How We Know God Can Sanction Church Changes

“For my soul delighteth in the scriptures, and my heart pondereth them, and writeth them for the learning and the profit of my children.” –Second Nephi 3:29 (LDS 4:15)

I’ve written blogs before on why I think that same-sex marriage is now permissible; I’ve also written blogs that prove that God changes what God has previously established. But, having had some recent conversations with different people, I know that many people are still in tremendous spiritual turmoil regarding the changes that have been made in the church (Community of Christ), not just with regard to same-sex marriage, but with regard to several changes, and their pain and grief is not something I can ignore, because I don’t want to see any of my brothers and sisters be in a spiritual turmoil of any kind (whatever the issue might be). I did not enjoy seeing LGBT members in turmoil prior to the National Conferences and I don’t enjoy seeing conservative/traditional members in turmoil following those conferences.

Often, the reason for opposing these changes derives from the conviction that God does not change. As it breaks my heart that so many people in the church are struggling as much as they are, and as I so very much wish I could take away their pain, and help them get to where I am, and be healed, I’ve decided to tackle both of these issues (same-sex marriage and the question of whether or not God changes things) in one blog (as before, I’ve always done so in separate blogs – but I’ve come to realize that understanding the latter is key to understanding the former).

And I think my conclusions, about the latter, can be applied to other church changes – not just same-sex marriage, though I’ll be using that one as my focus here, since that is the most recent major change, and perhaps the most controversial and, currently, the one that seems to be causing the most turmoil for some of our brothers and sisters in the Church.

Note: when I say “same-sex marriage” I really mean two different things: same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships. But, to save typing, I’m lumping the latter into the former.

As always, this blog will be written within a Latter Day Restoration context. Meaning, I will make my case by using, not ignoring, scripture from the Standard of Authority of Community of Christ (the Inspired Version, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine & Covenants). Additionally, I will not attempt to dismiss verses like Leviticus 18:22 as being a reference to something else (such as temple prostitution), or suggest that the verse was not of God, or that the Torah is metaphorical, or that Moses did not really exist, etc. On the contrary, I approach scripture with a fairly traditional stance. I believe (for example) that Moses really did exist, and that he wrote the Torah, and that when he indicated that what he wrote was revealed to him by God that it really was. These are my personal beliefs.

However, I have also come to realize, from reading all of our books of scripture, that there are some factors and considerations that have been heretofore overlooked by everyone else; and we cannot claim to truly believe in the Inspired Version, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Book of Mormon if we do not accept what they say.

Joseph Smith III once wrote a document, known as the “Letter of Instruction” as a series of questions and answers; and I’ve decided, in an effort to be as clear as I can be on why I believe what I believe, to use that same format (as I feel some of my other blogs were hard to follow at times).

Please note, the views, ideas, conclusions, etc. that I express herein are not necessarily those of the Church.

All quotes from the Bible are from the Inspired Version unless otherwise noted.

All quotes from the Book of Mormon are from the 1908 CofC/RLDS Authorized Edition, unless otherwise noted.

 

 

Question 1: “How can you support same-sex marriage when we know that God said in Leviticus 18:22: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination.”

Answer: While it is true that God, through Moses instituted the above prohibition, He has since reversed that position. He changed what He had previously established. I’ll indicate how we know this further below.

Question 2: “But God does not change. Therefore, how can you say that God changed what He has previously established?”

Answer: While I agree that God Himself does not change, God can, and has, made changes to that which God had previously established. I’ll provide examples of some of the changes further below.

Question 3: “If God changes that which God has previously established, does that not prove that God changes, and are we not told that God does not change?”

Answer: No, it does not prove that God changes. When the scriptures tell us that God does not change, that is best understood as God’s divine nature is unchanging. God is always God. God is always without beginning or ending. God is always a god of love. God is always omnipresent, etc. This is what is meant by the fact that God does not change. But God’s unchanging nature does not mean that God cannot bring about change, even to that which He Himself has previously established. I know that this is true because it is the only way to resolve what would otherwise be scriptural contradictions – which I’ll elaborate on further below.

Question 4: “How do you know that God can bring about change and still be an unchangeable God?” (there are two reasons)

Answer (A): First, common sense tells us that all the changes that God made to that which He had previously established were always part of his plan. That is to say, when He first declared one thing that was ultimately changed, He knew then, when He first declared it, that He would one day change it. Therefore, there is simply no logical or rational reason to insist that God cannot change that which He has previously established on the premise that “God does not change” because anything that He might desire to alter was always His intention from the beginning – it was always part of His plan to make the changes that He did. To overlook the possibility that any change made was always part of God’s intentions is to ignore reason, common sense, and logic.

Answer (B): Second, there are multiple examples in the scriptures of God making changes to that which God had previously established. Since these examples exist, we know that God can, and has, made changes to that which He had previously established. Also, because these examples exist, we have to understand all the verses that imply that God does not change in the context that I explained in the answer to question 3. Otherwise, an awkward contradiction exists. If we insist that the “I change not” verses mean that God does not change that which God has already established, then we must reject all scriptural passages that demonstrate God making such a change. This is not a tenable position; therefore, we have to take the examples as what they are – examples of God making changes to that which He had already established, whilst understanding the “I change not” verses as previously explained.

Question 5: “What examples of God changing that which God has previously established can you provide?”

Answer: Please consider the following examples…

Example 1: Baptismal Words Established – and then Changed.

Consider an example of God changing a sacrament. First, we read in 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. (LDS 18:12-13)

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 (LDS 11:24-25)

The baptism of Helam took place long before the words given in Third Nephi. Alma, empowered by the Holy Spirit spoke words to Helam and baptized him. And other people were baptized, and they were called from that time the Church of Christ. Clearly, this passage was recorded in the history of the Nephites to reveal, in part, when the church was first established in the New World. It was a significant moment in the history of the eternal church on Earth.

The fact that Alma was filled with the Spirit before he baptized Helam, and the fact that both he and Helam were filled by the Spirit after they arose from the water, and baptized others, who were then called the church of Christ, and the fact that all of this was recorded, clearly indicates that these baptisms were of course acceptable to God. This cannot be plausibly disputed.

Nor can it be plausibly denied that the baptisms of future generations of this iteration of the church were acceptable to God (excluding reasons other than the wording used).

So, from the time of Alma to Third Nephi, which was a period of several centuries, either the words above were used by all people performing baptisms, or people were free to use other words. The Book of Mormon does not tell us if what Alma said was used by others, or if the officiants were able to use other words. Perhaps each officiant received words imparted by the Spirit. We simply don’t know.

What we do know is that in Third Nephi, the church received a specific baptismal statement. Therefore, the Lord made a change. In truth, we cannot say exactly what that change was. Either the Lord changed words that He gave before (if the words used by Alma were given by the Spirit), or he changed what was required during baptism, despite the fact that what was done before was acceptable to Him, and confirmed by his Spirit.

Example 2: Teachers Can Baptize – And then Cannot.

“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 (LDS 15:13)

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” (LDS 20:58)

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 Book of Doctrine & Covenants, they cannot. God changed what the office of teacher was authorized to do. This represents a change made by God to the priesthood. It is important to note that this change was not an addition, but a revocation.

Example 3: Slavery Endorsed, Commanded, and then Condemned.

Another very important change pertains to slavery. In the Old Testament, slavery was tolerated and even commanded 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.” (LDS 101:79)

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 encourage 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.

Example 4: Bishops – Which Order?

In 1993 Herald Publishing House printed a book called “Having Authority”, by Gregory A. Prince, which 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).

Example 5: An Eye for An Eye – Or Not!

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

Example 6: Divorce – Forbidden. Then sanctioned.

We are told by Christ that divorce was not permitted in the days prior to Moses. However, at that point, because of the hardness of their hearts, divorce was sanctioned.

This change is significant. I’ve often had people tell me that God does not make changes to suit humanity. This clearly teaches us that such is not the case.

Example 7: Aaronic Priesthood – Nothing Stays the Same!

Fully appreciating the various changes related to the Aaronic priesthood will be easier if some background is provided.

According to scripture, God established two different orders of priesthood. The first, and senior of the two, was the Melchisedec priesthood, named after one of it’s most prominent members, Melchisedec, King of Salem. According to Section 83:4c, this priesthood was removed from the world when Moses died, because the people no longer warranted it. However, before this occurred, God had conferred a second priesthood upon Aaron, the brother of Moses, which became known as the Aaroinc priesthood, and which became the only priesthood of the Israelites after Moses died.

According to the Book of Mormon, a group of Israelites, known as the Nephites, fled Jerusalem (in the Old World) in 600 BC, and traveled, under the direction of God, to the Americas (in the New World). The Aaronic priesthood also existed in their civilization. It is implied that it became dormant, and was therefore established a second time, therefore there were two iterations of the Aaronic priesthood amongst the Nephites.

The New Testament informs us that the Aaronic priesthood in the Old World survived to the time of Christ, and, we see references to priests and deacons and teachers in the New Testament church, so, it was incorporated into the body of the Christian faithful.

In the modern church, the Aaronic priesthood continues, having been conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (after a long period of dormancy lasting for centuries) on May 15th, 1929.

So, we have five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. It can be confusing to keep them straight, so here is a cheat sheet:

Aaronic Priesthood Iterations

It might also be helpful to have a quick refresh on just who the Israelites are. In the Bible, in the Old Testament, God promises a man named Abraham that he will be the ancestor of many nations. Abraham’s son is Isaac, and Isaac becomes the father of Jacob. Jacob has 12 sons. Jacob is renamed (by God), Israel (though he never seems to be called this, continuing to be called Jacob). His sons each become the patriarch of a tribe, thus, the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

Ok, so, in ancient scripture, as revealed in the Old Testament, 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 (those 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 the Aaronites were part of the actual 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.

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 descended from Aaron.

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 office of high priest, I’ll term this Aaronic role as “chief priest”).

The chief priest was not simply an exalted role, but 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, & 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. Plus, the non-Aaronite Levites were not truly part of the priesthood, but deacons and teachers are.

However, the real meat of this topic pertains to the duties and responsibilities of the Levites and the priesthood (I’m including the non-Aaronite Levites here just to be thorough, in case there is dispute over whether they were, or were not, part of 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:

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 [LDS 20] 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 Levites or 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; …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 (LDS 9:19-20)

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. The core function of the Aaronic priesthood was abolished. Again, this demonstrates God changing something that He had previously established and 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, to suit God’s purposes.

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 (LDS 15:13)

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 baptisms 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 for 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.

Example 8: Church Iterations – Each is Different!

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 scriptures reveal that prior iterations of the church existed.

As with the Aaroinc priesthood, there have been five iterations of the church, and they closely align to the five iterations of the Aaronic priesthood. Though, there are some differences.

They are as follows:

Church Iterations

The church and the Aaronic priesthood both existed in the Old Testament, but not at the same time. While it is true that the Melchisedec priesthood exited after Noah (the last such priesthood member being Moses), the church seems to have entered into a period of dormancy after the flood. So, by the time of Moses and his brother Aaron, and the establishment of the priesthood conferred upon the latter, the church seems to have been dormant, and therefore, while both the church and the Aaronic priesthood existed in the Old Testament, they did not exist at the same time.

The fact that the Aaronic priesthood did not exist during the first iteration of the church is significant. It is the only iteration of the church that lacked it. When the Aaronic priesthood was conferred upon all future iterations of the church, a change occurred.

The second iteration of the church came into existence quite sometime after the first iteration became dormant. 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. (LDS 18: 15-17)

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) As noted above, 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.

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 Melchisedec 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 roles vs. offices).

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:
a. Seven (and as many as ten) quorums of seventy instead of just one.
b. Prophets as an office of priesthood*
c. Presidents as an office of priesthood**
d. Patriarchs as an office of priesthood***
e. A First Presidency.
f. Apostles no longer form the senior administrate & spiritual body.
g. A presiding evangelist.
h. A new office, in the form of high councilor****
i. A Standing High Council
j. 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 (No LDS equivalent)

Example 9: Book of Commandments vs. The Doctrine & Covenants

This example is a little different, as it’s not an example of God having said something in one century, and reversing or changing what he said in a subsequent century. But it is still relevant.

For those not familiar with the Book of Commandments, it was the first attempt by the early church in the 1800s to compile the various revelations that Joseph Smith Jr. received from God. Only a small number of copies were printed, and for various reasons, it was not re-printed. The next attempt to publish the revelations of God was the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, which various Latter Day Restoration denominations continue to use to this day (though different versions exist). For further information, check out this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Commandments

What is interesting is that a large number of the revelations published in the Book of Commandments were altered when they were published in the Book of Doctrine & Covenants. But of course, at the time that each was originally received, it was accepted as being an accurate representation of what God revealed to Joseph. Some of the changes are very minor (the use of a colon instead of a semi-colon, spelling corrections, other changes in punctuation, etc.) but in other cases, entire sentences are omitted, replaced, revised, etc., in some cases altering the meaning or limitations set forth by the original version.

Since the revelations came from God in the first place, the words, and meaning, purpose, etc. of any given message of course reflects something that was established by God. Since it is understood that the alterations are also of God, clearly God then revised what God Himself has previously established.

A key example and one of the more controversial changes is as follows:

From Book of Commandments chapter 4 verse 2:

“and he has a gift to translate the book, and I have commanded him that he shall pretend to no other gift, for I will grant him no other gift.”

In context, “he” is Joseph Smith Jr., and the “book” is the Book of Mormon. Compare now with how this same revelation (Book of Commandments Chapter 4) is rendered in Section 5 verse 1d of the Doctrine & Covenants (LDS 4:4):

“And you have a gift to translate the plates, and this is the first gift that I bestowed upon you, and I have commanded that you should pretend to no other gift until my purpose is fulfilled in this; for I will grant unto you no other gift until it is finished.” (LDS 4:4; RLDS 5:1d)

 


Interestingly, I’ve noticed on occasion when I’ve shared some of the above examples of God making changes, to various people that I’ve been talking to, the person that I’m conversing with will say something like “Well, that (the original situation) had to be the case back then in the Old Testament because of ABC, but it was changed in the New Testament because of XYZ…” or some such thing. It is of course helpful to understand why God made some of the changes that He did.

But, the reasons are, for the purposes of this discussion, not relevant (except in the sense that they prove my point). But I tend to get the impression that some people think that by explaining why God did something, somehow makes the change not a change. This is especially true with God’s model of justice. In the Old Testament, he said “An eye for an eye”, but in the New Testament, he said “You have heard it has been said…but I say to you…” – a friend of mine told me that the Old Testament model of justice was implemented because of how harsh the people were, and it was no doubt scaled back in the New Testament because God felt the people had progressed. All of which is fine, but the point is, God still established a particular thing, and later on, he changed it. The reasons are not relevant (to the point I’m making). The fact is, God changed His own model of justice, to suit His purposes.

 


As a bit of a tangent, it is interesting to note that most of the examples above are based on changes that are observable to us as readers only if we read Latter Day Restoration scriptures (the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Book of Doctrine & Covenants, and the Book of Mormon). People who belong to other Christian denominations only have the Bible. And not the Inspired Version of it. So, for many members of those denominations, it might indeed be very difficult to reconcile themselves with the concept of God making changes.

But, for those of us who do believe in the Restoration scriptures, we have the proof, we have additional principles and knowledge concerning God, which includes, upon careful review, that God has indeed made changes, from time to time, to that which God has previously established.

However, there are some examples that do work for all Christians. God’s model of justice (Example 5) is perhaps the best one. Example 6 also works. But it only takes one. While I do feel it is helpful to list multiple examples, Example 5 is the only one we really need. Because it so clearly was attributed to God, and was then changed by God, and is entirely Biblically based, available in any Bible, it is an example available to all Christians that God can indeed make changes to that which God has Himself previously established.

Question 6: “Accepting that God can change things still requires us, with regard to same-sex marriage to accept that God would sanction something that He previously declared to be sinful. Is this what you are saying?”

Answer: Yes. When we think of the word “sin” we often think of “evil”, “wicked”, “immoral”, etc. So, it is easy to understand why people would say that God cannot transform a sin into a non-sin, and often say “a sin is a sin”. However, these are incorrect understandings of what a sin is (some deeds, which are sinful, are evil, etc., but those words do not define the word sin). Simply put, the actual meaning of sin is to do that which God has prohibited, or to fail to do that which God has commanded.

When God ended the Mosaic Law, everything that was previously sinful ceased to be so, since the people were no longer prohibited by divine law from doing certain things, nor were they commanded by divine law to do certain things (an exception, for both “do this” and “don’t do that” are the Ten Commandments, which were specifically exempted from being withdrawn in Third Nephi). New commandments were given by Christ, which, along with the Ten Commandments, continue to guide us, but the vast majority of sins listed in the 613 commandments of the Mosaic law are no longer sins following that law’s conclusion.

So, to suggest that God cannot de-classify a sin as a non-sin is counter-Christian.

 


The reluctance to acknowledge that God can make something previously regarded as sinful as no longer being sinful is not something that only some members of Community of Christ struggle with.  I have chatted with members of the LDS church who often say “a sin is a sin”.  Again, this usually comes up when the topic in question is gay marriage.

Of course we know, based on the facts presented above, that any given sin is a sin until it is no longer regarded as such by God.

And I think the LDS church is being little hypocritical when they take the stance that something like gay marriage is a sin for ever and ever (which is the implication).  First, yes, a sin is a sin.  Nobody disputes that.  But is only half of the truth.  The other half is that a sin is only a sin if God so deems it, and God can make that which was a sin, or is a sin, no longer a sin. But secondly, the LDS church overlooks that they teach that some things can be sins on some occasions, but not on other occasions.

Shortly after the contents of Handbook One were published on the Internet in November 2015, Elder Todd Christofferson, an LDS apostle, who is a general authority of the church (which, if I understand correctly makes him a prophet in the church), said the following in the interview he gave Nov. 6th on Handbook 1:

“That was the Savior’s pattern. He always was firm in what was right and wrong. He never excused or winked at sin. He never redefined it. He never changed His mind. It was what it was and is what it is “

However, I think the LDS church actually can, and based on their history, should, make a case that God can make a change. Later on in the same interview, he stated:

“this is a parallel with polygamy. Anyone coming out of a polygamous setting who wants to serve a mission, it has to be clear that they understand that it is wrong and it is sin and cannot be followed.”

( https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/handbook-changes-same-sex-marriages-elder-christofferson?HP_FR_11-6-2015_dPAD_fCNWS_xLIDyL1-A_ )

(if you watch the video of the interview, the remarks are at positions 3:10 and 7:35)

So, according to him, polygamy is a sin (“it is sin”) And, according to him (see the first qutoe), anything that is sinful, cannot (or will not) be rendered by God to be un-sinful.

Yet, in the LDS church, polygamy is deemed a sin except when it is commanded by God. It was a sin in the time of Jacob, the brother of Nephi. It was sin in the Book of Ether. But then, in the 1800s, according to LDS teachings, God commanded it, and so it was no longer a sin. So, a sin became a non-sin. And then it became a sin again. I’m not sure if the LDS church believes there are other points in time when God commanded it. As far as I know, they teach that he has so far only commanded it once. Which means it was a sin for the bulk of human history, and only permitted for about 14 years. Sin, non-sin, back to sin. And if he has commanded it more than once, that just means there are multiple occasions when a sin has been made un-sinful, which reinforces my point.

So, I think that the LDS church *should*, based on their doctrine, theology, and history, *and* (as I understand it), their belief that one day polygamy will be re-instituted, that sin can indeed be made by God, non-sinful.

I’ve pointed this out to some LDS members, and on one occasion I was told in reply, that I was overlooking something, and that Elder Christofferson was not saying that polygamy is sinful (though that is actually what he did say), but rather, being in a polygamous relationship when not commanded by God is what is sinful – and this is what I was overlooking – the sin, with regard to polygamy (at least with regard to it’s existence in the Latter Day Restoration movement) is not of polygamy itself, but engaging in polygamous marriages when God has not sanctioned it.

That would suggest to me that polygamy is therefore, never, in LDS thinking, a sin, and never has been, but that the sin is being polygamous when God has not commanded it.

There is of course a massive flaw here in this type of logic.  What is really being said (and which can be applied to any sin) is that the sin is not the deed, or the action, or the failure to act, or whatever, but doing something that God has not commanded (or, to put it another way, doing something that god has forbidden).

Naturally, you could extend that logic to anything.  I could say that theft is not the actual sin, but rather, stealing without God’s consent is the sin.  Or, to put it another way, the sin is disobeying God.  If God were to tell us one day to steal, then we would not be sinning if we stole things. But if God then again told us not steal, we would be sinning if we did so.

And, to be clear, as we’ve seen above, technically, the meaning of the word sin is doing that which God has forbidden, or failing to do that which God has commanded.  So, in a sense, the LDS church is not wrong to say that polygamy is not the real sin – but rather, being in polygamous relationships when God has prohibited them.

But although the meaning of sin is the failure to do what God has commanded, or doing that which God has prohibited, we normally do think of sin as specific behaviors.  Under the Law of Moses, there were 613 commandments, or 613 ways (through action or inaction) to commit sin. 

And, often, we think of sinful behaviors themselves as “sins” – not simply the disobedience of God.  In Community of Christ we define sin as “the universal condition of separation and alienation from God and one another”.  This is, I feel, a very healthy way to look at sin. 

But if we are talking about different types of behaviors, and asking “is X sinful, is Y a sin, is it a sin to Z”, it would be far more normal (and I believe this is true for all Christians, including Mormons – at least, with regard to anything other than polygamy) to respond with “yes” or “no” and not with “well, the sin is actually doing X during a time when God has commanded us not to”.

Just ask Elder Christofferson. If you were to ask him “is it a sin for a man to have sex with another man?” I suspect his answer would be “yes” – and there would be no conditions, or exemptions, etc.  Just yes.  If you asked him if assault was a sin, I’m quite sure he would again say “yes”, as would be the case I’m sure with adultery, or various other things that are universally regarded by Christians all over the world as sinful.

I doubt very much (and his own words in the above quote seem to support this) that he would say “well sexual relations between two men is only sinful when God has not commanded it”.  In fact, he didn’t even say that with regard to polygamy.  He said that it is a sin. He, like most other people, was thinking of sin in terms of specific behaviors, not simply doing those things when God has not commanded them, he definitely seemed to speak in the context of “a sin is a sin”:

“He never excused or winked at sin.”
“He never redefined it.”
“He never changed His mind.”
“It was what it was and is what it is “

And although he was not the one, at least in the interview, to remind me that polygamy is not the real sin, but rather, practicing it when God has not commanded it, that does seem (as I’ve heard this actually from more than source) to be the actual position of the LDS church.

So, it would seem that, with regard to polygamy, God can indeed change his mind. 

So that is where the hypocrisy comes in.  Its ok to say that one thing (polygamy) can be a sin sometimes, but at other times its not as in – or to view the sin as not the behavior itself, but the disobedience to God, but for other things (everything else) as (if sinful to begin with) being forever sinful, and its not a question at all of God simply not commanding it in the moment.

Such a view of course also ignores the basic premise that if God can sanction polygamy, which, otherwise, is prohibited, God can also sanction gay marriage.  Maybe it was prohibited in the past, but if God can sanction one thing that is prohibited, then he can sanction anything else that was prohibited.

And of course the other element of hypocrisy (and this is not limited to just members of the LDS church) is that, when understand what sin really is – the failure to do that which God has commanded, or doing that which God has prohibited, we have to accept, that when the Law of Moses was ended, many things which were sins, ceased to be sins.

So, yes, in a sense God did redefine things.  And it could be argued that he changed his mind (though that is not what I’m advocating at all). It was a sin to eat pork.  It no longer is.  It was a sin to wear clothing of mixed fabrics.  It no longer is.  So, yes, when we are being honest with our selves, we have to accept that a sin is only a sin so long as God so views it, and that many things previously declared sinful in the Old Testament, under the Law of Moses, no longer are.  After all, how many of us are following all 613 commandments of the Old Testament as found in the Law of Moses, avoiding everything it says to avoid, and doing everything it says to do?

Question 7: “But God said that it was an “abomination” for a man to lie with another man. Are you suggesting that God would sanction something that He declared was an abomination?”

Again, our modern way of using that word tends to distort it’s actual meaning. We tend to understand “abomination” as something that is “disgusting” or “obscene”. However, an abomination is simply a prohibition. Once we understand that, there is no longer a valid objection here. And we need to remember, that various things were described in the Mosaic Law as being abominations, such as eating certain types of food – but once the Law was ended, these things ceased to be abominations – as they ceased to be prohibitions.

Question 8: “But isn’t a same-sex relationship immoral?

Answer: Not by virtue of being a same-sex relationship. If both partners are adults, consenting, committed, loving, respectful, etc., there is no valid reason to regard it as immoral. The only reasons why such a relationship would be immoral are the same reasons that a straight relationship would be considered immoral.

Question 9: “But in order for God to make a change, there should be a revelation indicating that He has done so. Is there such a revelation?”

Answer: Yes. Section 164 empowered the church to hold National Conferences in order to determine if same-sex marriage would be acceptable to the members of the church in a given nation in which the church is established.

Question 10: “But Section 164 does not directly state that God has sanctioned same-sex marriage. It only says that we can have National Conferences, and it puts the choice into the hands of the people. Therefore, how can you say that Section 164 indicates that God has sanctioned same-sex marriage?

Answer: It is important to remember that the Church regards Section 164 as a revelation from God. God is leaving it up to the people to decide if they are willing to accept same-sex marriage in a given nation. The revelation does not however, empower the people to decide for God if God has sanctioned same-sex marriage. Therefore, since God has given the people the means to decide if they will accept same-sex marriage in a particular nation, we know that God Himself (now) sanctions same-sex marriage, because if God did not, He would not empower the people to change church policy on this matter. Therefore, when Section 164 was first presented as Words of Counsel, we, God’s people, knew that God now sanctioned same-sex marriage.

Question 11: “But why did God not provide us with a revelation that clearly states that He is now OK with same-sex marriage?”

Answer: Because of what had gone before. After Section 156 was canonized, the church fragmented. Mistakes, on all sides, were made. And the wounds that were created then are many, are numerous, and are still, in numerous cases, unhealed.

God did not wish to see His Church wound itself again. Consider what happened with the call to women to take their place in the priesthood. For a significant number of members attending World Confernce1984, and many more around the world, they were totally blindsided by Section 156. It is difficult, in a very short period of time, for people to accept something that they had always understood as being for men only. Things would have probably gone much better if they had had a great deal of time to wrestle with it, work through difficult questions, etc. How do you deal with the verses written by Paul that state that women should keep silent in the church? Today, people might have their own explanations for that – and yet – there are still large numbers of “Restorationists” who refuse to look at those verses in any way that would enable them to be OK with female ordination.

The church learned a great deal form the mistakes that it made. And God, in His wisdom, working in partnership with the president-prophet did not present a revelation to the church that said “same-sex marriage is now sanctioned” because, again, that might have caught the church so off guard that many may have left.

So, a different approach was taken. The authority to hold National Conferences was conferred. These would take time to request and organize, and would enable the church to enter a period of serious and prayerful study and discernment, considering all aspects of the questions in hand (support of same-sex marriage and the ordination of people in same-sex relationships).

While it is true that many church members had been wrestling with the rightness or wrongness of same-sex marriage for quite some time before National Conference, many people simply preferred to not talk about it, to avoid it, etc. But, National Conferences resulted in a deadline going into effect, and unlike in the past, the Church was also providing resources and discussion groups to help people consider all aspects of same-sex marriage. It became a church wide, and church promoted, discussion.

This gave people on both sides (and the undecided) time to collect their thoughts, share their views, engage in studies, etc. Some people who might have voted against a “I sanction same-sex marriage” revelation might, through the course of their person study, conclude that they could support it. Other people, who felt that it was still wrong, may have come to realize that did not need to leave the church – but a forced hasty decision at World Conference may have resulted in just that, had the revelation been similar to Section 156.

I very much believe that God worked through this whole process, and for the most part, it largely seems to have been successful. A lot of people who continue to oppose same-sex marriage to this day remained in the Church, because there wasn’t a sudden, intense experience like at World Conference 1984, and I celebrate the fact that we have weathered this storm with much greater success than before.

Question 12: “But how do we know that Section 164 is a real revelation, and that God really does sanction same-sex marriage?

Answer: Considering that we have seen previously that God can change what God has previously established, and that there is no actual theological objection to something that was previously described as sinful or abominable no longer being so viewed by God now, there is no reason to doubt or question Section 164.

In addition, Section 164 was itself subjected to a time period of consideration. It was released prior to World Conference 2010 on January 17th of that same year. It was formally submitted for consideration on April 11th, and it was canonized on April 14th.

This gave the members of the entire church plenty of time to consider it, and to share their views with their mission center delegates. And, as always, each quorum, council, and order of the church presented assessments of the document, along with each World Conference caucus. Following the receiving of these reports, which itself followed the aforementioned three month consideration period, the delegates voted upon it, and approved it.

Through prayerful consideration and Common Consent, the church formally endorsed the 2010 “Words of Counsel”, thus canonizing that document as Section 164, and therefore we can be assured, through virtue of this process, that it is indeed authentic.

Question 13: “God does not change things to suit the whims of the people. And this is what seems to be happening here. Secular society is OK with same-sex marriage, so now the church is following along with that. How do you respond to that?

Answer: Actually, God does sometimes adjust things according to the whims of the people. An example of this is divorce. In Deuteronomy 24:1-4 it states:

1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her; then let him
write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
2 And when she is departed, out of his house, she may go and be another man’s wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took
her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife…”

In context, this was a law of God given to the people through Moses. Therefore, it is God who has given people permission to divorce.

However, we know from the words of Christ that there was a time, before this law was given, that divorce was not permitted by God:

6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
7 They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?
8 He said unto them, Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. –Matthew 19 6-8

Note the implication here. Christ reveals that in the beginning, divorce was not sanctioned. But, God eventually did sanction divorce (and we know that it was God that did so, because of the quote above from Deuteronomy) and Christ reveals that God did so because of the desires of the people – they wanted a means to end their marriages, and God gave them that means.

So, we do indeed see that sometimes God makes adjustments based on the desires of His children.

Furthermore, in the case of same-sex marriage, there is no reason to object to it on the basis of it being something that secular society now supports. The example of divorce is a negative thing. It is unfortunate when marriages do not work out. And people should try to resolve their differences. But sometimes, people prefer divorce, and even though that is negative, God permitted it.

But making marriage available to people who want to be married is a positive thing. It fosters and promotes love and commitment and therefore, there is no reason (beyond the theological, which we’ve already dealt with above) to object to something that society wants when what it wants is an affirming thing.

Question 14: “But are we not told that we are to be a peculiar people, standing apart form the world? If we follow along with the world regarding same-sex marriage are we not ‘of the world’ instead of just ‘in the world’?”

All Christians are to be a peculiar people. This is not something unique to the people of the Latter Day Restoration movement. And being a peculiar people and a people in the world but not of the world, does not mean that we have to object to things that arise in secular society if those things are right – though I think sometimes we use this rationalization as an excuse to reject the things that we personally don’t like.

But if we are being honest with ourselves, if there is nothing theologically wrong with something, as is the case with same-sex marriage (as we have seen above), then we ought not to hide behind the old familiar “But we are meant to be a peculiar people” and “we are meant to be in the world but not of the world” verses. If something is not immoral, and same-sex marriage isn’t, there is no reason to object to same-sex marriage on the grounds that the secular world has accepted it. Just because the secular world accepts something, and may have done so before the Church does not automatically render that something, whatever it might be, wrong. And we need to stop using this kind of rallying cry to try to resist accepting changes that we just personally want to be wrong.

Question 15: “Should we not be honoring the labor and sacrifices of all the church men and women who came before us?”

Answer: This is an odd objection to church changes. I’ve encountered it more than once. The idea is, that somehow, if we accept the various changes made in the church over the years, we have somehow abandoned or betrayed or forgotten or ignored, etc., the various prior leaders and members of the church who gave so much to the church in their day.

I *think* the rationalization is this…all the changes we have made to the church have caused (from a certain point of view), the church to be unrecognizable to those who came before (i.e., if they were alive today, or came back to the world, or looked down from Heaven, they would not recognize the church as being the same church that existed when they walked the Earth – and of course, since those people who have this view don’t support the changes made to the church, they consider the fact that the prior generations of the church would not recognize it today to be a negative thing – this is not a “and thank goodness scenario”, but a “to our shame” scenario).

I definitely *do* think that we should honor the labors and sacrifices of those who went before us. I don’t want to ever see Kirtland Temple, or the Auditorium, or the Independence Temple sold, because I want to honor the men and women, who worked together to build those buildings. Likewise, I don’t want to see the Chapel at Camp Norotno where I’ve attended numerous reunions and youth camps to be torn down, or the camp itself sold off. Many great members of the church, both men and women, worked tirelessly for years, sacrificing much, to build those amazing camp grounds and the buildings on it. So, yes, I do wish to honor them, and the work and sacrifices they made.

But making changes to the church does not dishonor them. And the claim that the church would be unrecognizable today to those who came before us is of course a personal opinion. And, even if such a view is correct that does not make the church wrong or somehow an act of betrayal to our prior members, if the changes made are reflective of the mind and will of God, which with regard to same-sex marriage, open communion, female ordination, acceptance of other baptisms, etc., is indeed the case. See also the next question.

Question 16: “The church is not the same church as when I was a child or joined. Does that not mean that the church has lost its way?”

Answer: This question is similar to Question 15. The answer is no. I tend to think that everyone wants the church to be just as it was when they were children. I also tend to think that every generation has seen the church change in their own lifetime. The church has never remained static. It has always changed.

Question 17: The LDS church continues to grow in size, converting large numbers of people every year. They do not change their policies and positions, so does this not prove that we would also be stronger, etc., if we also did not change?

Answer: No. The LDS membership numbers are misleading. Yes, they do convert people, but a large number of their new converts don’t “stick” and they are also losing members each year – many of whom are joining Community of Christ.

Question 18: Attendance and conversions all over the world is way down, and has been for many years. Does that not prove that the church is off track with all the changes that have taken place over the last several years?

Answer: No. It is a simple fact that the issues being faced by Community of Christ are being faced by Christian denominations everywhere.


As we wrestle with important issues of doctrine, theology, policies, positions, etc., we need to strive to ensure that if we are objecting to something, like gay marriage, or female ordination etc., that our reasons for doing so are honest and truly reflective of the mind and will of God, and not simply because we want things to be a certain way.

If we claim that God objects to gay marriage, or female ordination, or the Temple being built across the street, or whatever, we need to ask ourselves, “Does God truly object, or is it the case that we simply want these things to be wrong?” Do we want, do we desire God to want them to be wrong? Those are questions that we honestly need to ask ourselves. If God Himself were to say to us “I have no objections to gay marriage” would there be a part of us that would be disappointed? And this is not one of those questions where an honest response might be “Well I know God would never have that position” – that is not an honest response (even if it were to turn out to be the case that God does object to gay marriage) because it is avoiding the point, or intent, of the question.

This is hypothetical. If God Himself were to say to us that He does not have any objection to gay marriage, or another change that we might struggle with, and it was not a trick, or a test, or a deception, etc., but God’s true, honest stance, and we knew all this to be so, would we be disappointed? Do we want gay marriage, or female ordination, or whatever, to be wrong? And if that is the case, I think we need to seriously explore why that is the case. When I gradually came to understand, and accept, that God no longer objected to gay marriage, do you know what I felt? Among other things, a bit of resentment.

Why? Because I had objected to gay marriage for a long time, and was convinced for a long time that God also objected to gay marriage. So, when I came to understand and accept that God didn’t object to it, part of me felt resentful of the fact that I now had to admit to myself – and to others – that I was wrong. And that was perhaps the hardest part. I don’t enjoy being wrong, and nobody does. And I don’t like admitting that I’m wrong, and sadly, that is true for many of us. But, not wanting to admit that I’m wrong is not something I’m proud of. That is an aspect of my personality that I think is best to overcome. I consider it a character flaw. So, I need to overcome that, and not let my own preferences, or distaste for being wrong and admitting such, etc., not actually be a barrier to me accepting the changes that God has brought about in His Church.

Some years ago, for some other purpose, I was trying to get an understanding of what made Jesus angry, or even if he did become angry. I can’t really remember why. But, this is what I discovered. Yes, Jesus did become angry. And, there are multiple examples of him becoming angry in the scriptures. But here is the part that I found incredibly significant and profound. It was always over the same thing. Oh, the circumstances or situation changed from incident to incident. He was angry how people treated each other. He was angry about the market set up in the temple etc. But, in each case, the thing that he was actually angered by, was this: hypocrisy. That, so far as I could find, was the only thing that ever made Christ angry.

And that is a very important lesson for us. When we object to church changes, we need to ensure that our reasons are not simply because we don’t like the changes, etc. We need to be honest with ourselves. Because, if we are not, then, we are being hypocritical and putting our own positions, our own comfort level, our own desire to never see things change, to keep the church just as it was in our youth, etc., ahead of our discipleship. When we do that, we fail to maximize our potential as disciples of our Lord, Savior and Redeemer, Jesus the Christ.

Community of Christ: A Revealed Church

stonechurchwindow2The other day, as I was pondering some church related issue, I found myself thinking of the church as a “revealed church”.  What I mean by that term is that we are a church that claims to have come into existence as a result of divine initiative, and which has an open canon of scripture, and believes in continuing revelation.

While I suspect that most Christian denominations feel that God’s inspiration blesses them in one form or another, I don’t know of too many others that truly claim, in quite the way that we do, that God moved the people involved to establish a church.  In my view, we are the only church that can legitimately be said to be a revealed church, and this an aspect that is both a blessing to us, and can be a blessing to others.

We are not a self-made church, but a revealed church.  We were established for divine purposes.  And moving away from our Restoration heritage by getting rid of this scripture, or that scripture, or this aspect of our sacred story, etc.  would, in my view, greatly undermine our very reason for being.

We were not organized to be another street corner church.  We were not organized to be yet another Protestant denomination.  The world has plenty of such denominations already.  We are the church of the Restoration.  What makes the church the amazing church that it is, is the summation of all of our unique characteristics: our sacred story, our journey as a people, being a revealed church, our open canon, ongoing revelation, etc.  If we reject any of these things, we risk undermining what makes us so loved by so many people.

In 2010, President Veazey asked “what kind of church do you want to be?”

My answer to that is this: I want us to be a 21st century church, that puts the mission of Jesus Christ first, that grounds itself in enduring principles, mission initiatives, history principles, and scripture affirmations.  But I also want us to continue to be a Latter Day Restoration denomination, as I feel only through such, can we truly have voice in this world that will not be drowned out by all the other voices.

President Veazey asked a further question: “what kind of church does God want us to be?”

I believe God wants us to be everything I described above, but also a church that is true to itself.  We claim to be a church of the Restoration, divinely established.  This is evident by the following Sections from the Doctrine & Covenants:

“Claim your unique and sacred place within the circle of those who call upon the name of Jesus Christ. Be faithful to the spirit of the Restoration…” –Section 161:1b. (Grant McMurray, 2000)

“For many months I have struggled with a persistent conviction that God is calling the church to a clearer understanding of what it means to be a prophetic people. I have sensed as never before that we are uniquely called to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and to claim again the principles of Restoration in our own time.” -Preamble, Section 162 (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Listen, O people of the Restoration…” –Section 162:1a (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Again you are reminded that this community was divinely called into being. The spirit of the Restoration is not locked in one moment of time, but is instead the call to every generation to witness to essential truths in its own language and form. Let the Spirit breathe.” –Section 162:2e (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“…Those values, deeply rooted in the Restoration faith…” –Section 162:7c. (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Continue your journey, O people of the Restoration. You have been blessed thus far but there is so much yet to see, so much yet to do. Go forth with confidence and live prophetically as a people who have been loved, and who now courageously choose to love others in the name of the One you serve. Amen.” –Section 162:8c (Grant McMurray, 2004)

“Despite the challenges involved, it is my pleasure to be able to serve you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who have been claimed by the adventurous vision and spirit of the Restoration movement.” -Afterword of Section 163 (Stephen Veazey, 2007)

“Beloved children of the Restoration, your continuing faith adventure with God has been divinely-led…” –Section 164:9a (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“Actively and generously support the ministries of the church, which was divinely established” -Section 164:3b (Stephen Veazey, 2010)

“While preparing the final document, I stayed open to more divine direction that might enhance the church’s understanding now or in the future. Guidance refined some sentences. In several instances, it also added content for reasons known to God.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

“The testimony I offer is assurance that God, the eternal One, lovingly and patiently guides the church according to divine purposes.” –2013 Words of Counsel {2016 preamble} (Stephen Veazey, 2013/2016)

Other statements that also remind us of who we are come from our Bylaws, adopted by World Conference delegates in 2002, and revised in 2010:

“The church, as defined by President Joseph Smith III, is a theocratic democracy. It was brought into being by divine initiative, is guided and administered by divine authority, is sustained by the light of the Holy Spirit, and exists for divine purposes. In response to divine initiative, members share responsibility for governing the church.” –Article III Section 1

“The government of the church is by divine authority through priesthood. It should be noted that the government of the church is through priesthood, not by priesthood. The distinction is important. Ministers must first of all be disciples. Disciples are those who seek to transform this world into the kingdom of God and Christ. In no other way can their claim to divine authority become rich and meaningful.” –Article III Section 2

The 2005 edition of the Church Administrators Handbook states:

“Calls to the priesthood are initiated by jurisdictional officers in response to the spirit of discernment, wisdom, and divine direction and are authorized by a vote of the members in a conference of the appropriate church jurisdiction.” –B. Calls to the Priesthood, page 27

“From the inception of this faith movement, we have valued the interaction of the Divine with us. From that initial experience when God spoke in a grove until today in settings much different, we still anticipate God calling us to new visions and new understandings.”
–E. Sense of Prophetic Vision, page 65

We are a church that has made decisions about what we believe, in, what we consider to be scripture, what scripture is, what is upheld as authoritative, etc.

We are a religious organization.  We are a Christian church.  We believe that God has, and continues, to reveal God’s mind and will to us.

There are some things that we can change on our own.  Certain policies, positions, procedures, etc. which are not derived from God’s revealed will in scripture, as found in the standard of authority, can be, according to church law, changed or rescinded.

However, there are other things that only God can change.  And sometimes God does make changes.  But those changes are to further God’s purposes.  Whatever God does not change, we are not free to change.

Note: Some people believe that God never changes that which God has already established.  I’ve had a lot of pushback from people who find fault with the church because it has made changes.  However, God does make changes.  To review the proof of this, as revealed in our Latter Day Restoration scriptures, please read this blog: God’s Changes.

We cannot simply disregard explicit divine direction or positions to suit our own preferences.  We cannot disregard the standard of authority, and all that we uphold as being of God.

We can seek changes, even in matters of doctrine.  But we cannot rescind on our own what God has established.  Therefore, if changes are sought, we must wait for them to be come to pass. And, in some areas, we should perhaps be prepared for the possibility that the changes that any of us may individually seek, may never occur.

But we cannot just disregard explicitly divine direction and positions. To do so would make us hypocritical.  And hypocrisy was the one thing that Christ had very little tolerance of.  It was one of the very few things (perhaps the only thing) that caused him to truly become angry.

If we claim to follow Jesus Christ, to be Christ’s disciples, and his church, and a community of Christ, we need to understand what he said, and what he taught, and how he responded to situations, and, as best we can, his character.  And when we do this, it is clear that Christ took issue with hypocrisy.  So, we must strive, as best we can, as his disciples, to not be hypocrites ourselves.

Individually, most of us we will falter in this, and always will.  But the church must strive to ensure that it does not blatantly become hypocritical with what it claims, and what it does.  If these two aspects of the church are not in harmony with each other, to the best of our ability to make them so, we cannot claim to be in alignment with God’s purposes.

Please also read the related blog: “The Nature & Role of Scripture”

Please also read the linked blog: “21st Century Restoration”

Please also read the linked blog: “God’s Changes”

Female Ordination – Did We Make the Right Choice? (Part 4 of 4)

“Disjunctive Revelation”

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

scritpurereadingAnother objection I have sometimes come across, regarding female ordination, is something called “disjunctive revelation”.  This is a fancy term that has apparently been invented by those who left the church in the wake of Section 156, in an attempt to give their positions some sort of credibility.

(using Google, I did a search on this term, for the exact phrase, and found that there were only three pages of results, all of which were tied to the Restoration movement – but I digress)

So what is meant by the term disjunctive revelation? Well, simply put, it is a revelation viewed as being in contradiction with a prior revelation, which renders the more recent revelation false (not of God).  Another way to look at it would be to say that each new revelation must be in complete harmony with all previously accepted revelations in order to be regarded as authentic (divine).  The “new” cannot contradict with any of the “old”.

The problem with this concept is that there is no basis for it, and it defies reason, logic, common sense and is just not plausible.  The Lord is perfectly free to make adjustments to “the rules” as He deems fit.

Objectors tend to feel “but you can’t have two revelations say opposing things about a given issue, with both being true…one must be false”.

However, this totally ignores the most basic fundamental principle of creation: things change.  It also ignores the fact that God does thing according to his own purposes.

In the Book of Mormon, God directed Lehi, his wife, his children, his friend Ishmael, and Ishmael’s family to leave Jerusalem, and to flee into the wilderness. This was not a popular choice with some of them, and no doubt it required some prep. work, and some effort to actually accomplish.

But, eventually, the group found themselves camping out in the wilderness, beyond the comforts and familiarity of their city.  Why did they go?  Why did they undertake this ordeal?  Because God revealed to them that this was His will.

Later, God revealed more of his will to them.  He directed some of them to return to the city.  Did Lehi and his companions regard this instruction as a disjunctive revelation?  Did Nephi say to his father Lehi “but you told us that God directed us to leave the city – therefore, this new revelation, calling for some of us to go back to the city, must be false”.  Naturally, he said no such thing.

What was God’s will?  In the first case, God’s revelation to Lehi indicated that God’s will was for all of them to leave the city.  Then, it would seem that it was His will for some of them to return.  A contradiction.  How can both revelations that Lehi received be true?

They are both true because they represent different divine purposes.  Clearly, God had a reason for taking Lehi and Ismael and their combined families out of the city, and of course he had a reason for sending some of them back.

The contradiction only exists if we read scripture in an isolated format, without context.  For example, if we read scripture in this manner:

Verse 1: And God told Lehi and his family to flee the city.
Verse 2 And God told Lehi to send his sons back to the city.

We might scratch our heads and say “well that does not seem to make a lot of sense”

But, when we explore the context of seemingly contradictory scriptures, and understand the purpose of why the original scripture was provided, and honestly seek to do the same with latter revelations, we may just come to recognize hat there really is no issue.

The reality is, God has made many changes, as we can see in my prior blogs “Can God Change?” and “Why does the Church Have to change?” – we accept these changes, therefore, we can accept other changes – especially when there really is no prior scripture that legitimately opposes female ordination.

On this latter point, some people might cite some of the “revelations” circulated by people other than the prophet-president of the church.  However, church law has, since the era of Joseph Smith Jr., indicated that revelations to the church can only be received through the prophet-president.  An individual may receive a personal revelation, providing guidance for the wellbeing of his family, but any revelation that seems intended to offer commentary on church doctrine, and/or with the intent of being shared with others, must be rejected as false.

Regretfully, it seems that the only real reason that people have to object to female ordination is simply the fact that they don’t want it to be, for what are most likely chauvinistic reasons, valid; and this quite simply violates the principle of “sacramental truth”.

 

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