Friday, 27 January 2012

I Don't Believe In Conspiracies

Among the people I spend time with are several who believe in conspiracies. I'm not talking about big, crazy conspiracies, like how Roswell was the aliens covering up their failed infiltration of the US Government which succeeded during Watergate and then said aliens started planning 9/11. I'm talking about the ones we hear around us every day. Ever heard the words 'Big Pharma'? That's a conspiracy theory. So is anything which says 'Well, that's what they want you to think'.

Take the Church, as I often do in these examples. It's not exactly that forward-thinking on certain matters - Official Declaration 2 only came out in 1978, as I've mentioned recently, and women aren't exactly equal either. Some are apt to represent this as a conspiracy among the General Authorities. 'They want to keep women/blacks weak', goes the refrain. 'They're scared of them'. And so on.

I don't think it's true. At least not consciously. Remember, these are a bunch of men who grew up in the 30s and 40s, maybe the 50s. They are old. They are politically conservative. All of this adds up to an outlook and mindset which simply doesn't register that there's a problem - and the Church has built up a cocoon around them to stop them figuring it out.

So no. I don't believe it's a conspiracy. I just think they haven't cottoned on.

Time and All Eternity

This is Part 3 of a 3-part post beginning with Rituals and Ordinances, followed by Gifts and Covenants

To cover the definitions one last time: a ritual is a series of actions with no fundamental significance; an ordinance is an action with a purpose, and in context is usually an act of God; a covenant is a 'principle with a promise' - we make a promise to God, and He makes a promise in return. Through ritual we covenant with God, so that He will perform His ordinance.

One of the most important ordinances in the LDS Church is the sealing ordinance. It is performed in the temple, and comes ultimately from the Saviour's words to Peter:

Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Gifts and Covenants

This is Part 2 of a 3-part post begun with Rituals and Ordinances.

Let me start by confirming that God can do anything He likes. That's kind of His thing. There's no reason whatsoever to assume that limits on God's power are anything other than self-imposed. That being said...

Our Heavenly Father isn't particularly fond of giving free gifts, unless they're really big. Our existence is a free gift. Letting us come to Earth is a free gift. Christ's Atonement is a free gift - we just have to ask for it. Most other things, we're not given for free. There's a simple reason for this.

Rituals and Ordinances

Virtually every religion throughout history has a ritual component - in fact, most aspects of life are partly ritual. I'm defining 'ritual' here to mean a set of events or actions with no fundamental significance. Something as simple as singing a hymn or saying a prayer is ritual under this definition - there's no eternal significance to all singing together, nor to the specific actions we take in praying (for a Latter-day Saint, these might include closing our eyes, kneeling down, folding our arms, saying the ritual opening words 'Dear Heavenly Father'... you see my point). Outside of religion, what's the fundamental purpose of dressing up for a party? Note that I'm not saying ritual is pointless. Far from it! The actions we take are to put us in a particular mindset, or to teach us some lesson. They do not directly affect our eternal wellbeing, but they are important nontheless.

On the other side of the coin, we find ordinances. I'm going to define 'ordinance' to mean any action or set of actions which does have a fundamental significance. To take up the prayer again, it's also an ordinance - we believe that the words we say, the non-ritual part, go to Heavenly Father and are heard, sometimes answered. The ordinance, really, is Heavenly Father's response - the working of the power of God in our lives. In the outside world, we might say that being vaccinated against disease is an ordinance - it serves a direct, specific purpose.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The 19th Century Has A Lot To Answer For

This is part 2 of a 2-part post, beginning with Continuing Revelation.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830, almost two hundred years ago, back in the 19th Century. Since then, it has grown from six to at least 6 million active members. Despite the growth, however, it is still very much a 19th Century church.

The problem is this: we believe in continuing revelation. We talk about our experiences with it in our own lives. We believe wholeheartedly that the Gospel, while being eternal and unchanging, is presented differently in different times – as we often point out, Noah was a prophet, but that doesn’t mean we need to build an ark. For some reason, though, our belief in change stops dead in 1844.

Continuing Revelation

In the LDS Church we talk a lot about ‘continuing revelation’, but we don’t often explain it very well. We’ll talk about how it’s how we have a Prophet, or it’s how prayers are answered, or it’s how the Book of Mormon came forth – but surely those aren’t all the same thing! You’d almost think we tacked the term on anywhere it might fit – and maybe we do, but I’m going to try and clarify what I mean when I say ‘continuing revelation’.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded by a young man in the 19th Century who believed fervently – and correctly – that the heavens were open, that God would and did speak to people on Earth. Actually, being a 19th Century man, he probably believed God spoke to men on Earth – but more on that later. Joseph believed that God had spoken to him –that an angel had directed him to find a hidden book of scripture, that John the Baptist had passed on the authority of heaven, that Jesus Christ had commanded him to build up a church in His name. And I believe that he was right – that all these things did happen, and that it was the will of heaven that made Joseph Smith our first Prophet.