De-centralising the Spirit: Between Charisma and Bureaucracy

Aaron R. aka Rico church, Culture, faith, LDS, mormon, religion 36 Comments

In a lecture entitled ‘A Historian’s Perspective on Joseph Smith’, Richard Bushman shows an interesting trend in religious cultures that surrounded Joseph Smith.  This trend centers around the tension between the Charismatic gifts and the Bureaucracy which contain them.  I had an experience six months ago that made me realise that there is, in my view, a centralised view of the Spirit in the LDS Church that may restrict the spirituality of our local meetings.

Bushman highlights in this lecture a ‘Visionary Culture’ in which Joseph Smith matured, as well as many of the early converts to the Church.  This culture seems to have powerfully shaped the experience of the Spiritual Gifts in the Church.  As an illustration Bushman notes that the Methodist religion, prior to this period, ‘begins with this supernatural culture, or people who are yearning for visions and tongues and various demonstrations of God’s power in their lives.  And the reason Joseph Smith ran into so much trouble with that minister, was not because his vision was strange and out of the way but because it was so common.  The Methodist’s by 1820 were trying to calm their membership, to discourage this visionary culture’.  Acknowledging that I am not a Historian, it seems to me that this same cycle has played out for the LDS Church as well.  The result appears to be a centralised view of the spirit and the spiritual gifts; meaning they are something we experience when our (general) leaders speak or perhaps we experience them vicariously through the stories of our general leaders.

Six months ago I attended a Stake Conference where a member of the First Presidency and an Apostle spoke.  This is fairly rare in the UK, I am not sure if it is more common in other places.  I have never been in the same room as an Apostle before, let alone a member of the First Presidency.  As you might expect, the excitement was tangible.  After the meeting I heard many people reflect upon the significant spiritual experiences that they had felt.  While I felt inspired, I did not experience what it seemed like others had felt.  Now I am aware that not all people connect with certain speakers in the same way and that I may not have been ‘spiritually prepared’; but I contrasted this with a fireside, given by an LDS academic, that I attended a few weeks later where I was genuinely moved by some of the inspiring things this person said about the Life and Teachings of the Saviour.  What surprised me most was that I was almost alone in my feelings. 

Anecdotally at least, I sensed that perhaps there is a part of the LDS culture that expects profound spiritual experiences from the Brethren and no one else.  It seems that we believe miraculous events in the lives of the leaders but are skeptical about those who are in our wards and stakes.  It occurred to me that this was not always the case and that perhaps the Church, or we as members, needs to de-centralise the Spirit.  I believe that I need to expect my most profound spiritual experiences to come from those people I spend most of my spiritual life with; those in my ward and in my family.  I also believe that the General Leaders do not want spirituality to be centralised at Church headquarters.

Others have noticed this tension between charisma and bureaucracy. “Security religion provides refuge. It builds an ecclesiastical wall which protects from the onslaught of questions and doubts and decisions. Growth religion, on the other hand, forces its adherents to grow, to accept responsibility to assume the burden of proof, to move beyond extrinsic constraints”[1].  According to Ritchie we need to balance both types of culture.  In my mind, this pattern of centralising the spirit is associated with security religion.

Contrastingly, growth religion would seem to “provide those conditions of the giving and receiving of influences such that there is the enlargement of the freedom of all the members to both give and receive.”[2]  Being able to experience the divine influence in our local spiritual communities would seem to be linked with this pattern of open-ness.

My Questions are these:

Has the Church moved from a explosively Charismatic movement to a bureaucratically-contained one?  And why might this have happened?

Do you agree with my contention that there is a centralisation of the Spirit in the Church?  If so, is this a good thing?

Are the differences between Growth and Security religion manageable on an Institutional scale or are they invariably matters for the individual?

If there is the a centralisation of the Spirit and if this is not good, how could this be changed?

Notes:

1. J. Bonner Ritchie, The Institutional Church and the Individual in Sunstone [Salt Lake City, UT.: Sunstone Education Foundation, ], p. 101.

2. Bernard Loomer, “Two Conceptions of Power,” Process Studies 6, no. 1 (Spring 1976), 26- 27.

Comments

comments

Comments 36

  1. 1. Not exactly. This is just a little “Good ol’ Days” of a frame for me. The change of the Church has not been quite so linear from Very One Thing to Very The Other. There has always been a tension between those tendencies. We all have a right to revelation, but God’s house is a house of order, so that revelation needs to be in tune with the revelation already received. But we are not to be commanded in all things.

    2. There is a centralization, but also a decentralization. At the same time. It’s the right thing. The institutional Church tends to emphasize the centralization to try to steer this big old ship of the Church members to keep things from getting off-course.

    3. Huh? Sorry, but I’ve got a large headache going on and I can’t exactly parse this right now.

    4. Only in Soviet Russia do humans drive the Spirit to do things he doesn’t want to do. You don’t fix God. God fixes you.

  2. Blain, as I read back through the post, I can see that I may appeared to express the change in terms of a linear transition. That was not my intention. The title and the discussion of the difference between security and growth religion were supposed to express that Tension, I must not have been clear enough. However, I do think that Church emphasises centralisation which I am not convinced is good and has always been the case. In addition, I disagree with your last comment because I believe that our cultural expectations of the workings of the Spirit will direct in large part the way that God can/will communicate with us. Thanks for your response.

  3. Very interesting analysis between the Church in 1830 vs. Today. From my perspective, converts before 1900 and those presently in the “growth regions” in the world are joining because of what they “feel” when they hear the missionaries. Many of these individuals have little formal education and their decision to accept the baptismal invitation. The ability to advance into a temple worthy member is still an ardous path that less than 50% achieve. This is where the spiritual conversion really happens. At the time of Joseph Smith’s death the Church’s membership was around 12000 yet only 1/2 of those made it to SLC. As pointed out recently by Elder Bednar, it was the “fire of the covenant” received in the Nauvoo temple that energized the Saints to make the trip and than to “follow the prophet” in developing the west and continuing to serve multiple missions which allowed the Church to grow. Our day is so much more different with every word of the Apostles instantly recorded and transmitted all over the world. I don’t believe that a centralised Spirit motivates new members to stay active and receive temple blessings, or YM to turn from the drug and sexual world to serve missions, or YW to cherise virtue and seek for a temple marriage, or the main body of the church to accept callings and to give of their time and resources to serve on another. Maybe we have come to accept that “manifestations” are to be only within the domain of our personal stewardships. I believe that being an active member of the Church means that the Spirit is in your life on a daily basis.

  4. Interesting Post Rico

    I think many members who read our history about all the visions and experiences that happened in the temple must wonder why it stopped suddenly. It appears it stopped right after the death of Joseph Smith!

    Grant Palmer might summarize it that Joseph Smith had the ability to whip up the minds of the members to believe they were seeing things!

    I think this happens in fast and testimony meetings as well. Obviously we don’t see concourses of angels flying in. I do think that emotions are whipped up and members may stand up and say things they believe in an emotional state that they may regret latter on when they have time to reflect on it.

  5. From #4: “I think many members who read our history about all the visions and experiences that happened in the temple must wonder why it stopped suddenly. It appears it stopped right after the death of Joseph Smith!”

    I think this is a gross misstatement. There are plenty of records of visions, experiences, etc. in the Early Utah years. There are records of visions and manifestations at the Manti, St. George, Logan and Salt Lake Temples. I think Grant’s summary would be too simplistic of an explanation, as it fails to account for visions in people who never met Joseph Smith, or visions by people who lived after his time. Perhaps the number density of the accounts of visions has diminished over time (e.g. number of visions/number of church members), but we must remember there are a ton of selection effects when looking at who has had visions (e.g. who records them, whose records are available, what is the social pressure to report/not report such occurances).

    To address the OP: I think there is sometimes a trend to too much centralization in feeling the spirit through too many big activities. I see this in the Youth program with EFY and huge multi-stake Youth conferences. I think at these types of activities, much good can happen, but also, there is a lot of possibility for (as James in #4 mentions) emotional based confirmation. For me, I am able to recognize the Spirit as distinct from my emotions much more in simple acts with my family or just by myself, rather than in the large group meeting.

  6. Post
    Author

    #3 – I think people join for a host of different reasons. A recent returned missionary from Africa I know spoke of how people joined the Church because he was white and he asked them to. This is an area where Church growth is explosive.

    #4 – Also, prior to Kirtland, it seems that joseph was concerned to minimise the use of these gifts himself because he thought they were not in keeping with the Spirit. Moreover, I can personally say that I have never done that in a fast and testimony meeting.

    #5 – I think your insight about group meetings is interesting.

    From a personal point, I am not sure that I would be comfortable with these charismatic gifts being regularly exercised in the ward I attend. Yet, I do want to experience the other spiritual gifts. I am aware that there has been repeated caution from the Brethren against seeking for outward manifestations and so I wonder if this has been a product of that emphasis

  7. “After the meeting I heard many people reflect upon the significant spiritual experiences that they had felt. While I felt inspired, I did not experience what it seemed like others had felt”. Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperors new Clothes comes to mind, not many would admit they didn’t have a strong experience because they feel everyone would see them as not being spiritually prepared.

    the difficulty with a de-centralised attitude to spiritual experiences is that we use them to confirm someone’s way of life is correct and in line with God’s will. (Is Joseph a Prophet because he saw God?) I think many would not distinguish between God providing spiritual experiences and the fallible nature of man.

    Swedenborg had some key spiritual experiences, but it does not mean God intends for us to follow all the teachings of this man.

    Because of the nature of man to follow those who have received great spiritual experiences perhaps regardless of Gods will (David Koresh etc), Security is found in the centralisation of spiritual authority.

    Has the Church moved from a explosively Charismatic movement to a bureaucratically-contained one? And why might this have happened? Yes

    However I think on a localised level or in pockets you would find Charismatic movements and at other times a more administrative approach – I believe this is Gods method to provide equilibrium.

    Do you agree with my contention that there is a centralisation of the Spirit in the Church? If so, is this a good thing?

    I do believe that a centralisation is occurring, I believe this is due to more perhaps bureaucratic local leadership (BP-SP) who stem the flow of announcing great spiritual experiences from the stand, (for good reason). centralisation is therefore just a natural effect. I’m not sure if I believe it is a good thing or not, across the church I see centralisation as a good thing but personally I would love to exist in a time of great powerful spiritual experiences like the early saints.

    Are the differences between Growth and Security religion manageable on an Institutional scale or are they invariably matters for the individual?

    Ideally I believe the growth – security dichotomy should be a personal one, however with youth, new members and alike perhaps the safest route is for the institution to attempt to manage.

    If there is the a centralisation of the Spirit and if this is not good, how could this be changed?

    as mentioned at this stage in time centralisation is a good thing, but to change it would be to encourage members to talk more openly regarding our spiritual experiences, allow others to indulge in there own personal revelation, talk about the three witnesses of the BOM and how Joseph encouraged them to seek for the vision of an Angel(if that account is correct). imo many would be disappointed when an angel does not appear and perhaps jealous of others when angels appears to them, they may also be disappointed when revelations fail learning as Joseph that some revelations are of God some are of man and some are of the devil, this perhaps would cause a return to the days of the early church and the violence and dissension.

  8. I think an interesting component of this is to read about how ubiquitous seer stones were in the early days of the Church… it’s as if everyone and their dog had one. After Hiram Page it seems that this started to lose steam and you don’t hear of their use much at all after a few years in Utah.

  9. I think the Church as an institution has become extremely centralized, especially when compared to other religions of comparable size, let alone ones many, many times larger. Whenever I have been in a Sunday AM meeting (PEC, Ward council, etc), every idea was explicitly or implicitly “run against” the Handbook to see if we were allowed to do it. While there is still obviously room for inspiration, it must be done within some fairly rigid boundaries.

    This attitude has permeated just about every aspect of the religion as it has evolved. Just a simple example. The Word of Wisdom used to be a suggestion, but how it was interpreted was essentially left up to each member and their own personal relationship with God. This has evolved over time to where a fairly strict centralized interpretation of it defines temple worthiness, for example.

    Unfortunately, this centralization has, in many ways, turned the LDS Church into more of a “check-box” religion than other religions. There are a whole litany of boxes to check defined by the institution that, it is implied, define your relationship with God. Do you: go to your meetings, read BofM as a family, have FHE, do your home teaching every month, have personal BofM reading each day, pray as a family at least 2x / day, not a drop of coffee, pay a full tithing, go to your weekday evening calling, wear your white shirt on Sunday, etc. The list goes on and on. While these are all obviously very good ideas, the implication to many people is that if they’re not doing all of them, they are not “faithful”. The net result is that one’s relationship with God is essentially defined by one’s relationship with the centrally organized institution.

    I think this is unfortunate. As I’ve gone through life, my relationship with God has deepened while my relationship with the Church has decreased (inwardly – I still serve in callings, etc.) I think the Church should be a resource to help people in their quest to have this relationship with God, but shouldn’t be this all encompassing presence.

  10. IMO, personal righteousness (not position) is the driving factor in having spiritual experiences. Also some people are blessed with spiritual gifts that make these sort of experiences more likely. My experience indicates that neither of these (righteousness or gifts) are synonomous with prominence in the Church.

    Miracles happen today, but no one talks about them openly.

  11. “Miracles happen today, but no one talks about them openly.”

    This may be a topic for another post, but, assuming this is true, why is this? Even assuming that spirituality has not been centralized, I don’t think for all practical purposes that the church would accurately be described as a charismatic church in this day and age. And even if members are having spiritual experiences and not talking about them, why are the brethren either not having them anymore or not talking about them anymore? I realize there are many purported purposes for spiritual experiences, but isn’t one of them for the benefit of others to inspire and sustain testimonies? Why is it that the Savior and prophets used to routinely appear in Joseph’s day and now, according to President Hinckley, the prophet receives revelation through “a feeling”? Doesn’t this constitute some kind of significant change, any way you slice it? This isn’t a criticism, just a question. To what end have the charismatic spiritual experiences either slowed to a trickle (or gone away entirely), or the brethren determined that it’s better to seriously downplay them. What’s the benefit in that, and why would the lord make such a sea change from the way he has apparently operated for the entire recorded history of man prior to the past century?

  12. #9: “Unfortunately, this centralization has, in many ways, turned the LDS Church into more of a “check-box” religion than other religions.”

    Paul Johnson, in his excellent “A History of Christianity,” described the recurring tendency of the Church to evolve into “mechanical Christianity,” with an emphasis on forms and going through the motions rather than emphasizing personal conversion. The beautiful medieval cathedrals, for example, were less places of worship than “ordinance factories,” with multitudes of side chapels where clerics, alone, would say Masses for the dead who had created endowments for that purpose. The logic of mechanical Christianity and of the Church’s authority to bind and loose in heaven led inevitably to the Indulgences controversy, the Reformation, and (according to the Catholic Johnson), the ultimate going to hell of everything in a handbasket.

    You can be too visionary, and you can be too mechanical. It’s a tough line to walk.

  13. #11. Great questions Bridget (I think that is your name). I am a witness of manifestations of the spirit on an individual and family level, but am less aware of the same recent occurrences on an institutional level. Is it because much of the institutional church has been established and the emphasis is upon individual revelation and gifts of the Spirit? Or are the revelations couched as conference talks to address the spiritual and temporal threats such as family preparedness, internet addictions, etc? It seems that the miraculous events that I am aware of resulted from a particular situation or need and didn’t seem to be for the express purpose of building faith.

  14. Wyoming, I, along with a very close group of business partners, have also received revelations and have seen manifestations of the Spirit. However, these blessings have come, as you indicated, because of much-needed guidance and help with particular situations. I believe in coming years, it will become more important than ever that we learn to ask and receive spiritual guidance for ourselves and our families and depend less on the guidance and ongoing experiences of our modern-day Prophets. How else might we be able to ‘survive’ spiritually and perhaps even temporally if we are somehow prohibited or encumbered from hearing the Prophet’s counsel?

    To address ‘br’s’ comment: “…why would the lord make such a sea(?) change from the way he has apparently operated for the entire recorded history of man prior to the past century?’ Maybe we are being taught to be more reliant on ourselves and on those with whom we have immediate and frequent contact to increase our faith and our spiritual experiences. After all, there is a divine reason for the organizations of Stakes, Wards, Branches. In smaller groups we learn, more effectively, to advance our spiritualness.

  15. 1 – “Has the Church moved from a explosively Charismatic movement to a bureaucratically-contained one? And why might this have happened?” I agree with many others here and wanted to elaborate on what Thomas was saying above. Christianity burst forth out of Judaism. Judaism had become a checkbox religion, highly centralized. Jesus pulled down all that and charisma ruled the day for a time. So, I agree that the church has a hard time walking that tightrope. Probably all churches do to some extent, but ours even moreso because we view ourselves as part of a continuous house of Israel literally.

    I would characterize the Mormon version of this argument by the example of those who preach “follow the prophet” or “when the brethren speak, the thinking is done” vs. those who prefer to focus on the fact that we are all entitled to personal revelation. Surely both of these are doctrinally supported viewpoints – but there are some for whom they are contradictory. Those are the extremists in the argument. The ones who would say “never follow the prophet until you have personal revelation confirming it” or those who would say “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done.”

    2 – “Do you agree with my contention that there is a centralisation of the Spirit in the Church? If so, is this a good thing?” I think it would be very hard to be much more charismatic than we are and to attract rational converts. Those unfamiliar with charismatic worship find it frightening and off-putting. It’s a tough sell.

    3 – “Are the differences between Growth and Security religion manageable on an Institutional scale or are they invariably matters for the individual?” Yes, they are manageable, but only if extremists are encouraged to be more moderate.

    4 – “If there is the a centralisation of the Spirit and if this is not good, how could this be changed?” I’m not sure it’s bad, but what can and should be changed is encouraging people to look less to leaders for answers and more to them for examples. If members quit believing the First Vision happened but started believing they needed to ask God for themselves, we’d be even stronger as a church. I’m not promoting the idea that members should disbelieve that the FV happened, only that it’s less powerful to believe others are capable of spiritual experiences than it is to have your own.

  16. “I think it would be very hard to be much more charismatic than we are and to attract rational converts. Those unfamiliar with charismatic worship find it frightening and off-putting. It’s a tough sell.”

    Hawk, are you saying that the church was charismatic in the 19th century because that’s what people liked and wanted, and it’s not now because people don’t like that kind of behavior in this day and age? That seems a little fickle, don’t you think? That would imply, what? That god has stopped pentecostal behavior in the church for P.R. purposes?

  17. brjones – “Hawk, are you saying that the church was charismatic in the 19th century because that’s what people liked and wanted, and it’s not now because people don’t like that kind of behavior in this day and age?” That’s not exactly where I was headed, but I’ll go there. I guess I do agree with that statement.

    “That seems a little fickle, don’t you think? That would imply, what? That god has stopped pentecostal behavior in the church for P.R. purposes?” Is the church for God or for man? If for man, man’s fickleness is all that’s relevant. It’s a fact of life that people have different sociological preferences during different eras. God may be the same today, yesterday & tomorrow (so he says anyway), but man is not constant. If you want to object to the idea on the grounds that it’s man-made, sure, it is. I think that’s the point of the OP, that the church (man’s organization) squelches spiritual effusiveness in our day.

  18. #17 – well, I don’t disagree. I guess my thought would be that if god is running the church, then who cares what man, or men, or women want. I always thought it was about the few elect cutting through the b/s and recognizing the truth. Now it’s about tailoring the message to be appealable to the masses so the church can attract as many average joes as possible? Again, I’m not criticizing you, Hawk, because I personally think you’re right. I’m just surprised to hear a believer admit as much. I understand the idea of men running the church and all that. I just think this goes a bit further, into the realm of, men, alone, are running the church, and they’re basing their decisions on the wisdom of men. I don’t think that’s entirely consistent with the idea of a church run by god.

  19. 2 — I think the clarity thing still needs some work, but you’re getting closer.
    “However, I do think that Church emphasises centralisation which I am not convinced is good and has always been the case.”

    First, yeah. I talked about the institutional Church emphasizing centralization and why, which point you completely ignore (not the road to a friendly and fruitful exchange of ideas, for the record).

    Second, I’m not convinced it’s bad either — remember the “house of order” thing? Chaos is all fun and games until somebody puts an eye out. Dynamic tension between two points seems to be God’s (or, if you prefer, “the Mormon”) way. Picking the one you like to the exclusion of the other denies you the fun of cognitive dissonance and the opportunity to better understand the experiences God is trying to lead you through.

    Third, your words indicate that the Church has always emphasized centralization, but I get the impression that you meant the opposite. This is the place where more clarity would help. I think the centralization, and the decentralization, have both been there from the beginning, and both have been excluded. I mean, Brigham (as dictatorial as he could be) said his greatest fear was that the members of the Church would simply take the word of the leaders of the Church and not exercise their responsibility to seek their own spiritual confirmation of what the leaders were saying. He did not entertain the notion that the Spirit would fail to confirm what the leaders were saying either. He expected the Spirit to be manifest both through the hierarchy and directly to the individuals.

    That tension has seen ebb and flow toward and then away from each of the two seeming contrasting ideas over the years. And, while our choices can constrain the degree and manner in which the Spirit can be manifest in our lives, we don’t get to control the Spirit.

  20. Firstly thank you for the thoughtful responses.

    #8 – I think you are inferring that the magic culture was tied to this and I agree. How it seems the spiritual gifts were exercised longer than the magic so maybe as faith moved from magic to the spirit then that slowly deterrioated as the Church became more international.

    #9 – Check-box religion is an issue but I do sense that regularly meaningfully doing those things will bring increased communion with god and perhaps greater familiarity with the spiritual gifts in our families which is where I think they are best suited to be experienced.

    #11 – I know that I have not had many and that I do not talk about them for that reason. Further, those I have had I think others would believe are weird so I do not share. On the not sharing issue, although I have heard that if we share the Lord will not give us more, this does seem to ahve hurt people like Matthew Cowley.

    #14 – The issue I have with your argument about becoming more reliant is that I think it is possible to use that argument to justify our lack of faith with that same argument. when the scriptures I read seem to suggest that these gifts follow faith and are given for the benefit of others. I believe they follow spiritual maturity, a maturity O do not have.

    #12 – Your idea around mechanical and charism was what I was hoping to highlight in my post. I certainly believe there is a balance. I am not a big fan of the outward gifts like tongues. But I think healing, prophecy, miracles, visions, angels etc I would feel more happy with and having them with the insititutional structure. but even these do not seem to occur regularly.

    #15 – i too wanted to pick up on your comment about the gifts at Church and I agree. It would put people off, I think it would lead to showing off as well. That is why i am leaning toward this gifts being exercised in the home.

    #18 – I agree with hawk, that the message is the same(?) but how that is presented can change. In fact, I think it is necessary so that we do not get hung up on aspect. These changes help me focus on my own experience with god and allow me to break out of the shackles of cultural expectations to a certain extent. Can God not make his message as appealing as possible? Although I have to agree that I am not convinced that God is behind all these changes, but I do not think he would be displeased with the attempt.

  21. Current counsel from church brethren is to avoid relating miraculous experiences in public. Marion G Romney was asked “What is the most spiritual experience you have had as an Apostle of the Lord?” he answered with, “I believe what Joseph Smith and Brigham Young taught, that if we would keep our spiritual experiences to ourselves, many more spiritual experiences could be shared with us.” I interpret this phraseology is that we should avoid sharing what I call extraordinary spiritual experiences, revelations, or miracles. We hear the general authorities bear their testimonies regularly but they never relate these types of personal experiences.

  22. Rico, interesting topic. A few thoughts:

    1. Our closest spiritual cousins, the Campbellite restorationists, likewise began with a great emphasis on charismatic gifts that was later suppressed by Alexander Campbell himself in favor of an approach that pursued all spiritual knowledge and truth through a rational examination of the Bible alone. This reflects a longstanding tension between Rationalism (reliance on the intellect) and Romanticism (reliance on emotion), which were the competing philosophies of Joseph Smith’s day. In the case of the Campbellites, Rationalism won the day. In the case of the Mormons, Romanticism won out, but that Romanticism was tempered and checked by Authoritarianism (by contrast, the Cambellites had no church hierarchy or leadership beyond local congregational level, resulting in an unchecked Rationalism that produced competing rational interpretations of the same scripture).

    2. I would not say there’s been a centralization of the Spirit in the sense that people in the Church expect spiritual experiences when listening to GA’s and nobody else. In my experience, people claim and have spiritual experiences weekly in their local congregations. We have an interesting combination of personalized, localized spiritual experiences that are checked and balanced in a limited way by Church authorities. You’re allowed to have personalized and localized spiritual experiences as long as your personal spiritual experiences don’t contradict Church doctrine, policy, or practice. You’re allowed to be greatly moved and inspired by a talk about the Book of Mormon in your local ward, but you’re not allowed to trust your spiritual impressions if they tell you the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction, for example.

    3. I would say that #2 is not a new phenomenon in the Church. In Joseph Smith’s day there were people who claimed to be able to receive scripture and the like; people saw Joseph not as having exclusive gifts but as possessing gifts common to many, only in great abundance. He was not one and only, but the highest among many. Joseph himself worked to establish this check and balance system where he established himself as THE voice for the Church and for the Lord. What we see today is, I believe, the logical extension of that doctrine played out over time.

  23. #1&19 – I am not convinced that the ‘house of order’ quote is intended to be used in that way. I believe that is recent interpretation given by a increasingly bureaucratic culture. I think the House of Order was intended to have a similar meaning to that use in Alma 13 i.e. the holy order of God, or this order of the Priesthood. Therefore although i think your right that the Church now sees this as the meaning, we need to keep this big old ship going in the right direction I am not sure that is the only way to keep the ship going in the right direction. I think the leaders fear that so much that they emphasise it too heavily. In addition, I think there has been both currents in the Church, but I think the pendulum has moved from de-centralisation to centralisation as the Church has matured. Although there have been pockets of reverses, like the Mormon Reformation (but these anomalies). Lastly, I think your right our choices do constrain the spirit. but i would also add that our cultural expectations do that as well. and that to a certain extent we do determine how God will speak to us, or how we experience the spiritual gifts.

    #21 – Not anymore, but they used. Otherwise we would never have heard about the first vision, Moroni, the BY mantle experience, BY vision of Joseph Smith, Joseph F. Smith on the Dead, Lorenzo Snow on Jesus, Matthew Cowley on miracles, etc… These experiences were shared regularly, so what changed?

    #22 – Thank you for your thoughts on the Campbellites. Although I agree with your points 2 I wonder whether the spiritual experiences people have in Church on Sunday are just tiding people over for the big ones when the GA’s come in. In addition I think that your allowed spiritual experiences only if tehy are of a certain type, namely, the warm feeling. This kind of my issue, as i read the past documents of our history, people seemed much more comfortable to exercise these gifts in public meetings, or at least talk about them.

    Your point three I agree with whole-heartedly and I think Truman Madsen has enhanced this view for a new generation. but now I think there has been a shift where the gifts are now not considered to be common to many. The gifts now reside in the prophet and in the 12 etc. So perhaps what I am observing as a trend just took sometime to develop into what was intended.

    Perhaps the referring to the Godbeites would provide some other points for discussion. They were a group that emerged in the Utah period, I believe (off the top of my head) in the 1860’s who began to try and re-kindle a form seance spiritualism. They were put down quite quickly and I wonder if this had anything to do with a reduced trust in the spiritual gifts, perhaps they begun to seen as leading to apostasy if kept unchecked and so best just to minimise them.

  24. #22 I agree that there has not been a literal centralisation of the Spirit, however as I mentioned in #7 I think Hans Christian Anderson’s fable holds some insight, the average member who may not recognise spiritual witness during a normal sacrament meeting would feel greater pressure from others to express the powerful witness they received at GC.

  25. 23 — I think we’re dancing through a lot of murk here, because we’re talking in very general terms. So let me use some more concrete terminology: I believe God runs the Church, and if he’s really pissed of at how it’s doing something, he’ll change it. He’s not pissed enough to change this, so it isn’t a problem. The Church isn’t here to make you or me happy — it’s here to make him happy.

    With that out of the way, I think the level of centralization v decentralization across the time period you’re speaking of did not vary enough to be significant. I think there have been centripetal forces going on the whole time, and centrifugal forces going on along with them. Hyrum Page was a great example of an early centrifugal force, and the response via Joseph was strongly centripetal. The institutional Church is always going to be playing that centripetal role, and I can’t imagine what metrics you could try to use to show any fluctuation in that.

    And, with the possibility of thread-jack noted, my personal belief is that the main false doctrine that the institutional Church is trying to stamp down is the rejection of salvation by grace. I believe that this is what Pres. Benson was talking about when he said we were under condemnation for not reading and understanding the BoM, and that it’s the most wide-spread and damaging doctrine that the people of the Church continue to believe and teach, even though it is not found in any of our curriculum. I can’t think of any other wide-spread clearly false doctrine — lots of speculative doctrines, and some practices that are problematic, but nothing that’s definitely false and easily found.

  26. #25 – ‘The Church isn’t here to make you or me happy — it’s here to make him happy.’ I think this is where we fundamentally disagree. (btw, I did not write this post as I want to change this post, it was more an observation led me to think whether I would want it to change, I am still unsure). I think the Church is vehicle to help people come to Christ, to my mind that means he wants to help people do that and therefore make them happy. Therefore it should be run with that aim in mind. If the people change then the Church needs to change with it, to a certain extent. Moreover, although I believe that God will change things if he is not happy, I think the latitude he gives for that is quiet wide, to the point that for the most part he will let course corrections happen on their own, as they most probably will.

    I would say, if you wanted to use a metric, and of course I have not done this, you might the frequency and types of experiences with the spiritual gifts. I bet it would make for interesting reading. Moreover, you could read the discourses given by leaders and see how often they refer to such experiences in their sermons, I sense that this might have changed (as Quinn notes, but not in a systematic way). Of course, I think both forces are present and still are. I think it might even be a good thing as the Church moves into areas where they might want to contain any explosive charisma that might emerge (like Africa). However, I personally wonder whether this culture blended with my own British sensibilities has led me to restrict my experience of spiritual gifts.

    I am not sure about your saved by grace comment. I never hear it taught. In fact I hear the opposite alot. I think that is a more prevalent false doctrine, that we are saved by works.

    Anyway, I appreciate your response.

  27. 23 – Blain.

    I’m confused – I agree God runs the Church – but how he effects change within the Church has generally been through his anointed inquiring as to Gods will.

    True principles are continually emphasised but the majority of the membership fail to listen, it was recently re-emphasized that the ordinance of the sacrament should be kept as simple as possible after many wards formed additional traditions such as priest’s washing hands in a little bowl, formally lining up in the isle, and other traditions that are additional to the revealed practice.

    we as membership are fully within our rights to ask questions true God will not instruct us to change the way sacrament is being preformed, but he would reveal to us how we can conduct ourselves and this might have an affect on those around us.

    To take an “all is well in Zion” approach because God has not yet stepped in is a little naive.

    The Danger is that we may be instruments in Gods hands for effecting change but never realise it, people such as Emma, B.H Roberts, pre-President Gordon .B. Hinckley.

    so i’m confused. our entire history is based on God answering questions – I guess this comes back to the essence of this post,are we focusing too much on receiving a spiritual witness from GA’s at the expense of receiving spiritual witnesses from those closer to home. are we saying that only GA’s are credible when they say they have received a great spiritual experience and are sceptical of others. that attitude is like saying if God is going to tell me something then it will come through his prophets and apostles, anyone else is just embellishing.

  28. 28 — I don’t disagree with your first paragraph at all. I agree that we are allowed leeway. I’m just saying that, if this was a big problem, he would have taken care of it, and he hasn’t, so it isn’t.

    I don’t know how you would measure that metric. These things aren’t recorded or reported at either the ward or individual level. You could look at, say, GC talks, but that would only measure how often they are spoken of, not how often they are happened. Without question, there was a shift from more charismatic meetings to less charismatic meetings, but that was very early on — Kirtland era iirc.

    Salvation by works is the false doctrine I’m speaking of. There have been talks about it that are getting increasingly clear about grace in General Conference, and the tide clearly turned with this when Robinson’s “Believing Christ” was published in the Ensign in the early 90s.

    29 — Not sure what’s confusing. I didn’t tell anybody not to ask questions, and I didn’t say “all is well in Zion.” I said this didn’t seem to be a problem with God, so I’m not going to get too worked up about it. I’m placing a parameter on where I’m willing to go with the conversation — not trying to kill it. If anything, I’m trying to get more conversation on the parts I’m addressing, rather than on the parameter I’m laying down. So far, the parameter is winning, I think, because it’s easier to respond to.

    My problem with the question is its built in false dichotomy — either we’re supposed to have our own spiritual experiences, or we’re supposed to trust the spiritual experiences of our leaders. But what we’re taught is both. We’re supposed to have our own spiritual experiences, and that includes our own confirmation of the spiritual experiences of our leaders that impact us. Everyone is supposed to be guided by the Spirit. We’re all given the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and we’re commanded to receive it and use it. We’re all given the right to revelation pertaining to our stewardships, and we’re taught about spiritual gifts and told to seek them. So the question isn’t really either-or, it’s where do you draw the line. The obvious answer is “where the Spirit guides you to,” which is both clearly true and entirely unsatisfactory for the conversation.

  29. Re #29:

    You say: “True principles are continually emphasised but the majority of the membership fail to listen, it was recently re-emphasized that the ordinance of the sacrament should be kept as simple as possible after many wards formed additional traditions such as priest’s washing hands in a little bowl, formally lining up in the isle, and other traditions that are additional to the revealed practice.”

    —————-
    Much of what we practice veers away from “true principles”. To me, “true principles” are things that don’t change, that are eternal. We were always told to be honest, are are still taught to be honest. Murder has always been wrong. Adultery has always been wrong. We should love God and our fellowman.

    When looking at what defines a “Mormon” in the world’s common point-of-view, however, it’s non-“true principles”, or things that seem emphasized now but aren’t the “core” of God’s relationship with man. We are seen as wearing white shirts. This is a recent artifact looking at the 1000’s of years God has dealt with man. We are seen as not drinking wine, even through Nephites, Joseph Smith, and even Christ himself drank wine. We are tied into polygamy, which was at one point “essential” to our salvation yet will now get you excommunicated. Etc.

    I think one of the main problems of Mormonism is the fact that while we as an institution obviously also teach the “true principles”, we have an overemphasis on non-essential things which have come to define us.

  30. RE# 30 – Blain

    “I’m just saying that, if this was a big problem, he would have taken care of it, and he hasn’t, so it isn’t.”

    “I said this didn’t seem to be a problem with God”? I just don’t see how we can possibly know if God has a problem with it, unless we ask. It could still be a big problem or a growing issue; but God is waiting for the saints to be prepared.

    RE#31 – MIKE S

    “I think one of the main problems of Mormonism is the fact that while we as an institution obviously also teach the “true principles”, we have an overemphasis on non-essential things which have come to define us”, I agree in part, However I do not see our cultural adoptions as being much of a problem as long as our real focus is on Christ. In a real sense it does not matter if we wear a white shirt or not, but if it really does not matter then why not? Being recognised for the way we dress on a Sunday is a good thing surely ?

    the danger is that with a centralised approach, members will loose their local culture, will overemphasis the one earring rule at the expenses of christen friendship, and become as the Pharisees. this is because they only see the “ideal” and fail to see the power of God operating in the “real” world.

    De-centralising the Spirit for individual members is essential, for if they do not witness the the power of God working through there local leadership the subtle guidance from God may be lost to them.

    in my experience, in my home stake and on my mission there has been an ebb & flow between Charismatic & Bureaucratic leadership, the majority of the time there has been a very clear and distinct difference in the leadership style. But I think you will also find that the process of the calling many leaders start charismatic and over time lean toward a more bureaucratic style. this may be due to fatigue and the requirement for stability over the initiatives introduced when in more of a charismatic frame of mind.

  31. #30 – I am glad that we do not disagree on this. Moreover, it may be right that it is not a big deal, but as someone who wants to benefit from the spiritual possibilities that I believe are out there, I wonder why I do not have, nor necessarily want, the experiences ofthe early Church.

    I did not get what you were saying about salvation by grace thing sorry.

    #31 – Firstly, I am not convinced that your true principles are eternal. I can think of a few times murder and lying (were or might have been advocated). Secondly, people use difference to create identity. Therefore it is inevitable that Mormons are defined by their differences. This is not anyone’s fault, but perhaps is just the result of the way our brain organises concepts.

    #32 – I agree that having the spirit in a local community is essential and perhaps leaders need to take a different approach to encouraging that. Moroever, I agree that asking is important and perhaps an important thing to consider on a personal level.

  32. 32 — I think we can tell it’s not a big deal with God because we don’t see the people given the stewardship of running the Church emphasizing it strongly. Now, maybe he’d be tickled happy if we were doing better with it, but we need to stop looking at the porn so much before he can do that, so he’s focusing on the porn for now.

    33 — Now, you’re down to the interesting part of the question (afaic) — should we have (or want to have) the same experiences of the early Church? We are told about gifts of the Spirit, and that we should seek them, not to consume them upon our lusts, but so we can use them to build up the Kingdom of God. I think there is more to be said for the Gift of Tongues than helping missionaries learn languages, just as a for instance. And I think we’re too quick to accept that powerful spiritual experiences are things of the past, or just metaphors or, worse, hallucinations.

  33. #34 – I agree that missionaries learning languages is not the gift of tongues. Yet, I know that I would not be happy if that happened in my ward. However, there are so many others gifts as well. I think that there are a few cases of people I know that have been healed but these are not things I have seen and therefore I am skeptical. I agree that we do have this tendency to be skeptical.

    Yesterday I was listening to a talk by BRM entitled ‘The Lord God of Joseph Smith’ where he in effect says that the spiritual gifts are not among the general membership as much as they should be’. He felt that we did not have the faith, as a community, that we should. I can agree with this, and see that he wanted to break down this tendency to put the gifts in a box.

  34. I enjoyed your discussion-thank you for opening up a place to think and push against the mind-numbing, spirit dulling status quo!

    In response to your questions: Yes we have, no it is not a good thing.  I believe that in attempting to manage a global church, it has turned into something like an overgrown public school system and by necessity has to function for the lowest common denominator and leave the rest of the population to find extra-curricular education to supplement.

    We have been taught to be ‘spiritually fed’ to the point that it appears to be inappropriate to feast/ feed ourselves.   We rarely assemble to create anything of great significance, preferring re-heated leftovers of the most bland tepid things.  Unless one of ‘Great Chef’s’ is sent to us from Salt Lake, of course, and then we show up for the banquet.  This has become normal to the point that we are paranoid to take things into our own hands lest we be reprimanded for stepping out of the ‘bounds the Lord has set’ somehow.  We have become a great mass of sheeple hoping that our lack of assertiveness in our own rescue will qualify us to be counted as followers of the Lamb of God. 

    It is a struggle to maintain a vibrant, vigorous testimony in this environment, but it can be done.  Reading and searching the past for our own revelations and searching for the truths that have been scattered throughout the world that God gave us is a good exercise in discernment and growth.

    Truth maybe narrow, but it is intensely deep, and for those willing to go find more, very satisfying.

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