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 HeschelYesterday 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?
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 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