Q:Which do you think is more important in the life of a Christian: obedience or faith?
Answer: I guess we need to distinguish between:
(1) Obedience to the commandments of men and their religious tradition (institutional obedience); and
(2) Obedience to the will of God (sonship obedience).
The problem is when these two forms of obedience clash. We see the stark difference between the two in the life of Christ. What I find fascinating is the way the Pharisees and Sadducees accused Jesus of being disobedient.
Here was the Son of God keeping every jot and tittle of the Law of Moses but his obedience wasn't "legitimate" in their eyes because he wasn't keeping the Law their way.
Jesus had no respect for their traditions, which he in fact called wicked (see: "corban").
In modern terms, we see the same thing with the Word of Wisdom. The revelation came as wise counsel, and was specifically NOT "by way of constraint." Then the Church began creating traditions and interpretations around it. The tradition, over time, became more important than the actual words God had given. Now the Church enforces the tradition (through a Temple Recommend Interview) instead of the revelation itself ― which was supposed to be elective all along. You see what a mess it has become.
People joke that Jesus would have failed a Temple Recommend Interview, but this is quite serious. Jesus was just too busy doing the will of His Father to mind all the traditions of the elders.
So institutional obedience, as the Pharisees proved, requires very little faith, if any. Whereas obedience to God requires quite a bit of faith because it usually goes against the grain of our traditions.
The important thing to remember is that requiring obedience to a tradition is bad. Word of Wisdom. Tradition. Tithing? Tradition. White Shirts? Tradition. Deacons passing the Sacrament? Tradition. Baptism? Not tradition.
Another thing to remember is that when we focus on No. 1 Obedience, we're not changing the status quo.
Faith on the other hand is looking forward to "what can be" ― searching for a "more excellent way." Because faith is meant to enlarge boundaries, expand our vision, elevate our spirits, believing that through Christ all things are possible.
Think of a garden plot. If my dad asks me to weed the garden, I can obey him by removing the weeds. And they'll grow back. Every Saturday you'll find me out among the carrot patch on my hands and knees, pulling them out by hand. You see, the institution requires me to weed in this particular way, which becomes over time the traditional way; we come to believe it's the only "proper" means to fulfill my father's request. Generations pass away as we weed the garden "the right way."
Faith, on the other hand, would look at the weeds and wonder, "Is there a better way?" I might go and buy some weed cloth at Home Depot or research organic herbicides or consider planting crops where weeds don't matter (have you ever been in a corn field?).
So when the Church talks about obedience, managing its weeds ― pay tithing, attend your meetings, don't drink coffee ― notice that none of those things asks: What should tithing be used for? Why go to meetings if they are unedifying? What makes coffee bad?
You see, institutional obedience doesn't ask questions (and in fact it discourages them).
Faith, though, is all about the questions! Faith is asking, knocking, and seeking greater light and truth from our Father in Heaven.
Obedience looks to the Handbook; faith looks to God.
Q: What Suggestions Do You Have for Increasing Faith in the Church?
Answer: There's not much room for faith in the Church. That's strange, right? I think it is because the leaders might be afraid of what would happen if they let the members loose.
For example, my wife used to be the Cub Scout leader in our ward. She sought inspiration and wanted to magnify her calling. Rather than going through the motions, conducting business-as-usual, she exercised faith and came up with some new ideas for the program.
But what happens when members begin to think outside the box in the Church? My wife went to the Primary President, who relayed the ideas to the Bishopric. Well, she heard back from the Primary President that it was a "no." The Bishopric never spoke to her about it (isn't it interesting that even though they had issued the calling to my wife, they didn't sustain her when she received inspiration on how to fulfill it, and they didn't take time to counsel with her to discuss their reasoning?).
I've seen so many members have their wings of faith clipped when they dare to fly a bit. Are we eagles taking to the skies; or barnyard chickens whose wings need severing lest we fly the coop?
Many times I've observed members just give up after being accused of "steadying the ark" or "rocking the boat." Inspiration is often mistaken for insubordination.
So we get the trouble-maker beaten out of us, I guess, to the point we learn to not take initiative to any meaningful extent (unless, of course, we serve in a leadership role, in which case we are marginally permitted to flex).
So if we're going to increase faith in the Church we need to look for situations where leaders are acting like Hall Monitors telling members, "We can't do that," and get them to change their mindset; they should be coaches cheering us on, saying, "How can I help bring your vision to life?"
Q: What is the worst counsel you ever received from a Church leader?
Answer: Probably then-Elder Nelson's article Divine Love. It was a good example of killing the patient while trying to cure the disease.
But if we're talking about local leaders, I remember one time in law school going to Stake Conference with my roommates in the Provo Tabernacle (before it burned down).
The Stake President stood up and told us that he wanted everyone in the Stake to display a picture of Christ in each and every room of our homes.
That generated a lot of discussion in our apartment. But we dutifully complied and hung a picture of Christ (do you remember those pass-along cards?) above the washing machine, the refrigerator, the couch, our beds, and in the bathroom shower (but really, the last thing the Lord needs to see is a bunch of naked hairy bums).
Even though we were "being obedient," it made me cringe because we were treating pictures of Christ like talismans (nevermind that Ten Commandments forbid making graven images).
I suppose the Stake President was well-intentioned. But it shows why I have little patience for institutional obedience.
Let me explain. Institutional obedience (No. 1 Obedience) seeks to create conformity. But the cost is too great because we actually end up creating inequality through a caste system composed of (1) those who give the commandments and (2) those who obey them. Whenever we structure obedience this way we invite double standards and hypocrisy (I don't know if my Stake President had a picture of Christ in his bathtub, but I doubt it).
A good example of this was when my wife was expecting another child and her due date fell on the regularly-scheduled stake baptism date. We had an 8-year old getting baptized and asked if we could make alternative arrangements for the baptism.
We were told "no," which we took in stride. During the baptismal service and confirmation, my wife was in labor having contractions. She paced back and forth in the cultural hall while I timed the contractions on my watch.
Meanwhile, my brother was serving at the time as bishop of his ward. He also had an 8-year old and asked the Stake President if he could baptize his son in a lake in the Uinta Mountains. Sure, he was told.
That is why the thing that interests me is No. 2 Obedience, where we treat God as a Parent, the kind that honors the workings and will of God as it manifests in each of our lives through the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost.
I wish the Church understood that it's a big tease to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost on members and then have them spend the rest of their lives following the Prophet instead (just saying: a member of the Godhead is greater than a prophet, right?).
The primary faith-killer is when we prioritize institutional obedience over sonship obedience, which creates Pharisees rather than disciples.
Q: But aren't prophets leading the Church in accordance with the the Lord's will?
Answer: Paul taught the Church should be run by the gifts of the Spirit, not by leaders.
That's how the Lord presides over the Body of Christ: not through priesthood but through the diversity of His gifts.
This is why the Nephites were always doing things in the church "after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 6:9).
Today we think of prophets and apostles as administrators who run the Church as if it were the Ford Motor Company, with the Twelve sitting on its Board of Directors.
Well, this is the sort of thing Jacob forbids when he said we "deny the good word of Christ, and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit, and make a mock[ery]" of God (Jacob 6:8) when we reject His spiritual gifts and their expression in the Church, replacing the gifts with protocol and policy.
How are we supposed to become Gods if we can't even be trusted with keys to the ward library? How can we become like our Heavenly Parents if we aren't allowed to pick a special musical number for Sacrament Meeting without the Bishop's go-ahead?
At the beginning of this dispensation, the Lord said, "Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him; and he is to be ordained by the power of the Holy Ghost" (D&C 20:60).
Well, we can deduce that the Brethren do not really trust members to use the power of the Holy Ghost by the fact we're not allowed to use the oven in the church kitchens, or put mini-fridges in the Clerks Office, or call missionary farewells "Farewells."
The micro-management of the membership and the codification of the Church Handbook all but guarantee no one will have any room to exercise the gifts and power of the Holy Ghost in Church.
Whenever someone says the Brethren are only doing the Lord's will, I look around and ask, "This is Lord's will?"
Q: But aren't priesthood keys the established means by which the Lord orders His house?
Answer: If we look in the Book of Mormon (which we're told contains the fulness of the gospel) we find a lot about the "power and authority" of God but very little about the priesthood.
In fact, the only mention of the priesthood in the entire book (!) is in regards to Alma the Younger.
Sure, there are priests and teachers running around all over the place as early as Nephi; but priesthood? The first time we see the word "priesthood" used is in Alma Chapter 4 in reference to the "high priesthood of the holy order of God" (Alma 4:20). Whenever "priesthood" is used in the Book of Mormon it is always referring to this Holy Order.
Alma delivered up the judgment-seat to Nephihah, and confined himself wholly to the high priesthood of the holy order of God, to the testimony of the word, according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy.
Okay, we learn something here about what "the high priesthood of the holy order" means:
1. To bear "testimony of the word according to the spirit of revelation and prophecy."
Well, these are gifts of the Spirit, aren't they?
The only other time in the Book of Mormon we see any mention of priesthood is in Alma 13. Alma says "the office of the high priesthood according to the holy order of God [is to] preach repentance unto his people" (Alma 13:18).
2. Preach repentance unto the people.
Who needs a boardroom and chauffeur and fancy keys for that?
Melchizedek was ordained an high priest after the order of the covenant which God made with Enoch, It being after the order of the Son of God; which order came, not by man, nor the will of man; neither by father nor mother; neither by beginning of days nor end of years; but of God;
And it was delivered unto men by the calling of his own voice, according to his own will, unto as many as believed on his name.