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.    


  1. Great post. I am glad you're back to writing. I am glad that there are some open minded people like you and Kelsey in the church.

  2. :) I wish I was in your Elder's Quorum to hear the debate.