Reflexions on the 2019 Update to the Word of Wisdom: Have We Lost the Plot

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The recent update to the Word of Wisdom puzzles me. The prohibitions against vaping, recreational use of marijuana, and green tea do not seem new or revelatory—indeed, it would have been more shocking had the Church released a statement expressing that these activities were within the pale of acceptable interpretations of the Church’s policies around the Word of Wisdom. Even more bizarre than the update, the New Era article, ‘Vaping, Coffee, Tea, and Marijuana’ is almost farcical in its advice, ‘if you’re in a coffee shop (or any other shop that’s well known for its coffee), the drink you are ordering probably has coffee in it, so either never buy drinks at coffee shops or always ask if there’s coffee in it’; one cannot help but wonder if the author has ever been to a coffee shop.

Despite the rather unimpressive New Era article and the unsurprising clarification to the Word of Wisdom, I cannot help but wonder if we’ve lost the plot. The Church, her sacraments, her teachings, and her policies are supposed to be focussed on one thing: ‘inviting others to come unto Christ by helping them to receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end” (Preach My Gospel). Every action of the Church reviewed against this goal. Therefore, the renewed emphasis on the Word of Wisdom begs the questions, 1) how does the Word of Wisdom help bring people to Christ; 2) what is the purpose of the Word of Wisdom; 3) what is the relationship between the Word of Wisdom and sin?

The traditional narrative of the Word of Wisdom is that Emma Smith was tired of cleaning up the chewing tobacco left behind after every time the Elders of the Church met with Joseph Smith. She complained to Joseph Smith and he prayed to God asking what should be done about the situation. The response was what would later become Doctrine and Covenants 89. The Word of Wisdom begins with a statement that it is ‘for the benefit of the council of high priests. . . the church, and the saints’, was not revealed as a ‘commandment or constraint. . . showing forth the order and will of God in the temporal salvation of all saints in the last days’ (Doctrine and Covenants 89). This then answers the question concerning the relationship between the Word of Wisdom and sin. The Word of Wisdom was never intended to define a rigid set of morals or behaviour. It lacks specifics that typically characterise Divine pronouncements on what is good or evil. The rather facile response, ‘It lacks specifics to emphasise our agency’ does not fit the pattern of the Unchanging God who announced that ‘To look upon a woman lustfully is to commit adultery in your heart’ (Matthew 5:28) and who gave the Ten Commandments and the Law which governed their application (Deuteronomy 5-6). Elsewhere in scripture God is unambiguous, He said ‘as many as have received me, to them have I given to become the sons of God’ (3 Nephi 9:17), not ‘think about whether this might be the right or wrong way to live and make a decision, I will honour your decision’. The final nail in the argument that the Word of Wisdom outlines a list of sinful and righteous practices should be that Christ, who was and is Sinless, drank wine and promised to do so with His disciples in Heaven. If perfect Christ could drink and remain perfect (His first public miracle was to make good wine) and we are to drink wine with Him in Heaven, then drinking cannot be a sin sui generis. Is this permission to break the Word of Wisdom? Heaven forbid, we of the Church are required to submit to the guidance of the ecclesiastical authority. Rather, this is a call for Church leaders to re-examine the emphasis placed on establishing “worthiness”, as if one could ever truly be worthy of Christ, on a dietary law. For dietary laws, though present in the Old Testament, were explicitly ended in the New Testament (Acts 10 and Romans 14) because their purpose—to ritually demonstrate the consequence of the Fall and the transmission of the sinful state—was accomplished in the Atonement of Christ.

What then, if not to divide wicked practice from righteous practice, is the purpose of the Word of Wisdom? A textual analysis gives several reasons to follow the Word of Wisdom, temporal salvation from conspiring foes, some basic medical guidance before the Latter-day Saints left the civilised confines of Nauvoo for the wilderness of Deseret, and the promise of increased wisdom and knowledge. These blessings are contingent, not on following a part of the guidance but on following the entirety of it. Some are clearly time-specific—the Church has not made its own wine for Sacramental use for a very long time. Similarly, there do not seem to be bands of conspiring individuals attempting to overthrow the Church through smear accusations of drunkenness, like they who made accusations against Joseph Smith. The wisdom and knowledge, the health, and the medical guidance are not about dulled senses, addictive behaviours, or slavery to vice—rather they are blessings coming from obedience to the cautions of God as revealed by His Church.

Finally, does the Word of Wisdom lead people to Christ? Not of itself. It might be a convenient addition to those searching for something to scratch that itch; conversely, it can be a stumbling block to those who do not easily submit to its rule. Is the addict to be barred from baptism, and the Grace necessary to overcome all, because he is stuck in a foolish practice? Should the smoker be denied salvation because she cannot quit? Would this extend to all the different components of the Word of Wisdom? Should the fat be excluded from Heaven? Those who eat meat and fruits out of season? I do not argue the abolition of the Word of Wisdom; but in focussing on the Word of Wisdom as a litmus test of moral “worthiness” to participate in the Grace-giving sacraments of the Church seems a monstrous abuse. Indeed, the Word of Wisdom as a list of “do nots, sometimes do, grey area, and dos”, as it is treated in LDS culture and occasionally in policy, seems out of place and off plot.

 

 

 

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On the Trinity

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Latter-day Saints tend to think of the Trinity as a way of expressing that God the Father and God the Son are the same person; however, this is not an accurate representation of the doctrine of the Trinity. A more accurate understanding of the Trinity might help Latter-day Saints better understand their own conception of God.

Latter-day Saint discomfort with the Trinity stems from the claim that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, together.  Furthermore, because Latter-day Saint theology teaches that God the Father has a glorified and perfected body (despite very few scriptural references on the subject) and the concept of the Trinity, as understood in classical Christian theology, seems to suggest an immaterial and non-corporeal God the Father, the Latter-day Saints understand the Doctrine of the Trinity as being anethema to the Latter-day Saint Doctrine of the Godhead.

The Doctrine of the Trinity arose from a need to define early-Christian conceptions of God against their contemporaries within first-century Judaism and Paganism. In the first three centuries of Christian history, Christians needed to develop an answer to the question, ‘How many gods are there?’. One of the frequent charges the Jews made against the early Christians was their seeming abandonment of the Shema (‘Hear o Israel, the Lord thy God is One’ Deuteronomy 6:4). Christians recognise the authority of the Old Testament and only believe in one God, but this raised questions, was Jesus the God of the Old Testament? If so, to whom did He pray and to whom do His followers pray, in His name?

Sabellians (followers of the teachings of Sabellius) attempted to reconcile the above questions by teaching that Jesus and God were the same being. According to Sabellius, God the Father was the God of the Old Testament and Jesus was God’s manifestation or mode on Earth. The parts of the Bible where Christ refers to God as a separate person, were, according to Sabellius, merely manners of speech which convey two “modes” of God. This was eventually condemned by the Early Church as a heresy because Modalists/Sabellians deny the literal existence of God’s Only Begotten Son; thereby negating the importance of Christ as Mediator and Advocate and undermining Christ’s role as High Priest and Intercessor—which in turn diminishes the necessity of the Sacraments of the Church and priesthood authority.

Many early Christians resisted the teachings of Sabellius and argued that Christ was subordinate to God. Where the Sabellians argued that Christ said ‘He and the Father were one’ (John 10:30) and that ‘If you have seen [Christ] you have seen the Father’ (John 14:9), their opponents, the Subordiantionist disciples of the early-Christian theologian Origen, argued that Christ also said, ‘The Father is greater than [Christ]’ (John 14:28). The Subordinationist error was to render Christ as somewhat less than the Father. This is a subtle heresy because, while Christians must accept the Monarchy of God the Father, Christ and the Holy Spirit must be co-equal and co-eternal with God if Christ is God and the Holy Spirit is God. Latter-day Saint teachings can sometimes appear to be Subordinationist because Latter-day Saints emphasise the distinctness of Christ from the Father and the Monarchy of God the Father; however, Latter-day Saints do recognise Christ as God.

Arius built upon the teachings of the Subordinationists to argue that not only was Christ less than equal to God, but that Christ was less Eternal than God the Father. Their arguments were 1) that if Christ was born, there must have been a time when He did not exist; 2) God’s essence cannot be divided and therefore Christ cannot be of the same essence as God the Father; 3) Christ was created by God and is a creature; 4) Christ is the First and most Exalted creature—who created all others on the Father’s behalf (Arians believed that God the Father would have been rendered less than perfect if he were to touch matter so Christ served as a less than perfect intermediary between God the Father and the world); 5) Christ can be called “God” because God the Father made Christ an extension of God through the Grace of the Father; 6) Christ’s Will was created and He could sin and make mistakes. These six teachings are heretical, as argued by the early-Christian bishop, Athanasius, because 1) no creature can save or redeem another creature and if Jesus was a creature then He could not be the Christ; 2) Only God can redeem mankind from the Fall and if Christ redeemed mankind then He must be God, as the scriptures say He is.

The text of the Nicene Creed was primarily aimed at expressing the Christian belief against the Arian heresy and is therefore explicit in its understanding of Christ as equal to God, co-eternal with God, and being of the same substance as God. This concept ‘of the same substance’ is intended to communicate that Christ and God were One and shared the same nature. To further complicate the idea of consubstantiality, the same terminology is used to describe Christ’s oneness with mankind. The emphasis of the Nicene Creed was to show the unity of God. That God the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One God and Distinct Persons is a mystery that Christians must accept on faith. The Doctrine of the Trinity is a simple and elegant expression of that mystery of how the members of the Godhead can be both One and Three by describing them as consubstantial.

The word consubstantial, means of the same essence. In the Creeds, Christ is revealed to be ‘consubstantial with the Father’ by which they mean to express that Christ is of the same divinity as God the Father. The Nicene Creed expressed the idea that the Father and Son were of the same essence (same divinity, co-equal, and co-eternal) but distinct from each other. This would mean that Christ was, identified with and associated with the Father while being an extension of Him and in relation to Him. Thus, He is of the same substance as God in the same way that we become an extension of Him and identified with Him through baptism. The Latter-day Saint terminology, Godhead rather than Triune, emphasises the distinct personages of God where the classical Triune emphasisd their oneness; but the conception of God–three distinct persons united in one Godhead–co-equal, co-eternal, and all God is the same. Latter-day Saint discomfort with the Trinity is less about the Doctrine of the Trinity than it is a commentary on Latter-day Saint Christology and Theology Proper.

Appendix: The Text of the Nicene Creed

The Creed from the First Council of Nicea (AD325)

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father [the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God,] Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made [both in heaven and on earth]; Who for us men, and for our salvation came down and was incarnate and was made man; He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven; From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. [But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not,’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.

Text after the First Council of Constantinople (AD381)

‘Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipotentem, Factorem Caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium. Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum, Filium Dei unigenitum, et ex Patre natum ante amnia saecula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lumine, Deum verum de Deo vero, gentium, non factum, consubstantialem Patri: per quem omnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos homines et propter nostrum salute descendit de caelis, et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est; crucifixus etiam pro nobis sub Pontio Pilato, passus et sepultus est, et resurrexit tertia die, secundum Scripturas, et ascendit in caelum, sedet ad dexteram Patris; et iterum venturus est cum Gloria, iudicare vivos et mortuos, cuius regni non erit finis. Et in Spritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem: qui ex Patre Filoque procedit, qui cum Patre et Filio simul adoratur et conglorificatur, qui locutus est per prophetas. Et unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam. Confiteor unum baptisma in remissionem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam ventur saeculi. Amen.

Latin text is later and differs from the original Greek which excludes Deum de Deo and Filioque

The reason the Latins adapted the Creed to include the term Filioque was not to change the meaning of the original Creed or imply that the Holy Spirit originates with the Son but to imply that the Holy Spirit goes forward from the Father and the Son and is similar to the Greek term employed in the original Greek wording of the Creed of Constantinople (AD381).

English Text (Book of Common Prayer, 1662)

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible: and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead: whose kingdom shall have no end. And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the Prophets. And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

How do Proxy Sacraments Work?: The need for a Latter-day Saint Metaphysic

 

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Baptismal Font, Salt Lake Temple, Utah

The Latter-day Saints practise proxy sacraments. This post will not engage with the scriptural evidence or theological justifications for or against proxy sacraments but will instead seek to understand a possible mechanic by which they can be efficacious.

Sacraments are religious ceremonies where God, acting through the priesthood officiant, effects an inward transformation of the individual; or in other words, they are an outward manifestation of an inward grace. An example of a sacrament in Latter-day Saint doctrine is baptism. The Latter-day Saints do not subscribe to mere legalism; the idea that baptism is an example of Divine bureaucracy—a box that must be ticked to meet arbitrary standards. Instead, the Latter-day Saints believe that baptism changes the soul and state of the baptised. The individual receives, at baptism, a complete regeneration (rebirth) in Christ, a new name, becomes co-heirs with Christ in salvation and theosis, and become part of the Body of Christ (the Universal Church)—gaining access to the Atonement of Christ, among other things. While there is no question in Latter-day Saint thought that sacraments are transformative, there exists no real or credible explanation of how sacraments effect change.[1]

Traditionally, the way to understand the mechanics of sacraments is through the discipline of metaphysics. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy which examines the form of things; their abstract concepts like being, knowing, substance, cause, space, time, or identity. Theologically, metaphysics look specifically at the relationship between the mind and matter, substance and attribute, possibility and actuality.

How do proxy sacraments work? There are ways one could understand proxy sacraments within a traditional Christian metaphysical framework; however, a traditional Christian metaphysical framework also raises significant issues. Traditional Christian metaphysics extend the Atonement to individuals using the concept of vicarious suffering. This means that because Christ suffered and Christians become part of Christ’s Body in baptism, they can find solace in their sufferings through the shared suffering that Christ did on their behalf. In this way, one can be ransomed through vicarious suffering–Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected and because we share in His Body we can be saved because the individual is co-present with Christ through the sacraments. This concept of vicarious suffering may provide a template by which to explore proxy sacraments.

Christians become part of the Body of Christ at baptism and individuals must be part of the Body of Christ to be saved. One becomes part of the Body of Christ through participation in the Sacraments of Initiation—Latter-day Saints understand these to be the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Proxy sacraments need to provide a place where Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the soul of the dead can briefly coinhere. This explanation would work for the Latter-day Saint Sacraments of Temple Marriage, Ordination, and the Endowment but would not work for the Sacraments of Initiation because without Baptism individuals cannot be part of the Body of Christ. So, the question becomes, how does one, or can one, have proxy Sacraments of Initiation in this metaphysic?

The essence of the metaphysical framework above is that the baptised is in a relationship with Christ; a part of His Body or Church. Proxy Sacraments of Initiation would require a similar sort of relationship with Christ to be effective. A possible explanation coming from the Book of Mormon is Abinadi’s Christology. In Mosiah 15, Abinadi wrote that Christ is God and the Father (not in a modal or Sabellian way but in the sense that Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are One God). He argued that God came down (The Incarnation) as a man in Christ. Christ, the Son, suffered temptation and all manner of evil, injustice, and unrighteousness and made a Blood Atonement to ransom mankind from the Fall. This puts all of humanity in a divine relationship with Christ as The Father and suggests that through the Atonement of Christ all mankind is adopted as Children of Christ—not yet part of His Body but connected with Him through His Sacrifice. Perhaps this relationship between man and Christ the Father could be the basis for a metaphysical framework that allows for proxy Sacraments of Initiation.

 

[1] Unless one accepts the musings of Cleon Skousen.

What do Latter-day Saints Believe, part 2

Believe

In my first attempt at answering the question, ‘What do Latter-day Saints believe?’, I posited that it would be better to ask what Latter-day Saints must believe. I did not explain my reasoning and will do so here. The tolerant attitude of the Church towards the private conscience of her members, the lack of a clearly systematic theology, the dogmatic trust in senior Church leaders, and the nature of the Latter-day Saint open canon have all contributed to a diversity of approach to Latter-day Saint beliefs and it would be quite challenge to detail a complete survey of, what might be kindly called, the folk religion of the Latter-day Saint people. Furthermore, the Church has been very inclusive in determining the boundaries of acceptable belief—instead focussing on policing orthopraxy. At some point, it may become necessary to change focus and set more strict and clear boundaries of orthodoxy and orthopisty. That decision must be left to those to whom that right belongs. My response to the question, ‘What must a Latter-day Saint believe?’ sets out a baseline of key doctrines necessary for the Latter-day Saint to believe.

Previously, I used the Baptismal Interview Questions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they are set up in a way which requires the catechumen to declare his belief in God and the Apostolic Succession and commits him to strive after a life of Christian discipleship.  I shall now turn to the Articles of Faith for a more complete articulation of requisite Latter-day Saint beliefs.

The very title ‘The Articles of Faith’ show the influence of Anglosphere Protestant culture on the intellectual formation of Joseph Smith and the early Latter-day Saints. This does not undermine the inspired ministry or prophetic authority of Joseph Smith. The language does, however, reveal Joseph as a man of his time and culture; influenced by its language and patterns. Joseph Smith History, the canonical autobiographical account of Joseph Smith’s vocation to the office of Prophet, is clear that his early interest in religion was owed to the agitations of the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians during the religious phenomenon historians would later call the Second Great Awakening.[1] Joseph was drawn, he wrote, to the Methodists.[2] During the time Joseph was most influenced by Protestantism (1817-1820), the American Methodists had only recently split from the Church of England. Their liturgy was still drawn, via The Sunday Services of the Methodists; with other occasional services (1784), from the patterns established in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Wesley’s The Sunday Services of the Methodists included an abridged version of the 39 Articles (an official doctrinal statement in the Anglican Communion), which he called the Articles of Religion. The Articles of Religion consist of twenty-five articles which are an expression of the Methodist theological position. Like the Articles of Faith, they address things like belief in God, express faith in the sacraments, recognise free will, outline an ecclesiology, and accept the legitimate government as the secular authority. By naming the official document which sets out Latter-day Saint belief The Articles of Faith, Joseph channelled that legacy and articulated the Latter-day Saint theological position against the rational and methodological Protestantism of his intellectual youth.

Furthermore, The Articles of Faith are of interest not only as the official statement of the Latter-day Saint theological position but also for their framing against the claims of nineteenth-century ultra-Protestant non-conformity and for what they do not state. The rest of this submission will look at what The Articles explicitly affirm as necessary Latter-day Saint beliefs.

  1. ‘We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.’

It is worth noting that first of the Articles of Faith begins the document in a similar fashion to the Articles of Religion and the 39 Articles, by beginning with an expression of faith in God. This language also mirrors that of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord…’, as found in The Book of Common Prayer. Article 1 affirms Latter-day Saint belief in the Trinity, or Godhead. This statement makes no Christological statements nor does it attempt to explain the oneness of God; but it also does not claim the “separateness” of Gods. The formulation of Article 1 is classically Christian and Trinitarian—note the archaic formulary, “comma and appositive comma and”, which is grammatically consistent with classical Christian understandings of God. This is not the space to embark on a debate over Christological definitions of the nature and attributes of God—it is enough to say that the Latter-day Saint must believe in God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

  1. ‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.’

Many people, Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint alike, take this statement as a sort of Pelagian denial of Original Sin and a rejection of Augustinian theology. Some even go so far as to that Latter-day Saints believe that God was the architect of the Fall. While Joseph’s use of the term ‘Adam’s transgression’ can be read in this way, to do so would go against the doctrines found in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price.[3] Latter-day Saint scripture clearly teaches the doctrine of the Fall, or Original Sin, so what did Joseph Smith mean by this second article? The key to this statement is the opening position that ‘men will be punished for their own sins’—asserting the necessity of personal righteousness, When read in the context of Article 3, it is clear that the Atonement of Christ has redeemed man from the judgment of Original Sin and that mankind will be judged based on their response to the invitation to live a Christian life in a fallen world. The next two articles express the Latter-day Saint understanding of how a Christian life is to be led.

  1. ‘We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.’

Again, the language used is representative of the intellectual milieu Joseph inhabited and not indicative of some sort of Calvinist-Presbyterian or ultra-Protestant rejection of sacramental grace. Not only would such a statement go against Latter-day Saint scripture and Church teaching, I would contradict the following article. In the context of Article 2, Article 3, then, must be understood as a rejection of rational methodological Pelagianism. In Article 3, Joseph set forth the Latter-day Saint hope that all mankind would be saved through participation in the saving sacraments of the Church and be made able to live obediently to the Gospel law, through the Atonement of Christ.

  1. ‘We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.’

Article 4 is significant because it encapsulates what later Latter-day Saint theologians would call the Gospel of Christ—that through faith in Christ, unto repentance, man could receive salvation in baptism and be strengthened in their Christian discipleship through confirmation; empowering them to endure to the end. When read in the context of Articles 2 and 3, Article 4 details how salvation is accomplished, stresses the importance of faith and sacramental grace, and articulates how the Atonement of Christ, through the sacraments of initiation, overcome the Fall and effect personal regeneration. These first four articles lay out the starting point for the Latter-day Saint position on Theology proper, Christology, Pneumology, theological anthropology, and hamartiology. The next three articles outline Latter-day Saint ecclesiology.

  1. ‘We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer the ordinances thereof.’

Article 5 sets out the Latter-day Saint position on the necessity of the Apostolic Succession, the ordained ministry, and priesthood. It clearly states that vocation and ordination are necessary elements of ministry and links the rights and responsibilities to preach and administer sacraments to the authorised and ordained priests of the Church.

  1. ‘We believe in the same organisation which existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.’

Article 6 begins by reinforcing the credibility and priesthood hierarchy of the Early Christian Church. Significantly, The Articles never state when or if the Early Church deviated from orthodoxy, orthopisty, or orthopraxy. When read in the context of ultra-Protestant rejection of Church hierarchy or the significance of the ordained ministry, Articles 5 and 6 clearly stand in favour of episcopal organisation, priesthood offices, and stress the necessity of continuity with Primitive Christian practice in this regard.

  1. ‘We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.’

Article 7 pits the Latter-day Saint doctrine against any sort of Enlightenment-influenced rational or Liberal Christianity by maintaining that the Church is led by Divine direction, that God is still active in the world, and that the Age of Miracles did not cease. It is an affirmation in the mystical and supernatural power of God which continues to be manifest on Earth.

The next two articles describe the uniquely Latter-day Saint understanding of the open canon of revelation and scripture—the logical conclusion of Articles 5 through 7.

  1. ‘We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.’

Article 8 has been used by some inside and outside of the Latter-day Saint tradition to undermine Latter-day Saint belief in the Bible as the word of God and its authoritative role. This likely stems from Joseph Smith’s use of the word “translated”. Joseph’s history of translation, as recorded in Church History, the Joseph Smith Papers, and elsewhere, clearly demonstrate that Joseph had a unique understanding or conception of scriptural interpretation which he called “translation”. Joseph used the word translate, not in any sort of linguistic or academic sense but to describe Divinely-inspired interpretation of the word of God. Thus, Joseph Smith did not argue that the Bible was lacking in authority or suffered from purposeful or accidental linguistic mistranslation. Instead, Joseph’s experience with sola scriptura Protestantism revealed the inadequacy of the project.[4] The Bible requires, as does all scripture, Divinely-inspired interpretation through Holy Ghost-directed priesthood. This is emphasised in Article 9.

  1. ‘We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.’

Article 9 affirms the Latter-day Saint belief in ancient scripture and legitimate sacred tradition. However, because the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains the Apostolic Succession bestows continued outpourings of Divine gifts—like personal and institutional revelation—ancient scripture and sacred tradition are not closed. Instead, the Latter-day Saint embraces and ongoing and living Christian project in which an active and participatory God is at the helm. This implies that the Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living and breathing mouthpiece for a living God. This is also a caution for the Latter-day Saint not to become complaisant—the ongoing restoration of the Church of Christ will not be completed until the entirety of fragmented Christianity, from the Roman Pontiff to the Eastern Patriarchs, from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the other national churches, to their offshoots, the non-conformist Protestant sects, are brought into full communion with the Prophet in Salt Lake. Many revelations and changes must and will occur before this is brought to pass but it is towards this end that the Latter-day Saint project must look. Only then will the restoration be complete and a re-united and re-invigorated Christendom can set about the recovery of the children of men.

  1. ‘We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will receive its paradisiacal glory.’

Article 10 is the most radical of The Articles of Faith. It is explicitly millenarian, missionary-focussed, and makes bold eschatological claims. This is not the place to discuss those claims in depth, merely the place to understand them in the context of The Articles of Faith. The first assertion, concerning the gathering of Israel, has two meanings—the obvious Latter-day Saint belief that the biblical prophecies concerning the descendants of Abraham will be fulfilled and the belief that the Church, as Israel, must spread and preach the Gospel to all the world. The second assertion, concerning the establishment of Zion on the American continent, is the logical extension that the Church, with its geographical headquarters on the American continent will be established and that the Church of Christ will be spread to every continent. The third and fourth assertions are purely eschatological and look forward to Christ’s return as the King of Kings and towards the biblical prophecy of the Earth’s regeneration.

  1. ‘We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.’

Article 11 begins with the assertion of the spiritual authority of the Church. It also affirms Latter-day Saint belief in the right of individual agency, conscience, and religious liberty—necessary pre-conditions of a conscience faith in Christ. Article 11 must also be understood in the contexts of Article 10 and the severe persecution against the Latter-day Saints in the mid-nineteenth century. Article 10’s eschatological claims might lead some to see the Church as assuming a threatening posture and Article 11 undercuts the Church as an invasive threat by affirming the right of individual conscience. The context of Latter-day Saint violent, and in some cases State-sanctioned, persecutions, which in part prompted the initial publication of The Articles of Faith, also necessitated an appeal to religious liberty and toleration.

  1. ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honouring, and sustaining the law.’

Again, the eschatological claims of Article 10 could lead some to see the Church as claiming temporal power. Article 12 clearly cedes the temporal power to national governments. This does not remove the influence of Church from affairs of the State nor does it release the Church, or her people, from their civic responsibilities; however, it affirms that the Church does not seek to set itself up as a rival government, secular power, or claim temporal jurisdiction.

  1. ‘We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—we believe all things, hope all things, we have endured many things, and we hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’

The thirteenth and final Article of Faith is an expression of hope that the Latter-day Saint people will live Christian lives and, in view of the harsh persecution they experience, it is a plea for compassion and tolerance and an exhortation for them to be compassionate and tolerant.

The goal of this two-part series was to articulate the obligatory beliefs of the Latter-day Saint. There are many other things the Latter-day Saint may believe—some of which might even be true. These things, The Articles of Faith and the Baptismal Interview Questions set out the key tenets of Latter-day Saint belief and must be the starting point for any Latter-day Saint theologising.

[1] Joseph Smith History 1:5-7

[2] Joseph Smith History 1:8-9

[3] Mosiah 3:19, “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.’; Moses 5:1-12.

[4] Joseph Smith History 7:12, 74

What do Latter-day Saints Believe, part 1

Inquisition

As a Latter-day Saint, this is a question I have been repeatedly asked; by colleagues and co-workers; by inquisitive friends intellectuals; by friends; and even by the occasional well-meaning acquaintance trying to make small talk. Recently, I have begun by answering, “You have probably asked the wrong Mormon, as my approach can be a bit atypical.’ This is a bad response and I think part of my motivation in writing this piece is to firmly and finally repent of that answer.

A secondary motivation comes from the fact that my sweet and well-meaning Latter-day Saint friends (and recently some concerned missionaries) have been asking me what I believe. My answers to them usually lead to a good conversation and occasionally a concerned and regretful nod. I hope that my answer alleviates any concerns and reassures these friends of my orthodoxy.

Before answering the question, ‘What do Latter-day Saints believe?’, I ought to suggest a modification which, I think, will make this dialogue more useful. May I then propose to amend the question to ‘What must a Latter-day Saint believe to be a Latter-day Saint’?

Most churches have a catechism which teaches the required beliefs necessary for entry into the community. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no single document which calls itself a catechism; yet, like most churches, it does have a series of questions people must answer before receiving the sacraments of initiation (Baptism and Confirmation). These questions indicate, through interrogation, the necessary beliefs and identify the LDS understanding of how to live a Christian life. While there are some elements of the latter questions which I think should be revisited (as they deal exclusively with specific sins and proclivities), I will examine the questions in their entirety to identify the response to the question, ‘What must a Latter-day Saint believe?’.

  1. Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour and Redeemer of the world?

This question asserts the Latter-day Saints must believe in God as the Eternal Father and in God as Jesus Christ, the Son, Saviour, and Redeemer. It does not pose any Christological questions, nor does it require any statements about the nature of God—it simply asks for faith in God the Father and God the Son.

  1. Do you believe that the Church and Gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that the current Church president is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?

This question articulates the crucial belief that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the legitimate authorised Christian Church; that it received its authority from Christ, via the angelic visitation of Peter, James, and John—who ordained Joseph Smith with the “keys of the kingdom”. It maintains that the Apostolic Succession of the priesthood of Christ, and all that entails, has been maintained through the successors to St Peter, Joseph Smith and the men who have followed him in the office of Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The final element of this question invites the catechumen to submit themselves to Christ through the ministry of the successors to the ancient Apostles.

Questions 3 through 5 outline Church teaching on morality and commit the catechumen to live a penitent life; continually repenting and bringing themselves, through the Grace of God, into conformity with the standards of living expected of a disciple of Christ.

  1. When you are baptised, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?

This final question confirms that Latter-day Saints must believe in baptismal regeneration and the efficacy of sacraments. It commits the catechumen to live a godly and sober life. It also recognises that the Christian life requires a continued striving, through repentance and participation in sacraments, for faithfulness and conformity to the teachings of Christ.

So far, I have appealed to the Baptismal Interview Questions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to outline core Latter-day Saint beliefs but I have neglected one of the most significant and obvious sources; the answer Joseph Smith gave. Joseph Smith was asked what Latter-day Saints believed and wrote down his answers in a document which would later be added to the Latter-day Saint canon as the Articles of Faith. In my next submission, I will analyse what those articles say about Latter-day Saint orthodoxy and discuss the context of their title and organisation.

Housekeeping

newsreel

Over the last year, The Anglo-Catholic Mormon blog has been hibernating and, in anticipation of a renewed ethos, some changes have been made.

  1. There is now a Call for Contributors section which invites readers to contribute blog posts. More information can be found: https://anglocatholicmormon.wordpress.com/contact/write-for-the-anglo-catholic-mormon/
  2. There is now a brief explanation of why The Anglo-Catholic Mormon continues to use the term “Mormon”. More information can be found: https://anglocatholicmormon.wordpress.com/about/still-mormon/
  3. In an effort to make the site more accessible, blog content has been completely reorganised to reflect the theme of the post. Additional posts explain the definitions of each category.

 

Angelology–The Study of the Angels

Angels

Angelology is the study of the angels (or messengers of God).

Traditionally, theology can be divided into ten different focusses: Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Theological Anthropology, Hamartiology, Ecclesiology, Eschatology, Soteriology, Biblical Theology, and Angelology. As this blog’s purpose is to explore Latter-day Saint theology, posts, where possible, will be sorted into these sub-disciplines.