Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Organization Fixation Part 2

Part 2:  Authority can be toxic 

This is a continuation from the previous post and goes through a a few notes on the second and third sections of the article I've been taking a deeper look at.  Posted here for reference: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2020/03/the-lord-leads-his-church-through-prophets-and-apostles?lang=eng

Here's a basic recap of the logic of the article: God requires an organization.  God requires an organization led by men called prophets and apostles.  The LDS Church is that organization. The leaders of the LDS church are Prophets and Apostles. And therefore the article describes these leaders in these descriptive words: (These bold bullets below are taken directly from the article with some food for thought on each one)

- "These leaders did not volunteer, and they were not elected by believers".  

Except for Brigham Young, who campaigned for the position and was voted on (The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844 Author D. Michael Quinn)

But to be fair, most of the leaders did not publicly volunteer and were not elected.  But lets face it..... when you want a position of authority there are numerous ways to indirectly "volunteer".

On a related note, when it comes to not being elected by the believers, what the article says is not only accurate but as we saw with President Nelson, the leaders can assume the highest positions of authority before the body even has a chance to sustain them.  So people don't vote on them typically, or even have to sustain them before they claim these Church positions and titles of authority. 

-"A paramount function of Apostles in the Church that Jesus established was to hold the keys of the priesthood." 

Paramount means: more important than anything else; supreme.  This bullet teaches the most important, supreme function of an Apostle is to be a key holder.  Essentially the person with the most authority on everything. If you hold the keys, you would be a gatekeeper or opener.  And the paramount function we are taught is to be the guy with the biggest key ring enabling them to dictate and supervise the most things.  Very hierarchical. No chance for equality with this type of setup.  These men acquire power and authority and become the gatekeepers due to possession of keys. 

Christ in scripture is described as the keeper of the gate and he employs no servant there (2 Nephi 9:41).  That truth is affirming and edifying. It points to Christ. But coming directly to Christ without an intermediary is not the objective of this article.  It may be one of the objectives of the scriptures but it's not being promoted or even offered by this article.  Despite that, it is still something I believe worth teaching.  So, lest we forget, Christ is the owner of the priesthood keys.  He has't surrendered them.  We can come to him directly.  That truth is not something however that the article being talked about in this post bothers to remind you of.  It only focuses on the key holders you need to look to and or appease.  Here's a picture from the Rome Temple photo shoot posted on the official Church Newsroom site.

-They identify truth and error and authoritatively state, “Thus saith the Lord.”

No LDS Church leader in the last 100 years (to my knowledge) has used that phrase to declare Gods word.  Prophets in scripture of course did.  But the scripture stopped growing after Joseph Smith's day.  And now only the handbook grows and changes.

-The Bible also shows that religious leaders must have the authority of God’s priesthood, which is conferred by one already holding that authority.

When a teaching such as this only reference conferral of authority it leaves out important information, such as: 

D&C 121:37
That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man.
President Packer in a general conference talk distinguished between power in the priesthood and the authority of the priesthood.  Authority can be conferred, but power in the priesthood comes form God.  When authority becomes the primary focus and what gives license to govern other people that's all that gets focused on.  But actual power in the priesthood has to come from God.

This from Joseph Smith:
God will not acknowledge that which He has not called, ordained, and chosen. In the beginning God called Adam by His own voice. ‘And the Lord called unto Adam and said unto him, Where art thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, and hid myself.’ [Genesis 3:9–10.] Adam received commandments and instructions from God: this was the order from the beginning.
All Priesthood is Melchizedek, but there are different portions or degrees of it. That portion which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away; but that which brought the ministry of angels remained. All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself.” (Teachings, pp. 180–81.)
Someone who has been ordained by God himself is likely to point out examples of that pattern. Such as Joseph Smith, who above does point out that pattern. Someone who has not had any such ordination is not likely to mention it, especially if doing so would be problematic for their claim to authority. 

-Apostles “have the right, the power, and the authority to declare the mind and will of God to his people, subject to the over-all power and authority of the President of the Church.”

Apostles are subject to the President's over-all power and authority. The chain of central command is made very clear.  There will be NO insubordination. I think it's all to common to forget that being "called" a prophet apostle or any other calling, is different than being "chosen".  Matthew 22:14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.” D&C 121:34 Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen.
Luke 22: And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
The thing to avoid is priestcraft.  There is an overabundance of evidence that priestcraft is toxic.
2 Nephi 26: 29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
-They teach and counsel as directed by the Holy Ghost, with no desire other than to speak what is true.

If only blanket feel-good statements applied to everyone who ever occupied any religious position of authority.  This type of thinking leads us to trust and over-rely on the men.  The article doesn't teach you to differentiate between inspired moments and all other moments when men speak as men.  This leads to abuse and can mislead people away from recognizing their duty to find and follow the voice of the Spirit themselves.  How do we know they teach and counsel as directed by the Holy Ghost?  Do they do this all the time?  All of them?  This statement from the article is a nice platitude but ultimately misleads.     

-Their voices can be trusted. 

Says the person who's also one of the voices you can trust.  If this was said by a political figure the media would quickly point out the conflict of interest of such a statement.   Aren't we taught in scripture NOT to trust in the arm of the flesh?

-Their voices are: clear, unpolluted, unbiased. 

This is a tall order. And sets men up as a light.  I think perhaps Christ is the only one that could rival these amazing descriptions of these Church authorities put forward by this article. Didn't Christ teach that His sheep hear HIS voice and follow Him? The concern here stems from scripture when readers are warned about men setting themselves up as a light.  This is a clear warning in scripture but seems largely ignored.

-You can always count on them

Always means always.  Aren't we supposed to rely on God?  What about counting on them when their voices and teachings are later proved to have been in error?  Doesn't relying on men set us up for failure?  What about when President Hinckley led the "Meet the Mormons" ad campaign but later President Nelson said using terms such as Mormon and championing their use was a major victory for Satan and offends God?  How can we count on contradictions?

-Their only motive is ‘the everlasting welfare of your souls’

Again, this is a sweeping generalization being applied to a whole list of LDS leaders both living and dead.  I don't know what their motives are, but I always like to assume the best. I think everyone is doing the best they can according to their worldview.  My question is why do I even need to assess their motives?  That's a semi impossible task.  Christ never said to discern true from false messengers by the motives they claim about each other.  In contrast, Christ DID teach to assess them by their fruits. By their fruits we will know them he said.  What path does it lead me down when I'm assured that the leaders of the required organization only have only pure motives?  I feel like I'm being led to trust in men rather that pointed to my Savior and how Christ said to discern messengers.  What if there are very few fruits?

-Neither the President of the Church, nor the First Presidency, nor the united voice of the First Presidency and the Twelve will ever lead the Saints astray or send forth counsel to the world that is contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.”

Except when they did. All the time. The Church essays explain the times the Church leaders have taught falsehoods and or been racist.  The current trend of flip flopping policies and statements is hard to miss.  This bullet sets men up as a light who cannot ever be wrong.  Meanwhile they admit all the times there has been errors.

-To become the official doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ, the individual teachings of apostles and even prophets need to be affirmed through the process of approval by other apostles and prophets.

Is that all it takes to become official doctrine?  Affirmation by other men? This didn't mention God at all.  Aren't we supposed to affirm teachings by the Holy Ghost?  The Holy Ghost was supposed to be the way to identify all truth wasn't it?  While affirmation by other apostles and prophets is no doubt a process they follow, what I suspect is far more common it would seem is that the top leader needs to declare something and all the subordinates simply fall in line.  Especially when the top leaders have the kinds of descriptions I'm discussing in this post applied to them.

-There is a long-standing rule that questions addressed to individual Apostles or other authorities about doctrine or policy that is not clearly defined in the scriptures or handbooks are to be referred to the First Presidency. 

Because rules and organizational hierarchy.  Rules are what organizations rely on and enforce to create am artificial version of unity. This is what you get with a top down organization, with someone always governing you with claims to keys, rather than a system of equality, which is what the scriptures teach.


This list of attributes being applied to the leaders portrays how worthy they are of our trust and obedience.  This seems very dangerous and opposite of what scriptures say.  Almost sounds as if these leaders are pseudo-Christ and a substitute for him. In fact why even look to Christ when we have these clearly elevated, powerful, inerrant, unbiased, unpolluted, infallible men holding all the keys to your salvation?  They can do no wrong, have only pure motives, cannot lead you astray, and will never send forth counsel contrary to the mind and will of the Lord.

On the one hand God does send messengers and a true messenger's message will have God's voice resonating in the message.  On the other hand you have men making claims. Three's a difference between hearing the voice of God in a message, and just listening to a religious leader.  And we are warned about men setting themselves up as a light.  Becoming an idol.  A critical issue. These two things lead to two different places.   

I think it’s pretty clear this article from the church is far more interested in hierarchy than heaven.

Heaven is much more interesting and exciting.  Hopefully this blogpost and the food for thought comments about the article have provided interesting contrasts.   I love this statement found in John:
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

Organization Fixation Part 1

It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless 
                                   - God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Yesterday I came across an article on the LDS Church main web page that was concerning in many ways.  Link here.   It's titled:  The Lord Leads His Church through Prophets and Apostles

The first section of the article is all about how a religious organization is required.  It was posted the same day as this article in the Deseret News.  Which was surprisingly connected.  It begins:
SALT LAKE CITY — The past few years were tough for churches. Worship attendance dropped. Religious disaffiliation rose. 
The Pew Research Center stated in the link that "The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing."
In seeming counter to those statistics and declining religious affiliation trends published by the Deseret News, the same day the Church released the first article I referenced which begins with very heavy emphasis on just how required religious organizations are.  The content of these two articles seems related. 

I wanted to take a closer look at the Church's article in this two part post. Before I dive in, I first want to distinguish between a few ideas. Organization is the opposite of chaos.  A group of people may have various levels of informal organization among themselves but they are not "an organization". Contrast that with a formal religious organization, or institution.  Typically known as a Church. The article obfuscates these differences and the result is misdirection.  So I hope to clear away some of that and share some food for thought.

As an example, a local tennis group of guys or gals who play together is organized (tennis requires organization) but isn’t "an" organization.  You can't sue the local group, and you can't tax them.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) however, is an organization that the group of players may also belong to, or they may not. You absolutely don't need the USTA or need to belong to the USTA in order to play tennis.  They do offer tournaments and they have membership benefits for their members but the sport itself is independent of any organization.  It's just tennis, millions of people love and organize themselves to play it. You can organize your own tournament if you want to and you can play the sport whenever you feel like it without the USTA at all.  The rules are public domain and you don't even have to keep those if you don't want to. 

Ok, back to the Church article.  The Church’s article repeatedly refers to “an Organization” and goes to lengths to teach you how they are necessary, required, and the medium through which God leads.  The article makes it pretty clear the word organization is primarily referring to a formal institutional religious structure (because it say so various times in the article).  So when the article says “an organization” it's a formal organizational entity.  Not simply a collection of folks who opt to associate together for some gospel purpose in a non chaotic way.

That being the case, see what you think of these teachings, all taken from the first section of the article, in bullet form.  I included in parenthesis if the teaching/assertion had any source cited to support the premise.  Remember "an organization" as used in the article is not just a generic lack of chaos among a self-selected group, it's a structured formal entity with people in charge, with procedures and policies that differentiate it from other organizations in the same genre.

So as to have some evidence for my view, going with each quoted bullet I made some food for thought commentary. My intent is not to be negative or critical, it's to exercise my obligation to discern truth from error.

-The work of the Lord requires an organization. (no source cited)

"An" organization it says.  Not the universal concept of being organized vs disorganized.  This bullet, as you can read in the article, has reference to a formal entity.  It's interesting to me how all of these apparent requirements for an organization don't cite any source or evidence. It's possible this is because they are false propositions. Organizations with all the current day formality and procedures, structure, policies, rules and keys didn't exist for pretty much all of the Book of Mormon.  The scriptures were often individuals, or families, clans, or groups of believers who kept a record of God's dealings with them.  Anyone with access to a Book of Mormon can read about this.  They needed scriptures and had teachers who taught them the Gospel.  Not formal organizations.

It's been asked if the LDS Church is any closer to Zion today than 100 years ago.  It's an interesting question.  I question whether these organizational requirements are 1. True, and 2. The ideal Gospel setup God has in mind for people.  Such an organizational formality certainly hasn't always been the plan.  And it doesn't appear to have ever produced Zion.  What it has produced in our day is a $120 billion + religious empire in Salt Lake City, Utah.  If that's your goal, then yeah, formal organizations seem like a requirement.

The article in many ways takes our 2020 religious organization and overlays it on top of biblical and BofM history.  As if our current day setup ought to be the lens through which we view scripture.   I believe that is unhelpful and clouds our vision.  Do organized religions have truths?  Of course they do.  But truth is independent of any particular organization and predates all of them (D&C 93:30).

Jesus himself was baptized and received the Holy Ghost without oversight from any religious organization or institution. In fact Jesus was often at odds with the organized religion of the day.  Joseph too was baptized and received the Holy Ghost without "an organization".  So did a whole mass of people in the Book of Mormon.  The BofM was even published before any formal church organization existed.  The City of Enoch was taken to heaven without any mention of any formal organization.

So who is it that is teaching us God's work requires a formal religion?  Interestingly it's a formal religion.  Most of the assertions have only itself as the source.     

-The Lord Leads His people through an organization. (no source cited)

The Lord leads through His Spirit doesn't he?  At least that's what he said.   Why would we fixate on a lifeless organizational entity rather than the living Spirit?  Organizations can't even talk.  They need spokespeople, they need lawyers, they can get sued, taxed, and need to maintain positive public image in order to survive.  How many times has scripture taught about being "led by the spirit"?   Versus how many times do scripture reference being "led by the organization"?  Am of off base on this?

Seems curious to be replacing The Lord and the leading through His Spirit with a formal religious organization as how God leads.

-You cannot have spirituality or religion apart from a religious organization.  (no source cited)

This is an absurd statement. And lacks common sense.  Guess we'd better toss out half the scriptures because they are without spirituality because had no religious organization.

Let me get this straight....the deep spirituality of a Native American tribe worshiping the creator is not spirituality or somehow invalid because they don’t have a formal religious organization?  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrLZt4SJ9Qo

How about we go try to convert them with these organizational teachings?  How about we lecture them about how required organizations are, and how you can’t have spirituality without them? Any guesses as to how successful that will be? It will be as persuasive as having a cactus for a bed. The truth on the other hand is persuasive.  But this bullet from the article sounds like fear and an attempt to convince you that something unnecessary (the current formal organization) is absolutely vital.  In other words, salvation is not possible apart from "the" organization.   

Did Adam and Eve have no spirituality because they didn't have a religious organization?  Did Abraham? Did Enos?  Did the Brother of Jared?  I'm reminded of that phrase from the New Testament:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the vices of the world.
Pure religion according to scripture were Christian actions, not organizations.  Organizations can't visit the fatherless and widows. (But they can and do extract the widows mite).  Pure religion was to visit the widows in their affliction, visit the fatherless, and stay unspotted.  You're telling me I can't have that or do that apart from a religious institution? That's buffoonery (behavior that's ridiculous, but amusing).

Organizations often do good things. I full well see and acknowledge that. But that is a very different idea than teaching organizations are absolutely required, and you can't access God and spirituality without them.

-Organizations are required in order to accomplish the purposes of the Lord. (no source cited)

It's true that some purposes of the Lord involve a community, like Zion.  But as mentioned earlier, a community or collection of unified people is not the same thing as an organization.  I'm part of a community of tennis players in Davis County, we know each other, play tennis and sometimes hang out. But that has nothing to do with the USTA.

How many purposes of the Lord have been accomplished by righteous individuals or a community without structured religious organizations?  Did the Christian Reformation fathers like Martin Luther require an organization in order to alter the course of Christianity?  No, he fought the organized religion's corruptions.  The hyper focus on organizational entities elevates the status of religious organizations nigh unto God.  Putting the organization between the individual and God at times.

How many things contrary to God has organized religion done falsely in His name?  Religious organizations throughout history have proven to often become abusive and corrupt. Consolidating money and power. Nephi and Moroni both prophesied that all our churches in our day would go astray and make these exact errors.

Why on earth would the work of God fail to be accomplished by a united community people simply because they lacked a formal religious institution?  The organization promoting these ideas seems to sense it's irrelevance so is grasping at straws.

-God only acts through an organization led by offices/positions that include prophets and apostles.  Who govern, direct, control and supervise.  (no source cited)

This is a relevant subheading:

Not only is an organization required, but the highest-ranking leaders govern the people in the organization according to this article.  Contrast that with these statements from Joseph Smith:
Said he, ‘I do not govern them at all. The Lord has revealed certain principles from the heavens by which we are to live in these latter days. The time is drawing near when the Lord is going to gather out His people from the wicked, and He is going to cut short His work in righteousness, and the principles which He has revealed I have taught to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves.’
And on another occasion:
“Some years ago, in Nauvoo, a gentleman in my hearing, a member of the Legislature, asked Joseph Smith how it was that he was enabled to govern so many people, and to preserve such perfect order; remarking at the same time that it was impossible for them to do it anywhere else. Mr. Smith remarked that it was very easy to do that. ‘How?’ responded the gentleman; ‘to us it is very difficult.’ Mr. Smith replied, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.’
-Major efforts to care for the poor are only possible through organized groups. (no source cited)

While I agree with that statement, the statement infers that the organized groups are a function of the larger religious organization governing them, not independently acting groups. So for that reason I dislike the statement and find it misleading.  Efforts to care for the poor are accomplished by people and yes groups of people who care.... for the poor.  Whether those individuals are part of a formal organization doesn't matter.  The world could undertake a major effort to care for the poor simply by individuals keeping Christ's teachings.  Take away the formal corporate organization and suddenly there is a LOT more money to help the poor, ironically.  It's a lie that you can't care for the poor without a formal religion.

-An organization is needed in order to achieve Christ's commandment to "become one".  (no source cited)

Christ never said nor implied this idea as put forward in the article.  Becoming one happens (or potentially happens) for a husband and wife and does not need a Church organization to play middleman in their marriage.  It seems self-evident you can "become one" with others without a formal religious organization. Otherwise we'd all be dependent on an organization in order to keep God's commandments.  God forbid that.  This bullet point from the article is semi-absurd.  Organizations often prevent unity and equality because they have leaders at the top governing the people at the bottom.  They become corrupt, accumulate massive wealth, and often abuse people.  This bullet point taken directly from the article is so misleading it appears to be complete lie.

-Individual believers also need to experience religion through a religious organization because only in this way can we be authoritatively reproved or chastened for sin and error.  (direct quote, no source was cited)

This is another absurd statement.  You mean to tell me the only way authoritative reprovals can come is through a religious organization?  That sounds like abuse.  That contradicts every book of scripture we have.  I guess God can't authoritatively correct and chasten whomever he wants, whenever he wants, and however he wants whether on the road to Damascus or inside a cloud for 3 hours.  Only through a religious organization can individual believers be chastened for sin and error.  Wow.  The article cites no evidence for this foul smelling garbage because..... there is no evidence for such nonsense.  The organization is trying desperately to prove itself relevant but it's only showing it's coming irrelevance. 

Whether intentional or not, the Church's recent change to drop the 3-hour block and go to 2 hours and a more home centered approach had the effect of making the Church organization more irrelevant.

-Only an organization with different talents and a variety of efforts can achieve what is necessary to accomplish the Lord’s work.  (no source cited)

Organizations have no talents apart from the people in it right?  But I agree you need some diversity and efforts to fulfill God's work.  I agree with that.  God's work requires people who obey God.  Oh.... except that apparently that pesky organization wants to insert itself again. Why does that keep cropping up?  Why does this organization keep putting itself between us and God?  Formal organization sometimes hinder God's work by removing equality and creating big people and little people and people in charge and people who get abused. 

It's true different talents and a variety of efforts are needed.  But where again in scripture does God require a formal religion?  Nowhere.  That kind of assertion seems to only be found in the words of the religious organizations and the people leading it.

D&C 109: 8 talks about a house of God. A temple of all things.  It says;
Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
Organize yourselves it says.  Interesting.  Almost as though being organized is a byproduct of keeping Christ's commandments rather than an organization governing you.


How did those teachings from the article sound?  My food for thought commentary probably comes across negative but that is not my intent.  My intent is to simply discern truth from error.  If the teachings in the article sounded like stale cardboard, I agree with you. I can think of few things more mind numbing than uninspiring institutional garbage. Teachings which are self-serving, and can be proven to be falsehoods. By self-serving I mean how convenient that an organization whose existence depends on you believing they are necessary, is the one teaching you religious organizations are necessary.  And by falsehood I mean they have no scriptural support.  None of the assertions cited any backing other than themselves. But you can look at the article yourself and see if I was being unfair in that assessment.

The claims from the Church's Ensign article are that formal organizations are required, and are how God leads his people. However that contradicts scripture, and may in fact be nonsense. As if playing tennis depended on the USTA.

Continued in part 2