1. Have you ever said, "There's no such thing as 'free agency.' The scriptures call it 'moral agency.'"
2. Have you ever said, "It is not 'Book of Mormons.' It is 'Books of Mormon.'"
3. Have you ever said, "You should take the sacrament with the right hand."
4. Do you abstain from caffeinated beverages?
5. Have you ever thought, "Could I be the One Mighty and Strong mentioned in Section 85?"
Q1. Either term is acceptable. The scriptures only say "moral agency" once -- in Section 101 -- when discussing the Constitution of the United States. The normal scriptural term is just "agency."
Q2. Either term is acceptable. However, since The Book of Mormon is a title, you could also pluralize it by saying "copies of The Book of Mormon."
Q3. Either hand is fine. The Savior only forbade people from taking his flesh and blood "unworthily" (3 Nephi 18:29).
Q4. Either drinking caffeine or not drinking caffeine is fine.
Q5. If you are the One Mighty and Strong, good luck with that!
Whoops. Did I say this was a Personality Quiz? I meant to say this was a Pharisee Quiz.
How many of us were like Saul in a former life: full-blooded Pharisees? One does not come to understand the futility of the law until one has tried to keep it. And fallen short of the glory of God.
I remember on my mission getting into a friendly argument with the bishop over whether a high councilor could preside in Sacrament Meeting since he did not hold keys.
Yes, I was that guy.
My personal Road to Damascus has taught me that Jesus came to fulfill the Law of Moses so we would not be subject to a lesser law, which is just another form of "bondage."
This is the "freedom" we find in Christ -- freedom from the rules, regulations, rituals and legalism that Paul calls "the letter of the law."
Lehi equated freedom with exaltation. There's a connection! He said we "are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death" (2 Nephi 2:27).
So my question is: why in the world would we choose the captivity of a lesser law?
Well, if you throw in a free cookie . . .
A Word of Wisdom
The pull of the dark side . . . I mean, Phariseeism . . . is powerful.
Principles like tithing and the Word of Wisdom are "lesser laws." We have only to look at the preface of the Word of Wisdom (verses 1 thru 3 of Section 89, which were added by Joseph Smith) for proof -- the whole thing was "adapted to the capacity of the weak of the weakest of all saints" (D&C 89:3).
"Once You Start Down the Dark Path . . ."
The devil rejoices when we set our hearts upon lesser laws. Yeah, we usually think the devil is trying to get us to commit adultery or theft or violence . . . but getting us to commit to a lesser law is just as effective in halting our progression.
And in fact, the lesser laws (which are "better" than a life of crime) are the devil's real bread-and-butter. Why? Because when people "sin" they feel guilty and know they've done wrong; but when people embrace a lesser law they usually think they're doing good and are fine.
No wonder prostitutes enter heaven before Pharisees!
Jesus saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
Here's the worst part: when the devil gets us stuck on lesser laws, there will always be people who want to be "strong" saints, truer than true, a cut above, looking beyond the mark, who want to improve, refine and build upon the lesser law rather than seek the Lord and his higher law.
Oh, you want to keep the sabbath day holy, do you? Well, good sir, we can improve, refine, and build upon that:
- You can't tie a knot that lasts longer than a day.
- Do not walk further than half a mile.
- And you better not light a candle on the sabbath.
Years ago a woman I knew bore her testimony to me that vinegar was against the Word of Wisdom. I said, "What?" She went to her pantry and removed a bottle of vinegar (I'm still not sure what it was doing there). On the bottle it said it contained 0.05% alcohol.
How Firm a Foundation
The hallmark of Phariseeism is taking our brand of obedience and imposing it upon others.
I recall a member of the Stake Presidency visiting my elder's quorum for opening exercises a few years ago. We sang the first verse of a hymn and said a prayer. The member of the Stake Presidency stood up and admonished us that we should sing all the verses of a hymn if we loved the Lord.
I can't make this stuff up. I mean, have any of you heard a group of men sing first thing in the morning ACCAPELLA with no piano? Just a slow slog of guttural grunting. A funeral dirge has more life.
But okay, let's prolong our misery through all four verses. And "If You Could Hie to Kolob" is no longer on the rotation.
Guess what happened during opening exercises in the ensuing weeks? The music leader simply chose one-verse hymns.
That's the problem with the lesser law: it does not change our hearts and cannot produce the fruits of righteousness.
Flexing our Pharisaical Biceps
We become the standard. Our obedience becomes the example.
We bury Christ under handbooks and procedures; we quench the Spirit with our forms of godliness.
And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation.
Have You Heard Something Like . . .
Imagine a person standing up in Fast and Testimony Meeting, saying, "I know God wants us to only eat whole grains. It is sinful to ingest bleached white flour. You shouldn't eat white bread because it'll make you sick. And if you are sick, it is probably because you're not obeying the Word of Wisdom. If we really want God's blessing, we must give up gluten entirely."
When Did God Say to Give Up Gluten?
Well, the Spirit might have said, to a person who has celiac disease, "Don't eat bread." They may have had a powerful revelation about it. But why should a person who has been personally prompted to give up gluten (due to their immune reaction) go forth and preach that everyone should do the same?
I Wish I Was Joking
As far-fetched as that gluten example sounds, how do we think the craziness over caffeine began?
Because of the interpolations of men. For example: "We know that cola drinks contain the drug caffeine. We know caffeine is not wholesome nor prudent for the use of our bodies. It is only sound judgment to conclude that cola drinks and any others that contain caffeine or other harmful ingredients should not be used." (New Era, "Is it Against Church Standards to Drink Cola Beverages?" October 1975.)
Hmmm. Let's take this "principle" to its logical conclusion. If the Word of Wisdom means we cannot eat anything "not wholesome nor prudent for the use of our bodies," then we are going to have to give up . . . pretty much everything.
Except kale and quinoa salads.
"During the intermission of a theatrical presentation, [President David O. McKay's] host offered to get refreshments. 'His hearing wasn’t very good, and I got right down in front of him and I said, ‘President McKay, what would you like to drink? All of our cups say Coca-Cola on them because of our arrangement with Coca-Cola Bottling, but we have root beer and we have orange and we have Seven-Up. What would you like to drink?’ And he said, ‘I don’t care what it says on the cup, as long as there is Coke in the cup.'" (Gregory Prince, David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, p. 23)
Burning Instead of Beauty
Remember what happened after we were told to only wear one pair of earrings? How it spread like wildfire through our chapels and young women's meetings?
Here's the point: When an organization makes a public declaration of a rule or creates a policy, the members can't help judging each other by it. Irresistibly we form ranks as if we had been conscripted as "hall monitors" to make sure others follow the rule.
You know, like Hitler Youth, but with fewer swastikas.
I remember a story shared by Elder David A. Bednar in his talk, "Quick to Observe" (BYU Speeches, May 10, 2005):
"Sister Bednar and I are acquainted with a returned missionary who had dated a special young woman for a period of time. This young man cared for the young woman very much, and he was desirous of making his relationship with her more serious. He was considering and hoping for engagement and marriage. Now this relationship was developing during the time that President Hinckley counseled the Relief Society sisters and young women of the Church to wear only one earring in each ear.
"The young man waited patiently over a period of time for the young woman to remove her extra earrings, but she did not take them out. This was a valuable piece of information for this young man, and he felt unsettled about her nonresponsiveness to a prophet’s pleading. For this and other reasons, he ultimately stopped dating the young woman, because he was looking for an eternal companion who had the courage to promptly and quietly obey the counsel of the prophet in all things and at all times."
Wheeeeeere do we begin here. There's a lot to unpack in this story. First, I think we can agree that this poor young woman dodged a bullet by not marrying this fellow. After all, the Savior called the Pharisees "children of hell" (Matt. 23:15).
Can you imagine their wedding day as they exchanged vows? "Dearest husband, thou art a true and fine Child of Hell. I shall follow you to the infernal pit until the day I die, which, being married to a Pharisee, will not come soon enough for me."
A disclaimer: I do not know this young man. I cannot judge his heart, neither would I want to. So let's pretend this was not a tragically true story, but was merely a 'made up' dilemma.
Look carefully at the story. Based on the few facts we're given, we know that he "cared" for a special young woman "very much," and wanted to get engaged. Hold on! Before you put a ring on it, check the rings in the ears.
Nowhere in the story does it say the couple discussed the earrings. Nowhere in the story does it say they counseled together. Nowhere in the story does it show the young man trying to become of "one heart" with the special lady.
Instead, the young man is characterized as waiting, watching, judging, keeping score to see if she was as righteous as he.
Well, we can safely conclude that this young man chose judgment over love, satisfying his pride over extending mercy.
Can we imagine Christ "breaking up" with us because we are imperfect?
This returned missionary was no Hosea, that's for sure! Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute, so he did. He married Gomer. We don't know how many earrings Gomer had, though.
I wish we knew more about this young man. Like, did he donate regularly to the Perpetual Education Fund? Because President Hinckley spoke all the time about the PEF. It's easy to judge appearances while concealing our finances.
Let's see what we can learn from this story from Christ's life:
Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.
The Road Less Taken
We are given the choice between two different paths: between captivity and liberty, between damnation and eternal life:
1. We can choose to defend the way things are, becoming shining apologists for a lesser law, and thereby champion the status-quo, adding layers and restrictions and manmade traditions to hedge up the way; or
2. We can choose to seek the higher law, searching for a more excellent way, lifting our eyes to Christ.
Which road leads to Zion?
Which road leads to repentance and change?
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
(Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken)
The danger of clinging to lesser laws can be summed up in three quotes:
“Many men struggle to climb to reach the top of the ladder, only to find that it is leaning against the wrong wall.”
"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat."
"And they who remain shall . . . enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received. For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?" (D&C 88:32-33).