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.