Recently a young lady I do not know, having discovered this blog, sent me a friend request on Facebook so she could engage me in conversation. When I responded in the affirmative, she immediately started giving me the third degree.
My new-found "friend" was anything but friendly. Her words were short on consonants but she made up for the loss with an overstock of punctuation marks as she insisted on immediately knowing if I had a testimony of the Church. "Do You even have one???" She demanded, "Jut Give me a straigth anwer!!!!"
This fine sister had discovered my provocatively titled piece about tithing, and on the basis of little more than the title alone, concluded I am "anti mormon or bordering on ant mormon" because, as she was proud to inform me in words I can best describe as slurred, "I only read the first 3 paragrahs of that peice of garbagge bu tha was was all I needed to knoww!!!"
I had kind of thought I had written the opening paragrahs of that peice of garbagge in such a way as to entice the reader to continue reading, but this clever gal wasn't falling for any of that.
That question, "Do you have a testimony of the church?" which I'm often asked in an oddly accusatory way, strikes me as a question with an obvious answer. But okay, I'll address it in this month's post. Let's get right to it. But first...Announcements!
This Month's Announcements
I was recently interviewed by Bill Reel for an episode of Mormon Discussion Podcasts, and that interview is now available for your listening pleasure. So for those interested in hearing me carry on endlessly about what I think is of value in this religion vs what I think is not, you can give that podcast a listen and save yourself the trouble of wading through any dozen of these logorrheac discourses. A warning, however: You will find me no more concise in your ears than I am on these pages. By which I mean yeah, yeah, I know. I tend to ramble endlessly. In fact, I was almost reluctant to mention that interview because near the end I embarrassed myself by going on and on nonstop for so long that finally the orchestra had to come in and play me off the stage.
I am not kidding. I was drowned out in mid-sentence by the closing music. If you promise not to choke with laughter at that moment the way my own wife did when she heard it, I invite you to Click Here.
And while we're talking about podcasts, I don't think I ever got around to mentioning that I participated in one of Jared Anderson's excellent epiosdes at Mormon Stories Sunday School, where I was part of a panel discussing the law of tithing. As Jared explains on the podcast, the software used to record the discussion recorded Jared's voice just fine, but somehow failed to pick up the voices of those of us on the panel side. As it turns out though, the recording sounds better without us. Jared and Bonnie reworked the presentation by stepping up and summarizing the views the rest of us had offered, which made for a more polished and succinct finished product because...Well frankly, because I couldn't be heard on the other end going on and on and on.
You can go here for that podcast entitled "The Law of Tithing and the Law of the Fast." I very highly recommend it as essential for those seeking to understand our important obligations in these matters, and I would be recommending it even if I wasn't on it. Which I'm not.
And oh, what the heck. As long as I'm plugging audio podcasts I have taken part in, I might as well mention the three older ones that I already listed here last year. And then there's also this one. And this one. And oh yeah, this one.
Some time in the next few weeks, John Dehlin will be interviewing me for a future Mormon Stories podcast. I'll post an announcement of that when it's ready.
By the way, all the fine people involved in the world of Mormon podcasting are performing an incalculable service to the church, and there is no charge for downloading and listening. If you are not already familiar with the various Mormon podcast series, you are missing out on some of the most stimulating discussions of Mormon history and theology now taking place anywhere. But these people deserve your support. If everyone who listened to one of these podcasts took the time to donate two dollars a month toward covering the expenses of providing these series, the hosts could continue to bring you some of the best in Mormon thought available. You can easily donate through Paypal with a couple of clicks. Here are the links to those locations. If you can't support them all, pick a few favorites:
Mormon Stories Sunday School
A Thoughtful Faith
Infants On Thrones
There may be other Mormon-themed podcasts I'm unaware of. If your favorite isn't listed here, let me know and I'll mention it next time.
Okay, that's if for the announcements. I promised to tell you about my testimony of the Church.
My Testimony Of The Church
That's because I'm not supposed to have a testimony of "The Church." And neither are you.
I have a testimony of the Christ. I also have a testimony of the Book of Mormon, the purpose of which is to lead men to Christ, and in my case that book was instrumental. And I have a testimony that God raised up Joseph Smith as a prophet through which He revealed many important things.
But I don't have a testimony of "the Church."
And for or a variety of reasons. Chief among those reasons is that I find no place in scripture where the
Lord commands, encourages, admonishes, or expects His followers to cultivate, develop, or express such a testimony.
Secondly, I have witnessed situations where an over-confident attachment to the earthly Church has actually impeded spiritual growth. And I have known some whose allegiance to the Church was so intertwined with their religious beliefs that when they perceived the earthly Church had failed or betrayed them, they reacted by abandoning all that was good and true about the gospel of Christ. While I respect the decisions others make for themselves, I see no reason to reject a pearl just because the oyster is damaged. I'll keep the baby; you can have the bath water.
That I value and love the church of Christ, there can be no doubt. For as God reminds us in D&C 10:67, His church consists of all those who repent and come unto Him. That includes me. I have repented (and continue to repent), and I have come unto Christ. That makes me a part of the body of Christ, a member of the community of believers that constitutes His church. I love this church because I am the church. As are you, if you meet those two simple qualifications. The church is the members.
I do not worship the members. I do not follow the members. I do not testify of the members.
I worship, and follow, and testify of Christ.
Whom Therefore Ye Ignorantly Worship
Three years ago when this blog was just starting, I described a testimony of the church as being "The Worst Testimony You Can Possibly Have." Is it any wonder the world thinks of us as a cult? To be constantly lavishing praise on ourselves is to divert our attention away from what should be our primary focus, which is Christ and His gospel.
But perhaps our confusion is based on our misunderstanding of what exactly we mean when we speak of "the church." That definition seems to have changed dramatically from how it was understood in Joseph Smith's day. Today we constantly hear latter-day Saints speaking of "the church" being true as though the word church was interchangeable with the the gospel.
And that, I think is where our problem lies. The Church and the Gospel are not even close to being the same thing.
In his now famous conference talk given in 1984, Ronald Poelman attempted to remind the congregation of the difference between the gospel and the Church. "There is a distinction between them which is significant", he said, "and it is very important that this distinction be understood." 
We will continue to have difficulty making that distinction if we don't learn to differentiate between the earthly Church on the one hand, and eternal truth on the other. Maybe you can tell the difference, but I'm sure you know many good latter-day Saints who cannot.
As Translated Correctly
In our bibles, "church" is translated from the Greek word, "Ecclesia" which loosely meant "the called out ones" or "assembly." The word ecclesia didn't even have a religious connotation in the beginning. It was a military term, as when soldiers are called out to assemble. It later came to describe any assembly of people who shared a common interest, such as a town council or a guild. So when translating the New Testament from Greek to English, the King James translators simply took every instance where "assembly" appeared in Greek and substituted the word "church."
Every place, that is, except three. It's interesting to note that the word ecclesia, ("assembly") is translated virtually everywhere in the new testament as church except in Acts 19. That chapter tells of a meeting called by a silversmith named Demetrius. This Demetrius was in the business of making and selling idols, and he "called out" his fellow idolmakers because he felt something had to be done about all these Christians who were going around saying the gods these guys were making were really no gods at all. It was hurting business. The word "ecclesia" appears three times in that chapter in reference to this assembly of craftsmen. For example, in verse 39 of the Greek text, it reads "the ecclesia was confused."
The King James translators rendered that verse as "the assembly was confused," which was accurate, of course, since ecclesia did mean assembly. But if they had been consistent, the translators would have made it read "the church was confused," since church is the word they inserted every other place in the bible when they came across the Greek word for assembly. In other words, any meeting of any group of people with a common interest could be considered a church. That's why the Book of Mormon speaks of a Great and Abominable Church. Those verses don't refer to merely a separate religious denomination. They are speaking of an assembly of people with different goals than our own. Sort of like demetrius' church of idolmakers, only way worse.
More than a century before King James and his "authorized" version of the bible, William Tyndale's early translation of the new testament substituted the word congregation everywhere the King James translators would later put "church." This was just as accurate, because congregation is synonymous with assembly.
But even the word congregation can provide an inaccurate mental image to us today because it suggests a docile audience sitting in pews while a sage authority figure stands at the front dispensing wise instructions. That is not an accurate picture of the church. The first century Christians congregated informally together in each other's homes to eat, pray, sing, and discuss the gospel. That was what it meant to be an assembly of Christians. They assembled together out of a desire to congregate with others of similar interests; which in this case happened to be an affinity for Jesus Christ and His teachings.
If you want an accurate picture of the church in the latter days, look no further than Nauvoo, Illinois in the early 1840s. In Nauvoo there were no chapels to meet in. Converts congregated to Nauvoo by the thousands. Nauvoo essentially became the church because that was where a significant number of the members congregated to. Occasionally the people of that city would assemble at the stand near the grove to hear Joseph Smith or someone else preach, but that wasn't the church. That was a meeting of the church. The church was the converts themselves.
The modern image of a congregation as a docile and obedient audience was unfortunately already the way church looked to the early readers of the King James bible, because that was how church had devolved from the control of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, which had by that time divided the assembly into two classes; there was the priest class at the top, and then there was everyone else.
When medieval Catholics referred to the Church, they were no longer talking about themselves as a community of believers, but of the authorities who held position and station above them. These authorities were not just respected, but held in awe as vastly superior in knowledge and spiritual power. Not even the protestant reformation was able to change this paradigm. Protestant churchgoers continued to meet the same way the Catholics did; the people congregated in the pews and faced the authority figure up front.
The church of Christ as restored in Joseph Smith's day departed from the Catholic/Protestant model significantly. There was no professional clergy assigned to impart wisdom from some central authority on high. Meetings in the various branches spread out across Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, and Iowa were conducted by Elders chosen from within the local congregations as they were led by the Holy Ghost (D&C 20:45), and all members were considered equal participants. Gifts of the spirit long missing from Catholic and Protestant services such as healing, miracles, and the gift of tongues were once again in evidence just as they had been in the primitive Christian churches.
But today we seem to have drifted from that proven model. As a result, our meetings are often lackluster, dull, and devoid of the spirit. One reason, I submit, is that we choose to ignore the revelations of God in favor of a correlated system of unity across the board. Just as when you walk into a McDonald's anywhere in the world, you can expect the same thing, so it is in every Mormon ward. And that's unfortunate. Because the corporate business model is hugely successful in the fast food industry, but if you try to lay that template on a church, it just doesn't work. A church has to operate on the spirit to be effective, and the spirit isn't triggered by sameness.
In a revelation given in 1831, the Lord instructs us that "it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit." (Emphasis mine.)
Instead of our meetings being directed by the Holy Spirit, those conducting the meetings adhere to a rigid structure that was decreed at Church headquarters long ago and which is never, ever departed from. This is the program we are all familiar with:
Administration of the Sacrament.
A Musical Number (maybe)
(And it's finally over. Yay! Oh wait, now we have to head into two more meetings of instruction that are likewise rigidly structured. Boo.)
No one conducting a local meeting of the church would ever dare depart from that structure for fear of running afoul of the central authorities. And so our meetings remain stultifyingly dull and uninspiring. In the 1830s and 40s, people couldn't wait to congregate with the church because church was an exciting and vibrant experience. Today your kids would rather be at McDonald's.
Speakers in our wards are assigned to speak on specific, carefully vetted topics, which limits the speaker from expounding extemporaneously as moved upon by the Holy Spirit. More and more frequently these days, rather than teach "according to the commandments and revelations of God" as commanded in D&C 20:45, a person assigned to speak in church will simply stand at the podium and read from a recent conference talk given by a general authority. At times those talks by general authorities will consist of little more than one general authority quoting from other general authorities, which means "the commandments and revelations of God" get ignored and supplanted by the opinions of mere mortals. Is it any wonder why the spirit is absent? We are not abiding by the rules the Lord gave us that would invite the spirit in. Here's how Moroni described a typical meeting when Nephite culture was at its spiritual zenith:
"[T]heir meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done." (Moroni 6:9)If we ever hope to get the spirit back into our local meetings, we may have to learn to ignore the rigid structure dictated by the Corporate Handbook of Instruction out of Salt Lake City, and get back to following the method revealed to us from the Lord.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Church, The Whole Church, And Nothing But The Church
If you'd like to shake off your misconceptions about the church; what it was, what it is, and what it is supposed to be, I know of no clearer explanation than that offered by LDS blogger Mike Ellis in his marvelous essay, What Is The Church? After quoting the Lord's own definition in D&C 10:67, "Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church," Mike continues:
"Notice how it says that 'the same IS my church.' Not 'the same is in (or part of) my church.'
"This is an important distinction. Christ’s church is the members. It is not an organization or club that people join. Rather when they live the Gospel they become the church. The church is the people, not the structure."
"This is a really difficult concept for some to understand. Members of the Corporate Church are used to thinking of the Church as the organization or hierarchy. We ask, 'What is the Church’s stand on this issue?'...It is as if we think that “the Church” is the officials and the leaders. But in reality if we ask that question we are asking what the view of every repentant person, who has come unto Christ, is."
"Other times we may view the Church as the building we meet in or the meetings we attend. We can see this as, 'Let’s clean the Church,” or 'I’m attending Church.'
"These are all gross misconceptions and undermine the true definition of the church. I have an assignment for you. If you have repented (meaning in the process of repentance) and come unto Christ as stated in section 10, I want you to find a mirror. Now go stand in front of that mirror. Take a good long look at the image you see there. That is the church. YOU…ARE…THE CHURCH. The church is the people. When people who have repented and come unto Christ meet together that is the church meeting together"We have so conditioned ourselves to think of our own Church as a hierarchical, corporate institution made up of leaders, managers, and administrators, that it may take some real effort to disabuse ourselves of that view. The King James translators chose to use the word church rather than assembly or congregation because by that time, Britains had already settled on a word to describe themselves as an assembly of believers in Christ.
In Scotland in the days of William Wallace, if your name was Kirk it probably meant you were the vassal of the feudal lord upon whose land you lived and toiled, as Kirk in Scottish meant "pertaining to, or belonging to, a lord." Since Jesus Christ was not just a lord, but The Lord, those who claimed to belong to Him came to call themselves Christ's Kirk, or in the Germanic/middle English tongues, "Kirche," then later simply "Church" -the people, or the assembly, or the congregation belonging to The Lord.
This description is perfectly consistent with the way the church is described in the Book of Mormon; a community of believers belonging to the Lord. In the over 200 places where church is mentioned in the Book of Mormon, it's quite clear the term is synonymous with a community of believers in Christ. Nothing more complicated than that. No top-down hierarchy. No massive organization that would require a flow-chart to keep track of. No company headquarters located in a valley near The Land Bountiful. No large folio of investments to manage. Just a simple community of Kirks belonging to their Lord.
Since we in these latter days seem to have so much difficulty retaining a clear meaning of what church is meant to be, it might help if, whenever we come across a reference to "the church" in our scriptures, we tried substituting in our minds the word "community." That might assist us in clearing the mental palate so we can see the church for what it once was. Here are a few examples I gleaned at random the other day while browsing through the Book of Mormon:
Those who believed were united to the community (3 Nephi 28:18); Those who were baptized belonged to the community (Mosiah 25:18); The community met together oft to fast and to pray (Moroni 6:5) Those who belonged to the community were forbidden to persecute those who did not belong to the community (Alma 1:21): Those who committed sin who were in the community should be admonished by the community (Mosiah 26:6) Alma spoke by way of command to those who belonged to the community, and to those who did not belong to the community he spoke by way of invitation (Alma 5:62); Whosoever did not belong to the community who repented of their sins were baptized and received into the community (Alma 6:2); There came to be exceeding great prosperity in the community (Alma 49:30); Pride began to enter into the community (Helaman 3:33); Because they ceased to believe in the spirit of prophecy and revelation the community began to dwindle (Helaman 4:23). And on and on.It's also worth noting that those who the Book of Mormon tells us were called to offices over the church were not "over" the members of the church in the sense we often think of today as having authority over individuals. These men were said to be over the church in the sense of a pavilion, or umbrella of protection over the community as a whole. Their role was not to run the lives of the members, but to "preside and watch over the community" (Alma 6:1) with "exceeding great care" (Alma 46:6). They were not members of an elite class within the church. They did not sit in plush VIP seats in the Zarahemla conference center (Mark 12: 39), but could be found walking beside, teaching, "suffering all manner of afflictions, and being persecuted" in common with every other member of the church in that day. (Mosiah 26:38).
According to Alma's account, in Book of Mormon days the priests who were over the church held day jobs like everyone else. There is no mention of these leaders receiving anything euphemistically referred to as a "modest allowance" "stipend," or "living expense." Our founding scripture is very clear that to accept compensation in any form for preaching the word of God was considered priestcraft, a very serious sin. (2 Nephi 26:29)
"And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength." (Alma 1:26) Whenever Joseph Smith mentioned the church in his speeches or writings, everyone understood that he was referring to the body of members. But today, when I hear many of my fellow Saints make reference to this thing they call "The Church," they rarely mean the ordinary members, but instead a separate class of men whom they esteem to be in positions of authority over them.
The word "Church" is almost never referred to in its traditional meaning today; it has come to refer to the hierarchy of leaders, managers, and administrators at the top of the corporate chain. I'm not sure how we should refer to that body, but it is certainly not accurate -or scriptural- to call it the church.
In order to differentiate that institution from the rank and file of the assembly who make up the church membership, some of us have tried referring to the leadership side variously as the Corporate Church; the Institutional Church;, "the Church" (with a capital 'C' to differentiate it from the small 'c' regular church); LDS, Inc.; or even the Church(TM). Perhaps we should start calling it The Magisterium, after the medieval Holy Roman authority it has come to resemble.
In the minds of many ordinary latter-day Saints, members of the Magisterium are of higher rank than the rest of us, and therefore the lower members of the body of Christ owe them deference. Although such an idea runs contrary to the will of God, who decreed that no man is to be esteemed above another, this is indeed the way a good many latter-day Saints understand their church to be structured today.
The danger in allowing the actual church of Christ (the one defined by the Lord in D&C 10:67) to be supplanted in the popular mind with the governing hierarchy, is that those who do so have effectively placed themselves outside of God's true church. You can read it right there in the next verse: "Whoseover declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me, therefore he is not of my church." (Emphasis mine.)
It's almost as if God had some uncanny ability to look into the future and see how, in the latter days, we would come to define His church completely upside down.
That scripture in verse 68 is s a good enough reason for me to resist the temptation to conflate the corporate, institutional Church (capital 'C' Church = The Magisterium) with the actual, true church (small 'c' church = the members). Just to make sure I'm extra special careful, I think it's best to avoid bearing testimony of either.
There is a popular saying bandied about these days to the effect that "The Church is perfect-the people aren't." But how can that be, seeing as how according to scripture, the church is the people? I think what those who like to spout this defective apothegm usually mean is that the Magisterium is perfect, it's the members who are flubbing things up.
Well of course we all make mistakes, no matter our station or calling. That is why we all -even our leaders- have need of the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. But to some True Believers, the members of the Magisterium are not subject to temptation because they are thought to be imbued with superior knowledge and a vatic infallibility that will never allow them to fall.
It's interesting to trace how such a false belief grew to take hold in the church over time. It was originally understood that Jesus Christ was the head of His church. He conveyed His will to the members by putting His words into the mouth of his prophet, Joseph Smith, who wrote down those words and distributed them to the membership at large. The members would then read those revelations and pray about them individually in order to obtain a witness of the Holy Ghost to affirm whether a particular revelation did indeed represent the word of God. They followed this process of affirmation because they knew they were not supposed to take their leader at his word.
Essentials In Church History
At the time Joseph Smith was murdered, his brother Hyrum, who had already been ordained to succeed Joseph as the next prophet,seer, and revelator, was murdered at his side. That left the church without a mouthpiece who spoke for God. As LDS historian Steven Shields aptly described the atmosphere, "the church simply flew apart at the seams." With no one to relate God's will, nobody had the first clue about what to do next.
It was widely understood that Joseph Smith's son was to inherit the role of God's mouthpiece; but as Joseph III was only 12 years old at the time his father and uncle were murdered, the primary topic of discussion in the church became who would take charge until the boy came of age.
Sidney Rigdon, now the only surviving member of the First Presidency, argued that the reins of leadership were now in his hands until such time as the younger Joseph came of age. Brigham Young argued that with the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, the First Presidency was effectively dissolved, and that the "keys" of authority resided within the quorum of the twelve apostles as a group. He did not disagree with Rigdon regarding Joseph III's rightful place as eventual head of the church. In fact, he did not see himself as Joseph Smith's legal successor, but rather insisted the Twelve were to act as temporary placeholders until young Joseph was grown. 
But the people couldn't seem to wait. They were accustomed to having a single prophet as head of their church, and various candidates began making claim to that office, siphoning off thousands of followers to themselves. In an effort to stem this hemorrhage, Brigham Young re-instituted the office of the First Presidency, with himself at the helm. He did not, however, claim to be a prophet. He claimed the office of President of the church, and still maintained the keys of authority could only be exercised by all twelve members acting in unity.
Over time, Brigham's successors in the presidency were said to have inherited the very keys of prophet, seer, and revelator that Joseph Smith had held. Never mind that they rarely exhibited anything resembling the facility Brother Joseph had shown with those gifts. These men may have held the keys, but that did not necessarily mean God was obligated to exercise those keys through them. As late as 1926, Heber Grant affirmed "I know of no instance where the Lord has appeared to an individual since His appearance to the prophet Joseph Smith."
But the members assumed differently. By the mid 20th century, the Saints were fond of singing "We thank thee, O God, for a prophet to lead us in these later days," as it was widely believed that Jesus Christ himself appeared regularly and in person to the living prophet who had inherited the mantle of Joseph Smith through Brigham Young, and down through John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and so on. No one ever said anything to suggest otherwise. And this in spite of the fact that the living prophets never seemed to relay any revelations or prophecies the way Joseph Smith had frequently done. It was just assumed that Jesus was guiding his church -somehow- through means of his living prophet.
This was the era in which I grew up in the church, when I was taught that nothing was as precious or important as having a testimony of the Church. And so I cultivated one. I hung on every word uttered by the living prophet as if those words had come from the very mouth of God Himself. This misguided dependence on the Magisterium was shared by almost everyone around me, affirmed by the famous guarantee of Wilford Woodruff that it was impossible for the prophet to ever speak falsely. Never mind that when Woodruff made that statement of infallibility, he was expressing his own opinion and not speaking words God had put in his mouth. But no matter. If the prophet said it, that was good enough for me.
It never occurred to me at that time that the prophet's opinion should not have been "good enough" for me or for anyone else. The prophet's words are only good enough when he is conveying a message directly from the Lord. Absent a direct revelation, any statement made by the president of the Church is no more inherently valuable than one of my own. As blogger Mike Danelek recently put it, the endgame of this kind of thinking plays right into the hands of those who accuse Mormonism of being a cult:
"One of [the prophet's] roles is to relay messages directly from God. But when that man is not receiving such messages, when the heavens appear to be closed (to the institutional Church, anyway), when all his statements can be reduced to opinions or rehashes of previous revelations, is it wise to put all our faith in him and the corporate entity he presides over? You don't think outsiders notice this lack of revelation in a Church that claims to be run by it? You don't think those questioning the faith notice an imperfect Church replacing a perfect God as the object of worship? How are we going to grow at the exponential rates we presume we are (the actual numbers are less than staggering) with such a culture of stagnation pervading over us?"By the dawn of the 21st century, the belief began to take hold in the church that not only were members expected to heed the words of the prophet, but they were also to give equal credence to every word spoken by individual members of the Twelve, who were now considered prophets in their own right.
Remember how Brigham argued that authority operated only with the quorum of the twelve united as a body? Not anymore. Now any individual with the honorific "President" or "Elder" in front of his name was to be heeded as if he spoke with the tongue of angels. Obedience to authority became the new mantra, along with the slogan "There is safety in following the Brethren." Never mind being disciples of Christ. Real salvation is to be found in following the Magisterium.
Our critics were rubbing their hands together and licking their lips. And Lucifer, who failed to get us to give up our agency during the war in heaven, was winning the battle here on earth while using "The Lord's True Church" as the tool to get us to surrender our will.
In the recently released documentary, State of Mind: The Psychology of Control, we learn how people who are taught from an early age to be obedient to authority are easily manipulated to give up their free agency. Although the film is concerned primarily with how "authority" is used to enslave people at the societal and political levels, the principal is equally pertinent in the religious arena:
"If you don’t submit to control...you’re not fitting in. From the time we’re very young, we’re taught to worship authority, basically, because that’s our key to survival as young children. But as adults, we never go through the rites of passage that tell us how to methodically think for ourselves, and thus we’re always in a state of extended adolescence.None of this "follow the leaders" nonsense is doctrinal, of course, and at times there have even been attempts by some general authorities to disabuse us of the idea that every word spoken in general conference or printed in the Ensign is inspired from on high. But for some reason, a majority of Saints just don't want to hear it.
"[J]ust because you have an authority making decisions for you at some point when you’re very young, too young to take care of yourself, doesn’t mean you should always cater to authority your whole life."
A couple of days ago when I turned on the TV I was bombarded with news reports that had me baffled. Apparently a new member of Britain's parasitic class had just been extruded from the womb, and crowds of Americans -yes, Americans!- appeared unable to contain their joy.
But why? The British people should have had sense enough to not be awed by all the ridiculous pomp and ceremony attending that event (and as I later learned, a good many of them did, to their credit). But why in heaven's name would anyone on this side of the pond, living in a purportedly free constitutional republic, allow themselves to go ga-ga over the birth of a creature in line to one day become a king, of all unsavory occupations?!
I suppose there is something implanted deep in our DNA which triggers the desire to worship something or someone, and in the absence of a living deity walking among us, some people will seek out a counterfeit to fawn over. Even otherwise level-headed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are not immune to this pull toward idol worship, and end up elevating their so-called "leaders" to the status of demigods.
Beware Converts Bearing Gifts
There is a further reason we should depend on the scriptures for guidance, and not have our eyes glued to the corporate Church. As Daymon Smith demonstrates in his new book, A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, quite a bit of what we have come to accept as "Mormonism" is not legitimately "Mormon" at all when you take a closer look. An astonishing number of widely accepted LDS doctrines turn out to have been introduced into the fledgling LDS church by way of the thousands who converted from the Campbellite faith during the two years following the publication of the Book of Mormon.
While these converts were among the first to embrace the Book of Mormon, most of them did not bother to read the entire book. Instead, they scrounged around in it for those parts that seemed to affirm their tightly held beliefs. These converts didn't abandon all the dogmas of Alexander Campbell, but folded many of them into this wonderful new religion they now embraced, resulting in an odd mash-up of Campbellism and Mormonism that has us tangled up doctrinally to this day.
I'll have more to say about this remarkable book in a future post, but suffice to say this new volume has caused me to experience a paradigm shift in my thinking as to what is and is not organic and legitimate to our faith. (You can read an excerpt from that book by clicking here.)
Since the Book of Mormon claims to contain the fulness of the gospel, doesn't it make sense to at least question any teachings that appeared extraneous to that book? Are we not justified in investigating the origins of those teachings? If we hold to a testimony of "the Church" (however one chooses to define it) rather than grounding ourselves in scripture and bona fide revelations, we run the risk of having a testimony of things that have crept into our assembly by means other than the Divine.
Joseph Smith's Last Dream
I'm going to close by relating a dream Joseph Smith recorded just prior to his death. I am always surprised at how many people I have discussed this dream with who have never heard of it, or who don't have the slightest clue of its interpretation. I suppose that is because the dream is not widely published or circulated within official Church publications these days. And I suspect the reason for that is because it can be interpreted as not reflecting well on the modern institutional LDS Church of today.
In this dream, when Joseph relates how the farm was given to him by the church, you may be confused if you think of the Church in the modern parlance. To Joseph Smith, the church did not consist of the leaders. When he says the farm was given to him by the church, he means the farm was given to him by the members. At the risk of hitting you over the head with the dream's meaning, you might also want to note that it is the "structure" that has grown useless from neglect, and that those who arrive on the property to find him still there would prefer he move along and leave it to them.
"I was back in Kirtland, Ohio, and thought I would take a walk out by myself, and view my old farm, which I found grown up with weeds and brambles, and altogether bearing evidence of neglect and want of culture. I went into the barn, which I found without floor or doors, with the weather-boarding off, and was altogether in keeping with the farm.
"While I viewed the desolation around me, and was contemplating how it might be recovered from the curse upon it, there came rushing into the barn a company of furious men, who commenced to pick a quarrel with me.
"The leader of the party ordered me to leave the barn and farm, stating it was none of mine, and that I must give up all hope of ever possessing it.
"I told him the farm was given me by the church, and although I had not had any use of it for some time back, still I had not sold it, and according to righteous principles it belonged to me or the church.
"He then grew furious and began to rail upon me, and threaten me, and said it never did belong to me nor to the church.
"I then told him that I did not think it worth contending about, that I had no desire to live upon it in its present state, and if he thought he had a better right I would not quarrel with him about it but leave; but my assurance that I would not trouble him at present did not seem to satisfy him, as he seemed determined to quarrel with me, and threatened me with the destruction of my body.
"While he was thus engaged, pouring out his bitter words upon me, a rabble rushed in and nearly filled the barn, drew out their knives, and began to quarrel among themselves for the premises, and for a moment forgot me, at which time I took the opportunity to walk out of the barn about up to my ankles in mud.
"When I was a little distance from the barn, I heard them screeching and screaming in a very distressed manner, as it appeared they had engaged in a general fight with their knives. While they were thus engaged, the dream or vision ended." (Documentary History of the Church Volume 6: 608-611)
Once again I apologize that the footnotes are not interactive; I seem unable to get that function to work for me. You'll have to skip down here manually, but I know you can do it. There are only three footnotes in the whole piece and they're highlighted in yellow to make them easy to find:
 Poelman's talk was clearly inspired, but as I documented here on a previous post, someone higher up than Poelman took issue with it (Poelman was a member of the Quorum of Seventy), and the original talk was scuttled. Doubtless one of the points The Powers That Be found most offensive was Poelman's suggestion that the ultimate goal of each of us should be to eventually get to that point in our spiritual and intellectual growth where we will no longer need the institutional Church in our lives.
If such a suggestion had been made in the presence of the ancient high priests Caiaphas and Annas, you can imagine they would have responded by burying it, too. The reaction of the LDS leaders in this instance brings to mind this clip from the film V For Vendetta, featuring the Chancellor shouting "I want everyone to remember why they need us!"
A video recording of Poelman's original talk can be found here. Compare it to the phony do-over, here.
 In the Gospel Doctrine Manual commenting on alma 1:26, we read the following:
"In the Lord's Church the members are a congregation of equals; there are no degrees, no academic titles, no worldly attainments that separate members of the group. The gospel has been restored in our day, for example, that every man and woman may speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world (see D&C 1:20). The bishop perhaps is a plumber, while his clerk is the vice president of a large corporation. The stake president is a farmer, while his high council is composed of lawyers and physicians and professors." (McConkie and Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, vol. 3, p. 10)
That is all true as far as it goes, but McConkie and Millet conveniently fail to mention the very ample compensation received by the supreme officeholders in the Church; the ones at the very top. Servants who labor in that privileged vineyard are well rewarded, with monthly salaries cleverly dubbed "living allowances," automobiles with paid drivers, virtually limitless use of Church credit cards, and other perks, including fine dining at high-end restaurants, a generous pension, and free tuition for their children at BYU. Clearly, it's time we stopped boasting about our non-existent non-paid clergy.
 As LDS author Denver Snuffer writes,
"Today the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints views Brigham Young as Joseph Smith's legal successor. This is a revision of history. At the time even Brigham Young did not consider himself the legal successor. Instead, he believed the right belonged to one of Joseph's sons, either Joseph Smith III or David Smith." (Passing the Heavenly Gift, Pg 72)
Andrew Ehat, author of Joseph Smith's Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the 1844 Mormon succession Question had this to say about Brigham Young's position:
"He had never considered himself as Joseph Smith's sole successor, and second, he had long hoped for the spirit of God to move either Joseph or David to fill the station Brigham believed their father had appointed to them."
"What of Joseph Smith's family?" asked Brigham Young in 1860. "What of his boys? I have prayed from the beginning for Sister Emma and for the whole family...Joseph said to me, 'God will take care of my children when I am taken.' They are in the hands of God, and when they make their appearance before this people, full of his power, there are none but will say, 'Amen! we are ready to receive you.' "
(Quoted in Snuffer, pg 73)
When Joseph and David did come to Utah some years later and spoke to packed houses of welcoming Saints, Brigham and the other prominent men of the church scrambled to defuse the excitement, denouncing the brothers as having apostatized from the true faith of their father. By this time, the Utah leadership had become entrenched in political and financial interests in the west in addition to heading the Church. The lengths the Brethren went to discredit the sons of their founding prophet provide proof that Lord acton's aphorism about power's ability to corrupt is as accurate regarding religion as it is in politics.