In Defence of Dogma: The Anglo-Catholic Mormon’s reply to Thayne on Givens

Lead Kindly Light

In a recent LDS Philosopher article (Some Thoughts in Response to Terryl Givens on Doubt), Jeffry Thayne made some solid commentary on Terryl Givens’ Faith Matters article “Can Stronger Faith Emerge from the Crucible of Doubt”. Both Givens and Thayne are correct to acknowledge that it is in doubt that the sweet bliss of faith emerges and is strengthened. However, there are some niggling concerns and small critiques which I would like to raise; in the spirit of dialogue and mutual enrichment.

  1. Faith is not the “I Know” statement of an LDS Fast and Testimony meeting. Faith is trust in God despite ignorance. Faith is not only tested in uncertainty (it is a spiritual gift which can be given at any time)—rather it is the certain reliance upon Him when all about, and I mean all, is uncertain. This faith, certain hope in Christ, is the only faith which matters in any real way and which grows as it is exercised. It is this sort of faith which is displayed in the, soon-to-be-canonised John Henry Newman-hymn ‘Lead, Kindly Light’. John Henry Newman was an Anglican priest who had been visiting touring Italy with a dear friend when he became ill. Sick and stuck in Palermo, he longed for home. In those uncertain times, Newman was buoyed by his certainty that God had something for him to do in England. Uncertain when or how he would return to England, he penned the lines:

 

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

(In a gorgeous setting which expresses the doubt felt in the lyrics)

This Faith is not in opposition to Dogma—indeed it clings to the only real Dogma despite uncertainty.

 

  1. This brings me to Dogma and dogmatism. Dogma is not, in the Church, to be based on culture, pride, nor is it opposed to humility. While I largely agree with Thayne’s conclusions about practical improvements to behaviour, his understanding of dogma leaves much to be desired and attributes a noble quality—dogmatism—to those who are not really dogmatists. The word dogma comes from the Greek δόγμα, meaning both opinion and tenet. In the Christian context dogma is used to convey two ideas 1) the immutable Tenets of the Church and 2) the necessity that the corporate body of the Church, her members, must bring their opinions into conformity with her teachings. Thus, dogma is the Church’s expression of the Divine Will and the members conformity to that Will. Dogmatists and dogmatism cannot be negative because they are people committed to positive faithfulness. Indeed, dogmatists are those who, though uncertain and living in uncertain times, rely on the Church’s teaching to form their faith into the Faith of Christ—that which is the one and only Faith which matters.

 

  1. My third point requires me to make an assumption about Thayne’s meaning, which is, I hope, not uncharitable. Those who Thayne calls dogmatists, he means to distinguish from the Faithful because they are not in conformity with Divine Dogma but fanatically relying on the whited sepulchre of an imagined Mormon culture that exists independent and sometimes in opposition to Divine Dogma. These claim their behaviour comes from Church Tenet but it really relies upon localised culture, the infernal arcana of “deep doctrine”, and a proud but false insouciance regarding the uncertainty of looking through a glass darkly. I agree that these behaviours can be harmful, as either they can be a false security which obscures true doctrine with a comfortable sleepiness or they can be a pernicious weapon deployed to the dismay of the sincerely searching. This pharisaic Mormonist must be distinguished from the Latter-day Saint, who is humbly dogmatic in doubt, faithfully uncertain, and desperately hoping, through the Church, in Christ.

 

Conclusion: Dogma is not the enemy of faith. What is the Dogma of the Church but Salvation in Christ; the existence of a loving God; the restoration of His Church and the promised deliverance from the crucible of doubt? Writ plainly, the Dogma of the Church is the Faith in and of Christ unto Repentance (humble conformity to the Will of God), which leads to Baptism and spiritual regeneration Confirmed by the Gift of the Holy Ghost; enabling the Saint to endure to the end. The other Tenets of the Church pertain only and directly to these. The real complaint should not be against the dogmatists—they are benign—it is against the improperly catechised cultural zealots who in their pride claim sovereign will for themselves and set the Dogma of the Church at naught.

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