Sunday, May 31, 2015

Aaronic Expansions

There are additions made to revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, which expound and grant specific rights and privileges to Aaron’s lineage. I refer to these as Aaronic Expansions. 

These expansions are not found in the original transcripts of the revelations.  They only arise at later dates, and without stated justification.  Examples include D&C 68:15-21, and D&C 107:68-71, 73, 76-77.  The Joseph Smith Papers project has not published any copies of the first portion of D&C 107 predating the 1835 D&C, therefore I have no basis of comparison yet for verses 1-58, verses 13-17 specifically being of interest.

I have yet to uncover any concrete information concerning who was actually responsible for these expansions being published in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants.  He was busy focusing his efforts on preparing the Lectures on Faith for publication as the "Doctrine" portion of that volume.  He left the "Covenants" portion--which constitutes our present "Doctrine and Covenants"--in the hands of other men to prepare for publication, having provided the original revelations themselves.

Many writings discussing the preparation and editing of the revelations and doctrines are pulled from the 1902 History of the Church (HoC), a problematic series.  It was originally written largely by Joseph’s various scribes (some of which had a flare for embellishment), and much of it was written in the 12 years after his death, during Brigham’s reign (a tumultuous time for doctrine).  Decades later, after doctrines and their understanding had endured extensive alteration, B.H. Roberts was commissioned to compile the HoC into a published series. Preparation for publication included “corrections” to the material (through the 1902 doctrinal lens) and other efforts to “improve” the narrative.  I have not found a copy of the original HoC to compare to the 1902 version, and current belief is that no copy has survived.

I note the Aaronic Expansions because they are relevant if in fact excommunication carries with it the eternal ramifications as now taught by the LDS church.  If we have incorrectly defined excommunication (as I believe), and it is in fact only the temporal expulsion from the temporal body of the church, then these Expansions lose their relevance to the specific topic of church discipline, though are certainly worthy of investigation nonetheless.

The Aaronic Expansions as presently constituted also have conflicts I cannot reconcile with other scripture, whether excommunication is correctly understood or not.  Even if we accept that the LDS understanding of excommunication is incorrect, which resolves conflicts with D&C 58:18 and 107:72 concerning their right and ability to judge, we still have D&C 84:29-30 to hurdle:

"29 And again, the offices of elder and bishop are necessary appendages belonging unto the high priesthood.  
 30 And again, the offices of teacher and deacon are necessary appendages belonging to the lesser priesthood, which priesthood was confirmed upon Aaron and his sons."

The Aaronic expansions claim that the rights of the bishopric belong to Aaron and his lineage, by virtue of the priesthood granted to them.  The bishopric not only presides over the Aaronic priesthood, it belongs to it.  But D&C 84:29 notes that the office of bishop belongs to the high priesthood, alongside the office of elder.  

This cannot be reconciled by noting that the lesser priesthood belongs to the higher priesthood and therefore the office of bishop can belong to both, because the very next verse (v. 30) speaks separately of the lesser priesthood which was given to Aaron, and lists offices belonging to that priesthood.  If the Aaronic expansions and D&C 84 were both legitimate, then the office of bishop would have been named as belonging to Aaron’s priesthood in verse 30, not the high priesthood in v. 29, which priesthood was removed from the Israelites when they were given the lesser Aaronic portion.  

Therefore it seems either D&C 84 or the Aaronic expansions concerning bishops are incorrect.  D&C 84 is widely accepted and documented as having witnesses present at the time of the revelation.  We have no written justification or explanation for the Aaronic Expansions, that I have yet found.


Purely for the sake of argument, we can consider the content of the Expansions from an assumption that they are legitimate, and we find that bishops have no right to judge in spiritual matters, and that an Aaronic bishop would be considered to have special privileges concerning judging.

While bishops may be called from among the high priesthood (D&C 107:17), and the high priesthood is capable of administering the spiritual things (D&C 107:8, 10, 12, 71), the office of a bishop is able only to administer in the lesser, Aaronic things, as evidenced below:
  •  Literal descendants of Aaron have a legal right to this office, meaning non-Aaronic descendants shouldn’t be filling it if a literal descendant is found.
"No man has a legal right to this office, to hold the keys of this priesthood, except he be a literal descendant of Aaron…But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently…" -- D&C 107:16, 76

  • A literal descendant of Aaron is NOT required to have the high priesthood to function in the office of bishop.
"Nevertheless a bishop must be chosen from the High Priesthood, unless he is a literal descendant of Aaron;" -- D&C 107:69

Therefore, if the office can be filled by one who does not hold the high priesthood, then this office cannot claim power or authority in any matters pertaining to the duties of the high priesthood, necessarily including the spiritual matters of the church (D&C 107:8, 10, 12).  Any judging in a bishop’s court is done through the office of bishop and wearing the bishop’s hat, not the high priest’s office or hat.  It is the office that performs the function.  Which means the high priest serving in the bishop’s office and holding the bishop’s court can only judge the temporal matters within the scope of the bishop’s office, regardless of maintaining a high priest's rights and privileges outside the bishop’s office.
As the church courts no longer judge in any temporal matters, and bishops are restricted from judging in spiritual matters due to the temporal nature of the office, bishops are therefore effectively incapable of acting as judges within the church in any capacity whatsoever.

A literal descendant of Aaron is also authorized to perform as bishop and judge without counselors, except when the accused is a President of the High Priesthood.  
"But a literal descendant of Aaron has a legal right to the presidency of this [Aaronic] priesthood, to the keys of this ministry, to act in the office of bishop independently, without counselors, except in a case where a President of the High Priesthood, after the order of Melchizedek, is tried, to sit as a judge in Israel." -- D&C 107:76
However, the literal Aaronic bishop can judge the President of the High Priesthood if aided by counselors (D&C 107:82), the “common” council being the bishop’s council, as he is a “common” judge (D&C 107:74).

It seems we wouldn’t want this approach to accountability in the modern hierarchal church model, as this potentially allows a man with only Aaronic level priesthood to judge the one who not only holds but presides over the high priesthood.  So we restructure things to protect those at the top from accusation or judgment coming from any too close to the bottom.

If the Aaronic expansions are freelance additions coming from men rather than God, and if excommunication were properly understood as a temporal matter only, that would resolve some consistency issues in the D&C.  Bishops would be recognized as belonging to the Melchizedek priesthood, rather than the Aaronic (though still presiding over the Aaronic).  All bishops would always have to judge with the aid of counselors.  And bishops would be authorized to judge and execute punishment, even excommunication, without even being prevented from judging Melchizedek priesthood holders.  The nature of the crime, not the rank or status of the accused, would determine judicial jurisdiction.  Appeals would then go to the high council (D&C 102:2), and up from there to the high council of the seat of the First Presidency (D&C 102:27), as dictated in scripture.

Condemnation Carries a Price

"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.  And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.  And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—" -- D&C 84:54-57
According to the quote above, the LDS church been functioning under a state of condemnation since 1832.  This has been reaffirmed in recent years, at very least by President Benson in 1986, and Elder Oaks in 2010.

When it is acknowledged that we are under condemnation--which it is frequently not, sometimes to the point of outright denial--every effort is made to minimize what that means.  God's condemnation here is treated as nothing more than wagging His finger at us, saying "tisk tisk, try and read your scriptures more."  That is the extent of the suffering we acknowledge receiving of God through this condemnation.

When addressing the condemnation, our efforts are almost exclusively focused on reading The Book of Mormon.  Very little is ever made of the highly specified indictment from God in verse 57, wherein He clarifies that He is more interested in our following its teachings, in addition to reading them.

So as a people, we stand condemned of God for failure to read and follow The Book of Mormon, to take it seriously.  We respond by occasionally acknowledging we should read it more, and rarely noting we should be doing more to follow it.  We think this is sufficient to discharge the condemnation, in the rare instances it is acknowledged as existing.

In this condition, the church claims to currently hold all the rights, keys, privileges, etc. necessary to provide us with a fulness of blessings in this life and salvation in the next.  We claim to have full access to all that God has had to offer to any dispensation, and more (This Final, Glorious Gospel Dispensation; This, the Greatest of All Dispensations; etc.).

Which begs the question:  If we are under condemnation, yet the church has access to all keys and blessings, then what power does a condemnation from God have?  Does it have any?  Is condemnation of God even a serious matter, or just a disappointed glance?  Maybe we need to look into what "condemnation" means.

What if we examine some of the topical context of "condemnation," of being "condemned" in the scriptures, what will we find?  What will the scriptures paint "condemnation" to be?  How will the scriptures speak of those who are under a state of condemnation, the condemned?  Let's look at just a few examples:
"A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn." -- Proverbs 12:2 
"Now the Amlicites knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads; nevertheless they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall upon them. Now I would that ye should see that they brought upon themselves the curse; and even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation." -- Alma 3:18-19
"Then if our hearts have been hardened, yea, if we have hardened our hearts against the word, insomuch that it has not been found in us, then will our state be awful, for then we shall be condemned. For our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us; we shall not be found spotless; and our thoughts will also condemn us; and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God; and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall upon us to hide us from his presence." -- Alma 12:13-14
"But behold, the resurrection of Christ redeemeth mankind, yea, even all mankind, and bringeth them back into the presence of the Lord. Yea, and it bringeth to pass the condition of repentance, that whosoever repenteth the same is not hewn down and cast into the fire; but whosoever repenteth not is hewn down and cast into the fire; and there cometh upon them again a spiritual death, yea, a second death, for they are cut off again as to things pertaining to righteousness.  Therefore repent ye, repent ye, lest by knowing these things and not doing them ye shall suffer yourselves to come under condemnation, and ye are brought down unto this second death." -- Helaman 14:17-19
 'Therefore, keep these sayings which I have commanded you that ye come not under condemnation; for wo unto him whom the Father condemneth." -- 3 Nephi 18:33
"And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house." -- D&C 90:5 
If this truly is "the greatest dispensation," with more light and truth and blessings than ever before, should we be troubled by what this verse has to say about our current state of condemnation?:
"For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation." -- D&C 82:3
Is there anywhere in scripture outside of D&C 84:54-57 that the term "condemnation" is not understood as a terrible thing?  A thing to be taken seriously?  Is not D&C 84:54-57 written and canonized within the same body as the rest of the scriptures which use the term so seriously?  If we have the most light and truth in this dispensation, shouldn't we take our condemnation to be the most serious?  What justification do we have for giving this instance of the term "condemnation" an exponentially more tame definition and understanding than its use throughout the remainder of scripture?  Is this justified?  Or is it a rationalization of man, unwilling to face our true state?

If God’s condemnations hold no more power than a Divine finger wagging, then we face the bigger question: What use have we for fearing God?

If we have all the keys, all the access, all the blessings while under condemnation, then what need is there for pleasing Him in anything?  Why bother worrying about getting out of a state of condemnation?  If we can be condemned of God, yet remain sufficiently approved of God to obtain everything from Him, then what power does God actually have to withhold from us?  If His power of withholding is so lacking, why not go ahead and offend Him, shove Him aside and take what we need and apparently hold claim to, without regard or need for His approval?

Or, perhaps, has the condemnation exacted a cost?  Could it still be exacting a cost today, one to which we have become blind, incapable or unwilling to see anymore?  What could we be missing out on?  Could we be missing out on available promises and gifts and have no idea, because we are too asleep to notice the scriptures declaring it?  Or because we've been led by our fathers and their traditions to trust that there is nothing to find?  If we are blind to our condemnation and its price, would that not allow us to think and pronounce that we are not suffering any condemnation or resultant loss?  How could we discover whether we are blind?  If we discover we suffer from blindness, how could we gain sight?

I bet we could start with the scriptures.


"EXCOMMUNICA'TION, noun The act of ejecting from a church; expulsion from the communion of a church, and deprivation of its rights, privileges and advantages; an ecclesiastical penalty or punishment inflicted on offenders.  excommunication is an ecclesiastical interdict, of two kinds, the lesser and the greater; the lesser excommunication is a separation or suspension of the offender from partaking of the eucharist [communion]; the greater, is an absolute separation and exclusion of the offender from the church and all its rites and advantages." - Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary
That is the definition of excommunication at the time of Joseph Smith and the birth of the Church.  Note that the entirety of the definition is contained to the relationship between the member and the church.  No claims are made regarding the effect on the standing between the member and Heaven.

In this dispensation, excommunication is the only scripturally prescribed punishment we are given to enact within the church court system for offenses.  This holds true both in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon (e.g. Mosiah 26:36; Alma 1:24; D&C 41:5, 42:20-28 (esp.28)).  There is no such thing as disfellowshipment.  There is no formal or informal probation spoken of in any revelation.  These are innovations of man. When you break the laws of God and refuse to repent, you are to be excommunicated (3 Nephi 18:31).  Your name is to be removed from the records of the church.  Then, if you later repent, you can be welcomed back freely (3 Nephi 18:32Moroni 6:7-8), excepting those guilty of murder (D&C 42:18) or multiple offenses of adultery (D&C 42:25-26).

In the scriptures, excommunication is never taught to have any attached eternal ramifications that we tack on today (loss of baptismal effects, temple blessings, etc.).  Only unrepented sin has eternal ramifications (Helaman 14:18-19). When excommunication occurs in scripture, their names are blotted out from the records and they are no longer counted as members of the people or church, and that’s all that is said (Mosiah 26:36; Alma 6:3; Moroni 6:7; D&C 20:81-83).  

Rather than claiming to strip a person of anything eternal, excommunication reflects the person’s willful choice to no longer qualify as one of the people of God, and the church is simply updating the records to reflect that.  This is for the purposes of record-keeping to compare with heavenly records in Judgment (D&C 128:6-7), and to inform the membership that someone has chosen to depart from God’s teachings, that they might react accordingly.  It is the choice to refuse repentance that costs a person their eternal blessings, not the act of excommunication.  Latitude for interpreting excommunication as anything more or different simply doesn’t exist within the scriptures.  

If that doesn’t clarify the matter enough, then it should become even more clear in examining the topic of bishops, according to current teachings on excommunication:

- Bishops’ councils are a legitimate place for attempting to resolve at least some sorts of issues (D&C 102:2).  Bishops have the scriptural right to judge the people according to the laws (D&C 58:18, 107:72).  Some of the written temporal laws have excommunication directly affixed as the punishment (e.g. D&C 42:20-26).

- If excommunication itself has attached eternal ramifications—as we currently teach—then D&C 107 creates some problems, because that section makes abundantly clear that the office of bishop has no authority in administering spiritual matters, only temporal (D&C 107:8, 10, 12, 68, 71-72).  Which means that if excommunication is our only scriptural punitive measure, and it is saddled with spiritual ramifications, thereby making it a spiritual matter, then bishops are NEVER authorized to excommunicate.

- But if the bishops have no authority to enact the only scriptural punishment, then we’re conflicting with D&C 58:18 and D&C 107:72, which authorize bishops to act as judges.  How can one be a judge and have no authority to enact the singular approved punishment?  

Thus, a Catch 22 is created by our modern interpretation of the word "excommunication."

However, if we contain the definition of excommunication to what is found in the scriptures—respecting God’s right to determine what a person does and does not have claim upon Him for, as the prophet-writers of the scriptures did—then the problem evaporates.  If excommunication is only removing a person’s recognition as a member of the temporal church, striking their name from the temporal records of the organization, then suddenly excommunication can fall within the bounds of a bishop’s authority.  That is temporal administrative behavior, and so those transgressions that are temporal in nature can be judged in a bishop’s council.

Again, if there are in fact any spiritual or eternal ramifications that are related in any way to a person being excommunicated, it will be tied to committing the transgression or sin itself for which the person is being excommunicated, and the timing will not be based upon the excommunication.  The movement of God’s hand in eternal matters isn’t subject to the semantics of men’s councils.  He will punish or forgive as He will, when He will.

NOTE: Excommunication may also be different dependent on the state of the people from which one is being excommunicated.  Excommunication from a people who are part of a living covenant with God are likely bound to suffer greater losses than those excommunicated from a “condemned” people, which the LDS church has been since 1832, according to the word of the Lord (D&C 84:56-57).  Death has been one consequence seen in scripture when those under a living covenant choose to break it (Acts 5:1-10). 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Canonizing 14 Fundamentals

We have informally canonized Benson’s 14 Fundamentals talk by publishing it on and quoting it in our general conferences and even disciplinary councils.  We did not vote it into our body of scripture, but it now holds equal standing.  We should never have reached this position, and could have avoided it, had we taken our own scriptures seriously.

I have wondered about the Lord's injunction in D&C 42:90-91, requiring public and open offenses to be publicly and openly chastened or rebuked. This is so unpalatable to us now, where confidentiality is the order of the day. Public chastisement conjures images of medieval peasants in the stocks in the public square, mocked and ridiculed. While that is certainly not what the Lord had in mind for His public chastisement (chastisement is about correction, not punishment), I've wondered why all things couldn't be handled confidentially (as the church now does).

Now I better understand.

When Benson first delivered the talk, he was thereafter chastised for it by President Kimball and required to apologize for teaching it, in a closed meeting before general authorities. He was not publicly chastised before the general membership.

D&C 42:90-91 were not followed.

Perhaps the thought was that members preaching from the talk could be individually corrected, at the local level. Then Benson wouldn’t have to be ashamed and the church wouldn’t have to be embarrassed by the shaming. Confidentiality saves face, and we love saving us some face. Perhaps this even appeared to work for a while, the talk and its teachings faded, and the storm seemed to pass. These notions all appear reasonable on the surface.

But 30 years later, a new generation of general authorities have been largely installed from the pool of uncorrected membership. They weren’t in the meeting where Benson was chastised, and the talk was never publicly corrected.  The talk having been delivered at the church’s privately owned location, and its author having become the President of the church, only serve to bolster confidence in the talk.  The only black marks against the talk are found in the scriptures themselves, which is the best place to hide information from church membership.  Therefore, what reason do the members or leaders see to question or dismiss it?  And so it is shared and preached and unofficially canonized by a later generation.

Public chastisement isn’t only for the sake of the few living who witness the offense, that they might be corrected in their understanding. The Lord thinks far larger than we do. It is for ALL the subsequent generations, that they might learn from the offender’s mistakes. (That’s likely part of why Joseph published his own chastisements from the Lord, to spare us from adopting his errors.) The offender is blessed by being humbled and granted opportunity to repent, and all present and future generations are blessed with wise counsel and an opportunity to show compassion.

Had Benson’s chastisement been public, the correction would likely be published in magazines and on, rather than the damning talk.  Instead, because we ignored D&C 42:90-91, the bad apple is spoiling the subsequent generation's cart.

I now better appreciate the difficult counsel of D&C 42:90-91. The Lord is far wiser than I am.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Slaves and Zealots

Fear can only hope to gain you slaves, but flattery will garner you zealots.


In D&C 93:19, the Lord makes this statement:
“I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness.”
What is worship?  Is it simply our expressions of adoration and fealty?  The Lord tells us here that understanding both what and how we are to worship serves to bring us to the Father, and in due time receive of the Father’s fulness. Is this accomplished by praising God alone?  Does that bring us into the Father’s presence and obtain for us a fulness of Him?  Does that definition of worship appear to be what the Lord is using here?

If we read through section 93, looking for instruction on how we are to enter the Father’s presence and receive of His fulness—the stated goal of our understanding how and what to worship—then a better definition of “worship” begins to unfold.


Immediately prior to verse 19 we have a selection from a record of John, which selection constitutes at least some of the “sayings” that the Lord is giving us, as referred to in verse 19.
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness; And thus he was called the Son of God, because he received not of the fulness at the first.  And I, John, bear record, and lo, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Ghost descended upon him in the form of a dove, and sat upon him, and there came a voice out of heaven saying: This is my beloved Son.  And I, John, bear record that he received a fulness of the glory of the Father; And he received all power, both in heaven and on earth, and the glory of the Father was with him, for he dwelt in him.”  (D&C 93:12-17)
So what is John telling us, or what is Christ telling us about worship through these words of John?

First, John instructs us that The Lord received incrementally of His Father, grace for grace and from grace to grace, until He received a fulness.  And thus, or because of this, he was called the Son of God.  This pattern, when followed, brought Him to that status.

Abraham tells us that this is the same pattern he followed to obtain what he sought of God.
“And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.” (Abraham 1:2)
As Abraham increased in his understanding of truth and increasingly patterned his life accordingly, he grew in the same pattern as Christ, line upon line and precept upon precept (2 Nephi 28:30). This is exactly consistent with Christ’s continued teachings on the matter in section 93.
“For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.”  (D&C 93:20)
“And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments.  He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.”  (D&C 93:27-28)
Once John established the pattern of Christ’s progression, he notes that the Holy Ghost descended upon Christ (upon the completion of His baptism by water, Matt. 3:16), and a voice from heaven acknowledged Christ’s status as His beloved Son.  (Why is this the time that this acknowledgment came?  What happened in this event to prompt a voice from heaven to declare “this day have I begotten thee”? (Psalms 2:7)  An interesting aside.)

The Holy Ghost serves a number of functions, but one is to inform us of “the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5).  The commandments we must keep are written in scripture (1 Nephi 5:21), but we must read them by the power of the Holy Ghost, so that we might understand them in truth (2 Peter 1:20-21). The Holy Ghost is essential to obtaining the knowledge that we are to pattern our lives after (2 Nephi 32:5).  As we understand and obey the Lord’s commandments, they become inscribed upon our hearts (Isaiah 51:7).  We then become ready to learn more, built upon that knowledge.

Christ followed a pattern for moving from grace to grace, by obtaining greater knowledge and patterning Himself according to that knowledge.  He received the Holy Ghost as a necessary tool to enable the process.  John concludes this passage with his confirmation that Christ indeed received a fulness of the glory of the Father, and that the Father dwelt with Him. Christ is telling us that this is how we do the same.  Or in other words, Christ is telling us that this is how we worship.


It is interesting to consider Christ’s instruction on “what” we worship in section 93, if for no other reason than because He is speaking here from the assumption that He is in fact what we worship, that He is the focus of our efforts to obtain knowledge and to pattern our lives.  And so He is telling us things that we need to understand about Him if we are to successfully worship Him and return to the Father.

But how do we know whether He is in fact what we worship?  Can we evaluate that?  What if we took our understanding of the pattern for how to worship, and substituted a different object of our worship, to see if we might be worshipping something else?

What do we focus on obtaining knowledge about?  What do we pattern our lives after?

What if we spend our time obtaining greater knowledge and understanding of money and business?  What if financial matters are the primary factor in the decisions we are making?  What if we focus much of our free time on learning from those who teach us about making more money, and pattern our life around what they teach?  Are we not worshipping money?  Or in other words, Mammon (3 Nephi 13:24)?

What about an institution?  Or men of note?  Men claiming power, or authority?  How much stock do we put in these, without evaluating what they teach and exemplify, measured against what Christ teaches and exemplifies?  How often do we make their word the last word on a matter?  If they tell us to do something, do we question it?  What if they are wrong, and we don't put in the effort to discover it, because we assume that can never be?  Is this not worship?

What if we spend our free time obsessing over physical health?  Or politics?  How much time do we spend thinking about some hobby?  Or celebrity?  Or sex?  How much of ourselves do we invest in focusing on and learning of these things, which will never bring us to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7)?  How much are we patterning our lives and basing our decisions around these or other things?  Around anything other than Christ?  What are we allowing to most influence our thoughts and actions?

Or in other words, what are we worshipping?

We don’t need to adore, venerate or sing songs of praise to an idol to worship it.  That would make idolatry too easy to spot and prevent.  We merely need to make something other than Christ the focus of our attention, and the basis for determining how we think and act.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Imperfect, but Sufficient

I have to note that there are problems within modern LDS scriptures.  Problems concerning the Bible are accepted in Mormondom, because one of the (decreasing number of) things which the church still retains from Joseph’s teachings is that wicked and inept men altered the Bible over time.

But it is also true that mischief, ineptitude and attempts to “correct” the scriptures have altered the text of at least the Doctrine and Covenants and the Book of Mormon (a topic far too large to expound within this single post, I will do some bits and pieces as posts later on).  These alterations are simply fact, too well documented to dispute at this point.  This is not to say everything has been wildly altered, but some things have, while others remain relatively untouched.

What we have available to us though, which is not available in regards to the Bible, is very early—and in some cases original—transcripts and publications of these texts. The Joseph Smith Papers project is one good source for many of these.  Unfortunately, their commentary grants Joseph assumed credit for all changes between initial transcripts and publications.

While some changes can be cleanly attributed to Joseph, many cannot.  In some cases, the distinct writing voices of some of Joseph’s contemporaries is pronounced. When there is no clear author of changes, or they are clearly not from Joseph directly, it adds a layer of difficulty in determining how trustworthy the connection was between heaven and the editor.

No church leader since Joseph has proven to be nearly as visionary and connected to heaven as Joseph, so directly informed of the eternal views.  The Lord also vouches for Joseph’s words, and his alone in this generation, as far as LDS canon dictates (D&C 28:2).  Therefore it seems that anything which is not clearly the product of Joseph is simply less trustworthy than what actually came through him.

Yet even though we acknowledge Joseph as a dispensation head, he do him an injustice we do to no other dispensation heads, in assuming that his successors have been better informed of heaven than he is, allowing his words and status to be displaced by subsequent men of his dispensation.  We do not do this with Adam, Moses, Abraham, Christ, or any others we acknowledge as dispensation heads, outside of Joseph.

But even with the flawed hand of man infringing as it does, the scriptures we have are still sufficient and valuable (“Most Answers are in the Scriptures,” Denver Snuffer, May 18, 2010).  We can use our current scriptures to fill our minds with information on gospel subjects.  With prayer and guidance from the Spirit, tapping into that same Mind responsible for placing them into the scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21; LoF 5:2), we can sort through our information and have any incorrect alterations of man exposed to our minds.  This clarity lays a stronger foundation for the Lord to build upon for greater revelations and understanding.

Scriptural Silence

There are many ideas we see around us at any given time that are not directly addressed by the scriptures.  These grey areas are the terrain in which people frequently prove themselves, generally to their own destruction.

When the Lord speaks, it’s for a reason.  When He doesn’t, it is also for a reason.  When He sends a message to be proclaimed far and wide, He does it for a reason.  When He speaks to an individual, without permission or obligation to publish a message widely, that is for a reason.  

When the Lord voices an opinion, it’s important to take notice.  When He voices no opinion, it is dangerous to formulate one for Him and impose it upon Him, and even more so to turn around and impose it upon others as though it came from Him.

He knows precisely what He is doing, we are still figuring it out.

As has been pointed out elsewhere, Adam was told by the Lord not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Moses 3:16-17).  After this, Eve was created.  When Satan approached her, her understanding was that she was not to eat of that tree, or touch it (Moses 4:8-9).  Where did she get this additional instruction?  Apparently when Adam related to her the instructions he learned from God prior to her creation, he added an additional cautionary layer of rules to God’s instructions, the idea being that telling her not to touch it would certainly prevent her from going further and eating it.  But this created the opening for her deception, as the temple ceremony presents Satan holding the fruit forth to Eve.  If he could touch it and did not die, then it seemed reasonable that she could as well.  And if she could touch it without dying, which she believed God warned would happen, then could she not also eat of it and expect not to die?  

Adding rules above and beyond what God gave was precisely the tool Satan exploited to bring forth the Fall.  Observing present situations, one can see turmoil and destruction continue to be brought forth whenever man believes himself wiser than God, adding layers of additional preventive rules in hopes of keeping people from approaching the heaven-decreed sins.

If the scriptures do not place a requirement, it is not appropriate for us to impose it upon anyone else.  If the scriptures give us no prohibition, it is not appropriate for us to impose it upon anyone else.  If the scriptures do give us a requirement or prohibition, it is not our place to add to or take from or adjust it.  If the scriptures say nothing at all, it is not our place to fill in the blanks for the Lord.  We may receive personal prohibitions or requirements from the Lord, as individuals, but that is between us and Him.  If it isn’t in scripture, it isn’t for everyone, and only He gets to determine where it does or doesn’t apply.

Reading Scripture in Topical Context

The importance of reading scriptures in context is commonly noted, but still a recurring issue.  There are several forms of context, but there is one I want to look at right now: topical.  It is addressed less frequently than basic or historical context, and as a consequence it doesn’t seem to be highly acknowledged or relied upon.  But it is crucial.

Topical context requires that when researching a scriptural topic, such as “faith,” you realize that one passage may not be a comprehensive or exclusive view of the scriptural teachings on faith.  It is only a fraction, incomplete, a portion of a greater whole.  In addressing any topic, the prophets are describing a part of an elephant; one describes the tail, another the ear, another the tusk.  All are relevant and true descriptions, but they are only partial.

Using faith as an example, some churches have built their doctrines exclusively upon the words of Paul.  Standing alone, his words on the topic can be taken as proclaiming that only faith matters to salvation, don’t worry about our works.  In doing this, these churches necessarily exclude the words of James on the matter, for James made abundantly clear that faith is nothing if not coupled with works (James 2:14-26).

To hope for a full understanding of faith, you must begin by prayerfully taking the words of Paul, James, Alma and others all collectively into consideration together.  They may be written by different hands, but they all come from the same mind (2 Peter 1:20-21; LoF 5:2).

Paul spoke true that “by grace ye are saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).  It is also true that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17).  Alma also taught correctly that the focus of your faith must in fact be true, or what you have is not considered faith (Alma 32:21).  Faith is all these things and more, and one aspect cannot be embraced to the dismissal of another.  


Topical context could be understood as being less about finding scriptures that support an interpretation or idea, and more about verifying that there aren’t scriptures contradicting it.  This is a crucial difference.  Almost any notion under the sun can find some verse somewhere which can be interpreted as supportive.  Such practices are used by both men and the adversary.

Satan sought to lead Christ astray by using scriptures to make or support his propositions (Matt. 4:3, 5-6; Luke 4:3, 9-10).  Satan managed this by taking the scriptures out of their topical context.  He employs the same strategy now, with great success.

But Christ’s responses were simple: He only needed to refer to scriptures which contradicted Satan’s position (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 12), until finally commanding Satan to depart.  If the scriptures contradict a position, the only way to please God is to adjust the position.  The scriptures are not up for alteration or dismissal, but our understandings should be.

Studying the topical context of a subject can be used as a method of diagnosing unbelief you may be unwittingly entertaining.  Take your understanding of a topic and dive into the scriptures.  See if your understanding can bear being scrutinized by the scriptures, rather than vice versa.  If you find a scripture that contradicts your understanding of the topic, let the scriptures inform an adjustment to your understanding.

Accounting for topical context, we should know better than to take statements saying “any who desire to be baptized, should be baptized” (3 Nephi 27:20; Denver Snuffer, “Preserving the Restoration,” p.17), and to use them to set at naught other scriptural statements on baptism, which include the prerequisite of arriving at the age of accountability first (Moroni 8:22-23; D&C 18:42, 68:27).  Taking scriptures and inspired statements out of their topical context is one way to wrest them from the scriptures.  It is to cut off the elephant’s ear and say “this is the elephant.” 

If we don’t read the scriptures within topical context, we limit our capacity to understand what they say, and to receive more from God.  We also risk rejecting true aspects of a topic because they don’t support the paradigm that we’ve already accepted and wish to maintain.  If there is conflict between your views and the scriptures, which one is more likely correct?