Friday, May 31, 2019

Dogs Cats and The Doctrine of Christ

I was struck recently with a few elements of the Doctrine of Christ and how The LDS Church teaches it and speaks of it.

To start I wanted to look at some really interesting statistics.  Thanks to a database of general conference talks back to 1851 we can easily see how focused the General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been on "The Doctrine of Christ".  First column down the left you can see the decade, followed by the frequency of the word, or the phrase is this instance.

Here's a link to see the origin of my above image is case it's not very clear.  The link takes a second to fully load so give it a minute.

As you can see the "Doctrine of Christ" (or alternate "Christ's Doctrine") wasn't spoken of all that much over the last 60 years in LDS General Conference.  Sometimes only mentioned twice a decade.  To give you some frame of reference, the word "dog" has been spoken more in general conference than "Doctrine of Christ", 14 times more to be exact.  The word "pulpit" blows them both  away with 884 mentions.  Before I return from my digression I need to speak to the cat lovers of the world and acknowledge that "cat" has been said in General Conference 81 times with definite trends upward this decade. The word cat has been said more in General Conference than the Doctrine of Christ for like 4 of the past 8 decades.  But now I'm way way off track.

The Doctrine of Christ is specific doctrine, taught by Christ and defined by Him.  A proper noun in grammatical terms.  It's not vague ideas or concepts defined by us.  It has specific scriptural sources. And it doesn't go by other names.  Christ's doctrine also has a warning not to add to or take away from this particular doctrine and than teach it as if it was Christ's doctrine.  So, to me, there's a clear boundary between groupings of Gospel stand-alone ideas (such as faith, repentance, baptism, Holy Ghost etc), and Christ's specific doctrine.   

With that as background what I'm wondering about is how often or frequently Christ's Doctrine is spoken of or taught about.  So back to the above image you no doubt saw the huge bar graph jump in 2010's where the Doctrine of Christ was said 62 times (still less than buzz word "Covenant path" which has no clear definition or scriptural reference but carries 77 mentions this decade).  But back on track.  Something very interesting must have happened as the Doctrine of Christ got triple the mention that decade than it had EVER had.  Drilling down into the 2010's you can see more specifically the precise year where there was a clearly outlying increase.  2016.

2016 had more than quadruple the mentions of any other year of the decade.  Drilling down further every mention of the Doctrine of Christ that year was during the October General Conference.  Why would that be I wonder?  I mean this jump is so significant in the past 168 years it bears investigation.  There were more mentions in one session of General Conference than any prior decade!

One interesting candidate for why this may have happened is something else that happened in 2016 prior to that October LDS conference.  A small unorganized and informal group of Mormons or former Mormons.  Both now formerly known as Mormons as a result of the recent teachings from President Nelson to no longer use the term "Mormon.  Anyway that group decided to hold a "Doctrine of Christ" conference in September of 2016 in Boise Idaho.  Chris's Doctrine was the focus of the entire event.  Prior to this event in September there was a bit of an awakening among this band of religious misfits about how neglected, discarded, and completely misunderstood the Doctrine of Christ had been for generations in the LDS church.  That group decided to revisit the subject and bring added emphasis, light and life to the topic taught by Christ as His own doctrine.

I have no idea who is reading this so I need to give some context.  The LDS church (as it was known then) does not at all fancy this informal band of independent thinking Mormons/Christians I'm referring to.  They have excommunicated many of them, often apply a label of apostate,  and oppose them and any of their beliefs which don't conform to LDS thought and tradition. This group made up of mostly members or former members has firmly gotten the attention of the LDS church and it's not the approving kind of attention.  It's the opposite.  This group isn't a church, and has no formal organization.  It's more a group unified by belief in the Book of Mormon and belief in what God is doing in our day.

Back to this conference in Boise though.  A few top LDS Church leaders were invited to speak at it. See here.  They were invited and encouraged to send a speaker as this was a unique opportunity to address folks who's views of the Church may not be very positive.  And it was also a chance for LDS leaders to share whatever insights they had with people on a topic presumed to be of high importance to everyone who believes in the Book of Mormon.  So, it's a matter of fact that the LDS Church knew about this "Doctrine of Christ" conference months in advance.

4 months prior to the little conference in Idaho, the LDS Church demanded all names of any leaders and the Church be removed from the conference website.  It became a legal matter of intellectual property.  The LDS Church had a spokesmen adamantly and firmly reject any invitation to speak.  Although the conference was never presented as having affiliation with the LDS Church, the intellectual property representative demanded that a clause be added to the public website that this conference was not endorsed by the Church.  So much for sharing their insights or speaking to people who's views of the Church are not very positive.

Given the degree of the negative reaction, it's not a stretch imagine the Church had people or informants attend the meeting to see what was going on.  The leaders knew the topic and knew that such things as re-baptisms would take place at the event since Christ's doctrine includes baptism by authority as one of it's main elements.  Remember this Doctrine of Christ conference was September 2016, one month prior to the regularly scheduled and sanctioned LDS General Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Now the graph comes into play.  As you can see, fall of 2016 is when you can see on the graph a  sudden and major jump in mention of the Doctrine of Christ.  This was the first conference after the little conference in Boise.  But the upswing in mention of Christ's doctrine was only a temporary spurt, it then returns to the previous trend.

Is it possible that in order to not be shown up, or not be shown as lacking teachings (or even mention) about such a core topic (for decades), that this was a counter response to a tiny group in Idaho?   The data is there. You decide if there is a correlation.

If an organization were concerned about search engine hits on the "Doctrine of Christ" possibly directing the public to that disavowed little conference in Idaho, then making a lot of mention of that phrase soon after could help keep online search results pointing where you want.  Namely to your own organization.  Again, any correlation is up to you to decide.

It's interesting that one of the speakers at the LDS conference who spoke about Christ's Doctrine during that Oct 2016 conference mentioned how for members of the Church partaking of the sacrament "renews covenants made at baptism".  He referenced this idea twice in his talk.  The citations for the idea linked only to another conference talk by another Church leader I linked to it above if you want to research the details.  This idea of sacrament renewing covenants has been shown to be unscriptural and not the purpose of the sacrament by other members of the 12 (Neil Andersen), but that's a separate topic. 

I wonder if this double reference to sacrament as a renewal of baptismal covenants had any inkling of an attempt to counter what they knew was happening up there in Boise Idaho with actual physical re-baptisms.  In olden days of the LDS Church if you wanted to renew your baptism, you'd simply get re-baptized.  It was common.  It was no only accepted practice, but an early temple recommend question even asked "When was the last time you were re-baptized".  The idea of re-baptism now days however to most members of the Church is viewed as definitely poisonous.  It's interesting how something common and harmless like getting re-baptized, can transform into something seemingly abhorrent after only a hundred years.

Christ went to the trouble of specifically defining His doctrine in scripture (LDS 3rd Nephi 11:30-40) and then warned not to add to or take away from it and go and establish it as His doctrine.  The speaker at the LDS conference also went to the trouble of defining Christ's Doctrine but interestingly never included Christ’s definition. Instead he gave his own summary definition. There are differences between the speakers definition and Christ's. But I'll leave that to you.

Here's the section of the talk.
My message today focuses on the doctrine of Christ. The scriptures define the doctrine of Christ as exercising faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repenting, being baptized, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.5
[5] See 2 Nephi 31; 3 Nephi 27:16–20.

If you look at footnote 5 it cites 2 Nephi 31 (which is great) and 3 Nephi 27.  Oddly missing is where Christ himself defines his own Doctrine in 3 Nephi 11.  What a curious thing to leave out.  Instead a related but different passage in 3 Nephi 27 is used as the source.  Wonder why, when defining Christ's doctrine a speaker would not cite the Lord himself who defines his own doctrine.  Questions for another day.

I was in attendance at that little Doctrine of Christ Conference in Boise Idaho.  Some things were said that have stayed with me ever since.  Those thoughts and the contrast between that and what I heard a month later at LDS conference motivate the below thoughts.  In Nephi's words "there is none other can be saved in the Kingdom of God" than the doctrine of Christ. (LDS 2 Nephi 31:21)  So this topic is of greatest importance to us all.  Both Nephi and Christ himself spent time teaching and clarifying this doctrine.  It's about our own salvation.  It describes an interaction between God and man.

Interestingly it's not a stand alone topic in any Church manual, it's not the title or main subject of any LDS book that I can find.  It's never been the sole subject of any lesson I've had at church with the exception of when a lesson or talk happens to be based on a General Conference talk that happens to have had the Doctrine of Christ as its subject.

When I hear this topic taught at Church there are often strong undertones that connect this doctrine to fidelity to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  The topic can hardly be taught by the Church without some focus on and pointing to the men leading.  Despite that none of those things are part of the doctrine. 

For most of my religious upbringing this doctrine has been reduced to a list of actions checkboxes that you can fill out and then be done with it.  At least that was the predominant attitude I have seen all my life as a member of the Church.  It's an attitude still held by the overwhelming majority of people I still attend Church with.  Even the enduring to the end bit comes across as simply killing time on the clock of life. As long as you can somehow remain a member in semi-good standing until your physical death, you've apparently "endured to the end".  That has never inspired me, nor felt right.  It's boring, shallow, and lifeless.  It's no wonder the topic doesn't get much attention.

If there's any question on what the Doctrine Consists of here are the scriptural links:

3 Nephi 11:30-40 (NC 3 Nephi 5:9)
2 Nephi 31-32 (NC 2 Nephi 13-14)
I wrote a few posts about a few things on this topic beginning here
Other's have written some great stuff, here is one:

Assuming you know what the doctrine is, and have spent time on it, I put together a list of questions I found thought provoking on the topic.  Food for thought but it's important to be familiar with the doctrine first.  My goal is to refocus on Christ's Doctrine and gaining from it what God offers.

How far does the Doctrine of Christ take you?  Nephi teaches “Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and there will be no more doctrine given until after he shall manifest himself unto you in the flesh. (v. 6–7).  "Unto you" "in the flesh".  Does the Doctrine of Christ lead you to an encounter with Christ as Second Comforter?  While you're mortal?  Is that within it's scope?  Or does the Doctrine of Christ stay shallow and not encompass or involve such Gospel depth?

Nephi also relates this when discussing this doctrine: But behold, my beloved brethren, thus came the voice of the Son unto me, saying, After ye have repented of your sins, and witnessed unto the Father that ye are willing to keep my commandments by the baptism of water, and have received the baptism of fire and of the holy ghost, and can speak with a new tongue—yea, even with the tongue of angels—and after this should deny me, it would have been better for you that ye had not known me

Speak with the tongue of angels.  Does that make that person a type of ministering angel?

That last part of the above quote has an an ominous warning.  What is it about denying Christ at that point in progression that provokes this warning?   There's another warning by Christ in context of this doctrine that warns the audience not to add or take away from the Doctrine.  Why I wonder?  What does it do to the doctrine when men add to it or take away from it?  What does it cost a person or people when this happens?  What do they potentially loose out on?  Does a little contamination ruin the whole?

When Nephi teaches: And now, my beloved brethren, I know by this that unless a man shall endure to the end, in following the example of the Son of the living God, he cannot be saved. (2 Nephi 31:16) Does that just mean the end of your body clock?  Or does that imply an "enduring" or "preserving" of truth forever?  How far does the example of the Son of the living God extend?  I think our idea of "endure to the end" is extremely short sighted and boring.

Christ taught: "I am Alpha and Omega the beginning and the end", He tells us. "The end" is one of his names. Is Christ the "end" to which we are to endure?  Is that when we meet Him and receive Him?  Is it also something further?  Why has no one ever taught or even talked about any of this in Church?  It's as if it was hidden in plain sight.

Why would God hide things in scripture?  Is it so God in his Mercy can judge people less harshly?

Does the Doctrine of Christ require your fidelity to a Church organization?  Does it even require a formal earthly Church at all?

Where in the Doctrine of Christ does it require a man from the Church to lay hands on your head?  Can the Holy Ghost just descend upon you itself like it did for Christ who's example we are supposed to follow?

Does the Doctrine of Christ require you to give your tithes and offerings to a corporation or only one specific Church to be considered tithing?

If you follow Christ's Doctrine who is it you should be getting to know?  It makes sense that you get to know someone you're following.  But if all you're following are religious steps or religious leaders the only thing you may get to know are that Church organization and those men leading it.  Getting to know Christ might be very different than getting to know a Church.

Going back to the question that started this post, can you talk about and follow religious steps and never come to know Christ?

Does the Doctrine of Christ require you to "know Christ"?  Nephi tells us his revelation on the subject was given that we "might know the gate". Christ called himself "the gate" (NIV John 10:7). "Knowing the gate", and "knowing Christ" sound like one of those hidden clues God wants us to notice.  All these synonyms and names and titles all seem to have an intriguing theme and an underlying message as you follow the clues.

2 Nephi 31:21 And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father..."

*Update 6/4/19

The Doctrine of Christ twice mentions to become as a little child.  Also in Luke:

NC Luke 10:8
And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them; but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them and said, Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God. Truly I say unto you, Whoever will not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall by no means enter therein.
Is there a connection between a little child and the Kingdom of God? For a fascinating read on the birth of the Kingdom of God symbolized in the constellation of the Infant Prince, as seen in the heavens, see here.

Truly "of such" is the Kingdom of God.

Continued next post....

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