Why Does the Church Have to Change?

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

Also, this blog is sort of a sequel to my prior blog “Can God Change?” which you may want to read first.

twosticksAs I’m sure most people are aware, change does not always come easily.  Or, it is not always easily accepted.  This is particularly obvious within the context of the church.

When I look at my own willingness to accept changes in the church, I find examples of occasions when I was reluctant to do so.  I’m particularly resistant to changes that can be construed as doctrinal in nature.  I tend to have conservative or foundationalist perspectives regarding church doctrine.  I cherish the grove experience, the need for a restoration, the Book of Mormon, the Inspired Version, the sacredness of our revelations, etc.

Consequently, changes in the church have not always been easy for me to accept; and I know that I am not alone.  There are numerous church members who struggle with church changes because, just like me, the traditional teachings of the church strongly resonate with them.

I know that there are some people who are really annoyed that the church has scheduled it’s next World Conference for June instead of April.  I’ve conversed with a couple of people about this, and I was surprised how annoyed they are over this latest change.  For myself, the dates of World Conference don’t really mean a great deal aside from personal preference.  The dates are not reflective of church doctrine.  They do not concern church theology.  They are purely administrative.

However, I came to realize that for those people who were bothered by the change of month, that the real issue was the fact that the church was, yet again, making another change.

Tampering, once more, with tradition.  It is very true that the church has seen a lot of changes back-to-back in what is, actually, a short period of time.  We might think its been over a long period of time, but when we consider the entire history of the church, it really has been a lot of changes, often dramatic, in a condensed period of time.

Consequently, some people ask “why does the church have to change?”  or “what was so wrong with the way things were?”

The ironic thing is, the more conservative a person is (in a church context), the more they ought to realize that the church has always experienced change.  We just aren’t really conscious of it, because we only see and experience the church, in a direct sense, through the filter of our own personal association with the church.

In other words, we can only directly experience the church in the context of our own lifetime.  I don’t truly know what church was like when my parents were kids, because I myself was not yet alive.  Young adults living right now cannot truly understand what church was like when I was a kid because at that point, they were not alive.

However, a large number of us have fond memories of church as we experienced it in our youth.  Perhaps it is simply in our nature to yearn for the days when church was like it was when we were teenagers.  Yet, the reality is, the church has never been the same, it has never been static.  The “way” church was when I was a teenager was not the same as it was for my parents.   However, the church as it was when they were teenagers would have not been the same as the church existed when my grandparents were teenagers.

The church is always in flux, and a foundationalist approach to our history reveals that this has always been the case.

You see, the revelations contained in our Standard of Authority (not just the Doctrine & Covenants, but also those found within the Book of Mormon and the Inspired Version – both of which are also revelations), reveal to us that the church has existed in multiple iterations.

We tend to regard the church as having been first established in Palestine, directly by Jesus Christ (or at least, by the original twelve apostles under Christ’s direction).

While Christ did establish the church in Palestine, it was not the first time that the church was established.  Our Restoration scripture reveals that prior iterations of the church existed.

The first such iteration was in the era of Adam.  We are told in Genesis Chapter 6 (Inspired Version):

52 And he called upon our father Adam, by his own voice, saying, I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh.
53 And he also said unto him, If thou wilt, turn unto me and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask it shall be given you.

Further down the chapter, we read the following:

67 And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the water, and was brought forth out of the water; and thus he was baptized.
68 And the Spirit of God descended upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.
69 And he heard a voice out of heaven, saying, Thou art baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost; this is the record of the Father and the Son, from henceforth and forever;

Based on the above, we see that the church existed among humanity in the earliest generation of our sacred history.

When did this iteration come to an end?  We don’t know for sure.  The above verses were referenced by the prophet Enoch, so presumably the church existed in Enoch’s lifetime.    Though we can only speculate, it seems that the first iteration did not exist beyond the flood.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant (I estimate around 16 centuries later).  The second iteration was established by God through his servant Alma, in the New World.  We know this from what is recorded in the Book of Mormon, 9th chapter of Mosiah (RLDS 1908):

46 And again, Alma took another, and went forth a second time into the water, and baptized him according to the first, only he did not bury himself again in the water.
47 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon: and they were in number about two hundred and four souls;
48 Yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God:
49 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward.

The third iteration of the church was what we usually regard as the foundation of the church: Christ’s work as recorded in the New Testament.

The fourth iteration takes us back to the Nephites.  Here, in the Third Book of Nephi, Christ, after appearing to the Nephites, seems to re-establish the church amongst the Nephites.  Its not quite as explicitly explained as previously, but it seems that the church had “broken up” prior to Christ’s manifestation, resulting in the need for it to be organized once again.

Finally, we come to the fifth, and current iteration of the church, established, as always, by our Lord, but this time, through Joseph Smith Jr. This iteration is now over 180 years old, which is still comparatively young compared to the prior iterations.

What do we learn from all of this?  Well, the key question that we need to ask is this: “Do we truly believe that these various iterations of the church were identical to each other?”

The answer is clearly “no”.  Let us consider again the various iterations that have existed:

1st – Established by the Lord through Adam (Old Testament church)
2nd – Established by the Lord through Alma (1st Nephite church)
3rd – Established directly by the Lord (New Testament church)
4th – Established directly by the Lord (2nd Nephite church)
5th – Established by the Lord through Joseph Smith Jr. (modern church)

As we consider these various iterations, it becomes clear that many distinctions exist.  It is difficult to say just how many there are, but for the purposes of this discussion, we really don’t need an exhaustive list.  The following suffice:

1) The very purpose of the first iteration seems distinct from all others.  It does not seem to have operated in the open, to publicly proclaim Christ.  This logistically makes sense, as doing such prior to the birth of Christ on the same landmass on which he would eventually be born would likely be problematic.

So, what then was the purpose of the 1st iteration?  We can speculate all we want, but it does not really matter.  The key point here is that the latter iterations were more open and public about proclaiming Jesus Christ than the 1st iteration apparently was.

2) The first iteration lacked an Aaronic priesthood.  While some might argue that it may not have been needed in that very early era of human history, the fact remains, all future iterations are different from the first iteration of the church for at least this one reason.  When the Aaronic priesthood was implemented in future iterations, that represented a transformation from the oldest example of the church.   Enoch might have said “Hmmm…there was no need for a second priesthood when I was a kid…why do we need one now?”

3) The Aaronic priesthood as it existed in the 3rd and 4th iterations of the church, which for a time existed simultaneously, were not structurally the same.  In the New Testament church, there were deacons, priests and bishops.  It is not precisely clear if teachers were regarded as an actual office of priesthood.

In the 2nd Nephite church, there were priests, but no deacons, and no bishops.  Also, there were indeed ordained teachers.   So, different offices operating in the Aaronic priesthood, at the same time, depending in which part of the world you were.

4) According to the Doctrine & Covenants, bishops are properly part of the Aaronic priesthood, not the Melchisidec priesthood.  Also, they are to be literal descendants of Aaron.  However, as proving such heritage is problematic, the Lord has provided us, in our modern revelations, an escape clause: high priests can function in all other offices, therefore, a high priest can be ordained and serve in the office of bishop.

The key point here though is that bishops are of the Aaronic priesthood.  Yet, when we review the New Testament, it seems clear that bishops were very senior members of the church, presiding just below the apostles.  Why would members of the Aaronic priesthood be senior to high priests and elders?

Clearly, bishops were operating in the New Testament church with an authority and responsibility distinct from other iterations of the church.  Clearly, they were called by God to serve as the needs of the people required at the time.

5) Looking at the priesthood as a whole, the New Testament seems to have had the following offices and roles:

apostles, bishops, deacons, elders, evangelists, high priests, pastors, priests, seventies & teachers (pastors, and possibly teachers, being a role vs. an office).

The Nephite church seems to have had the following offices:

Elders, priests & teachers (high priests seem absent from the 2nd Nephite church, which fact is itself a distinction from the 1st Nephite church).

An additional role is found in the existence of 12 elders set apart to provide something approximating apostolic ministry without being true apostles.  This seems to have been a one shot arrangement.

When we compare the two versions of the priesthood (in iterations 3 and 4), including pastors and teachers, we see a total of 12 forms of ministerial leadership in the New Testament church, but only four (including the 12 apostolic elders) in the 2nd Nephite church.

6) When we look at the modern church, we continue to see evolutions:
00000a. Seven (and then ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
00000b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
00000c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
00000d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
00000e. A First Presidency.
00000f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
00000g. A presiding evangelist.
00000h. A new office, in the form of high councillor****
00000i. A Standing High Council
00000j. Bishops function as financial leaders instead of presiding over the church.

*While there have always been prophets, they were not previously an office of priesthood.  This is therefore a new office that exists only in the modern church.

**Prior to the modern church, presidents, as an office of priesthood, did not exist.  This is therefore a new priesthood office.

***There is no priesthood office of patriarch in ancient scripture.  Patriarchs did exist in the Old Testament, but they were not an office of priesthood.  Therefore, it is a new office of priesthood existing only in the modern church.  It was also combined with the office of evangelist.  There can be little doubt that Old Testament patriarchs and New Testament evangelists, if told that one day their roles would be merged into one office would have found that to be a rather strange change.  I suspect many would deem it a very unlikely, implausible and awkward change.

****While the church does not tend to currently use the term high councilor, and inducts people to the standing high council via setting apart instead of ordination, it’s status as an office is based on Doctrine and Covenants 129:7b.

***

What do we learn from all of these examples of how the various iterations of the church were different from some or all of the other iterations? Well, quite simply, we learn that the church has never existed in one static form.  The church has always experienced divinely guided change.

As we have seen here (and especially in my prior blog Can God Change?) such alterations are not limited to just new additions to the church, but, as we have seen, sometimes something already established by God is changed by God in the future, or changed by God in another part of the world (divinely implemented regional distinctions).

So, can we, especially those of us with foundational church beliefs, truly claim that the church cannot or should not change, given that, based on our three books of scripture, it is clear that the church has always changed?

In fact, it would seem that if we don’t experience change, that would be inconsistent with our own history.

Change is not our enemy.  Change is not counter to God`s will.  However, perpetuating a delusion or clinging to such a falsehood (that the church cannot be changed by God) is clearly in alignment with the designs of the adversary, and in opposition to God`s revelations.

Questions to Ponder

1. Why do we sometimes fear change?
2. What do we learn from comparing the Aaronic priesthood in the Bible with the same priesthood in the Book of Mormon?
3. What positive changes have you witnessed in the church?

Related blog: Can God Change?

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Can God Change? – Part 1 of 4

To Change, or not to Change”

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

olivetreeFor many years now I have observed that one of the most common objections to changes in the church, including changes to the priesthood, is that God does not change his mind about things.

This objection is frequently used by members of Community of Christ, as well as by members of various other Restoration factions.  Having encountered it so many times, I decided some time ago to explore this objection, and as a result, I have come to believe that it is flawed.  If you stick with me, I’ll endeavor to explain why.

The objection (that God does not change) is of course based on various verses of scripture, which do indeed state, in one form or another, that God does not change. We find some of these verses in the Bible and some in the Book of Mormon.  Here are some examples:

“For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” -Malachi 3:6 (IV)

“But thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end.”
-Psalm 102:27 (IV)

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”
-Hebrews 13:8 (IV)

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  –James 1:17 (IV)

81 And if there were miracles wrought, then why has God ceased to be a God of miracles, and yet be an unchangeable being.
82 And behold I say unto you, He changeth not; if so, he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God, and is a God of miracles.
–Mormon 4 (CofC 1908)

“For I know that God is not a partial God, neither a changeable being; but he is unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.”
–Moroni 8:19 (CofC 1908)

These verses, read in isolation, do indeed seem to suggest that God cannot change his mind.  The question then becomes “are there any verses that state that God can change His mind?”  As far as I know, the answer to that question is “no”.  I have yet to find a verse in our Standard of Authority that states that God can change.

Yet, if we are being honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that sometimes there are statements in scripture that seem to say different things. This means there is another factor to consider.

You see, an honest, in-depth exploration of this question, “can God change his mind?” must not be limited to simply looking for verses that inform us if God can change.  If we form our conclusions simply on the existence, or lack of, verses that say “God can change”, then we are ignoring the bulk of our sacred canon, for probably very self-serving reasons.

We need to look for a verse that, while perhaps not saying that God can change his mind, nevertheless serves as an example of God doing just that; and the reality is, there is such a verse:

109 And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard said unto the servant, Let us go to, and hew down the trees of the vineyard, and cast them into the fire, that they shall not cumber the ground of my vineyard: for I have done all; what could I have done more for my vineyard?
110 But behold, the servant said unto the Lord of the vineyard, Spare it a little longer.
111 And the Lord said, Yea, I will spare it a little longer: for it grieveth me that I should lose the trees of my vineyard.
-Jacob chapter 3 (CofC 1908)

The above passage is part of a message from God given to the prophet Zenos, in which God reveals to Zenos his interactions with the nation of Israel, which he compares to an olive tree in a vineyard (v30, 31).  Therefore, the “lord of the vineyard” is God, who as we see above, has changed his mind.

Some people may not accept this scripture as a valid example of God changing his mind based on the fact that God’s plan is “likened” to a tame olive tree.  God reveals his plan for the House of Israel through an elaborate metaphor.

However, the key point here is that the metaphor is given to Zenos by God himself, for the purpose of simplifying (for the sake of Zenos’ understanding), God’s interactions with Israel.  With this in mind, it is not plausible that the character of the Lord of the Vineyard, made up by God to be representative of God, would say or do something that God himself would not.

There is however an even more important reason why the “god cannot change” objection is flawed.

It is actually not necessary to prove that God can change his mind.  We don’t need to advocate that position whatsoever.

All that is required is that we can demonstrate that God can bring about change.  That he can change various aspects of his creation, including the rules of his church & priesthood, to suit his purposes, as he deems needful.

Doing such does not need to mean that God has changed his mind, as it is very plausible that such changes were always part of God’s plan from the beginning.

God may be unchanging, but we must understand that this is in reference to his nature.  He is divine, he is eternal, he is loving, he is all powerful, he is wise, and he is just.  These aspects do not change.

Yet, these unchanging aspects of God’s nature do not prevent God from bringing about change, from making alterations, from causing transformation.

I would also submit that change is itself a divine trait.  Again, God does not, in my opinion, change in regard to his immortality, power, wisdom, perfect justice, etc; but change must be something that is itself reflective of God, because change is a key characteristic of every aspect of creation.

You see, God is a god of transformation, and transformation is simply another word for change.

Questions to Ponder

1. How does the question “Does God change?” relate to the belief that we are created in God’s image?
2. Does God need to change to bring about change?
3. Accept for the moment that God can change things.  What would be a good reason to do so?

Jump to Part 2

 

Can God Change? – Part 2 of 4

The Consistency of Change

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

transfigurationGod transforms people for the better.  When you consider what transpires in the scriptures, or when you consider the history of our own church, you can see that what is happening, all the time, over and over, is God working in the hearts of people to transform them, by giving them hope.

God’s prophets, forged in the wilderness by encounters with the divine, were transformed.  It was the transformation that these people experienced that enabled them to do what they did, to become what they became.  Moses was not simply sent back to Egypt.  First, he was forged by God in the wilderness.  Joseph Smith Jr. was not simply told one day to go dig up the buried plates.  He was spiritually prepared over many years via angelic visitations, and his experience in the grove.  Both men were transformed by God.

Here is another thought.  Transformation is what we offer to the world.  Our goal as disciples of Jesus Christ is to help bring people into a closer relationship with God.  Sometimes that means to help establish a relationship where none previously existed.

That is a transformation.  We talk, all the time, about how people have had their lives transformed in wonderful ways by the church.

When people are baptized, or confirmed, they are transformed.  So you see, we are in the business of transforming people.

Even Jesus Christ experienced transformation.  We call it the Transfiguration; and let us not forget, like Moses, he also had his time in the wilderness.

Transformation is what John the Baptist offered.  He preached repentance and baptized people for the remission of sins.  That is one form of transformation.  Through this remission, people learned to forgive themselves, to release themselves from their own guilt.  That is a second transformation and no doubt such transformations would result in developing new outlooks regarding how a person should live, treat one another, worship God, and so forth.

After John, Jesus Christ also preached repentance.  He preached about the Kingdom of God.  He challenged how people understood the Law and the Prophets; he encouraged people to totally transform their lives.

He sought to turn people away from wickedness, replacing it with peace, mercy, love, compassion, and charity, once again, just to name a few.

What we learn from all of this is that transformation is at the heart of our purpose.  It is at the heart of responding to God’s call.

It is at the heart of every aspect of existence.  The world continually transforms itself with the passing of each season.

The people called into the wilderness were transformed by God’s guidance.  The messiah himself was transformed through the Transfiguration.  Transformation is everywhere.  It permeates everything, and everyone throughout all creation.

The people who enter into a covenant with Jesus Christ are transformed; and like I said a few moments ago, we are, essentially, in the business of transforming lives.

And we do this, because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.   Its all about Transformation.  That is the message of Hope that John the Baptist brought to a nation, and the message of Hope that Jesus Christ brings to the world.

Understanding this, is it not folly to suggest that God does not change from time to time?  Not himself, but what he made, including his priesthood.  If God does not change things from time to time, he would not be consistent with his own creation.

Questions to Ponder

1. In what way was Christ changed in the wilderness & during the Transfiguration?
2. What positive impact might there be in our attempts to bring about positive transformation if we understand that God himself is open to change?
3. What is the purpose of change?

Jump to Part 3

 

Can God Change? – Part 3 of 4

What Has Changed?

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

almaIf we are going to advocate the notion that God can bring about change, we should be able to present some examples from our sacred canon and perhaps also from our own history.  Do such examples exist?  Absolutely!

To begin with, let us consider the following verse from the Book of Alma:

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.”
-Alma 10:103

Compare the above passage with Doctrine & Covenants Section 17:11e:

“but neither teachers nor deacons have authority to baptize, administer the sacrament, or lay on hands”

So, we see that in the ancient church, according to the Book of Mormon, teachers could baptize.  Yet, in the restored church, as indicated by the Doctrine and Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do.  This represents a change made by God to the priesthood.

Consider now an example of God changing a sacrament:  From Alma 9:

43 And now it came to pass that Alma took Helam, he being one of the first, and went and stood forth in the water, and cried, saying, O Lord, pour out thy Spirit upon thy servant, that he may do this work with holiness of heart.
44 And when he had said these words, the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, and he said, Helam, I baptize thee, having authority from the Almighty God, as a testimony that ye have entered into a covenant to serve him until you are dead, as to the mortal body; and may the Spirit of the Lord be poured out upon you; and may he grant unto you eternal life, through the redemption of Christ, whom he has prepared from the foundation of the world.
45 And after Alma had said these words, both Alma and Helam were buried in the water; and they arose and came forth out of the water rejoicing, being filled with the Spirit.

Pay particular note to the words Alma used in verse 44 when he baptized Helam, keeping in mind that the above passage clearly indicates that Alma was filled with the Holy Spirit.  This strongly suggests that what Alma did, and said, was done by the prompting of God.  Now compare to:

“And now behold, these are the words which ye shall say, calling them by name, saying: Having authority given me of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
-Third Nephi 5:25

We should also give some consideration the office of prophet.  In the modern church, the prophet is always a member of the priesthood, and is itself an office of priesthood, to which the successors of Joseph Smith Jr. are ordained.  This reflects a further change.  In the ancient scriptures, the role of prophet was not an office of priesthood.  It was simply a divine calling that some people had, but it existed outside the priesthood (though no doubt some members of the priesthood also served God as prophets).

Another very important change pertains to slavery.  In the Old Testament, slavery was tolerated by God:

44 Both thy bond-men, and thy bond-maids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bond-men and bond-maids.
45 Moreover, of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families that are with you, which they begat in your land; and they shall be your possession.
46 And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bond-men for ever; but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigor.  -Leviticus 25 (Inspired Version)

However, we read the following in Section 98:10g:

“Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.”

This demonstrates God reversing a prior divine position.  This would be, in my own opinion, an example of something that was not previously viewed by God as a sin, becoming so.

Regardless of that question, the point here is that God, for whatever reason, openly tolerated, and seemed to even command, or at least encouraged slavery -the treatment of some people being regarded as property by other people; only to then reverse that position in 1833 – several centuries after the Torah was recorded.  During the interim, the world changed.

In 1993 Herald Publishing House printed a book called “Having Authority”, by Gregory A. Prince, which informs us on page 43 that in the early days of the Restoration, only elders could ordain.  However, in 1831, this authority was extended to priests.

Likewise, this same book informs us on page 54 that bishops were originally part of the Melchisedec priesthood, but eventually became part of the Aaronic priesthood (this may be an unfamiliar concept for many readers, however, strictly speaking the office of bishop belongs to the Aaronic priesthood, and is properly filled by descendants of Aaron.  However, since proving such descent is problematic, the lord has indicated that high priests can serve in the office of bishop).

In Leviticus 24:20 we see a reference to God’s Old Testament version of justice: “eye for eye”.   The verse states:

“Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.”

According to verse 13, this was the word of God spoken to Moses.  So, this custom was God’s will.

However, this policy was reversed in the Gospel of Matthew:

40 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
41 But I say unto you that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. -chapter 5

Questions  to Ponder

1. What was your initial reaction to seeing examples in our scriptures and history that God has changed things?
2. Which change most surprised you?

3. How comfortable are you with knowing that God can change things?

Jump to Part 4

 

Can God Change? – Part 4 of 4

A Changing Priesthood

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

aaronThe previous examples of God making changes are all extremely helpful to demonstrate that God does, from time to time, alter things.  However, I think perhaps the best case for such a theory relates to the Aaronic priesthood.  It is here that we can perhaps best see dramatic changes made by God to what he had already established.

In ancient scripture, God decided to bless the Twelve Tribes of Israel with a priesthood.  He selected a member of the Tribe of Levi to be the first high priest, and that man was Aaron, the brother of Moses.  Aaron’s sons became the first priests.  The rest of the Levites, who were not descended from Aaron, were also given religious duties, but the priesthood itself was restricted to Aaron and his descendants only.  Therefore, while other Levites had religious responsibilities only Aaronites were part of the priesthood.

It is important to keep in mind here that to be a Levite, you had to be descended from Levi, and to be part of the priesthood, you had to also be a descendant of Aaron.

The entire Aaronic priesthood would eventually become dormant.  However, we know from our history that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic priesthood to the world when he conferred it upon Oliver Cowdery & Joseph Smith Jr.  It is important to highlight that our heritage teaches us that this was not a new priesthood named in honor of a prior priesthood.  Though dormant, the priesthood is without end, and what was granted to Oliver & Joseph by the Lord through John was a restoration of what already existed previously.

But what of those ancestry requirements?  Clearly, in the Restored church, they have been abolished.  Any member of the church in good standing, who is called of God, can be, according to the laws of the church, ordained to any office of the Aaronic priesthood, regardless of heritage.  One does not need to be Jewish.

Another interesting alteration pertains to the progression of the Levitical “priesthood”.

While people may speak of the “Levitical priesthood”, as a term of convenience for those Levites in the Bible who were not Aaronites, they did not form a priesthood in the same sense as the Aaronic priesthood.  The latter was viewed as “the priesthood”.  Levites who were not Aaronites were not part of the priesthood, despite having their own religious roles to play.

Yet, Section 104:1a teaches us that in the restored church, the Aaronic priesthood includes the so-called Levitical priesthood:

“There are, in the church, two priesthoods; namely: the Melchisedec, and the Aaronic, including the Levitical priesthood.”

Even if we wanted to argue that the non-Aaronite Levites did constitute an actual priesthood, the fact remains; it would have been distinct from, and not part of the Aaronic priesthood.  You had to be an Aaronite to be part of the Aaronic priesthood.

However, based on Section 104, we see that the Levitical “priesthood” is to be regarded as an actual true priesthood, and is now to be viewed as being part of the priesthood of Aaron, despite the prior Aaronite restriction.

We should also look at the composition of the Aaronic priesthood.  In ancient scripture it consisted of priests and a high priest (to avoid confusion with the Melchisedec high priest, I’ll term this role as “chief priest”).

The chief priest was not simply an elevated role, but what we would consider an office of priesthood, because he was consecrated to his position, with scripturally defined duties.

It is important to note that in the New Testament and in the Book of Mormon, no such office exists.  There are high priests mentioned in both the New Testament and the Book of Mormon, but they are “after the Order of the Son of God” i.e., they are of the Melchisedec priesthood.

Now, we could argue that bishops, first introduced in the New Testament church, are simply chief priests of the Aaronic priesthood with a new designation.  Yet, in the entire nation of ancient Israel, all through it’s history, including when it was a kingdom, there was only one chief priest at a time.  However, in the early years of the church, which had a vastly smaller population, there were multiple bishops.  So, either bishops are a new office, with chief priests being discarded, or they are the same office, re-named, but reflective of a further change (many vs. one).

Then we have to deal with deacons and teachers.  No such offices exist in the Old Testament.  Teachers are found in the Aaronic priesthood as it existed amongst the Nephites, but deacons are still absent.

We might suggest that deacons and teachers represent the non-Aaronite Levites.  However, the non-Aaronite Levities were classified into three groups: the Gershonites, the Kohathites and the Merarites.  So, if we go with that theory, then we are forced to acknowledge that something is missing today.

However, the real meat of this topic pertains to the duties and responsibilities of the Levites and the priesthood.

Each of the three types of non-Aaronite Levites had specific religious duties to perform, as indicated in the following passages from Numbers chapter 3, Inspired Version:

25 And the charge of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation shall be the tabernacle, and the tent, the covering thereof, and the hanging for the door of the tabernacle of the congregation,
26 And the hangings of the court, and the curtain for the door of the court, which is by the tabernacle, and by the altar round about, and the cords of it, for all the service thereof.

30 And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel.
31 And their charge shall be the ark, and the table, and the candlestick, and the altars, and the vessels of the sanctuary wherewith they minister, and the hanging, and all the service thereof.

36 And under the custody and charge of the sons of Merari shall be the boards of the tabernacle, and the bars thereof, and the pillars thereof, and the sockets thereof, and all the vessels thereof, and all that serveth thereto,
37 And the pillars of the court round about, and their sockets, and their pins, and their cords.

The duties of the Aaronite priests were to perform various sacrifices and burnt offerings, each for a specific purpose.  The chief priest presided over the day of atonement, and had various other unique duties to perform.

However, when we read Section 17 of the Doctrine & Covenants (or any other section), we utterly fail to see any harmony of duties between the modern Aaronic priesthood, and those of the ancient Aaronites and Levites (though there are a few commonalities between the modern priesthood and the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites).

Quite simply, none of the duties of the Gershonites, the Kohathites the Merarites, the priests or the chief priests of the Bible exist in the current Aaronic priesthood, and none of the responsibilities of the latter were held by the former.  In fact, the primary duty of the Biblical priests of Aaron was specifically abolished by Christ:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings; and ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
–Third Nephi 4:49

Its worth pointing out that not only were the duties of the priests of Aaron changed, the Lord actually stated that he would no longer accept what he previously commanded His people to provide: sacrifices and burnt offerings, the entire tradition having been “done away” with.  Again, this demonstrates God changing something that He had previously implemented.

What we see from all of this is that God does indeed alter things to suit his purposes, as circumstances warrant.  God may not change, but the world does, and therefore, the needs of the people, and of the church, change, and thus, God changes the priesthood and the church to better support the needs that they have.

Indeed, a comparison of the Israelite and Nephite Aaronic priesthoods sets a precedent for differences to exist at the same time.

The priesthood of Israel had priests and chief priests, and were assisted by the Levites.  The priesthood of the Nephites had priests and teachers and lacked Levites. Not just Levitical temple workers, but members of the Tribe of Levi.  Of which the Aaronic priesthood had to be part of.  This means that in fact, there were two different divine policies operating on the Earth at the same time.  In the Old World, you had to be an Aaronite to be part of the Aaronic priesthood.  In the New World, you did not.  Two different rules, at the same time, depending where you were.

Here is another example of this:

“And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized.”
-Alma 10:103

During this point in time, the Aaronic priesthood in Israel still existed.  Yet, we can be sure that the duties of the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World did not include performing baptisims for the sake of the church of Christ.

We need to remember that from Aaron to Christ, the Aaronic priesthood existed in Israel, with the duties and rules outlined in the Old Testament.  Yet, the Aaronic priesthood in the days of Alma, in the New World, existed at the same time as the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World, and the above verse is a clear indication of the two versions of the priesthood having different rules in operation at the same time, by design of God.

The priesthood of Israel operated directly under God.  The priesthood of the Nephites operated under the direction of the Melchisedec priesthood.

This last fact is itself a change for another reason.  There were no Melchisedec high priests or elders presiding over the Aaronic priesthood of Israel (in Israel).  However, the Nephites (who were also Israelites) had such high priests, and they also had elders, and the priests and teachers were subordinate to them.

In other words, the Israelites living in Israel, between Moses and Christ, did not have the Melchisedec priesthood – but the Israelites who were also Nephites living in the New World did!  Again, this proves that God may change things not only over time, but in different areas – having different rules for the same thing, as circumstances warrant.

Clearly God does, and has changed things over the ages.  This should not really surprise us.  It is important to remember that Christ established His church for the sake of mankind. Therefore, we should not be surprised to see God being willing to modify the church to better meet the needs of mankind.

Read the sequel!  Click here.

Questions to Ponder

1. What other examples of changes being made by God can you think of?
2. Do you agree that major changes should only be made by God?
3. Understanding that God does indeed change things from time to time, what concerns might you have about this, and what excites you?

What is Sin?

This blog is part of my ZionBound series.  The full series can be read in post order here.

confessionalIn my personal exploration of various church issues, I have noted that sometimes people bring up the concept of sin to help rationalize their position on a given matter.  Which I think is perfectly valid.

However, it then becomes needful to have a clear idea of just what we mean when we talk about sin.  When I think of sinful conduct, I tend to think of wicked deeds, great acts of evil, and deliberate defiance of God’s will.  Personally, I do think that such things are properly regarded as sins (whatever the specifics might be), yet, we probably would be wise to recognize that sins can take many forms, including much less villainous things.  Sin is, unfortunately, by no means confined to far distant global events, historical conflicts, or the thrilling stories of Hollywood & novelists.

At a priesthood meeting that I was running one day in my congregation, I took several minutes to express my personal opinion that taking people for granted is sinful.  This is something that really bothers me, as I see it happen all the time, and I am myself guilty of it.  Unfortunately, also all of the time.  One day, as I was frustrated with my own tendency to take people for granted, I was struck with the notion that doing so is not just something that is undesirable, not something that is just unwholesome, but, a true, actual (sinister music) sin.

Why such a strong view on taking people for granted?  Well, it just seems to be so very unkind, uncaring, selfish, and occasionally harmful. It creates barriers to expressing how we feel about people, sometimes about the people we love the most.  So, in my view, for all of these reasons, taking people for granted is an actual, full fledged sin.

More recently, I’ve come to realise that taking life for granted is also a sin.  Perhaps even more so.  Life is a gift from God.  Of all the gifts from our Heavenly Father that we experience daily, it is the greatest gift of all.  Therefore, taking our lives for granted is also an actual expression of sin.

However, identifying the above as sinful, or making lists of other sins, does not truly help explain what a sin is. The website for Community of Christ attempts to do so with these words:

“God created us to be agents of love and goodness. Yet we misuse our agency individually and collectively. We take the gifts of creation and of self and turn them against God’s purposes with tragic results. Sin is the universal condition of separation and alienation from God and one another. We are in need of divine grace that alone reconciles us with God and one another.”

This definition can be found on both the Basic Beliefs page, and on the Glossary page.  I think there is a lot of wisdom in these words.

However, I know that they won’t resonate with everyone.  In fact, a member of one of the Restorationist groups told me once that the Community of Christ definition of what a sin is was wrong.

So I asked him what he felt the proper definition of the word sin is.  He told me that a sin is something that someone does, or fails to do, resulting in that person being in violation of God’s law.  So, if you violate one of God’s commandments, you have committed a sin.  According to this person’s definition, this is in fact the only possible way that one can commit sin.

I think this view also has wisdom in it.  In fact, I think that perhaps both understandings of what a sin is may in fact be different ways of trying to express the same thing.  Though perhaps that is reaching a bit.

At any rate, I think the latter viewpoint probably resonates with a lot of church members, because it is perhaps a little more tangible.  It also perhaps helps keep people more clear on just what is sinful.

Being conservative myself (or, more accurately, a foundationalist), I tend to think that the latter understanding of sin would be more readily embraced by many church members, particularly those with traditional beliefs, than the statement on the church’s website.  Its a more yardstick approach to the subject.

The interesting thing about such a view pertains to the conviction that a sin cannot one day cease to be a sin.  I’ve seen or heard this position used by many people when engaged in some sort of theological chat.

However, this position is actually not correct.  If we regard sin as something that violates the law, then it is indeed very possible that something regarded by God as sinful could, one day, no longer be so viewed (by God).

In fact, this has already happened.

Remember, the premise here is that a sin is doing something forbidden (or failing to do something required), by God’s commandments, the Law.

Let us consider then the consumption of pork.  According to the Old Testament, God forbade the eating of pork.  Doing so would therefore be sinful.  Or, in other words, it would be a sin to eat pork.  Eating pork was one of a whole host of sinful deeds, as recorded in our scriptures.

Yet, we read in the record left by the Nephites that the Law ended in Christ:

“For behold, the covenant which I have made with my people, is not all fulfilled; but the law which was given unto Moses, hath an end in me.” –Third Nephi 7:9 (CofC 1908)

Because Christ ended the law, something that was considered sinful (eating pork), ceased to be sinful.  Therefore, we know that it is indeed possible for something that was truly regarded by God as sinful, in times past, to cease to be so regarded under other circumstances.

As Christians, we should be dedicated to the truth, and therefore, we have to acknowledge, even if we really don’t want to, that something can cease to be sinful.

Knowing this to be the case, how we are viewed as individuals, as Christians, as members of the Restoration, will be a reflection of how we respond to these insights – will we embrace them, or, if not, at least accept them, or will we try to ignore, or even supress such truths?

How we deal with such a shift in our theological views will determine whether or not we will walk the road of divinely induced transformation (which will move us closer in alignment to Christ’s purposes), or embark upon the road of stagnation.  As one of our founding principles happens to be Free Agency, God leaves that choice to you.

Questions to Ponder

What is your understanding of sin?
How do you feel about the suggestion that something previously regarded as sinful (by God) might no longer be so viewed by Him today?
Does this concept seem threatening in any way?  If so, why? Are there some sins which you feel will remain sinful forever, and others that might not?  What determines this for you?