This is a preamble to part two, an article on “The Next Mormons” by Jana Reiss.
The essentials of the Good News are that Christ was born into mortality, lived an exemplary life, and liberated all nature through His atonement, death, and resurrection. The Christian church, speaking generally, takes the Gospel message and asks the corporate question: Okay, now what?
In answer, we interpret the scriptures and tradition in order to extract practical meaning–do’s and don’ts. The result is a systemization of Christian worship, a declaration of what is and is not sacred, and a codification of belief and practice.
From the Audience: “Are you criticizing the church?”
No. I’m just pointing out that principles and facts are not instructions on how to live. The fact of global warming does not tell us what to do about it, but does point to a need for individual action. An organization claiming global warming as a foundational principle, might delineate specific actions expected of its adherents.
In both realms, secular and religious, we have to avoid mistaking the application for the principle, as well as allow for individual choice.
Change at Church
When Christ was challenged about his disciples violating the Sabbath, He defended them with the well know retort: “The sabbath was made for people, and not people for the sabbath” (NET Mark 2:27). At least one point Christ seems to be making is that what is valuable and sacred at one time, may not be valuable and sacred at another.
In order to remain relevant as an aid to the development in Christian faith, the church must change–and has changed–to meet the needs of the culture in which–and when–it is found.
The challenge for many churches is to implement change without compromising the Christian message that lies within the context of the specific tradition. Modernization within the Eastern Orthodox faith may look much different than in a Baptist church.
In the LDS church we believe that its uniqueness lies in the declaration that it is “true and living,” implying that God “does now reveal, and . . . will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Articles of Faith 1:9). For Mormons, authoritative change is a part of our faith.
Obstacles to Change
Unlike secular institutions, Christian churches often insist on certainty.
God is perfect.
God gave us this practice or principle through his church.
The practice or principle is perfect.
The practice or principle should never change.
In the end, we risk worshiping the do’s and don’ts instead of God and His message. If we are not careful, our personal journey can become one of conformity rather than transformity.
The controversy faced by the early church regarding Kosher laws of cleanliness of foods is a case in point. What was sacred and God-given to the Jews, was not so to the Gentile Christians.
Ultimately, the command to “kill and eat” (Acts 10:13) allowed the Christian message to adapt to a new culture for which the ancient prohibitions were meaningless. Essentially, Christianity was stripped of its Judaism as it entered the Roman space.
Was something lost? Yes. Was something also gained? Yes.
What is Changeable?
We often hear that we should “teach only doctrine” in our LDS Sunday classes. But, few of us can say what that means.
In an LDS Perspectives podcast entitled “What is LDS Doctrine?,” Michael Goodman differentiates principle (doctrine) from practice. By his definition, doctrine is:
- Currently taught by all of the apostles and prophet
- Salvific (Pertains to our salvation.)
- Confirmed by scripture or revelation
I add a requirement that doctrine (and good practice and policy) must also embody love.
Our main clue as to what is changeable is whether it has changed previously.
The Word of Wisdom was initially given “not by commandment or constraint” (D&C 89:2) and its implementation within the church has changed over time. Will the practice change again? Mostly likely it will.
The principle underlying the sacrament is the atonement of Jesus Christ. The manner in which it is administered has changed and we can expect that it will change in the future.
From the Audience: “Finally!”
If you think this is long, just wait for part two.
In general, younger generations (beginning with my own) are interacting with church and faith differently. For the discussion in part two on “The Next Mormons,” I want you to keep in mind the following questions:
Are all of our practices and policies in the LDS Church founded on doctrinal principles?
Like the first Jewish Christians, are we willing to give up on some practices—even sacred practices–in order to adapt to a new audience?
You might call this an exercise in sacred minimalism.