Dec 13

Why So Many Changes In the Church?

My last two posts have attempted to explain a couple of concepts: don’t expect the leaders of the Church to be infallible, and the scriptures themselves are not even perfect. We should not hold either to an exacting standard of perfection. There are imperfect people involved with both of them.

The Church is often held to a standard of perfection, as well. Some might say, “Why would God allow imperfections in His Church? Surely, if the Church were true, there would be no imperfections in it or any need to make changes to its practices, policies, or structure.”

Here, we must go back to the nature of humankind. We all have weaknesses and challenges. The leaders of the church are no exception. As the Church is led by imperfect men, there are going to be things in it that need to be changed from time to time. That’s not the only reason, either. The Church is led by Christ through revelation. It’s something that changes and grows as the Lord deems necessary. Now, core doctrines do not change, but sometimes policies change.

As a matter of fact, let’s take a look at some of the things that have changed in the Church since it was restored:

  • Beginning in the 1840s, the Church began practicing polygamy, but in 1890, the practice was discontinued when the Manifesto was issued.
  • After the Church was first organized the Prophet Joseph Smith was called to be an Apostle and the First Elder of the Church. Oliver Cowdery was called to be an Apostle and the Second Elder of the Church. This was constituted as the leadership of the Church at that time. This was later changed such that there is now a Prophet and his two Counselors that make up the First Presidency which lead the Church. Accompanying them is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
  • Primary, Priesthood, and Sunday School used to be on different days of the week. It was then changed such that they all met on Sunday for what was then known as the 3-hour block.
  • There have been numerous changes to the temple ceremony throughout the Church’s history.
  • There have been many changes to the Church’s General Handbook of Instructions over the decades.

Most recently, we have had extensive changes:

  • Meetings used to take up 3 hours on Sunday. Now, Sunday meetings consist of two hours.
  • Home Teaching was dissolved and Ministering instituted.
  • At the ward level, the High Priests now meet with the Elders’ Quorum.
  • Young men used to be ordained to the Priesthood when they turned 12 years old. Now, they are ordained to the Priesthood in January of the year they turn 12. In nearly all cases, this means that they are 11 years old at the time of their ordination.
  • Any member holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism.
  • Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing.
  • Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.

Additionally, organizational changes have been made in the office of the Seventy, Area Authority, and Area Authority Seventy. In October 1986, President Ezra Taft Benson made the following announcement:

“In harmony with the needs of the growth of the Church across the world, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles have given prayerful consideration to the role of the stake seventies quorums in the Church and have determined to take the following action relative thereto:

“… The seventies quorums in the stakes of the Church are to be discontinued, and the brethren now serving as seventies in these quorums will be asked to return to membership in the elders quorums of their wards. Stake presidents, in an orderly fashion, may then determine who among such brethren should be ordained to the office of high priest.

“The work continued to expand, and six years later, in preparation for further fulfillment of the role of the Seventies, President Gordon B. Hinckley said in the April 1995 general conference:

“Now in the ongoing of this work, administrative changes sometimes occur. The doctrine remains constant. But from time to time there are organizational and administrative changes made under provisions set forth in the revelations.

“For instance, twenty-eight years ago the First Presidency was inspired to call men to serve as regional representatives of the Twelve … to train our stake and ward leaders in the programs of the Church that they in turn might train the membership in their responsibilities before the Lord.

“More recently the Presidency were inspired to call men from the Seventy to serve in Area Presidencies. As the work grows across the world, it has become necessary to decentralize administrative authority to keep General Authorities closer to the people. We now have such Area Presidencies well established and effectively functioning.

“It is now felt desirable to tighten up the organization administered by the Area Presidencies. Accordingly, we announce the release—the honorable release—of all regional representatives effective August 15 of this year.

“Now we announce the call of a new local officer to be known as an area authority. These will be high priests chosen from among past and present experienced Church leaders. They will continue with their current employment, reside in their own homes, and serve on a Church-service basis. The term of their call will be flexible, generally for a period of approximately six years. They will be closely tied to the Area Presidencies. They will be fewer in number than have been the regional representatives. We are guided in setting up this new corps of area officers, as were our Brethren before us in the calling of regional representatives, by the provision contained in the revelation on priesthood, section 107 of the Doctrine and Covenants.”

A History of the Latter-day Seventy, Elder L. Aldin Porter

There have been many more changes above and beyond this list. This is just to give the reader an idea of the types of changes that have occurred within the Church during its history.

Now again, the idea here is not to find fault. It’s ok that some things change in the Church. That evidence that the Church is led by revelation. Though fundamental, core doctrines of exaltation do not change, some Church policies or organizational structure may change. This is totally as it should be. We are led by revelation.

See also: Doctrine: Models to Evaluate Types and Sources of Latter-day Saint Teachings

Jan 21

Why do LDS Church policies change?

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?