If truth is absolute, why would Church policies change? Why would anything in the Church change, for that matter? Thinking about why this question might bother people, some thought-provoking possibilities have come to mind. For any who might have this question themselves, I wanted to share a few comments as to why this might occur. Please note: this is totally and completely my opinion only. Further, not every possibility listed applies to every situation where something in the Church has changed.
As I present these thoughts, I do so with some foundational beliefs, which I list here:
- We are on the Earth to learn how to be more like God, as it is our potential and purpose to become as He is.
- As such, on occasion we must learn to work out the problems, issues, and trials of life on our own.
- Because of this, many times in our lives, we must make the best decision we know how. We then present it to the Lord for approval.
- In other words, just because the Lord knows everything does not mean that He will readily present us with the answer to every problem we have. We strive to make the best decision we can with the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding we have been given.
- If that decision is acceptable to the Lord, He may let us know one or more of a wide variety of ways. Or, should that be the wrong decision, He will also let us know.
- It is my humble opinion that this is the case for Church leaders, as well.
Sometimes, if a policy, practice, procedure, or process in the Church changes, it may be that the Lord wishes to protect the members or growth of His Church. One example of this could be the practice of plural marriage. Many early Church members practiced polygamy, as it was a revelation given by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Polygamy was met with strong opposition by nearly all the rest of the country.
Many practitioners were pursued by the law after the Edmunds Act of 1882 made polygamy a felony. Being the Celestial law that it is, the requirement to practice polygamy was nonetheless rescinded. As we also believe in obeying the law, this may have been part of why the practice was discontinued. In addition, there had been a large amount of distrust of these early LDS Church members by the Federal Government. This was punctuated by the Utah War (1857-1858) when President James Buchanan sent a military force to Utah.
Had the Church defiantly continued practicing polygamy, I believe that this would have greatly aggravated the already-strained relations with the rest of the country. Perhaps this would have resulted in further persecution of those faithful saints. The Prophet at the time, President Wilford Woodruff, received a revelation on September 23, 1890 from the Lord that the Church was to discontinue polygamy.
Did the Lord already know how this would unfold? Of course He did. However, he still gives people the chance to accept or reject His teachings to test their faith and obedience. He also lets us grow and stretch by giving us challenges for us to work out here on the Earth.
Thus, one reason that things in the Church may somtimes change is that the society as a whole may turn on the Church members. The Lord will then instruct the Prophet to alter policies to protect the development of His Church and its members. The society as a whole is not ready to accept that particular precept. Again, this possibility is my own opinion.
As another explanation of why things may change, perhaps it is the Church members themselves that are not quite able to live a given law. This may have been the case with the Law of Consecration as it was originally given. It seems to me that the early nineteenth-century era members were unable or perhaps unwilling to live this law. Because of this, they may have instead been given the law of Tithing as we now practice it.
The Lord’s implementation of the Law of Moses seems to present a similar situation. Prior to that time, they lived God’s laws as given to Adam and Abraham. The people that Moses brought out from Egypt could not live that law. This became clear when they were found worshiping a golden calf. Because of their inability to remain faithful, they were given a different law. That became what we know now as the Law of Moses.
There is precedent for the Lord directly changing laws himself.
As an example, consider the fifth chapter of Matthew in the New Testament. The Lord says that a number of things had been set as the law until that time. He then revises the requirements of the law. This may have been to restore them to what they were before the Law of Moses was given. He changed the requirements of what the people were to do, possibly for their ultimate benefit and to accelerate their spiritual growth.
We could also review the Old Testament account of the Lord requiring Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham did everything he was asked to do. At the last minute, the Lord changed His requirement of Abraham, providing him with a different sacrifice. One might ask, “Why the change?”
Do you think that the Lord did not know that Abraham would be fully obedient? I believe He did. I feel that it could be the case that Abraham needed to learn something about himself. Perhaps there was a lesson in the experience for Isaac, as well.
Why did the Lord change what He required of His followers in Matthew 5? Why did he change what he required of Abraham?
The desire of the Lord is to save as many of us as He can. People interpret things in different ways. As mortals, we have a myriad of ways that we perceive and assign meaning to things. Though certain exact steps are required, such as baptism and being sealed in the Temple, the Lord reveals things to us so that we will each understand individually. We learn this in 2 Nephi 31:3. The overall goal is that we are exalted, per Moses 1:39. In that, He will never change. He may modify, according to what we need, His requirements of us, so that we become what He would have us be: pure, refined, and perfected.
When I hear that a certain number of changes have been made in the Book of Mormon, or to the temple endowment, or to whatever thing, that doesn’t bother me a bit. We have considered a few possibilities as to why the Lord may rescind a requirement, or change something completely. If He wants to change something so that we have a greater possibility of being exalted, why would we not rejoice in such a thing?