Saturday, February 28, 2009

Are we Latter Day Pharisees?

The Seer Stone is pleased to announce an addition to its authorship.  Nate also attended law school with us and is a practicing attorney, therefore making the Seer Stone a tri-fecta of overhanded lawyers in the Houston, Dallas, Austin triangle.  We anxiously look forward to his posts and insights.     -The Seer Stone-

LDS Teachings and the Culture/Doctrine Divide, Part I

Over the past two years I have served as a ward missionary and have also been assigned to teach the Gospel Principles class.  While teaching this class, I have found that it is very important to become acutely aware of the differences between actual church doctrine versus what I will refer to as church cultural teachings.  It is especially important to be able to explain these differences to new converts/investigators, as they may become easily offended by an offhand remark which, although is usually well intentioned, is negatively received.

One example comes from a class I attended on the subject of keeping the Sabbath day holy.  The lesson manual discusses the principle of keeping the Sabbath and stresses that the saints should prayerfully consider their actions, and come to their own conclusions regarding appropriate activities.  Understandably, new converts (and maybe some life-long members which we will not name) might not be the type of people that roll out of bed, put on their church clothes, and then read scriptures until their 1:00 PM meetings begin.  As such, comments in class regarding the only proper Sabbath observance (from the type of person that won’t eat chocolate because it has caffeine – which is expressly forbidden by the word of wisdom?) can sometimes be counterproductive and even damaging…especially to people who are in need of fellowship.

There are a host of principles that we are meant to prayerfully consider and come to our own conclusions about, e.g. aspects regarding tithing, fasting, fast offerings, word of wisdom, R-rated movies, etc.  These teachings are in perfect accord with Joseph Smith’s statement made when commenting on how he is able to govern such a large amount of people in harmony, he simply said: “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”  (“The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, 339).  Clearly, according to the scriptures we should not need to be commanded in all things (see D&C 58:26).  However, if we were to combine church cultural teachings with doctrine, I submit that it would nearly be as though we are “commanded” in all things.

I am certain that we all know of many good members that are a little “looser” on some principles than others, and we have no doubt that they are still pinnacles of integrity.  Why is it then, that some members of the church often come off as being --- for lack of a better word --- pharisaical, when it comes to these principles? (on a side note, if you agree that this can happen…is it necessarily a bad thing?)  I think it is clear how this happens.  We hear certain teachings in, for example, a conference talk.  We happen to respect, and maybe even love the person talking.  And while these teachings are not “doctrine” per se, they still may be true, or they at least contain truth. 

For example, President Hinckley, a man that I personally stand in awe of any time I contemplate his life, gave his ‘body is a temple’ talk a few years back.  In this talk he drew very clear bright line rules: no tattoos, 1 pair of earrings for girls, none for guys, etc.  These guidelines are now even published in the current For the Strength of Youth pamphlet (which has First Presidency acceptance…and as a result is most likely regarded as doctrine by most members, youth leaders, bishops, etc.).  I see how these guidelines are wise, but when it comes down to it, if it is not some sort of a defilement of your body to poke a hole in your ear if you are a girl…how is it different if you are a guy?  It makes me wonder: was President Hinckley having a ‘thus saith the Lord’ moment, or is it more likely that a 90 year old man who grew up in a different era and thinks that kids these days look dumb…just like his own mother/step mother might have thought about him (remember the videos of the Beetles where parents thought they were punks for their long hair; and don’t get me started on that Elvis guy and his provocative dancing).  I would argue that it is much more likely the latter.  However, if not already, give it one more generation and this will be seen as rock solid doctrine and non-compliance will be frowned on at the least (it is getting that way now for white shirts, facial hair for leaders, etc.).

So, what do you think?  Are LDS people fostering a culture that is potentially damaging to its members and investigators?  Are we on a path where we will look at certain qualities in a person and make judgments based on cultural quasi-doctrine?

In my next segment, I will focus on a particular doctrine (the Word of Wisdom) and illustrate the cultural modifications of its principles, and show in what ways we have potentially stopped allowing the saints to govern themselves…and how we potentially look down on people for not practicing the culturally accepted version of the law.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Can Children Sin Before Reaching the Age of Eight?

Generally, little children (e.g., under the age of eight) are considered innocent before God because they do not comprehend the difference between good and evil. In a nutshell, it is impossible for the adversary to entice any soul to sin who does not comprehend the good from the bad, regardless of age. This is the thought process behind our belief that children are “unaccountable” before God for their actions.

Moroni taught that “all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing, and thus are unaccountable before God” (Moroni 8:22)(emphasis added). In other words, those “without the law” (i.e., children and mentally deficient individuals) have no need of baptism as they are deemed “unaccountable” before their Maker.

So, if the unaccountable have no need of baptism, is there an “accountability switch” that is flipped once kids hit the 8 year mark? When exactly does a child reach bona fide accountability before God?

James taught that “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Thus, sinning implies a knowledge of the law and its attendant consequences, then subsequently choosing to go against it. In my opinion, there are children under the age of eight who undoubtedly understand the law and its consequences, and yet choose to rebel. Do we justly classify these little ones as sinners, and accountable before God?

Tying down the age of accountability to eight years is first referenced in the Joseph Smith Translation. While speaking to Abraham, God instituted the covenant of circumcision and declared that “it shall be my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations; that thou mayest know for ever that children are not accountable before me until they are eight years old” (JST Gen. 17:11)(emphasis added). Pretty clear cut, right? This truth, however, must be understood in light of modern revelation.

But behold, I say unto you, that little children are redeemed from the foundation of the world through mine Only Begotten; Wherefore, they cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” (D&C 29:46-47)(emphasis added)

To be clear, this passage does not say that children cannot sin before they are eight years old. Instead, we learn that children do not sin “until they begin to become accountable before [God],” a process that begins long before the child is eight, and which comes gradually with life experience. To conclude that a child can do nothing deliberately wrong before the age of eight is simply irrational. In fact, considerable accountability must be obtained prior to the child’s baptism, for our “children shall be baptized for the remission of their sins when eight years old” (D&C 68:27)(emphasis added).

Feel free to comment on my thoughts above, but I would also like to hear your comments on whether you think temptation only comes from Satan.

Post Script – Whether baptism always remits one’s sins was discussed in a previous post.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

On Military Might

"[The Romans] were conquerors, and for that you only want brute force - nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others."

- Heart of Darkness, page 50, Joseph Conrad on the Roman invasion of Britannia.

Is military success a result of an accident that the other side is weaker? How would Mormon or Gidgiddoni respond?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Random Thoughts on Enoch's Zion

Of late, many of my posts have been related somewhat to the Pearl of Great Price. This is a reflection of where I am in my personal study. As I re-read the details surrounding Enoch’s ministry and his extraordinary city, a few random thoughts come to the forefront of my mind that I wanted to share. I do this with the hope that you have also had similar thoughts and maybe have come to different conclusions that you would be willing to share.

Random Thought #1 – “And the Lord called [Enoch’s] people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). Besides the Latter-day attempt of the United Order, we have scriptural record of at least 3 different societies who obtained a Zion-like society.

First, Melchizedek, who some believe was Noah’s son Shem, led a Zion-like society. “And [Melchizedek’s] people wrought righteousness, and obtained heaven, and sought for the city of Enoch which God had before taken, separating it from the earth, having reserved it unto the latter days, or the end of the world” (JST Gen 14:34). The inhabitants of Enoch’s city were translated beings. It would be hard to understand this text as saying anything other than that Melchizedek translated the inhabitants of his city as Enoch did.

Second, it is reported that the Saints in Jerusalem, under the direction of Peter, James and John, lived in such a manner that they “were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). Indeed, these Church members “had all things common” so that “[n]iether was there any among them that lacked” (Acts 4:32, 34). Moreover, in an ancient foreshadowing of the Latter-day United Order (see D&C 51:3), “distribution was made unto every man according as he had need” (Acts 4:35).

Third, following Christ’s visit to the Americas, the Nephites had “all things in common among them” to the extent that “they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift” (4 Nephi 1:3). The heavenly gift likely refers to the Second Comforter, or the personal manifestation of the Savior, as spoken of in John 14:15-23 (see also Ether 12:8). Mormon reports that the Nephites during this time had “no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people” (4 Nephi 1:15). Truly, these Nephites “were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God”(4 Nephi 1:17).

Random Thought #2 – In what appears to be a sacred act similar to our modern temple experience, Enoch’s people received a new name: Zion. This is not unlike the Lamanite people who, after achieving conversion through the ministry of Aaron and his brethren, “desir[ed] that they might have a name” (Alma 23:16). As the story goes, they were allowed access to the Lord’s temple and were given the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehies. Re-entering the temple seems to remove the curse that was originally placed upon the Lamanites for rebellion. What constituted the curse was discussed in a previous post.

What is interesting to note, however, is that it is the Lord himself who gives the name to Enoch’s people. For those who have been through the temple, this should provide a new meaning as to who “the Officiator” represents.

Random Thought #3 – When we speak of Zion in Church we seem to refer more to the city, than to the people. However, it was the people at first that were named Zion, not the city. Instead, the name of the city was “the City of Holiness,” but could also be referred to as Zion (Moses 7:19). It is worthy of note that “Man of Holiness” is God’s name in the language of Adam (Moses 5:57). Thus, Jesus Christ is literally the Son of Man of Holiness, and the City of Holiness constitutes God’s hometown. The Lord reiterated this as he indicates to Enoch that Zion was to be “mine abode forever” (Moses 7:21).

Random Thought #4 – We learn in the Pearl of Great Price that “all the days of Zion, in the days of Enoch, were three hundred and sixty five years” before it was taken up into heaven (Moses 7:68). The 365 years of Zion’s existence creates an allusion to the Celestial Kingdom, which is scripturally and symbolically represented by the sun, whose solar year is approximately 365 days.

Random Thought #5 - Enoch’s people lived in such righteousness that ultimately the Lord translated the whole city and its inhabitants and removed them to a ministry unto terrestrial bodies (TPJS, 170). Joseph Smith reportedly stated that the city occupied ancient land where the Gulf of Mexico now exists (Waiting for World's End: The Diaries of Wilford Woodruff, edited by Susan Staker, Signature Books, 1993, p. 305).

The people, and the city, and the foundations of the earth on which it stood, had partaken of so much of the immortal elements, bestowed upon them by God through the teachings of Enoch, that it became philosophically impossible for them to remain any longer upon the earth; consequently, Enoch and his people, with the city which they occupied, and the foundations on which it stood, with a large piece of earth immediately connected with the foundations and the city, had assumed an aerial position within the limits of our solar system; and this in consequence of their faith.” (History of the Organization of the Seventies, Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1878, p. 11.)

I’m not sure I wholeheartedly agree with the Prophet on this, but his explanation would fill in a glaring hole in the Pangea concept, which cannot account for missing land where the Gulf is now filled with water.
Conversely, Elder McConkie concluded differently: “After the Lord’s people were translated—for it was people who were caught up into heaven, not brick and mortar and stone, for there are better homes already in heaven than men can build on earth” (Come: Let Israel Build Zion; Ensign, May 1977, p. 115-118).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Sweet Deal, Part 2

Similar to an older post where I found Nibley's "The Ancient State" for about $4 from a Seattle D.I., I struck gold once again. This last weekend I was at a half-price bookstore in Round Rock, Texas and checked out the ten LDS books that they had.

I was astonished to find a mint condition copy of Nibley's "Tinkling Cymbals and Sounding Brass" (retails for $49.95 at Deseret Book) for only $15.98. While it wasn't quite the steal that my D.I. find was, the book is in mint condition and doesn't look like it has ever been opened. Who would have thought I would have found that in a random used bookstore in Central Texas?