Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Conference "...." scriptures Part 2

If you read last post, I described a bit of Elders Quorum last Sunday at Church.  The conversation the Elders were having was whether LDS conference talks are considered scripture.  With that conversation going on in the background, and my suggestions and Handbook quotes on the topic turned down, I thought I'd go look at conference talks and see how they measure up, and how they themselves utilize scripture.

I asked myself why so many are so prone to view conference talks as scripture.  Certianly they must have some quality or some content making them appear on an equal level.  How would people come to that conclusion so decidedly? Do the talks come across as scripture?  Does the content align with existing scripture?  I dove in to find out. 

I found some interesting patterns in my study that I thought I'd point out.  The intent is to gain a better view of scriptures and how to use them for the benefit of our souls.  So they can be what God intended them to be for us rather than a coaster on the table or something that is of secondary importance to conference talks.

If we don't use them scripture how God intended how can we reasonably conclude we gain from them what God intended?  I also found some trends that are not so helpful to that end. I don't mean to be critical with these observations.  My intent is to be helpful.

Below are some examples of how scriptures were used this last LDS General Conference.  I've been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints my entire life.  I've watched countless hours of general conference since I was a child.  I've also spent a number of years studying scripture and looking at how preachers of various religions utilize and understand the role of scripture. Overall, (at least) two semi contrasting and distinct methods of using scripture stand out to me when someone teaches, preaches, or gives a lesson or presentation.

Method 1.

The first method is to use the scripture text itself as if the text were the informer and the giver of the information. The text is the standard and is primary to the talk, message, or lesson.  This method tries to understand and explain the time, place, history, context, intent, and or meaning of the scriptural text and what the author hand in mind under the influence of the Holy Ghost. This method then focuses on helping extract or unfold the meaning, expounding meaning, and applying the meaning. So the audience can gain legitimate understanding of scripture and how the Gospel fits together. Their message aligns with the scripture or helps explain it.  It shows respect for the text.

Jesus did this on the road to Emmaus when he unfolded the scriptures to his two companions. He could have spoken off the cuff and described anything and done so with complete authority. But instead this is what He did: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself."  See Luke 24:13–35.  Christ explained the scriptures.

Method 2. 

In method number 2, by contrast, the speaker is the authority (either viewed as, or view themselves as) and dispenser of knowledge.  They begin with the topic or conclusion in mind.  Rather than explaining scriptural passages or phrases, only select partial verses are used as evidence, padding, or backup for the speaker's own message. Often called proof texting. Scriptures are not the primary source of information or what the talk is centered on but are secondary and serve where needed, as needed to add credibility.  Almost like a tool with interchangeable attachments that can be swapped around as needed.  Versus say a drinking fountain and passing around cups of the water obtained.

Method 2 results in a message that may or may not be aligned with the same message and meaning as the scriptural passages being quoted/cited. This method will often rely on a lot of short snippet sound bites of scripture, often out of context in order to fit into the speaker's message. It matches up key words and phrases but is less concerned with matching of context and meaning.

(Side note: There is something Nephi does with the Isaiah materials in the Book of Mormon where he uses Isaiah's prophecy and words for his own prophetic message.  That is not what I'm describing with this method 2.  That is something very different). 

A few observations

Below are a few observations of LDS General Conference.  I just randomly chose talks, and looked at the scriptures that were used, how many, why, and how. Whether in context, or out of context.  Whether to teach understanding of the scriptures themselves or to instead use the scriptures to back or add to the speaker’s own message. I wanted to see if the speakers message lined up with scripture.

Some speakers use scripture in a good way, and all the speakers were seemingly upbeat and had positive messages.  But other scriptural patterns seemed unhelpful. When there's no context given and use only snippets from verses. Or when a lot of "...." called an ellipsis is used it gives the impression that talk is somehow based on scripture or somehow "applying the scripture to our day".  But it's actually not doing that at all. 

I share this to be helpful not critical.  Sometimes an ellipsis is fine.  Perhaps for a reference is so commonly known that the audience can fill in the missing part themselves, like a phrase from a popular Christmas song.  People can't always quote extensive passages of scripture every time they want to quote one. So some ellipsis are understandable. But an ellipsis is not supposed to change the meaning or obscure meaning.  See what you think below.

From Sunday Afternoon:
When the Lord commanded the early Saints in this dispensation to construct a temple, He declared:
“But let a house be built unto my name according to the pattern which I will show unto them.
“And if my people build it not according to the pattern which I shall show … , I will not accept it at their hands” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:14–15).
As with the early Saints, so it is with us today: the Lord has revealed and continues to reveal to the President of the Church the patterns by which the kingdom of God is to be directed in our day. And, at a personal level, he provides guidance as to how each of us should direct our lives, such that our conduct may likewise be acceptable to the Lord.
What need is there to use "..." when only removing 3 words? The three words replaced by periods are "Unto their Presidency".  Was there a space issue?  Are talks limited to a certain word count?  This pattern is common across all sessions and speakers at conference.  Perhaps in 2018 people can't tolerate anything that appears "long" so they shorten it with ellipsis?  That's one possible reason. But is there more?

To someone not familiar with the passage of scripture they are likely to just accept whatever is said as the full picture and the speaker as completely authoritative in what's being taught to the audience.  Underneath the dots it says "Their" presidency. Not our presidency.  If there was any question who "their presidency" was referring to vs 16 tells the readers.  But the talks reference stops just short of including verse 16.  So meaning has been changed.

16 But if my people do build it according to the pattern which I shall show unto their presidency, even my servant Joseph and his counselors, then I will accept it at the hands of my people.

It's difficult to apply the quoted scripture to the current Church Presidency (which the talk attempts to do) when you read the whole verse.  Harder still if you include the surrounding verses. It's possible and easier to make the scripture mean what you want it to mean if you take out the part that conflicts with what you want it to say.  Interesting.

Sunday Afternoon.
Now, today, it is our privilege to sustain him as the Lord’s living prophet on the earth. We are accustomed to sustaining Church leaders through the divine pattern of raising our arms to the square to manifest our acceptance and support. We did this just a few minutes ago. But true sustaining goes well beyond this physical token.
As noted in Doctrine and Covenants 107:22, the First Presidency is to be “upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church.” We come to fully and truly sustain the living prophet as we develop the pattern of confiding in his words, having the faith to act upon them, and then praying for the Lord’s continued blessings upon him.
When I think of President Russell M. Nelson, I take comfort in the words of the Savior when He said, “And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place” (Doctrine and Covenants 124:45).
D&C 107:22 is only one sentence but we didn't even get a full scripture sentence.  We are clearly only getting the part the speaker wants us to get.    Here's some more context:

"Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church."

The rest of the sentience certainly does introduce some puzzling questions.  "Chosen by the body".  Is this how the LDS Church selects the First Presidency?  Which body chose them?  It makes total sense for people to uphold folks with your confidence and prayers that YOU chose. The current First Presidency was chosen by President Nelson, they ordained themselves in January 2018 prior being sustained (let alone chosen) by the body of the Church on March 31st 2018.  That verse raises interesting questions unless you only pick out the part that serves your purpose.

The next D&C section is 124.  The people hearkening unto the Lord's voice and the voice of His servants whom He appointed to lead are referring to Joseph Smith, and Hyrum whom God vouched for.  Had vs 46 been included in the reference we would see the Lord references "these" men appointed to do various things.  If you read the full section of D&C  the Lord identifies various people to whom assignments are given, some of whom history shows did not remain faithful to God.

What's interesting in this talk and how it's using scripture is the speaker takes specific references to people, who are free to choose and even fail, and transitions that to start newly referring to Church "positions".  You follow me?  God referred to specific people, but conference speakers reapply the reference to refer to church positions.  Positions can seemingly never fail and are a sturdy foundation that can never lead astray right?  I get why that teaching is attractive.  It's false, but has a certain gentile appeal.  For those who aspire to lead, just imagine...... imagine God gave a blanket endorsement of a "position" in an organization which was going to last hundreds of years regardless of who held the position.  Yeah... if you could only find your way into holding that position you'd be able to rule and reign!  Think of the power and prestige.           

But back to context for the verse.  The leaders at the time of the D&C verse are not the same leaders as today. But this is a very common pattern of taking scriptures out of context and turning it to refer to and elevate current day leaders as co-equal with past leaders who God specifically identified, vouched for, or directly spoke through.  Interesting indeed.  I personally can't take comfort in something that is out of context.  The speaker takes comfort in it but the concern is that it's a false sense security.

Sunday Morning. 
“The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ. … This means relying on Christ to change our hearts.”
Given this talk was describing the new changes to take place in the Church the talk only referenced other church materials, except for one scripture reference/footnote. The footnote links to 2 Corinthians 5:17   

17 Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

This footnote seems like a stretch, as if they just really needed to include a scripture.  If the distance between the scripture and this part of the talk was put into familial terms it would be one of those cousins twice removed kind of things.  Related, but distant.

Sunday Afternoon:
"The Lord has inspired His prophets to teach us how we can support and love each other so we can become united in faith and purpose in following Jesus Christ. Paul, the New Testament Apostle, taught that those who “have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ … : for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”1
Here's the full reference.  1. Galatians 3:27–28; 27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Again, a short verse. Underneath the dots is this: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female"?   Why remove that unless it doesn't line up with the point you are trying to make?  I suppose you could argue the ellipsis didn't change the meaning.  But it certainly reduced the meaning.  It raises the question are we trying to understand the message of scripture? Or are we just forcing scriptures to match our own message?

I have to ask myself what kind of example does this set to youth, or the world when this is done so frequently in a worldwide broadcast?  Many youth, teachers and members are going to see these patterns and accept them as the correct pattern of how scriptures should be read, understood, or used. 

Sunday Afternoon:
As children of a loving Heavenly Father and as sheep in His flock, we enjoy the blessing of being individually ministered to by Jesus Christ. Simultaneously, we have a responsibility to provide ministering assistance to others around us as shepherds ourselves. We heed the words of the Lord to “serve me and go forth in my name, and … gather together my sheep.”10
That first sentience says that we enjoy the blessing of being individually ministered to by Jesus Christ. We do?  Who does?  Is this literal?  I don't know if the speaker is speaking literally or as more of a theoretical platitude.  The entire talk is about the new ministering program in the Church and is fairly basic in doctrine.  So it's unlikely the speaker is so casually referring to a personal Second Comforter ministration from Jesus Christ. Although he employs that vocabulary.  Such a visit is what we see examples of in scripture.  It's literal.  Not just being shepherded or ministered ("monitored" according to some) by ward members assigned to you.  The speaker seems to imply this individual ministration isn't anything not already happening commonly among all sheep in His flock. I hope it is occurring.  At one point in Mormon history The Second Comforter was accepted, believed, and taught as true doctrine.  It's not anymore.  It's removed from manuals and teachers are supposed to avoid it. So that makes it very difficult to conclude that is what the speaker is referencing.

10. Mosiah 26:20.  "Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep."

That scripture is not given any context at all. That verse is part of a personal interaction between the Lord and Alma. The speaker only quotes about half the verse.  The verse has another "..." that removes the "shalt".  One could argue this word is irrelevant to the speakers message and so an ellipsis is fine. The verse is an example of Jesus Christ individually ministering to Alma.  Which is an example of what the speaker has kinda sorta referenced in the original paragraph.  So in that sense there is some alignment.  The message to Alma however got chopped into a tiny piece, lifted from it's context, and made to appear very vanilla, generic and watered down. 

From the same talk 
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, … and I lay down my life for the sheep.”7
This "..." to me has removed important parts from the verse.  Then it pastes in half of the next verse for a new cut and paste scriptural creation. The entire set of verses reads:

I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.  As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.

It removed the "and am known of mine". Meaning His sheep know Him. Then from the following verse the part about the Father you can read above was removed.  If taking casual liberty with scripture is done often enough, cutting and pasting at will then scriptures in LDS culture are going to be less and less emphasized, less and less understood, and less and less looked to as the source from which we can learn about eternal life.  I'm afraid this has already happened.  If you do this often enough it shows no respect for scripture.

Sunday Morning:
To help us travel and triumph over our hard times with such glimpses of eternity, may I suggest two things. We must face hard things, first, by forgiving others and, second, by giving ourselves to Heavenly Father. 
Forgiving those who may have caused our hard thing and reconciling “[our]selves to the will of God”6 can be very difficult. It can hurt most when our hard thing is caused by a family member, a close friend, or even ourselves.
Here's the reference.  6. 2 Nephi 10:24.

24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

The verse from 2 Nephi is only once sentence.  We only see part of it.  The paragraph of the talk is about forgiveness and says forgiveness and reconciling ourselves to the will of God can be really difficult. The passage of scripture quoted is Jacob preaching to the Nephites according to his calling and ordination to the Holy Order.  His sermon comprises a couple chapters. The original verse that gets partially quoted starts with "wherefore" meaning: "as a result of which".  But we didn't see that and therefore don't know what that is because we weren't given any context or enough of the sentience to understand the scripture. I think the scriptures would help us reconcile to the will of God if we used them as the educators they are, rather than splicing up their teachings.

The verse quoted seems to want to simply match up a phrase to the talk rather than help us understand what the scripture was teaching.  But as far as talking about forgiveness, yeah, that's awesome.  The suggestion of forgiveness by the speaker is great. Certainly that is part of being reconciled to God.  So again, we have related concepts but the scriptural power is gone.  

I'm 3-4 talks through conference and seeing enough patterns though that I wonder if there an unspoken scripture quota.  It seems a little strange to piecemeal scriptures out of context and with only a few select words from the verse as part of the talk.  Perhaps this example and scripture reference was intended by the author to provide the reader with further study materials in case they want to pursue the matter more deeply.  Perhaps it was a teaser or invitation to go to the references of the talk, find the footnote, and then go look up the scripture.  Perhaps.  I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.  That's the best motive I can think of for this practice. So I want to attribute a good motive.  Because I do not believe the motives for any of these patterns are bad.  The speakers come across as sincere.  I simply find the trends regarding scriptures unhelpful and in some cases misleading.        

Women's Session
Of course, all of us will fall short of our divine potential, and there is some truth in the realization that alone we are not enough. But the good news of the gospel is that with the grace of God, we are enough. With Christ’s help, we can do all things.13 The scriptures promise that we will “find grace to help in time of need.”14
There's only some truth in the realization that alone we are not enough?  Is there some untruth as well?  Sorry, off topic.  Back to the scriptures used.  Footnote 13 quoting Philippians seems fine.  It didn't quote any of the verse, it's just referencing an idea found in the verse and then give the footnote.  Footnote 14 is curious though.  This is another example of a scripture snippet out of context and doesn't bother to even quote an entire sentence.

14.  Hebrews 4:16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

The talk and the scripture are not in-congruent.  But when making referencing to what the speaker says is a promise it seems reasonable to include at least a full sentences just in case there is pertinent information that goes beyond 8 words.  It's interesting we take a very short verse, take out an even smaller snippet, and that serves as scriptural backing/support for a message, and a promise in this case.  These promises therefore have an empty "platitude-ish" feeling.   

I don't know how anyone is going to become familiar with the full message of any scripture if this pattern doesn't get recognized and changed.  Coming boldly to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy is an important part of the scriptural passage and there's also a "therefore" at the beginning.  Meaning something important came before that which lead to the current statement.  Can we chop up scriptural thoughts and insert those partial thoughts throughout a talk and still understand the message the scripture author had?  Or does their message matter less than modern day leader words since those other guys are dead?  

Sunday Afternoon
The ancient King Solomon was one of the most outwardly successful human beings in history. He seemed to have everything--money, power, adoration, honor. But after decades of self-indulgence and luxury, how did King Solomon sum up his life?
“All is vanity,” he said.
This is what the footnote links to. Ecclesiastes 1:1-2. ​The words of the ​​​Preacher​, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. ​​​2 ​​​​Vanity​ of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all ​is​ ​​​vanity​.

Skipping down to a little later in the talk.
Solomon was wrong, my dear brothers and sisters--life is not “vanity.” To the contrary, it can be full of purpose, meaning, and peace.
Solomon was wrong? Ok.  That's pretty different than how pretty much any other religion that believes in this book from the Old Testament views that passage.  Do we have any idea what Solomon meant?  Does anyone care?  Is it possible our understanding is what is wrong?  Or was Solomon just wrong and we ought accept that because the talk says so?  Does this sort of thing increase or decrease our confidence and understanding of scripture?  How likely are people to take this or related passages of scripture seriously if our leaders tell us it's wrong?  Interesting.

Sunday Afternoon
In Jesus Christ, “we have an advocate with the Father.”7 After completing His atoning sacrifice, Jesus “ascended into heaven … to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men.” And, having claimed the rights of mercy, “he advocateth the cause of the children of men.”8
This is an example of multiple verses across different scriptures having each scriptural idea chopped up, then mixed back together with partial thoughts from other verses and then also with "..." to shorten the pieces yet further.  That new creation is sort of scripture but sort of not.  This scripture soup seems like it should be something very very infrequently done, if at all if you want to unfold the scriptures to your audience.  This method of quoting scripture is a norm norm for brevity based on how common this practice is.  Just a trend to be mindful of.

Here are the references:

7.  1 John 2:1; see also Joseph Smith Translation, 1 John 2:1 (in 1 John 2:1, footnote a).

1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:

The scripture from 1 John contains a bigger idea than just what is quoted, but that part about sin is removed from the talk. Pesky old sin.  So the idea gets sliced up and the individual slices used apart from the context from which they were taken.

8.  Moroni 7:27, 28.

27 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, have miracles ceased because Christ hath ascended into heaven, and hath sat down on the right hand of God, to claim of the Father his rights of mercy which he hath upon the children of men?

28 For he hath answered the ends of the law, and he claimeth all those who have faith in him; and they who have faith in him will cleave unto every good thing; wherefore he advocateth the cause of the children of men; and he dwelleth eternally in the heavens.

Again, the talk is not 100% in-congruent with the scriptural passage, but it's also not all the same message either.  Distant cousins maybe.  It's peace-meal, diluted, and chopped up. To apparently communicate more succinctly or more quickly or using less words than those unsavvy, un-technological prophets who are dead.  These snippet scriptures are hardly scriptural quotes.  They are only incomplete pieces.

Harold Be Lee said this about scripture:

All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, 13).

Rather than couching our teaching in scripture evidence shows what's far more common is sprinkling our teachings with scripture.  Sprinkling whatever phrases seem pertinent.   

Priesthood Session
Just kidding.  There was no Priesthood session.   But seriously there are enough ellipsis in conference they could almost form a short talk. 

Women's Session
After last general conference, many people approached me with the same question: “Are those chairs comfortable?” My answer was the same every time: “Those chairs are very comfortable if you don’t have to speak.” It’s true, right? My chair has not been as comfortable this conference, but I am truly grateful for the blessing and the honor of speaking to you this evening.
What's fascinating about this is that "many" people are seriously interested in those red velvet seats.   I guess there are some similarities to ancient Israel when Jesus mentioned people's love of the chief seats in the synagogues (Luke 11:43).  There's little doubt a fixation exists on those uppermost seats and who sits in them across time and generation and religious tradition.  An example of our culture of adoration for the leaders and their seats of authority. 

Sunday Afternoon
As the Book of Mormon prophet Jacob said, I say with him:
“Therefore, cheer up your hearts, and remember that ye are free to act for yourselves—to choose the way of everlasting death or the way of eternal life. 
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren [and sisters], reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil … ; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.”27
Again, why the "...." if you are only removing 3 words?  If you watch the video of this talk the speaker is looking down at the pulpit (not the teleprompter) reading the quote. Perhaps it was just a mistake caused by nervousness of speaking to so many people.  That conclusion seems less likely however due to the fact this kind of thing is present in almost every talk I looked through from conference.  It only saved 3 words.  Perhaps 1 second of speech time tops.    

Here are the three words removed "And the flesh".   As long as someone bothered to quote all the rest of the passage I thought this removal was interesting. Wonder how you pick and choose what words get excluded?  This one was not redundant.  Maybe the will of the flesh is less of a concern in 2018? Is the will of the flesh revealing itself by trying to hide itself?  I frankly don't know.  Maybe it was just a mistake.  Not reconciling ourselves to the will of the devil and the flesh was part of Jacob's message.  Jacob relates the will of the flesh to the will of the devil and contrasts those things with the will of God.    

27.  24 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, reconcile yourselves to the will of God, and not to the will of the devil and the flesh; and remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved.

Sunday Morning. 
The Savior is our Good Samaritan,11 sent “to heal the brokenhearted.”12 He comes to us when others pass us by. With compassion, He places His healing balm on our wounds and binds them up. He carries us. He cares for us. He bids us, “Come unto me … and I shall heal [you].”13
“And [Jesus] shall … [suffer] pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; … that … he [might] take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people … [taking upon Himself our] infirmities, [being] filled with mercy.”14
11. See Luke 10:30–35.
12.  Luke 4:18; see also Isaiah 61:1.
13  3 Nephi 18:32.
14  Alma 7:11–12

4 partial scriptures in these two paragraphs.  Footnote 11 is fine.  12 is also fine as it's a concept and the concept is explained in the scripture footnoted.  13 is weird though.  Again, we see "...."  the verse is 100% out of context.  The idea of Christ healing a person however is good, and that's fine to reference in a talk.  But the scripture cited in the talk is talking about the sacrament, and not partaking unworthily, but how you shouldn't cast those people out as they may repent, and Christ heal them.  I guess this is a modern-day style to go ahead and use phrases from any random scriptural passages to make your point.

Paragraph 2 is a mess.  Footnote 14 has 3 different instances of "....." associated to it and then so many added brackets to allow us to comprehend what's being said that I almost laugh.  It's just funny all the extra work involved to avoid quoting more scripture than meets our purposes.  Or to smash as many scriptures into a paragraph as possible.  Is this really helping us understand scripture?  Or just making a point and sprinkling scripture on top?

Sunday Afternoon
The Savior cautioned us to “take heed … lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with … cares of this life” (Luke 21:34). Modern revelation reminds us that many are called, but few are chosen. They are not chosen “because their hearts are set … upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:35; see also verse 34). Assessing our lives gives us an opportunity to step back from the world, reflect on where we stand on the covenant path, and, if necessary, make adjustments to ensure a firm grip and a forward gaze.
Three different "..." in 1 paragraph.  The first ellipsis seems to remove what was redundant "to your selves".  This one seems fine.  The second removes content from the verse mid sentience.  "Surfeiting, and drunkennes" got removed and replaced by dot dot dot.  Maybe because the words don't seem applicable to the audience (because duh....Mormons don't drink silly) and "surfeiting" is an old fashioned word.  I think they thought "cares of this world" encompassed enough to justify the removal of those two words.  The scriptures prompt important questions that we won't ever get answers to if we keep removing the question triggers.  So this pattern is again unhelpful on multiple levels.

Surfeiting: excess; an excessive amount: excess or overindulgence in eating or drinking.

Do any conference listeners have any overindulgence issues? Or do anything in excessive amounts?  I hear Utah has a pretty bad issue with excessive anti depressants and opioid drugs.  But whatever. The third use of "..." removes only 2 words "so much".  These ellipsis are starting to just be ridiculous.  It took more work to remove all these words and phrases than it would have to just leave it.  But this matches the stylistic behavior for conference talks.  I'll emphasize what they removed to keep things in balance: "because their hearts are set SO MUCH upon the things of this world and aspire to the honors of men".  When I emphasize it, it almost seems meaningful.  haha.  So was it redundant?  Unnecessary?  You decide. What I can't help but conclude however is with all these removals is I don't really trust them to quote scripture to me or what they choose to remove.

D&C 121:35 reference only quotes part of the verse and cuts out mid sentience leaving out critical parts of the message.  Which message and thought continues past vs 35.  This use of scripture continues a trend of not helping us understand the scriptures but simply chopping up verses and their message to serve the speaker's agenda.  The speaker is taking about assessing our lives.  An appropriate, worthwhile, and good topic. The verses fit with his message.  However, we are not given enough of the scriptural teachings to understand what the scripture teaches us about the topic, let alone apply its meaning.

Or, to take the other point of view, perhaps they are invitations for the reader to find the footnote and then lookup the scripture, then read all the context, then try to understand and apply the message.  I'm going to do that.  But after all that you might as well skip the conference talk and just study scripture!   

Last Example.  Sunday Morning. 
My dear brothers and sisters, I promise you that if we will do our best to restore the correct name of the Lord’s Church, He whose Church this is will pour down His power and blessings upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints,17 the likes of which we have never seen. We will have the knowledge and power of God to help us take the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
17. See Doctrine and Covenants 121:33.

D&C 121: 33 How long can rolling waters remain impure? What power shall stay the heavens? As well might man stretch forth his puny arm to stop the Missouri river in its decreed course, or to turn it up stream, as to hinder the Almighty from pouring down knowledge from heaven upon the heads of the Latter-day Saints.

This conference quote is a promise given by President Nelson of what God is going to do.  Never before seen blessings were promised as a result of restoring the correct name of the Church.  The name hadn't changed, but the use of nicknames has grown far and wide in part due to previous Church-endorsed, Church-sponsored, and Church- promoted programs, theatrical releases, and worldwide initiatives.  If the people do this the talk teaches that God will pour down His power and blessings upon the Latter-day Saints.  The likes of which we have never seen.

Just prior to all that we get a scriptural footnote pointing to D&C 121. The scripture referenced has an important context, it comes to us from a setting with Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail. Two Presidents of the Church speaking, one making reference to the other.  Consider Joseph's heart and life in his setting when his words were composed.  Enormous persecution. Friends gone bad.  Betrayal.  All the atrocities of prison. A small and vulnerable Church to care for.  Contrast that with the many luxuries, private jet, catered meals, stipends, book deals that the current leaders of the LDS church receive.  I'm not saying airplanes and food are bad, I'm just contrasting the situation of the two speakers. One wrote the letter from a prison cell, and the other made promises from a luxurious worldwide conference center referencing a tiny out of context snippet from the Joseph's letter.

Our D&C 121 is only selection of excerpts from a much longer letter from Joseph Smith. So the verse sequence you read in 121 is not all in context or sequence with the actual letter.  So if vs 33 about rolling waters remaining impure sounds sort of disjointed and out of context compared to say, vs 32, it's because it is out of context. Section 121 jumps around the original letter from Joseph.  Additional interesting details regarding this is covered in the next installment found here.  But for now the point is D&C 121 33 itself inside our scriptures is out of context.  So the scripture attending the quote above is obscured, to say the least. 

The verse breakdown in scriptures (as we have it) were usually not put there by the scripture authors, but later added by others.  Individual verses give the impression that each is it's own little thought/sermon, but that is not the case.  Context matters and you loose context sometimes by the chapter and verse breakdown.  But those breakdowns are never questioned and themselves seem to exist as if they too were scripture and represented how the scriptural thoughts ought to be separated.  But that isn't the case.

Back to the talk from Sunday Morning.  What's curious about this quote is it's a promise of God pouring down his power and never before seen blessings, and having knowledge to spread the Gospel and prepare for the Second Coming as a result of something we do with our lips.  I recall scripture having something interesting to to say to religious readers about drawing near to God with lips yet having hearts far from Him (JSH 1:19, Matthew 15:8).  The Lord warns about that.  But you decide what relevance that has to this promise about using the correct name of the Church.

What the members are interestingly being promised in this talk involves not doing what previous leaders said we should do with the popular Mormon nickname. Like when we were told to "Make the term Mormon shine" by President Hinckley, or put our profile up on the "I"m a Mormon campaign".  Or to go see the "Meet the Mormon" feature film the Church spent a few million dollars making and getting into movie theaters.  It would be tragic to have been missing out on these never before seen blessings all this time due to following previous leaders.

Patterns and Trends

There is quite a bit of evidence that overall, LDS General Conference talks lean towards method number 2 in how scriptures are used, sometimes how they are used and sometimes because of the absence of any scripture.  Taking some talks as a whole, the overall message sometimes doesn't match up to any scripture even if some paragraphs quote some in context.  There's also a fair amount of quoting of other Church leaders which gives the impression of complete authority.  I've found my favorite speakers, teachers, or writers which shed light and help my understanding of the Gospel always lean towards or provide a lot of method number 1.  There's perhaps some overlap but if you pay attention you can tell which way people lean.

Some of these patterns above appear designed to have the speaker's words themselves seamlessly weave together with scripture. As if it too was scripture.  There is definitely an LDS style that permeates General Conference. Sometimes the whole verse will be quoted but a more common use of scripture last General Conference are only partial snippets and phrases with little context.

The concern is the Book of Mormon warns of a gentile tendency to transfigure the word of God. Mormon chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon talks about a latter day people who "transfigure the word of God". He asks why that has happened.  Although not convenient, good to check out that entire chapter, so you see if you think he is describing our day.  He claims it is. What are the various ways a people might transfigure the word of God?  Seems like it would be twisting it to appear to say/mean something other than the original.

It all makes me wonder what was God's intended use of scripture?  To cut, chop and turn scripture however it needs to be to serve as evidence for whatever the speaker is saying seems like a curious and in some cases dangerous practice. If you are the author of something, say you are Nephi, and someone consistently does this to your words how well are they understanding or preserving or aligning with what you had intended to say?  The word of God is said to be quick and powerful, among other things.  The above examples of God's Word are certainly "quick", but they are not powerful.

Continued next post.... 

Monday, November 26, 2018

Conference "...." scriptures Part 1

LDS Handbook 2 says this about Scriptures.

17.1.1  Scriptures
The standard works of the Church are the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In many languages, the Church has approved one edition of the Bible to be used in Church meetings and classes. Likewise, the latest authorized edition of the other three books of Latter-day Saint scriptures should be used. No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture.
"No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture".   That seems clear enough.  Don't promote and or use other material as scripture beyond the standard works.  Such was part of my reasoning yesterday in Elder's Quorum.  The discussion taking place was all about the new 2019 "Come Follow Me" home centered Church supported curriculum to begin Jan 1 of 2019.  The class was being told by the instructor that conference talks and anything from current leaders were "scripture" and should be used as such in the teaching of our families at home.

I know such is the common understanding of many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  That message is reinforced by talks such as "14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet" which has been given more than once from a General Conference Pulpit.  Today in Elder's Quorum I merely posed the question of what is considered scripture and openly asked if  LDS conference talks are "scripture".  The instructor didn't hesitate to declare in the affirmative.  I then challenged the class with the instruction from the handbook that states we should not promote or use anything other than the standard works as scripture.  The Standard Works hold preeminence.  To my surprise the overall class did not seem to accept that.  They had reason after reason after reason of why anything ever said by a living Church leader trumped anything any dead prophet said.  The Handbook carried such little weight with the Quorum that it gave me pause.  Normally the Handbook itself is the absolute governing rule, but that wasn't the case this week. 

The teacher in what appeared to be a challenge to my question turned to the rest of the class and sarcastically asked "Do you all think it's ok to use Church Authority teachings in our home study program next year"?  The entire class warmly chuckled to the obviously sarcastic and rhetorical question.  I followed up saying that I wasn't suggesting people don't use such things at home, but only thought it important to understand what is scripture.  The teacher continued with support for the original idea saying that "Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants it is the same". (for more discussion on that topic see here)  Then more than 2-3 additional audience members chimed in with how living prophets are more important than dead ones and how we need to follow the current leaders. These comments (and instructor) all seemed to come from what were previously High Priests before the quorums were combined.  Based on my experience back when they were separate there is a marked generational difference of beliefs between younger and older Elders. 

One class member tried to ease the tension caused by my question by suggesting to the group that I was differentiating between scriptures with a capitol "S" and scriptures with a lowercase "s".  I said that when we mix everything together and call it scripture it creates confusion and future problems as to what is the standard.  If every conference talk is scripture how do we reconcile for youth all the stuff they hear from conference talks 80+ years ago?  What happens when people find contradictions and or errors between everything being called scripture?  To that I was told again how important it is to follow the living leaders.  I didn't pursue the conversation any further at that point.  I ended up doing my own study and research on the topic.  More on that below.

For what appears to be the first time in my recent memory, myself and the Church Handbook were somewhat outcasts during Elder's Quorum.  An unlikely companion.  The meeting had a feeling of how preposterous to even question whether conference talks are considered scripture.  The laughter and sarcasm seemed to indicate as much.  However that one question did get more excited participation by the Elders than I've seen in many weeks. So perhaps there was hope in that.

Harold B Lee had some good things to say on this topic.

All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, 13).

My mind drifted from the lesson so I turned to my own study on "scripture" and went through a few questions that came to mind about it.  A few thoughts below on  those questions and what I found.

How does something become scripture anyway?

T&C 58: 1 Firstly, my servant Orson was called by his ordinance to proclaim the everlasting gospel, by the Spirit of the Living God, from people to people and from land to land, in the congregations of the wicked, in their synagogues, reasoning with and expounding all scriptures unto them. And behold and lo, this is an ensample unto all those who are ordained unto this Priesthood, whose mission is appointed unto them to go forth. And this is the ensample unto them that they shall speak as they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost. And whatever 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. Behold, this is the promise of the Lord unto you, O you my servants.

This verse says: And whatever "they" shall speak.  So there appear to be some limits.  Who is "they" shall speak?  It's those who are ordained unto "this" Priesthood.  So what Priesthood is that?  Aaronic?  Melchizedek?  Is it an ordination by man?  Can one man (who was only ordained by other men) ordain another man to speak for the Lord and reveal the mind of the Lord? Or is this a kind of Priesthood not often seen on earth? Is it the kind of priesthood that only comes from God?  Does it not matter as long as the Holy Ghost moves the speaker?  I'm still pondering those questions.

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".  The priesthood office alone in the LDS church doesn't automatically grant the freedom to speak the mind and will of God at will.  Despite some traditions implying that it sort of does the higher up in the hierarchy you go.  The verse says "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.

Obviously things spoken that meet all the right criteria can later be altered, and thus become compromised. This happened a lot with the bible. And in many cases even the grammar and punctuation done by the print shop who first produced the Book of Mormon altered meaning. But that's also a topic for another day. The idea here however is that the burden of proof for scriptural status is placed upon the reader and or hearer. You'll need to be in contact with the Holy Ghost to know if what you are hearing/reading was given by the Holy Ghost or not.  And that may take time, thought, experience and careful ponderous thoughts.  Does for me anyway. 

Is all "scripture" inside the existing LDS cannon? 

This obvious answer to this is no. The LDS cannon hasn't seen any growth since 1976.  In 1921 The Lectures on Faith were removed from the LDS cannon.  So the net change of LDS cannon has actually been to shrink once Joseph Smith left the scene.  Additionally scriptures contain many prophecies about other records to come forth. Records from the other tribes of Israel as one example.  They will eventually be brought to light.  We don't even have most of the Gold Plates.  So the resounding answer to this question is no.  The LDS cannon relatively does not contain all that much, and even then it's is shrinking.  But that isn't to say that you can't obtain the fullness of the Gospel from what is there. The Book of Mormon according to the Lord and Joseph Smith has way more potential that most members give it.  But the point here is the LDS cannon is shrinking.  Unless you include conference talks.  But those are not canonized.  Not many it seems are interested in canonizing things that more often than not put them to sleep. So while the LDS church claims an "open" cannon I guess that means capable of growth or shrinkage.

I wonder some day after all records are gathered together if there will be one huge giant set of "scriptures".  The logistics of that seem overly difficult for individuals.  I wonder if instead there will be a central library containing various sacred writings that will be categorized or organized based on sacredness and the texts ability to bring you closer to God. But that primary sources like the Book of Mormon for example, intended for our day remain part of what we call a "cannon".  Frankly I don't know. Will be interesting to see if I'm around to see such events. 

How does something become canonized Scripture?  And is canonized scripture more important than non canonized scripture? 

I did some reading on this.  Something gets canonized by formal adoption of a body of believers.  They have to agree to it usually by some formal, ritual, or publicly recognized event.  It appears to be a principle of common consent. There are differing levels of how "binding" upon that people the cannon is depending on the individual beliefs of the people or group, some being more liberal or lax than others.  But in a general sense canonization becomes the method of making something authoritative to that body which the body respects.  What's "cannon" and what's not also depends on what group you are talking about.  Even Star Wars has a "cannon" of what's legit and what isn't.  There are debates there too on what fits cannon and what doesn't.

Canonization seems to be a means of helping lay some ground-rules for the community of believers.  Especially if God, by revelation, has approved of the writings and instructed people to live by them.  To that group such would indicate much higher credibility of the cannon to accomplish something Godly.  While there may be truth found outside the cannon, the cannon seems like the foundation the community can use to learn, grow and compare new ideas to.

The cannon seems like a wise foundation but not necessarily one with a big giant fence around it barring people from embracing truths that may not be specifically explained or taught in their cannon.   

Does God have to conform to or recognize anything man formally adopts?

Suppose the LDS Church wanted to canonize The Family: A Proclamation to the World.  A document First read September 23, 1995 during General Relief Society Meeting.  What would seem wise, and reasonable would be:

1. Does the document in question contain a message originating from God?  Is any of it from man?  Were liberties taken whether alterations or additions by virtue of a man's position but not God's voice? 
2. Was the text given by revelation?  Under the direction of the Holy Ghost and or the Lord himself?  Has this been documented for people to look at and take to God themselves?
3. How did the document come about and who wrote it and why?   
4. Are there recognizable falsehoods, errors, or mistakes found therein?  Whether grammatical or other?  Have they been addressed? 
5. Does the document proposed content pertain to the entire body?
6.  Has God approved of it or been petitioned about it?  And has there been an answer?

If after careful ponderous study it doesn't pass then it seems wise to not proceed further as there is lack of confidence the content will bring a person closer to God or accurately portray the Gospel.

If the proposed document does pass the above scrutiny, the document would be presented to that group of believers for their scrutinizing, and potentially sustaining vote and formal adoption as part of the cannon. If the right steps were taken and the content did come from God and was approved by Him then it would seem appropriate to canonize it.  If not, and it didn't pass the basic criteria then it seems like you might as well also canonize your favorite Chicken Soup recipe!   

So does God have to recognize everything man formally adopts?  I believe the answer is no.  Man can declare whatever they want, or formally adopt whatever they choose as authoritative.  But God seems to have more respect for man than man does for God.  I see numerous examples of God tolerating and being compassionate with man's mistakes and shortcomings and weaknesses and making do with man's best efforts. But it seems extreme care, caution, and wisdom should be taken when producing, and maintaining scriptures or canonizing "scripture".  God should be directly involved.  It's an important matter.

Changing scripture also seems to have had such a bad track record that changes or alterations ought only come by revelation. We should be humble and meek about scripture.  When speaking of the various scriptures it seems the Book of Mormon ought be held in highest preeminence.  Joseph Smith stated that a man could get closer to God by abiding by it's precepts than by any other book.  That's what I plan to focus on as part of Home Church 2019. 

What's funny is Elder's Quorum called the 2019 "Come Follow Me" design "Home Church".  That's also what a few families and my own call our fellowship meetings we've been holding for the past few years in our homes.  Local leadership has really frowned on these get togethers. In prior decades such meetings were clearly discouraged.  So for good reason these meetings drew unwanted attention and unwanted questioning from leaders.  However ever since last conference, and this new 2 hour church block complete with home study program, that frowning has been replaced by an endorsement to meet together with other families to study the gospel.  Go figure.    

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Writing Again

Blogging has been a helpful outlet for me especially during this first year of having twins and as life and religion continue to change more rapidly.

Readers forgive me for changing my mind about closing up shop.  I'd like to continue writing.  Taking a break helped me see that this is a helpful outlet and a good place to journal, learn, and connect with friends and family on topics that I find important.