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 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.