Post #3 (Originally written for weepingforzion.com):
by Guest Author (Tom)
Mostly posting this because I’m tired at looking at my other post while waiting for Mr. WFZ to update his blog, but also because I think it’s an interesting subject worthy of some study and debate. In reading a quote recently about the perils of “false traditions” and in reading the scriptures which tell us “false traditions” take away our light and knowledge, I began to think about it in relation to something I’ve been studying and reading in my free time.
D&C 93:39 says it this way, without using the word “false”, though clearly it’s referring to “false” traditions:
I think one of the biggest “false traditions”, passed on down through the generations, and one we lean heavily upon is our claims to “authority”. Whether it be through our blessings, our preachings, missionary work, general conference talks or whatever…we’re taught to rely heavily on the fact that, thanks to Joseph Smith, God’s “authority” had been restored. That, in turn, serves to imply that our arguments, whatever they may be, are superior and the “right” ones, no matter what. No matter the logic, it ends with one side of an debate professing to hold “authority” and if that entity holds “authority”, or a person within that entity holds the right “title”, then their argument is correct. The truth of the matter is the cacophony of our appeals to authority are shooting beyond the mark…
“Well intentioned and devout followers of a false tradition rejected Him [Christ] solely because they trusted in the traditions handed down to them. They wrongly believed God would never send someone to tell them anything important unless he were to occupy a position of authority among them. And so they rejected our Lord because He was not in the hierarchy. With that rejection they also forfeited their own salvation.”
Take, for instance, John 8:9 and Matthew 21:23-27. These are examples of the way authority was championed and used as a support and buttress used to control and grant support to the scribes and Pharisees in their attempts to control the church of their day.
Today, we’re not much different. We give more weight to a comment from a general authority than we do a regular, inspired man, and certainly rarely find ourselves quoting from that regular guy…especially because that person will hold much less sway with the person we’re talking with, if only because he/she isn’t a household name. Instead, we read talks from general authorities and take them as scripture – regardless of a witness from the spirit – and use them to buttress and prove our points. If something hasn’t been uttered by a prophet or apostle in this dispensation, then, as the argument goes, it’s either something that “isn’t important to your salvation” or something that borders on the fringes of the gospel…an area best avoided at all times…or too mysterious for us to seek after.
If, however, an apostle (a “favorite” apostle is even better) says X or Y, then we automatically accept X or Y and use it – especially if it’s the most recent proclamation on that topic – to prove our points and discussions. Instead of relying on truth from wherever it comes, we rely on positions, callings and an institution to tell us what truth is.
“(Matt 21:23-27) … ‘by what authority doest thou these things?’ For those who have no connection with heaven, authority is always everything. Once they establish they have ‘authority’ the debate is over, so far as such people are concerned. They never learn that the rights of the priestly authority are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven; and when they have no connection to heaven they have no authority.”
To show this point from a scriptural point of view, we have Joseph Smith who described himself as one who “frequently fell into errors, and displayed … the foibles of human nature” (JS-H 1:28), Enoch who described himself as “but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant?” (Moses 6:31). We also have the examples of relative unknowns – Abinadi, Samuel the Lamanite, etc., and many others. Simple, average men striving individually to find their path of truth, coming from outside the hierarchies of the church to call the people to repentance.
“(Numbers 12:6) … This foreshadowed the many chosen prophets sent between the time of Moses and the coming of Jesus Christ. During that time very few of the prophets came as presiding authorities, and were often not form the priestly tribe of Levi. The New Testament account begins with a lone, obscure priest, cycling through his duties at the Temple, and to his surprise, encountering a vision of the Lord’s angel, Gabriel. It wasn’t Annas, nor Caiaphus, nor any of the Chief Priests or notable scribes or lawyers. Rather it was an obscure, elderly priest chosen from outside the hierarchy to whom the Lord “made Himself known.” Mortal man is here to be tested. The test is not whether they can conform to the expectations of a broad, mainstream, self-congratulating “chosen” people. The test is far more individual than that. It is a lonely quest to find the Chosen One of Israel. Those who really find Him, not an imaginary version of the Living God, but actually meet the Risen Lord, the Savior of mankind, generally do not rely at all upon their chosen status. Rather they are usually somewhat at odds with the chosen mainstream.”
The more I reflect on the matter, the more I think that we, as a body, are trending towards the same proclivities, weaknesses, traits and personalities of the scribes and Pharisees. One of their great “false traditions” was assuming that the hierarchy was an end-all – all debates and matters of scriptural, or any for that matter, significance originated from within this hierarchy. The scribes and Pharisees loved the attention, their high seats in the synagogues, being greeted in the market, the bests seats at the feasts and certainly loved the power they had at being the policy makers and scriptural wizards to whom everyone would come for a doctrinal interpretation…are we really any different than they were (see Luke 11:43; Luke 20:46)?
“They [scribes, Pharisees, etc.] learned to practice fanaticism. They resented any challenge to their rights and authority. They learned to defend their claims of righteousness. … Too many historic indignities had made them resent any trespass onto their remaining turf. So they resorted to claiming they had “authority” and that was enough. God “told them” to do what they did. Their “traditions” were handed down from holy sources and were beyond being subject to any questioning. However, when a religious leader is one of God’s true messengers, his message will never rely upon a claim of authority as reason to follow him. Indeed, true messengers always understand that no power or influence can or ought to be asserted because of their authority. The words of truth alone are sufficient (see D&C 121:41-42). Their testimony has authority which transcends any institutional trappings. When there is no Spirit which animates the messenger, then he knows his voice is weak. Because of an internal recognition of this weakness, these religious leaders always buttress their words with claims to priestly authority. This claim of priestly authority empowers them to impose their will upon others. This is one of the reasons it is so abhorrent to “take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain,” which was included as one of the Ten Commandments. Whenever someone proclaims their own agenda in the name of the Lord they take His name in vain. It is not swearing, but rather when one claims to speak from the Lord when they do not, that violates the command against vainly using the Lord’s name.”
This last quote encapsulates this idea…of how our false traditions set up stakes around what we accept as truth and inspiration and revelation. The current mainstream LDS belief is that if an idea doesn’t originate from within the hierarchy, from a calling that has the title flashed across our TV sets 2x/year of “Elder” or “Apostle” or “President”, then it’s not truth and we are to reject it…which is, if I may submit, a false tradition we hold to with everything we have…all we have to do is go to any LDS oriented forum or blog and 99% of the support for any argument is a statement by someone within the LDS institution and with a title of either Elder or President accompanying his name.
“Christ’s message is his authority. His words are what distinguish His true ministers from false ones He never sent. Anyone teaching His truth should be recognized as His messenger. He taught this to Moroni. Those who will receive Christ in any generation do so because they hear and recognize His words (see Ether 4:12). Anyone who will not believe in His words, no matter who He sends to speak them, will not believe in Christ or His Father. Those who trust only institutional sources of truth, whether they are Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, or Latter-day Saint, believe in an institution, and do not believe in Christ. The ability to individually recognize His words distinguishes those who are saved from those who are lost.”
As with those who were present during Christ’s ministry, our pathways are intersecting even today and our decision is likewise similar with what they had to choose:
“…darkness can take hold of any people. When it does they are inevitably led to take offense when the Lord (or any messenger sent by Him) walks in the light. Darkness and light are always two different paths. They are incompatible. The people hearing Christ’s sermon at this time were required to choose between everything they had been taught all their lives and what Christ was teaching. They were God’s chosen people, led by leaders chosen by God. They were taught respect for the priestly authorities of their society by reading the scriptures, which assured them they were God’s “chosen people,” and by observing the traditions of their fathers. They were led by recognized leaders, chosen in an established system of succession, on the one hand, and then this Man from Nazareth, lacking any sort of credentials, on the other, asking them to “come follow” Him. Even though they had shouted “Hosanna!” at His arrival the day before, this sermon (Matt. 23) demanded they reject the established authorities in order to follow Him.”
You may have noticed that none of these quotes (those italicized and indented) have a name, book or reference and you may have wondered why. This was done on purpose and certainly not in an attempt to deceive. It should serve as a reminder of our reliance on titles, quotes and “authority.” Would these quotes and statements mean more to you – and carry more weight in your mind – if it was your favorite author, your favorite general authority, your favorite apostle/prophet, or even if it was just from someone you respected for that matter? Is the authority in the name and title, or the message?
Or, conversely, do they stand alone as truth…come from whence it may?
As always, corrections, rebukes, comments are appreciated.
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8 Responses to “False Traditions – Authority”
- Spektator Says:
December 17th, 2009 at 8:01 pm tom,
I appreciated your post as it brought some new dimensions to my thinking regarding authority. As I pondered your message, Alma came to mind. Here is a man who was rejected by the hierarchy and was forced to become an outcast. when he began to collect a following, he did not go to the established authority for permission, rather, he received his authority directly from God.
Are there true messengers of our father who are deemed outcasts today? do we have ‘excommunicants’ who carry the word of god but are shunned by the mainstream?
my experience tells me the typical true blue mormon could not conceive of a message from god coming from anywhere but the established hierarchy. What a shame if this indeed leads to their spiritual demise…
- dan Says:
December 18th, 2009 at 11:22 am Well written. You’ve challenged my perspective too, well done. Now your making me antsy about posting again! It ebbs and flows no doubt. Thanks for the post though, I really enjoyed it.
- Steve Graham Says:
December 18th, 2009 at 12:56 pm You know, i see this dependence on authority even in forums which support a pre-1890 or fundamentalist mindset. reliance on authority could fall into the law of witnesses, could it not? if you can find 2-3 prophets who declared a certain thing, then it might just be true. Right? of course the final test is discerning the lord’s view on that thing. but surely “isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. ” is still valid.
- Tom Says:
December 18th, 2009 at 4:12 pm #1: that alma story has some serious layers. i pondered the same thing, about whether there are (and if so, where) messengers outside of the hierarchy who are preaching Christ’s message. If the same pattern emerges, then we should expect to see at least one, and given the population of the earth I’d guess there are many out there acting as “prophets” who aren’t preaching during General conference 2x/year, or who don’t have the “official” title. They just are.
#2: Mr. wfz…just giving you a hard time, though I was sick of looking at my old post. do you think the same pattern will play out with the OMS? As in, from the scriptures noted above, neither John (the forerunner) nor christ were members of the “official” hierarchy, and were constantly questioned about whether they had the official “authority”. As the same pattern plays out in the last days what role in the “official” hierarchy will the OMS play, if any, or will they be a complete outsider with not connections to the church or hierarchy?
#3: I see your point on the “law of witnesses” and agree. that certainly does apply. the point of this post would be that the “authority” doesn’t necessarily reside within the walls of the LDS church and its official hierarchy. truth is truth. whether that truth comes from an inspired hobo living in the middle of a 3rd world country, or from a man in a tailored suit, wearing cufflinks and preaching to us over the pulpit at general conference. the “authority” doesn’t necessarily reside with the calling, or institution or title, but rather comes directly from above. therefore, if this rationale is correct, there’s a difference between the authority to “administer” the ordinances, and the authority to teach and interpret scripture. The hierarchy would have us believe, and indeed most members do believe, that both areas are under the specific direction of the hierarchy.
The best example of this (that I can think of, though there may be better ones) is Matthew 23. Verses 1-3 start the chapter…
1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,
2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:
3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.
then, throughout chapter 23 (and elsewhere in the 4 gospels) Christ clearly distinguishes “between the scribes and pharisees right to preside (which He did not challenge), and their assumed exclusive right to teach and interpret scripture (which He utterly rejected).”
This is, once again, from the same source as the quotes in the original post, but nevertheless in keeping with this idea. There’s a clear difference between the right to preside and the right to teach and interpret scripture. Today, it’s assumed that the prophets and apostles and other “general authorities” are those principally responsible for “teaching” and “interpreting” the scriptures. This goes back to our reliance on quotes and statements from within the hierarchy, wherein we rely on someone in an official position of responsibility to establish the truthfulness of a given topic.
as always, correction is appreciated.
- Dan Says:
December 21st, 2009 at 11:27 pm another point on the authority thing.
No I don’t think he will be the walls of the church hierarchy. I get a strong feeling that this is part of the “test”. Though he will enter in by the Gate, Which is Christ.
The priesthood existed and operated before and without the church, not vice versa.
- Brand Thornton Says:
December 23rd, 2009 at 9:46 pm I was very much pleased to read your remarks, you are right on. The present day church leaders for the most part are a pathetic bunch! case in point there are so many things happening right now and they on the tower give no warning. The new world order bunch just pulled off the biggest bank heist and they never said a word. Now some will say that is not their place however if and when you undestand the great evil that will come out of this you will be compelled to say they should have sounded a great warning! And their are so many other things to many to mention at this time. I can’t remembr the last time I actually heard anything new from them i mean any thing that would actually take me to higher a level of spirituality its just he same thing year after year. So i have been on my own for some time just me and the spirit of god, it is the best thing that i ever did! i will tell you this if you don’t have a testimony of the fullness of the gospel and i do mean the fullness even the same gospel that joseph taught then you have missed the mark and i will debate any one on these points and triumph.
- dan Says:
December 25th, 2009 at 12:15 am Thanks for the input and especially sharing your thoughts here. Continue to stop by! Good to have you, you are much welcome here.
- mIKE JENSEN Says:
December 26th, 2009 at 10:35 pm I can also testify that the world hates the truth. The more you cling to it, the more you find yourself alone. glad others are waking up and finding the same.