LDS Inc. (Part Six)

LDS Inc. (Part Six) December 5, 2019


Rembrandt's image of Peter in prison
“St. Peter in Prison,” by Rembrandt (1631)


One of the more frivolous forms of the complaint to which I’ve been responding here points out that, unlike today’s Latter-day Saint leaders (who tend to wear suits and ties), Jesus (who seldom if ever wore either a suit or a tie) never bought stocks or invested in a shopping mall.  Of course, maybe those who like to intone this particular criticism may mean it seriously; in an age of bumper-sticker polemics and tweeted political philosophy, who knows?


But, obviously, neither malls nor stocks existed in the Palestine of the  first century.  The  fiscal institutions of today were still many centuries in the future, as were the many regulations and legal jurisdictions under which we operate.  For instance, missionaries going door to door today and preaching without purse or scrip would, in very many places, be subject to arrest under anti-vagrancy statutes.


Still, there is a perhaps more fundamentally important reason why the modern Restored Church plans and invests for the long term whereas the ancient Church apparently did not:


Today’s Church is intended to continue through the Second Coming and throughout the Millennium.  By contrast, the ancient Church arguably was not.  And, arguably, it behaved in a manner that reflected its lack of expectations for a prolonged institutional future.  (For Hugh W. Nibley’s classic argument to this effect, see his “The Passing of the Primitive Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme.”)


The ancient Church spread quite rapidly throughout the Mediterranean basin and beyond.  But it’s extremely unlikely that the ancient general leadership of the Church — the apostles and the seventy — were able to serve much if at all as any real kind of international administration or centralized management for it.  For one thing, they were under too much pressure.  (They were effectively eliminated by the mid-sixties AD.)  For another, ancient modes of transportation and communication made such management so difficult as to be impossible, practically speaking.


In my judgment, the inability of the apostles to effectively guide a widely dispersed international church, first because of poor communications and in the end because they were dead, was a principal reason for its demise.  But their inability to serve as central leadership had other obvious implications.  For instance, they had no general-church budget, no institutional bank account.  Not because they wouldn’t have had one if they could have — John 12:6 suggests that, during the mortal lifetime of Jesus, the apostles kept a common purse or fund — but probably because, after the ascension and after the very first years of the post-resurrection Church, they scarcely ever met together.  They were on their own, and constantly on the road.



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