neglecting the body as to the satisfying the flesh, not in any honor in God.

RE Joseph Smith History 2:5

I was answered that I must join none of them for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all corrupt, that they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof. He again forbade me to join with any of them, and many other things did he say unto me which I cannot write at this time.

Gospel Priorities and Perspective: 


A coworker and I over the course of a few weeks and months in 2018 put together a diagram and game that we both found helpful, and which spurred a surprising amount of interest by others.  It had a helpful visual effect for considering the phrase "They teach for doctrine the commandments of men". 

The List: 


Below is a rough list in descending order of importance of many Gospel items/categories.  These words can be defined in a lot of different ways.  I put a little snippet description by some of them so you get the gist of how I'm using the word for this activity.  The exact position of the items on the list is not what matters for this exercise.  I too could make arguments about why one thing ought to move up or down compared to what's around it.  That is not the point. So ignore that.  The point is to contrast what's above with what's below.  Ideally I'd write the list on a chalkboard.

In the list you'll (hopefully) see a shift occur as you move down.  Whereas some things start out centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and scripture as you go down you start to see a lot of religious “church” stuff.  One conclusion I drew was that lower stuff is constantly beckoning to be “elevated” up the list.  See if that holds true for you.

So here's the list, from the top down.  Weightier matters are higher up.

Matthew 23:23:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.


-Laws. These are things even God obeys. Things like Forgiveness, Love, Charity, Law of the Harvest, Chastity, Justice, Mercy, Sacrifice, Faith etc. God does all these things and more. Men cannot invent these laws but they can discover them and with God's grace obey them.  Obedience to laws ordained before the foundation of the world are how blessings are obtained according to revelation given through Joseph Smith.

-Covenants Covenant are things offered by God.  I'm not aware of any covenant from God that was between a person and a corporation or institution.  God has to be part of a covenant for it to endure.  If anything hopes to endure beyond this life, a covenant is needed.  Mankind can lose covenants by not complying with them.  Covenants can also be broken by altering them/changing them.

-Commandments.  Used here these are those direct instructions from God.  Like “Repent and bring forth fruit”. Repenting is a commandment. Can’t say you follow Jesus and not have any evidence of fulfilling what Jesus commanded people to do. These come from God, not man. Man tends to elevate things into this category, and they use people in positions of authority to do it.

-Ordinance IE Baptism. Baptism and reception of the Holy Ghost are interestingly the things mentioned as part of the “Doctrine of Christ” as stated by Christ in the Book of Mormon.  Of course there are other ordinances that belong to the Gospel.  Only the ordinance God commanded, as God commanded it is what's being referred to in this group. The baptismal interview questions and even the prayer itself are things that have changed and been added to in Mormon history.  So "Ordinance" here refers to the actual ordinance as described by Christ, not any pre-requirements man has added or aspects that have been altered.

-Doctrine As used here these are things like pure truths about some Gospel subject. Doctrine of repentance. Doctrines of Salvation. There is Gospel Doctrine (Truth) and Church Doctrine (often called policy or procedure).  Church Doctrine is fluid and always changing. Actual doctrine doesn't, it's found in scripture and is dependable.  It may expand, but not shift around and contradict.  What constitutes "doctrine" can be very confusing depending on who you look to.   A BYU professors gave what to me was a very confusing way to break down the word and offered no conclusion as to what is "doctrine" in the LDS Church.  See link for the article I'm referring to. 

-Principles. Even non-religious non spiritually oriented people recognize these as beneficial and substantive to any life.  They are universal.  Like hard work. Respect. Persistence. Diligence. Preparation. etc etc.. In the LDS world these are guidelines sometimes based on the doctrine. In the non-LDS world, principles are likewise recognized.   Joseph Smith remarked: I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves".   These, in my view, often have a law at their root because they go beyond time and place.

-Teachings  As used here it mainly refers to true teachings that come from or are based in scripture, or accurate Church History, and or solid research.  Not speculation grounded in culture. But actual teachings that pertain to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Not to be confused with platitudes, misquotes, or using "...." with every scripture citation. Correct teachings, free from falsehoods is what belongs in this category.

-Precepts.  As used here these are smaller building blocks towards bigger or higher things.  "precept upon precept, line upon line"Solid "food for thought" to me fits in or around this category.  It can be a building block and cause reflection about the things of God.

-Good advice.  No explanation needed.  Some things are just good advice.  This is a lot of what General Conference is.  Ideas that are good, but usually not very specific.

-Policies and Procedures  Like the Church Handbook of Instructions.  Rules spelled out about everything done in the church.  These can change and have changed numerous times over the years.  There are multiple volumes of handbooks.  They are intended to keep order but can cost people the hope of Zion. Policies and Procedures as used here are rules that don't bring you salvation, but can appear to bar you from it if you disobey them.  For example the policy about children of gay parents not being allowed to be baptized (saving ordinance) until certain handbook criteria is met.  That's a policy that didn't used to exist. These rules are sometimes scriptural but often not. Socially they keep you in the mainstream of Church membership and so most comply with them.  Disobeying them can get you excommunicated or ostracized.

-Traditions Scriptures use traditions negatively in most cases. These are often the hardest for anyone to give up. History and scriptures tell us so. Consider this sobering thought from D&C 93:39: “And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.”  These religious traditions are what the wicked one uses to take away light and truth and get children of men to disobey God.  Much of what we all see in the LDS world is surrounded in and comprised of various amounts of religious tradition.  These are better discovered individually than me listing them off.

-Teachings and Precepts of men  Philosophy or personal agendas and ideas or personal beliefs.  Or things like Priestcraft. Come and pay us and for your money we will forgive sins. Mans teachings, usually sold for profit whether stipends or direct income.  Mixes worldly ideas and business with religion.  Appears to the carnal mind. Could include things like get rich quick, fad diets, sitcom attitudes, political agendas marketing philosophy.  Even the humble followers of Christ err (in many instances to quote Nephi) because these are what the people are taught. (2 Nephi 28).

-Commandments of Men  Similar to the above.  Directives and statements of men mingled with scriptures.  Happens every Sunday.  People in authority speak, it's viewed as a commandment, and yet it's only 1 man's view or opinion or statement and it's elevated as if God spoke.  I'm using this term as things like men's adaptations and men's commandments rules and judgement criteria that did not come from God.

-Church Culture  Everything from funeral potatoes, Jello, Diet Coke, casseroles, hair color, facial hair, hair length, attitudes, judgments of others etc etc..   Or maybe even things like you can’t pass the sacrament if you don’t have a white shirt on etc etc.  Must take sacrament with right hand.  Can't cross your leg while in the temple.  More than 3 piercings = sinner.  If you live in Utah a while, and then live out of Utah for a while (attending church in both places) you'll immediately know what I"m talking about with "Church Culture".  It's a set of attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that change depending on how close to Salt Lake City you live.

-Opinions “I think the second coming won’t be until the year ______” or “my best friends brothers sister’s girlfriend heard form this guy who knows this girl who said that he heard from President Hinckley that …..” or anything that starts with “I saw on Facebook” or the High Priests debating about what exactly is meant by "Priesthood Keys".  Some opinions are pretty good.  But as used here opinions are those ideas which often have little thought, study, prayer or scripture behind them.  Opinions are the stuff of social media.  This group are those "uninformed" opinions or Mormon myths that are sometimes combinations of fairy tales mixed with opinions.

-Crap misleading and damning ideas and teachings or opinions that are vain and false and darken the mind and lead away from light and truth.

After looking at this list.  Consider again Christ's words "They teach for Doctrine the Commandments of men".  One way to interpret that is that people elevate lower things on the list up up up until they appear to have a form of Godliness.  But they lack power because they are sometimes stupid and don't align with God's laws.

The ground rules: 

Below is a list of Church and Gospel related words and things and you get to place them where they fit in the above list.  There are a variety of items so you get to place them. 

Rule 1: You have to back up your placement of an item with scripture.  For example the Word of Wisdom is on the list.  For some folks that might fall very very high up on the list.  Lets say perhaps at the "Commandment" level near the top of most vital things.  But the beginning verses of the Word of Wisdom say "not by commandment or constraint".  Section 89 vs 2.  So you can't elevate something due to tradition, common belief, or because of what you were taught growing up.  Just because it's found on a temple recommend question does not mean it's automatically elevated.  But just because it's not a commandment also doesn't mean it's not a really really good idea.

You could be the most unforgiving ingrate ever, be addicted to some "acceptable" drink of some sort, and overindulge in every food imaginable, but as long as you abstain from coffee and outwardly act semi decent you could still pass an interview to attend the temple. Yet just coffee drinking alone despite a forgiving heart and charitable soul would prevent you from entrance to the temple. So clearly man's measuring tools are limited.  So don't use that sort of criteria for how important something is.     

One more intro note: 

Consider if your initial placement of each item could possibly be cultural rather than scriptural.  Maybe your knee jerk placement of something as high on the list could turn out to be actually much lower. Or vice versa.  Not everything in the Gospel can have it's importance immediately determined. And God shouldn't have to "command" every time he wants to teach something important.  So take your time. Be open to the item changing it's position as you ponder on it.

If one item fits into more than 1 category, define which part of the item belongs in which category.  For example:  The sacrament (for me) falls very high on the list, but the physical place you perform it, or those uniform sacrament trays and cup sizes, or the clothing you wear while participating, or the hair color of the person passing it are way down in the "culture" category.  So don't bundle a bunch of institutional structure (policies) and social architecture (cultural norms) together with the actual thing asked by God.

Game Time:  Here's a randomly listed set of items.  Match each one up to where or what group you believe it belongs to in the above list. 

1. Word of Wisdom.
2. Become as a Little Child  (hint: Jesus said you shall not be able to enter heaven unless you do this)
3. Attending the correct LDS ward building per the boundaries where you physically live
4. Requiring a white shirt and tie to pass the sacrament
5. Pioneer trek
6. Loving your neighbor
7. Forgiving others, even your enemies
8. Using the term "Mormon" (something done with your lips I might add) instead of the newly announced emphasis on the full name of The Church.
9. Attending Church for 3 hours.  Or attending all three meetings, every week.
10. Teaching your Children the Gospel
11. Using swear words
12. Having 1 year + of (unexpired) food storage
13. Going on an LDS mission
14. Scriptures
15. Paying tithing
16. Strictly using only "thee" "thou" type pronouns when you pray.
17. Cultivating meekness and humility in your relationship with God
18. Having more than 2-3 ear piercings if you are a female.
19. Topography of Kolob
20. Being able to name all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles.
21. Ministering (formerly Home/Visiting Teaching)
22. Attending Church only at a Church owned church built chapel (as opposed to worshiping in some other setting/location)
23. Taking the sacrament with the right hand.
24. Requiring a shirt and tie when you give a priesthood blessing
25. Not deviating from the manual when you give a lesson
26. Not letting your LDS temple garments touch the floor (I was told never to let this happen)
27. Letting your kids play outside or with other kids on Sunday's
28. Passing the sacrament to the "presiding authority" first.
29. Standing when the President of the Church enters the room
30. Acknowledging God's hand in all things
31. Taking the Lord's name in vain (Speaking in Christ's name when in reality the message shared actually did not originate from God but is comprised of the person's own ideas, thoughts or agenda)
32.  Drinking Coffee
33. Always strictly following the "Printed Program" at Church every week.
34. Having a nose ring (consider other cultures, like Africa may have a very very different culture surrounding piercings) 
35.  Having a Tatoo (Also consider Polynesian culture where tattoo's do not carry the same cultural understanding as members of the Mormon Church have.)
36.  Ask, Seek, Knock 
37.  Pray Always  
38.  Obedience to the rules of missionaries contained in what's often called the "White Bible".  Or the BYU Honor code's rules about facial hair.  (I was told as a missionary that obedience to the white bible would bring heavens blessings.  And for a time especially the rule about waking up at 6:30am.  That was apparently key to heavens involvement in the missionary work for a few months).   
39.  Studying only Church approved sources of Gospel information.
40.  Disallowing Children of Gay parents to be baptized.
41.  Blacks and the Priesthood?  (Ha.... have fun with this one.) 
42.  Worthiness interview questions for youth
43. Returning good for evil.
44. Love the Lord your God
45.  Love your spouse
46. The age a missionary is allowed to serve.  Or the changing of the age.
47.  Being Born Again
48.  How you treat the poor and the beggar
49.  Attending the Temple once a month
50.  Fasting every fast Sunday.
51.  Requiring bishops permission to perform ordinances (Ie Sacrament in your home)
52.  Study the words of Isaiah
53. Being Chaste
54. Don't ask members of the audience to open their scriptures during sacrament meeting talks. (If you are unfamiliar with this idea this instruction was from the First Presidency and was read to all congregations and is now found in Handbook 2)
55.  Free Agency.
56.  Search the Scriptures
57.  Giving/Showing Gratitude to God
58.  Avoiding ANY food while fasting.  One morsel and your fast is voided and needs to be restarted.  (this mindset existed for many missionaries when I was on a mission)
59. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness
60. Brass instruments not allowed to be played as part of any Sunday Sacrament musical number. Nor drums. Only strings or woodwinds
61. Always folding your arms, bowing your head, and closing your eyes to pray. 
62. Being a peacemaker (avoiding contention)
63. Never ever turn down a church calling extended to you by a leader. 
64. Not offering caffeinated soft drinks at BYU campus dining halls or soda dispensers. 
59.  Never ever turning down a church calling extended to you by a leader.
60. This statement below. (Improvement Era June 1945, Ward Teaching message for the month):  
When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done. When they propose a plan–it is God’s plan. When they point the way, there is no other which is safe. When they give direction, it should mark the end of controversy. God works in no other way. To think otherwise, without immediate repentance, may cost one his faith, may destroy his testimony, and leave him a stranger to the kingdom of God.” 
61. This statement from the same article as above:  Which category would this fit into?
It should be remembered that Lucifer has a very cunning way of convincing unsuspecting souls that the General Authorities of the Church are as likely to be wrong as they are to be right. This sort of game is Satan’s favorite pastime, and he has practiced it on believing souls since Adam. He wins a great victory when he can get members of the Church to speak against their leaders and to “do their own thinking.” He specializes in suggesting that our leaders are in error while he plays the blinding rays of apostasy in the eyes of those whom he thus beguiles. What cunning! And to think that some of our members are deceived by this trickery.” 
(A note about 60&61. These statements were later declared to be inaccurate and wholly wrong by Pres George Albert Smith who stated that they slipped by uncensored past one or more authorities when the publication was produced.  However there wasn't much of a public statement correcting the record so some of these ideas persist in the minds of members)

62. Be of good cheer.

If you place the Gospel and all these types of items into the right perspective, the Gospel starts to get a lot simpler. You'll likely see fruit and you'll know how to use each item on the list and what it means (or doesn't mean).  Prizing what actually matters instead of teaching for doctrine the commandments of men works. The Gospel is supposed to be fun, understandable by even a child. If your religion or spiritual life has become bogged down in empty complex nonsense hopefully this exercise has been helpful.

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