For a long time, the “Letter to a CES Director” bothered me for two reasons. The first reason was that it felt like an attempt to destroy folks’ testimonies more than to honestly present true questions out of curiousity and to explore the truth. The second reason was that its approach was fundamentally flawed. This is my humble response to the “Letter to a CES Director,” presented in a much different format than other responses. The concept that I present in this ebook is that once you follow the Lord’s method of gaining a true testimony of the primary, basic, core truths, the secondary ones, such as those in the “Letter to a CES Director” won’t bother you in the least. I fully believe that if you internalize every concept covered in the ebook, that you will be founded on a solid testimony, and will be able to dismiss the “Letter to a CES Director” and any other such work as the thinly-veiled attempt that they are to destroy your testimony.
In the last few blog posts, I’ve hopefully made sure that everyone is aware that the Church is not perfect, its leaders are not perfect, and our standard works are not perfect. So, what do we do with all of this imperfection? How do we reconcile the changes made throughout the Church’s history? When a Church leader makes a mistake, does that mean the Church is not true? Those are actually the wrong questions.
What we should really be asking is, “Am I able to trust the Giver of the Law, the One who guides the Church?” Do we give Christ room to instruct the prophet to make these changes? Do we allow the Giver of the Law to be greater than the law? Do we gain a personal testimony that Jesus Christ leads His Church by revelation here on the Earth?
Joseph Smith taught, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill;’ at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” (History of the Church, Joseph Smith, 5:134-135)
Perhaps this is one reason that absolute truth is not necessarily attainable. It may change dependent upon our circumstances.
Sometimes, we get in this habit of trying to ascertain what absolute truth is. Believe it or not, this type of thinking comes from the Greek influence during the time of Christ. This is often referred to as the Hellenistic period. The Greeks thought in terms of absolute truth as an abstract idea. Imagine a perfect square. Or take the concept of 2+2. It will always be 4. They thought in terms of truth as immutable ideas such as these. This type of thought, inherited from the Greeks, drives our need to have truth as an absolute, unchangeable thing.
Dr. Jeffery L. Thayne and Dr. Edwin E. Gantt give some good insight:
“Not only do our beliefs hinge on different premises, but the premises of our questions matter as well. Many of the questions above are rooted in a single premise: They assume that truth is a set of abstract ideas or doctrines that never change.
“This may seem like common sense, and if so, that is because most of us accept this view unquestioningly. But this may be one of the ‘philosophies of men’ that can subtly change the way we think about the gospel, and ultimately ensnare us in doubt. This view has its roots in ancient Greek philosophy. The Greeks saw things that do not change as more fundamental than those that do, and this led them to focus on abstract ideas as ‘truth.’
“In the view we articulate in this book, truth is not a set of abstract ideas, but a living, breathing Person who loves us as His children. This view is inspired by Hebrew thought, which did not separate the search for truth from our journey to God. And once we adopt this view—even provisionally—all of our questions change. Not all of our questions will be answered, to be sure. But the way we frame the questions will change so that they no longer tilt us towards doubt. We explain how this is so throughout the rest of this book.
“But perhaps more important, this book may help you to reframe the way you think about your relationship with God. Our hope is that all of our readers will center their faith more on the Savior Jesus Christ and the covenants they have made with God, and less on abstract lists of doctrine or beliefs. We echo the words of Nephi, who write, ‘For the fulness of mine intent is that I may persuade men to come unto the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, and be saved’ (1 Nephi 6:4)”Who Is Truth?, Thayne & Gantt, 15-16
We should be evaluating our relationship with the great Giver of the Law rather than focusing on whether a given point of doctrine is dead-on correct, or whether this or that new policy is the right thing to do. We can receive our own testimonies of these changes. The first part of this book goes over that entire process. It talks about how to gain a testimony of a thing about which we have a question, or something that is weighing on our minds.
And why would we even be bothered by changes that occur? We explicitly state in the Ninth Article of Faith that “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Such revelations, in this context mean that things will change! We believe in revelations that correct the Bible, as did Joseph Smith’s Translation. We believe in all the revelations that will yet come. They might be to make changes in existing canon, programs, or policies. The Ninth Article of Faith allows for all of this.
Let’s turn now to 2 Nephi 29:7, which says, “Know ye not that there are more nations than one? Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea; and that I rule in the heavens above and in the earth beneath; and I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?”
The Lord has given a portion of his word “unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth.” So far, the scriptures mentioned in this verse have not been brought forth. Also, we have the sealed part of the plates that Joseph Smith did not translate. There appears to be much that has yet to come forth.
The Lord never gives us more than we can handle. There have been times when He has changed His law as given to the people. Sometimes, these changes come so as to give us something that we can understand and live as a Church.
The Lord will give us milk before meat. Let’s take a look at some scriptures that illustrate this principle:
D&C 19:22 – “For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.”
1 Corinthians 3:2 – “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.”
“12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
1 Peter 2:2 – “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”
The Lord gives us just the right amount of His law and commandments for us to live at that moment. We could not handle the full and perfect truth all at once even if we wanted to. We learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” (2 Nephi 28:30)
We grow and progress in the principles of truth. We do our best with the little that we get at a time. Gradually, we get more and more. Over time, we are able to handle the “meat.”
What if God did give us the full law all at once? We would be responsible to live it. Not being able to, we would stand completely condemned. The Lord gives us laws that we can live, laws that we can aspire to live, rather than the law in its full perfection. This would be utterly impossible. We would end up in a very hopeless state. Perhaps the scriptures can clarify:
“3 For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.
4 Ye call upon my name for revelations, and I give them unto you; and inasmuch as ye keep not my sayings, which I give unto you, ye become transgressors; and justice and judgment are the penalty which is affixed unto my law.” (D&C 82:3-4)
We have to live whatever law we have been given. If we do, we will get marvelous blessings. If not, we are in danger of missing out on blessings we otherwise might have had.
Even though our priesthood leaders are not infallible, they are the men that the Lord has chosen. They are doing their best to do the will of the Lord. If we take the law as given to us by priesthood leaders as God’s will, we will be blessed:
“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38)
“I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)
If we live the law that has been given to us through his servants, we will be blessed. If not, we may find ourselves in an undesirable condition.
We should remember that even though our leaders are not perfect, we have sustained them. This means that we uphold and support them. We do whatever we can to help them be successful in their calling.
We should do our very best to live by every word that comes out of the mouths of both our local leaders and the leaders of the Church.
Marion G. Romney said, “I remember years ago when I was a bishop I had President Heber J. Grant talk to our ward. After the meeting I drove him home… Standing by me, he put his arm over my shoulder and said: ‘My boy, you always keep your eye on the President of the Church and if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it.’ Then with a twinkle in his eye, he said, ‘But you don’t need to worry. The Lord will never let his mouthpiece lead the people astray.'” (Marion G. Romney (quoting Heber J. Grant), Conference Report, October 1960, 78)
Commit yourself to obey what the prophet says. If we so live, we will always be safe.
Speaking of the Apostles in the same manner, Elder James E. Faust said, “The keys I speak of never rust. These are the keys of life and salvation in the kingdom of God. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I will give you a key that will never rust, if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.'” (Sunday Afternoon Session, 2 October 1994, The Keys That Never Rust, Elder James E. Faust Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles)
Even though our leaders are not perfect, we still sustain and support them. We are blessed for following their counsel. We should do as they direct, because their word is as though it came from the Lord himself.
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.
This is a topic that has been on my mind quite a bit in the past few years. I’ve even started writing a book about it to make the process as simple as possible to understand. In my research, I have found many valuable resources that will be of great help to those folks who really want to understand absolute truth, where it comes from, and what it is.
In the book that I’m working on, the premise is that you cannot arrive at perfect truth through the reasoning of man, even scientific results. The only true source of absolute truth is always the Holy Ghost. If you’re interested in reading the working copy of my book, let me know. I’ll share it with you.
However, the book that you should absolutely study is called “Hearing the Voice of the Lord,” by Gerald N. Lund. If you’d like a panoptic view of what truth is, how to discover it, and how to know it’s the pure truth, this is the book that I’d recommend to everyone. Brother Lund goes through all parts of revelation: what it is, how to recognize it, the myriad ways it can manifest, how to pursue it, what to do once you’ve received it, how to recognize false revelation, and many other aspects of the topic.
Another book that I will be reading soon is called “Who is Truth?” by Jeffrey L. Thayne and Edwin E. Gantt. For some good info on what this is, take a look at the reddit post that originally made me aware of the book’s existence. It can be purchased on amazon, as well (I have no affiliation with these gentlemen, I’m just sharing the info).
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?