Thursday, February 20, 2020

Handbook of Handbooks

The LDS Church released a new handbook this week announcing it via e-mail to all members and through news outlets.  Various aspects have been covered online by others so I wanted to document a few of the changes that caught my eye.

This is from the Official Church News Room announcement about the new handbook:
The Church of Jesus Christ believes in ongoing revelation to prophets and apostles. “And that means, in a phrase, that the Church is true and living. It can change,” Elder Perkins said. “Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the Church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.” 
“It is so important for members to understand — both men and women — that God is giving us His power so we can go and do the things that He has asked us to do,” said Sister Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency, who was closely involved in the creation of the new handbook. “And He has also delegated authority on us so we can receive revelation and have His help and His guidance every step of the way.”
Some of that wording is similar to passages found in the Book of Mormon that God has done his work, and has now given his power to men.  Nephi warned:
and they shall teach with their learning, and deny the holy ghost which giveth utterance. And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel. And they say unto the people, Hearken unto us and hear ye our precept, for behold, there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men. Behold, hearken ye unto my precept.
Handbooks have a tendency to replace the scriptures.  Even in these statements by the Church, the handbook is where the members will see downstream "revelatory" updates that the Church gets.  The Church being "true and living", as the newsroom statement asserts, is at odds with and causes you to ignore what the actual scriptures say and modern leaders have said about the status of the Church.

Were I to ask people why the scriptures aren't the handbook, and why the new LDS handbook is something I need to pay attention to I can confidently say that the most common response would be that the handbook is for OUR day, and gives us instructions specific to our circumstances.  Which suggests that the scriptures don't, which in my view is inaccurate, but it also demotes scriptures to something lesser than the handbook as far as what is relevant to our day.  "Hearken ye to our handbook"

The handbook in my experience often trumps scripture and amounts to a lifeless operating procedure that seeks to ensure you know who is in charge, how you are to behave, and which authority you are to respect.  It creates uniformity and a central authority.  Eternal life is not found in the handbook.  But the scriptures by contrast.... Jesus said: Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.  (John 5:9).

But anyway, a few items that caught my eye. 

LDS Handbook 2 says (or rather used to say, as it's been discontinued) 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.'
This is the new section about scriptures: 

The previous handbook section which had been in place for I don't know how many decades was clear that no other works other than the standard words are to be used or promoted as scripture.  I would often cite this as part of discussions with people at Church as it's common for some to frequently promote other church materials, such as General Conference talks, as if they were scripture.  But that is now obsolete I guess.  I wonder if this may open the door for the members to considering a variety of other materials as if they were scripture.  Like the "living" handbook which changes frequently.  In Joseph Smith's day the scriptures were living, and grew.  In our day it's the handbook that grows and helps people feel like God is leading.

There were also some updates in this handbook regarding what individuals the Church requires disciplinary action towards. The list of what kinds of things require a disciplinary council has been update and some items changed. But per the below instruction from the First Presidency, depending on where you live and the language, you may be under a different policy than other people in the Church.    

Even though policies change all the time, the new handbook states publicly opposing mere policies puts you into the stated definition of apostasy.  So as each policy changes (or gets reversed) your apostasy may be impacted along with it.  Which is curious because it was repeated, clear and deliberate public opposition to some Church policies which actually led to them being changed.

Speaking of apostasy.

Given the wording "must take exceptional care" that has to be taken when issuing recommends, I don't know how else a Bishop or counselors could determine whether a member's parents or siblings sympathize with apostate teachings without adding this as a recommend interview question. And how far reaching does the inquiry go?  Does my brother have to report contact with me if he thinks I sympathize with what the Church deems apostate groups? Does my nephew report what he thinks are my apostate beliefs but then declares he has had no contact with me?  What if someone simply believes differently?  Is that categorically apostate?  This handbook section has inklings of the inquisition era we've seen in other religions of the past.

The next section that stood out is below.  Despite the prevalence of electronic versions of the scriptures on people's personal electronic devices, this statement is still still in the handbook:
To maintain an atmosphere of reverent worship in sacrament meetings, when speakers use scriptures as part of their talks, they should not ask the congregation to open their own books to the scriptural references.
I can think of very few reasons, if any, where opening the word of God would be disruptive to atmosphere of worship.

Another interesting item that is now in the handbook but was not previously is this section:

18.9.4 - Sacrament
7. Members partake with their right hand when possible.
I remember this was always stressed during my growing up years but it was never formally written anywhere. I thought it was a myth as more than a few leaders had advised against it over the years as it can turn non commandments into commandments of formalism.  One such source below:

President Joseph Fielding Smith warned of customs creeping into commandments. He said:
These changes and innovations are innocently adopted, but in course of time there is the danger that they will become fixed customs and considered as necessary to the welfare of the Church. For example, let us consider the ordinance of the Sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform, such as we see done in some sectarian and other churches. Then again as they passed the Sacrament they had to stand with their left hand plastered on their backs in a most awkward manner. The priests or elders who administered these holy emblems had to stand in a certain way as the one officiating in the prayer knelt at the table. In some instances the Bishop stood in the pulpit with raised hands in an attitude of benediction. Other customs among the quorums and in the services of the wards were introduced. Members of the Church were instructed that they must not touch the trays containing the bread and the water with their left hand, but must take it in their right hand after partaking as their neighbor held the tray in his or her right hand. In the Priesthood in the wards, we now have “supervisors” directing the activities of the deacons and the priests. How long will it take before these supervisors are considered as a regular part of the Priesthood and it will be necessary to set them apart or ordain them to this office? So we see that we, if we are not careful, will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy.” 
(Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation Volume 1 (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book Company, 1946), 103.)  Full background here.  

I still think the scriptures ought to be the handbook.  They are God's word.  These other handbooks have the appearance of Godly instruction or God's word to our day but are not.  There is no assurance following it will bring you or others to Christ.

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