The Nature & Role of Scripture

readingbibleCommunity of Christ has made some very profound statements concerning scripture.  Among them are the following:

“Scripture is a library of books that speaks in many voices. These books were written in diverse times and places, and reflect the languages, cultures, and conditions under which they were written. God’s revelation through scripture does not come to us apart from the humanity of the writers, but in and through that humanity.” –Scripture Affirmation #3

“Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied… It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices… Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.” –Section 163:7b-d

“Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.

…Over the last several centuries a doctrine of scripture emerged in Christianity that insists that all scripture—every single word—was directly dictated by God and is inerrant in every detail. This belief emerged as a response to the questioning of religious authority from those who held that human reason alone was the most reliable pathway to truth. So, a doctrine of scripture emerged that enshrined the literal words of scripture as inerrant and as the sole authority on all matters.

This view still dominates much of global Christianity today. It also strongly influences more than a few members of the Community of Christ who have adopted it from the larger religious culture.

However, that doctrine, that view of scripture, is not how scripture was understood in Christianity for many centuries since its birth. It is not how Jesus Christ viewed and used scripture. And, it is not how Community of Christ officially views scripture today.

The church affirms that scripture is inspired, indispensable, and essential to our knowledge of God and the gospel. In addition, we believe that scripture should be interpreted responsibly through informed study, guided by the Holy Spirit working in and through the church. Scripture was formed by the community of faith to shape the community of faith. Therefore, interpreting scripture is the constant work of the faith community.

Community of Christ also stresses that all scripture must be interpreted through the lens of God’s most-decisive revelation in Jesus Christ. So if portions of scripture don’t agree with our fullest understanding of the meaning of the revelation of God in Christ, as illuminated by the Holy Spirit and discerned by the faith community, the teachings and vision of Christ take precedence. This principle applies to all of our books of scripture, especially any passage used by some to categorically assign God’s disfavor, negative characteristics, or secondary roles to others.” –A Defining Moment (President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church)

I think it is truly awesome that Community of Christ has such an amazing view with regard to our scriptures.  I am grateful to belong to a church that has canonized, as scripture, words about scripture, and the need to confess of the harm that has been done in the past by abusing scripture.

It is worth reading the entire documents in their entirety.

The Scripture Affirmations can be read here.

Section 163 can be read here.

The address “A Defining Moment” is no longer on the church’s website,  but it can be read here.

While I celebrate these forward thinking positions and views on scripture, I feel that often we sometimes overlook some other key aspects regarding scripture, including its role in the church.

This becomes very important when considering issues that touch on doctrine and theology.  When we explore such issues, it is of course very appropriate to consider Community of Christ’s scripture; therefore, we need to be fully aware of how the church understands scripture.

With the above in mind, I want to highlight the following factors.

3in1First, Community of Christ has three books of scripture: The Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Book of Doctrine & Covenants.  Usage of any of these books varies from person to person, but all three are part of the sacred canon of the church.

“With other Christians, we affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants as scripture.”  –Scripture Affirmation #9

Second, understanding the first factor above, what does the church say about scripture?  Here are some key points:

“It is to Christ that scripture points.” –Scripture Affirmation #1

“We find the Living Word in and through scripture.” –Scripture Affirmation #2

“Scripture is the indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church.” –Scripture Affirmation #2

“generations of Christians have found scripture simply to be trustworthy in keeping them anchored in revelation, in promoting faith in Christ, and in nurturing the life of discipleship. For these purposes, scripture is unfailingly reliable” –Scripture Affirmation #5

“We have heard Christ speak in all three books of scripture, and bear witness that he is “alive forever and ever” –Scripture Affirmation #9

“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission…When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.”
–Basic Beliefs, Scripture

“scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings” –A Defining Moment (President Veazey’s 2009 address to the church)

“Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.” –A Defining Moment

“The church affirms that scripture is inspired” –A Defining Moment

“Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth”
–Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:7a

“Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit” –also Section 163:7a

To summarize the above, scripture is the result of divine inspiration and revelation.  It is authoritative.  Scripture is an indispensable witness of God’s saving, transformative message, which God entrusted to us (the church).  It is also an indispensable witness of the Eternal Source of Light and Truth.  The church’s scripture is accepted by the church as the normative expression of it’s identity, message, and mission.

Exercise: Understanding what the church says about scripture, as indicated above, and understanding what is upheld by the church as scripture, re-read the above statements substituting the Doctrine & Covenants and the Book of Mormon for the word scripture.

For example:

“We find the Living Word in and through the Doctrine & Covenants.”

“The Book of Mormon is an indispensable witness of the saving, transforming message that God has entrusted to the church.”

“generations of Christians have found the Doctrine & Covenants simply to be trustworthy in keeping them anchored in revelation, in promoting faith in Christ, and in nurturing the life of discipleship. For these purposes, the Doctrine & Covenants is unfailingly reliable”

“The Book of Mormon is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission…When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, the Book of Mormon provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.”

“The Doctrine & Covenants is an amazing collection of inspired writings”

“The Book of Mormon is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.”

“The church affirms that the Doctrine & Covenants is inspired”

“The Book of Mormon is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth”

Third, understanding what the church upholds as scripture, and understanding it’s position on scripture, we can now look at the role it has in the church.

World Conference Resolution 215 states the following:

“That this body, representing the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, recognize the Holy Scriptures, the Book of Mormon, the revelations of God contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and all other revelations which have been or shall be revealed through God’s appointed prophet, which have been or may be hereafter accepted by the church as the standard to authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies arising, or which may arise in this Church of Christ”

The key words in the above resolution are: “as the standard to authority on all matters of church government and doctrine, and the final standard of reference on appeal in all controversies”  It is also worth pointing out that we are informed by this resolution that the Inspired Version of the Bible (which is formally printed as the Holy Scriptures) is the specific version of the Bible which joins the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine & Convents as forming the standard of authority of the church.

WCR 215 was adopted in 1878.  Some people might think that because it is so old, it might be a forgotten component of the church.  That is not correct.  In 2007, a motion on the Book of Mormon was ruled out-of-order by President Veazey (because it sought to mandate belief in it).  However, in his comments explaining why it had to be ruled out-of-order, President Veazey reminded us that the Book of Mormon is part of our standard of authority, and he quoted the definition of that term as found in WCR 215.

Also, in 2010, delegates approved a new revelation (what became Section 164).  Prior to its approval, President Veazey made a remark, pointing out that if approved, it would become part of our standard of authority.

These examples confirm that the standard of authority has not  been forgotten, and they also confirm the very important function that it has in the life of the church.

Fourth, regarding the nature of the Doctrine & Covenants.prophets

I sometimes think that the Doctrine & Covenants is occasionally viewed by some people as something other than scripture (perhaps as commentary or positions).  However, as some of the above statements confirm, it is upheld as scripture, and authoritative, in Community of Christ.

Also, the church glossary offered the following definition of the Doctrine & Covenants:

“A compilation of documents that the church accepts as inspired counsel representing the “mind and will of God.” The inspired documents date back to 1828 and cover the period from then until present.”

The church glossary is no longer available online, as it was one of dozens of documents & resources that did not survive the transition from the old website to the new website (which was optimized for both computer and mobile users – and I suspect a lengthy list of definitions was unwieldy for mobile conversion).

However, its absence should not be taken as a rescinding of that definition.  The definition was itself derived from the church’s understanding of what revelation is, and is reflected elsewhere:

“Every day since being ordained as prophet-president, I have carried the needs of the church on my heart. Sometimes the weight of concern has seemed almost unbearable. Perhaps this is as it should be, because the heaviness of responsibility has pressed me to seek the mind and will of God as never before.” –Preamble of Section 163

“On Wednesday, April 14, 2010, the World Conference voted to accept the inspired document as the mind and will of God for the church and ordered its inclusion in the Doctrine and Covenants. ” –Preamble of Section 164

“The Doctrine and Covenants is also part of the Community of Christ sacred story. This book is a collection of writings by prophet-presidents of Community of Christ. This begins with Joseph Smith Jr. and includes the seven others who have served as prophet-president since him, including the current one, Stephen M. Veazey. In each of these documents God gives direction to the church for that day and time. The president presents what he believes to be the mind and will of God for the church, World Conference considers it, and if approved, a document is added to the Doctrine and Covenants.” –Sharing in Community of Christ (Youth Lessons, Ages 12-18), page 16

Understanding all of the above I feel helps us approach any doctrinal or theological matter (which often in turn helps formulate policies, positions, procedures, etc.) more responsibly, and fairly, than we otherwise might.

The scriptures should not be used as weapons to simply push our own personal agendas.  But we also should not ignore the scriptures when they do not support our own personal agendas.  And while we are free to have whatever personal beliefs that we are comfortable with, I personally feel that, as church members, we each have a responsibility for ensuring that any desired changes should be explored within the context of the church itself, and not just our own personal preferences.

An example of what I mean.  If I support infant baptism, someone might point out to me that there are scriptures in the Book of Mormon that condemn it.  Harshly.  I might counter that by saying “But I don’t believe in the Book of Mormon”.  And therefore, I might continue to push forward with trying to get the change that I desire, made.  However, would this be appropriate?   Regardless of my own personal beliefs, I know that the Book of Mormon is accepted by the church as scripture, and as part of the standard of authority.  So, I personally would not feel it is right to simply set aside the verses or passages that could be roadblocks for getting approval for the change that I seek.

Another example.  If I oppose female ordination, I might decide to have a motion passed at World Conference that legislates that women will no longer be ordained.  An opponent might point out that Section 156 endorses female ordination.  I could say that I reject the authenticity of Section 156.  But, would that be appropriate for me to push through such a motion, when I know that church accepts 156 as the mind and will of God?  It is part of the church’s canon of scripture, and part of the standard of authority.  I might not like it, but it is what it is.

(to be clear, I fully support female ordination – and I reject infant baptism)

Some might feel that they are called by God, or a sense of what is right, or duty bound, to seek a change that they feel is required.  I get that, and I support that.  But such efforts must be done within the context of the church itself, within what we have declared our positions on scripture to be.  Within the context of what we claim our church to be: a revealed church, a church that God has established for God’s purposes, a church that believes that God has revealed God’s mind and will to us.

Please also read the related blog “Community of Christ: A Revealed Church”

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon (Reformatted)

The original version of this blog was posted with five components, each on it’s own page.   Its been reformatted here into a one page version.

“Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark of the Reorganization and the church today.”  –President Veazey, “Facing Our Challenges Interview” – Part 2 (2009)

BoMComboA Debt of Gratitude

As I know some people struggle with the Book of Mormon, and it’s place in the church, I decided to try to write a blog about it as I felt that it might be worthwhile to write something that seeks to help all members of the church grow more comfortable with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite features of Community of Christ; but I know that many people struggle with it, and so I hope that this blog will help people overcome some of their concerns with it, and hopefully be open to the merit that it may have.

There are many diverse opinions among Community of Christ members regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon. Some people, like myself, regard it as both a historical & scriptural record. Others view it as scriptural, but not historical. Some would prefer that it would not be viewed as scripture, and may not be comfortable with it’s position in the church. Others regard it in such high esteem that if the church abandoned it, they might abandon the church.

In 2009, in the Facing Our Challenges interview (part 2) conducted by Apostle Linda Booth, President Veazey stated “It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory”. It seems to me, regarding the many views people have of it pertaining to it’s status or role, it quite clearly (and understandably), also defies consensus.

Recognizing this, my intent with this blog is not to convert people to any particular view regarding its status, but simply, as indicated above, to seek to help people be more at ease with it’s presence & role in our faith group – and to highlight some of it’s key themes and noteworthy scriptures. If you are unsure about how you feel about the Book of Mormon, or if you already fully embrace it, I hope that this blog will still be worthwhile to you.

One of the things that I cherish most about Community of Chris is our belief in continuing revelation. We not only claim that this concept is one of our doctrines (and one of our enduring principles), but we also celebrate it. We practice it. Collectively. In my opinion, we are unique in this sense.

Naturally, being a church that claims to have extra-Biblical revelations has resulted in us being a church that professes to have an open canon of scripture. This concept and that of continuing revelation, go hand-in-hand.

I tend to think that these foundational principles derive from, *and* are only possible, because of the Book of Mormon. These concepts, and our heritage, as well as our present cultural identity, and, indeed, our very future, owe a great deal to the Book of Mormon.

The early Restoration emerged during a time when the mere suggestion of extra-Biblical scripture, or new revelations, would most likely result in some very heated conversations (to put it mildly).

Imagine living in the 1800s, and being given a few short documents purported to be revelations from God. You see, in comparison to the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are brief. In isolation (without the Book of Mormon), with no prior grounding whatsoever in the concept of an open canon, I suspect that it would be very hard to accept a claim of divine revelation for such documents, as it would be difficult to accept something that would not take too much effort to write. After all, many of our revelations are short, and could in theory, with a little effort and time, be written by anyone, and if someone tried to pass one off as having a divine origin, I’m sure that I’d have a hard time being ok with that.

But the Book of Mormon is an altogether different type of revelation. Its not just a few pages long, but its an entire book, with rich detail, complexities, and more woven throughout.

Granted, not everyone who read it back in the 1800s was convinced, but it would have been something that I’m sure would be far more difficult to dismiss when compared with the much more brief revelations found in our Doctrine and Covenants.

For whatever reason, many people did accept the Book of Mormon as being just what Joseph Smith Jr. claimed it to be; and therefore, accepting Joseph as a valid prophet of God, they became open to an ever expanding canon, and eventually even comfortable with new scripture, & with new revelation. In my opinion, this would never have happened without the Book of Mormon. It paved the way for everything that followed, and the church has been shaped, and deeply blessed, by this willingness to embrace modern revelation.

The Lure of Folklore

tophatThough we may owe the Book of Mormon a debt of gratitude for it’s place in our church community, are we comfortable with it today? I feel that a significant number of our members are not; and I believe, in those nations where it would be appropriate to use it, that we really should strive to become comfortable with it, regardless of our positions on it’s status. Doing so seems to me like an ideal way of respecting it’s ongoing foundational role in our church.

In our modern, educated, 21st century society, we often have sceptical views of just about everything. But as a people of faith, we know that God can bring about any work.

Words of Counsel presented to the church in April 2013 state (in the 15th paragraph) “God calls whoever God calls”. Likewise, God can do whatever God desires. Whatever God wishes to do, to further God’s divine purposes, He can bring about.

Therefore, we don’t need to become fidgety when dealing with the Book of Mormon. This is not to say that it must be taken as a historical work. But, I don’t think we need to persecute it either. And sadly, I feel that some people do just that. It has become the victim of a witch hunt by some of our own members, and, in my view at least, that is just plain wrong.

I tend to think that all denominations have what might be termed denominational folklore. Such folklore includes those things that members have believed to be doctrinal, authoritative, scriptural, etc. but which were not truly any of those things.

The Book of Mormon is itself a victim of church folklore, and therefore, where it is concerned, it is imperative that we resist, and overcome, the lure of folklore. There are many examples of church folklore regarding the Book of Mormon, but I only want to go into depth on one of them. However, before I do so, I’ll share a very brief overview of another one.

Many people have indicated that they reject the Book of Mormon because of how Joseph translated it. They have heard, and were shocked to learn, that Joseph put his head into a top hat, and received the words by peering into a stone at the bottom of his hat.

However, that whole story properly belongs in the realm of church folklore. Joseph Smith Jr. never wrote down any such account, and the church has never, to my knowledge, expressed such a notion as the official explanation for how it was translated (in fact, I’m not sure the church has ever officially commented on that – save perhaps “by the power and authority of God”). The fact that this may have been a widely circulated story, that early church members accepted, is irrelevant, plain and simple.

Another common item of folklore that people cite, as a reason to reject the Book of Mormon regards the ancestors of the Native Americans. I have conversed with many church members who say that they reject the Book of Mormon because science has proved that Native Americans are not descended from Israelites. To them, this fact demonstrates a flaw with the Book of Mormon.

But it is a false flaw. The fact might be sound, but the flaw is not. Quite simply, the Book of Mormon does not claim that Native Americans were sired by the Lamanites.

When I point this out, the response I usually get back is “Well that is what Joseph Smith Jr. taught.”

This is, in itself, a very interesting response. If I can make, for the sake of illustrating a point, a sweeping generalization, the membership of the church, at least in first world nations, is more or less divided into conservative and liberal members (in a church context). In my experience, if someone is going to reject or accept the Book of Mormon, liberal members are most likely to reject it and conservatives are more likely to accept it.

Here is the issue that puzzles me. When conservatives resist doctrinal changes, they often quote from the scriptures. Sometimes the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the Inspired Version of the Bible, and very often, from the Doctrine and Covenants. Given that most changes that the church has considered making, pertain to principles set forth in the earliest revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants, when quoted for such purposes, is most likely being used to reference a revelation that came through the founding prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

The responses that I often see or hear from liberals to such quotes, used by conservatives to resist doctrinal changes, tend to focus on the humanness of Joseph Smith Jr.

We are reminded that he was just a man. We are reminded that revelation comes through the filter of humanity, and that Joseph was no exception. We are reminded that everything must be understood in it’s proper historical and cultural context, and so forth.

All of which, incidentally, is as it should be. Such notions are very appropriate, and help us to be more responsible in our efforts to follow Christ.

So why is it that this same response is not applied to what Joseph said about the Book of Mormon? Why is it, that when I point out that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, the response I often get is “Well that is what Joseph taught” – and leave it at that, as if that statement proves something, or is somehow authoritative?

What happened to Joseph’s humanness? Why is he suddenly back on that pedestal of infallibility?

My typical response to the reminder that Joseph taught that Native Americans are descended from Lamanites is: “So what?”

Because I am conservative, I care, a great deal, about what Joseph Smith presented to the church as being derived from the mind and will of God. But, and I may be unique here, when it comes to everything else he said, everything that he spoke, or wrote down that he did not present as revelatory in nature, I don’t really care.

Oh sure, from a historical interest point-of-view, I might be interested in what he said on various topics. But, beyond that, I don’t really care, because what he did not present as revelation is not accepted as revelation, and is therefore not binding on the church. It is not authoritative.

We really should be extending the same courtesies to the Book of Mormon that we now extend to the rest of our scriptures. And in that area I think we sometimes stumble. We want to promote less rigid, less black-and-white, less absolute approaches to the Bible, and even to the earliest sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (and beyond), but we seem stuck about doing the same thing in regard to the Book of Mormon.

In other words, just as we have done with the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and even with our history, we must separate what these things actually say from church folklore. We must extend scriptural courtesy, respect, fairness, etc., to *all* of our volumes of scripture.

Overcoming the Sticky Passages

labanAnother cause for concern for many of our church members regarding the Book of Mormon pertains to the fact that there are some passages or themes that are difficult to reconcile. The two that seem to be the most commonly cited (in my experience) are the death of Laban, and the curse of the Lamanites.

Regarding the first example, the account of Laban’s death states that Nephi was commanded by God to slay Laban. This, quite understandably, does not sit well with many people. It does not sit well with me. We are not accustomed to God commanding people to slay other people.

In fact, off the top of my head, I can’t think of another example of God giving such a commandment, with regard to one specific, named individual. In the Old Testament, God commanded warfare to take place, but how often did God ask for the death of a specific person?

Actually, one example does come to mind: Isaac. God commanded Abraham to slay Isaac. Of course, God did not actually desire Isaac’s death at Abraham’s hands, and intervened to prevent it.

It is possible that God’s motives in asking Nephi to slay Laban were similar to his motives in asking Abraham to slay Isaac. Of course, unlike Isaac, Laban was not spared. So, on the surface, it would seem that God did indeed desire, and commanded, Laban’s death, and if that is the case, it would take someone who is a much deeper thinker than I am to explain why that was somehow ok.

But, there is another angle to consider. What do we really know from this story? We know that God sent Nephi to obtain the Plates of Brass from Laban. We know that Nephi encountered Laban, drunk, stumbling in the streets. We know Laban collapsed and we know that God then told Nephi that Laban was delivered into his hands. And we know that God then commanded Nephi to slay Laban.

We also know that Nephi resisted. We know that God explained to Nephi why He commanded Nephi to slay Laban, and we know that Nephi then decapitated Laban.

From all of this, it seems quite clear that God commanded Nephi to kill Laban, and that Nephi went through with it. And since God did not intervene, we know that Laban was not spared, as his head was cut off.

So, Nephi killed a fellow human being at the commandment of God.

Or did he?

One thing I came to realize, many years ago, about scripture, or at least, ancient scripture, is that it is … just the highlights. The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon are each a collection of highlights. We are not told every single thing that befell a particular person, group or society. This often has caused me to ask “what have we not been told?” Or, “what don’t we know?”

With regard to the story of Laban, here is what we don’t actually know. Was Laban, at the time of his beheading, still alive? We must not overlook the fact that the account states that Laban collapsed. The account was written by Nephi, according to Nephi’s own understanding of what transpired. Nephi presumed that Laban had passed out.

It is my own belief that Laban in fact died. Do we know how much wine he had consumed? Do we know how strong his heart was? Do we know what ailments he may have had? God may simply have steered Nephi to Laban right when Laban died of some other cause.

Perhaps Laban had a brain aneurism. We just don’t know – but, people all over the world do have unexpected episodes that often result in sudden death, all the more likely in the ancient world. God knows when it is our time. It is therefore entirely plausible that God steered Nephi to Laban at just the right moment.

God then, for His purposes, asked Nephi to slay Laban, just as he asked Abraham to slay Isaac.

We often presume that our scriptural heroes always pass the tests. But, just as we have come to realize that Joseph Smith Jr. was only human, we also must recognize the same to be true for Nephi. In short, it’s entirely possible that Nephi failed the test.

We might wonder why God would test someone in such a way. What is to be gained? What value or merit is there to do such a thing? I have no answers to such questions – I’ll leave that as a challenge for others to consider, but the immediate absence of such answers, when the questions pertain to the purposes of God, does not warrant a rejection of the account.

The story itself does not offer clues about why this test took place. This is because it was written by Nephi himself – the test subject. Nephi was unaware that he failed the test quite simply because he was oblivious to the fact that he had been tested. Nephi never knew (if my theory is correct), that Laban was already dead. God, most likely to spare Nephi guilt and turmoil, appears to have remained mute on the subject after the deed was done.

The question then becomes, why was this story included? If we take the position that the authors of scripture are inspired to write what they wrote, for what purpose then does this story serve, to we who are the modern audience, removed by 26 centuries from the time and culture of the setting? Nephi thought that he knew the lesson (and for him, maybe he did), but it seems very possible that a very different lesson existed, which was not really needful for Nephi to be made aware of, but which warranted the story being preserved for the benefit of future generations.

We of course can only speculate on what that lesson is, but I suspect it has, in part, the function of serving as an example of the need to look beyond the written word; to do what Nephi himself said to do – ponder the scriptures.

***

The second stumbling block that many people have with the Book of Mormon’s actual content is the curse of the Lamanites. Many people seem to view this curse as an expression of racism. This is actually not at all the case.

When we read scripture, its important to not have “knee jerk” reactions. We need to ensure, just as we are told to do when reading the Bible, that we place, whatever we read, into the proper context.

Speaking of the Bible, one of the individuals mentioned in it from time to time is the adversary of God. There are even verses here and there that record his words. Knowing this, do we regard the Bible as being about the adversary? If we read just those verses, we might.

This illustrates the need to explore and (again) as Nephi counselled ponder the scriptures.

What do we actually know about the curse of the Lamanites? Well, we know that the reason for the curse was because they rebelled against God. It seems that God wanted to keep these rebellious individuals from influencing those who had not rebelled. Therefore, he wanted to encourage the Nephites to avoid the Lamanites. And so, to help make that more feasible, he “cursed” the Lamanites, by putting a mark on them, so that the Nephites would easily recognize the Lamanites.

That mark took the form of a different complexion. As readers of the Book of Mormon today, some of us seem to have the knee jerk reaction of “that is racist!”. But, it is important to understand several things.

First, the Lamanites were not transformed into some other race or ethnicity. The Book of Mormon does not say that God transformed them into aboriginal Australians. Or Africans. It does not link the curse to any ethnicity whatsoever. In short, they remained Israelites.

Second, we don’t actually know what the different complexion looked like. We have no reason to believe that they were given the appearance of any other racial group.

Third, the purpose of the curse was a punishment for rebelliousness. The Lamanites were not rebellious because of the curse. They were cursed because of their rebelliousness. There is no basis to think that the curse is somehow a comment on other races.

Fourth, the Book of Mormon does not condone viewing the Lamanites, or anyone, with contempt. In fact, it counsels people not to do so.

It is also worth noting that the mark was meaningless to God (beyond being a mark). I’m sure he used this mark of an alternate complexion because of how blatantly obvious it would be to the Nephites. But this is the only basis for that mark that we know of. Aside from the merit of being able to instantly know, by virtue of complexion, who was cursed and who was not, there does not seem to be any reason for the mark to take the form that it did.

In fact, we read later on about a group of Nephites who eventually decided to rebel. They too were cursed, and they too were marked (in fulfillment of an earlier prophecy). These individuals set themselves apart by putting a dab of paint on their foreheads. So, they marked themselves. But the scriptures inform us that God viewed this self-marking as fulfillment of his warning that anyone who rebelled would be marked. So, God accepted the self-inflicted mark as a manifestation of the Lamanite curse. This then demonstrates that the actual nature of the curse’s manifestation to God was irrelevant (save of course in how it would serve his purposes). God does not view people of any particular complexion with disfavour.

Doubtless, there are other passages in the Book of Mormon that trouble people. But the point of this exploration on the death of Laban and the Curse of the Lamanites is to help encourage people to recognize that these problematic scriptures need not be the roadblocks that we may otherwise feel that they are.

Likewise, we need to be mindful of the fact that the Bible has many (in my opinion, far more) examples of passages that are highly troublesome, and often far more difficult (if not impossible), to reconcile with the living model of Jesus Christ.

Stance of the Church

explorebookHow does the church view the Book of Mormon? Does it consider it to be historical? Does it matter? I tend to believe that all that truly matters, on this point, is what you believe.

The church definitely gives total freedom to all members to believe what they wish on this point. We are not required to believe that the Book of Mormon is historical. However, we are also not forced, or even prodded, towards rejecting it as historical.

The church does not, at least in this era, offer an official position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon. And that is fine.

But it has occurred to me that there may be some people who have a need for the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical. I’m not sure why this would be, as I don’t feel that we should have any such need. I don’t. I’d be concerned if the church had a requirement to reject it, but, though I believe that the Book of Mormon really is an account of an ancient people, I don’t require the church to officially sanction that perspective.

But, if you do, truly, in your heart, have some sort of need, for the church to view it as historical, then you can just simply have that opinion. In other words, if you want the church to view the Book of Mormon as historical, just make the decision that it does. You won’t be able to quote anything that clearly and cleanly states that we regard it as such. Nor will you be able to claim that such a viewpoint is official.

Nevertheless, there are some things that the church has stated (and which are official), that you are totally free to interpret, if you so wish, as indicators that the Book of Mormon is regarded by the church as historical.

Such statements include:

The church says the Book of Mormon is scripture:“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit and accepted by the church as the normative expression of its identity, message, and mission. We affirm the Bible as the foundational scripture for the church. In addition, Community of Christ uses the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—not to replace the witness of the Bible or improve on it, but because they confirm its message that Jesus Christ is the Living Word of God. When responsibly interpreted and faithfully applied, scripture provides divine guidance and inspired insight for our discipleship.” -Basic Beliefs (Scripture) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/ourfaith/faith-beliefs.asp

“Community of Christ recognizes three books of scripture: The Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants. We believe in continuing revelation and an open canon of scripture.” -FAQ ( Scripture ) ~ http://www.cofchrist.org/pr/GeneralInfo.asp#scripture

Please note (understanding that the church views the Book of Mormon as scripture) that the above quotes contain wording such as:

“Scripture is writing inspired by God’s Spirit”

“The scriptures provide divine guidance and inspired insight”

Understanding the above, we could conclude, if we so wished, that the church does view the Book of Mormon as true, because writing inspired by God’s spirit, providing divine guidance, cannot be based on a grand deception, an outright and massive lie.

Now consider the following statements about scripture:

“It is to Christ that scripture points.” –Scripture Affirmation 1 http://www.cofchrist.org/OurFaith/scripture.asp

How can a mass lie point to Christ?

“We find the Living Word in and through scripture.” –Scripture Affirmation 2

Can the Living Word be rooted in a mass deception?

“God’s revelation through scripture” –Affirmation 3

Can God’s revelation take the form of a mass deception?

“Scripture’s authority is derived from the model of Christ” –Affirmation 4

Christ is not regarded by the church as a charlatan or mass deceiver.

“scripture is an amazing collection of inspired writings” – A Defining Moment

http://www.cofchrist.org/presidency/sermons/_040509Veazey.asp

Inspired writings are not given to spread a mass deception.

“Scripture is authoritative, not because it is perfect or inerrant in every literal detail, but because it reliably keeps us grounded in God’s revelation.” – A Defining Moment

God’s revelation does not take the form of a deliberate falsification of a cultural history.

“The church affirms that scripture is inspired” – A Defining Moment

Inspired to pull the wool over our eyes?

“Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth”-Doctrine and Covenants Section 163:7a

A lie is the path to darkness, and a falsehood – how can such things be a witness of God’s eternal light and, especially, His eternal truth?

“Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit” –also Section 163:7a

The Holy Spirit does not reveal or inspire people to concoct a mass fantasy, passing it off as truth.

“Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God.” Section -163:7d

A lie does not point to the true will of God.

Uncovering the Gems

gemsIf we can set aside or even undo the concerns that we bring to our exploration of the Book of Mormon, concerning the folklore and sticky passages, etc., we might then be able to more readily consider some of the great stories, themes, and powerful passages contained within it.

Naturally, what constitutes a “scriptural gem” is a matter of personal opinion. However, I’m excited to share some of the ones that I’m fond of.

To begin with, I want to share a few words regarding some Book of Mormon themes.

There are some great themes that run throughout the Book of Mormon. One of these themes is that of community building. I intend to talk more about that elsewhere, so I don’t want to elaborate on that at this time – but mull it over.

Another theme is that of the dangers of pride. All through the Book of Mormon there are warnings to beware pride, and the hardships that result when society gives into pride. This is something I noticed the first time I read the Book of Mormon, and it stands out, as many people have observed it’s presence.

The Encyclopaedia of the Book of Mormon (Herald House, ©1978, 4th printing, 1991) offers the following on this subject (page 269):

“Pride set in among the Nephites beginning with their second king. From that time, the Nephites fluctuated between pride and righteousness throughout their history. A period of righteousness brought prosperity. Prosperity led to pride, pride led to dissension, dissension led to desertion, desertion led to war, war led to grief, grief led to repentance, repentance led to righteousness, and righteousness led to prosperity; thus the cycle began again.’’

Some of my favourite passages from the Book of Mormon include the story of the Vision of Lehi (and Neph’s interpretation of it). There is something intriguing about the love of God, word of God, etc. etc. being represented by the rod of iron, the tree of life, and so forth.

Tangent: I sometimes chat with an LDS member. He often boasts that his church must be the true church because of how large it is. Whenever he (or any Mormon for that matter) does so, I caution them not to be too caught up on that fact. After all, in Lehi’s vision, the great and spacious building represented the pride of the world.

I also have always enjoyed the story of the glowing stones that God provided in order for the Jaredites to have light in their eight barges as they sailed across the ocean. Its just a neat story that reminds me of the fun Old Testament stories we learn about in as kids in Sunday school.

I guess that is one of the things I really admire about the Book of Mormon. It has, like the Old Testament, some “epic” stories, which are sort of lacking in the New Testament, yet, like the latter, it has a great deal of the pastoral wisdom & compassion focused ministry that is not as abundant in the Old Testament.

Some of my favourite verses are as follows:

“And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood…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.” -3rd Nephi 4:49

And I, Nephi, said to my father, ‘I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded, for I know that the Lord gives no commandments to the children of men save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commands them.’ ” -1st Nephi 1:65

“And there came a voice to me, saying, ‘Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.’ I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away. And I said, ‘Lord, how is it done?’ He said to me, ‘Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen.’” -Enos 1:7-10

“…after you have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say to you, No…Wherefore, you must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God, and of all men…and there is no other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.” -2nd Nephi 13:27-32

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children. Behold, my soul delighteth in the things of the Lord; and my heart pondereth continually upon the things which I have seen and heard.” -2nd Nephi 3:29,30

“O Lord, will you give me strength, that I may cope with my infirmities? For I am infirm, and such wickedness among this people pains my soul. O Lord, my heart is exceedingly sorrowful; will you comfort my soul in Christ? O Lord, will you grant unto me that I may have strength, that I may suffer with patience these afflictions…O Lord, will you comfort my soul, and give me success, and also my fellow laborers who are with me…even all these will you comfort, O Lord? Will you comfort their souls in Christ? –Alma 16:109-112 (adapted)

Finally, I’d like to end this blog by sharing what may be my favourite Book of Mormon verse of all. It is in fact, in my own opinion at least, nothing less than the long sought after meaning of life itself; and it is so short, so concise, and so simple, which only makes it seem that much more significant in my mind and heart, and it is something that I encourage all of us to remember.

“Adam fell, that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy”
-Second Book of Nephi 1:115

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?

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?

Polygamy and the Book of Jacob

polygmyOne of the things I have observed about members of the Utah LDS church is that they often defend the appropriateness of polygamy by citing a verse in the Book of Jacob.

Conversely, Community of Christ has used the same book to show that polygamy is always wrong. However, for the LDS, this same book suggests that polygamy can be appropriate – if commanded by God.

Which interpretation is correct? Let us follow the example of Nephi and ponder the scriptures.

The verse that the Mormons use to defend polygamy is as follows:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people: otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things.” –Jacob 2:39 (LDS 2:30)

The Mormons interpret this verse as follows:

“If I wish to increase the population of a community or of the church, I will command them (to be polygamous)”

On the subject of polygamy, the Book of Jacob offers the following statements:

“…the people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices, such as like unto David of old, desiring many wives and concubines, and also Solomon, his son” –Jacob 1:15 (LDS 1:15)

“Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives, and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord” –Jacob 2:33 (LDS 2:24)

“For they have not forgotten the commandments of the Lord, which were given unto our fathers, that they should have, save it were one wife: and concubines they should have none; and there should not be whoredoms committed among them.” –Jacob 2:55 (LDS 3:5)

The Book of Ether also offers a statement:

“And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines…” –Ether 4:48 (LDS 10:5)

From these scriptures, it would seem that the Lord looks very disfavorably upon polygamy. Some Mormons, when responding to these verses, focus on the word “many”, saying that its ok for men to have more than wife at the same time (if God commands it), as long as he does not have too many of them.

But of course, the third example makes it clear that a man should only have 1 wife. The only way the Mormons can get around this statement is to suggest that it is OK for a man to have more than one wife if God commands it.

And the only way that Mormons can defend the notion that God might command a man to have more than one wife when there are clear statements made about how wrong it is, is to quote Jacob 2:39.

However, the Mormon interpretation of that verse is not valid.

To properly understand what the verse in question means, we need to look more deeply into what Jacob said.

The first chapter and the start of the second chapter indicate that Jacob was reviewing various sins being committed by the Nephites.

When he prepares to talk about polygamy, he states:

30 And were it not that I must speak unto you concerning a grosser crime, my heart would rejoice exceedingly, because of you.
31 But the word of God burthens me because of your grosser crimes.
32 For behold, thus saith the Lord, This people begin to wax in iniquity; they understand not the scriptures: for they seek to excuse themselves in committing whoredoms, because of the things which were written concerning David, and Solomon his son. (LDS 2:22,23)

So, here we see polygamy being described as a crime, and more serious than the ones that Jacob had discussed previously.

He continues with the following:

33 Behold, David and Solomon truly had many wives, and concubines, which thing was abominable before me, saith the Lord,
34 Wherefore, thus saith the Lord, I have led this people forth out of the land of Jerusalem, by the power of mine arm, that I might raise up unto me a righteous branch from the fruit of the loins of Joseph. (LDS 2:24,25)

I referenced verse 33 previously, and it teaches us that the conduct of David and Solomon was regarded by God to be abominable.

But what is really interesting here is verse 34. In this verse, we learn that this gross and abominable crime of polygamy was a major reason why God commanded Lehi and Nephi to lead their people out of Jerusalem, into the wilderness, and across the ocean in the first place.

In fact, verse 34 seems to suggest that it was the only reason. And maybe it was. The First Book of Nephi tells us that the people of Jerusalem were sinful, and God, through Lehi, beseeched them to repent. However, that did not happen, and God eventually removed Lehi and his family from the city, and through them, preserved a righteous remnant of that population in a new land.

But what was the cause of all this sinful nature? No doubt there were many other crimes being committed, but it seems that at the heart of it, based on what the Lord reveals to the Nephites through Jacob, is the sin of polygamy.

So verse 34 tells us that the people who became the Nephites were lead out of Jerusalem for two reasons:

1. To get away from the polygamous city.
2. To become a righteous branch of the people they left behind.

This all supports the notion that God is forever displeased by polygamy.

Remember, this whole discourse by Jacob is to point out that the Nephites were doing something wicked…being polygamous.

Yet, Jacob is of the first generation of Nephites. So, his story is found quite close to the very commencement of the Nephite saga. He was born in the wilderness, and sailed with his people across the ocean, and helped Nephi and Sam and those who were loyal to them to build a new home.

There were very few of them. Lehi and his wife had died. Laman and Lemuel and some of the children of Ishmael had driven Nephi and his followers away. Ishmael had died long before.

Those loyal to God consisted of Nephi, Sam, Jacob, Joseph and Zoram, and their wives, and their children, and Nephi’s sisters – and “all those who would go with me” – which may have included some of the children of Ishmael.

A very small group of people to commence a civilization. If God was ever going to command polygamy, that would have made more sense than any other time I can think of off the top of my head.

Remember, he wanted to build a new civilization. He wanted to preserve a righteous branch of the House of Israel. He delivered them from the destruction of Jerusalem. He guided them in the wilderness. He ensured Nephi was not harmed by his older brothers. He guided them across the ocean, after telling them how to build a ship for that purpose. And in the new world, he eventually separated Nephi from his elder brethren, all for the purpose of ensuring that this extremely tiny band of people could sire a new civilization.

So, if there were ever to be a time when polygamy would seem to make logistical sense, it was then. Yet, He did not command it.

A skeptic might suggest “but perhaps there were no extra women to go around”. Maybe there was one man for each women, so polygamy then was not needed.

But of course, we know that is not the case, because the people began to flirt with polygamy on their own, for which God rebuked them. That is of course the point of what Jacob was rebuking them for.

The people wanted polygamy, yet, during a time when it might have made logistical sense, God did not command it, and in fact rebuked them for wanting it. It was described as a gross crime, and something abominable to God. And they were reminded that they were delivered out of Jerusalem in the first place to get away from polygamy!

In my opinion, all the thoughts expressed above should serve to sufficiently prove that God has not, and never will command His people to be polygamous.

But they don’t directly prove that the LDS interpretation of verse 39 is wrong. A little more commentary is needed for that purpose.

It becomes helpful to look at verses 35 to 38.

35 Wherefore, I, the Lord God, will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old.
36 Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none: For I, the Lord God, delighteth in the chastity of women.
37 And whoredoms are an abomination before me: thus saith the Lord of hosts.
38 Wherefore, this people shall keep my commandments, saith the Lord of hosts, or cursed be the land for their sakes. (LDS 2:26-29)

Note that in verse 38, God says that the people are to keep his commandments, or the land will be cursed. This is what happened in Jerusalem. God gave Moses the Law, His 613 commandments, which in time, the people abandoned. And look what happened.

Yet, as we saw in verse 34, God delivers a remnant of the House of Israel, taken out of Jerusalem to escape polygamy (and it’s ultimate fate).

So, when we read verse 39:

“For if I will, saith the Lord of hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people: otherwise, they shall hearken unto these things.”

The interpretation of this is not “If I want to increase your population, I will command you to be polygamous”

When we read all the verses around verse 39 and understand the context, then the correct interpretation becomes clear:

“If I desire to establish a righteous community, I will command you – i.e., I will give you commandments – the Law. And if I do not, you will succumb to temptation to do the things which I have described as wrong”

This is the real meaning of verse 39.

The word “command” does not mean “I will command you to be polygamous (to increase your numbers)”

It means “I will be in charge. I will give you directives to live by (the Law, the 613 commandments of the Torah), so that you have a chance to be a holy people, otherwise, you’ll flounder in sin”.

Understanding now what the correct interpretation of this verse is, we then know that there is no scriptural basis for suggesting that polygamy is normally wrong, but can be permissible if God commands it.

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 1 of 5

“Today, there is a spectrum of belief in the church about the Book of Mormon. Affirming room for differences of belief about the Book of Mormon is a hallmark
of the Reorganization and the church today.”
–President Veazey, “Facing Our Challenges Interview” – Part 2 (2009)

BoMComboAs I know some people struggle with the Book of Mormon, and it’s place in the church, I decided to try to write a blog about it as I felt that it might be worthwhile to write something that seeks to help all members of the church grow more comfortable with the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is one of my favourite features of Community of Christ; but I know that many people struggle with it, and so I hope that this blog will help people overcome some of their concerns with it, and hopefully be open to the merit that it may have.

There are many diverse opinions among Community of Christ members regarding the nature of the Book of Mormon.  Some people, like myself, regard it as both a historical & scriptural record.  Others view it as scriptural, but not historical.  Some would prefer that it would not be viewed as scripture, and may not be comfortable with it’s position in the church.  Others regard it in such high esteem that if the church abandoned it, they might abandon the church.

In 2009, in the Facing Our Challenges interview (part 2) conducted by Apostle Linda Booth, President Veazey stated “It seems the Book of Mormon defies any simple explanation or theory”. It seems to me, regarding the many views people have of it pertaining to it’s status or role, it quite clearly (and understandably), also defies consensus.

Recognizing this, my intent with this blog is not to convert people to any particular view regarding its status, but simply, as indicated above, to seek to help people be more at ease with it’s presence & role in our faith group – and to highlight some of it’s key themes and noteworthy scriptures.  If you are unsure about how you feel about the Book of Mormon, or if you already fully embrace it, I hope that this blog will still be worthwhile to you.

A Debt of Gratitude

One of the things that I cherish most about Community of Chris is our belief in continuing revelation.  We not only claim that this concept is one of our doctrines (and one of our enduring principles), but we also celebrate it.  We practice it.  Collectively.  In my opinion, we are unique in this sense.

Naturally, being a church that claims to have extra-Biblical revelations has resulted in us being a church that professes to have an open canon of scripture.  This concept and that of continuing revelation, go hand-in-hand.

I tend to think that these foundational principles derive from, *and* are only possible, because of the Book of Mormon.  These concepts, and our heritage, as well as our present cultural identity, and, indeed, our very future, owe a great deal to the Book of Mormon.

The early Restoration emerged during a time when the mere suggestion of extra-Biblical scripture, or new revelations, would most likely result in some very heated conversations (to put it mildly).

Imagine living in the 1800s, and being given a few short documents purported to be revelations from God.  You see, in comparison to the Book of Mormon, the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants are brief.  In isolation (without the Book of Mormon), with no prior grounding whatsoever in the concept of an open canon, I suspect that it would be very hard to accept a claim of divine revelation for such documents, as it would be difficult to accept something that would not take too much effort to write.  After all, many of our revelations are short, and could in theory, with a little effort and time, be written by anyone, and if someone tried to pass one off as having a divine origin, I’m sure that I’d have a hard time being ok with that.

But the Book of Mormon is an altogether different type of revelation.  Its not just a few pages long, but its an entire book, with rich detail, complexities, and more woven throughout.

Granted, not everyone who read it back in the 1800s was convinced, but it would have been something that I’m sure would be far more difficult to dismiss when compared with the much more brief revelations found in our Doctrine and Covenants.

For whatever reason, many people did accept the Book of Mormon as being just what Joseph Smith Jr. claimed it to be; and therefore, accepting Joseph as a valid prophet of God, they became open to an ever expanding canon, and eventually even comfortable with new scripture, & with new revelation.  In my opinion, this would never have happened without the Book of Mormon.  It paved the way for everything that followed, and the church has been shaped, and deeply blessed, by this willingness to embrace modern revelation.

Jump to part 2 – the Lure of Folklore

Growing in Comfort with the Book of Mormon – Part 2 of 5

The Lure of Folklore

tophatThough we may owe the Book of Mormon a debt of gratitude for it’s place in our church community, are we comfortable with it today? I feel that a significant number of our members are not; and I believe, in those nations where it would be appropriate to use it, that we really should strive to become comfortable with it, regardless of our positions on it’s status. Doing so seems to me like an ideal way of respecting it’s ongoing foundational role in our church.

In our modern, educated, 21st century society, we often have sceptical views of just about everything. But as a people of faith, we know that God can bring about any work.

Words of Counsel presented to the church in April 2013 state (in the 15th paragraph) “God calls whoever God calls”. Likewise, God can do whatever God desires. Whatever God wishes to do, to further God’s divine purposes, He can bring about.

Therefore, we don’t need to become fidgety when dealing with the Book of Mormon. This is not to say that it must be taken as a historical work. But, I don’t think we need to persecute it either. And sadly, I feel that some people do just that. It has become the victim of a witch hunt by some of our own members, and, in my view at least, that is just plain wrong.

I tend to think that all denominations have what might be termed denominational folklore. Such folklore includes those things that members have believed to be doctrinal, authoritative, scriptural, etc. but which were not truly any of those things.

The Book of Mormon is itself a victim of church folklore, and therefore, where it is concerned, it is imperative that we resist, and overcome, the lure of folklore. There are many examples of church folklore regarding the Book of Mormon, but I only want to go into depth on one of them. However, before I do so, I’ll share a very brief overview of another one.

Many people have indicated that they reject the Book of Mormon because of how Joseph translated it. They have heard, and were shocked to learn, that Joseph put his head into a top hat, and received the words by peering into a stone at the bottom of his hat.

However, that whole story properly belongs in the realm of church folklore. Joseph Smith Jr. never wrote down any such account, and the church has never, to my knowledge, expressed such a notion as the official explanation for how it was translated (in fact, I’m not sure the church has ever officially commented on that – save perhaps “by the power and authority of God”). The fact that this may have been a widely circulated story, that early church members accepted, is irrelevant, plain and simple.

Another common item of folklore that people cite, as a reason to reject the Book of Mormon regards the ancestors of the Native Americans. I have conversed with many church members who say that they reject the Book of Mormon because science has proved that Native Americans are not descended from Israelites. To them, this fact demonstrates a flaw with the Book of Mormon.

But it is a false flaw. The fact might be sound, but the flaw is not. Quite simply, the Book of Mormon does not claim that Native Americans were sired by the Lamanites.

When I point this out, the response I usually get back is “Well that is what Joseph Smith Jr. taught.”

This is, in itself, a very interesting response. If I can make, for the sake of illustrating a point, a sweeping generalization, the membership of the church, at least in first world nations, is more or less divided into conservative and liberal members (in a church context). In my experience, if someone is going to reject or accept the Book of Mormon, liberal members are most likely to reject it and conservatives are more likely to accept it.

Here is the issue that puzzles me. When conservatives resist doctrinal changes, they often quote from the scriptures. Sometimes the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the Inspired Version of the Bible, and very often, from the Doctrine and Covenants. Given that most changes that the church has considered making, pertain to principles set forth in the earliest revelations, the Doctrine and Covenants, when quoted for such purposes, is most likely being used to reference a revelation that came through the founding prophet Joseph Smith Jr.

The responses that I often see or hear from liberals to such quotes, used by conservatives to resist doctrinal changes, tend to focus on the humanness of Joseph Smith Jr.

We are reminded that he was just a man. We are reminded that revelation comes through the filter of humanity, and that Joseph was no exception. We are reminded that everything must be understood in it’s proper historical and cultural context, and so forth.

All of which, incidentally, is as it should be. Such notions are very appropriate, and help us to be more responsible in our efforts to follow Christ.

So why is it that this same response is not applied to what Joseph said about the Book of Mormon? Why is it, that when I point out that the Book of Mormon does not teach that Native Americans are descended from the Lamanites, the response I often get is “Well that is what Joseph taught” – and leave it at that, as if that statement proves something, or is somehow authoritative?

What happened to Joseph’s humanness? Why is he suddenly back on that pedestal of infallibility?

My typical response to the reminder that Joseph taught that Native Americans are descended from Lamanites is: “So what?”

Because I am conservative, I care, a great deal, about what Joseph Smith presented to the church as being derived from the mind and will of God. But, and I may be unique here, when it comes to everything else he said, everything that he spoke, or wrote down that he did not present as revelatory in nature, I don’t really care.

Oh sure, from a historical interest point-of-view, I might be interested in what he said on various topics. But, beyond that, I don’t really care, because what he did not present as revelation is not accepted as revelation, and is therefore not binding on the church. It is not authoritative.

We really should be extending the same courtesies to the Book of Mormon that we now extend to the rest of our scriptures. And in that area I think we sometimes stumble. We want to promote less rigid, less black-and-white, less absolute approaches to the Bible, and even to the earliest sections of the Doctrine and Covenants (and beyond), but we seem stuck about doing the same thing in regard to the Book of Mormon.

In other words, just as we have done with the Bible, and the Doctrine and Covenants, and even with our history, we must separate what these things actually say from church folklore. We must extend scriptural courtesy, respect, fairness, etc., to *all* of our volumes of scripture.

Jump to part 3 – Overcoming the Sticky Passages