By our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church, and by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country; yea, and also by the maintenance of the sacred word of God, to which we owe all our happiness.
"Within Mormonism, where is the prophetic voice that used to defend the U.S. Constitution as divinely inspired, but now sits silently at the edge of the public square as nonstop assaults on the Constitution have emanated from the highest levels of government?"
-- Gregory A. Prince, "Have We Let a Crisis Go to Waste?" Salt Lake Tribune, December 26, 2020.
In the last post (Part 4) we discussed how the Keys of the Church have been given to all of us (including women).
That may sound strange. But it should not be surprising or controversial when it was done way back in 1842 by Joseph Smith.
So this is not really something "new."
A Vision of Eden
One of the things Joseph Smith tried to restore during the Nauvoo period was a fuller vision for female authority.
I guess we've dropped the ball somewhere along the line. At the beginning of the Restoration, the windows of heaven parted, filling the new dispensation with knowledge and revelation and truth. But it seems harder, now, to imagine the marvelous work and wonderful destiny God had in store for all of us, including his daughters.
At the first meeting of the Relief Society, Emma Smith stood up and prophesied to the sisters, "We are going to do something extraordinary."
Has that prophecy been fulfilled?
O Sister, Where Art Thou?
In a fix? In a bind? Call on us anytime We'll appear from nowhere Mighty, are we!
R-E-S-C-U-E Rescue Aid Society Honesty Loyalty We pledge to thee
On March 17, 1842 Joseph Smith organized the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo.
I want to take a close look at the minutes they kept of their initial meetings so we can get a glimpse at was happening at the outset.
The quotes, below, are taken from the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book, 17 Mar. 1842–16 Mar. 1844; and can be read online at the Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/transcript/nauvoo-relief-society-minute-book.
Beginning of the Relief Society
Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start). When you read you begin with A-B-C; when you preside you begin with priesthood keys, do-re-mi.
In the King Follett discourse, Joseph Smith said, "If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong we may go wrong, and it will be a hard matter to get right."
Did the Relief Society "start right?"
March 17, 1842
At their inaugural meeting, the minutes record:
[Joseph] propos’d that the Sisters elect a presiding officer to preside over them, and let that presiding officer choose two Counsellors to assist in the duties of her Office— that he would ordain them to preside over the Society— and let them preside just as the Presidency, preside over the church; and if they need his instruction— ask him, he will give it from time to time.
Well, what did we learn from this?
1. The relief society president was to be elected by the members of the Society (all women).
2. The relief society president was to hold an "Office."
3. The female president was to be "ordained."
4. The Relief Society Presidency was to preside "just as the [First] Presidency" did over the church.
If number 4 sounds weird, then this elaboration may help:
[Joseph] then suggested the propriety of electing a Presidency to continue in office during good behavior, or so long as they shall continue to fill the office with dignity &c. like the first Presidency of the church.
So the Relief Society Presidency was supposed to be "like the first Presidency" for women.
5. This is demonstrated by the fact that Joseph explicitly limited his role to giving them "instruction" when the women asked for it.
President Smith read the Revelation to Emma Smith, from the book of Doctrine and Covenants [Section 25]; and stated that she was ordain’d at the time, the Revelation was given, to expound the scriptures to all.
6. Emma's ordination occurred by "Revelation" from God.
7. What was her ordination for? Well, her office was "to expound the scriptures to all."
Whatever the majority of the house decide upon becomes a law to the Society.
8.What were the governing laws of the Relief Society? Whatever the members voted upon and decided themselves.
March 31, 1842
A couple of weeks after their first meeting, the newly constituted Relief Society met again.
[Joseph Smith said] all must act in concert or nothing can be done . . . Said he was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests a[s] in Enoch’s day.
9. Do people need the priesthood to be "priests?"
April 28, 1842
[Joseph Smith said] the church is not now organiz’d in its proper order, and cannot be until the Temple is completed . . . He ask’d the Society if they could not see by this sweeping stroke, that wherein they are ordaind, it is the privilege of those set apart to administer in that authority which is confer’d on them — and if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.
10. What authority to "administer" was Joseph referring to?
What Joseph says next is fascinating. After telling them, "Who knows the mind of God? Does he not reveal things differently from what we expect?", Joseph proclaimed:
He spoke of delivering the keys to this Society and to the church — that according to his prayers God had appointed him elsewhere . . . .
Did Joseph Turn the Key?
At the Relief Society meeting on April 28, 1842, Joseph declared:
[T]he keys of the kingdom are about to be given to them, that they may be able to detect every thing false — as well as to the Elders . . . . This Society is to get instruction thro’ the order which God has established — thro’ the medium of those appointed to lead — and I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time— this is the beginning of better days, to this Society.
11. Was the comment about "those appointed to lead" referring to the Relief Society Presidency, or the First Presidency?
12. What does it mean for Joseph to "turn the key" and give the keys of the kingdom to the Relief Society "as well as to the elders?"
What About the First Presidency?
Someone might ask, "But aren't they still under the umbrella authority of the First Presidency?
May 26, 1842
The following quote was given to the Relief Society at their May 1842 meeting (of all places):
Prest. J. Smith rose, read the 14th Chap. of Ezekiel— said the Lord had declar’d by the prophet that the people should each one stand for himself and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church— that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls— app[l]ied it to the present state of the church of Latter-Day Saints— said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall— that they were depending on the prophet hence were darkened in their minds from neglect of themselves.
13. Instead of encouraging greater reliance on his [Joseph's] priesthood authority, why was Joseph trying to get the sisters to depend less on him?
Steadying the Ark
"Slow down," someone is saying. "We have been taught our whole lives to depend exclusively on the Prophet and the authorized servants of God . . . and now you're saying we shouldn't? Isn't that steadying the ark, muchacho?"
How should we deal with the things in this Minute Book of the Relief Society? Does it matter how things were done back in Nauvoo? What difference does it make? Why do we care at all what Joseph and Emma did back then?
[M]en cannot steady the ark— my arm can not do it— God must steady it. -- Joseph Smith
I don't think we need to worry about upsetting the turnip truck. If the Prophet himself cannot steady the ark, I doubt we can.
In a jam? In a scrape? And you think "No escape!" Do not fear, we'll be here Courageous, are we!
R-E-S-C-U-E Rescue Aid Society Heads held high Touch the sky You mean everything to me!
So What Happened?
Well, things got crazy in Nauvoo and then Joseph died.
His vision for the Relief Society apparently died with him. Prest. Emma Smith did not follow Brigham Young (who didn't trust the relief society, anyway).
And so the Nauvoo Relief Society no longer exists.
In its place is the Relief Society that was reborn under Eliza R. Snow and Brigham Young in the 1860s, and subsequently overhauled during the correlation movement of the 1960s and 1970s.
The rest is history. Extra Credit
I recommend reading:
1. Jessie L. Embry's, "Grain Storage: The Balance of Power Between Priesthood Authority and Relief Society Autonomy," Dialogue, accessed https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V15N04_61.pdf
2. Tina Hatch, "Changing Times Bring Changing Conditions," Dialogue, accessed https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V37N03_75.pdf
A monk arrives at a monastery and is assigned to copy some old texts.
He notices, however, that the texts are copies themselves, and not the original books.
So the new monk goes to the head monk and gets permission to see the original books.
He goes down into the cellar. Hours later, nobody has seen him. One of the monks goes to check on him and hears someone sobbing.
"The word is celebrate!"says the monk with tears in his eyes, "Not celibate."
This Changes . . . Everything
Now, that would be funny if it weren't so spot on, highlighting the way we can go for generations with traditions that may have started because of a misreading or misinterpretation of scripture.
What are the "Keys of the Church?"
Let's apply this to problem to priesthood keys.
The Lord talks in the scriptures about the "Keys of the Church."
What if there are keys which belong to all of us, collectively, as the children of Christ?
How is it possible for us to "share" these keys (when we don't even share the key to the church library for fear someone will make too many photocopies or steal a Book of Mormon)?
The Lord told all the elders in 1833 that "the keys of [the] kingdom have been conferred upon you" (D&C 97:14).
Notice that it doesn't say the "keys of the kingdom have been conferred upon [a select few of] you."
Upon "YOU." You! Us!
Can it be the Lord conferred authority (or keys) (or power) upon His people -- all of them?
Waaait a minute. We can't be talking about allmembers, can we, because that would mean women had authority (or keys) (or power) . . .
Of course it does. Of course they do!
Jesus Christ spoke from the heavens in 1831 and said that "the keys of the church" had been given to "you."
Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the church have been given.
Well, someone might be thinking, "That could mean God gave the keys of the Church to a select few to hold in trust for the benefit of the rest of us."
I guess you could interpret it that way. But that is not what it says. That would be like standing up in Sacrament Meeting and saying to your Ward family: "Unto you I've given the keys of a new Ferrari sports car" . . . and then only let the bishopric use the keys to it.
How can we call the Ferrari "ours" if we cannot use it? Are we supposed to admire the car as it speeds by, saying, "Wow, what a great car. I am so proud it is ours!" -- when we can't drive it?
"Okay," someone might say, "We may not possess the keys themselves, but the car is still ours because we can be passengers in it."
* Sigh * Well, let's talk about that. What does it mean if we were backseat, passive passengers in the Ferrari? Is that what Christ called us to be? Did Christ designate assigned seats, where a select few get to drive, and the next-in-line get to ride shotgun, and the rest of us get enjoy the view? Is that using our spiritual gifts and self-reliance?
Here's the problem: doesn't the driver determine the destination? Is being driven about by leaders the way the Church is supposed to operate?
"No, think of an Uber," someone says. "What if the leaders were like our chauffeurs and we tell them where we want to go."
Ummmm. What church do you belong to? I've never heard of leaders taking directions from the passengers.
But you know, I think you're on to something. Too bad it doesn't work like that.
What if the "keys of the Church" are different than the keys of presidency?
Where were we? Oh yes, verse 69.
Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the church have been given.
There's good reason to believe the Lord is talking to the whole church because Section 42 contains "the Law of the Church." Verse 69 concludes a segment which is addressed specifically to the church:
And now, behold, I speak unto the church.
How could the Lord speaking "unto the church" mean only its leaders?
It is referring to the entire body of Christ. So the Keys of the Church are held by . . . all of us? Yes.
How else could we live by common consent?
And how could we live by common consent without women being included? Don't they have an equal measure of the gift of the Holy Ghost?
Women are Key
Q: Why should you never date an apostrophe? A: They’re too possessive
Are priesthood keys nouns, adjectives, or verbs?
1. Noun, Key: a means of gaining or preventing entrance, possession, or control ("I used a key to lock the church").
2. Adjective, Key: extremely or crucially important ("The bishop is the key member of the ward").
3. Verb, Key: to bring into harmony; to regulate the musical pitch of ("We keyed our voices to sing in unison the praise of God").
They say love is a verb.
Why don't we think of priesthood keys as verbs, too?
Me: To follow the Keys which are the greatest of all, like my father before me.
Angel: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
Me: No. I know God loves his children to follow the Keys, but I do not know why.
And I saw the heavens open; and beheld a woman bearing a child in her arms. And I saw that the child held the Key of David in his hand, and was called Holy and True.
Angel: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the Key which thy father saw?
Me: Wait. "Key". . . singular? I thought we were supposed to follow the Keys (plural) held by a variety of mortal men, but more particularly those mortal men who are our contemporaries?
Angel: No, we follow Him (singular)who holds the Key of David, who is the Son of God.
Me: But surely God shares the Keys with his authorized servants below?
And when I had spoken and heard these things, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel which shewed me these things.
Angel: What are you doing?
Me: Respecting your authority, of course.
Angel: See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant: worship God.
And I looked and beheld Him who held the Key of David in His right hand; and His beauty was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and His whiteness did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.
Angel: Now, knowest thou the meaning of the Key which thy father saw?
Me: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
Angel: Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.
Anatomy of a Keyholder
Okay, here's a fun challenge: pretend we're describing a "keyholder" to a police sketch artist, who is trying to draw this mysterious do-gooder.
What would a keyholder look like? How would we describe him or her?
Let's see if Jesus can give us some clues.
The disciples came unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,
Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18:1-2, 4)
So after Jesus had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
(John 13:12, 15)
He that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
Fitting the Pieces Together
If we add up all the clues that Jesus gave us, we would understand that priesthood keys are not for lording but for serving.
* The sign of priesthood authority is condescension. *
So What Happened???
Can someone explain how -- when Jesus expressly forbade us from exercising authority upon each other (see, Luke 22:25-26) -- and when Jesus expressly said it "shall not be so" among his children -- and when the token of priesthood keys given Peter was an upside down cross -- we have instead made a mockery of his martyr's death by exalting his heirs above the throne of heaven?
Jesus described those that worship authority in the pride of their hearts as a "generation of vipers" (Matt. 23:33).
Have we turned keys into idols, making "authorized servants" and "proper sources" our latter-day Golden Calf?
Have we let religion make merchandise of our Father's House?
Have we mocked God by using priesthood keys as an excuse to exercise control and compulsion upon the souls of the children of men?
Have we polluted our inheritance by envying power and position over condescension and sacrifice?
Have we denied the power of God by placing faith in an institution rather than in Christ who redeems us?
Have we grieved the Spirit by suppressing our spiritual gifts which come from God in order to conform to those who sit in authority?
Have we suborned our authentic selves into pretending perfection, creating a legalistic sandbox from which to throw stones at each other?
Worst of all, have we forsaken the command to love for the love of command?
We can live by faith and hope and charity instead of by handbooks and assignments and delegation.
We can turn away from priestcraft and begin relying upon the gift of the Holy Ghost rather than leaders.
We can repent and plead for God's forgiveness.
We can love God more than we love the carnal security of a dead, lesser law.
We can care for one another more than we care about our public image and financial investments.
We can lay hold on Him who is the Key of David, and chart a new course where we follow His quiet call to live by common consent.
Best of all, we can leave our children a better church and a brighter hope for Zion.
2. The keys he gave Peter are "the keys to the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 16:19)
3. Heaven is not of this world.
4. The Catholic Church used "keys" as a basis to create an earthly institution whereby its Pontiff was made the most powerful churchman among his peers.
5. What if priesthood keys were not meant to run an earthly organization? What then are they for?
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
In 1839, Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee went to Washington D.C. to meet with U.S. President Martin Van Buren. They were seeking redress from the federal government for the losses suffered in Missouri.
In a letter dated December 5, 1839, they wrote to home:
In our interview with the President, He interogated us wherein we differed in our religion from the other religions of the day.
Bro, Joseph said we differed in mode of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands--
We considered that all other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.
[Joseph Smith and Elias Higbee, "Letter to Hyrum Smith and Nauvoo High Council, 5 December 1839," The Joseph Smith Papers]
Well, that's interesting.
Joseph did NOT say that priesthood keys make us different -- he said the gift of the Holy Ghost does.
But . . . aren't priesthood keys necessary to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands?
The Holy Ghost
Is the Holy Ghost God?
When the gift of the Holy Ghost is given, do some people get a bigger version of the Holy Ghost than others, or do we all receive equally?
Huh. What if priesthood keys were given in order for the gift of the Holy Ghost to be given to us, and after we received the gift of the Holy Ghost we are then led by Him? Paradigm Shift
Okay, here is the take-away from Nephi, which is one of the greatest things I've ever read in the scriptures. It opened up my eyes and changed how I see "keys."
I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.
[Notice - It is God (not persons with keys) who show us all things we should do]
Behold, this is the doctrine of Christ.
(2 Nephi 32:5-6)
Wait . . . THIS is the doctrine of Christ?!
So We Want Us Some Keys?
Why are we so obsessed with priesthood keys? Well, I guess it is because we want to establish a pecking order. We want show whose got the biggest authority.
But isn't the whole purpose of priesthood keys to bring us into the presence of God?
And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God.
So why do we invoke "keys" as a byword for bossing the body of Christ? For exercising authority over others? I think we have forgotten what keys are for. What we should be asking (instead of "who's in charge?") is, "How can we unlock the 'mysteries of the kingdom?' How do we get the 'key of the knowledge of God?'"
Hmmm. Is the answer . . . the Holy Ghost?!
Therefore it is given to abide in you; the record of heaven; the Comforter; the peaceable things of immortal glory; the truth of all things; that which quickeneth all things, which maketh alive all things; that which knoweth all things, and hath all power according to wisdom, mercy, truth, justice, and judgment.
It is interesting that the scriptures always talk about "the power of the Holy Ghost." Why? Because Joseph Smith taught that "keys" is just another word for "power."
John says, 'I baptize you with water, but when Jesus comes, who has the power (or keys), he shall administer the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 360).
So anywhere we see "the power of the Holy Ghost," we could replace it with "the keys of the Holy Ghost." (See, e.g., Romans 15:13).
The Holy Ghost is the Key
And how do we obtain power, or keys? Well, the best explanation of how we obtain keys comes from Joseph Smith:
Thus we behold the keys of this Priesthood consisted in obtaining the voice of Jehovah that He talked with him [Noah] in a familiar and friendly manner.
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, page 171).
Now things are adding up. But I want to throw this out there, too:
[Joseph] spoke of delivering the keys of the Priesthood to the Church . . . [whereby we] might know how to ask the Lord and receive an answer.
(Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 226).
Does that sound familiar? What is the Holy Ghost but a revelator?
Was this what Moroni really meant, when he said:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power [i.e. keys] of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power [i.e. keys] of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
How are we supposed to be led? How do we know what is true?
Did Moroni say it was by a person's title or office or rank or position or keys?
No . . .
We know what is true by the keys (or power) of the Holy Ghost which we all hold.
The only keys mentioned in the Book of Mormon are the keys Zoram used to open the treasury containing the brass plates (1 Nephi 4:20).
Fact: The Book of Mormon DOES NOT MENTION priesthood keys at all.
Reading the Fine Print
Are priesthood keys fungible? Are they exchangeable, replaceable, interchangeable?
Or are keys fashioned for the holder, custom-crafted, unique, specific, and non-transferable?
I mean, when Peter conferred authority on Joseph Smith, did Peter lose his own keys? Or are there an infinite set of keys to pass around?
What did the Lord mean when He said:
The keys which I have given unto [Jospeh], and also to youward, shall not be taken from him till I come.
How about Joseph: could he pass along his keys or not? Was he able to go to Home Depot and make a duplicate set of keys to give to a neighbor in case of emergency?
Well, let's double-check. The Lord said to Joseph in 1833:
Verily I say unto you, the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come;
Ummm. Well, that was in 1833. What about before, when Joseph was still on probation? What was the Lord's "exit" strategy, then?
I have given unto [Joseph] the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed, even things which were from the foundation of the world, and the things which shall come from this time until the time of my coming, if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead.
Ah, so keys can be lost.
A skeleton key can open any lock. As Isaiah prophesied:
And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.
And I will fasten him as a nail in a sure place; and he shall be for a glorious throne to his father’s house.
What is a key but a nail with teeth? It can open heaven or shut hell. It can open hell and shut heaven. Jesus said He holds "the keys of hell and death" (Revelation 1:18).
So why do we take such pride in our "keys" when they belong to Him? Why do we boast of our priesthood "authority" when we are but temporary custodians of what belongs to Christ?
And when He returns, won't all priesthood keys be returned to Him who is theKey of Heaven?
Well, it looks like I was wrong. We can lose keys, but God cannot. He never loses anything (see, John 6:39).
[THEM ARE SOME BIG KEYS: Official Emblem of the Papacy of the Roman Catholic Church]
What About Church Authority?
If keys are transferable and irrevocable, then the Catholic Church still has them, right? After all, Jesus said to Peter:
I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven.
The Catholic Church claims an unbroken line of authority back to Peter. (Sound familiar?)
But can priesthood authority remain intact over hundreds of years?
Let's look at what the Lord said:
The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth [NOTE: when Peter received them], and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth [NOTE: It has since 34 A.D., or whenever Cornelius was baptized], as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands [NOTE: so not by man] shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.
And let's not forget, Christ's kingdom is "not of this world."
My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.
So it seems like the "keys to the kingdom of heaven" that Christ is referring to must be something different than the Church organization -- which is very much "of this world."
What Do We Do With Keys?
So what exactly did Peter's keys entitle him to do?
Become a pope? Run a multi-national religious organization with thousands of cathedrals and tens of thousands employees, with billions of dollars to bankroll the cares of this world, buy insurance and retain armies of lawyers to settle abuse claims?
. . . or were his keys intended to help him condescend and to become the servant of all, like Christ?
How is spiritual poverty akin to financial poverty?
American Economist, Lant Pritchett, a professor at Harvard and Oxford, has spent his career studying and finding solutions to global poverty and economic growth.
I think we can apply some of Pritchett's insights to the problem of spiritual poverty.
Pritchett's research shows the greatest predictor of poverty is where you live. You see, there aren't poor people so much as there are poor places, and people who live in poor places end up being poor. (Think of Haiti.)
What is interesting is that Pritchett has not found a "personal pathology of poverty" -- meaning global poverty is a function of systems of low productivity rather than individual behavior.
In Pritchett's study of wages, he compared wages of Nigerians and those who immigrate to the United States from Nigeria. He found that the same person, doing the same work, will be paid 16 times more in the U.S. than in Nigeria.
The person's pay, you see, is not so much a product of what he does, but where he does it.
To curb extreme poverty, Bill Gates made the news in 2016 by proposing a plan to buy a chicken for poor persons in Africa. He stated, "Our goal: to eventually help 30 percent of the rural families in sub-Saharan Africa raise improved breeds of vaccinated chickens, up from just 5 percent now."
Now, if we're serious about reversing global poverty, there are 3 ways to go about it:
(1) Move. Buy poor people luggage so they can move to a more prosperous area (which, according to Economist Russ Roberts, would be the #1 solution).
(2) Welfare. Buy poor people chickens, like Gates, or give them cash, or vaccinate them for worms, or try a thousand other "programmatic" solutions.
(3) Reform. Implement policy change and reform at the government-level to increase economic productivity. This is what India did in the 1990s, which contributed over $2 trillion dollars to their economy.
What is the Spiritual GDP of the Church?
Now let's apply these 3 solutions to improving the spiritual economy of the Church:
(1) Move. For those in the Church who are poor, hungering and thirsting, the seekers, the truth-testers, the spiritually starving . . . they could leave to a more spiritually-prosperous place (or people).
(2) Welfare. I think this is where the Church excels. The Church is able to take those who are extremely impoverished spiritually and to give them a "chicken." The church has many programmatic solutions to help those living on a dollar-a-day start making two-dollars-a-day.
Well, what's the problem with this approach?
Welfarecan never make us wealthy.
(3) Reform. How can the Church stimulate spiritual growth? What could it do to make room for people to be more authentic in their faith? What reforms in the Church would bring us out of spiritual poverty?
I personally believe Jesus Christ is not a Reformer. I believe He is a Restorer. But . . . there is something to be said about pruning.
Well, where should we start?
Holy Moly, It's Possible!
Let's be children for a moment and play with our imaginations. Have we ever wondered what it would be like to have our meetings at church conducted:
after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, 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.
Huh. Notice it does not say that the leaders, priests, or teachers led them, by rather it was "the Holy Ghost [who] led them."
Who Presides at Church?
Why do we need someone to preside over our meetings? How are they chosen?
Is it the bishop? The Stake President? The person with the most "keys?"
(So not the patriarch, I guess, since he doesn't hold keys.)
The office of Priesthood and Patriarch . . . shall hold the keysof the patriarchal blessings upon the heads of all my people.
Ummmm. Well, anyhow . . . let's tear off the Band-Aid and ask the hard question: Why can't God preside over our meetings?
And how would that change our worship services if we treated God as the presiding authority? Can't we let Him direct our meetings "after the manner of the workings of the Spirit" (Moroni 6.9)?
In Moroni 6, we find:
They were numbered; They did meet together oft; They repented; The power of the Holy Ghost led them.
They wereoneas a result of living by common consent, not because they were united under a presiding authority. (After all, they were already united under Christ, who was the "author and finisher of their faith.")
I submit the reforms most needed in the church are those that will help us live by common consent.
Imagine the spiritual wealth we would possess if everyone was allowed to exercise their gifts to the edification of all. Imagine the heavens opening as everyone sought the Spirit to lead our meetings rather than subcontract out our spiritual prerogatives to a third party.
They did minister one to another; and they had all things in common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
(3 Nephi 26:19)
We might ask, "Well, isn't this what leaders do? Aren't they facilitators of the Spirit? Don't leaders seek inspiration in planning and conducting our meetings?"
Weeeeell . . . then why is Church so boring?
Forget everything I've said.
Just ponder your very own personal experience at church.
How would you rate it? Five Stars? Four Stars? Two Stars? No Stars?
Have we all felt something was . . . lacking? The chief evidence that our meetings are not being led by the Holy Ghost is the fact that they are lifeless. Rote. Trite. (I once sat in Opening Exercises before Priesthood meeting where they spent 25 minutes talking about setting up chairs in the cultural hall.)
Why is General Conference monotonous, devoid of color expect for the floral arrangements decorating the pulpit?
Joseph Smith said:
How vain and trifling have been our Spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations, too low, to mean, too vulgar, to condescending, for the dignified Characters of the called and chosen of God.
(Joseph Smith, Letter from Liberty Jail, March 20, 1839, accessed at https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/history-1838-1856-volume-c-1-2-november-1838-31-july-1842/86)
Welcome to Sunday School
Okay, maybe things aren't totally bleak.
Let's take a look at our church lessons. In my ward, most of the discussion involves the teacher asking "application questions," such as, "How has the gospel brought you joy?"
And then class members will share their personal feelings and experiences for a 30-minute "group share."
But . . . do these "sharing sessions" edify us? Do our meetings energize us? Fill us with light? Draw us to our knees to repent? Inspire us with greater truths? Focus our faith on Christ?
In my personal experience, I have sat through many Sacrament Meetings (which are supposed to be the pinnacle of our meetings) without any mention of the Savior. (Case in point: when the speakers are given the topic of Scouting, or Girl's Camp, or Tithing.)
Feed My . . . Shepherds?
Leaders get spiritually fed all the time. They are busy planning, counseling, training, filling out food requests, paying people's rent, giving sermons, going on home visits, implementing policies, rubbing shoulders with dignitaries . . . it is really satisfying to be in leadership because you matter. You are respected.
When a leader offers criticism it is inspired correction; when a lay person offers criticism it is apostasy.
(Leadership requires double-standards. It teaches us to measure the truth of a proposition not by the proposition itself, but by the person offering it. Maybe this is how Satan was able to lead away one-third part of the hosts of heaven. "Yeah, but it's Lucifer, dude!")
Well, what about the sheep who go along without the buzz of caffeinated importance? Are they to be treated like sheep to be acted upon?
Thus saith the Lord God unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.
Pause. Let that sink in. We allow leaders to flex their agency and act, but require non-leaders to be passive participants in whatever the leaders have dreamt up.
Video games call these people Non-playable Characters (NPCs). They don't get to make real choices. Their decisions are pre-scripted by the programmer. They interact with the environment but cannot change it.
But what happens to our spiritual initiative when we are assigned a cubbyhole and are told to stay in our lane? (If you do not know what I mean, then you probably haven't had the pleasure of being censored for coloring outside of the lines.)
Which do you think takes greater faith:
(1) Allowing leaders to plan and conduct our meetings, and going along with the flow; or
(2) Relying upon Christ, and his Spirit, to "lead" our meetings as a body.
Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.
Or, you know, we could just keep writing 10 minute talks on topics we are assigned as NPCs.
A building contractor was being paid weekly for a project. One payday he looked at the check and said to the owner of the property:
"Excuse me, but this check is two hundred and fifty dollars less than we had agreed upon."
"Yes, I know," said the owner. "Last week I overpaid you by two hundred and fifty dollars and you never complained."
"I don't mind an occasional mistake," replied the contractor, "but when it starts to be a habit I feel I have to bring it to your attention."
Structure and Standards
In any organization, we find both (1) structure and (2) standards.
The question is whether the structure of the organization should inform its standards, or whether our standards should inform the structure?
Structure ----->> Standards
Standards ------>> Structure
I submit the Church has chosen Option A. The Church's structure is an authoritative hierarchy led by a President (see, D&C 107:65).
Interestingly, the way the Church is structured influences its doctrine and teachings―which seem to coalesce inevitably on the unassailability (I did not say "infallibility," but you know what I mean) of the leadership's authority.
This was evident after the November 2015 Policy involving the children of gay parents. When the policy was leaked to the press, many members were alarmed. Many felt conflicted about the "rightness" of this policy but were uncomfortable saying anything for fear of appearing critical of leadership.
The funny thing is that the 2015 Policy was demonstrably contrary to the teachings of our Savior by preventing worthy individuals from being baptized based on the decisions of their parents.
Despite the Policy being clearly erroneous (which was confirmed when the Policy was rescinded in April 2019), many members sought to justify the Policy while it was in force by invoking the ultimate Trump Card: Leaders cannot be wrong, or if they are, the Lord will bless us for following their error.
Explain that to me. How is it we can believe that "an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God" (i.e., Lucifer) could be wrong, but not a mortal octogenarian?
As others have pointed out, the Church structure dictates our doctrine, which boils down in the end to a single principle: We follow a man whom we call Prophet.
While Protestants have adopted the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, Latter-day Saints have embraced instead Sola Auctoritatis.
Rather than defying the authority of Rome, as the Reformers we celebrate did, we instead have created New Romeinstead of the New Jerusalem!
So what are the real-world consequences of our chasing the tail of authority?
Well, by tripling-down on a hierarchical structure, we had to sacrifice common consent. Sayonara, suckers!
Yes, we shouldfollow a Living Prophet:
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you.
I submit that we should choose Option B, allowing our standards to inform the structure of Christ's Church.
And what are Christ's standards? Well, I think we find them in the Standard Works. As we search the scriptures, we find:
- Equality - Love - Sacrifice - Common Consent - Humility - Faith - Repentance
But the way the church is currently structured as a hierarchy actually makes it more difficult to live these values.
1. Equality. A hierarchy divides us based on callings, offices and labels, which creates status instead of equality.
2. Love. Authority kills love. Instead of exercising the moral authority that comes from love, we have been taught instead to love authority.
3. Sacrifice. Who needs sacrifice when we have spiritual celebrities and billons of dollars?
4. Common consent. While common consent is a commandment from God, it actually threatens the status-quo and therefore must be "reinterpreted" to fit within the structural hierarchy . . . which effectively renders it meaningless.
5. Humility. As we learned from the Lord's excoriation of the Pharisees, the secret of true religion is religion in secret. A hierarchy requires a public relations department. The Church of Christ requires anonymity.
6. Faith. The gospel teaches unshakeable faith in Christ. A hierarchy seeks to supplant the seat of Christ with a lesser substitute, teaching confidence in the arm of flesh.
7. Repentance. We cannot repent if we cannot acknowledge our sins, including our past sins. For example, the Gospel Topics essay on the denial of the priesthood based on race . . . wait for it . . . blames the members of the Church, not the leadership who implemented the policy. The Inevitable Conclusion
Everywhere we turn, we see ourselves betraying the standards we profess.
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous.
(Matthew 23:13, 28-29)
Did we just go there? Yes.
We need to repent. We need rise up and follow the gospel law we covenanted to live at baptism rather than the lesser law by which we are now bound.
Common consent is key to unlocking the gate.
Internal vs. External Structure
Okay, since we need structure (order), we must decide whether that structure is going to be:
(1) Internal structure by which we "govern ourselves"; or
(2) External structure that is imposed upon us.
A child needs a parent to enforce rules and boundaries.
But now I am grown up and I don't need my mother telling me, "Don't eat five hot dogs--it will give you heartburn!"
We become adults. We spiritually mature as we learn self-reliance and stop relying on external (parental) control to dictate our actions.
Now I stop eating after 4 hot dogs. See? I've learned my lesson.
(1) Internal structure = maturity and independence;
(2) External structure = patronizing and creates dependence.
While I appreciate the fact that members in the Church are at every level of spiritual maturity, there never seems to be a time where we matriculate out of 8th Grade. We just keep repeating the same grade over-and-over, ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth.
So, is there a point where the Church structure actually arrests our spiritual development, catering to an 8th Grade level, after we've graduated in Christ to a more excellent way?
The Lord asks us to keep his commandments because we love Him (love = internal motivation).
For I delight in the law of God after the inward man.
The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.
Hierarchy Creates External Control
A hierarchy, unfortunately, focuses on outward performance. A hierarchy requires reports, numbers, statistics, social studies, lawyers, bankers, press releases, fixers . . . to keep up appearances and maintain a good image.
The Lord, on the other hand, does not seem impressed by our efforts to appear "righteous."
Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Common consent is for those ready for something greater. For college, say. This is the way.
If we don't have "Strongmen" making Zion's trains run on time, won't that lead to anarchy, chaos, disorder, and general craziness?
Imagine it! What would happen if people "governed themselves" without leaders? How would we know what to do? Or how to serve? When to worship? Who to follow?
Why, everyone would be running around serving God and their fellowmen, anxiously engaged in good causes and following the light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, exercising their God-given spiritual initiative, honoring each other's diversity of gifts, without leaders assigning and telling us what to do . . .
Does God Live By Common Consent?
If Zion is going to be like heaven, then is common consent a celestial law?
Heaven is a House of Order. So the big question is:
(1) Can we have both common consent and order?
(2) Or can we only have order through a hierarchy with authoritarian leaders?
That's the real fear, isn't it? That without leaders we'll disassemble, aimlessly working out our salvation without organization. After all, don't we believe that "authority" is the glue holding everything together?
But what if "authority" was not the glue, but was actually the thing preventing Zion from forming?
Because what if the thing we call "authority" was actually "priestcraft"?
Hello? We Already Have a Leader!
Well, why are we afraid of being leaderless when we already have a Shephard, Jesus Christ, our great high priest?
Why are we so committed to middle-managers when we have direct access the King of Heaven and Earth?
Even so am I in the midst of you. Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail.
(D&C 6:32, 34)
Is His "rock" the house of cards we see in hierarchies?
What's the difference between Christ's sure foundation and the Church?
1. Can God violate our agency?
2. Can God force our consent?
3. Is Heaven is an everlasting dominion that uses "compulsory means" (D&C 121:46) to maintain order?
No, no, and a big-fat-no.
On the other hand, we see earthly hierarchies compromising our agency all the time. How? By using fear, guilt, control, and compulsion upon the souls of the children of men.
Earthly hierarchies have taken a page out of the devil's handbook . . . I mean, playbook . . . who was cast out of heaven because he "sought to destroy the agency of man" (Moses 4:3). And yet here we are, doing the same thing.
Well, how else will we get results?
The United Order
Let's look again at the Lord's way:
For all things mustbe done in order,AND by common consent in the church, by the prayer of faith.
What if common consent is the true "united order?" King Benjamin said:
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
Recently we had a church lesson on "joy in the gospel." As I listened to the comments of the members, I thought about when the Church was shut down for coronavirus, and everything ground to a halt. I talked to lots of people and not a single one was excited to return to regular church meetings.
Why is that?
The Order of Common Consent
There is no such thing as consecration without common consent.
There is no such thing as "one heart and one mind" without common consent.
There is no such thing as equality without common consent.
There is no such thing as Zion without common consent.
And all things [what percentage is 'all'?] shall be done [is 'shall' advisory or mandatory?] by common consent in the church, by much prayer and faith, for all things you shall receive by faith. Amen.
Well, how in the world did we decide common consent meant the practice of voicing our support for church leaders and ward assignments? Whaaaaat?
My, my my.
Alma, Could You Help Us, Please?
We don't need to reinvent the wheel. Alma showed us the way to live in the Covenant of Common Consent.
At the Waters of Mormon, he prepared the people's minds by giving them this inspired charge:
As ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people . . .
Okay, so here Alma is going to describe what is required to be "in" the fold of God and to become "his people." Watch carefully at what is required of followers of Christ:
1. Between Believers:
(1) Bear one another's burdens, that they may be light; and
(2) Mourn with those that mourn; and
(3) Comfort those that stand in need of comfort;
2. Between Believers and God:
(4) Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death; and
(5) Serve God and keep His commandments. (Mosiah 18:8-10)
3. Between Believers and Leaders:
(6) . . .
Hmmmm. I guess there's nothing about following leaders in this covenant.
Really? I better re-read it, just to make sure.
See? Not a single term of the covenant requires a hierarchy.
Leaders Need Not Apply?
Last Sunday I was reading in Luke 1 with my children. I love the Song of Mary, also called the Magnificat, in verses 46-55.
Here is the Mother of God, filled with the Holy Ghost, prophesying about her Child, and what does she say about Him?
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
I think we can safely say "God resisteth the proud" (1 Peter 5:5).
And the worst form of pride comes from the arrogance of status, the hubris of authority, and the vanity of inequality.
Here's the point: How can we claim to eschew pride, when we celebrate and give honor to status, rank, office, keys . . . all the trappings of Babylon the Great.
Our hierarchy has institutionalized pride. We just call it "authority."
A New and Everlasting Covenant
Christ showed us that the right of primogeniture did not come with a silver spoon, but with a bitter cup.
His authority comes not from His status, but from His pure love, which is the greatest of all.
All old covenants have I caused to be done away in this thing; and this is a new and everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.
Why does the Lord call baptism "a new and everlasting covenant" if it has been around from the beginning?
How is baptism a symbol of our willingness to live without status and to be equal with each other, as children of Christ?
Baptism+ Plus Plan
Well, let's pretend baptism is not enough. Now we need to upgrade to the Baptism+ Plus Plan.
As opposed to, for example, the Doctrine of Christ:
I will unfold unto them this great mystery;
For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;
Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.
Behold, this is my doctrine-- whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
Ahhh, never mind. Let's go back to the Baptism+ Plus Plan. We want to upgrade our salvation? Then welcome to priestcraft. If we do [x] [y] [z], then we'll get special privileges and perks.
So we see priestcraft thriving in Christian churches today. The name-of-the-game is buying tokens, or golden tickets, to fly first-class to heaven whilst our fellows are consigned to coach class.
Here the Magisterium not only embraces priestcraft, but institutionalizes it in God's name.
When we turn priesthood into a profession, we all lose something sacred. The covenant of baptism requires us to be brothers and sisters in Christ, so a hierarchy kinda defeats the purpose, right?
There were many who loved the vain things of the world, and they went forth preaching false doctrines; and this they did for the sake of riches and honor.
Have our hierarchies occluded heaven? Have we artificially divided brothers and sisters into "leaders" and "followers"? Are we shivering in the shadow of Strongmen instead of stepping into the sun and taking our own spiritual initiative?
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.
Alma made explicit that nobody should have a higher status than another.