Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Seven Deadly Heresies - Part 1

This is the first part of a seven part series based on Elder McConkie's famous talk given at BYU on June 1, 1980. Elder McConkie focused his talk on some points of doctrine that were beginning to enter the church that he felt needed to be addressed. The whole talk can be accessed here.

I will focus one heresy per post for discussion and summarize Elder McConkie's response with additional thoughts. Because this is the initial post, I want to provide Elder McConkie's standard for truth before going through his planned talk.

"There is no salvation in believing a false doctrine. Truth, diamond truth, truth unmixed with error, truth alone leads to salvation. What we believe determines what we do. No man can be saved in ignorance of God and his laws. Man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge of Jesus Christ and the saving truths of his everlasting gospel. Gospel doctrines belong to the Lord, not to men. They are his. He ordained them, he reveals them, and he expects us to believe them. The doctrines of salvation are not discovered in the laboratory or on a geological field trip or by accompanying Darwin around the world. They come by revelation and in no other way. Our sole concern in seeking truth should be to learn and believe what the Lord knows and believes. Providentially he has set forth some of his views in the holy scriptures. Our goal as mortals is to gain the mind of Christ, to believe what he believes, to think what he thinks, to say what he says, to do what he does, and to be as he is. We are called upon to reject all heresies and cleave unto all truth. Only then can we progress according to the divine plan. As the Lord has said,

'Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.' [D&C 130:18-19]"

Heresy 1 - God is still progressing now and learning new truths

This come from a faulty reading of the King Follett Discourse given by Joseph Smith shortly before his death. Because the KFD laid out the teaching of eternal progression, that we are progressing towards an eventual perfect as God once did before us, some have interpreted this to mean that he is still progressing.

I don't think that in the church that there is much debate on this but I can make a point or two on why this would still be wrong. First, if God were not omniscient, omniscient, and omnipotent, how could we depend on him that the current Plan of Salvation is the best plan for us? Abraham 3 makes it clear that the plan was clear from the beginning:

23 And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born.

24 And there stood one among them that was like unto God, and he said unto those who were with him: We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell;

25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them;

26 And they who keep their first estate shall be added upon; and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate; and they who keep their second estate shall have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.

Elder McConkie goes on to say:

"Will [God] one day learn something that will destroy the plan of salvation and turn man and the universe into an uncreated nothingness? Will [God] discover a better plan of salvation than the one he has already given to men in worlds without number?"

Moreover, the idea that God is still progressing is contrary to what Joseph/Sidney had already taught at the School of the Prophets in the Lectures on Faith. The first lectures go to great length to prove that God is perfect in all his attributes, as we could not properly put faith in a being who is not already perfect to save us. If God were not consistent, how could we put faith in a being who wakes up on the wrong side of the bed?

I have not come across any claims of this lately as we do not focus on the KFD normally for these points, but I have always wondered whether if we are to be eventually perfect as God, with how many ever eons it will take, and become a Father/Mother in the same sense that he/she are, does this lead to the role of another Savior under that person's authority? In other words, my assumption is that the whole plan will play itself out again because it is perfect. I don't want to speculate but this is just the natural progression on the scenario. Any thoughts?


Hans said...

I'll try to make future posts a little more brief so that I do not take too much space, but it being the first, I wanted to quote his preamble as it is relevant.

Geoff J said...

Who does BRM mean when he says "God"? If he means any individual member of the Godhead I think he is simply wrong and out of step with Joseph Smith. If he means the One God (as in the unity of divine persons that constitutes the one God) then his comment makes more sense.

Hans said...

I obviously can't speak for him but I get the feeling that he would be referring to the Godhead as a whole, at least in the sense that it is one in purpose. I don't see how the Godhead can continue to progress but by the sense that we typically give to eternal progression.

Please elaborate on what you mean if he is referring to a single member of the Godhead. I would like to see where the difference would be between he and JS from the KFD.

Thanks for commenting, you are the first official one (besides my post script)!

Geoff J said...

This whole concept that "God is still progressing now and learning new truths" needs to explained. Of course there will always be some new things God can learn in terms of personal relationships with free-willed individuals. But it is no stretch to say that divine persons understand all of the Universal laws and that is part of their divinity.

In the absence of such nuance this "new truths" argument he makes ends up being pretty vacuous I think. I am not a fan of this talk for this very reason.

Anonymous said...

A member of my stake presidency once said that God is increasing in glory, so in that sense he is progressing. Thoughts?

Hans said...

I agree that he is progressing in "glory", but then the question is, what is "glory". I would lean to the bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of his children. I don't see how BRM contradicts this idea.

LifeOnaPlate said...

This is one of my least favorite BRM talks, actually. I find myself more in the Eugene England/David Paulson camp on the "progression" issue.

Hans said...

What specifically is the Eugene England/David Paulson camp on this one? Can you direct me to where I can look into that some more?

I am not sure where I stand on the talk overall because there are some points I don't feel comfortable with, but it does break it down into seven nice posts for discussion!

LifeOnaPlate said...

For example, check this out:
"Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways to Talk about God" from BYU Studies.

Hans said...

Great article and fascinating to see the two different approaches in the same place. Again, this appears to be another one of the doctrinal instances where it was too bad that JS died too early to really develop what he meant.

I essentially agree with the Brigham crowd, that is to say, that God is perfect within our current sphere for the purposes of our salvation and is all-knowing when it comes to that work and glory. McConkie's comments in this talk seem to contradict that, but he does put too much faith the Lectures on Faith as it was an earlier doctrinal development.

I really see McConkie as acting like Hyrum and Joseph F. Smith as being over cautious that members focus that while God may continue to progress in other spheres, he is perfect to us in the sense use in 2 Corinthians used by Hyrum to support his statement. Maybe I am wrong, and if so, he is only providing stronger evidence for the one sphere theory, while inadvertently proving why the "other spheres" could easily fit as well as it is another step away from us.

I will soon post on the second heresy, inorganic biology, and I can say that I will most likely disagree with BRM on that, but these topics where this is gray area allows for good discussion.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Indeed, I believe JFeS and BRM spoke out against God progressing as part of their understanding of no progression between kingdoms of glory, etc. I feel they were afraid that Saints would put off repentance, believing that they could fix most stuff in the hereafter, and thus "waste the days of their probation," if you will.

Hans said...

Agreed, that definitelys to be the worry, even if BRM took the language a little bold to get the point across.

As I understand, this talk was given in reponse to others making claims that he is here refuting. Do we know what they were? Perhaps if we knew we could see were he differed.

Another interesting point from the article is that it seems that JFeS is more on the Brigham team here and BRM much more on the Hyrum team. They usually don't diverge on major points, but this seems to be one of them.

LifeOnaPlate said...

IIRC, and I may be mistaken, he was ironically speaking because of- at least in part- Eugene England himself. In fact, he had written a letter to EE basically calling him to repentance. I have an essay in one of EE's books that talks about it. (EE was awesome. Spoke very charitably of BRM). A copy of the BRM letter itself was pilfered from EE, and thus he wrote a response to the letter for publication, otherwise he would have likely just kept his feelings to himself. The letter can be found on various anti-Mormon websites, which EE condemned as a dishonest and privacy-invading tactic.

Hans said...

That is quite ironic. The story is almost ironic in and of itself enough that it could make for its own research and publication in BYU Studies, though I doubt we'd ever see something like that.

You mentioned that the essay was from a book by EE. What is it called?

LifeOnaPlate said...

I'm pretty sure it is in his book Making Peace, but I don't have it handy to prove:

It contains the BYU Studies paper, though, and so I am pretty sure he discusses the BRM incident there. As I said, the BRM letter itself can be read online at various anti-Mormon sites. I recommend most stuff by EE. His book Dialogues With Myself can be read free online:

Hans said...

I like his writing style. I will take a look through is stuff, his insights are very interesting.

David Littlefield said...

I just found your site, it looks great!

I am interesting in jumping into the discussion when we get to Elder BRM's "sin" of believing in evolution and death before the fall.


Hans said...

Hi David,

Thanks for stopping by. I have been looking forward to Heresey 2 as well but am making sure that I have enough time to type it up without being sloppy. I think it will bring up a lively debate in which there are many conflicting GA quotes.

I read through your "knots" post and it is really interesting. Between your post and Bryce's recent one, I am trying to absord all the good insights.