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?


  1. I made a list of what the text of the WofW actually says/how it would have been understood by early 19th Century Mormons, and contrasted this with a list of well-known tenets of the WofW as it is interpreted modernly. The take away point was that, as much as we like to "turn to the text" to determine correct doctrinal understandings, the WofW is one example of an LDS "doctrine" that cannot be derived from the text itself. This is fairly obvious, but it's clear that many churchmembers have never really thought about it, prefering to simply read their modern understandings into the text.

    This lead, as I'd hoped it would, to questions about how the Church "got from A to B", which segued nicely into a chronological presentation as to how WofW interpretation has evolved over the last 180 years.

    I was concerned the lesson might not be well received, as this approach tends to shock and surprise folks with presentist bias (many or most of us), but I'm happy to report that things went very well.


  2. Aaron: Interesting approach. I agree that they way we understand the WOW today has involved incremental developments and interpretations over time. It is almost like the development of constiutional law through decisions and pronouncements of the Supreme Court.

  3. I just found your blog today, and I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to have found it.

    When I did the WOW lesson a couple weeks ago, I began in Leviticus discussing the laws of Kashrut. We discussed whether the intention of these ancient laws were for health benefits or something else. Eventually, we came to the conclusion that God wanted His people to be peculiar, different from the other cultures of the time, and these laws set them apart perhaps more than anything.

    Very much like, as you mentioned in your earlier post, when it's discovered that you are a Mormon, the first thing people think is "You don't drink or smoke."

    And plenty of people find this peculiar.

    But it's part of being the covenant people of the Lord--we're different, sometimes in really strange ways in the world's view.

    We also spent some time discussing the setting for the revelation, specifically that it was given for the school of the prophets, an "institution," if you will, that was designed to enable those attending to teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom, and to learn by the Spirit those things that were being revealed through the prophet. It seems pretty clear from the promises in section 89 that obedience to this law will yield intellectual light and understanding that otherwise would not be available to us.

    Additionally, the school of the prophets was set up to prepare the attendees to preach the gospel, to do the work the Lord had designed for them. And since we weak mortals can use all the added strength to do God's work, any commandment that will bring more of the enabling power of the atonement by obedience to it should be welcomed (see D&C 59:4).

    Whoops that was long.

  4. Holdinator: Thanks for the visit and the comments. As you might guess, I like the peculiar people angle. But I am interested to hear your thoughts on the benefits to God (and/or his people) of peculiarity.

    And, I like the School of the Prophets angle, too. Do you think that the intellectual benefits of the WOW result from physical purity or spiritual? Or some combination of the two?

  5. Concerning being a peculiar people, I like the way the idea is expressed in Exodus 19:5, where the Lord first reveals to the people of Israel that it is His desire for them to be a "peculiar treasure unto me." I like this translation because I like the word treasure, and what it implies, though I think sometimes we don't really consider all the implications. The word that is translated "peculiar treasure" is just one word that basically denotes a possession or property, so that the phrase could accurately be translated "you will be my property more than all other people." There is a nuance understood here, and every other time the phrase is used (in both Old and New Testaments, the New Testament authors using the same Greek term as the Septuagint) that has to do with a treasured/valued possession or piece of property.

    The benefit to God of having this peculiar treasure or possession, is that this possession has taken more advantage of His gift, the atoning sacrifice of His Son, and glorifies Him through their obedience and receiving of the blessings He wants to give. I like the idea that we will be God's property more so than if we were not His covenant people, because I like the idea of belonging to Him, being unified with Him. The benefit works both ways: when we obey God's commandments, even those that may seem strange, we link ourselves to Him by covenant and become more "His" than we were before. He owns more of us, because we have submitted our will to Him, the only thing we really have to give Him anyway (according to Elder Maxwell), He being our Owner in that He is our creator and the one who "purchased us through the great and marvelous atonement" (again from Elder Maxwell). The great thing about the WOW is that it is a law that is "adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints" (D&C 89:3), thus implying what? that it is an opportunity for the weakest of us to see what happens when we submit our will to God, make our will in these matters His property.

    We didn't discuss any of that in class, because your question inspired me to look at the idea more. Thanks for that.

    The intellectual benefits result from both physical and spiritual purity, no doubt. On the surface, as anyone would be able to attest, it is much easier to focus your mind and learn something if you are free from addiction and if your mind hasn't been injured by using harmful substances. Further, if you are caring for your body in the way the Lord prescribes, not only in section 89, but in other revelations, 88:124 among others, then your mind will be more aware, awake, clear and ready to receive light and knowledge. Spiritually, any time we obey God's commandments, which are all spiritual in nature anyway, we are blessed spiritually, and revelation (necessary for receiving true intelligence) is Spirit speaking to spirit. So, yeah...

    Thanks again for the questions. I look forward to more discussion in the future.

  6. I had a good lesson prepared on the WofW, but unfortunately it got hijacked by several people who kept making off-the-wall comments. Maybe you could do a post sometime on how to handle difficult people in class--e.g., people whose comments tend to dominate the lesson (e.g., overly long, or they keep commenting--even when the teacher doesn't call on them) or who say inappropriate things in class.

  7. We started out this lesson in our ward with a review of Clyde Ford's article on the origins of the Word of Wisdom.


    Very interesting thoughts!

  8. Aaron Brown,

    Would you be willing to e-mail me your lesson outline/materials?


  9. I have mixed feelings. I can't help but feel that a person who truly believes in Jesus Christ should not be prevented from being baptized because of a struggle they might have with drinking or smoking. Some of these people are denied being part of Christ's church while other people are allowed to go to the temple and yet are pure gluttons. They also defile their bodies by what they put into it. Church policy on WoW divides genuine believers by shutting some of them completely out of the fold. We have lost the true meaning of the spirit of the law when it comes to WoW. It's wrong for someone who struggles with certain parts of the WoW (who is a believer) to be prevented from taking upon themselves the name of Christ. It undermines what the atonement and the purpose of the church is all about. It is like rubbing salt in their wounds that others who struggle with different more 'acceptable' parts of the WoW can take full part in the church to the highest degree possible. I pray that someday the church policy will change. It would really make a difference in so many people's lives, and it would be a humbling experience for many. I'm not saying that I disagree with the WoW. I just don't think it should divide us as believers in the way that it does.


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