Friday, December 21, 2018

Who were you back then?

A discussion in Elder's Quorum a few weeks ago led to an e-mail exchange with the instructor.  The discussion from quorum was about whether LDS conference talks are "scripture".  In the e-mail exchange he commented that while we do see Peter and Paul's writings in the new testament as scripture, back then they would have been the words of the "living prophets and church leaders" of their day.  The implication being that we should see the living prophets and church leaders word's in 2018 as scripture.

That prompted these thoughts below, which I didn't share.  The conversation politely ended and hopefully on a good enough note that another future conversation might be possible.  I put the thoughts here for my own record. 

We do consider Peter and Paul's writings as scripture. That got me thinking though as to who and what you and I would have needed to be back then to identify them as living prophets and church leaders. Back in their day the people who 1. Had a Temple. 2. Collected Tithes. 3. Claimed authority (Priesthood) to act in God's name.  4. Observed the religious feasts and holidays. That would have been the Jews and the Jewish leaders. The Jews were “God’s Chosen people”.

Christ said, referring to the Scribes and Pharisees,  “They sit in Moses's seat" Matthew 23:2. Meaning they occupy or sit in a position handed down from Moses, who was/is a recognized authentic Prophet. But they had become corrupt and couldn't recognize how the scriptures were being fulfilled by Christ and John and others.  It's hard to see in real time the same thing you see with thousands of years of hindsight.

So, if I'm not mistaken the living Church Leaders in Peter’s day would have been those who ran the existing religion, the temple, the tithing, interpreted scripture, and taught the people using recognized authority.  Peter and Paul by contrast would have seemed more like a crazy looking small band of loosely organized folks newly calling themselves Christians.  A term not previously recognized.

These preachers were teaching some differing and radical ideas that departed from typical Jewish traditions and understanding of scripture. They would have been different from other offshoots and not recognizable by trusting in the social or religious norms and traditions.  They accepted a fulfillment of their own scripture that was happening before their eyes. Some being cast out of the synagogue (excommunicated). Hardly church leaders, they were almost rebels who were persecuted by the traditionalists of the day.

Unless you or I are part of a crazy looking offshoot of LDS Mormonism then the equivalent of you and me back then would have been a practicing traditional Jew. It’s easy to see ourselves as Christ’s disciples back then but we should consider what it would have required of you and me to become His disciple or to have ever had a chance of viewing Peter or Paul as authentic ministers of Christ. We would have to listen to an outside preacher. It would be like you and me listening to some non LDS teacher or former LDS (since Paul was a former Pharisee) person. And listening in spite of our church leaders.

We'd have to know how to listen to a message.  We would have to know how to recognize truth when it comes.  Regardless of the person or lack of position they hold. We would have had to recognize the truth from the lies. We’d have to rely on something other than what the religious leaders said about them. If your anything like me, that gives me pause.

If a person in 2018 would be unwilling and rejecting of such a teacher coming among us today, preaching the predominant religion (that started out inspired) had become corrupt and God was doing something new, then how would that same person have accepted John the Baptist, or Peter or even Christ back in that day?  The early Christian Churches were not the organized publicly recognized structure we have today that gives people assurance they are trusting in the right source.  Back then they wouldn't have regarded the word "Apostle" as anything noteworthy. Back then they were charismatic preachers who’s religious sounding titles hadn’t yet acquired any meaning or respect.

Same goes for those living in Joseph Smith's day.  The predominant Christian religion had become corrupt and God was doing something new.  But to accept Joseph as an authentic minister of Christ would require you to go against what your local church was telling you. Perhaps go against family, friends...  It wasn't for them a matter of just figuring out who had the biggest most respected religious title of the biggest or most successful wealthy religion, and then trusting in them.  It was the same challenge as those living at the time of the NT encountered.

Our day's equivalent of "sit in Moses's seat" would be "Joseph Smith's position" and whomever is the leader of the Church in our day. The Jews held the priesthood keys from their point of view. I have to ask my self if they believed they had lost their keys when John the Baptist came along? Of course they would deny that, and continue to claim their keys could never be lost. And yet they did loose the keys. This from Joseph Smith: "The son of Zacharias wrested the keys, the kingdom, the power, the glory from the Jews, by the holy anointing and decree of heaven, and these three reasons constitute him the greatest prophet born of a woman." (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:260-261). If it's possible to loose keys, how would someone back then have known about it? How would we know about it if it happened in our day?

Even the kingdom, the power and glory was lost to the Jews. But who knew it?  They of course would warn everyone about anyone who would make such a claim. They would probably cast you out if you believed they lost their keys. And yet it was true. Which is easy to see since history makes it obvious, but it would have been anything but obvious at the time, and would require a totally different set of tools and discernment than what people think is needed now days.

So who might you have been back in NT times?  A loyal Jew?  A non believer? A sincere seeker?  A member of a heard that goes along with whatever the heard does?  Which one would you have had to be in order to see any of the NT figures as having a true message from God?  On what grounds would you or I have accepted their preaching?   Who's to say that isn't a possibility in our day to need to have the same focus on God and scripture so as to recognize God's hand again now? 


  1. Peter describes his own qualification for preaching, and it is why I choose to include his words as scripture in my personal canon:

    1 Peter 1:16-19

    "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount."

    "We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts"

    If someone comes to me bearing the same witness, I will certainly receive their words as at least a candidate for scripture. If they cannot bear that witness, then I won't pretend they are a light shining in a dark place, nor that they show me how to allow the day star to arise in my own heart.

    1. Amen to that.

      You read my mind. Part 2 of my draft that I never sent to the ward member went through this exact stuff. How our dispensation began with a charge from Oliver Cowdery to the 12 that their ordination was not full and complete until Christ had personally laid hands upon them. Then about how that charge was discontinued, and with passage of time those experiences nowadays are either implied or are labeled too sacred to talk about which leads to a Church culture of assumptions, inferences, myth, and speculation that is hardly the clarity and power with which Peter speaks of being eyewitnesses.