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!