Wednesday, May 20, 2020

D&C 20: What Is and What Should Never Be

It's shocking how disorganized this section is considering it's all about the organization of the restored church.  First of all, verse 1 calls this the Church of Christ, but I'm sure there's an easy explanation for why the fledgling sect hadn't grown into its full title yet.  But the uncomfortable disconnects between the church outlined in this section and the largest church claiming to have been organized in this section don't stop there.

Prove Me Now Here With What?
Verses 10 and 11 make some fun claims about the Book of Mormon:
Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—

Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old;
Honestly, I don't think the word "prove" has much place in discussion of religion because most religions teach the importance of faith.  Proof defeats the purpose of faith.  But all of that aside, does this really prove to the world that the scriptures are true and that God calls men to his work in this age?  I mean...really?

At best it's evidence of that.  Not particularly strong evidence, though, because there are plenty of things about the story that don't check out.  Having three witnesses attest to something that has a compelling countervailing narrative isn't gonna prove anything beyond a reasonable doubt.

All Means All
Nelson needs a good smack upside the head with verse 37:
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those who humble themselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and contrite spirits, and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the name of Jesus Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their works that they have received of the Spirit of Christ unto the remission of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church.
I see nothing in here about disavowing any sins that your gay parents haven't repented of.  It's all about the sins of the individual who wishes to be baptized.  And this is probably less important, but I also see nothing here about getting First Presidency approval if you've been excommunicated in the past.

When is an Apostle Not an Apostle?
A lot of people need a good smack upside the head with verse 38:
The duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ—An apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize;
Yes, yes, it goes on to explain that apostles also lead and conduct meetings and teach and expound and exhort and watch over the church.  These are things that apostles do.  But this section really makes it sound like apostles should serve by rubbing shoulders with the members in a much more hands-on capacity.  And, sure, the passage is really about the duties of elders, not necessarily the duties of apostles.  But nowhere does it say that once you become an apostle you can stop mixing with the rabble because you've transcended an elder's middling responsibilities.  If that were the case, why would verse 38 have specified that apostles are elders too?

(But they're really high priests anyway, aren't they?)

When is a Teacher Not a Teacher?
Teachers have a weird job description (verses 53 and 54):
The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;

And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
So the teachers are the church's watchful protectors and the church's enforcers.  They're Batmen.  But seriously, how are 14-year-old boys supposed to make sure there's no lying or evil speaking in the church?  I heard what you said about Sister Barnes in Gospel Doctrine class last week and I'm here to tell you that kind of talk is not permitted in this ward!

My teachers quorum when I was a kid was pretty decent.  Most of us were dutiful believers and we had a few really great quorum advisors.  But none of us ever did anything like what verse 54 says we were supposedly responsible for.

When is a Vote Not a Vote?
Verse 63 starts to get into a crucial issue that the modern church conveniently ignores:
The elders are to receive their licenses from other elders, by vote of the church to which they belong, or from the conferences.

Each priest, teacher, or deacon, who is ordained by a priest, may take a certificate from him at the time, which certificate, when presented to an elder, shall entitle him to a license, which shall authorize him to perform the duties of his calling, or he may receive it from a conference.

No person is to be ordained to any office in this church, where there is a regularly organized branch of the same, without the vote of that church;

But the presiding elders, traveling bishops, high councilors, high priests, and elders, may have the privilege of ordaining, where there is no branch of the church that a vote may be called.
Nowhere in here does it say that a new prophet can ascend to his position in secret and inform the church about it after the fact.  Nowhere does it say that if you vote against someone being in a particular calling that the church should keep that person in the calling anyway and direct you to your priesthood leader for a one-on-one attitude adjustment.
The footnotes on the word "vote" in verses 63 and 65 point the reader to the Topical Guide entries for "Sustaining Church Leaders" and "Common Consent."  Not for "Vote," though, because that entry is much shorter and we don't want you to think of your scripturally mandated right to vote as a right to engage in an activity that can accurately be described as voting.

To be fair, these guidelines in the Doctrine and Covenants aren't really detailed enough to be useful, though.  What's the threshold at which the church should deny someone a position as an elder?  This section doesn't say the vote has to be unanimous.  It doesn't say it requires a majority.  It just says there has to be a vote in order for someone to be ordained.  Most people would reasonably assume that the decision to ordain a candidate depends on the outcome of the vote, but it doesn't actually say that.

So this is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't kind of situation.  Mormonism looks bad either way.  If there is a threshold of approval before someone serves in the priesthood, then the modern church is ignoring scriptural procedures.  If there isn't be a threshold of approval, then God is terrible at his job for providing such unclear instructions.

When is a Member Not a Member?
Another thing present-day Mormonism doesn't really care about is verse 71:
No one can be received into the church of Christ unless he has arrived unto the years of accountability before God, and is capable of repentance.
Yes, so officially, no one is a member until they've reached the age of accountability and been baptized, but that doesn't stop us from using unbaptized children of record to pad our membership numbers.  There's a pun in here somewhere about being accountable and being counted, but I feel like it's so easy that if I really try to go for it it'll be like hitting an archery target with a bazooka. 

When is a Symbol Not a Symbol?
So the Word of Wisdom hasn't been revealed yet, of course, and it certainly hasn't been reinterpreted and codified into a commandment, but the sacrament prayers here are fun (verses 78-79):
The manner of administering the wine—he shall take the cup also, and say:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this wine to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.
Wine is bad.  Ignore the scriptures.

What strikes me is that the wine is supposed to be symbolic.  The bread represents the flesh of Christ because it's sort of soft like human flesh and it's white (and there are brown breads too if we want to be more anthropologically accurate).  The wine represents the blood of Christ because it's liquid and red, like human blood.

Water is not red.  If your tap water is red, you don't drink it. Ever since Mormonism became the Community of Teetotalers, the sacrament symbolism has literally been watered down.  When we drink clear liquid during the sacrament, are we conjuring up images of Christ bleeding colorless blood from every pore?  Are we thinking about the scriptures that discuss being washed in the clear blood of Christ?  For a religion so steeped in symbolism, it sure seems strange that they'd undercut one of their most central and most frequently performed acts of symbolism over something that God proclaimed "not by commandment or constraint"—and which didn't actually ban drinking wine but merely urged that our wine should be pure and of our own making.

It's almost like the leaders of this church are just kind of, y'know, making things up as they go.

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