Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lesson 27: What Worked?

So, how did Lesson 27 go? What topics led to the most interesting discussion? What pointers can you give?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 27: Good News/Bad News

I have good news and bad news about this week's Gospel Doctrine Underground post(s) on Lesson 27. First, the good news: There is a really interesting post and discussion on the lesson going on at By Common Consent. You will want to check it out.

The bad news: Most of my ideas for a post this week have been addressed by the BCC post. I am not sure what I can add . . .

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 27: Getting Started

The next couple of lessons deal with the Missouri period, the conflict between the Saints and their neighbors, and the resulting adversity and suffering. Here are a couple of resources on the Missouri period that I found interesting:



I also highly recommend the chapters in Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling that deal with this turbulent time in Church history.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lesson 26: What Worked?

So, I focused my lesson primarily on Thomas Marsh and his ups and downs with the Joseph Smith and the Church. I engaged in more story-telling that I usually do, and did not get a lot of discussion. Everyone seems to know the "cream strippings" story (it did figure prominently in the apostasy lesson), so I think my lesson added some depth and complexity to Thomas Marsh's character and relationship to the Church.

How about you? How did you approach this lesson? What was particularly interesting to your class?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 26: Thomas Marsh

The lesson this week focuses entirely on Section 112 of the Doctrine & Covenants, and the theme is missionary work. In my opinion, the lesson does not really track with the text that well. Section 112 is directed to Thomas Marsh as President of the Quorum of the Twelve. It contains personal counsel and admonition for him, as well as direction on how to lead the Apostles in their missionary labors. The manual, on the other hand, focuses on the sacrifices the rank and file members of the Church in Kirtland made to share the gospel (huh?), the Twelve preaching in England (ok), and the Kirtland saints remaining faithful despite adversity, which is kind of ironic, given the Thomas Marsh back-story.

The Thomas Marsh back-story makes Section 112 pretty interesting. Here was a guy who converted to the Church in the earliest days and rose to preside over the Quorum of the Twelve. He has an interesting relationship with Joseph Smith, taking him on when he thought Joseph was too hard on the Twelve (see Rough Stone Rolling at 298). He flees Missouri during the conflict between the Mormons and the Missourians, and eventually testifies against the Prophet, accusing him, essentially, of trying to set up his own theocratic kingdom on the American frontier. Somewhere in the midst of this is the famous cream strippings story (his wife holds back the cream form some milk she shared with a neighbor, which leads to conflict, Church courts, appeals to the First Presidency, etc). Thomas leaves the Church for almost 20 years, but later rejoins the Saints in Utah and reconciles with the brethren.

To me, this story makes some of the passages in Section 112 especially interesting, even poignant. For example, the Lord tells Thomas that “there have been some few things in thine heart and with thee with which I, the Lord, was not well pleased.” D&C 112:2. The Lord counsels Thomas, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give the answers to thy prayers.” D&C 112:10. “Exalt not yourselves; rebel not against my servant Joseph; for verily I say unto you, I am with him, and my hand shall be over him; and the keys which I have given unto him, and also unto youward, shall not be taken from him till I come.” D&C 112:15.

The one verse that really strikes me is 13. After telling Thomas to teach and admonish the Twelve, he says, “And after their temptations, and much tribulation, behold, I, the Lord, will feel after them, and if they harden not their hearts, and stiffen not their necks against me, they shall be converted and I shall heal them.” I wonder if Thomas had any sense in 1837 how this verse might play out for him, how the Lord might feel after him. Twenty years later, after leaving the Church and the Saints, then making his way west, he met with Brigham Young and asked if he could rejoin the Church. A few days later, Brigham Young asked him to address the Saints in a meeting on Temple Square. Thomas said,

My voice was never very strong, but it has been very much weakened of late years
by the afflicting rod of Jehovah. He loved me too much to let me go
without whipping. . . . For if he had not cared anything about me he would
not have taken me by the arm and given me such a shaking. . . . I know
that I was a very stiff-necked man. . . . I want your fellowship; I want
your God to be my God. . . . I have learned to understand what David said
when he exclaimed, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to
dwell in the tents of wickedness."

Susan Easton Black, Who’s Who in the Doctrine and Covenants, Deseret Book 1997.

Thomas Marsh lived through an amazing, difficult, complicated time. The events around him challenged his faith and led him on a tortuous journey. In the end, it appears that the Lord felt after him and brought him home. Can we hope for anything more?

Does the story of Thomas Marsh make the lesson material more meaningful for you? Or does it just not fit this week? Does Section 112 fit in the lesson this week?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 25: The Power of Godliness

Whoo! It has been hard lately finding time to post. I will try to get something out on lesson 25 later today or tomorrow. In the mean time, here is a post I did a few months ago on Priesthood and the Power of Godliness, which also refers you to an old post at Mormon Matters.

I have not read all the references extra-carefully to confirm this, but I think the title of this lesson does not appear in any scripture reference in the materials. Does anyone think that is interesting?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Gospel Doctrine 22: What Worked?

Boy, Mormons love the Word of Wisdom! I am always surprised at how the topic gets people going. It seems that every has an opinion - - and a strong one - - on this topic.

Our lesson focused almost exclusively on the what the WOW tells you to do (as opposed to what it tells you to avoid), and on the blessings that result. I tried to talk about some blessings that we don't always think of - - unity, identity, etc. The discussion was lively and engaging. What about you? What did you talk about? What caught your class' attention?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 22: The Word of Wisdom

Adherence to the Word of Wisdom may be the defining characteristic of Latter-day Saints for most of the world. Ask someone who is not a member of the Church about Mormons, and they are likely to mention, before almost anything else, that we do not smoke or drink alcohol.

Most of us are pretty familiar with the history of the Word of Wisdom. Received in 1883 in response to tobacco use in the School of the Prophets, it was not observed as a commandment until 1851. Even before that, however, it was a centerpiece of Mormon culture.

For most of the past 50 years, the Word of Wisdom has been riding high. The wisdom of the Word of Wisdom was reaffirmed time and again, as study after scientific study confirmed the health benefits of abstaining from tobacco, alcohol, red meat, etc. Mormons told themselves that this was evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. After all, how could he have known back in 1833 what science would demonstrate over a century later?

But science isn’t always backing up the Word of Wisdom these days. The health benefits of red wine, and now coffee, are being touted. I am often surprised to hear less committed and even fully active members of the Church ask if I think the Word of Wisdom will be relaxed in light of recent scientific findings.

I think the Word of Wisdom is about health. But I do not think it is only about health. I think it is about obedience and commitment. I think it about wisdom, both in avoiding unhealthy and problematic practices, and in gaining spiritual knowledge. But I think one of its most important purposes is the one I mentioned at the beginning of this post- - the indelible imprint it has made on Mormon culture. Observing the Word of Wisdom gives members of the Church a common life experience that is very powerful. It bonds us together and sets us apart from the rest of the world. Maybe it bonds us together by setting us apart. It is one of the central ways that you know that you are a Mormon, and that the Mormons around you are part of your group. It is one of the things that makes us a people.

So, what do you think of the Word of Wisdom? What, if anything, does recent health science data say about it? What does it do for you? For your family? For the Church? Is it important, or overemphasized? Why?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 21: What Worked?

OK, I thought the lesson on the the signs of the last days was kind of hard to present in an interesting way. That said, I actually thought some of the ideas in the manual were kind of good this week. I will try to include some of them in comments later.

But how about you? What worked in your lesson? How did you present this material?

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lesson 20: What Worked?

I did not teach last week, but attended the lesson. I think lesson 76 offers some very interesting and challenging ideas. Our lesson, however, was very straightforward. It had some nice thoughts, but nothing too far below the surface.

How about you? What was your lesson like? What resonated with you? With your class? How would you do it differently?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20: Dying Without Law

D&C76:72-74 (Speaking of those in the terrestrial kingdom) - - These are they who died without law; And also they who are the spirits of men kept in prison, whom the Son visited and preached the gospel unto them, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh; Who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it.

D&C 137:7 - - All who have died without a knowledge of this gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom of God . . . .

So, what does it mean to "die without law?" If you reject the gospel in this life, do you get a "do-over" to get into the terrestrial kingdom? How do you square these two scriptures?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lesson 19: What Worked?

So, this week I tried a modified version of the "attention activity" suggested in the manual. I used a picture puzzle, but instead of using it to talk about understanding the whole plan, I used it to talk about how and when different pieces of the Plan of Salvation were revealed or otherwise learned by Joseph Smith. We talked about the creation, fall, free agency and inklings of premortality in the Book of Mormon, specific revelations in the D&C, and aspects of temple ordinances taught in Nauvoo. With each component of the plan, I showed a part of the puzzle. Then I talked about how our understanding of the Plan of Salvation followed the same pattern as the restoration generally. I think it made for an interesting discussion of how we now understand the "Plan."

What about you? How did you teach the lesson? What worked for you?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

When is a Plan not a Plan?

Class, the Teacher has been very busy at work lately. I realize that this post is coming too late to help anyone teaching the lesson tomorrow, and I apologize. I will try to do better in the future.

Lesson 19 is a little unusual in the Doctrine & Covenants curriculum in that, well, it does not really come from the Doctrine & Covenants. The lesson is on the Plan of Salvation, and while it quotes from the D&C, it contains a lot of material from other sources, including the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price and Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

I got wondering about why this was and realized something about the Plan of Salvation that I had never really focused on before: The Plan of Salvation is the great framework of our belief system. But, it was never really presented to Joseph Smith as a framework. He did not receive a revelation on “The Plan of Salvation.” It was never presented to him (that we know of from his writings and statements) as a coherent system of doctrine. It was never presented as a plan.

Sure, the Book of Mormon talks about the plan of salvation (or happiness, or redemption, or mercy). But the “plan” in the BoM is about the fall and the atonement. There is a suggestion of some kind of premortality, because this “plan” was laid from the foundation of the world. The BoM also talks about foreordination (Alma 13), and certainly covers death, judgment and resurrection fully.

There are other sources of material for the the Plan of Salvation, too. When Joseph received the Book of Moses over a series of months in 1830, he learned a lot about the creation, the fall and the atonement. There was even a passing discussion of the War in Heaven and premortality. “The Vision” (Section 76, received in 1832) spells out the three degrees of glory, one of the defining characteristics of the LDS view of Salvation. Section 93 of the D&C (received in 1833) expressly states that “[m]an was also in the beginning with God,” making clear that we lived before we were born into mortality. The Book of Abraham, translated in 1835, provides details about the War in Heaven, the pre-existence and foreordination. Salvation of dead surfaces in 1836 with Section 136, and in the 1840s, when Joseph starts discussing baptism for the dead and temple work.

From all these disparate parts emerges a plan. At some point, Joseph perceived these mosaic pieces as the Plan of Salvation, “one of Heaven’s greatest gifts to mankind,” and taught that it “should occupy our strict attention.” (See Sunday School Manual at 106). This makes it all the more interesting to me that the Plan of Salvation came to us the way it did. A piece at time. Maybe line upon line?

I love the Plan of Salvation. It is one of those bedrock beliefs that is foundational to my world view. I would wager that most members of the Church feel that way. So, what do you make of this funny way of presenting The Plan? What does it say about revelation? About the restoration? About the Plan?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 19: The Plan of Salvation - - You Tell Me

This week's lesson is kind of interesting, in that it is not really tied to any specific section of the Doctrine & Covenants (Section 76 is the focus next week) or period in Church History. Instead, it focuses on the topic of the Plan of Salvation.

So, what are your favorite sources on the Plan of Salvation? What scriptures, articles, or talks do you think of when you think about this topic?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Lesson 18: What Worked?

Here is your weekly chance to share your successes and stories. How did the lesson go? What captured your class' attention?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 18: Walking in Darkness at Noon-day

Lesson 18 focuses on the temple, and in terms of chronology, the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Much has been written of the great sacrifice required of the Kirtland saints in building the Temple, and of the amazing spiritual manifestations that accompanied its completion and dedication. Sections 109 and 110 of the Doctrine & Covenants are inspired and inspiring, representing some of the true pinnacles of the restoration.

But for me, at least this time through the D&C, section 95 has really caught my interest. The section begins with the Lord chastening the saints for their failure to construct the Temple as he had directed in Section 88. In fact, the Lord tells the Saints that their procrastination is a grievous sin. To put in perspective, Section 88 preceded Section 95 by little more than months. Not a long time, in the eternal scheme of things.

But the Lord grew impatient with and chastened the Saints. They lacked diligence and urgency building the His house. Contentions occurred among Church leaders. Members of the Church were disobedient and failed to keep the commandments. In a beautiful and poetic verse, the Lord tells Joseph that some of those ordained to build the Kingdom of God had “sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day.” D&C 95:6.

What an image. Here they were, members of God’s restored church. They had new scripture and a prophet receiving revelation from Heaven. The members of the Church could have been enjoying a noon-day sun unknown to the world for hundreds of years. And yet they, surrounded by light, were walking in darkness because of their lack of focus, their disobedience, their selfishness and laziness.

It is easy to see how it happened. They were poor. It was winter and spring in Ohio - - not the ideal time to start a major construction project. They were trying to build Zion almost three states away in Missouri. The resources available to the Church and the Saints during this period were stretched to the breaking point. Building a Temple - - especially the Temple Joseph envisioned - - must have seemed overwhelming. Who can blame them for losing focus? Who would not have been tempted to wait for more favorable circumstances to start such a task?

But God chastened them because he loved them. Their grievous sin was choosing to stay in the darkness when he wanted them in His light. How often do we commit that same sin? In what ways to we choose to walk in our own darkness instead into the noon-day sun? Section 95 has given me a new insight into disobedience, sin and forgiveness. Whom the Lord loves he chastens because his joy is seeing us walk not in darkness, but in light.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17: What Worked?

OK, after a minor controversy at GDU about whether new insights could be offered on tithing, tell us how it went. What did you talk about? Did you get into the definition of tithing in the 1830s vs. today? Did you resolve the gross vs. net problem?

Share you success stories here!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 17: Tithing . . . Again.

OK, help me out here. The lesson is on tithing. Don't get me wrong - - I am pro-tithing. But, what on earth are we all going to say that is new and interesting?

Oh, yeah. The lesson covers fasting, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 16: What Worked?

Here is your weekly opportunity to share your successes. Tell us what topics your class found interesting, what questions generated interesting discussion and what resources you used that enriched the lesson.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Section 59: Death, Babylon and the Abundant Life

One of the fascinating things about studying the Doctrine & Covenants is having relatively ready access to the historical context of the revelations received by the Prophet Joseph Smith. For me, it is interesting to think about what was happening in the lives of the Prophet and the early Church members, and how that influenced the way they sought God and they way they understood what he spoke to them. In learning a bit about Section 59, it seems that there were at least three major dynamics influencing Joseph Smith’s thoughts. If I had to put name tags on these three influences, I guess I would say they were death, Babylon and the abundant life.

First, I think death was very much on Joseph’s mind when he received section 59. He had attended that day the funeral of a faithful sister, Polly Peck Knight. Polly Knight was one of the Colesville saints, and along with her husband Joseph, an early and constant supporter of the Prophet and the Restoration. She was quite ill when she left Ohio for Jackson County, and her strong desire was to see Zion and, if she were to die, be buried there. In fact, she died within days of arriving in Missouri, and her passing must have poignant for Joseph Smith. It certainly makes verse 2 poignant to me:

For those that live shall inherit the earth and those that die shall rest from
their labors, and their works shall follow them; and they shall receive a crown
in the mansions of my Father, which I have prepared from them.

Joseph was also struck by societal conditions in Jackson County in August 1831. Most Church members at this point were relatively civilized New Englanders. Suddenly, they were living on the frontier, neighbors to a pretty rough crowd. Law, order and genteel society were not the hallmarks of Jackson County. Joseph and many of the members of the Church were somewhat taken aback by conditions and the people there. My guess is, Joseph was wondering how he was going to build God’s Kingdom - - Zion - - in the middle of Babylon. How would he keep the Saints unspotted from the world around them? One answer came in Section 59 and the instruction to set aside a day for holiness and recommitment to God’s service. See verses 9-10.

Finally, Joseph was pretty enchanted with the land itself in Jackson County. He described the area almost as a literal paradise, where crops and herds raised themselves, surrounded by natural beauty. The last third of section 59 reflects Joseph’s feeling that Zion would be a place where the saints would live an abundant life, enjoying the earthly blessings that God had designed for them. “The fullness of the earth is yours,” the revelation states, “Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.” See verses 16, 18-19.

What else do you see? What connections are there in Section 59 to these influences and themes? Are there other influences you find in this section?

(Much of the background for this post comes from Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling, chap. 8, and Harper, Making Sense of the Doctrine and Covenants, pp. 207-09).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 16: Getting Started

Here are some resources to get you started on Lesson 16. Here is a lesson I like it because it provides historical information on Polly Peck Knight. Joseph attended her funeral the same day he received Section 59. Unfortunately, I cannot figure out who wrote it. And, while I am not a Meridian Magazine kind of guy, I thought this article by Breck England had a pretty thorough exposition of the Sabbath. Feast Upon the Word does a serious verse-by-verse analysis of Section 59 here.

If you know of other good sources, please feel free to post them here.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: What Worked?

Did you teach Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15 last week? How did it go? I thought it was kind of a hard lesson to engage the class in.

Take a minute and share here what you tried that was particularly effective (or not). What topics generated good discussion? What materials (from the manual or supplemental) did you use? Give us your feedback

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts? Really?

I am going to say something that might be a little controversial. I think we in the LDS Church have a complicated relationship with gifts of the spirit.
Spiritual gifts get a lot of lip service in the church. On paper, we really like them, and section 46 is prime evidence of that. What’s more, certain gifts of the spirit are very accepted among Mormons. The gifts of healing and being healed are very big. People have great faith in them, and most families have multiple stories of these gifts blessing their lives. The gift of prophesy is also very highly regarded, especially to the extent it refers to gaining a testimony of Christ and his church. Even beyond that, most people are very comfortable with the gift of prophesy as it relates to promptings and premonitions that keep us and our families safe from physical or spiritual harm, or that help us serve those around us who are in need. The gifts of wisdom, teaching, discernment, etc. - - all very well accepted.

But other spiritual gifts are viewed with some, well, hesitation. Although no one would rule them out, the gifts of ministering angles and working miracles would be exercised and talked about very rarely. Maybe I lack faith, but if my neighbor told me (s)he had seen angels, I would wonder what was really going on. And the gift of tongues? Well, unless you are talking about missionaries or general authorities being able to learn and speak a language more easily than expected, I think you should proceed with caution. Can you imagine if someone started speaking in an allegedly angelic language in sacrament meeting? Even if someone there was allegedly able to interpret? How would your Bishop respond?

This ambivalence about spiritual gifts started early in our history. As the saints started gathering to Kirtland, many experienced and exhibited some fairly extreme spiritual manifestations. Speaking in strange languages, seeing visions, acting in unusual ways supposedly under the influence of the spirit - - it was all going on in Kirtland. Joseph was not always comfortable with these demonstrations, and often tried to rein them in. In fact, a theme of the Doctrine & Covenants is how to avoid deception by false spiritual experiences and manifestations.

It seems to me, the more subtle or understated the spiritual gift, the more readily accepted it is in the Church. Remarkable and emotional displays of spiritual fervor, or claims of special spiritual endowment, while commonly accepted by some Christians as gifts of the Spirit, would cause discomfort if not downright suspicion among most members of the Church.

So, are some gifts better than others? What are the “best gifts” referred to in Section 46, and how do we earnestly seek them? And if we earnestly seek them, what should we really expect to find?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Getting Started on Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: Spiritual Gifts

Lesson 15 is on spiritual gifts. Here is one of my all-time favorite talks on the topic by Elder Dallin Oaks. Keepaptichinin has its regular compilation of older materials here. And for those of you unfamiliar with it, here is an oldie but a goodie: The Church Educational System Institute Manual on the Doctrine and Covenants, with section by section analysis. Check out the chapter on Section 46.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 14: What Worked?

Lesson 14 generated some really interesting comments and discussion here at GDU. How did the lessons go? What angles did you try? What did you think worked particularly well?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Joseph Smith and Wealth Redistribution

I have concluded that I am about a week ahead of most other readers of GDU. And, I am a week ahead of my own class. As a result, I have decided to continue this week with Lesson 14, The Law of Consecration. All those in favor may manifest it; all those opposed by the same sign. (Seriously, if a significant number of you are a week ahead of that, let me know and I will move ahead. It just seems that most are about a week behind where GDU has been).

The Law of Consecration offers a lot of interesting discussion topics and ideas. As a political junkie, one of the most interesting concepts tied up in consecration is the idea of equality. The Book of Mormon has some interesting passages regarding equality; I cannot help thinking that they got Joseph thinking about economics and righteousness. Or, the impact of temporal things upon righteousness, anyway.

So, when the Lord gives the newly organized Church his Law, equality is a big issue. Nowhere is this more powerfully stated than in Section 78, where the Lord tells his people that the time has come , “[t]hat you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things; For if you will that I give unto a place in the celestial world you must prepare yourselves by doing the things which I have commanded you and required of you.” (D&C 78:5-7).

The idea just has the ring of revelation. If we were all equal, think of the problems we could avoid. There would be no poor, at least in the relative sense within the Church. There would be less pride and envy and greed. It would be much easier to avoid materialism if everyone was on an even plane, economically. Equality is a great idea, right?

On the other hand, as Joseph soon learned, voluntary consecration is hard to achieve. As an initial practical matter, there must be a “critical mass” of wealth to sustain the group. But once that is achieved, not everyone will easily overcome their temporal desires. For those who can, it is hard to be equal with someone who is not particularly interested in being equal with you. If you don’t have everyone on board, the whole system is destined for failure. As Richard Bushman points out in Rough Stone Rolling (p. 183),

The system never worked properly. The lack of property to distribute among the poverty-stricken early saints hampered the system’s effectiveness from the start. Joseph struggled on, aided by [Edward] Partridge and loyal Colesville Saints, who made up a large part of the Mormon population in Zion. In 1833, the Mormon’s expulsion from Jackson County would close down everything. The system’s two year existence was about average for the various communal experiments being undertaken in the period.

So what about consecration for you and me, today? I have to say, many members of my ward are kind and generous and charitable - - much more so than I. I truly believe that they take their commitment to consecration seriously. But, I do not see any big push to be “equal in earthly things.” In fact, most of my ward members seem downright resistant to the wealth equalization, Obama-style. (I know, I know, it’s not the same, but still . . .)

So what do you think? Is earthly equality a something to shoot for? Or is it a heavenly aspiration we cannot achieve in the real world? Could Joseph ever have made it work by free will alone, without an economic or political system to reinforce (enforce?) it? Why has the Church implemented it in only the loosest sense? And, would Joseph have voted for the Obama tax and budget plans?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Consecration or Resurrection?

As you have seen from many of my posts, I am a devotee of the Church history blog Keepatichinin. In her most recent post, Keepa founder, Ardis Parshall, raises a question that feeds into one of my pet peeves: The short shrift Easter sometimes gets at LDS Church services, especially Sunday School. I really love Easter and sometimes feel a little out of synch with the rest of Christianity after leaving church on Easter. And, it seems a little odd to me to teach a Sunday School lesson on Easter without even mentioning Christ's resurrection.

So, Undergrounders: Do you stick with the manual, modify the lesson to "work Easter in," or ditch the lesson material altogether and do a special Easter lesson?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 14: Revelation by Committee

Section 42 of the Doctrine & Covenants is a fulfillment of the Lord’s promise to give the newly restored church his “Law.” It was revealed to Joseph Smith in the presence of twelve elders of the Church. According to Steven C. Harper, author of “Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants,” (Deseret Book, 2008) ("Making Sense"), section 42 is actually a series of revelations (most of which end with “Amen”), which were then compiled into a cohesive document. What’s more, the earliest manuscripts of the revelation(s) contain questions that were posed to the Lord, whose answers constitute the reveled text. The questions were subsequently removed prior to printing.

It is interesting to know the questions that led to Section 42. Verses 1-10 answer the question, “Shall the Church come together into one place or remain as they are in separate bodies?” Verses 11-69 answer the question, “What is the Law regulating the Church in her present situation till the time of her gathering?” Verses 70-73 describe the obligations of priesthood leaders to their families while serving in the Church. The rest of section 42 was actually received two weeks after the preceding verses and directs Church leaders how to act according to some parts of the revealed law. See “Making Sense” at 140.

Does knowing the specific questions posed by the early Church leaders change your understanding of section 42? How? It sounds like this revelation was received by Joseph Smith responding on behalf of the Lord to the questions of a committee of Church members. What do you think of this mode of revelation?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

General Conference Thoughts and Reactions

I thought I would provide a place here at GDU for people to share thoughts and observations about General Conference, especially as they relate to Church history or teaching.

Share your comments below.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whew! GC Hiatus at Gospel Doctrine Underground

Like all good Gospel Doctrine teachers everywhere, I am excited to have a week off for General Conference. I plan watch the proceedings to see what jumps out at me from a church history or teaching perspective. I will provide a place to comment, for those who are interested.

In the mean time, let's all take a week off!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13: What Worked?

Here is your chance to share your successes with Lesson 13. What approach seemed to work? What topics generated intersting discussion? Did you try something new?

If you taught an earlier lesson, you can share your experiences here.

Give us your input!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Discussion Forum: Getting the Word Through Joseph Smith

So, I am having a really busy week at work, and have not had much time to think about a post for this week's lesson. I am hoping you all will help out. The lesson focuses on what we have obtained from the Lord through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Some of the obvious things include:

1. A knowledge of the nature of God and the Godhead
2. An understanding of personal revelation
3. The Book of Mormon, and other modern scripture
4. The Inspired Version of Bible
5. A more complete understanding of the creation and the fall
6. The Plan of Salvation, with all that entails
7. The Priesthood
8. Temples

Not a bad list. But, what would you focus on? What other things do you think we in our dispensation know or understand because of the Joseph Smith? How would you elicit meaningful discussion of his role? As a teacher, what do you think our objective should be with this lesson?
And, this is Gospel Doctrine Underground, so I have to ask: Like all of us, Joseph was a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses. What do you think of Joseph Smith as the Lord's conduit? What were his greatest gifts? What were his greatest challenges/stumbling blocks? And do you talk about those during the lesson? How?

I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Getting Started: Gospel Doctrine Lesson 13

Lesson 13 focuses on Joseph Smith and his role in bringing forth scripture and “plain and precious” doctrines as part of the restoration. If you are not familiar with it, the Church’s website has a collection of presentations on Joseph Smith given at a 2005 International Academic Conference sponsored by the US Library of Congress. I especially liked Terryl Givens' and Elder Oaks' presentations. I have tried to find it in print form online, but so far, no luck.

Jim F. at Times & Seasons did his usual and masterful, verse-by-verse analysis of some of the scriptural material here. It contains some good discussion questions. Brad Constantine includes a great story (from Our Heritage) about two young women’s efforts to save unbound pages of Book of Commandments from the mobs in Missouri, here.

Hope that gets you all thinking. Feel free to share any resources you have, and don't forget to comment on what worked well in your past lessons, here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What Worked? Gospel Doctrine Lessons 11 and 12

Our friend Easton suggested in a comment on an earlier post that it might be helpful to hear from others what worked (or did not work) in the lessons we are teaching. Because I am not sure what lesson most people are on, I thought I would solicit thoughts and feedback on Lesson 11 (The Field is White) and Lesson 12 (The Gathering of My People).

Please leave comments about how you taught these lessons and what was successful. I am always interested to hear good questions that generated discussions or topics that really engaged the class.

Let's hear what worked!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So, Does "Gathering" Work?

Gathering is a big Mormon theme. Almost from its modern foundation, the Church has gathered. As insiders, we tend to think of gathering in pretty positive terms. We gather together for affirmation, strength and safety. We gather together in stakes to strengthen each other and to build the Kingdom. We gather to the temple to learn and save our ancestors. Examining it from the inside, gathering is all good, right?

To the outside observer, I am not sure are gathering has always been successful. The first commandment to gather to a specific location directed the Saints to Kirtland, Ohio. (See D&C 37). But then, almost immediately, Jackson County, Missouri was identified as Zion and gathering began there, too. Unfortunately, both gatherings were temporary and did not provide much peace or safety. Persecution and apostasy (fueled by the collapse of a Church sponsored bank) plagued Kirtland. Responding to the perceived threat of a concentration of (arguably arrogant) Mormons, mobs and an all-out war drove the Mormons from Missouri.

The story in Nauvoo is not that different. The Saints gathered there, almost out of default. They built a very successful city and started a temple. Soon, however, understandable Mormon efforts to consolidate power and defend themselves led to more fear and persecution, and the martyrdom of the Prophet and his brother. Another gathering place was abandoned.

The Mormons moved west and gathered in an isolated valley - - this time away from the rest of society. From around the world, members of the Church were commanded to gather to the latest Zion, in the Rocky Mountains. At incredible sacrifice, Saints left families, livelihoods and homes and dragged themselves across a continent. For fifty years or so, the gathering continued. Many died and were impoverished. Wards and branches in Europe emptied. Salt Lake City grew into a major city. But, maybe that was just the law of averages. You know, third (or fourth) time the charm.

So, does gathering work? It clearly has accomplished amazing things. Cities and temples and a place for God’s Church to grow. But it has almost always engendered fear and suspicion, pride and persecution. Could there have been another way of doing this? Or, to paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous statement on democracy, is gathering the worst system for building the Kingdom of God, except all others that have been tried?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 12: The Gathering of My People

Here are some materials to start your preparations of Lesson 12, "The Gathering of My People." This link has an interesting summary of the history of “gathering” by Global Mormonism, a BYU project that compiles scholarly research on the LDS Church. The old lesson materials at Keepapitchinin contain some good questions and nice tidbits, including a story of Lucy Mack Smith leading a group of early converts to Kirtland (with a bit more detail than the Our Heritage version). And, finally, here is an old Ensign article by Milton Backman on the Ohio period. Its scholarly tone struck me as quite different from what you see in the Ensign today.

Of course, if you know of good resources for this lesson, please share!

Friday, March 13, 2009

What to Say, What to Say?

OK, I admit it. I am having a hard time deciding what to do with Lesson 11. As commenter Mormon Heretic stated in a recent post here at GDU, what is the point of including all these mission calls to specific individuals in the Doctrine & Covenants? What are you and I supposed to glean from them? I am having a hard time coming up with the themes I want to talk about. The manual focuses on serving with your heart, might, mind and strength, preparing to serve, blessings of service, etc. There are some nice ideas there, but I am wanting more.

Here are two ideas that have occurred to me.

1. These sections highlight the idea that the core of service to God is saving souls. Section 18 teaches this in very clear terms. Maybe your calling is gathering sheaves in the missionary field, or maybe, like Thomas Marsh, you are called to be a “physician unto the Church, but not unto the world.” D&C 31:10. Whatever your calling, it is about bringing souls to Christ.

2. I also like the “if you have desires to serve, ye are called to the work” idea. If you are like me, you have great intentions, but lots of reasons not to jump in and serve. The timing isn’t right. You don’t really know that person. You don’t want to overstep your bounds. You are busy. A prominent theme in these sections is that we need not wait for a special calling or assignment. (Interestingly, the message of Section 11 is a little different). There are opportunities to save souls all around us, and we should jump in feet first. I think this idea ties in with the Pres. Eyring quote in the manual, although he is really addressing missionary work.

So, what do you think? What do these sections say to you? How would you present Lesson 11?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lesson 11: The Field is White

As usual, I am starting the week with some information to get you thinking about Lesson 11. Jim F at Times & Seasons prepared this analysis, which focuses primarily on Section 4 of the D&C. Bruce Constantine at ldsgospeldoctrine.net prepared these materials, with a lot of historical information on the various sections in the lesson. And, Keepapitchinin has its weekly walk down gospel doctrine memory lane, here.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Is He Talking to Me?

One of my ongoing challenges with the Doctrine & Covenants is trying to decide what, exactly, I am supposed to do with it. So many of the revelations, particularly the earlier ones, seem to be directed to specific individuals, facing specific situations. Section 25 is a perfect example. This revelation closes with the Lord telling Emma Smith, “[T]his is my voice unto all.” Yet, the section is a tangle of general admonitions to avoid pride and worldliness and keep the commandments, along with very specific directives that were clearly intended for Emma and her unique situation. She was told to support Joseph in his calling, act as his scribe and compile a hymn book. These were not instructions for “all”; they were personal instructions for her.

The challenge repeats itself over and over in the D&C. Many of the sections are in response to specific questions or directed to specific individuals. Yet they have become scripture, supposedly with broad - - even universal - - application. See D&C 1:38; 25:16. How do you interpret these revelations and decide what they really mean to us? Is it reasonable to conclude that Lord’s instructions to Oliver Cowdery on translating the gold plates are a pattern for how I seek answers to my prayers? Does the direction to Emma to support Joseph in his calling as a prophet and “rejoice in her husband, and the glory which shall come upon him” really have application to how I should treat my wife? What am I to make of the Lord’s instructions regarding whether specific missionaries were to travel by land or water?

I wonder if our attempts to "liken the scriptures unto ourselves" are sometimes a bit too superficial. Maybe Emma’s instruction to rejoice in her husband was more about accepting and embracing the challenges the Lord had given her. Maybe it teaches us more about submission and gratitude than about marriage and family relations. For me, that is the challenge of the Doctrine & Covenants - - trying to understand what the real message is for us. For that, I think we need to know the context and background, in addition to the words. We cannot always take things as they appear on the surface, but need to think and study and work at it. Realizing this makes me appreciate Joseph Smith all the more. Understanding revelation is hard work.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Emma Smith

As the wife of Joseph, Emma Smith was witness to many of The Restoration's key events. She has been the center of controversy almost from the beginning, although she seems to have experienced something of a rehabilitation in the LDS Church during the past 20 years or so. She is the key figure in Lesson 10. Here are some snippets from other sources relating to Emma:

D&C 25:3-4 Behold, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou art an elect lady, whom I have called. Murmur not because of the things which thou hast not seen, for they are withheld from thee and the world, which is wisdom in me in a time to come.

“I feel very anxious to see you all once more in this world. The time seems long that I am deprived of your society, but the Lord being my helper, I will not be much longer. … I am filled with constant anxiety and shall be until I get home. I pray God to spare you all until I get home. My dear Emma, my heart is entwined around you and those little ones. I want you to remember me. Tell all the children that I love them and will come home as soon as I can. Yours in the bonds of love, your husband.” (Letter from Joseph to Emma Smith, January 20, 1840, from Chester County, Pennsylvania).

“Joseph used to say that he would have [Emma] hereafter, IF HE HAD TO GO TO HELL FOR HER, AND HE WILL HAVE TO GO TO HELL FOR HER AS SURE AS HE EVER GETS HER.” (Statement of Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses, Volume 17, page 159).
So, what are your thoughts on this interesting woman?

Monday, March 2, 2009

New Stuff for Lesson 10, and a Lesson 9 Follow-On

Here is some resource material for Lesson 10. Jim F. at Times and Season did a very good, verse-by-verse analysis here. As usual, we have Keepapitchinin’s post with vintage lesson materials. Keepa takes an interesting approach, focusing on Emma Smith and marriage. Along the same lines, I found this lesson overview, which talks a lot about Emma. I have not decided what to do with this since I cannot readily tell where it comes from. But it is interesting.

Finally, I ran across this post by Andrew Ainsworth at Mormon Matters regarding myths associated with the “One True Church” idea. If you have not done lesson 9 yet, it has some interesting quotes. Or, maybe you will want to do some follow-up.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I Know the Church Is True (and Yours Isn’t)

Quick story: My wife is the visiting teacher to a good friend of ours. The Friend was raised in the Church, but for years has been pretty spotty on participation. She married a man who is not a member of the LDS Church. Our Friend likes a lot of things about the Church, but does not like the “One True Church” (“OTC”) idea. Not surprising, given her background and experience. What was surprising was the conversation my wife had with her visiting teaching companion. The Companion is a lifelong member born and raised in Church, baptized at eight, married in the temple. She has been an auxiliary president and counselor multiple times and her husband is currently in the bishopric - - you get the picture. My wife explained to the Companion that our Friend did not really like the OTC idea. The Companion says, without batting an eye, “Yeah, that’s not my favorite idea, either.” I did not see that coming (from her, anyway).

So what about this One True and Living Church idea? What do you think it means? It has made us unpopular with other religious people from the very beginning. See JS Hist., v. 21-22. And, it is not like the idea has gained popular support outside the LDS Church since that time. The OTC concept can be presented a number of ways, but the bottom line is always, “My church is better than yours.” Representing points along the spectrum, here are some of the ways the ways the OTC concept can be explained:

1. If You Are Not in Our Church, You are in the Wrong Church. Isn’t this basically what Joseph Smith says he was told in the First Vision? All other churches were wrong? See JS Hist., v. 19. Just for back up, look at 1 Nephi 14:10, which says there are two churches: The Church of the Lamb of God, and the church of the devil.

2. All Churches Are True, Ours Is Just the Most True. President Hinckley liked to formulate the OTC concept this way. Unsurprisingly, I think he said it about as diplomatically as it can be said. (See his comments at “Essence of Missionary Service,” here). But still, our Church is better than everyone else’s, right?

3. Our Church is the True and Living Church Because We Have the Priesthood and Ordinances. This is a main thrust of Pres. Eyring’s recent talk (see my the link in my last post). I think it is the implied message of Lesson 9, though it is certainly soft-pedaled. The idea is that many, maybe most, other churches are very good and teach true and important things, but only the LDS Church has the authority to administer the saving ordinances necessary to achieve exaltation. But once again, you can see how this is perceived as saying, “Your Church is nice, but it won’t get you to heaven.”

I don’t know about you, but I am uncomfortable with the idea that, if you are not member of the LDS Church, you belong to the church of the devil (I don’t even think that is what 1 Nephi 14 means). And, while I love the Church, have a testimony, and am a committed believer in every sense of the word I can think of, it makes me a little uncomfortable to explain to my friends of other faiths why mine is the OTC. On the other hand, if this is not the OTC, what was the point of the restoration? What is the point of priesthood and ordinances?

Help me out here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lesson 9: The Only True and Living Church

So, here is some reading material to get your mental cogs turning on Lesson 9, “The Only True and Living Church.” Keepapitchinin recently posted old lesson materials on the topic. You can find it here. Pres. Eyring recently gave a talk with a similar title, which you can find here. Finally, I remember an interesting post by “Ray” on the “only true and living church” at Mormon Matters last summer, with an equally interesting resulting discussion. You can find it here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Power of Godliness

The reading material for Lesson 8 contains one of my favorite passages from the Doctrine & Covenants, D&C 84:19-21. This passage explains that in the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood, the “power of godliness is manifest.”

This passage is interesting for a number of reasons. At its most basic level, I like the idea that the power of godliness is manifest in priesthood ordinances. For those of us who have been in the Church for a while, it is easy to take the sacrament, see a child baptized or attend a wedding and think it is pretty routine, ordinary stuff. This passage reminds me that it is not. Priesthood ordinances show us God’s power and bind us to him as we covenant to obey, receive remission of sins, and renew promises to always have His spirit to be with us. And what greater manifestation of God’s power can we see than the creation of a family that will continue into beyond death?

I think it is interesting, though that this passage does not refer to the power of God, but the power of godliness. As mentioned above, the power of God is manifest in priesthood ordinances that save us and bless our lives. But I think the power of godliness is also manifest in priesthood ordinances in at least a couple of ways. First, there is an obvious synergy between a priesthood-holder’s righteousness and discipleship, and the priesthood power he is able to exercise. This connection between worthiness or godliness and priesthood power is pretty clear. See, e.g., D&C 121:36-42. Second, I think that each individual achieves greater levels of godliness as they receive priesthood ordinances and enter into covenants with God. Our own personal power of righteousness grows as we progress and come closer to God, assisted by ordinances like baptism, confirmation, the endowment and marriage.

Finally, I think it is pretty intriguing that Joseph received this revelation in 1832, relatively early in the restoration timeline. This was well before the sealing power was restored or temple ordinances were understood. In fact, although I am no historian, I do not believe that the Church at this time was really performing any Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances, unless you count ordinations to offices in that priesthood. I wonder what Joseph thought that phrase meant. Did he understand this as a foreshadowing of additional knowledge and ordinances?

How do you think the power of godliness manifest in the ordinances of the priesthood? Is there a difference between the power of God and the power of godliness? And what (if anything) does Section 84 say about Joseph’s understanding of the restoration process?

PS: Mormon Matters had a recent post on ordinances with some interesting discussion. You can find it here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Priesthood Restoration: When Did It Happen?

One thing about the restoration of the priesthood has always seemed a little strange to me. We know with precision when and how the Aaronic Priesthood was restored. It happened on May 15, 1829 when John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on the banks of the Susequehanna River. The Melchizedek Priesthood? Well, that’s a different story.

We do not really know when it was restored. We know that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery say that they were visited by Peter, James and John. We know these three restored to Joseph and Oliver the keys of the apostleship. But unlike John the Baptist, Peter, James and John do not get their own section of the Doctrine & Covenants with a handy date.

Putting a date on this appearance has been difficult. “Ben” at The Juvenile Instructor wrote a very interesting post a while ago on dating the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. You can find his post here. Richard Bushman, in Rough Stone Rolling, fleshes out his opinion (referred to in the JI post) that the three apostles may have appeared to Joseph and Oliver when they were fleeing a mob near Colesville, Ohio in June 1830. Does it matter when it happened? If so, why? Why the specificity with respect to some important visions and manifestations, but not this one?

To add to the uncertainty, Bushman suggests that it is not entirely clear that the Melchizedek Priesthood, per se, was restored by Peter, James and John in that original vision. Bushman notes that at a June 1831 conference, Joseph ordained several men to the “high priesthood.” At least in some sources, Joseph and others state that this was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in this dispensation. In fact, Bushman says Joseph himself was ordained to the “high priesthood” that day by Lyman Wight.

If Peter, James and John had restored the Melchizedek Priesthood in 1829 or 1830, why was Joseph ordained to the “high priesthood” by Lyman Wight in 1831? And what about those statements that the 1831 conference was the first time the Melchizedek Priesthood had been conferred in the last dispensation? I have some thoughts about this, but would like to hear yours.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Talk Amongst Yourselves: Faith

So, I have had this idea for an occasional feature at GDU, called Talk Amongst Yourselves. I will provide the skeletal outlines for a virtual classroom discussion, and then invite comment. Of course, we will need commenters. So, please share your thoughts, and invite others that you think might be interested, or interesting, or both. Here is the first shot at TAY.

D&C 88:118: Faith is learned or acquired. And it is a tool to gain knowledge.

Alma 32:27: Faith is a choice.

Moroni 10:8-11: Faith is a gift from God.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Baptism Rant

I know what you are thinking. “You have a rant about baptism?”

Yes, I do. One of my pet peeves is telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their sins in order to get baptized. You hear it with surprising frequency, like at almost every baptism service you attend, and at lots of Primary Sharing Times. And take, for example, this line from the song “I Like to Look for Rainbows,” sung at every Primary-run baptism I have been to in the recent past:

I know when I am baptized, my wrongs are washed away and I can be forgiven and improve myself each day

How did this get past correlation? Did they not read the scriptures cited in Lesson 7? D&C 29:46-47 tells that that little children are incapable of sin and are redeemed from the foundation of the world. Moroni 8:9-12 says that little children do not need repentance and are alive in Christ.

I would be hard-pressed to identify an LDS doctrine I like more than the redemption of little children. It is beautiful and merciful, and intuitively true. So why do we find ourselves telling innocent little kids that they need to repent of their "sins" to get baptized?

I know that there are scriptures out there that say you have to repent in order to be baptized. I know that there are scripture that say that children have to be accountable and capable of repentance in order to get baptized. But “capable of repentance” and “needing repentance” are two different things. And, don’t get me wrong, I think we should teach our children about repentance and help them understand it. I think they need to know what it is and how it works by the time they reach the “age of accountability.”

But to me, baptism for an 8-year old is different than for an adult. It is about obedience. It is about discipleship. It is about entering the strait gate and joining the Lord’s church. It is not about repenting and remitting sins. What sins has an eight-year old committed? But am I wrong here? Am I misunderstanding something?

End of rant.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Poll!! Are 8-year Olds Baptized "For the Remission of Sins?"

Does baptizing children at eight years really address the problem of infant baptism? Or does it just raise a new set of questions? Vote and leave you comments here. Baptism post to follow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

How Long Has It Been Since Your Last Confession?

We use a lot of formulations to teach what repentance is and how it is accomplished. One of the simplest is that we confess and forsake our sins. D&C 58:42-43. The importance of forsaking our sins is a no-brainer, but confession is an interesting idea. What does it mean to confess our sins? Do we need to confess them all? I was pretty impatient and lost my temper this morning with my daughter. Is it really important that I confess that sin? And, how do I do it? Some religious traditions have more formal procedures for confessing sins than we do. Is that good? Bad?

When I was younger, I remember thinking that confession was all about deterrence. I mean, who wants to go through the humiliation of confessing their sins? But, maybe there is something more to it.

In our family, when someone has done something wrong and hurt someone else, we have implemented our own formula for an apology. It follows this basic pattern: The offender has to look the offended party in the eye, and say words to effect of, “Ashley, I am sorry that I pushed you.” This has to be done with sincerity (or at least a convincingly sincere tone).

Each part of this simple little formula is important. Looking the offended in the eye and saying “I am, sorry,” is all about accountability and acknowledging that we have done wrong, regardless of the circumstance (“She started it!”). Expressing sorrow is sort of the point of the whole thing. Identifying or describing the wrongful act reinforces what behavior was wrong and is to be avoided.

Expressing our apologies in this way makes a lot of sense when dealing with family relationships and friendships. But is confessing our sins to God or the Bishop the same thing? Or is it completely different? It's not like we are telling God something He doesn't already know. And beside the deterrent effect, is there a connection between confessing and forsaking sins?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lesson 7: The First Principles & Ordinances

So, as you have noticed by now, I like to start off the week thinking in general terms about my upcoming lesson. This week it is Lesson 7, The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel. As usual, I am linking to some sources to get your mental wheels turning. I really like reading the old lesson materials at Keepapitchinin. I find this information to be a little meatier than the current manuals. I also ran across gospeldoctrine.com which has ideas and quotes from Church leaders on passages from the Doctrine & Covenants.

So get ready for Faith, Repentance, Baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost. The challenge in this type of lesson is, of course, that everyone has heard these topics a million times. The basics can, however, yield very interesting discussions. If you have thoughts about generating discussion on these topics, please share.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Job Description

Like many of the characters who appear in the early revelations of the Doctrine of Covenants, Hyrum Smith felt drawn the the work his brother was doing. Like others, he asked Joseph to seek a revelation for him. Section 11 is Hyrum's revelation.

I'll bet Hyrum was expecting something more interesting and dramatic than he got. Mostly the Lord told him to get ready. For what? The revelation did not say. In one verse, it did say

Behold this is your work, to keep my commandments with all your might, mind and strength. (D&C 11:20).

I think this verse is perfect for some interesting class discussion. What questions would you ask to get the discussion going? What are your thoughts about this verse?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Dividing Asunder Joint and Marrow

Several early sections of the Doctrine and Covenants begin with the same (or almost identical) verses. See, e.g., D&C 11:1-9. This same introduction is included in revelations directed at Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, Joseph Knight and others. In this passage the Lord reveals that a “great and marvelous work is about to come forth.” He advises the recipient of the revelation that the “field” is ready to harvest, and that there is plenty of work for anyone who wants to help. Ask and ye shall receive, keep the commandments, seek to establish Zion, etc., etc. Frankly, it gets a little repetitive, and it is easy to gloss over in an effort to get to the good (i.e., more personal, specific) stuff.

There is one verse, though, that I think is kind of intriguing. It is verse 2, where the Lord says:

“Behold, I am God; give heed to my word, which is quick and powerful, sharper than a two edged sword, to the dividing asunder of both joint and marrow; therefore, give heed unto my word.”

This verse definitely has the sound of God speaking through a prophet - - an Old Testament prophet. It uses powerful, even violent language to get the recipient’s attention. The most striking image is the two-edged sword, dividing asunder joint and marrow. What does this mean? Certainly, the Lord is trying to convey that his word is swift and strong, living and powerful. You get the sense that what He says goes, so you better listen. But is there more?

Another interesting aspect of this passage is that it is often in striking contrast to other parts of the same revelations, where the Lord adopts a very personal, intimate and gentle tone with the recipient, calling him by name and giving encouragement and advice. Why do you think the Lord uses this sometimes abrupt change in tone?

Finally, I think it is interesting that this distinctive passage appears in a number of early revelations, then drops out of use. Why do you think that is? I do a lot of writing at work, and I have noticed that, if I can just get started on a document, the rest often follows. I have developed the habit of using some common catch phrases and introductory “throat clearing” to get my writing started (thankfully, this often gets edited out). Were these verses just a device Joseph or the Lord used to get Joseph’s revelatory juices flowing? Perhaps as Joseph became more experienced with receiving revelation, he did not need this phrase to get him going.

What do you think? What is the message the Lord is conveying? Is it good news or bad news? Why does he say it over and over to various people? And, why does He not say it in later revelations?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Faith and Tangibility

Some of the comments to an earlier post discussed Oliver Cowdery’s use of a diving rod, an interpretation recognized by several D&C commentators. If you interpret the “gift of Aaron” in Section 8 as Oliver’s use of a diving rod, it makes for some interesting reading. Oliver’s gift has told him many things (verse 6). The gift only works for Oliver because of the power of God (verse 7). If he has faith in his gift, he will use it to do marvelous things (verse 8). Oliver’s gift is the work of God (id.).

When I first learned of the “gift of Aaron” and what it that might be, my initial action was that it was, well, odd. I mean, a diving rod? And, I sort of put the idea aside. Then, last week, I read the section heading for Section 11, which says, “This revelation was received through the Urim and Thummim in answer to Joseph’s supplication and inquiry.” And I thought, “Whoa.”

Joseph used the Urim and Thummim and a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon. He used the Urim and Thummim to receive revelations that became scriptural passages of the Doctrine & Covenants (see some discussion of the U&T here and here). Is a divining rod any stranger than a Urim and Thummim? At least I have seen a diving rod. I have heard people talk about diving rods. I have never seen a Urim & Thummim. And that got me thinking about faith.

Diving rods and seer stones and interpreters are certainly outside our daily experience and it is easy to think them odd. But weren’t they just aids that Joseph (and perhaps Oliver) used for a while in seeking inspiration and revelation from God? Don’t we all use tangible objects to help us believe and seek God’s guidance?

I have long thought that part of the power of ordinances is their tangibility. You know precisely when you were immersed in water, and that meant something to you. You know when hands are placed upon your head. When you eat the bread and drink the water, it is a signal to your soul (the tangible and the intangible part) that you are seeking for God’s spirit. When I really think about it, I see lots of examples of tangibility as an aid to faith. The temple might be the ultimate example. Among other things, don’t lots of people who really need revelation and guidance go to the temple because they believe being in a sacred place - - a building - - will help them find it?

I guess it is natural to think that things outside our experience, like Urim & Thummims (what is the plural of Urim & Thummim, anyway?) and seer stones are kind of strange. But, we have a wealth of tangibility that Joseph and Oliver did not have: Sacrament emblems blessed by the priesthood; the laying on of hands; Celestial Rooms. All these things help us when our faith needs bolstering. Maybe God just works through the tools we have.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lesson 6: Deja Vu?

By now, you have noticed that the reading material for Lesson 6 is the same as for Lesson 5. There is a lot to talk about on this topic, however. In case you need some ideas (or even "unapproved" material!) check out the old lesson materials at Keepapitchinin. If I find other good stuff, I will link to it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Much Revelation Do You Really Need?

Section 9 of the Doctrine & Covenants has got to be one of the most well-known passages in Mormon scripture. In it, the Lord chastens Oliver Cowdery for failing to exert himself intellectually in attempting translation of the Book of Mormon. He explains to Oliver that, when seeking revelation, you have to study the question out in your mind, decide what you think, then ask the Lord. If you are right, he will cause your bosom to burn as a confirmation. If you are wrong, you will have a stupor of thought and forget what you had decided.

This pattern for personal revelation is completely ingrained in Mormon culture. Ask any Mormon how revelation works, and they will probably describe this process. But here is the rub, for me. I am pretty familiar with the burning bosom phenomenon, but I really don't think I have ever experienced a stupor of thought. What does that mean for me and Section 9? Well, maybe a couple of things.

First and foremost, I believe Section 9 was delivered to Oliver Cowdery in response to a very specific situation. He was attempting to translate the Book of Mormon, and he had not done the spiritual groundwork. God could not allow Oliver to bumble through on this project. It was too important. So at that time, under those circumstances, a stupor of thought was a critical way to let Oliver know he was on the wrong track. More importantly, it prevented Oliver from including any of his own thoughts in the Book of Mormon. I think the Lord rarely needs to stop us in our tracks like that.

In addition, I think relying on a strict formula for revelation comes dangerously close to seeking for a sign. If I think, ponder, read my scriptures and pray, I get a burning in the bosom or a stupor of thought. It just sounds a little too simple, doesn't it?

One of my favorite talks on personal revelation in Elder Scott's talk, "Recognizing Answers to Prayer" (which I had not remembered discusses sections 6, 8and 9!). In the talk, he discusses when and why the Lord might answer prayers in a certain way. Elder Scott says,

"When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him, obedience to His commandments, and a willingness to act on truth. We are expected to assume accountability by acting on a decision that is consistent with His teachings without prior confirmation. We are not to sit passively waiting or to murmur because the Lord has not spoken. We are to act. Most often what we have chosen to do is right. He will confirm the correctness of our choices His way."

This statement is much more consistent with my experience with personal revelation. Sometimes I get a feeling that something is right or wrong. Mostly, I feel like I need to try and figure out what to do based upon what I already know, then move ahead. Generally speaking, if I am keeping the commandments, trying to be humble, studying the scriptures and seeking to build Zion (see D&C 6:5-7), how much more revelation do a I really need?

This is not to say that I don't think section 9 is useful, or that the formula does not work. It can and does. But I think the Lord uses the right tool for the situation; and for me, revelation is usually a pretty subtle thing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Poll: Have you Ever Experienced a D&C Section 9 Stupor of Thought?

I know this appears to be a blatant attempt to generate traffic. It is that. But I am also kicking around a post idea (and a SS class discussion) on Section 9 of the Doctrine & Covenants and personal revelation. So, take the poll and leave your comments.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Teaching Helps

I ran across these suggestions for teaching Sunday School at "Thinking in a Marrow Bone." I think they are very practical and helpful ideas about preparing and presenting a Sunday School lesson. I particularly agree with the suggestions to really think about questions that generate discussion, and to focus on what interests you as a teacher. It is hard to be interesting if you are not interested.

Marrow Bone plans to post a "Part Two" later. Watch for it (I will try to link to it, if I remember!)

Oliver Cowdery was Punked!

When you hear the name Oliver Cowdery, you probably think of the story that culminates in the revelation that became Section 9 of the Doctrine & Covenants. This section uses Oliver as a (bad) example of how to seek and receive personal revelation.

But, the poor guy. I can't help but thinking that Oliver felt a bit like the rug was pulled out from under him. In sections 6 and 8, the Lord seems very encouraging of Oliver's desires to help with the work and even to actually translate. "If you ask of me, you will receive; if you knock it shall be opened unto you" the Lord says. (6:5). "Even as you desire of me, so it shall be done unto you" the Lord says (6:8). "If thou wilt enquire, thou shalt know mysteries," Oliver is promised. (6:8). Whatsoever you shall ask me . . ., that will I grant unto you," the Lord tells him. (8:9). Then, the Lord gets very specific. He tells Oliver that if he asks to translate, by his faith "it shall be done unto [him.]" (8:11).

How could Oliver not feel like it was done deal? Oliver Cowdery was no slouch in the personal revelation department. He learned of the Prophet Joseph and the translation of the Book of Mormon while living with the Smith Family. He prayed for his own confirmation of the truth and saw the plates in a vision, before he ever met Joseph. Clearly, he was a very faithful, believing person. Why else would he essentially abandon his life to go help translate the Book of Mormon?

But we know the rest of the story. Oliver tries to translate, and fails. The Lord famously tells Oliver that he did not get it; it was not just going to be given to him. Oliver had to work for it. He needed to study it out and seek confirmation. (9:7-9). "Behold, you have not understood; you have have supposed that I would give it to you when you took no thought save it was to ask me." (9:7).

Huh? What is going on here? Despite my ironic title, I do not think God fooled Oliver Cowdery. God is by definition just and fair. But, I can tell you this: I am not as faithful a person as Oliver Cowdery. And, I have already mentioned that I am pretty lazy. If Sections 6 and 8 had been directed to me, I would have assumed that I was going to get what I wanted if I asked. Why did the Lord put Oliver in this situation?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Getting Started on Lesson 5

I am just starting to read and think about lesson 5 and will try to post soon. In the mean time, here is really good list of questions, scripture-by-scripture, of the material for this lesson by Jim F. at Times & Seasons. I also ran across this post at an LDS history website I really like called Keepapitchinin, which contains lesson material from the past on similar subjects. It has some interesting ideas.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Book of Mormon as Prophetic Boot Camp

I mentioned that I would share some thoughts about the importance of the Book of Mormon. I am kind of intrigued by what a demonstrably powerful force, despite few obvious doctrinal deviations for the bible and Christianity in general. For me, there is something pure and powerful about its teachings on the gospel of repentance and Christ’s mission and atonement.

I wonder, though if in addition to its more universal purpose and appeal, it had a very personal and particular purpose for Joseph Smith. In some of the reading material for lesson 4, the Lord tells him that translating the Book of Mormon is the gift he should be focusing on. In Section 5, verse 4, Joseph is told that translation is “the first gift I bestowed upon you; and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this.” Later, the Lord instructs Joseph Smith to stop translating for a time, and makes this interesting statement: “Stop, and stand still until I command thee, and I will provide the means whereby thou mayest accomplish the thing which I have commanded thee.” Sec. 5, v. 34.

I get the feeling that the translation of the Book of Mormon was the critical, initial training Joseph received to prepare him to be a prophet. He had to learn to be obedient to God, to be humble, to ignore the voices of the powerful and influential and listen to the voice of the Spirit. When Joseph made mistakes in connection with his assignment to translate the Book of Mormon, the Lord reprimanded him and gave him a “time out.” Because Joseph was humble and repentant, the Lord forgave him and helped him. What would Joseph Smith have been without the Book of Mormon? Interesting to think about.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Why Do We Need the Book of Mormon?

The focus of Lesson 4 is the importance of the Book of Mormon. But, the Book of Mormon does not discuss critical doctrines like baptism for the dead or eternal marriage. It does not provide any specificity about the Plan of Salvation (i.e., no premortality, no three degrees of glory, etc.) or priesthood organization. Many of its teachings about the Godhead are ambiguous and confusing, without the benefit of further inspired interpretation. All of this information is provided, or greatly fleshed out, by the Doctrine & Covenants and other modern revelation. it teaches much about Christ and the atonement, but so do the Bible, the Doctrine & Covenants and modern revelation.

So do we really need the Book of Mormon? Why? Why isn’t the Doctrine & Covenants, along with modern prophets, enough? What does the Lord mean when he tells us to “remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon,” when it contains no information about the mother-of-all-covenants, the new and everlasting covenant of marriage?

I have some thoughts about this, but am interested to hear yours, first. I am also interested to hear other notable doctrines or ideas absent in the Book of Mormon.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How Dumb Did He Think She Was?

We all know the story of Marin Harris and the lost 116 pages. Martin Harris believed in Joseph Smith as a prophet and that the translation of the Book of Mormon was an important and inspired project. He believed so much that he lent Joseph Smith financial assistance and acted as a scribe. Martin's wife, Lucy, did not believe, and it sounds like she made Martin's life kind of difficult. In fact, Steven Harper (Making Sense of the Doctrine & Covenants) says that once, to make a point, she moved her furniture out of their house just so Martin would not sell it to finance Joseph Smith's crazy schemes.

Lucy's skepticism about Joseph and the Book of Mormon led to one of the most dramatic chapters in LDS history. Martin begs to be able to take the manuscript of the Book of Mormon home to show Lucy and others. The Lord, through Joseph, tells Martin, "No" several times, but finally relents. Martin takes the 116-pages document home and, of course, loses it. Martin and Joseph suffer mental and spiritual anguish for their foolishness and disobedience, and are severely chastened by the Lord. Joseph loses the ability to translate fro a time, but is eventually forgiven.

But here is the part of the story that has never made sense to me: Did Martin really think that by showing his wife a manuscript of the Book of Mormon, she would believe that Joseph was a prophet? Why? I can imagine Lucy seeing the manuscript and saying, "Dear, I never doubted that your friend Joseph had a vivid imagination or that he was writing a book. It is the golden plates, the angels and the whole prophet thing that sounds a little far-fetched. Keep your hands off my sideboard."

Maybe I don't have much faith, but I have never really understood why Martin thought he was going to get anywhere just by showing his wife the manuscript. Maybe he thought Lucy would read it and gain her own testimony. But, Joseph was so early in the translation process that I am not sure he even fully understood how the text could be used or how it would effect people. Maybe showing her that they really were working on a book was going to be enough. I don't know. Lucy Harris just sounds like the kind of woman who was not going to be convinced of the restoration of the gospel because she saw several pages of handwritten manuscript.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Big Yawn About Religion

The Class Member Study Guide refers students to verses 5-10 and asks, “How was Joseph’s situation like that of people today who are searching to know the truth?” I am not sure what I think about this. Verse 5 talks about “an unusual excitement about religion”. It is hard for me to think about American society and “excitement about religion.” I guess there is some excitement between the evangelicals and the Mormons right now. Joseph Smith telling them that their creeds are an abomination haven't helped in that regard. And, there is certainly controversy between some religious and irreligious people. We can certainly hear echoes in these debates of the contention and controversy Joseph must have experienced.

Today, however, there seems to be more apathy about religion. No, apathy isn’t even the right word. There is just an overwhelming feeling of relativity. Not many people contend about whether their religious beliefs are the correct ones, because most operate from the premise that there is no absolute truth. What is true for you may not be true for me. No one is wrong. We all just have to choose our way.

It seems that there is a lot of tension and contention in the Joseph Smith story. Joseph expresses real discomfort with the battle that raged between the various religious groups in his community. The debate created a tension that got him asking questions. Who was right? How could he be saved? Which Church taught the correct way to God? Joseph fretted and struggled until he decided to ask God. I wonder if society today would have provided the tension Joseph needed to drive him the grove. Or would he have been comfortable thinking his way was good for him, and your way is nice, too?

It seems like the predominant question today is, “Is there a God or not?” Maybe that uncertainty would have led Joseph to seek God, but I have a hard time imaging a Joseph Smith in the USA in 2009 would ask which Church was true.