Thursday, December 30, 2010

JOD 01-07

For the next installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the seventh discourse in the first volume. This was delivered by George A. Smith (1817-1875), who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later went on to serve as First Counselor in Brigham Young's First Presidency; he was also Joseph Smith's first cousin, being a son of John Smith (1781-1854), the brother of Joseph Smith Jr.'s father Joseph Smith Sr. (1771-1840). The discourse in question was delivered in the tabernacle in the Great Salt Lake Valley, Utah, on 24 July 1852. The text of the discourse as we have it was reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The main themes of Elder Smith's oration that day were liberty, persecution, and the United States government.

1. After looking proudly upon the civil liberties that the Latter-day Saints enjoy in the Utah Territory (JD 1:42), Elder Smith turns to a reflection upon the 'martyrdom' of his cousins Joseph and Hyrum. He specifically says that they were "sacrified" as "martyrs, sealing their testimony" (JD 1:43). I suppose the question I have here is over the concept of martyrdom. Does a person constitute a martyr, properly speaking, if they attempt to retaliate through violent means? In the broader Christian tradition, I think to a great extent the answer is often no. Think of so many other martyrs:

  • The protomartyr Stephen didn't hurl stones back into the crowd while he was being stoned to death; instead, he prayed for the forgiveness of those who were stoning him and refused to strike back.
  • James the son of Zebedee, one of Christ's disciples, was executed by sword by order of Herod. Nothing in Acts suggests that James attempted to physically harm Herod or the executioner in any way.
  • Peter was famously crucified in Rome. Nowhere is there an indication that he struck back at those who were crucifying him.
  • Paul was beheaded in Rome - another execution by sword. Nowhere is it indicated that he fought back and attempted to do physical harm to his executioners.
  • James the brother of Jesus was, according to the accounts we have, thrown from the Jerusalem temple and beaten to death with a club. He did not resist the physical violence that was being done to him.
  • Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was taken by Roman soldiers and carted off to Rome to be thrown to the lions. He did not attempt to resist, and in fact discouraged other Christians from attempting to divert him from this destiny.
  • Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear, according to the narrative of his martyrdom. He went peacefully with his executioner and refused to deny Christ.
  • Justin Martyr - along with other Christians named Chariton, Euelpistus, Hierax, Paeon, and Liberianus - was beheaded under the Roman prefect Rusticus. Rather than resist those who were executing them, they praised God for his goodness.
  • Pothinus, the bishop who served in Lugdunum prior to Irenaeus, was seized by a mob and tossed into prison, where he was horribly abused and died from his injuries; his companions - Alexander, Attalus, Espagathus, Maturus, and Sanctius - survived long enough to be ripped apart by animals in the amphitheatre. The accounts do not show any indication that they attempted to in any way injure their persecutors, despite it being a case of mob violence.
  • Perpetua and Felicitas, two well-known female martyrs, also submitted to their execution without attempting to resist violently. The same is true of those who were martyred with them.
  • Leonides of Alexandria was beheaded by the orders of the Egyptian prefect Lactus during the terrible persecution under Septimus Severus, just as were Perpetua and Felicitas. There is no indication that Leonides attempted to injure Lactus or anyone else in retaliation.
  • Leonides' son, the famed early Alexandrian theologian Origen, was horribly tortured during the persecution under Decius. His death occurred three years later, a slow and lingering death from his wounds. Neither before nor after his torture did Origen, so far as all evidence and good sense indicates, attempt to avenge himself upon Decius or his local agents.
  • It's said that, before the Armenians converted to Christianity, they kept Thomas of Marash in prison for 22 years, mutilating him annually to attempt to induce him to surrender his faith. At no time did Thomas attempt to injure his captors. While Thomas may have been a confessor rather than a martyr, he certainly captures the spirit here.
  • Skipping forward to the seventeenth century, Francis Ferdinand de Capillas was decapitated in China after enduring numerous tortures, on the grounds that he was a Christian missionary and was preaching Christian teachings. During his tortures, imprisonment, and execution, Fr. Francis did not lash out. On the contrary, he bore it well and gained the admiration of even some of his guards.
  • Thomas Baker, a nineteenth-century missionary to Fiji, was butchered with an axe and cannibalized, along with a number of Christian companions. According to his guide who escaped the massacre, Baker sensed that the tensions were such that if he pressed onward, he would be killed - but he accepted that fate for the sake of the gospel and did not retaliate against his murderers.
  • In the 1950s, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and three other Christian missionaries were speared to death by the Waodani ('Auca') tribe of Ecuador. They could have likely defeated the Waodani with violent defensive measures - Jim Elliot was armed with a pistol - but instead attempted to merely scare off their attackers rather than resist with lethal force.
  • In January of this year, Muslim gunmen ambushed a group of Coptic Christians outside of a cathedral in Nag Hammadi, massacring them after a service there. Those Christians were murdered for being Christians and were killed too quickly to react.
  • More recently this year, Muslim gunmen ambushed a Catholic church in Baghdad during an evening mass, killing over 50 Christians who did not attempt to resist violence with violence.

This is an extremely partial list, not even capturing a barest fraction of the known Christian martyrs throughout the ages. These seem to me to be the exempla of true Christian martyrdom - one which is both for the sake of the gospel (rather than something else) and involves accepting suffering without violent retaliation. In my opinion, this would exclude some martyrs claimed by some traditions, such as St. Ludmila of Bohemia, who was purportedly strangled because of her influence over her grandson ('Good King Wenceslaus') rather than because of her confession of Christian faith. And in my opinion, it seems as though it must also exclude Joseph Smith, who - when assaulted by a mob in prison while awaiting trial for treason - shot and injured at least three of his assailants. (It's also open to question, I think, whether Joseph Smith was killed for his faith or rather for distinct actions, whether political or personal.) Now, don't misunderstand me. I don't personally think that Joseph Smith acted immorally in defending himself in that way, nor that it shows that the martyrs listed above were more faithful, or anything like that. I don't at all blame Joseph Smith for dying in that way. I simply have reservations over whether he should be counted as a martyr for it. Perhaps, perhaps not. I can certainly see why Latter-day Saints would especially want to count him as a martyr. After all, he was maliciously and unfairly killed as a result of mob violence. And that must not be minimized. I just have reservations about putting his death in the same category as that of Stephen.

2. After mentioning that, Elder Smith goes on to deliver a very powerful protest against the persecution that the Latter-day Saints have been facing up until this point:

The history of our persecutions is unparalleled in the history of past ages. To be sure, persecutions have existed in countries where religion was established by law, and where any other religion than the one established, was decreed by law to be heretical, and its votaries doomed to persecution and the flames. But in the countries where we suffered our persecution, there is a good government; there are good institutions that are calculated to protect every person in the enjoyment of every right that is dear to man. The persecutions we have suffered were in violation of every good institution, of every wholesome law, of every institution and constitution which exist in the countries where they have been inflicted. And what is more singular, out of the hundreds of murders which have been committed upon men, women, and children, in the most barbarous, ruthless, and reckless manner - not one murderer has ever been brought to justice; not a single man who has shed the blood of a Latter-day Saint has ever been punished or brought to justice; but they are permitted to run at large, in the face and eyes of every officer of government, who are directly concerned to preserve the laws, and see them faithfully executed. The history of no country on earth affords a parallel to this; it cannot be found; that is, such a wholesale murder, robbery, house burning, butchering of men, women, and children, and, finally, the wholesale banishment of tens of thousands of souls from their homes and country; this has actually been effected in violation of the laws and regulations of the country where it occurred, and not one person has ever been punished for these crimes. I challenge the world to produce the record upon the face of the earth, that shows, in all these murders, cold-blooded butcheries, house burnings, and wholesale robberies, that a single person suffered the just penalty of the law; that a solitary criminal was punished; that any of the unprincipled savages who were guilty of these high-handed depredations, were ever brought to justice. (JD 1:43)

George Smith appears to have three major points here. First of all, the persecution of the Latter-day Saints was extremely horrible in both cruelty and extent. Second, unlike other similar persecutions of other groups, this one happened in countries with a strong dedication to religious freedom. And third, despite the massive incongruity between the law of the land and the events that transpired, there were no penalties to those who brutalized the early Latter-day Saints. Now, I don't know enough about the history to know the stated motives of those who did persecute the early Latter-day Saints as a group, nor do I know that George Smith isn't exaggerating here when he says that none of them were punished. All I can say is that I believe this to be one of the deepest and darkest blots on American history.

3. After further similar laments, George Smith turns to a further castigation of the United States government. He points out that after the Latter-day Saints settled on their land in the Utah Valley and its environs, that land was transferred by treaty from Mexico to the United States. Thus, from that point on, the Utah Territory was an American territory. George Smith notes that it is quite customary for the United States federal government to give certain sorts of assistance to the governments of all such American territories. And yet, he insists, the United States government has refused to do any of this with them, showing - Smith believed - a particular prejudice against the Latter-day Saints as a people (JD 1:44). He follows his incisive questions up with the observation:

I will say, with all reverence to the constituted authority that exists in the General Government, that I do believe that the same spirit of tradition, and the same spirit of persecution, that have ever followed the people of God, have more or less influence with them; and that if we would actually go to work, and alter our name, we might possibly be treated as other men. Be this as it may, I feel, while I stand upon the face of the earth, determined to defend my right, and the rights of my friends and brethren. I know that there is no "Mormonism" known in the constitution of the U.S., but all men are there considered equal, and free to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and enjoy equal rights and privileges. (JD 1:45)

I understand the meaning of this to be that, if the Latter-day Saints were to assimilate, they could probably avoid persecution that way; however, it is a right protected under the United States Constitution that persons must be treated equally and must be free to practice their religion without the sort of infringement that had been previously inflicted upon the Latter-day Saints - and thus Elder Smith protests, since the Latter-day Saints are not being treated equally as was their right under the constitution.

4. After an anecdote about even the persecutors of the Latter-day Saints turning to them for help in times of need - showing an awareness that the Saints were virtuous people - George Smith concludes with a paragraph that needs no comment from me but seems especially apt to remember in our day and age:

I have but a few more remarks to make, which will be directed to the twenty-four young men, and the braves and warriors of these mountains. Young men, braves and warriors, who sit before me this day, let me admonish you, never to let the hand of tyranny or oppression rise in these mountains, but stand unflinchingly true by the Constitution of the United States, which our fathers sealed with their blood; never suffer its provisions to be infringed upon; and if any man, or any set of men form themselves into a mob in these mountains, to violate that sacred document, by taking away the civil or religious rights of any man, if he should be one of the most inferior beings that exist upon the face of the earth, be sure you crush it, or spend the last drop of blood in your veins with the words of - Truth and Liberty, Liberty and Truth, forever! (JD 1:45)

Denial, Denial of Denial, and LDS Teaching

One of my favorite bloggers, Ms. Jack, has a new guest post up at the LDS & Evangelical Conversations blog: Denial is a river in Utah. In it, she takes a good, hard look at the tendency of some Latter-day Saints, when confronted with things that are genuinely taught in modern-day Church manuals and that have a strong pedigree in the teachings of key historical leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to vehemently deny them in front of non-member audiences (sometimes out of genuine ignorance, sometimes perhaps for other reasons). I think she's done an excellent job tying in her personal experiences with this to some examples that are more visible in the public eye. I also enjoyed reading her thoughts on the recent example in the comments under a post at fMh, since I'd been involved in that thread as well and had been eagerly awaiting her response to Richard K (see also here). Anyway, one of the parts of Jack's post that I most appreciated were the concluding two paragraphs:

It's frustrating when us non-members who are just trying to piece Mormon theology together run into long-time Mormons who have honestly never heard of these things. However, it's even more frustrating to run into Mormons who know better, but for whatever reason, choose to mislead us.

I'm sometimes unsure of what exactly it is that I want from Mormons via interfaith dialogue anymore, but openness and honesty about the real differences between us is definitely on the list.

I can speak from my own personal experience that I've run into both of these categories of Latter-day Saints as well - some folks who honestly aren't familiar with certain teachings or facts, and some folks who are simply out to spin and obfuscate to their heart's content, regardless of ethical considerations.

All I can do is plead with Latter-day Saints - and folks from all other parties, of course - to be willing to state, clearly and without ambiguity, what it is that you believe, what it is that Church authorities and texts have stated, and how you navigate the admittedly tricky maze that is the LDS system of weighing authority, doctrine, etc. Let's be frankly open about these things and set aside the spin; and let's also commit ourselves to truly understanding what it really is that our publications do in fact teach.

Anyway, that brief rant aside, I highly recommend checking out Jack's post.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 07

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, we'll be examining the seventh portion (actually, seventh and eighth, as enumerated in the document) of the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974 by the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The first segment dealt with the purposes of God; the second segment dealt with the nature and authority of Scripture; the third segment dealt with the uniqueness of Christ as the only savior of the world; the fourth segment dealt with the nature of evangelism; the fifth segment dealt with Christian social responsibility; the sixth segment dealt with the Church's calling to evangelism; and now the seventh segment deals with Christian partnership in evangelism:

7. Cooperation in Evangelism

We affirm that the Church's visible unity in truth is God's purpose. Evangelism also summons us to unity, because our oneness strengthens our witness, just as our disunity undermines our gospel of reconciliation. We recognize, however, that organisational unity may take many forms and does not necessarily forward evangelism. Yet we who share the same biblical faith should be closely united in fellowship, work and witness. We confess that our testimony has sometimes been marred by a sinful individualism and needless duplication. We pledge ourselves to seek a deeper unity in truth, worship, holiness and mission. We urge the development of regional and functional cooperation for the furtherance of the Church's mission, for strategic planning, for mutual encouragement, and for the sharing of resources and experience.

8. Churches in Evangelistic Partnership

We rejoice that a new missionary era has dawned. The dominant role of western missions is fast disappearing. God is raising up from the younger churches a great new resource for world evangelization, and is thus demonstrating that the responsibility to evangelise belongs to the whole body of Christ. All churches should therefore be asking God and themselves what they should be doing both to reach their own area and to send missionaries to other parts of the world. A reevaluation of our missionary responsibility and role should be continuous. Thus a growing partnership of churches will develop and the universal character of Christ's Church will be more clearly exhibited. We also thank God for agencies which labor in Bible translation, theological education, the mass media, Christian literature, evangelism, missions, church renewal and other specialist fields. They too should engage in constant self-examination to evaluate their effectiveness as part of the Church's mission.

One key element here is a call to Christian unity. This may not take the form of organizational unity just yet - though, whether the drafters of the Lausanne Covenant would agree or not, I think that is an urgent ultimate goal - but must involve a close partnership that centers on the gospel rather than the traditional denominational barriers that we've erected. We need to see close cooperation in evangelistic efforts across all such lines - Presbyterians providing resources for Methodists, Baptists laboring side-by-side with Anglicans, and so forth - as a witness to the world. Another key element here is that 'missions' is no longer what it used to be. The image of a missionary in the popular mindset, both within Evangelicalism and outside as well, is often still that of an American or European traveling a great distance to bring the gospel to some place in South America, Africa, or Asia. But no longer can that be the dominant model. Christianity is no longer a predominantly American or European religion; we have already reached the point where the 'average' Christian is from the so-called Two-Thirds World. And so in addition to missions from the West outward, there are also missions to the West as well, and from one part of the West to another, and from one part of the 'Global South' to another, and so forth. The Lausanne Covenant calls us to forget about traditional notions of 'Christianized' societies and instead focus on making sure that every local body, everywhere in the world, is able to do two things: evangelize in its own area, and send/support missionaries somewhere else.

Attempted Armed Assault on People at LDS Temple

This story makes me truly sad. I think it's rather clear that Pogue was not at all in his right mind. The story can be read here:

The man shot and killed by police outside the LDS Church's Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple was heavily armed and running toward a group of people with a loaded shotgun when he was shot, according to police.

Police released the man's name on Monday. They said Daniel M. Pogue, 54, had already unloaded two shotguns, one rifle and multiple swords out of his vehicle and thrown them through the gate onto temple property Saturday when he was confronted by police....

Pogue, who had been pointing a third shotgun at the temple and bystanders, ignored repeated commands to drop his weapon and ran toward a group of bystanders with a shotgun still in his hand, according to police.

Eyewitnesses of the event said that Pogue had been ranting about birds, and police noted a history of mental illness in Pogue's family. His neighbors, however, said that he was ordinarily a very nice and generous man.

Unfortunate as it is that Pogue himself died, the police clearly made a wise move, and I'm just glad that no one else was hurt.

For other articles, please see here, here, and here.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Technical Difficulties, Please Stand By

Hello, everyone. Just wanted to put up a notice that I seem to have encountered some hardware... difficulties... with my laptop. The sort of difficulties that have the unpleasant side effect of preventing me from accessing the Internet with it. (Technically, I can open an Internet window, I just can't make it larger than a tab.) Right now I'm using one of my previous computers, which is currently held together with substantial quantities of tape. Because of this issue, I most likely won't be posting much for the next week or two until I can (hopefully) get the issue straightened out. (Now and then I might pop in and release one of the posts I've saved as a draft for such a time as this.) In the meantime, please feel free to look over the many other posts I've made in the past month and give feedback to your heart's content.

[EDIT: The problem seems to have resolved itself - for now. Which is good, since I don't have the $269 required to get the issue repaired. So here's hoping that the problem remains dormant for a while!]

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Today we celebrate the condescension of God, in that the Christ was born of a mortal woman to redeem us.

And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the great city of Jerusalem, and also other cities. And I beheld the city of Nazareth; and in the city of Nazareth I beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly faith and white. And it came to pass that I saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before me; and he said unto me: Nephi, what beholdest thou? And I said unto him: A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins. And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God? And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things. And he said unto me: Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh. And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms. And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! (1 Nephi 11:13-21a)

We'll most likely differ about how exactly God condescended in the event we're celebrating. Many Latter-day Saints, if I recall correctly, put the emphasis on the Father's condescension to beget a mortal son by a mortal woman (whatever that 'begetting' might have entailed; some statements from LDS authorities suggest that it was through sexual union between the Father and Mary, although this is neither officially taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints nor officially repudiated by them), despite being himself immortal and the Father of our spirits. For Evangelicals and many other varieties of Christians, the focus would be instead on God the Son's condescension to take upon himself our nature - a created nature not his own - and join that with his own divine nature in the hypostatic union; and, in doing that, to submit himself to all the immense sufferings of this age, culminating on Golgotha in his atoning sacrifice. After all, the act we celebrate is that in which the Son of God "made himself of no reputation [lit., emptied himself], and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men" (Philippians 2:7). Perhaps, despite these differences, we can agree that in some manner, this was a humble act on the part of the Godhead as a whole, expressing the sort of self-giving love that through Christ we recognize to be the constituting factor of God's character.

People are divided over when exactly Jesus was born - some Latter-day Saints believe that it was April 6th based on a certain interpretation of D&C 20:1, but see this excellent review by Kevin Barney of LDS views of the dating of Christ's birth - but we can all agree to celebrate it and rejoice in it.

So, Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Joseph Smith

Today, 23 December 2010, marks the 205th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith Jr., the first prophet and leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His mother, Lucy Mack Smith, reported in her famed Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet (p. 56): "In the meantime we had a son, whom we called Joseph, after the name of his father; he was born December 23, 1805." Joseph Smith himself wrote, in what is now part of the LDS canon of scripture, "I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont" (Joseph Smith - History 1:3). It's astounding that a full 205 years have now passed since Joseph Smith, Jr., was born on this earth.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Changes to Book of Mormon Chapter Headings

A recent news article indicates that some alterations are being made to some of the chapter headings in the Book of Mormon - specifically, the ones that can easily be read as using racist language:

The LDS Church has made subtle - but significant - changes to chapter headings in its online version of the faith's signature scripture, The Book of Mormon, toning down some earlier racial allusions.

The words "skin of blackness" were removed from the introductory italicized summary in 2 Nephi, chapter 5, in describing the "curse" God put on disbelieving Lamanites.

Deeper into the volume, in Mormon, chapter 5, the heading changes from calling Lamanites "a dark, filthy, and loathsome people" to "because of their unbelief, the Lamanites will be scattered, and the Spirit will cease to strive with them."

Some questions for thought: In the practical life of the average Latter-day Saint who reads the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture, what role would you say these introductory chapter summaries play? How much weight are they instinctively accorded? What sort of impact might this change have down the road? And what do you think of the change?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 06

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's examine the sixth segment of the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974 by the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The first portion of the document discussed the purposes of God; the second portion discussed the nature and authority of Scripture; the third portion discussed the uniqueness of Christ as the only source of salvation for the entire world; the fourth portion discussed the nature of evangelism; the fifth portion discussed Christian social responsibility; and now the sixth portion deals with the relationship between the Church and evangelism:

6. The Church and Evangelism

We affirm that Christ sends his redeemed people into the world as the Father sent him, and that this calls for a similar deep and costly penetration of the world. We need to break out of our ecclesiastical ghettos and permeate non-Christian society. In the Church's mission of sacrificial service evangelism is primary. World evangelization requires the whole Church to take the whole gospel to the whole world. The Church is at the very centre of God's cosmic purpose and is his appointed means of spreading the gospel. But a church which preaches the cross must itself be marked by the cross. It becomes a stumbling block to evangelism when it betrays the gospel or lacks a living faith in God, a genuine love for people, or scrupulous honesty in all things including promotion and finance. The church is the community of God's people rather than an institution, and must not be identified with any particular culture, social or political system, or human ideology.

Even in this fairly brief paragraph, there are a number of salient points. One of the most important ones, I think, is what the church is. The Church is a community of God's people. There are local churches - a particular gathering of God's people in an area - and then there's the Church universal, which is the community of all of God's people in all times and places. This understanding is part of the reason why Evangelicals must acknowledge that no denomination or institutionalized body is, in and of itself, the 'one true church' in any exclusive sense. The Church is simply the community of all Christians, and so all who are Christians are in some sense members of the Church, even if they neglect to participate fully in the Church's life, or even if they are expelled from the assembly for disciplinary reasons for a time, or even if they fail to realize Christ's prayer for Christian unity by rejecting harmony and promoting schisms or heresies. To deny that some person is in any sense a member of the Church is to deny that they are Christians at all; there can, by definition, be no Christians totally outside the Church, even if the fellowship of some Christians with the rest of the Church is marred in some manner. The Church is the people of God, who are the body politic of God's kingdom. The Lausanne Covenant stresses that evangelism is not a task given to only certain segments of the Church. Rather, the task of evangelism is given to the entire Church, because only 'the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world' will live up to Christ's commission to his followers. The Lausanne Covenant is also clear that the Church is indeed charged with presenting the whole gospel, not merely a hollowed-out gospel designed to be easy to swallow. To the extent that the Church or any part of the Church is not presenting the whole gospel or is not presenting it to the whole world, the Church - in whole or in part - is failing to fulfill its missional calling. And the cross is central to the gospel, just as is the resurrection; a crossless Christianity is no Christianity at all, and to the extent that any ecclesial body downplays the cross (both the cross of Christ and the cross we must also bear), it is betraying Christ. The Lausanne Covenant here also calls upon the Church to quit hiding in 'ecclesiastical ghettos' and instead to work itself throughout the world. There's a tendency for some Christians to withdraw from worldly engagement, to set up insular communities of Christians - but this is not the way. Christians are not of the world, but we are most definitely called to be in it; the separatist path is not our calling.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

JOD 01-06

For the sixth installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the sixth discourse in the first volume. This was preached by Brigham Young (1801-1877), the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The discourse in question was delivered in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 11 July 1852. The text as we have it was reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The major themes of President Young's discourse were knowledge of the doctrine of Christ, the contrast between religions of men and the religion of God, Joseph Smith, and persecution, among others.

1. Brigham Young quickly finds himself on a controversial note, bearing witness that no non-LDS person could possibly have knowledge of certain basic things. For instance, President Young says:

Who are the individuals that can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, and that he lives? Can the Christian world? They cannot. (JD 1:37)

I hate to be a bit of a controversialist here myself, but... yes, we can. I can, and many of the other Christians I know can. I have the well-attested testimony of the Scriptures to the veracity of the gospel and to Christ's glorified and risen life - and beyond this, I also have the direct witness of the Holy Spirit to myself that Jesus lives and that the good news of the kingdom is true. I have received it from the Holy Spirit both through publicly available means and through the Spirit's private witness to myself; I have directly encountered the power of God in manifold ways. And I am not alone. (And even if I did not have that private witness from the Spirit, still I would know that he lives and that the gospel is true, because my belief in it is both true and also warranted by many means.) So here, it seems, President Young made claims that were far too strong, for Latter-day Saints do not have a monopoly on this witness.

2. Brigham Young continues with a larger unit I will leave together:

Permit me, my hearers, brethren and strangers, to say to you, there is not that man that hears the sound of my voice this day, that can say that Jesus lives, whether he professes to be his disciple or not; and can say at the same time, that Joseph Smith is not a Prophet of the Lord. There is not that being that ever had the privilege of hearing the way of life and salvation set before him as it is written in the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon, and in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, by a Latter-day Saint, that can say that Jesus lives, that his Gospel is true; and at the same time say that Joseph Smith was not a Prophet of God. That is strong testimony, but it is true. No man can say that this book (laying his hand on the Bible) is true, is the word of the Lord, is the way, is the guide-board in the path, and a charter by which we may learn the will of God; and at the same time say, that the Book of Mormon is untrue; if he has had the privilege of reading it, or of hearing it read, and learning its doctrines. There is not that person on the face of the earth who has had the privilege of learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ from these two books, that can say that one is true, and the other is false. No Latter-day Saint, no man or woman, can say that the Book of Mormon is true, and at the same time say that the Bible is untrue. If one be true, both are; and if one be false, both are false. (JD 1:38)

To virtually all of this, I must once more respectfully disagree. I have known numerous people who have in all sincerity read both the Bible and the Book of Mormon and have sought earnestly the truth of the matter, and yet have come to believe that the Bible is true and that Jesus Christ lives, and yet that the Book of Mormon is not true scripture and that Joseph Smith, for all his virtues, was not a prophet who faithfully carried out a divine commission to speak on God's behalf. As I say, I know a number of truly honest, sincere, godly counterexamples to Brigham Young's categorical negative - and I, too, for my part am compelled to say the same, having read and studied out these things with faithfulness and yet receiving a testimony of the truth of the orthodox teaching as enshrined in the traditional creeds rather than in the views of the Latter Day Saint movement. So here, while I do have quite a bit of respect for Brigham Young, I must say that I find these words of his to be untrue, and am myself among the evidences of its untruth.

3. Moving on, Brigham Young makes some very peculiar comments about the Roman Catholic and Anglican communions. He states that it would be simple to, within just a few years, reach the full depth of their teachings and have no further to go; but that this is wholly untrue regarding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is the only one the teaching of which cannot be circumscribed (JD 1:39). To this, I simply must disagree and suggest that perhaps President Young did not fathom how deep the orthodox tradition likewise is. I have seen elsewhere instances of Brigham Young espousing fundamental misunderstandings of basic orthodox teaching. With all due respect, I would suggest that this indicates that, contrary to his statements here, President Young considerably overestimated his grasp of it. There is a great deal of depth in Latter-day Saint teaching, but also in more traditional Christian teaching. I do not here venture a statement as to which is deeper, if either; but neither should be underestimated.

4. After an excursus to trumpet his pride in the LDS faith, President Young turns to the tragic history of persecution that was inflicted upon their people (JD 1:40-41). (While it would be a gross oversimplification to portray the early Latter-day Saints as either exclusively innocent victims or the villains they were portrayed as in popular caricature, it cannot be denied that a great deal was done to the Latter-day Saints that should grieve the hearts of every person attuned to an awareness of basic human dignity.) He talks about the lynching of Joseph Smith, about the many failed lawsuits against him, and about the sufferings of the Saints in Missouri, Ohio, and elsewhere. Having already objected to some of Young's statements, I certainly don't want to quibble here. There is a grave depth to the capacity for evil that is had by those who were made to be mirrors of glory and yet permitted themselves to become warped - and that is seen very clearly in the way in which Latter-day Saints have been treated.

5. Finally, Brigham Young closes on a wholly agreeable note, where he announces his willingness to rebuke evil no matter where he finds it - whether outside the Church or within it - and declares that he will do so regardless of the cost. And this is, I believe, a proper attitude for Christian leaders to have:

I am aware, as well as brother Kimball, if my body fall into the dust, I am laying it down to abide the penalty of the law broken in the fall of man; for dust I am, and unto dust I must return. It is all right to me; I have seen a great many times that I would like to have this body lie down, but as long as the spirit and the body hold together, my tongue shall be swift against evil, the Lord Almighty being my helper. Though it may be in "Mormon" Elders, among the people in or out of the Church, if they come in my path, where I can chastise them, the Lord Almighty being my helper, my tongue shall be swift against evil; and if evil come, let it come. If for this my body shall fall, let it fall; when they have destroyed the body, then they have no more that they can do; that is the end of their power, and of the power of the devil on this earth; but Jesus Christ has power to destroy both soul and body in hell. I thank you for your attention. May the Lord bless you. Amen. (JD 1:41-42)

Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling - Review Hub

The first book we'll be covering in our book review series is Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism's Founder (2005), written by Richard Lyman Bushman with assistance from Jed Woodworth. Richard Bushman (b. 1931) is an emeritus professor of history at Columbia University and is himself an active Latter-day Saint who lives in New York City. The book itself is, as one might guess, a biography of Joseph Smith, Jr. (1805-1844), the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. It is published by Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Random House) and won the 2005 Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association, as well as the 2005 Evans Biography Award from University of Utah's Mountain West Center for Regional Studies. Further relevant links:

And now, for the links to our review/summary posts themselves:

  1. The Church of Christ: 1830
  2. Joseph, Moses, and Enoch: 1830
  3. The Kirtland Visionaries: January-June 1831
  4. Zion: July-December 1831
  5. The Burden of Zion: 1832
  6. Exaltation: 1832-33
  7. Cities of Zion: 1833
  8. The Character of a Prophet: 1834
  9. Priesthood and Church Government: 1834-35
  10. Visitors: 1835
  11. Texts: 1835
  12. Strife: August-December 1835
  13. The Order of Heaven: January-April 1836
  14. Reverses: April 1836-January 1838
  15. Trials: January-July 1838
  16. War: August-December 1838
  17. Imprisonment: January-August 1839
  18. Washington: September 1839-June 1840
  19. Beautiful Place: April 1840-April 1841
  20. Temporalities and Spiritualities: 1841
  21. Stories of Eternity: Spring 1842
  22. Perils: May-December 1842
  23. Thickets: 1843
  24. City and Kingdom: 1843-1844
  25. Confrontations: January-June 1844
  26. Epilogue

Not being as familiar as I'd like yet with the full and detailed story of Joseph Smith, I suspect I'll mostly be absorbing the narrative in this book, so please bear with me; this 'review' will be very heavy on the summary and relatively light on evaluation, in order that it can also serve as an introduction to the life of Joseph Smith for myself and my non-LDS readers. Thanks for reading!

Also, I highly encourage you to look at a much briefer (but better) review by Tim over at LDS & Evangelical Conversations.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Provo Tabernacle Goes Up in Flames

I first heard the news from Jack via Facebook this morning (and see now her much more detailed post here)... I can't even express how sad I am at the lost of such an important and historic building, but earlier this morning, the famed tabernacle in Provo, Utah, was severely damaged by fire and may have to be demolished altogether:

The four-alarm fire, which is thought to have begun in the LDS Church building's second story, was reported at 2:43 a.m. When Provo Fire Department units arrived smoke and flames were coming from the structure's upper windows and gables....

About 4:45 a.m. the tabernacle's roof collapsed. Crews had been pulled prior to that, and no injuries were reported. By 7:45 a.m., cracks reportedly were appearing in the exterior walls of the first story of the two-story building...

"The damage appears severe and until we make a structural assessment we won't know whether this historic treasure will be able to be saved," he [LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter] added.

See also this article and this other article and this third article, and also this post at By Comment Consent. I'm very glad to hear that no one was injured, but I join my LDS friends and others in mourning the loss of this important piece of their history.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review Hub

Sometime soon, I intend to begin a number of series of book reviews here on this blog. All books will be chosen because I see some reason why they would be relevant to Latter-day Saints or to those who are involved in LDS-Evangelical dialogue. Each of the reviews will be done basically chapter-by-chapter, and each book will get its own hub page, to which I'll link here. In many cases, especially where I either don't feel as though I have the expertise to make an evaluation or else I'm simply not in the mood to show my hand, the reviews will basically be summaries of what the books are saying. The main purpose, by and large, will be to introduce readers to the contents of the books. It'll be a little while before we get started, so in the meantime, here's a list of some of the books we'll be examining (order subject to revision):

  • Richard L. Bushman's Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (2005)
  • Terryl L. Givens' By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture That Launched a New World Religion (2003)
  • Todd Compton's In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith (1997)
  • Michael F. Hull's Baptism on Account of the Dead (1 Cor. 15:29): An Act of Faith in the Resurrection (2005)
  • Robert S. Wicks and Fred R. Foister, Junius and Joseph: Presidential Politics and the Assassination of the First Mormon Prophet (2005)
  • Leonard J. Arrington's Brigham Young: American Moses (1986)
  • Newell G. Bringhurst and Craig L. Foster, The Mormon Quest for the Presidency (2008)
  • R. W. L. Moberly's Prophecy and Discernment (2008)
  • Terryl L. Givens' People of Paradox: A History of Mormon Culture (2007)
  • Sarah Barringer Gordon's The Mormon Question: Polygamy and Constitutional Conflict in Nineteenth-Century America (2001)
  • Craig L. Blomberg and Stephen E. Robinson, How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation (1997)
  • John L. Brooke's The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844 (1996)
  • Leonard J. Arrington's The Mormon Experience: A History of the Latter-Day Saints (1992)
  • Andre Munzinger's Discerning the Spirits: Theological and Ethical Hermeneutics in Paul (2007)
  • Kurt Widmer's Mormonism and the Nature of God: A Theological Evolution, 1830-1915 (2000)
  • D. Michael Quinn's Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (1998)
  • Klaus J. Hansen's Quest for Empire: The Political Kingdom of God and the Council of Fifty in Mormon History (1974)
  • Terryl L. Givens' The Viper on the Hearth: Mormons, Myths, and the Construction of Heresy (1997)
  • D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power (1994)
  • Philip L. Barlow's Mormons and the Bible: The Place of the Latter-Day Saints in American Religion (1991)
  • D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power (1997)
  • Douglas J. Davies' The Mormon Culture of Salvation: Force, Grace, and Glory (2000)
  • James Patrick Holding's The Mormon Defenders: How Latter-day Saint Apologists Misinterpret the Bible (2001)
  • Erich Robert Paul's Science, Religion, and Mormon Cosmology (1992)
  • David John Buerger's The Mysteries of Godliness: A History of Mormon Temple Worship (2002)
  • Donna Hill's Joseph Smith: The First Mormon (1999)
  • Robert L. Millet and Gerald R. McDermott, Claiming Christ: A Mormon-Evangelical Debate (2007)
  • David Persuitte's Joseph Smith and the Origins of the Book of Mormon (2000)
  • Kathryn M. Daynes' More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 (2001)
  • Dan Vogel's Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet (2004)
  • Francis J. Beckwith, Carl Mosser, and Paul Owen, eds., The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement (2002)

Please stay tuned!

The Ogden Lodge and Christian Compassion

One story that's been in the news lately concerns the Ogden Lodge in Ogden, Utah. It's a motel where a number of rather impoverished individuals and families have been living. And now, shortly before Christmas and on unreasonably short notice, they're finding themselves suddenly without a home there any more. The lodge has been sold to another party who wishes to tear it down, although that other party admits that they haven't yet decided what to do with the land. Rather than allow the motel to stand until they make such a decision, they're evicting all who right now need that motel in order to have shelter, a basic human necessity.

It seems to me that in such an instance, the proper Christian thing to do would be to put the needs of these people first and delay eviction and demolition so that these people have ample time to find affordable new housing and so that they don't have to scramble for their basic human needs so shortly before Christmas, a holiday marking the birth of a man who, among many other things, had compassion for the poor and insisted that humans need to love one another and go out of our way to meet each other's needs.

And it's with a heavy heart that I contemplate that the party responsible for evicting these people and demolishing the Ogden Lodge is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which last year around the same time was stressing the need to care for the poor and the needy. (But, see also here where a blogger - who happens to be in the real estate business in Ogden - explains why the tenants are really lowlifes and the Church is doing the right thing in evicting them.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 05

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, we'll be looking at the fifth section of the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974 by the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The first portion dealt with the purposes of God; the second portion dealt with the nature and authority of Scripture; the third portion dealt with the uniqueness of Christ as the only savior; the fourth portion dealt with the nature of evangelism; and now the fifth portion concerns Christian social responsibility:

5. Christian Social Responsibility

We affirm that God is both the Creator and the Judge of all people. We therefore should share his concern for justice and reconciliation throughout human society and for the liberation of men and women from every kind of oppression. Because men and women are made in the image of God, every person, regardless of race, religion, colour, culture, class, sex or age, has an intrinsic dignity because of which he or she should be respected and served, not exploited. Here too we express penitence both for our neglect and for having sometimes regarded evangelism and social concern as mutually exclusive. Although reconciliation with other people is not reconciliation with God, nor is social action evangelism, nor is political liberation salvation, nevertheless we affirm that evangelism and socio-political involvement are both part of our Christian duty. For both are necessary expressions of our doctrines of God and man, our love for our neighbour and our obedience to Jesus Christ. The message of salvation implies also a message of judgment upon every form of alienation, oppression and discrimination, and we should not be afraid to denounce evil and injustice wherever they exist. When people receive Christ they are born again into his kingdom and must seek not only to exhibit but also to spread its righteousness in the midst of an unrighteous world. The salvation we claim should be transforming us in the totality of our personal and social responsibilities. Faith without works is dead.

Once again, I as an Evangelical find nothing objectionable here. I note with pleasure that the Lausanne Covenant carefully avoids certain buzzwords such as "social justice", which sadly is often enough used as code for certain political agendas that it is no longer a fruitful way of expressing a proper Christian commitment to 'works of mercy' in this age. The Lausanne Covenant here denounces all sorts of evils, including those that would deny the dignity of any human being made in God's image. While making sure to distance itself from certain quasi-religious trends such as those found in certain forms of liberation theology, the Lausanne Covenant also affirms the duty of Christians to seek the liberation of all those who are truly oppressed. And, while avoiding any sort of works-based salvation scheme, the Lausanne Covenant notes that those of us who have been and are being saved ought to be transformed in such a way that we will do works fitting for the kingdom.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

JOD 01-05

For the fifth installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the fifth discourse in the first volume. This was preached by Heber C. Kimball (1801-1868), who was not only an original member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles but also, at the time of this discourse, was serving in the First Presidency. The discourse in question was delivered in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 11 July 1852. The text as we have it was reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The major themes of President Kimball's discourse that day were believing the Bible, the Gospel, persecution, and 'spirit-rapping'.

1. Early in the discourse, President Kimball announces - contrary to popular criticisms - that Latter-day Saints do believe in the Bible and that they ought to seek to establish for themselves the truth of the religion they've adopted:

You know that it is generally understood, and perhaps by many of the strangers that are present today, that we do not believe the Bible. That is a great mistake; we do believe it. I can say, as one of the Apostles of old said, and it is my advice and instruction to you - prove all things, and try all things, and hold fast to that which is good. As he exhorted you to prove these things, to investigate them, and reflect upon them, and prove the truth of that which is called "Mormonism," let me tell you, gentlemen, the day will come, if you don't do it, you will be sorry. (JD 1:34)

What he says here is, I think, true but in need of some qualification. First is the issue of believing the Bible, which I take to involve accepting and utilizing the Bible as a proper authoritative source for belief and praxis. This is in need of qualification because there are certain trends in at least contemporary LDS circles that mitigate this proper reliance. For example, I have spoken with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - elders, even - who have said that they "could spend all day proving the Bible wrong". Part of this results from a conviction that the biblical text as we have it today does not correspond well with what God meant for the text to say. Consequently, in discussions with some Latter-day Saints, if I have brought up an apparent discrepancy between the position they've espoused and something stated in the Bible, in many cases the knee-jerk response has been to suggest - without any reference to evidence from textual criticism or translation history or anything of the sort - that the text is simply unreliable at that point. It seems clear to me, however, that if we wish to profess a belief in the Bible, then we ought to submit our opinions to it where possible, and so in the event of a discrepancy, this avenue should only be open if textual or other evidence seems to permit it; otherwise, the task is ours of grappling with the problem directly. That being said, of course Latter-day Saints value the Bible as one of the four Standard Works, and it is very frequently cited/quoted in Church publications, in talks, etc. It would be erroneous to assume, as early critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may have, that there has been a replacement of the Bible by the Book of Mormon, and so on that count, President Kimball was quite correct. I also strongly support his invitation for members to investigate for themselves the Church's teachings, which I think must involve not only testing it against personal religious experience but also testing it against the Bible, against sound reason and philosophy, against historical data, etc. All must be taken into account.

2. I must take issue with something else said by President Kimball shortly thereafter:

The people profess to believe the Bible; the whole Christian world profess to believe that book - to believe that it is the Bible, but do they believe what is in that Bible? If they do, they don't practice it. (JD 1:34)

As said, I must object. Unfortunately, President Kimball is short on examples, and I will get to the one he does seem to offer in a little bit. Suffice it to say that, in terms of beliefs and practices that the Bible seems to indicate ought to be continuing throughout the existence of the church, I am not convinced that it is generally lacking in orthodox Christianity.

3. Heber C. Kimball cites one particular case, choosing via caricature to pick on the way baptism is practiced in non-LDS circles:

I have been at the Methodists' meeting many a time, and have followed up their protracted meetings, and sought for religion; and when people were converted to the faith of Methodism, I have seen the priest go to the water because some wished to be baptized in the water, but not because it was at all necessary. One would say I want to be sprinkled; another, I want to have the water poured upon me; and another, I want to be plunged. All right, says the minister, one of these is just as necessary as the other, for none of them are essential to salvation; we only attend to them to satisfy the candidate. Suppose the laws of the United States were made upon this principle, just to suit everybody's fancy and notions, making laws for every one to do just as he pleased - what kind of laws would they be? (JD 1:35)

Now, first, let me say that I highly doubt that these Methodist ministers ever said that the only reason to get baptized was to satisfy the whims of the candidate, as though baptism were a wholly optional affair with no real meaning. That is the impression Heber Kimball gives, but I deem it quite implausible. Nor is this a case of laws just suiting everyone's fancy so they may do as they please. All that varies here is the precise mode of baptism. Everything else remains the same, including the baptismal formulae and the significance of identification with Christ's passion and resurrection, as well as the symbolic enactment of cleansing from sin through that process. But still there's that sticking point of how there can be different forms. (I might note that many Latter-day Saints have told me that with respect to the sacrament of communion, it doesn't matter what the substances are, so long as the symbolism is kept in mind. Any principle-based argument against variation in baptismal mode would seem to be at least equally applicable to the way the sacrament is handled in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) And also, let's remember that this variation in mode is not a novelty, but is in fact very ancient, stemming back perhaps even to apostolic times or immediately thereafter:

And concerning baptism, baptize this way: Having first said all these things, baptize into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living water. But if you have no living water, baptize into other water; and if you cannot do so in cold water, do so in warm. But if you have neither, pour out water three times upon the head into the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. (Didache 7)

Now, note here that variation in the mode of baptism is completely acceptable. There is nothing inherently invalid about baptism by pouring. It isn't as though God looks at it and says, "Well, that one didn't take, so I guess you're out of luck." However, it must be said that there is a definite preference for immersion at this early stage, because this is more proper as a symbolism of dying and rising with Christ. Moreover, most preferable is to do it in 'living water', probably a river or sea, so that it better matches with Christ's own baptism in the River Jordan. So that ought to be what we aspire to in baptism, but less proper forms are not automatically invalid, nor is it the case that this somehow trivializes baptism. In this case, I think Heber Kimball judged incorrectly.

4. President Kimball goes on to bear testimony to his belief that Joseph Smith was truly a prophet and a martyr, and that Joseph's brother Hyrum was a true patriarch, etc. Since these are assertions rather than arguments based on publicly accessible grounds, I can't comment on that. But then he curiously turns to the interesting claim that the rise of the Latter Day Saint movement is disturbing the Powers-That-Be - both the political powers of the day and also the spirit-world, which is "all in commotion" (JD 1:36). Kimball seems to tie this to a sense that the "end of the world" is coming very soon - he doesn't come right out and say it, but that seems to be the underlying tone behind his words. Or does he indicate it? He does, after all, say, "The idea strikes me that the day of the Lord is approaching, and nearer than you think it is" (JD 1:36). I'm not sure exactly what he believed his audience was thinking, but I suspect that it was less than the 158 years between his discourse and our present.

5. I have no real comments to make on this last quote, but it is the conclusion of President Kimball's speech. He affirms the truthfulness of what he has said and seems to disparage 'this generation':

I know if I never go to the United States again, or to Great Britain, my skirts are clear from the blood of this generation. I have received nothing but ill wages for my labor from them; and if ever a man did his duty, I have done it to this generation. I have told you the truth, and whether you are in hell or in heaven you shall know that "Mormonism" is true, and what I and my brethren have told you this day is the Gospel of salvation. So may God have mercy upon you, and save you in His kingdom. Amen. (JD 1:37)

Lausanne Covenant 04

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's examine the fourth segment from the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974 by the first International Congress on World Evangelization. The first portion, remember, discussed the purposes of God; the second portion discussed the authority of Scripture; and the third portion discussed the unique role and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the sole provider of salvation. Now the fourth section will concern the nature of evangelism:

4. The Nature of Evangelism

To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gifts of the Spirit to all who repent and believe. Our Christian presence in the world is indispensable to evangelism, and so is that kind of dialogue whose purpose is to listen sensitively in order to understand. But evangelism itself is the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Saviour and Lord, with a view to persuading people to come to him personally and so be reconciled to God. In issuing the gospel invitation we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship. Jesus still calls all who would follow him to deny themselves, take up their cross, and identify themselves with his new community. The results of evangelism include obedience to Christ, incorporation into his church and responsible service in the world.

I love how it opens up with a clear, precise statement of what it means to evangelize. Evangelism is sharing the good news. And I love that the Lausanne Covenant is so clear, if brief, as to what the good news is. The good news is that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead and now reigns as the Lord who offers many good gifts - including forgiveness, but not limited to forgiveness - to those who accept it; and this acceptance involves spurning our sins in order to embark on the path of discipleship, which is a path of faith. The Lausanne Covenant is also clear that simply being present - so-called 'lifestyle evangelism' - is important but is not truly evangelism; the same is true of certain forms of interfaith dialogue. The Lausanne Covenant is careful to affirm the importance of those things while also distinguishing them from evangelism, which is a proclamation of Jesus and has a specific purpose, which is to see others become likewise committed to him. Nor is this a commitment to a pseudo-Jesus who never lived; it is a commitment to Jesus as he really lived and as he is described in the Bible. (It must be noted that no statement is here made about precisely how accurate our presentation of Jesus must be in order to qualify as evangelism, nor does it say how far our personal conception of Jesus is permitted to diverge from the truth before we have "another Jesus" in such a way as to exclude us from truly being Christians in a meaningful and substantive sense of the word.) And finally, I love that in this section, the Lausanne Covenant makes so clear that evangelism is a summons to discipleship, and discipleship is a costly venture. We cannot pretend that becoming a Christian is a panacea to all earthly ills; in many cases, it is a headlong dive into danger and difficulty, into trial and tribulation! And the Lausanne Covenant is clear that those who accept Christ as master and become his disciples are to identify themselves with and associate themselves with the community of his disciples.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 03

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's examine the third small segment from the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974. While the first portion discussed the purposes of God and the second portion controversially discussed the nature of the authority of Scripture, the third section discusses Jesus:

3. The Uniqueness and Universality of Christ

We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. We recognise that everyone has some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature. But we deny that this can save, for people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies. Jesus Christ, being himself the only God-man, who gave himself as the only ransom for sinners, is the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved. All men and women are perishing because of sin, but God loves everyone, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. To proclaim Jesus as "the Saviour of the world" is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God's love for a world of sinners and to invite everyone to respond to him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith. Jesus Christ has been exalted above every other name; we long for the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue shall confess him as Lord.

When I read this, I see so much beauty and truth. With this paragraph, the Lausanne Covenant repudiates any view that would position Jesus as just one member of a class of peers, any of whom can offer salvation. He isn't. The Lausanne Covenant here affirms that Jesus Christ, just as the Definition of Chalcedon made clear so many centuries ago, is both God and man. Furthermore, all have sinned and so are in need of salvation, and this can only happen through Jesus the Christ; no other name besides his can be invoked for the sake of our rescue. And to respond to him is to repent of our sins, put faith in him and the power of the atonement he provided, commit ourselves to him, and acknowledge him as crucified Savior and also as risen Lord, the one to whom our loyalty and obedience is truly due. And this is the message that must be proclaimed unto salvation; this is the one and only gospel. All have sinned, and all are culpable because some knowledge of God is available to all; we have suppressed this truth, and so it alone cannot save (though it isn't certain whether this statement allows that one who never hears in this life might yet be saved afterwards if in this life they respond positively to the light they have been given; either way, it is our responsibility to proclaim the clear message far and wide). One cannot, however, say that, e.g., Islam is just as 'valid', salvifically speaking, as the gospel. It isn't. Also, this statement proclaims God's universal love for us in spite of our sin, and his passionate desire to redeem each of us; he doesn't want us to die, he wants us to flourish and live!

JOD 01-04

For the next installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the fourth discourse in the first volume. This was preached by Brigham Young (1801-1877), the second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The discourse in question was delivered in the Territorial House in Salt Lake City, Utah, during a legislative festival on 4 March 1852. The text as we have it was reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The main theme of President Young's discourse that day was recreation.

1. One of the first things said by President Young that caught my interest is:

We are now enjoying our pastimes. We often meet together and worship the Lord by singing, praying, and preaching, fasting, and communing with each other in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper. Now we are met in the capacity of a social community - for what? That our minds may rest, and our bodies receive that recreation which is proper and necessary to keep up an equilibrium, to promote healthy action to the whole system. Let our minds sing for joy, and let life diffuse itself into every avenue of the body; for the object of our meeting is for its exercise, for it is good. (JD 1:29)

Right here, Brigham Young offers a defense of the importance of recreation, which is here a social activity. The function of this is to rest the mind and to keep up the health of the body through exercise. (I imagine, then, that the sort of recreation Young has in mind is not a stimulating game of chess!)

2. Another quote that stuck out at me was when President Young said:

I am in the best place I ever was during my life, and with the best society. I never saw a community that enjoyed the tranquility and peace that are enjoyed by this people in the valleys of the mountains. Is this not so? Judge for yourselves, ye are my witnesses. (JD 1:29)

A question for my Latter-day Saint friends: could you say this about your wards? And I wonder whether my Evangelical friends could say it about their congregations either. Or, for any of us, about our communities? The closest I could come to saying it would be about my seminary community.

3. The next bit:

It is good to look upon each other, because the faces of our friends, and the gladness of their countenances, cheer our hearts, furnishing food for future reflection. Under all circumstances, in every transaction of business and of social enjoyment, remember it is good to reflect and consider upon it now in the days of peace and prosperity, while we have the privilege. (JD 1:30)

These strike me as wise words that anyone - LDS, Evangelical, or otherwise - ought to be able to agree with. Loving community is one of the many great gifts that God has given us. As an introvert with a bit of an anti-social streak, I don't always cherish it in the way that I ought to. But in the good times of life, while we still get to enjoy these good gifts, we ought to savor them and reflect on them and be grateful for them, because the difficult times may come where that isn't so simple to do.

4. Brigham Young goes on to say that overindulgence in recreation without reflection can be a bad mistake because it leads to a sense of spiritual complacence as well; he goes on to state:

When we have had sufficient recreation for our good, let that suffice. It is alright; then let our minds labor instead of our bodies; and in all our exercises of body and mind, it is good to remember the Lord. If it cannot be so, but otherwise, I do not wish to see another party while I live. If I could not enjoy the Spirit of the Lord in this capacity with you this evening, and feel the power of God to rest upon me, I should cease from all such indulgence. From this time, never let us permit ourselves to go one step beyond that which the Lord will own and bless. (JD 1:30)

What I get out of this is, first, all things in moderation: don't be all work and no play, but don't overdo the play more than you need to, either. And that seems fair. The second point is that the underlying principle is to remember God in all things, to do them for his glory: to paraphrase, 'whether we play, we play unto the Lord; and whether we work, we work unto the Lord: whether we play, therefore, or work, we are the Lord's' (cf. Romans 14:8).

5. Brigham Young further explains that most people labor with their bodies but seldom with their minds; however:

But when men are brought to labor entirely in the field of intelligence, there are few minds to be found possessing strength enough to bear all things; the mind becomes overcharged, and when this is the case, it begins to wear upon the body, which will sink for want of the proper exercises. This is the reason why I believe in and practice what I do. (JD 1:31)

There's a lot of truth here. Most of my labor is in the field of intelligence, and thus I do try to make sure that I at least relax and socialize from time to time, which generally suffices to keep me balanced, along with a bit of activity here and there (though not as much as I probably ought).

6. Because this discourse doesn't interest me all that strongly, there's only one other passage I'd like to highlight:

Suppose every heart should say, if my neighbor does wrong to me, I will not complain, the Lord will take care of him. Let every heart be firm, and everyone say, I will never contend any more with a man for property, I will not be cruel to my fellow creature, but I will do all the good I can, and as little evil as possible. Now, where would be the wrong of taking this course? This is the way to approximate toward a celestial state. (JD 1:32)

This seems to me wholly true - and yet, how difficult it can yet be! Can we not all agree - whether LDS, Evangelical, or otherwise - to seek to cultivate this mindset in ourselves and to try to display it towards one another also?

On that note, I conclude this survey of the fourth discourse in the Journal of Discourses, and so I echo Brigham Young's own closing words:

May heaven bless you, brethren and sisters. Amen. (JD 1:34)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Taxes: Perspectives from the Bible and the Book of Mormon

I ran across a recent post titled "Taxes and the examples of King Benjamin and the evil King Noah" by Geoff B. over at a good LDS blog, The Millennial Star, and I decided that it was a perfect thing to feature here; it's presented quite thoughtfully. In the course of the post, Geoff looks at the presentation of taxation and government size that one sees in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, and he observes that both texts tend to favor small, local government over large, centralized government, and that taxation is generally presented as something blameworthy rather than praiseworthy. (This blog isn't a platform for my political or economic predilections, but I'd like to just remark that I'm largely in agreement with Geoff here.) As he observes,

One of the least discussed messages of the Scriptures is that taxes are seen as mostly negative. Taxes are almost always used by tyrants to build up themselves and large central governments that burden the people.

The discussion in the comments is also highly worth reading. In light of the contemporary debate over the proper nature of taxation and government, it's a post that's very worth your attention.

How do you see taxes and human governments portrayed in Scripture?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Lausanne Covenant 02

Continuing our Evangelical Documents Study Series, let's take a look at the next small segment from the Lausanne Covenant, promulgated in 1974. While the previous portion discussed the purposes of God, the next bit concerns Scripture:

2. The Authority and Power of the Bible

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God's word to accomplish his purpose for salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all men and women. For God's revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God's people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole Church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.

Needless to say, this will be a paragraph that in certain respects could not be accepted by Latter-day Saints. It specifically states that the Old and New Testaments, which together comprise the Bible, are the "only written word of God", which would exclude the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. This is a real sticking point. It's not that Evangelicals are necessarily in principle unable to accept the idea of new books of Scripture; we simply aren't persuaded that any has been forthcoming, because we believe that God is working in different ways today. (And, after all, very little has been actually added to the LDS Standard Works these days, in contrast to the frequency of new revelations during the lifetime of Joseph Smith. So even within LDS circles, arguably there's no need for the frequency of new written revelation to remain constant over time; it can vary in accordance with important clustering events in salvation history.) If we were persuaded that God was giving us new books of Scripture, that would seem perhaps a bit odd, but there's nothing I can see that in principle bars us from recognizing them if they ever come along.

Also, we note that there is a clear affirmation that God has not stopped speaking to us; however, his Spirit speaks to us largely through the Scripture that we already have - it is continual witness of the Spirit, even though the text is not being augmented. Now, nothing in this says that this is the only way that the Spirit ever speaks to us these days; actually, many Evangelicals and other contemporary Christians are quite open to the idea of continuing personal 'revelatory' interaction with God, so long as that new revelation does not enter into conflict with Scripture (and is not viewed as on par with it) and so long as it abides by biblical and sensible guidelines. (In other words, we probably would be pretty caught off-guard if someone in the back of the sanctuary stood up and announced that God told him to build a new flag pole out front to keep the grass green; we'd have to consider very carefully whether it seems to us more likely that God has spoken such a thing to/through this person than that they're simply misinterpreting something else.)

The other thing that sticks out to me here is that the Bible is said to be "without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice". In comparison to some rather fundamentalist views, this is a relatively soft stance on inerrancy, because it allows that the Bible could very well contain many erroneous presuppositions that don't affect the main message that God seeks to convey through the text. It's also compatible with the view that our cultural constructions of narrative 'error' may not be the appropriate ones for judging an ancient text. (Also worth noting is that these sorts of statements generally have in mind the original manuscripts, not copies that may contain errors, although we also believe the standard critical reconstructions of the text to be quite reliable for ascertaining the original reading.) In this form, I think that - at least within Evangelical circles - this sort of biblical inerrancy is a relatively moderate one, perhaps one I could conceivably affirm. I'd prefer to put a greater stress on the next part, the Bible as "infallible rule of faith and practice", which I would have written as, e.g., "the sole supremely authoritative rule of faith and practice". Put that way - and I think the authors of this document would concur - there is no peer to the Bible (or, if you like for generality, written Scripture). All creeds must be potentially open to revision in light of correction from the biblical text; the Bible takes precedence - as an authority for faith and practice - over creeds, tradition, etc. This seems compatible with saying that there is a limited distinct authority that can be ascribed to later tradition, or (for those who believe in it) to contemporary non-Scripture-producing prophecy, or any number of other sources. (In case it isn't apparent, I have some prima scriptura tendencies.) To say that the Bible is the locus of such authority is also to rule out the lamentably common trends, especially in more liberal churches, to discard biblical injunctions at will because they conflict with dominant Euro-American cultural trends.

Those are some of the points that I note, at least. What are your thoughts on this paragraph from the Lausanne Covenant?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

JOD 01-03

For the next installment of our series on the Journal of Discourses, we'll be looking at the third discourse in the first volume. This was delivered by John Taylor (1808-1887), who at the time was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and later became the third president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The discourse in question was delivered in the tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 22 August 1852. The text of the discourse as we have it was, like the previous two we looked at, reported by George Darling Watt (1812-1881). The main theme of Elder Taylor's discourse that day was the mission he served in Europe from 1849 to 1852. By way of clarification, John Taylor was himself European by birth - English, in fact - and served as a mission president in France during this time.

1. Early on in his talk, Elder Taylor speaks of this undertaking from which he's just returned as the beginning of an immense undertaking:

I am not going to preach. I wish to tell my feelings, and look at you, and think about what we have done, and what we are going to do, for it is not all done yet - we have only commenced the great work of the Lord, and are laying the foundation of that kingdom which is destined to stand forever; what we shall do, is yet in the future; we have commenced at the little end of the horn, and by and by we will come out at the big end. (JD 1:16)

In short, then, it may be said that Elder Taylor is helping his audience to keep the big picture clear in mind, and to perceive how their efforts in the present fit into that larger, sweeping narrative. This is something that all Christians - whether Latter-day Saints, Evangelicals, or otherwise - must learn to do. (As a side note, one of the best books I've found from a more Evangelical perspective that does this is The Drama of Scripture by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, and I highly recommend it.) I believe I also detect, in Taylor's comment about 'laying the foundation of that kingdom', more than a mere hint of an affinity with postmillennialism, unless I'm mistaken.

2. Elder Taylor's next remarks show a remarkable sense of indifference to the risk of death - a sense of indifference I might expect from someone more Calvinistically minded, perhaps, but which seems perhaps a bit shocking from a Latter-day Saint. He says:

True, some of our friends have dropped by the way, they have fallen asleep, but what of that? And who cares? It is as well to live as to die, or to die as to live, to sleep as to be awake, or to be awake as to sleep - it is all one, they have only gone a little before us. (JD 1:16)

And later he says:

Some people have said to me, sometimes, Are you not afraid to cross over the seas, and deserts, where there are wolves and bears, and other ferocious animals, as well as the savage Indians? Are you not afraid that you will drop by the way, and leave your body on the desert track, or beneath the ocean's wave? No. Who cares anything about it? What of it, if we should happen to drop by the way? (JD 1:17)

I grant, there is some truth here. The Christian calling is not one for the comfortable, not for those who fear death, because we are in the clutch of one who has triumphed over death, and death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55; Words of Mormon 7:5). Still, part of me wonders whether Elder Taylor has gone a bit too far here. We are to mourn indeed in the face of death, though we do so with hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13; cf. also Alma 28:12). I suspect that Elder Taylor's words are influenced by Romans 14:8-9, but I don't see that as declaring a fundamental equity between the two states.

3. I note with interest Elder Taylor's very harsh remarks concerning, well, pretty much every non-Latter-day Saint of his day:

I feel as though I am among the honorable of the earth when I am here; and when I get mixed up with the people abroad, and mingle with the great people of the world, I feel otherwise. I have seen and deplored the weakness of men - their folly, selfishness, and corruption. I do not know how they feel, but I have witnessed a great deal of ignorance and folly. I think there is a great deal of great littleness about them. There is very little power among them, their institutions are shattered, cracked, and laid open to the foundation. It is no matter what principle you refer to - if to their religion, it is a pack of nonsense; if to their philosophy and politics, they are a mass of dark confusion; their governments, churches, philosophy, and religion, are all darkness, misery, corruption, and folly. I see nothing but Babylon wherever I go - but darkness and confusion, with not a ray of light to cheer the sinking spirits of the nations of the earth, nor any hope that they will be delivered in this world, or in the world to come. (JD 1:17)

...Whoa. Those are some rather scathing comments! I have to say, this seems to be roughly the same tone of polemic that can be found in much purportedly 'anti-Mormon' writing; here it is simply used by a Latter-day Saint rather than against them. In this passage, it seems that Elder Taylor has virtually nothing good to say about the people he encountered on his mission. He calls their religion - and most likely would say the same of mine - a "pack of nonsense" and a bunch of "darkness, misery, corruption, and folly", representative of the harlot of Babylon and without hope. I can only here remark that, thankfully, there are Latter-day Saints alive today who do succeed in manifesting to others the spirit that they wish others to manifest to them - which is not what we have in this quote. But those, I suppose, were polemic-charged times for all parties involved. On another note, though, John Taylor has some very unflattering things to say about his experiences in France, so my main question for Latter-day Saints who have served a mission is, would you say these sorts of general statements about the people of the mission fields in which you worked?

4. Elder Taylor's next interesting remarks concern the matter of preaching:

Some people think that preaching is the greatest part of the business in building up the kingdom of God. This is a mistake. [...] Anybody can preach, he is a poor simpleton that cannot, it is the easiest thing in the world. But, as President Young says, it takes a man to practice. (JD 1:18)

My first question for those of you who have preached - or, for Latter-day Saints, those of you who have delivered talks at Sacrament Meeting - is, would you agree with John Taylor that this is 'the easiest thing in the world'? That aside, though, I think Elder Taylor's point is that it's one thing to talk the talk and quite another to walk the walk, and the latter is the tougher of the two - and that certainly seems true to me.

5. A bit further along, Elder Taylor said something else that caught my attention:

We [i.e., Latter-day Saints] are becoming notorious in the eyes of the nations; and the time is not far distant when the kings of the earth will be glad to come to our Elders to ask counsel to help them out of their difficulties; for their troubles are coming upon them like a flood, and they do not know how to extricate themselves. (JD 1:19)

It has been 158 years and several months since Elder Taylor originally delivered this address. Has this thus far happened? Have the 'kings of the earth' begun to regard leaders in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as particularly wise counselors? I mean, perhaps they are in fact that - it's not my place here to pass such judgment - but have the political rulers of the world begun to recognize this as a significant truth? And, if not, do you think it will come to pass in the next few decades?

6. The next passage that really caught my eye was this, which I think it a quite well-worded quip that expresses the relationship between mission and exaltation from an LDS point-of-view, and has thought-provoking underlying principles applicable beyond merely an LDS perspective as well:

Some people talk about doing great things; but it is not a great thing to travel a little, or to preach a little. I hear some of our Elders saying, sometimes, that they are going to do great things - to be rulers in the kingdom of God, Kings and Priests to the Most High, and are again to exalt thousands of others to thrones, principalities, and powers, in the eternal worlds; but we cannot get them out of their nests, to travel a few miles here. If they cannot do this, how will they ever learn to go from world to world? (JD 1:19-20)

So one question I have for my Latter-day Saint readers who've been on a mission is, after reading this quote, do you feel as though your mission experience has helped to prepare you in some way for your future exaltation?

7. After discussing some unfortunate (but seemingly rather mild) harassment from English clergymen, Elder Taylor goes on to speak of his arrival in Paris, where he took a leading role in the translation of the Book of Mormon from English into French. Despite it being a translation of a translation (assuming the common LDS view on the Book of Mormon's origin), Elder Taylor was able to say:

We have got a translation of the Book of Mormon, as good a one as it is possible for anybody to make. I fear no contradiction to this statement from any man, learned or illiterate. I had it examined and tested by some of the best educated men in France. [...] I have made some little alterations, that is, I have marked the paragraphs, and numbered them, so as to tell where to refer to, when you wish to do so; and in some instances where the paragraphs are very long, I have divided them. The original simplicity of the book is retained, and it is as literal as the genius and idiom of the French language would admit of. (JD 1:21)

Elder Taylor also made mention of the periodical he founded in France, L'Etoile du Deseret, of which he explains:

It contains articles written on baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, the necessity of gathering together, and all the leading points associated with the religion we believe in, that there may be evidence forthcoming at anytime and place, in the hands of the inquirer. If men should be there, not acquainted with the language, and individuals should make inquiries of them relating to the doctrines of their religion, they have nothing to do but hand them this Number or that Number of the "Star of Deseret," containing the information they wish. This will save them a great deal of trouble in talking. (JD 1:21)

It seems, then, that Elder Taylor's mission was an ambitious and productive one! One thing I'm wondering is whether the French translation he did is the one still in use in France, or whether it has perhaps been superseded by a later one. And another thing I'm wondering is whether The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints still has anything comparable to L'Etoile du Deseret that fulfills some of the same purposes - and, if so, how widely is it used in the way Elder Taylor mentions here?

8. Elder Taylor discusses also the difficulties that his mission faced in a country that had so recently endured the French Revolution, and this quotation I found quite forceful:

"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and Brotherhood," was written almost upon every door. You had liberty to speak, but might be put in prison for doing so. You had liberty to print, but they might burn what you printed, and put you into confinement for it. The nations of Europe know nothing about liberty, except England; and there it is much the same as here, that is, liberty to do right. (JD 1:22)

It's a highly unfortunate thing, I think, that the early Latter-day Saints faced so much active persecution in their early days. The founder of my own denomination, Jacob Albright (1759-1808), faced much the same thing for daring to preach the need for repentance and true conversion. Hopefully we can continue to work together towards a future in which those liberties are fully safeguarded in a way that they were not then, even in a France that laid them such exuberant lip-service.

9. Elder Taylor then goes on to make some remarks, once again, on the religious world with which he was confronted, and the picture he paints is not so pretty:

Infidelity prevails there to a great extent, and at the same time a certain kind of religion, a sort of Catholicism; not the Catholicism that was, but which is. Men have got sick of it, and look upon it as moonshine and folly. [...] I declare, personally, that if I could see nothing better than what is called Christianity there, I would be an infidel too; and I say the same also in regard to Protestantism. The Protestants talk a great deal about Catholic priests, but I believe they are much more honest in the sight of man, and will do more for their pay, than any Protestant minister you can find. [...] The idea of taking Protestantism among the French people is nonsense, for one Catholic priest could prevail over fifty Protestants. The Catholic priests are more intelligent, they know the basis upon which their church is founded, and they can reason upon principles the Protestants cannot enter into. Protestants can do very well when they have got a mass of their own people about them. (JD 1:22)

I wonder whether this impression was really true of the religious scene of France at the time, and whether anyone would argue that it really holds today as well in any significant way. I'm not inclined to give any more credit to this appraisal by Elder Taylor than I am to early Protestant and Catholic negative appraisals of the nascent Latter Day Saint movement. I suspect that Elder Taylor is here alluding to the fact that Roman Catholic ecclesiology of his day had some principles in common with that of the Latter-day Saints - which is why 'branch' imagery is so commonly used in early LDS criticisms of Protestantism, and still is today, despite the fact that a sophisticated Protestant thinker can easily see that this begins from the assumption of an ecclesiology that, say, an ecumenically minded Evangelical Christian would be unlikely to share in the first place.

10. After a few curious anecdotes, Elder Taylor goes on to say this about missionary work in a place like nineteenth-century France:

It is among this people we have got to introduce the Gospel. When they come to see it, they rejoice in it, but we do not preach religion much to them, for a great many of them are philosophers, and, of course, we must be philosophers too, and make it appear that our philosophy is better than theirs, and then show them that religion is at the bottom of it. (JD 1:23)

I'm reminded here of the immense resurgence in recent years of theistic, and specifically Christian, involvement in analytic philosophy, and particularly in analytic philosophy of religion, which has seen a major shift lately in favor of a strong case for theism. Sound Christian philosophy, and even Christian philosophical theology, is quite alive and well, and it serves good purposes outside of merely helping us to clarify and sharpen our awareness of the contents and implications of our beliefs. It is my hope that there will someday be a growing interest in philosophical theology among Latter-day Saints as well - much as we saw, of a sort, in Parley Pratt's discussion of the human spirit.

11. Elder Taylor next looks at his turn to Germany as a new focus, and his role in assisting with the German translation of the Book of Mormon as well as a German equivalent to L'Etoile du Deseret titled Zions Panier. Taylor also makes some remarks about Bible translation:

I have often heard old men in this country splutter a great deal about the meaning of odd words in the Bible, but this only exhibits their folly; it is the spirit and intention of the language that are to be looked at, and if the translator does not know this it is impossible for him to translate correctly, and this is the reason why there are so many blunders in the Bible. I believe the English Bible is translated as well as any book could be by uninspired men. The German translation of the Bible, I believe, is tolerably correct, but some of the French editions are miserable. (JD 1:24)

The historic LDS view of the Bible as we have it today is, of course, a notorious point of controversy between Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals, and this isn't the place to get into a full-blown discussion of it. I can only remark that it seems quite important to understand both the meanings of individual words (in whatever languages are relevant at the moment) and the spirit of the language. Since I don't believe in 'inspired translation' in the sense that Elder Taylor seems to suppose here, I don't think that that's anything against the Bible translations that we have. And while no translation of a literary work can be perfect - and, indeed, I have even known Latter-day Saints who have said that Joseph Smith's inspired translation of the Book of Mormon was similarly imperfect - I'm also skeptical of the allegations of numerous translator-introduced blunders (or, at least, numerous such blunders that are not significantly reduced in the most modern English translations).

12. The remainder of the message appears to mostly concern the conclusion of Elder Taylor's time in Europe, during which he has seen the rise of the Second French Empire under Napoleon III. There are also a few other disparaging references to the French philosophers he encountered (and, frankly, given the trends in Continental philosophy at that time, I can't really say I blame him). There are only two more quotes I'd like to focus on. This first is this:

I never ask the Lord to do a thing I could do for myself. We should be acquainted with all things, should obtain intelligence both by faith and by study. We are instructed to gather it out of the best books, and become acquainted with governments, nations, and laws. The Elders of this Church have need to study these things, that when they go to the nations, they may not wish to go home before they have accomplished a good work. (JD 1:27)

This is, as I read it, very sound counsel that both Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals (and others, of course) would do quite well to take to heart. Learn about all things; go to good books to gather knowledge; study things out, reason about them, and trust in God. And that will be useful to equip us all for our task of making disciples of all nations.

13. The final comment I thought was interesting - and I won't make any real comment on this one - was something he said about the United States:

We cannot know anything about the blessings and privileges we have as Americans, without becoming acquainted with the condition of other nations, this is one of the greatest countries in the world, but they (the Americans) do not appreciate their privileges. (JD 1:28)

What do you think of this? (I would be especially interested to hear from Latter-day Saints or Evangelicals who live in other nations.)

On this note, I conclude my initial survey of the third discourse in the Journal of Discourses, and I look forward to feedback. I close with the words with which Elder Taylor concluded his speech:

And I pray that the blessings of God may rest down upon all the Saints [and other disciples of Christ], worlds without end. Amen. (JD 1:28)