Monday, January 22, 2007

Institutions

I was listening to the radio over the weekend and heard some scholarly pundit talking about reformations and how all major world religions go through them occasionally. As one example he suggested Jesus accomplished such a reformation with his central message that spirituality and peace come from the individual and not through an institution (i.e. the Pharisees). Apparently the Sermon on the Mount was a mere footnote to Jesus' larger aspirations to stick it to the man.

When people talk about the divinity of the LDS church, people align predictably according to their testimonies and interpret any measures of institutional success or failure in that context. The faults of the church are attributed to imperfect men (just as in the Book of Mormon) by faithful church members while opponents attribute problems to systemic flaws. Whether the structure, programs, or institutional practices of the church are divine is debatable even within a faithful paradigm. God, it seems to me, doesn't typically micromanage.

Regardless, the very common idea that no institution has a right to stand between me and my God only makes sense if my God agrees. Many Gods, being the invention of their respective believers, don't have any problem with an ad hoc connection and ad hoc salvation. The Mormon God, however, prefers a more orderly approach to salvation. Authority, ordinances, and structure are just a part of the deal, like it or not.

This all came to my mind with some immediacy recently when I attended the temple. I was thinking about prophets and having a church or other men or anything, really, between me and God. To my surprise, the words of the temple ceremony became surprisingly and pointedly relevant. The dialog reminded me of how much I don't know and how reliant I am on God to teach me in His own way according to His own wisdom. Although I'm a big fan of personal responsibility and a personal relationship with the Savior, I, for one, am grateful for the Lord's institutions and believe reformations should accomplish a balance rather than swinging too far in the opposite direction.

10 comments:

Gay BYU Student said...

I will have to concur and add one thing.

It seems, to me at least, that the church does not get between God and us, but rather sits besides us and God. The purpose of the church is to help us develop a very personal relationship with deity. The leaders of the church are giving us advice on how to develop that personal relationship, while also trying to inspire and uplift.

The church also has the responsibility of teaching objective truth (to those of us who believe in such a concept).

So while I often get frustrated at my seeming inability to fit into the institution, I still appreciate it for the good that it does and respect it as divinely sanctioned.

kittywaymo said...

Amen L~ we have more freedom/joy/peace obeying tenants of our faith then by trying to decipher "its the people, not the Church" when unsavory situations arise.
I sent you an epistle via my mac account, please let me know you received it all right.

love, kittywaymo

santorio said...

listen to the radio? and blog, too? what a renaissance man you are! do you play the banjo?

Chris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mark said...

L,

I'm really curious to know who it was you listened to. Do you remember?

-L- said...

Mark, I don't know who it was. Sorry.

Nappy said...

Just because I love to disagree with you ;-)

When I first attended the Temple, I saw the same thing you see: the purpose is to organize a structure for everyone to fit into, (for example) for the distribution of information and commandments, taking care of needs, etc.

After a while, though, I realized that I had missed an important symbol within the Temple worship: the "strict heed" we give to our leaders' counsel and teachings has a finite scope and a definite end. The scope is defined in the ceremony; they give us some specifically (but symbolically) enumerated commandments, confer upon us the Priesthood, and teach us how to pray. The end of this is that we learn how to have direct intercourse with God the Father without an intermediary. Once we have gained this knowledge, there is no one on Earth with more authority to recieve revelation for us than ourselves, no matter what his position. (Any case to the contrary will invariably lean on cultural assumptions and not on actual doctrine or scriptural teaching.)

The problem I have is what to do when what I have learned to be true is in conflict with the teachings of our leaders. I suspect that the reason they are allowed to speak untruth is because the scope of what they say is outside the scope of their mission, but I'm not sure enough to conclude that. Are they not prophets? Are they only prophets some of the time? Did prophetic authority vanish with the death of Joseph Smith? These are questions I still work on a few hours a week, and I'm interested in hearing others' perspectives, especially those framed as "this is what I believe and this is why I believe it and these are the things I'm still not sure about."

I didn't think this post was going to be so long... sorry about that!

-L- said...

Once we have gained this knowledge, there is no one on Earth with more authority to recieve revelation for us than ourselves, no matter what his position.

Sorry, but I disagree. The prophet specifically has all the keys of the priesthood. He has the authority to receive revelation for everyone in the world. This is so clear to me that I'm a little amused that you assert it must be cultural and not based on doctrine.

-L- said...

Plus, Nappy, where's your blog? I tried to follow the link through your profile and it didn't work. :-(

I hadn't noticed that you love to disagree with me. I'll try to pay more attention. ;-)

David said...

There's a link in my profile? I have a profile? I didn't know... most of my blogging happens on Myspace. (myspace.com/naptastic--beware, if you know me in real life, you will find out about it by viewing my profile.)

I've always been told that everyone "above" you in the heirarchy has authority to recieve revelation for you personally, but as far as I can tell, that's just an assumption people make. Everyone has authority to recieve revelation in connection to the magnification of their duties and stewardship. So, the musical director in the ward is inspired to put John on the piano and have Marsha sing--yes, in that respect, the musical director recieved inspiration for those two individuals, as they are connected with his/her calling. If the Bishop felt inspired to instruct the musical director to switch some people's roles, that's inside his stewardship as well, or at least it could be. But for the Bishop to, say, approach me unbidden and suggest that I need to stop hanging around with the teens in the ward, and invoke his authority for that, seems like a stretch too far. I would accept it as sage advice from someone more experienced than me, and weigh it as such.

If Boyd K. Packer knocked on my door and said he had a detailed revelation in store for me, I would be deeply suspicious, because my past experience with what he calls truth is dubious.

Of course, this supports your other point: people who have disagreements with leadership tend to point out systemic failings, and here I am pointing out the unchecked authority that church members allow their leaders to have, and calling it a systemic failing.

Read 1 Kings 13; it's relevant. Be warned that the chapter heading is factually incorrect in dealing with that chapter.