The Articles of (whose?) Faith

The Articles of Faith, as is well-known, were orginally penned by Joseph Smith in the Wentworth letter outlining some of the distinctive teachings of this new religious movement. These brief statements would later be modified, and eventually take on canonical status as a part of the Pearl of Great Price. We teach our children to memorize them. We pass them out on pass along cards. We exegete them for specific wording on matters that remain important today, such as the authoritative nature of the LDS canon. Yet, I believe these texts ultimately fail to explain Mormonism. There are (at least) two reasons.

First, these texts represent the particular concerns at a particular moment of a particular person. The historical context in which they were produced tells us a great deal about what Joseph Smith saw as worth mentioning in 1842, but hardly represent a comprehensive, measured, or even accurate explanation of what Mormonism is all about. In fact, I will argue, the genre of explaining Mormonism often seems hampered by the AoF than illuminated by them. Second, Mormon beliefs and practices have actually changed quite a bit and only vaguely resemble many of the AoF.

On the matter of the historical moment in which the AoF were produced, the documents weighs in on some of the important matters of the day, such as how salvation can occur, the unity of the trinity, church organization, etc. It also addresses some of the other things that Smith considered important to explain, such as the relationship to civil authority, the centrality of revelation, and the general goodness of Mormon pursuits. While the pressing issues of 19th c. Christianity were around things like how churches should be organized, original sin, etc, these are someone antiquarian questions for today. They drove many of the theological movements and denominational breakups at the time they were written, but these issues rarely are the concerns weighing on the minds of investigators today. With some exceptions, outlining what the “first principles of the gospel” are is not really a live conversation among Christians, or really even Mormons, today.

But more importantly, the changes that have occurred in Mormonism make many of these Articles obsolete, incomplete, or just odd. Consider:

AoF 6: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.”

The organization of the church as we know it today was consolidated under Brigham Young, when the apostles rose to the ranks of the most authoritative body in the church, beating out several competing organizations. Furthermore, a look at this list by a contemporary mormon is extremely confusing. First, the order or the offices seems somewhat arbitrary. Second, we have no office for “pastor,” or “evangelist,” which are separate offices from “bishop” and “patriarch,” no matter what they tell you. Third, the absence of key figures such as Seventy, elder, high priest, deacon, RS president, counselor, etc suggests that our ecclesiology is not represented in this brief statement in the least.

AoF 8: We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Last I checked, we also believe the D&C and PoGP to be the word of God.

AoF 10: We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.

This is one of those ones that there is no doubt was once fervently believed in the church, but now I would say is open to question. In any case, the emphasis on this is way, way down. When was the last time you heard a talk in GC on this teaching? How many members would put this in even the top 100 most important things that we teach or believe today? How many apologetic articles have been produced defending this particular teaching? The answer to these questions: very few, if any in the last several decades.

There are other more minor examples of places where the AoF fail to accurate capture the Mormonism of the 20th c., not to mention other teachings which we constantly emphasis today that are completely absent, such as the centrality of the family. But it is the missionary discussions, the Gospel Principles manual, and the new mormon.org that most clearly illustrate the shortcomings of the AoF as they presently stand to offer a meaningful or accurate presentation of what Mormonism is all about.

  • Clark

    There have been some interesting revisions suggested over the years. I think (wisely) that we keep it as a good introduction to key doctrines even though there’s a lot not included.

  • Tim

    Thank you for this. I agree that we put too much emphasis on these. They’re not (all) the most important parts of the gospel, and they’re certainly not the best thing to be handing out to people that don’t know anything about us.

  • HokieKate

    There’s also the glaring absence of the temple, and the importance of temple ordinances.

  • http://www.newcoolthang.com Jakob J

    TT, I agree with everything your saying here (really, all of it), but at the same time I am surprised at how much agreement there still is with the AoF. The first four still seem like a great start even if I were starting from scratch and I am glad to have 11 and 12 in the canon.

    I think they should update it for today. Then we could have articles about eternal families, tithing, fast offerings, same sex marriage, er, wait, maybe updating is not such a good idea afterall.

  • Pani

    With all due respect, some of the assertions made in this piece feel a bit far-reaching. I could agree with the point that the Articles of Faith don’t serve to offer a complete explanation of Mormonism, but is it fair to assume that the AoF were intended to offer a broad explanation of the religion in the first place? At least the articles do provide a measured explanation of some core beliefs that can and should be accurately expanded upon in supplementary teaching.

    Secondly, I fail to see good support for how LDS church practice has deviated from the specific points outlined in the AoF – especially to the end where such “changes” have rendered the AoF obsolete and therefore impede practical application of AoF teachings when explaining Mormonism.

    On the contrary, perhaps the AoF aren’t respected enough to be used as foundations for teaching opportunities. The first 3 articles alone provide a great basis from which much gospel teaching can be formulated. I take great exception to the notion that a live conversation of the “first principles of the gospel” is hardly in effect among Christians and (also) Mormons today. Do not the theological ideologies of faith and repentance form a major portion of the chasm that exists among the different Christian sects of today? And among contemporary Christian sects, does not the Mormon interpretation of faith, repentance and then baptism (particularly with regard to their respective roles in the path to salvation) cause TUMS proof heartburn? The discussion seems to be alive and well (so to speak).

    The evidence provided for your argument (AoF 6), passes the po-tay-to/po-taw-toe argument for me. Sure, this particular article doesn’t correctly mention every office in the Church by name, but why should it and why would the omission of the term “seventy” render the article obsolete or even ineffective? Is there really a precedent to stew over definitions of pastors and evangelists? The claim in AoF 8 certainly was not intended to be comprehensive, is still as accurate today as it was in 1842 and would still not be rendered comprehensive if an acknowledgment of the DC and PGP were added – but as a Mormon, you can talk about that issue with others.

    AoF 10 was also cited. Add me to the list of LDS who would put it in the top 100 most important teachings taught within the Church. I’ll add to that admission a reference to Moses 7:18 and say that the closer people get to living Moses 7:18, the closer we’ll get to hearing more specifically about the claim made in AoF 10. True, I can’t recall hearing conference counsel to move closer to the Midwest, but neither can I deny the themes of this most recent conference which greatly advised moving our lives closer to the ideal of Moses 7:18.

    I actually believe the AoF are undervalued. For the curious person unfamiliar with LDS teachings, the claims of the AoF can generate a lot of questions. The milk has to come before the meat and teaching from the premises set forth in the AoF can still serve that purpose quite well. Thanks – I had some time to kill.

  • Colby Townsend

    Hello TT,

    I decided to follow the link and read a little, and then get a reply on the discussion on Millennial Star blog about some questions I had.
    To answer the question on this post that stood out the most to me, that of when the last time I heard a general authority talking about the gathering of Israel in General Conference, at least two talks immediately came to mind. They are:

    http://lds.org/general-conference/2006/10/the-gathering-of-scattered-israel?lang=eng&query=gathering+israel

    http://lds.org/general-conference/2008/10/come-to-zion?lang=eng&query=gathering+israel

    Fortunately enough they are the first two that come up on the Church’s website when you search ‘gathering of Israel’.

  • Matthew Chapman

    As for myself, the Articles of Faith are the core of my personal belief.

    Substituting “I” for “we” would be a perfect description of what I believe are the “pressing issues of the day”: how one can be saved, where to find truth and authority, how we ought to live as Christians, how we ought to treat those of another faith.

    The ordinances of the Temple are certainly the crowning experience of the faithful Latter-Day Saints, and a precious endowment of of spiritual power, promise and knowledge. But what is taught in the temple is… the Articles of Faith.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    A few quick comments:

    Jacob J, of course it wouldn’t make sense if there was absolutely nothing there that represented what LDS believe. But I don’t think that some redeeming articles mean that we should ignore the problematic ones, nor that the problematic ones mean that we should ignore the good ones. But I do agree with you about the problems with making the AoF reflect today’s teachings. Eventually, we will run into the same problem down the road where they become outdated. Perhaps it is better not to think of them as canonical, or binding, but rather that we seek to articulate briefly what we consider to be most central, kind of like what we do already with the discussions or mormon.org.

    Pani,
    Thanks for your engagement on these issues.

    “I take great exception to the notion that a live conversation of the “first principles of the gospel” is hardly in effect among Christians and (also) Mormons today. Do not the theological ideologies of faith and repentance form a major portion of the chasm that exists among the different Christian sects of today?”

    In my experience, not really. The differences in theologies today are rarely denominational anymore, especially theologies on what are considered to be “first principles.” That is not to say that theological traditions don’t continue to inform certain practices that lead to denominational splits, such as infant baptism, but honestly these are just antiquarian interests among theologians today. I know that among a subset of evangelicals and Mormons, some of these antiquarian theological pursuits are real conversations, but in my experience everywhere from professional theologians to your average seeker on the street today, these are not live questions that are driving people from one church to another or really discussed with any ultimate investment in the answers.

    “The evidence provided for your argument (AoF 6), passes the po-tay-to/po-taw-toe argument for me. Sure, this particular article doesn’t correctly mention every office in the Church by name, but why should it and why would the omission of the term “seventy” render the article obsolete or even ineffective?”

    As I understand the purpose of of AoF 6, it is to explain to outsiders the very basics of Mormon ecclesiology. In doing so, it quotes Ephesians and makes a restorationist claim about how the church is run. The problem is that if you tried to reconstruct what LDS ecclesiology is knowing only AoF 6, you wouldn’t get close at all. It literally tells you almost nothing about how we are organized. And how the church was organized in 1842 is totally different from how it is organized today. It is not simply about the lack of correspondence between the offices in practice and those in the AoF, but also that it just isn’t informative. I’m all for a simple explanation of our ecclesiology, but AoF 6 isn’t even close.

    “The claim in AoF 8 certainly was not intended to be comprehensive, is still as accurate today as it was in 1842 and would still not be rendered comprehensive if an acknowledgment of the DC and PGP were added – but as a Mormon, you can talk about that issue with others.”

    I’m not sure I understand what you mean in the second half of your statement here. Okay, so it was not meant to be comprehensive. That might explain it, but why shouldn’t we aim for accuracy about what the LDS canon is?

    :”Add me to the list of LDS who would put it in the top 100 most important teachings taught within the Church. I’ll add to that admission a reference to Moses 7:18 and say that the closer people get to living Moses 7:18, the closer we’ll get to hearing more specifically about the claim made in AoF 10. True, I can’t recall hearing conference counsel to move closer to the Midwest, but neither can I deny the themes of this most recent conference which greatly advised moving our lives closer to the ideal of Moses 7:18.”

    You’ve just illustrated perfectly the reason that AoF as it was originally understood is not how it is understood today. I agree completely that the “ideal of Moses 7:18″ is how we understand Zion today in our teaching, not as the AoF says, “literally.”

    “For the curious person unfamiliar with LDS teachings, the claims of the AoF can generate a lot of questions.”

    I think that the kinds of questions that are raised for those who read them are not the kinds of questions we should want to be raised. Rather than confuse people, or send them in doctrinal directions that are just not relevant to the hearts of people in the 21st century, we should (as we frequently do with our missionary teaching, public advertising, and explanations on official websites) find the AoF that matter today.

    Colby,
    AoF 10 makes four claims: 1) the literal gathering of Israel; 2) the restoration of the 10 tribes; 3) Zion (the new Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; 4) Christ will reign upon the earth; 5) the earth will be renewed to paradise.

    I would say that 4 and 5 remain prominent aspects of LDS eschatology. I wouldn’t say that eschatology is a particularly driving concern in the 21st century, at least not like it was in the 19th millennarianist debates, so I personally wouldn’t include it as one of the most important things to explain to potential investigators.

    1 and 2 are in serious reconsideration these days, at least with respect to “literal.” The DNA question with Native Americans is just one recent challenge.

    3 is definitely not taught, and the talks you link to prove it: Nelson: “People can be “brought to the knowledge of the Lord” without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation.”
    Christofferson: “today the Lord’s people are gathering “out from among the nations” as they gather into the congregations and stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are scattered throughout the nations.”

    Further, neither talk mentions the American continent, even when they do talk about the New Jerusalem. I would say that the concept of gathering is important to LDS, but that our understanding of this teaching has changed to a degree that AoF 10 really doesn’t explain it anymore, and actually is somewhat embarrassing.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    “But what is taught in the temple is… the Articles of Faith.”

    Matthew, when was the last time you were actually in a temple, paying attention?

  • http://www.lifeasareader.blogspot.com Macha

    I’d never noticed that before – interesting insights. I’d also point out that the belief in the literal gathering of Israel is neither unique to Mormonism, nor does it clarify any misconception about Mormon beliefs that I think is the overt motivation behind the statements in the rest of the articles. I have to wonder why it’s even in there, except to emphasize the belief that the end-time are near?

  • Pani

    Hi TT,

    I hear your thought about the “antiquarian” context of the AoF. Nevertheless, I’m having a hard time recognizing the premise from which you assert that the AoF (or at least some of them) are either obsolete or on their way to becoming outdated. It is not at all clear to me that the AoF contain ideas that should no longer be taught or otherwise packed away under someone’s old notes on Jacob 2. In acknowledging that the AoF are indeed useful conductors for teaching opportunities, I also reiterate my acknowledgment that the AoF shouldn’t be viewed as a comprehensive source which explains Mormonism anyway, since I don’t believe they were ever intended to establish a broad doctrinal manifestation of our religion.

    I don’t really wish to brew over of the clear perceptive differences we have about Articles 6 and 8, in particular; but I do want to briefly (haha) comment on a couple of points you made.

    Firstly, the claim of AoF 6 alone, in no way sets the precedent for explaining the ecclesiology of the LDS Church. However, it does provide enough base information (additionally in correlation with what is read in Ephesians 4) to establish a talking point – and in that I find value. I can see your take on the problem that arises if someone unfamiliar with the Church, let’s say, after having read it on a pass along card, is left alone to figure out what AoF 6 is supposed to mean without any additional information. Then again, I can tell you that I, on more than one occassion, have been able to respond to the question, “So what’s with this prophet and apostle stuff?”

    Regarding AoF 10; I personally understand it as it is written – and I believe it just the same. I don’t interpret it along the lines of Moses 7:18. I read AoF 10 and recognize that it offers an explanation to certain, fascinating “last days” questions of who, what and where. What I get from Moses 7:18 are the answers to the how and why. I don’t see how that invalidates AoF 10 whatsoever. I was simply making a point that accomplishing the how and why gets us that much closer to the who, what, where and when. I can understand how the apocolyptic nature of AoF 10 could be a turnoff for some, but again I fail to see what it is that would render AoF 10 obsolete – especially since we’re both witnessing fulfillment of the claim and waiting for part of the claim to come to pass.

    While it’s true that I never hit the pavement with a quiver full of AoF arrows during the time when I was most engaged in teaching the restored gospel; I most definitely reverted back to their key doctrinal points when formulating ways to address a plethora of questions and concerns from curious inquirers. And yes, sometimes a verbatim recitation of a certain article proved to be a quite useful answer for a given question. You’ve twice mentioned some of the more contemporary sources of information put out by the Church (manuals, websites, advertisements, etc.), and quite honestly I feel that in such material I frequently recognize the traces of seminal roots that run back to doctrine propagated by the Articles of Faith.

    Out of curiosity, what kinds of questions do “we [not] want to be raised” as a result of AoF teachings?

  • Matthew Chapman

    Concepts taught in he Temple: the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the Atonement, obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, faith, repentance, baptism, and the laying on of hands, called of God by prophecy, the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, power to preach the gospel and administer the ordinances thereof, apostles and prophets, gifts of the spirit, the word of God in the Bible and Book of Mormon, promises that God will reveal more of his word, the gathering of Israel, living a virtuous life (as in the 13th article of faith.)

    Article of Faith 6:

    I will agree that to some outside the Church, the list “apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists” looks like “poets, witnesses, ministers, instructors, preachers” but you would have a hard time convincing me that at the end of his life, Joseph Smith did not think of an evangelist as a patriarch, and a pastor as a biship.

    You would also have a hard time convincing me that Bishop Burton does not consider himself the Presiding Pastor, or that Patriarch Emeritus Smith does not consider himself the Evangelist of the Church.

    The order is far from random: it fallows the order in Ephesians 4, except for “evangelist”, and corresponds to the order in which these offices were restored in the latter days.

    The sixth article of faith perfectly describes the organization of the Church:

    prophet (First Presidency), apostle (Quorum of the Twelve), pastor (Presiding Bishop), teacher (Quorum of 70), evangelist (Patriarch).

    The organization is reflected again on a stake level: Stake President, High Council, Ward Bishops, Stake or Ward Missionaries, Stake Patriarchs.

    regarding the Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price not being included in the 8th: they are included in the 9th, as well as the Vision of the Brother of Jared, and the Chronicles of the Ten Tribes, the Proclamation on the Family, and the Testimony of the Living Christ.

    The Articles of My Faith.

  • http://www.lifeongoldplates.com BHodges

    Did anyone mention that much of the AoF material was borrowed from Orson Pratt who may have earlier been drawing on Oliver Cowdery and so forth? Just another point to consider. Interesting to think of the 13AoF as religious talking points, if you will, of a certain snapshot in the Church’s history. Thanks TT.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Matthew,
    Let me get this straight. You don’t think that there is anything that is taught in the temple that is not also taught in the AoF? What exactly is the point of the temple then?

    Here is what I think is taught in the temple: obedience, sacrifice, chastity, creation, fall, redemption, signs and tokens, covenant, baptism for the dead, sealing, and the centrality and importance of rituals that don’t happen to be baptism and laying on of hands. I’m surprised that you don’t see anything of these things as basically what the temple is all about. The items you list I see as ancillary at best, and mostly a stretch to say that these are what the temple basically teaches.

    As for AoF 6, I’m afraid you’ve misquoted it. It goes apostles, then prophets. The reason is that for Ephesians, the hierarchy is different from ours, and prophets were basically just itinerant spiritualists, as opposed to apostles, which were itinerant teachers. The Greek word for bishop is different from the greek word for pastor, which is why they aren’t the same thing. Did Joseph Smith think that they were the same thing? Maybe. If you could provide some evidence for that claim, that might be interesting. But the point is that this is not a term that is ever used by any Mormon today or as far as I know in the past.

    I think that the idea of associating teachers with the 70 and the patriarch with an evanagelist are more apologetic assignments to these terms that representing either how early Mormonism was organized, or how ancient christianity looked organizationally.

    But my point that the organization of the church has been changed dramatically since 1842 hasn’t really been addressed by you. The Patriarch used to have a much more important role, but has now been diluted and distubted at the stake level, rather than as a GA. Further, the struggle of which governing body, the 70, the 12, or the Council of 50 was the most important after Joseph’s death was key to the succession crisis. The hierarchy of the 12 over the 70 is an innovation that comes later.

    If we wanted to provide a brief statement about the organization of the church, I think both of your summaries, at least what is in paratheses) does a pretty good job. Why not eliminate the need for the paranthetical explanations? If you have to explain what the terms mean even to members of the church, what hope does a non-member have of gaining any useful information about the church from that particular Article?

    I think that the 9th is an excellent AoF, but your claim that it includes the D&C, and therefore there is no need to list the D&C in 8 doesn’t really make sense. Both the BoM and Bible are also covered by the 9th, so the repetition isn’t a bad thing. Instead, it should explain what are the authoritative books in 8, and what is the underlying principle of canonicity in the 9th.

    And the PoF is not a revelation.

  • Matthew Chapman

    1. Why not eliminate the need for the parenthetical explanations?
    Because the structure of the 6th article of faith is: “We believe in the same organization which existed in the primitive Church” [quote KJV, Ephesians 4]

    If offices of the modern Church are not the offices of the primitive Church, (as listed in Ephesians 4) but merely retroactive apologetic assignments, then it is nonsensical to assert that the two organizations are the same.

    This is Primary stuff.

    http://lds.org/liahona/1991/02/sharing-time-jesus-organized-his-church?lang=eng&query=pastor

    2. Regarding the Council of Fifty, the long absence of the Quorum of 70 as a body of General Authorities, the temporary creation of the office of “Assistant to the Twelve”, the recent creation of “Area Authorities” and the current emeritus status of the Presiding Patriarch, and so forth: these merely demonstrate to me the flexibility and robustness of the fundamental organization of the Church, of which the Big Five Quorums form the consistent core: the Quorum of the Twelve, the Quorum of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, the Quorum of the Seventy, and the Presiding Patriarch.

    It is certainly possible for you to have another opinion.

    3. “Let me get this straight. You don’t think that there is anything that is taught in the temple that is not also taught in the AoF?”

    No, that would be an absurd position, and I do not think you are arguing for a new Articles of Faith which is that comprehensive. Naturally there is more to be learned in the temple, and from a study of the scriptures.

    However, I see the Articles of Faith as currently presented as still representing the core doctrines of the Church relating to salvation of mankind, the organization and mission of the Church, and the future path of the Church.

    As I understand it, you feel that it is become peripheral to our core beliefs.

    3. “Here is what I think is taught in the temple: obedience, sacrifice, chastity, creation, fall, redemption, signs and tokens, covenant, baptism for the dead, sealing, and the centrality and importance of rituals that don’t happen to be baptism and laying on of hands.”

    And yet much of the above is addressed in the Articles of Faith: obedience, sacrifice, chastity, creation, fall, redemption, covenant.
    The Articles of Faith do not address the sacrament, or Sabbath meeting attendance either, but I don’t consider this a fatal flaw.

    4. “And the PoF is not a revelation.” Neither are the the Vision of the Brother of Jared, or the Chronicles of the Ten Tribes, but they might be someday.

    ——————————————————————————————————————–

    I feel that we must agree to disagree.

    I hope I am not mischaracterizing your position when I say that you feel the Articles of Faith have become peripheral or irrelevant to the changing beliefs and structure of the modern Church.

    I believe, however, that the Articles of Faith are still relevant and consistent with the doctrines and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 21st century. In fact the thirteen articles of faith form the core of my personal belief.

    I could be wrong.

  • Clark

    And how the church was organized in 1842 is totally different from how it is organized today.

    I think that’s a bit of hyperbole. Certainly there are differences including some important ones. But by and large the overall structures is the same as D&C 107. The biggest change from the 19th century is the change in how Seventies are organized and that’s very, very recent.

  • Clark

    The main problem with AoF 6 is the terminology. We don’t use the words pastor or evangelist. Rather we use Bishop and Partriarch (or arguably in some contexts a Seventy). The topical guide helps a bit but I agree it’s a bit weird to use terms as key to our organization which aren’t the terms we use.

    As for AoF 6, I’m afraid you’ve misquoted it. It goes apostles, then prophets. The reason is that for Ephesians, the hierarchy is different from ours, and prophets were basically just itinerant spiritualists, as opposed to apostles, which were itinerant teachers. The Greek word for bishop is different from the greek word for pastor, which is why they aren’t the same thing. Did Joseph Smith think that they were the same thing? Maybe. If you could provide some evidence for that claim, that might be interesting. But the point is that this is not a term that is ever used by any Mormon today or as far as I know in the past.

    I couldn’t find any direct usage by Joseph but pastor was certainly used in that way by contemporaries. Unsurprisingly since pastor was basically just the head of any congregation in the parlance of the times. Especially for early Mormons they’d bring their idioms with them until things became more stabilized in terminology in Utah.

    As for Ephesians, I can only guess, but I suspect that Joseph saw the use of prophet there more as a gift of the spirit. He makes use of that in one sermon. Thus while not identical to what many scholars speculate the structure at Ephesus was I don’t think Joseph took it to mean President of the Church but rather people with the gift of prophecy. I think that’s the case today. Mormons view the President of the Church today as a prophet, but also think the 12 are as well and think everyone should be. In other places (say the July 16th, 1843 sermon) Joseph sees Prophet, King and Priest as a kind of office wrapped up with his idea of the Patriarchal Priesthood. So that’s a possible later interpretation.

    The rhetoric of every person a prophet as the main use of the word prophet has changed (although it still is regularly discussed in lesson manuals). Now rhetorically we tend to mean either the President of the Church by the term or at least all the Apostles and First Presidency. I’m not sure that invalidates the use in the AoF though.

    As for the words Bishop and Pastor being different in Greek, that’s fine. Technically we have distinctions within LDS structure as well. Consider, for example, a Branch President and a Bishop. Both are acting as pastors in mid-19th century parlance but in Mormon terms there are some significant differences. I think it dangerous to assume that the use of two words entails no overlap of the terms.

    I think that the idea of associating teachers with the 70 and the patriarch with an evanagelist are more apologetic assignments to these terms that representing either how early Mormonism was organized, or how ancient christianity looked organizationally.

    Quoting from Joseph:

    an Evangelist is a Patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham. Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a Patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints” (June 27, 1839)

    It’s also explicit in revelation

    It is the duty of the aTwelve, in all large branches of the church, to ordain bevangelical ministers, as they shall be designated unto them by revelation—The order of this priesthood was confirmed to be handed down from father to son, and rightly belongs to the literal descendants of the chosen seed, to whom the promises were made. (D&C 107:39-40)

    So I have a hard time thinking this merely apologetics.

    I’m not sure about equating teachers with seventy, although I could see the argument for it. It seems that the distinctions within the Aaronic Priesthood use NT terminology. I tend to think these structures more fluid than most and clearly the NT use isn’t the same as existing structure of the Aaronic Priesthood where it’s become more a preparation for teenagers. That wasn’t the case in the 19th century and I could see it changing in the future. But I think we have to distinguish between the role it’s used for versus it’s more basic structure.

  • http://latterdaysnark.blogspot.com/ David B

    Matthew Chapman (#15): I generally agree with you, but when that you say that

    …the Big Five Quorums form the consistent core: the Quorum of the Twelve, the Quorum of the First Presidency, the Presiding Bishopric, the Quorum of the Seventy, and the Presiding Patriarch

    it sounds like you would think that AoF 6 becomes obsolete if the Patriarch Emeritus dies and a new Presiding Patriarch isn’t appointed in his place. Given the rest of what you say, this isn’t your position, so: Clarification?

  • Matthew Chapman

    Clarification: “AoF 6 becomes obsolete if the Patriarch Emeritus dies and a new Presiding Patriarch isn’t appointed in his place”

    I would say that I would be very surprised if the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve do not make every effort to fill the vacancy in the office of Presiding Patriarch when Patriarch Smith passes away. I would be especially surprised if there is a General Conference announcement that the office of “Presiding Patriarch”, “Patriarch to the Church”, or “General Authority Patriarch” no longer exists.

    I tend to disagree with those who see his emeritus status as come kind of power grab by the other general authorities.
    (Notably, his eldest son, E. Gary Smith, in his book, “Lost Legacy”) I attribute less worldly motives to our leaders.

    Rather, I attribute his long life, (he will be 104 1/2 next July 8th), and his remarkable tenure in emeritus status (32 years and counting) as the ineffable hand of God in directing His Church.

  • Clark

    I think the issue of the Patriarch is tricky due to the activities of some who’ve held that position. Lineage is always tricky due to the issue of worthiness. Lost Legacy goes through some of that. I know he meant it as more critical of the First Presidency but honestly I came away from that book with a lot more sympathy for their actions.

  • http://www.faithpromotingrumor.com TT

    Sorry all for the delay:

    @ Matthew Chapman 15: “If offices of the modern Church are not the offices of the primitive Church, (as listed in Ephesians 4) but merely retroactive apologetic assignments, then it is nonsensical to assert that the two organizations are the same.”

    You said it, not me. I think that we both agree that the reason for quoting Eph 4 is to make the connection between the ancient and modern church. But there exists a fundamental tension in this claim. First, we claim to follow exactly what was done anciently (even though it doesn’t match up). Second, we claim that our organization changes and is allowed to change. This is the fundaental contradiction between your points 1 and 2.

    I think that we both desire that the AoF provide a clear explanation to non-members and members alike of how we are organized. I think that we also both agree that citing ancient patterns to explain this is a pretty central doctrine. The problem is that it is ultimately non-sensical to follow any supposed organization of the “the primitive church” because such a thing does not exist. Instead, we have a chaotic variety and uneven development of local organizational leadership in different cities, with few if any leadership positions that extend beyond the realm of a local house church. Consider the few examples we have from the NT:
    Paul in 1 Cor 12:28-30: apostles, prophets (which are local spiritual people speaking in toungues and so forth), teachers, then miracle workers, healers, etc.
    In Rom 12:6-8, we have prophesy, deakonia, teachers, exhorters, donors, patrons, etc.
    In deutero-Paul Eph 4, apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, teachers
    The even later Pastorals describe a system of bishops and deacons.
    In Ignatius’ letters, he is attempting those same churches later to adopt a model of bishop, council of elders, and deacons.
    There just isn’t any such thing as “the organization of the primitive church,” and if there was what we do is entirely different because we have such a centralized authority that takes precedence over local authority. That didn’t really exist in the early churches.

    “I hope I am not mischaracterizing your position when I say that you feel the Articles of Faith have become peripheral or irrelevant to the changing beliefs and structure of the modern Church.”

    I think that I have been misunderstood. I am suggesting that SOME of the elements of the AoF that were once deemed central are refleections of what was central in JS’s time. Of course, there is also a great deal of continuity. I don’t think that we should get rid of them, or necessarily even rewrite them, but rather understand them as what they are: what JS once saw as the key features worth highlighting to 19th c. americans. They aren’t necessary a good representation of what Mormons actually believe and emphasize today.

    Clark,
    I think that the distinction between Pastor and Bishop for JS was actually more specific and loaded. Recall that the early responsibilities for the bishop were primarily in the management of the temporal and welfare affairs of the church, not really in the realm of spiritual council as the role is practiced today. In this way, the bishop, or “overseer,” provides a very different role from the spiritual work of a “pastor,” which in the early LDS church was fulfilled by different, if not entirely informal, means.

    Thanks for providing the links between evangelist and patriarch for JS. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t JS’s apologetics. Patriach is a greek term with no ambiguous meaning and has absolutely nothing to do with the greek term evangelist. It is clear that JS saw Eph 4 as an important text for thinking about church organization, but his definition of that term (confirmed by his revelation) is totally and completely his own idiosyncratic identification of two “offices” that have nothing to do with one another.

  • JJ

    Re: Patriarch

    To those of you who think it will be filled upon Smith’s death, what exactly is the point of giving someone “Emeritus” status without replacing him while alive?

    Is there some administrative issue prohibiting someone serving in the role as Patriarch while Smith is “Emeritus”? If not, then why on earth is the position so devoid of any real meaning at this point in the history of the Church?

    Quinn’s book (one of them) makes an interesting point on the issue of the office of the Patriarch that might be worth discussing:

    ““Whenever a patriarch after 1844 tried to magnify his presiding office, the Twelve and First Presidency recoiled in apprehension. However, when individual patriarchs seemed to lack administrative vigor, the Twelve and First Presidency criticized them for not magnifying their office. Few men could walk such an ecclesiastical tightrope. For various reasons the First Presidency and Twelve were in conflict with seven out of eight successors of the original Presiding Patriarch, Joseph Smith, Sr. The hierarchy finally resolved the situation on 6 Oct 1979 by making Eldred G. Smith an “emeritus” general authority without replacing him. This permanently “discontinued” the office of Patriarch to the Church. … Vacating the office in 1979 ended the conflicts. However, according to Brigham Young’s instructions, the 1979 action made the church vulnerable: “It was necessary to keep up a full organization of the Church all through time as far as could be. At least the three first Presidency, quorum of the Twelve, Seventies, and Patriarch over the whole Church … so that the devil could take no advantage of us.[15]”

    It is beyond the scope of this analysis to assess such metaphysical vulnerability. Administratively, however, the decision to leave the patriarch’s office vacant after 1979 streamlined the hierarchy and removed a source of nearly constant tension.”

  • Clark

    JJ, I think Quinn is pushing things too much although there definitely is a tightrope due to not having clearly defined and individuated roles. I suspect some things are for future expansion.

    TT, while Bishops were primarily focused on welfare (D&C 107:68) I think you err by not seeing their spiritual role. However just as the Bishop in todays’ ward isn’t just a Bishop – he’s also head of the Aaronic Priesthood and effectively in charge of the Elders as well I think Pastor captures those extra roles. That is today a Bishop isn’t just a Bishop and it wasn’t then either. That was sort of what I was attempting to get at in the above. The roles of a person can be seen in terms of multiple categories of structure.

    I agree that almost certainly the early Church was in flux just as it was in the 1830′s and 40′s. However I confess I’m a bit skeptical we know much about the early Palestinian Church – especially just because of fragmentary letters about Paul’s missionary areas.


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