Thursday, March 28, 2019

CNN Coverage of the Church's name change

While doing research on the topic of the Church's name and writing up a post about it I came across a CNN article from last Sunday titled: Why the 'Mormon' church changed its name. (It's about revelation, not rebranding.)

It's an interesting read. It was pointed out to me this week that (I'm paraphrasing):

The media has bias. In the interest of speed or to tell the story with just a hint toward the angle they're taking, they do one of two things: either take a line that illustrates their point, and use it divorced from its context (which usually puts it in appropriate light), or re-state a comment without direct attribution, allowing them to reframe or tweak the direction.  The more sensational, the more readers.  Motives like hits, likes, and of course money play a motive in how the news reports things.  Interviewees are often not allowed to explain for very long or give much background, so interview responses can be used by the media to create the desired story.  

Those were some good points. Everyone knows the media does do this.  Sometimes facts get twisted or they take angles or present things in a sensational way so as to attract readers. The problem is, is the media are not the only ones who do this. The Church does the same thing but the words change from "sensational" to "faith promoting" and from "making money" to "making members".  Deseret news and KSL or even the historical department follow similar patterns of bias. I admit it's very comfortable to identify twisting of statements and taking things out of context in the mainstream media, but much more unsettling to identify the same behavior from your religious institution.

Back to the article.  CNN's religious editor Daniel Burke said some striking things.  We can fact check and see if they were twisted or taken out of context.  A few of them are below.
Sometimes the spirit prompts the prophet's wife to leave the bed, though she'd rather sleep. One such morning, Wendy Nelson told Mormon leaders, her husband emerged from the bedroom waving a yellow notebook.

Fact Check: This is something Sister Nelson has mentioned publicly in a Church produced video. Link.   At minute mark 1:56 she gets an impression "Move out of bed, now".  I almost wanted to use an exclamation point because of how her voice tone and inflection relayed the impression she received.  Later in the video she comments that she doesn't read the revelatory messages to her husband.  She views them as private messages to him and she "would never look".

Conclusion: CNN is accurate.  The Church produced video is stranger even than CNN's reporting of it.  One surprising bit not covered by CNN in that video was she says she "is a witness ["That the Lord instructs his prophet"] by being present, and a witness by being absent".  The idea of being a witness by being absent was a little odd.

Side note: Interesting to be told to leave the room, "now".  And then President Nelson received revelation.  One concern this raises is it seem like her presence was an impediment or that she was somehow uninvited or too distracting to be there on such occasions.  I certainly hope a woman would not be viewed or put in a position where her presence is not welcomed or even tolerated by the spirit when God communicates to her husband.  The scriptures teach that neither is the man without the woman nor the woman without the man in the Lord.  President Nelson's wife being required to leave the room for unexplained reasons struck me as curious.

I don't know of hardly any accounts of a President of the Church's wife recounting or describing her presence, or lack of, during or surrounding her husband's revelations.  One example we do know of was Emma Smith.  She was very involved with Joseph in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon even acting as his scribe as he would translate the plates transcribing more than anyone other than Oliver Cowdery.  Link.

Another interesting passage from the article:
Nelson has been forceful in his rejection of the "Mormon" nickname, saying it offends God and represents "a major victory for Satan." He made a similar argument in 1990, when he was a church leader, but was apparently rebuffed by superiors.
Asked about the apparent contradiction -- why would previous Mormon prophets reject what is now apparently God's will? -- church spokesman Eric Hawkins said the church has a saying: The most important prophet is the living one.
"God may have different intentions for the church at different times," Hawkins said. "That's baked into the notion that the church can change."
Fact Check:  These are accurate and are found in President Nelson's conference talk Oct 2018.   The rebuffing by superiors is likely a reference to President Hinckely's talk 6 months after the 1990 talk given by Apostle Russel Nelson.  President Hinckely, first counselor in the First presidency at the time, said the term "Mormon" meant "More good" and he encouraged the members make the term shine.

Regarding the contradiction CNN references.  President Monson and President Hinckley were major adopters and sponsors of the nicknames he cites. Full length feature films even. This appears to go beyond a mere difference of focus or emphasis for one President's tenure vs another. If God doesn't change than it's curious how can he direct the leaders to sponsor and promote what he later says offends him and scores victories for Satan? That would seem fully out of character for God.  President Nelson said to the media that the new emphasis on the full name is a "course correction". That prompts the question of who was it that led the Church off course? These statements implicate his predecessors in a way that is gives pause. But from another point of view, as an alternative, did President Nelson possibly speak in error about what offends God?

The scriptures tell us plainly what offends God: "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments. That verse from D&C teaches that "in nothing" does man offend God except the things it says.  It didn't include superficial things like people using church nicknames. President Nelson didn't cite a source for his assertion that nicknames like Mormon offend God. So I could see a case being made for this simply being an error, and that "Mormon" nicknames don't really offend God and never did

The Church spokesmen's comments by Erik Hawkins are not whimsical, they have a sermons and teachings behind them. The Church spokesmen says "The Church has a saying".  This is accurate and probably all he had time to say in the statement.  The church does have this saying, and it stems from a sermon titled The 14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet. Seen here as a "First Presidency Message".

The idea of a changing God, who's one day leading the top leaders to score victories for the adversary and a few years later contradicting that and saying such things actually offended him.... this changing God according to lectures prepared by Joseph Smith is not characteristic of the God taught in those lectures.  A God who changes would prevent a person from being able to exercise faith in such a being.  See Lectures on Faith, 3rd Lecture.  So how God is being portrayed is kind of a big deal.

I want people to exercise faith in God.  These statements by the Church however are inexplicably contradictory and faith defeating compared to what Joseph Smith taught.  The statements from the Church are confusing and potentially disrupts your ability to have faith in God. 

Back to the article.  The Church spokesmen then says "God may have different intentions for the church at different times" "That's baked into the notion that the church can change".

The issue here is that God's intentions are what is changing, not just Church policies changing.  Scriptures teach God does not change.  By contrast this public statement is saying God's intentions not only change, but his shifting intentions cover such a wide spectrum that some of them are later said to be victories for the adversary.

Another quote from the CNN article:
But prophecy can be a messy business, as Joseph Smith found out when other Mormons claimed to have divine sanction for their vision of the church. Smith ended the competition by claiming that God told him only the faith's top prophets could speak for the whole church, a restriction that stands to this day. Mormons now believe that revelations are parceled out according to one's role in the church and in wider society.

Fact Check:  This statement about Joseph ending the competition is based on D&C 28 1-6.  This revelation is documented. It quotes the Lord in first person speaking to Oliver.  Oliver and Hyrum page were getting revelations about how to run the Church and it did create a messy situation.
Behold, I say unto thee, Oliver, that it shall be given unto thee that thou shalt be heard by the church in all things whatsoever thou shalt teach them by the Comforter, concerning the revelations and commandments which I have given. But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses. And thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall give unto him, even as Aaron, to declare faithfully the commandments and the revelations, with power and authority unto the church. And if thou art led at any time by the Comforter to speak or teach, or at all times by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it. But thou shalt not write by way of commandment, but by wisdom; And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church
CNN isn't being obtuse or unfair. Technically this revelation is addressed to Oliver, not Joseph.  But since it came through Joseph I don't fault CNN for presenting it they way they did.  The background source for this statement by CNN however makes no reference to  the "faith's top prophets".  The source behind the statement exclusively refers to Joseph Smith who was receiving revelation as Moses did.  But what CNN reported is an accurate portrayal of what the Church regularly teaches today.  So their facts are accurate.

Side note:

CNN may not believe it was God speaking in this revelation but was instead Joseph solving a messy power struggle by putting his own ego on top.  However if Joseph was on an ego trip he didn't take it nearly far enough because the source material here shows a lot of leeway for what Oliver could do.

-He (Oliver) was to be heard by the Church in all things whatsoever he teaches them by the Comforter concerning the revelations and commandments which I [The Lord] had given. So he can teach previously revealed commandments, which came from God, just not receive new ones or receive ones that weren't from God. And this is related to Moses and Aaron.  A pattern that we see in existing scripture.
- By the comforter he could "speak, or teach at all times by the way of commandment unto the Church."

He just wasn't supposed to write by way of commandment.  But instead was to write by wisdom. Seems to me this was discouraging Oliver and others from using a trump card to direct the affairs of the Church.  And this section instructed them not command the person at the head of the Church because that was up to God.

What if we all stopped commanding each other?  Or what if no one used revelation as a trump card?  And instead used persuasion, wisdom, pure knowledge and kindness?  Wouldn't that be awesome? There is intelligence in this revelation.

The same revelation addresses Hyrum Page:
And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him; For, behold, these things have not been appointed unto him, neither shall anything be appointed unto any of this church contrary to the church covenants. For all things must be done in order, and by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
All things were to be done in the Church "by common consent".  That's not a trump card. How many things are done in the Church by common consent now days?  Fewer and fewer.  It's now directed and dictated and regulated by the top hierarchy.

But back to CNN.  I feel like CNN was within tolerance on this.  They accurately stated the Church's current view on the hierarchy and who can speak to the whole Church, although that view is itself perhaps a little tweaked and without context compared to the text of the revelation it originated from.

Another segment of note from the article:
In many ways, Mormonism is not so different from other American relgions, which are also grappling with crises of authority and struggling to connect with increasingly secular millennials.
Thus far, Nelson's strategy seems to entail liberal use of his "trump card," as Evans put it: his authority as the church's chief prophet, seer and revelator.
In what you might call a prophetic speech, Nelson told Mormon millennials in 2016 that, in a society littered with "servants of Satan," only God's own prophets can be truly trusted.
Fact Check:   First paragraph has academic research behind it.  CNN linked to it here.

Third paragraph is based on this talk by President Nelson.  Relevant quote below.  This quote is found under the talk's heading "Follow the Prophet".  After reading that entire section, and looking up all the footnotes below, CNN is again pretty accurate.  They presented it in somewhat of a striking way, but the source supports it.
Around 41 b.c., many Nephites joined the Church, and the Church prospered. But secret combinations also began to grow, and many of their cunning leaders hid among the people and were difficult to detect. As the people became more and more prideful, many of the Nephites made “a mock of that which was sacred, denying the spirit of prophecy and of revelation.”11
Those same threats are among us today. The somber reality is that there are “servants of Satan”12 embedded throughout society. So be very careful about whose counsel you follow.13 
My beloved brothers and sisters, you were born to be True Millennials! You are a chosen generation,14 fore-determined by God to do a remarkable work—to help prepare the people of this world for the Second Coming of the Lord.
Only the Prophet cannot lead the Church astray and can be trusted says the next in line to be the prophet.  Very interesting.

Overall, CNN didn't twist things.  The citations and references all held up.     

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

LDS hyphen history and the name of the Church

Unless you live off the grid you are probably familiar with the LDS Church's recent announcement about re-emphasizing the official name of the Church as found in scripture. Removing and stopping the use of the terms like Mormon or LDS was to put greater emphasis on the name of Christ in the Churches official name.

The amount of news articles on this, the media posts, the number of buildings, programs, manuals, e-mails addresses, and web addresses needing to be changed makes this no small feat.  As I read about all of this it led to a research project.  Some of my findings about the history of the Church's various names over the years are below.  Along with some hopefully useful info about some of the events that happened in between the name changes.  I used large images so the text and dates would be easily readable.

Before I go on, someone asked my why I would write some of the things I write.  Sometimes what I write may causes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to loose some of it's shine.  I admit that.  I promote faith in Christ.  There is a difference between faith in Christ and faith in the Church.  To me they are totally separate.  If your faith centers in Christ than the Church loosing its veneer doesn't sink your boat.  If your faith is in the Church then your faith might be affected by the truth.  So with that in mind, this research project is intended to find the truth, and show that faith in Christ is the only sure foundation.  With that as the foundation we're free to just look at history and see what we find.  

First name:
"The Church of Christ” (Book of Commandments, 1833). Also D&C 20:1 refers to "The Church of Christ".  (The Lectures on faith not included in the 1833 Book of Commandments.  The lectures would later however be sustained and added to the cannon and be the "Doctrine" portion of the "Doctrine and Covenants)



Second name:
On May 3rd 1834, official action modified the name of the Church. In a priesthood conference, a motion passed “by unanimous voice” that the Church be known as “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” (The Evening and the Morning Star, May 1834, 2:160.)



(Side note) A Kirtland editorial which contained the announcement about the name change explained that the change stemmed from a misleading nickname: the “Mormonite” church. This change would also help distinguish the Church from all other American Christians, including Congregationalists and reformers or protestants who also designated themselves as “The Church of Christ". Also since Paul and Peter used the Greek word saint (“a holy person”) to refer to believers in Christ, the term Latter-day Saints implied that Church members were modern followers of Christ. This change was by vote, not by revelation.

Also seen here, in Brigham Young's membership certificate:



Another related point here is on March of 1836 (D&C 109:79) during the Kirtland Temple dedicatory prayer Joseph prayed for the Lord to put His name upon the Church. The request makes sense in light of what you can see and read above as the Church didn't carry Christ's name at that point.  The dedicatory prayer was itself revelation (see section 109 heading).  So this gives interesting insight into how the Lord viewed things.   

79 And also this church, to put upon it thy name. And help us by the power of thy Spirit, that we may mingle our voices with those bright, shining seraphs around thy throne, with acclamations of praise, singing Hosanna to God and the Lamb!

Third name:
Revelation April 26th 1838 D&C 115:4.  “the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”.  No hyphen, lower case “t” on “the” and capitol D.  See screen shot below of the original revelation.

(https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/revelation-26-april-1838-dc-115/2)








In January 1841, 3 years after section 115 revelation about the name of the Church, section 124 had this warning about possible rejection as a Church if there was a failure to build the Nauvoo Temple.  It seems that something said at one point in time doesn't necessary equate to an eternal endorsement.  People's choices matter.

31-32 But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God.

Joseph Smith and Hyrum were killed in 1844, 3 years after that warning. The 1844 edition of the D&C was near publication but had not been published at the time of Joseph and Hyrum's death.  Neither had the Nauvoo temple been completed but that's a whole separate topic.  The name of the Church as it appears on the 1844 edition of the D&C matches the revelation from 1838 (section 115)


Fourth name:
1852-1876 "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"  (with hyphen and eventually standardized lower case "d" and upper case "T" on The)



It wasn't until incorporation in 1851 by the legislature of the State of Deseret that the church standardized the spelling of its name to include the hyphen and British-style lower-case "d". In January 1855, the legislature of Utah Territory re-enacted the charter which incorporated the church under this name and spelling. (J. Reuben Clark Law Society, "Law and the Church as an Institution", jrcls.org).

In 1876, the LDS Church issued a new edition of the D&C which contained the current capitalization and hyphenation of the church's name.  This was a change from the 1838 revelation and the 1844 edition of D&C seen above.

Hyphen or no Hyphen? 

This raises the question of why a hyphen needed to be added, and why the D&C revelation in section 115 got changed.  As well as the capitalizing of THE church. Or is all this punctuation just a silly detail that carries zero importance?  I'll share some information and you can decide.

After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, various Mormon offshoot groups claimed the term “Latter Day Saints.” By 1849, after the exodus to Utah, Church leaders had begun using the name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” with a small d and a hyphen, to distinguish the Utah-based church from other groups.[linkSince different branches had very different views it's no doubt they would want to distinguish themselves.

Divisions, especially religious ones create messes.  No one wants to be wrong especially when the stakes are as high as in matters of salvation and religion.  It brings up a statement from the Lord in 1831 "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine." Divisions seem to be the opposite of being one.  But even if/when a people are not one and thus are "not the Lord's" I don't think that means he abandons them. Seems they more just didn't become all that he desired. So when each group after Joseph's death claimed to be correct in their own views and positions it goes right back to the dilemma Joseph Smith encountered when the restoration began of which of all the Churches was right, for they can't all be. To Joseph's surprise he learned none of them were. But that's a separate tangent.

Back to the name of the Church.  The question then becomes this: Who's to say for sure which (future) Church splinter group the Lord was referring to back in the April 1838 revelation when the Church name was given?  There were power struggles even before Joseph's death and worse after.  After 20-30 years multiple sects had arisen, some big and some small, some strong some weak, some wealth and some not.  Some claim transfiguration moments to prove authenticity, while others claim other rights or bloodlines to be Josephs' successor.  It's not as neat and tidy as how it's often presented.

As covered above, in 1876 the Brigham Young led group published a new edition of the D&C that showed an alteration of the punctuation in the revelation (given 38 years prior) about the Church's name.  That change inside the already canonized text was to match up with the unique Church designation the Utah-based group had formally adopted by that point.  Now incorporated with spelling including the hyphen, the name did not and could not refer to any other branch. So the back-changing of punctuation in the original revelation would have the effect of causing it to appear to have always been referring exclusively and only to those under Brigham Young's leadership.  I'm not passing an assessment of this, just pointing out the effect it has when you change revelation years after the fact.

The Joseph Smith papers shows examples of revelations being altered by someone else, long after they were given.  Altered in such a way as to support a narrative and events that came later.  That is beyond scope here but worth noting.  This type of thing did happen.

On another side note the current (and previous) Church Style Guide requires the "T" on "The" to be a capitol. Which in some ways is a faith claim to theological superiority: this is “The” church of Jesus Christ.  But that's also an aside you can read about here.

As an example of Mormon denominations with competing names and why the hyphen matters; the name of the Church without the hyphen is used by a branch of Mormonism known as the Strangites.   https://www.ldsstrangite.com/.  Hence the hyphen to distinguish them. This is reminiscent of the change in 1834 to avoid being seen as or mixed up with other denominations or other Christians.

It would be unusual if Brigham Young didn't attempt to secure the name without the hyphen (seeing as the original revelation didn't have it).  Perhaps there were legalities, trusts, properties, real estate contracts which necessitated a differentiation (since unity was out of the question).  In the same way perhaps as the recent efforts to try and secure various web addresses to replace the Mormon or LDS themed URL's.  That effort too has run into trouble with yet other Mormon denominations who already owned some of the desired URL's.  More on that below.

Mormon branches don't like being mixed up with each other.  They often excommunicate each other's members if a person switches.  So for some people being associated to the wrong one can be offensive especially if there are emotionally charged differences between them.  But, on a positive and encouraging note, there is a grass roots effort to bring unity and help find common ground between all the different branches of Mormonism that have Joseph Smith as their founder.  See here.  I see great hope in that.

2018 Statements by President Nelson regarding the Name of the Church. 

The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months” (Russell M. Nelson, in “The Name of the Church” official statement, Aug. 16, 2018, mormonnewsroom.org).

General Conference address Oct 2018: 
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church.5 
Thus, the name of the Church is not negotiable. When the Savior clearly states what the name of His Church should be and even precedes His declaration with, “Thus shall my church be called,” He is serious. And if we allow nicknames to be used or adopt or even sponsor those nicknames ourselves, He is offended. 
What’s in a name or, in this case, a nickname? When it comes to nicknames of the Church, such as the “LDS Church,” the “Mormon Church,” or the “Church of the Latter-day Saints,” the most important thing in those names is the absence of the Savior’s name. To remove the Lord’s name from the Lord’s Church is a major victory for Satan. When we discard the Savior’s name, we are subtly disregarding all that Jesus Christ did for us—even His Atonement.  
His reference to the "Church of the Latter-Day Saints" interestingly hearkens back to 1834 when by unanimous vote that actually was the official name of the Church. His strong words echo what David Whitmer said in his 1877 Address to all believers (page 73).  Also interesting is leaders of the church were doing the things mentioned by President Nelson as early as 1834 and really started heavily sponsoring Mormon nicknames in the years leading up to President Nelson's tenure as President.  Such as the worldwide "I am a Mormon" profile campaign, and the "Meet the Mormons" full length feature film. Curiously the terms "Mormon" or "Mormonism" were used positively by Joseph Smith (one example) and President Hinckley.  It's also been used over 15,000 times in general conference talks over the years according to news sources.

A case could be made that superficial things like benign use of Church nicknames like "Mormon" do not offend God and never did. D&C 59: 21 And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.

To recap, the issue of the Name of the Church was raised yet again in 2018, with another effort to distinguish (viewed by some as "brand differentiation" in 2019 vocabulary), and just like the mid 1830's there is effort to avoid nicknames involving the word Mormon and be different from others.  The Church's 2018 announcement doesn't help explain the past name issues, or draw unity, but instead almost brings additional trouble to the topic in some ways due to closely related references and links to other Mormon denominations.  For example depending on whether you use "the" as part of the Church's name in the current web address it could take you to the wrong Church's site.

https://www.thechurchofjesuschrist.org/    is not the formerly known LDS Church. 
https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/         is the formerly known LDS Church. 

The top link is a break off Church from Joseph Smith but is a separate break off from the Strangite branch linked earlier.  There have been upwards of 80 different sects of Mormonism of various sizes link, the largest of course is the one with headquarters in Salt Lake City. 

Deciding on and then using the correct name of the Church as a large corporation in 2019 is more complex than I would have originally thought.  The Church's legal corporate entity has yet a different name than anything discussed here. "The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints".  It's unlikely that name will undergo a change as a result of President Nelson's announcement but I can't say for sure.  The things we do know are going to change ranges from choirs, to building/college names, websites, published materials, and then the issue of historical documents and archival names and references that will seemingly always carry things like "LDS" on them.  The potential scope is enormous.  But that is beyond the scope here. 

Christ's Words in the Book of Mormon about the Name of the Church. 

In addition to the trouble the name of the Church has had in the past 200 years, a couple thousand years ago the name of the Church was similarly accompanied with issues. Jesus's disciples in the Americas asked the Lord about it because there had been disputations among the people about the name of the Church. This topic is recurring it seems, across generation and time.

Of the Name of the Church Christ responded to the disciples: (3 Nephi 27)
And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel. 
His statement is crystal clear.  So what then does this mean for the "Of latter-day Saints" part of the name?  Is it partly Christ's Church and partly the church of the people called Saints?  Food for thought.

There's also that "if" at the end. "If it so be that they are built upon my gospel".  Getting the name of Jesus Christ in the Church name of course is no guarantee that it's built upon His gospel.  The way to begin to measure or asses how in line a church is with that part of the statement is addressed by Christ in his next statement:

And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.  

It was curious to me that this portion (the "if") of Christ's statement is absent from the 2018-2019 statements from the Church as well as missing from President Nelson's conference talk.  Curiously the talk in conference quotes everything from 3rd Nephi 27:7-8 except the last 11 words of the sentience. The "if" part.  Perhaps an editorial error, you decide.

But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return

The difference in fulfilling the "if" is the difference between being hewn down and cast into the fire vs the works of the Father being shown in it.  At some point it will be very obvious whether a Church did or did not fulfill the contingency.  But by then it might be too late, and pretty fiery hot.

The expected presumption by any active member will be that the Church of course "must" already be built on Christ's gospel.  I mean look how big it is, look at the growth rates, the enormous financial wealth, look at all the scriptural titles we have for top leaders in the Church. As if those measurements were 100% aligned with God's measurements.  Silly or heretical to even question whether it's built on Christ's Gospel, right?

According to scripture the name of the Church is only indicative of something if the church is also built upon Christ's Gospel. And we have Christ telling us that if the "if" clause is met, the Father will show forth His own works in it. Not our own works, not our architectural wonders, not a Church built city in Florida, but the Father's own works.  What works are those I wonder?

But to wrap up, when you read President Nelson's remarks above about using the correct name of the Church hopefully this background is both helpful and interesting.   Technically the LDS Church is not using and has discarded the correct name as found in revelation. When the winds of change come, and they are surely coming, our foundation must be Christ, not men, and not Churches, regardless of their name.   

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Prune dig dung and nourish

NC Jacob 3:25
Wherefore, let us go to and labor with our mights this last time; for behold, the end draweth nigh, and this is for the last time that I shall prune my vineyard. Graft in the branches. Begin at the last, that they may be first and that the first may be last; and dig about the trees, both old and young, the first and the last, and the last and the first, that all may be nourished once again for the last time. Wherefore, dig about them, and prune them, and dung them once more for the last time, for the end draweth nigh. And if it so be that these last grafts shall grow and bring forth the natural fruit, then shall ye prepare the way for them that they may grow. And as they begin to grow, ye shall clear away the branches which bring forth bitter fruit, according to the strength of the good and the size thereof.
Growing up I almost always associated this allegory in the Book of Mormon with geography and the various parts of the earth.  But I like thinking of it in terms of demographics as well.  It adds more insight to think in terms of God planting his word among various people, not just geography.  Some people/cultures are better spots of ground, or more humble welcoming of God's word than others.

Anyway, the allegory mentions something the Lord does on various occasions to save the trees and encourage them to bear fruit.  Dig about them.  Prune them. Dung them. Nourish them.  These efforts to bring fruit are no guarantee of fruit though.  They encourage repentance but whether or not repentance happens is left to the tree.  "If it so be" the allegory says.  The big IF.  It's up to the tree to respond.  God doesn't force.  Force tends to produce bitter fruit. 

This isn't the first time trees and the vineyard has been dug about, pruned, and dunged in this allegory.  Some of them are in the past, so I wanted to take a look at those. When the Lord or servants dig, prune and dung, what does that look like in the lives of the people?  The Tree in the allegory represents a family.  One God is trying to preserve.

The digging and pruning back with ancient Israel was probably traumatic to them.  Invasions, scattering, wars, loss of political identity, loss of traditions, loss of deeply held religious beliefs or hope, loss of knowledge of God or their heritage. From their point of view the digging and dunging was probably like all hell breaking loose.  Same could be said of the other areas of the vineyard we know about that experienced God's gardening efforts. Some repent, some don't.  What else happened with the people we know about in scripture that we could connect with acts of digging and dunging by God?  What about from the perspective of the individuals, what could these acts of vineyard gardening look like?

Digging

Digging implies going underneath the surface.  Likely intended to soften up the ground so it's not hard.  Soft ground is critical in both a literal gardening sense, as well as in an allegorical sense according to numerous other scriptures that deal with agriculture and tree growth.  Alma's seed analogy for example.  Or the parable of the sower for another example.  Hard ground doesn't work.

On an individual level "digging about the tree" might relate to softening up the ground of a persons heart and or mind. Our hearts and minds according to scripture are best when soft and open.  But like ground, it can get hard, stale, dry and barren.  Hence the digging.  It's anyone's guess what that would look like to any particular individual.  But surely some event, some relationship, some thing with a child or something unique to them or their surroundings will soften up the ground of a persons heart or mind.  What seems painful to them is however necessary from God's point of view.  The ground has to be soft or the tree is doomed.  So it makes sense he digs about it.  The pain of that is nothing compared to the alternative.

What about on a large scale?  What would digging look like for a group of people or nation?  Food for thought.

Pruning

Pruning is pretty obvious, it's removing parts of the branch so the other areas can grow.  Proper pruning creates a healthier tree with better fruit.  Trees last longer too, and do better against the elements if pruned.  The tree probably doesn't like it though.  Probably hurts.  So for a person, pruning might look like cutting away bad ideas, false traditions, false beliefs, foolishness, errant behaviors, stubbornness etc etc..   so that charity, forgiveness, and godliness could potentially grow in its place.  It's only potential though.  The person/people get to respond.  This stuff may be traumatic to the person.  Removing false beliefs may not come easily.  Removing ungodly behaviors or habits will likely involve some difficulty, and the person may find it devastating to their pride.  What about on a large scale?  Pruning suggests cutting off.  What would that look like?

Dunging

What about dunging?  In our vocabulary this is literally adding "crap" to the situation.  Fertilizer provides nourishment and livens up the ground which may otherwise be stale or dead or lacking needed nutrients to support the tree.  If the tree would otherwise perish, isn't this kind of God to do?  What once was "waste" now becomes the means of providing growth, nourishment and nutrients.  God is not only kind, but brilliant.  Nothing goes to waste, even the waste itself.

Doesn't always smell good though.  No one likes having crap added to their lives.  But I have to admit when I read scripture that this has a positive intent to save the tree and give it what is needed.  Otherwise the tree can't produce fruit.  Or worse it may not survive at all.  It's something the Lord does on at least 3 occasions in this allegory.  It's designed to help the tree become fruitful.  Which in this allegory means to have living children of God on the earth with a connection to the Fathers in Heaven.  I wonder what dunging look like on a large scale?  Large scale challenges, problems, setbacks, influx of bad smelling elements.  But they enliven the ground and make possible a different future.

Nourishment.  The Good word of God is nourishing to the soul.  Jacob mentions this in his teachings.  God gives His word to nourish us.  If we will receive it.  We too are to nourish the seed of God's word with "great care" "dilligence" and "patience" according to Alma.  Then this from Nephi:
NC 1 Nephi 5:12 And thus we see that the commandments of God must be fulfilled. And if it so be that the children of men keep the commandments of God, he doth nourish them, and strengthen them, and provide ways and means whereby they can accomplish the thing which he has commanded them.
The need for constant nourishment to both body and soul is symbolized in religious ceremony and we all also have a physical reminder on our belly.  The body makes the need for food apparent if you don't feed it.  Having recently had newborns, watching the nourishment coming from their mother is especially noteworthy.  Nourishment is vital.  We all need to be nourished.  The soul may hunger and thirst in a different way than the physical body that's more easily dismissed or neglected.  Of note here is God offering to gather his people as a hen gathereth her chicks under her wing, and nourishes them.

NC 3rd Nephi 4:9
And it came to pass that there came a voice again unto the people, and all the people did hear and did witness of it, saying, O ye people of these great cities which have fallen, who are descendants of Jacob, yea, who are of the house of Israel, O ye people of the house of Israel, how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you.
Where we find ourselves in 2019 inside this allegory is really really interesting.  It's up to us to produce fruit.  I hope we do.  I hope I do.  I do not find God's acts always pleasant or immediately understandable or without challenge and pain.  But the scriptures do in fact show that they come from a kind God who lovingly takes care of His vineyard.  To those in the heat of the moment it's possible everything looks all wrong at times. But scriptures and especially this allegory portray the Lord as someone worthy of our adoration.  The character displayed by the Lord is humbling.  That's something I want to place faith in.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

"We don't know"

I've heard the phrase "we don't know" a number of times this week.

Some things are not fully known or are lost to history.  That's not what I'm getting at here.  For this post I’m referring to the use of the phrase regarding some Gospel or doctrine or religious topic where "We don't know" actually means "It's impossible to know" "Don't pretend to know" "Anyone who does think they know is wrong or lying" "It's out of the realm of possibility to ever know".  “Because I’ve never heard it, no one must know”.  It's an insistent ignorance and refusal to investigate.  This phrase also carries the implication in some circles that no LDS General Authority has spoken of the topic and therefore, "we don't know". 

Saying "we" don't know gives the absence of understanding a certain sense of authority by speaking for some undisclosed and unnumbered collective group.  It implies the speaker's experience sufficiently vast that since they don't know, no one must. It's as if "we" sometimes refers to all of humanity.  "We" don't know about X Y Z.  "We'll have to wait until the afterlife to know about X Y Z".   And yet there may be hundreds of people who know additional information about that thing.  In one sense acknowledging you don't know something is the first step towards leaning more about that thing.  But that depends on what the person does next. 

The phrase is one of those conversion stopping, mind stopping phrases. It stops the search.  It puts things out of limit.  It prevents someone from learning what information IS available to know about the topic.  It put a stop to an otherwise enjoyable conversation earlier this week and I found that very unfortunate.  Rather than a childlike attitude of asking questions, seeking, asking, or knocking, or simply reasoning through something, or some doctrine "we don't know" is more like a declaration that our minds are shut.  Any conversation after such a declaration therefore gets firmly labeled as speculation.  

"I don't know" is a different phrase.  It suggests the knowledge may exist, but the person may just not yet have learned or be familiar with it yet.  When my kids use the phrase "I don't know" it's often followed by a question.  Once they become aware they don't know something, they instinctively begin to build their understanding.  Unless I've failed as a parent and made them feel dumb or ashamed for not knowing.  That's on me.  Their little attention span may be short, but their child instinct is one I find admirable.  To an adult it seems like it's safer and a more "respectable" position to pronounce that "we don't know" rather than risk looking uninformed or uneducated.  But it also stops the inquiry and doesn't promote seeking, or gaining the understanding.  It's a lazy phrase.  In some ways it's anti-knowledge because it's already declared that the knowledge isn't had or is unavailable when neither may be true.   

Making knowledge or declaring knowledge unavailable seems like an unintelligent idea.  Christ's teaching to "Become as a little Child" in my experience is perhaps the most overlooked and neglected portion of Christ's Doctrine.  Hard for me to not see that one blessing of children is that God has given an in-your-face constant pestering reminder of some of the attributes taught in scripture.