Posts Tagged ‘George Orwell’


“We believe that the first principles and aordinances of the Gospel are: first, bFaith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, cRepentance; third, dBaptism by eimmersion for the fremission of sins; fourth, Laying on of ghands for the hgift of the Holy Ghost.”

Article of Faith #4

Re-Baptism

Baptism, that act that most of us are at least cursorily familiar with, is one of the seminal acts we are allowed to perform here on earth.  In the LDS faith members are baptized at 8 years of age, an age which is viewed as an age of “accountability,” or the age at which humans become accountable to God for their actions.  Note the wording in that previous sentence because it is important – we are accountable to God for our actions, especially those actions dealing with our spiritual salvation.  We are not in any sense accountable to man for these same actions.

I sat in on the youth program yesterday in church, invited by a good friend who was presenting the lesson.  Prior to his lesson I was mourning the prayers which had been audibilized throughout the day on how thankful everyone was for our freedom, and for our soldiers who were fighting to defend freedom throughout the world and how great and blessed we are to live in a land of freedom that is so admirably “defended” by troops throughout the worldWhat they view as freedom, I view as oppressionWhat they view as freedom, I view as idolatry. What they view as a “blessed nation,” I view as a cursed nation which will soon (and already is) being visited with numerous scourges as a result of both her and her citizen’s idolatrous ways.

The lesson was on moral agency and our ability to choose while in the flesh.  It was a good lesson, and a topic which generally produces thoughts and insights into life.  In this discussion, the teacher made an astute comment about how we come to this earth as a way to prove to ourselves what we want to believe and follow in this life.  We don’t come here prove ourselves to God (He is God, after all, and can see the beginning from the end), we don’t come here to prove ourselves to our friends, relatives, acquaintances or any other person (including church authorities).  The only reason we come here is to prove ourselves to ourselves.

With that in mind, I had made it a point to print off and read a 20-someodd page write-up on the topic of re-baptism and its history throughout the years as a way to pass the time at church.  I read it here and there during my lapses into boredom during sacrament meeting and elsewhere.  This write-up comes from Ogden Kraut and what I admire most about it, in hindsight, is the legwork that this man must have gone to in order to research the topic.  I’m not sure when it was first written, but I do know it was completed long before the advent of the internet and the ability to research the Journal of Discourses or other diaries online, at the touch of the button.  The legwork and research that would have gone into this write-up is beyond my abilities and I thank both the author and his son (Kevin Kraut) for making this information available on the internet for others to read at their leisure.

And so it is with that in mind that I broach this subject, at least initially.  My first introduction with the topic of re-baptism occurred sometime last year (2009) in some discussions I had with another good friend, which likely occurred shortly after a post on re-baptism (go here for that discussion) or at least that’s where I think this information initially came from.  Though I have read the scriptures which discuss this information on more than one occasion, I have evidently done so without the requisite understanding or insight I needed to grasp what it was that I was reading.  I was, and still largely am, the epitome of ignorance in this and may other regards.  Much of what I write will be a re-hash of Kraut’s beautiful work, but written from my viewpoint and opinion.  The benefit I see in these write-ups is that (a) I gain a better understanding of the idea through the mental give and take and (b) it may, peradventure, reach the screen of some other wanderer on this journey for truth who may need and yearn for the information.  Such was my case several months back.  I guess this is a form of “pay it forward,” if you will.

Scriptural Examples

The best place to start, with any discussion, is in the scriptures.  This topic of re-baptism is discussed in the Book of Mormon, the New Testament and through the annals of Church History up until the late 1890s and early 1900s.  Only then did this idea and doctrine become entirely lost to later generations and that because of, in my opinion, a misinterpretation of one statement.

In the Book of Mormon we read of elders, priests and teachers being baptized.  Though the scripture doesn’t explicitly state that these people were re-baptized, one is left to interpret the scripture as an example of re-baptism.  Else, how could these people already be “elders, priests, and teachers”?  Likewise, Alma, upon leaving his perch in the chief seats of King Noah’s court, was re-baptized along with 200+ others.  Additionally, there are examples in 3 Nephi which evidence such a practice.

In the New Testament, the book of Revelations contains an account of the saints at Ephesus.  The saints at Ephesus were known for their diligence at keeping the word pure, at being able to recognize false teachers and apostles from miles away.  In chapter 2 of Revelations, we read of these saints being reprimanded for leaving their first love (Christ) because of their diligence and attention to the law.  They were so preoccupied with pointing out falsities, that they lost their love of Christ.  In so doing, they were called to repentance and admonished to “repent, and do the first works… .”  What are the first works, if not faith, repentance and baptism, as shown in the 4th Article of Faith?

Doctrine of the Restoration

The examples of re-baptism in the early annals of church history are nearly limitless.  It would be impossible, to lay them all out in this short write-up.  As such, I will focus on only a few.  Returning to the New Testament, there is an account in the Millenial Star of some of the early saints using Revelations 2 to advocate the practice of re-baptism.  Martin Harris, once upon a time, was taught the doctrine and upon hearing it, stated that it was “new doctrine” to him.  The full account reads:

“Brother Harris was taught the necessity of being re-baptized. He said that was new doctrine to him. Revelations 2nd Chapter was explained, that those who had lost their first love and had fallen into evils and snares, were called on to “repent and do their first works,” and that re-baptism was a part of the gospel. He claimed that he had not been cut off from the Church, but said if that was required of him it would be manifest to him by the Spirit. Soon after his arrival in Utah he applied for baptism, saying that the Spirit had made known to him that it was his duty to renew his covenant before the Lord.” (Life of Martin Harris, Millenial Star 44:87)

In May 1829 Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were visited by John the Baptist.  Joseph Smith wrote that the following happened during that visit:

…he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me. Accordingly we went and were baptized. I abaptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me—after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood, and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood—for so we were commanded.* (JS-H 1:70-71)

Later, in 1830, the church was officially organized and those first members were baptized.  Among these people (nine in all) was Joseph Smith.  The Desert News states:

…Joseph Smith and those who had been baptized prior to April 6, 1830, were again baptized on the day of the organization of the Church. (Deseret News, March 30, 1935, page 6.)

Funny, don’t you think, that in spite of already having been baptized at the request/commandment of John the Baptist, Joseph goes ahead and gets baptized a 2nd time in less than a year without much statement or fanfare.  He had been baptized at the request of John the Baptist – the same who was described in Luke as “there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” – of all people.  And there he was, getting re-baptized 11 months later.  It just happened.  And yet, as a speaker in church mentioned that the practice of getting re-baptized “twice” was just something that happen.  As history overwhelmingly presents, this was a practice that is much more than something that just happened “twice,” or was restricted to fringe groups.  It was as mainstream as the young men or women program is today in the LDS church.

Indeed, with the example of Joseph Smith getting rebaptized from the get-go, so began a history of re-baptism that lasted for nearly 70 years.  During these 70 years, rebaptisms were completed as a way to renew covenants, to heal the sick, to initiate the “Reformation” of 1856-57, to enter into the United Order, to get married, to accept church leadership positions (i.e. bishops, stake presidents, apostles, etc.), to obtain a remission of sins and several other ways.  Indeed, the reasons for re-baptism were many and certainly not limited.  That is until 1897.

Curtailment by Default

By the late 1890s, no doubt re-baptism was a “mainstream” doctrine and practice among most of the church.  As our “mainstream” beliefs and practices evidence, these beliefs and practices can and do lack the “power” they once had.  People take advantage of the practice, forget its intended meaning and over time the practice loses it’s meaning in the “mainstream.”  Today, this can be seen in many ways.  Then, there is no better example than the doctrine of re-baptism.

For some reason that I have not yet been able to hammer down, the church leadership began to debate the efficacy of the practice and the continued “approval” from the hierarchy.  In 1897, during the October general conference, George Q. Cannon stated, “We hear a good deal of talk about re-baptism, and the First Presidency and Twelve have felt that so much re-baptism ought to be stopped.”  Why such a decision was reached is unknown to me.  Nevertheless, because of a feeling (“have felt”), the hierarchy ends the practice of a sublime doctrine.  Perhaps the intention was not to curtail the practice entirely, as evidenced by the wording, “so much re-baptism ought to be stopped,” but rather to slow the practice and re-focus on the meaning of the doctrine.  Temple records of 1896 allegedly show “thousands of rebaptisms for renewal of covenants and for health reasons.” Whatever the reason for slowing the process, the effect was one of a total curtailment.  And here we stand, some 110 years later, with little to no knowledge or understanding of the subject.  It is amazing how so much insight can be lost in the span of less than 4 generations.

Mystery and History

Much as resurrection was a mystery to Alma, rebaptism (and, no doubt, many other “lost” doctrines) is a mystery to us in the year 2010.  With that very brief history in mind, I want to go back and share some of the more “precious” insights into this doctrine, as shared by early church members.

Though the following statements have been rewritten in history – which is eerily similar to George Orwell’s statements in his book, 1984, on the re-writing of history to reflect the view you want others to have – Brigham Young once shared an interesting insight into rebaptism:

“In the first place, if you were re-baptized for the remission of sins, peradventure you may receive again the Spirit of the Gospel in its glory, light and beauty; but if your hearts are so engrossed in the things of this world, that you do not know whether you want to be re-baptized or not, you had better shut yourselves up in some canyon or closet, to repent of your sins, and call upon the name of the Lord, until you get His spirit.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 1:324)

And, later:

“I know that in my traveling and preaching, many a time I have stopped by beautiful streams of clear, pure water, and have said to myself, “How delightful it would be to me to go into this, to be baptized for the remission of my sins.” When I got home, Joseph told me it was my privilege. At this time, came a revelation, that the Saints could be baptized and re-baptized when they chose, and then that we could be baptized for our dear friends.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 18:241)

It’s amusing, if not saddening, to note the contrast in language between what Young stated and what Cannon professed in the 1897 general conference.  Whereas Cannon and the first presidency “felt” that so much re-baptism should be stopped, Young claimed “revelation” that members of the church “could be baptized and re-baptized when they chose.”  A revelation versus a feeling?  Tough choice.  Perhaps it’s mere differences in lexicon and they mean the same thing, or, perhaps, one group of people were too caught up in curtailing a practice which was being abused by some.  No matter the result, the main question is how does this affect me, or you, or us, today?

In a day that desperately needs another Reformation, no doubt much more than the change that was needed during the Reformation of 1856-57 (a mere 25 years after 1830), this practice and doctrine of re-baptism is one way to bring about the needed change.  Indeed, with this thought in mind, perhaps it is best to again turn to Brigham Young’s words on the subject:

“I have heard some of you cursing and swearing, even some of the Elders of Israel. I would be baptized seven times, were I in your place; I would not stop teasing some good Elder to baptize me again and again, until I could think my sins forgiven. I would not live over another night until I was baptized enough to satisfy me that my sins were forgiven. Then go and be confirmed, as you were when you first embraced the religion of Jesus. That is my counsel.” (Brigham Young, J.D. 2:8-9, emphasis added.)

Think long and hard on that statement.  There is light and truth contained therein.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I was reminded of a conversation I had with another friend on this subject.  In it, this friend was discussing the “false doctrine” that states how when we partake of the sacrament we’re “renewing” our baptismal covenants.  Turns out this is false.  We don’t renew our baptismal covenants when we partake of the Sacrament.

In reality, what we’re doing in partaking of the Sacrament is its own covenant separate and apart from baptism.  To further study this idea, research the covenants the people make in both Mosiah 18 and Alma 7.  In those examples, the act of re-baptism is a witness on behalf the person getting re-baptized that they’re making a covenant.  The baptism itself isn’t the covenant, but a simple witness of a separate covenant.  This simply means that instead of placating yourself by professing to change and follow a new course in life (words/intentions only), in this instance you also do an act, a physical act which demonstrates in deed those words you’re intending to live by. With the act, the words are not empty (as so many of our words tend to be).  The baptismal (and re-baptismal) covenants we make, therefore, are to (a) keep the commandments and (b) serve God.  The covenant occurs when we turn around and repent.  We then prove our willingness to actually give more than lip service by walking down in the water and re-entering the waters of baptism.

It is June 1st, 2010.  The weather is generally warm across America and in many other places.  Read Kraut’s work on this topic, and take advantage of the good weather to seek a remission of sins and utilize the beautiful simplicities of the gospel that are in front of us.


And the aMessiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may bredeem the children of men from the fall. And because that they are credeemed from the fall they have become dfree forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon

2 Nephi 2:26


Do I Have to go to Church?

I’m a lucky man tonight.  I’m sitting out on my parents back porch.  That’s not why I’m lucky, but it’s a setting.  I, like many young former-“professionals” have moved back in (temporarily, I hope) with my parents as I both search for, and start a job.  I’ve been unemployed going on 14 months now, officially a bum in the eyes of most people.  When I was living in Utah, with my in-laws, I was the recipient of more than a few odd looks.  Though most people seemed, on the exterior at least, to be understanding and empathetic with my family’s situation, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of those odd looks had to do with my mooching off of my in-laws and the free rent we received for a full year.

Certainly, within my wife’s own family, her siblings (and parents, to a lesser degree) presented a trial as they, too, questioned what we were doing and were more than eager to throw us out.  Such is the plight of an unemployed bum.  13 full months of job searching later, I’m no closer to finding a job than when I begin.  Hundreds of applications have been sent, less than a handful (literally) of callbacks or email responses have come back my way.

Such it is, in this context, that I find myself a lucky man.  I’m sitting on my parents back porch, watching the fire glow in the portable brick oven I just finished building less than a week ago.  It’s in the curing process, right now, as I try to get the thing acclimated to temperatures approaching 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  Currently, it’s sitting right about 400 degrees.  Tomorrow it will be slightly hotter.  The next day even hotter than that.  Then, some Saturday, our first pizza party will take place here at my parents house.  This project has been more than 6 months in planning, and I’ve taken more than my fair share of bumps and bruises in my feeble attempt to start a fledgling business.  Cost overruns, time overruns and broken parts have hampered the process, but at last there is some semblance of success at the doorstep.

That, in truth, is only part of the reason why I’m lucky.  While more than a few people here in Wisconsin complained of the heat (93 degrees with a fair amount of humidity), my wife and kids were suffering through a day in the low 30s with a nice slushy snowfall.  When I spoke with my wife earlier this morning, there was a 65 degree difference (literally) according to accuweather.com.  I chuckled, as we’ve often lamented the fact that Wisconsin seems so cold, and Utah typically the more temperate climate, and I was more than willing to point out the temperature difference to my wife as she suffered through a chilly late May day.

Definitions

As I did a little bit of reading, this morning, I was again reminded of a common theme among some LDS members as it relates to church.  I preface these comments with the clause that I am not terribly certain that our modern day interpretation of “church” is anywhere near accurate, and certainly has deviated from the scriptural definition in more than a few ways.  Church, as it’s referred to today, means little more than a religious body that meets on a weekly basis, with other meetings sprinkled in for good measure.  Church, as it’s referred to today, consists of meetings, programs, and hourly blocks of (mostly) scriptural discussions that repeat themselves at least every four years.  If you ask a member of the LDS faith what church is, they’ll likely reply that it’s their set of beliefs and more or less synonymous with the term “gospel.”

The 1828 Webster’s dictionary defines church as “a house consecrated to the worship of God,” or “the collective body of Christians, or of those who profess to believe in Christ.”[1] The original Greek word for church is Ekklesia which means “a gathering” who could be “united into one body.”[2] The most likely New Testament definition, from what I’ve been able to gather, is that church was described or defined as any meeting where “two or three [were] gathered together,”[3] and could literally have been a group that small.  Any meeting consisting of two or three people which discussed spiritual principles or ideas or speculation, therefore, could have been labeled “church.”  The most succinct definition of church as contained in scripture is likely found in D&C 10:67-69, which reads, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and acometh unto me, the same is my bchurch. Whosoever adeclareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is bagainst me; therefore he is not of my church. And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and aendureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my brock, and the cgates of hell shall not prevail against them.”

The term “gospel,” by contrast, is defined by the same 1828 Webster’s dictionary as “the history of the birth, life, actions, death, resurrection, ascension and doctrines of Jesus Christ,” and “a revelation of the grace of God to fallen man through a mediatory … the whole scheme of salvation, as revealed by Christ.”[4] D&C 39:6 states and defines the gospel as, “repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the bbaptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and cteacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”  3 Nephi 17:21 follows similar lines and states, “aRepent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be bbaptized in my name, that ye may be csanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand dspotless before me at the last day. Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my agospel … .”

The Difference Between the Church and the Gospel – 1984

Though many of you may be familiar with Ronald Poleman’s talk, given in 1984[5], on the gospel and the church, the differences highlighted therein likely give the best definition of the mainstream view of each, especially when one considers the changes and redactions that occurred to that discourse.  The original discourse defined the church as “a divine institution administered by the priesthood of God.  The church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.”  The gospel, as defined in this same talk, is “the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation.”

Following these brief definitions, the church is an institution which is charged with teaching the gospel, or the “plan” that leads us to individual salvation and exaltation.  They are, and were, two distinct and different entities.  Immediately after the original talk was given in general conference, Poleman was required to re-do the talk and give a similar, though distinctly different version which was then published in the Ensign and elsewhere.  In this second version, the church is redefined to be, “the Kingdom of God on Earth” and “divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources to implement this plan [the gospel] in each individual’s life.”  The remainder of the talk, as presented throughout changed version continue to highlight, continues to highlight how the church, and only the church, is divinely inspired and commissioned to implement, teach and administer the gospel.

The original talk, which I find to be a fantastic discussion on important and well defined differences, contains this instructive thought:

“Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage, be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies.  Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles.  Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy.  In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.” – Ronald Poleman, October 1984 General Conference (original version)

The changed version removes this entire paragraph and replaces it with an entirely different line of thought, “the eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures.”  You can be the judge of the similarities and differences of these two statements, juxtaposed against each other.  Suffice it to say, the redone version is geared and directed to a mostly hierarchical definition that strengthens and supports an ever increasing bureaucracy.  If what Polemen said was true in 1984, how much more true is it today?  The traditions – false and otherwise – are even more ingrained and popular than they were then and even more likely to hold sway in any given lesson or discussion.  The only way these can be adequately rejected or refuted is by knowing (a) what they are and (b) knowing the true form of the principle behind the tradition.  That, I’m afraid, is our task.

Is it any wonder, in retrospect, that this talk was both given, censored, changed and rebranded in 1984?[6] From Orwell’s 1984, I found a couple of insightful quotes as it pertains to this discussion:

“If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say this or that even, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

“Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary.” – Book 1, Chapter 3

The Universality of Revelation

So, why this discussion on church, the gospel and whether I have to attend church?  Well, one of my pet peeves (but only recently) is the idea of the universality of revelation.  My definition of the universality of revelation would be broken down by a rather simple statement:  “Since I received a revelation/witness that I need to be doing this or that, that means that you (all of you) should also be doing this or that”  In essence, the universality of revelation suggests that all the individual insights we receive are also applicable to everyone else, regardless of their station, their situation and their own individual lives.

Case in point:  if I were to believe (tacitly, because we never admit it) in the universality of revelation, then my thoughts on Marijuana and the Word of Wisdom must be followed by everyone.  In that discussion, I outlined why I think marijuana is not only kosher with the word of wisdom, but is perhaps one of the things our Heavenly Father has given us to use and enjoy, both for its effects on the conscious and its effects on our overall well-being.  Following this universality of revelation premise, my thoughts on Marijuana must thereby be the required protocol not only for me, but also for everyone else.  If it’s good for the goose, well, it’s good for the gander as well.

Now, as I stated in that previous paragraph, the belief in universality of revelation is one which is only given tacit approval.  Anyone reading the above paragraph will recognize the inherent weaknesses of my argument, not only because it falls on its face under closer inspection, but also because it bypasses the idea of everyone having their God-given right to lead their lives in concordance with the principles of revelation and free agency.

Guilting Me into Going to Church

So, how does this universality of revelation apply to this discussion?  Well, there are those around me who continually profess that leaving the church simply isn’t an option.  Not that I have any intentions of leaving, but the whole idea that (a) “the Lord is going to hold us all accountable” (to our “support” of church leaders and programs of the church), (b) “those who are sensitive to the troubles which beset the church need to be there, faithfully serving,” (c) Zion and her redemption are the same thing, and same cause, as serving in the church, (d) “withdraw[ing] from the church [will] cut yourself off from necessary ordinances, including the sacrament” and “imperil your capacity to keep the Sabbath day holy” and “limit your capacity to serve others,” and other similar thoughts[7], all related to the discussion of leaving or staying in the church, leave me beside myself.  Probably for good reason.  I probably need the reminding, but at the same time, I can’t come to an agreement on any of those items listed above.

If we step back and analyze the state of affairs of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some things might come into focus, and rather quickly.  The first few things to enter our view would probably be (a) all is not well in Zion, (b) staying in or outside the church is an individual decision, (c) once ordinances are performed, all saints have the ability and right to practice those ordinances in their own homes, especially the Sacrament, no matter what any leader says, (d) leaving church will not imperil anyone from keeping the Sabbath day holy nor limit my (or anyone’s) capacity to serve and (e) the universality of revelation is alive and well in the LDS community.

Programs

My biggest bone of contention – and perhaps I’m wrong in this assessment – is that LDS members are so addicted to their own definition of church that they can’t really step outside the box and realize that “church” can be defined as broadly as we want it.  It really can be a meeting where you and I discuss spiritual principles.  That is church.  That is where we’re striving to grow closer to Christ.  Instead, for some reason, we define church in the most narrow version we can – a place we go and attend one time per week, with three hour blocks where we’re fed the same regurgitated vomit week in and week out.  We maintain incredibly narrow mindsets by thinking that service is to be rendered solely within the church, that we must attend a building 1x per week in order to even hope of keeping the Sabbath day holy, that we must support a system that is predicated on blind obedience to a pile of programs, lectures and leaders, and that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

I am so fed up with “programs” that I can’t even see straight.  Literally, the following is the list of “programs” we currently maintain (and I may be missing some):

  1. Primary program
  2. Young men’s program
  3. Young women’s program
  4. Sunday school program
  5. Duty to God program
  6. Personal progress program
  7. Scouting program
  8. Missionary program
  9. Home teaching program

10.  Visiting teaching program

11.  Provident living program

12.  Welfare program

13.  Temple attendance program

14.  Temple building program

15.  Humanitarian program

16.  Distribution center program

17.  Seminary program

18.  Activity Days program

19.  Young Single Adults program

20.  Activities program

And, from there, I could probably continue and re-label other organizations programs, because that’s all they really are.  The High Priests group is really about a program for old men, because you can only become a High Priest with age and seasoning, nothing to do with revelation.  The Elders Quorum is really a program for newly married people who aren’t spiritually sound enough to graduate to a special calling (i.e. their bishopric or the high council).  The relief socity is really just a program to keep the sister’s from backbiting and keep them engaged in various activities.  Programs, programs, programs.  Programs are little more than “a plan of action to accomplish a specified end,”[8] apparently.  And that “specified plan?”  To raise people who blindly follow leaders?  To raise people who pay a “full tithe”?  To depersonalize the gospel to such an extent that we think we need checklists, programs, graduations, certificates and prizes to suggest that we’ve arrived as “saints”?  Just what is the “specified plan”?  Interestingly, the word “program” only existed in the 1800s as a way to define a letter, advertisement or proclamation.[9] It had nothing to do with our “programmatic” learning that we’re now convinced we need.

And yet, in all these programs, our main focus is on three things:  (1) the church, (2) the prophet, and (3) the apostles.  If programs are the focus of the church, and I submit they are, then the result can best be seen in the beliefs (at least those publicly available to the average listener) of the average member.  The best place, it would seem, to hear these beliefs would be at your local “fast & testimony” meeting.  And, true to form, the results are rather predictable.  The next fast and testimony meeting you attend, take a pad of paper and a pen with you.  Make two columns.  The first column should have the header “Church / Prophet”, and the second column should have the header “Christ.”  Tally up the number of times someone testifies of either.  If someone testifies of the Church, or the Prophet, add the marks accordingly.  Likewise for Christ.  I did this over a several month time frame and the results were typically in favor of the Church / Prophet, at a rate of near 6:1 or 7:1.  I remember one meeting, only one person bore testimony of Christ, and that someone was a kid of 7 or 8 years old.  Everyone else bore testimony of either the prophet, or the church, or some other tale having little to do with the gospel.  That, I am afraid, is the result of the programs.  That, I am afraid, is what we have as a result of supporting these programs.  And, yet, I’m to believe that God will hold me accountable for not supporting these programs?  Well, if that’s the case, then I hope I can find a different God in the afterlife than the one I profess to believe in, because I can’t fathom how my God would expect me to believe in and support programs that run contrary to what I read in the scriptures.

Can one find good in these programs?  Of course they can, and probably do.  There’s no doubt there is some good, but the vomit that gets included in these programs (whether it’s the teaching of fear to our youth (i.e. “God’s great, you’re bad, try harder”), inculcating our primary aged children with a chant to “Follow the Prophet,” or the predictable “The Prophet cannot lead you astray” comments, or our adherence to a “uniform of the priesthood”) oftentimes more than outweighs the positives I see and witness.

Persuasion

Now, even amidst all this, I’m not saying that we should leave church.  Though I staunchly disagree with the comments enumerated above about our obligation to attend church, I am persuaded by some more wise than I that there are still reasons to attend church.  In a recent comment here (comment #2 and #4 are both pertinent), the following was added, which persuades me that there may be a better way:

I do believe that one individual can effect a great deal of change in a congregation. If the Lord has only one, inspired agent among every ward/branch, I believe that that is sufficient for Him to turn things upside-down. He could probably do it even with only one agent per stake/district. The masses, in my opinion, are not on as solid a foundation as they claim. I think it is more appearance and wishful thinking than actual fact.

The current status quo is one of continual unanimity, conformity, etc. A single person acting alone, but under the inspiration of God, can change the entire scene.

For example, if each week there is a single vote against, no longer can the claim to unanimity be made. Even closed-minded people are naturally curious, so although the leadership may discount that one, single vote against, eventually certain members of the congregation will approach the individual and ask why the hand was raised against. That is a teaching opportunity which may lead to two, or more, inspired agents of the Lord in the congregation.

Another example, a fixation on Christ in conversation can prove devastating to one’s idolatrous worship of prophets. Every LDS knows that although Nephi and people talked of Christ and preached of Christ, etc., the LDS do not do this. They talk and preach of prophets and apostles. An inspired agent of the Lord, forcing each conversation with another LDS back to Christ has an unnerving effect on that LDS, because they immediately recognize the scripture being lived and their own non-conformity to the word of God. So, even without preaching repentance, by doing certain things in a non-confrontational way, the population can be quickly brought around.

I can’t say that I’m as confident as the writer that things will improve “quickly,” but I note the wisdom in trying.  The difference between this comment, and the post referring to our “obligation” to stay, as I see it, is one of focus.  One chooses to focus on fear (i.e. we may “imperil” our ability to keep the Sabbath day holy, we will be held “accountable” for how we support and uphold “programs,” etc.), while one chooses to focus on hope and love.  For that, persuasion works wonders for me.

Returning, finally, to the universality of revelation, we simply can’t assume that everyone must follow the same course of action as we take.  While some may find wisdom and inspiration in staying in the church, others will find wisdom and revelation in leaving.  That is how it should be.  Everyone is on an individual journey and we must allow each individual the opportunity to individualize their journey as they and the Lord counsel together.  Sure, many may err in their judgments about what God is doing or not doing in their lives, but so long as they are trying and finding their individual path, I wish them all the luck in the world.

In spite of my misgivings about the way we interpret church in the modern context and how so many of the programs in the church are built around obligation, fear and guilt, I recognize what the commenter noted previously, that we are agents of change charged with acting, and not being acted upon.[10]

1984 Revisited

In the end, your decision to go to church is your choice.  Guilt should never be the primary motivating factor to do anything, and yet it’s one of the most popular methods used to get someone to do something, especially in the context of religion (i.e. if you don’t go to church, you can’t take the Sacrament and you’ll likely be breaking the Sabbath day, etc).  The universality of revelation is as false a doctrine or tradition, as Ron Poleman discussed previously, as there is on this earth.   Don’t believe it.  Do believe, however, in your ability to commune with your God and in your ability to receive divine counsel from on high (pun intended).

So, perhaps it is as Orwell stated, and as Poleman started back in 1984.  Perhaps, just perhaps, those of us who haven’t yet even learned to think are storing up inside of us the power that may, one day, overturn the tide of our idolatrous fornications with the “church.”

“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same–people who had never learned to think but were storing up in their hearts and bellies and muscles the power that would one day overturn the world.”  George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 10


[1] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,church

[2] http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1577&t=KJV

[3] See Matthew 18:20

[4] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,gospel

[5] http://loydo38.blogspot.com/2006/04/1984.html

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nineteen_Eighty-Four

[7] http://denversnuffer.blogspot.com/2010/05/be-firm-and-steadfast.html

[8] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/program

[9] http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,program

[10] See 2 Nephi 2:13-16, 26