Evidences and Reconciliations 5/19/08

John Nilssonapologetics, Asides, Mormon, Word of Wisdom 37 Comments

I intend this to be the first entry in a regular series, something you can look forward to on a Monday afternoon. Like all series, we can shift the air time around if necessary, like if I’m competing with American Idol or something.

Here’s the idea: I post two contradictory passages from scripture or statements by authoritative LDS folks (that’s the evidences part) and you suggest how they can be harmonized, or were never in conflict in the first place, etc. (that’s the reconciliations part). The title is taken from John A. Widtsoe’s regular column in the Improvement Era where, as editor, he would field tough questions from LDSaints and answer them. Here goes:

And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly, but for the washing of your bodies.
And again, tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man, but is an herb for bruises and all sick cattle, to be used with judgment and skill.
And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.

Doctrine and Covenants Section 89: 7-9

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
Matthew 15:11

Discuss, friends:

Comments 37

  1. Is there really a conflict between the two? The first is an answer to a question, and gives suggestions on what is healthy and what is not, but was not given by way of commandment. Jesus was trying to get the Jews to look to a higher level than the law of Moses, specifically the dietary restrictions.

    I think that the way the church currently teaches and enforces the word of wisdom is in conflict with the Higher Law that Jesus was trying to teach. The idea someone who likes a cup of coffee in the mornings is unworthy of the temple, and therefore salvation, is just rediculous. It is much more like the focus that the Pharasees had than the teachings of Jesus.

  2. Post

    Bob H,

    Congratulations on being the first to comment on this new series! I think your answer is perfect, as it harmonizes the two passages a bit, but draws out the implications inherent in considering both passages simultaneously, which in the LDS Church we are rarely encouraged to do.

    There are of course historical reasons for the coffee ban for temple attendance which originated with Heber J. Grant (it’s probably J. Golden Kimball’s fault, for being such a notorious and good-humored coffee-drinking GA!) but there is no record of Joseph Smith or others being barred from even the Nauvoo Temple because of their beer and wine imbibing.

    Anyone disagree?

  3. “defile”, as used in the Biblical passage, means: “to make foul, dirty, filthy; pollute; taint; debase”

    There is no mention of “defile” in the Word of Wisdom, nor is there any other mention of anything that means “to defile”. Hence, there is no contradiction, imo, in the scriptures themselves.

    Any contradiction comes when members mistakenly apply concepts of “defilement” to the WofW instead of the general purpose articulated in the revelation itself – an avoidance of addiction peddlers and a general law of physical and spiritual health.

  4. I agree with Ray. The Word of Wisdom makes no suggestion at all that liquor, tobacco, “hot drinks,” or meat outside of winter and times of famine will “defile” anyone. It simply states that in the last days, there will be “conspiracies of men” involving these substances, and that in order to avoid such conspiracies, one should refrain from these substances.

  5. The spirit of the Word of Wisdom is wonderful, but highlighting three or four taboo substances reduces it to a pharasaical test of worthiness. It would be a stronger and more effective commandment if the emphasis were on moderation in all things, and not on the ability to 100% abstain from a few select substances. But as it is, we commit the double sin of 1.) violating the WoW frequently; and 2.) ignorantly feel special (or self-righteous) because we think we are keeping the WoW.

    Word of Wisdom violators are abundant in the pews of every ward I’ve ever been a member of. They are easy to spot, not because they smell like coffee or smoke, but because their waistlines buldge and their arm flesh dangles. Over-eating is a gross violation of the Word of Wisdom. These people cannot “run and not be weary,” and many cannot “walk and not faint.”

    I’d like to think the Lord is more impressed with the physically fit responsible drinker, than the obese teetotaler.

  6. Matt, while I agree with the general sentiment, be very careful about overgeneralizing in your own reaction. There are any number of people I know personally who live as close to the principles of the Word of Wisdom as they can but still have “bulging waistlines”. Extreme obesity is one thing; bulging waistlines is quite another.

    Also, fwiw, I am SO grateful that the Church doesn’t try to ascertain temple worthiness by a *strict* interpretation of the non-taboo aspects of the WofW. That would be a subjective nightmare – absolutely horrendous.

  7. Post

    Has anyone, like I have, ever surprised the person conducting the temple recommend interview by answering “No” to the Word of Wisdom question, dramatically pausing, and then adding, “I enjoy a bowl of oatmeal now and then”? (According to section 89, oats are for horses, and wheat is for man.) 🙂

    Matt is on to something. There is no sense of defilement at stake in the Word of Wisdom itself, but somehow Mormon culture perpetuates the view that one “cannot feel the Spirit” while addicted to nicotine, etc. Has anyone besides me heard this? If that isn’t defilement, what is?

  8. Post
  9. Ray, all good points. I was probably a little provocative on purpose, but agree with your caveats.

    As to your subjective nightmare, you could eliminate the nightmare altogether by making temple “worthiness” a personal decision — as it should have been all along — rather than an ecclisiastical decision. We are all our own worst critics. I don’t need Bishop Jones telling me if I’m worthy or not, and frankly resent the idea.

    I think an annual (or bi-annual) Bishop’s interview is a fine idea if it were limited to a “personal inventory,” where the Bishop plays more the role of shrink or counselor, helping the individual work through personal problems, etc. but leaving the issue of personal worthiness to the individual member. Let’s face it, in the end it works out that way anyway. There is nothing to keep a person from lying to a Bishop to get a recommend. So let’s end the charade and make it an interview a person can look forward to, instead of feeling that twinge of anxiety (or dread) about whether or not the recommend will be signed, or how best to play the right word games to appease the subjective mind of Bishop So-and-So.

    In any case, I actually think the Word of Wisdom is one of the more wonderful and beneficial inventions of Mormonism. I just feel that as currently constructed, it is a classic car with four really bad wheels.

  10. Matt, I think what you describe is how the interview is meant to be (except for the “shrink/counselor”) – everyone knows the basic requirements and the bishop and SP are there to hear the statement of worthiness by the individual member. The only aspect that should complicate it is the “Judge in Israel” aspect, where the Bishop really does have the responsibility to try to make sure nobody lies their way into the temple.) What mucks up the process in most cases is when a member isn’t certain of worthiness and when a leader over-reaches and starts playing pop-psychologist or adding requirements that simply aren’t there – like consumption of Coke products. Those instances are what drive me nuts.

  11. The Lord said, “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have cwarned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation.” Here we learn that the Word of Wisdom is, like Nick said, a warning about conspiring men in the last days. So there are the differences with the Savior’s statement—(1) it is a warning and (2) it is for the last days.

    By the way, I actually knew an institute instructor who was convinced that the restrictions in the Word of Wisdom would be loosened in the Millennium, particularly those on strong drinks. I honestly don’t know.

    Anyway, the Savior was teaching the Pharisees what people needed to hear in that day. The focus on outward things had led them away from a truly spiritual inner life. In our day, we need to follow the Word of Wisdom. Perhaps the sheer volume of addictive substances, their availability, and the cunning marketing behind them made the Word of Wisdom a necessity for our day. Also, just talk to anyone in law enforcement or criminal justice about the role of alcohol in abuse, theft, and other crimes. And, if you’ll recall, women’s groups were some of the most ardent supporters of Prohibition in the United States because they were tired of men coming home drunk and beating their wives.

    As for the diet guidelines, I’m not really sure, but I do know that the food industry has long been less concerned with nutrition than with sales (again, those designs in the hearts of conspiring men), so if we followed the Word of Wisdom on this count, we’d be much better off.

    Lastly (hurrah!), as to whether the Word of Wisdom is about “defilement” or not, I guess that’s a matter of interpretation. John makes a good point. The Brethren have frequently said that in order to have the Spirit, we need to avoid addictive substances. Of course, obedience plays a role there (if we’re obedient and keep the Word of Wisdom, we’ll have the Spirit; if we don’t, we won’t). But I guess I just think it’s more difficult to have the Spirit with you if you’re constantly thinking about your next fix. Is this the same kind of defilement Jesus talked about? I don’t know. I tend to think it’s probably similar, but more a matter of degrees. (By the way, I think the one Jesus described is probably worse.)

    Sorry for the long post. Please don’t hate me because I’m prolix.

  12. “The idea someone who likes a cup of coffee in the mornings is unworthy of the temple, and therefore salvation”

    Where has it ever been taught that a Temple recommend equals salvation, or that lack of a Temple recommend equals damnation?

    I have heard this sentiment expressed a lot by rank and file members of the church, but it is a false doctrine unsupported by official sources.

    Many who hold temple recommends will be damned and may who do not hold them will be saved.

  13. Matt, re #7 Are you saying then that the inability to “run and not be weary..walk and not faint” is evidence that one is not keeping the WoW? Or conversely that if one keeps the WoW one is assured that he will “run and not be weary”? Is the WoW purely a mandate to live a healthy lifestyle?

  14. and pray *grin*

    Actually, I can’t hope and pray that anyone is damned, but I certainly can hope and pray for and believe the second part.

    Rick, that was not a criticism. I thought your comment was great. I laughed and nodded – and then nit-picked. 🙂

  15. It is easy to reconcile any contradicting scripture, and that is that they were written by different people during different time periods. They may or may not have had inspiration by God, but the intended audience of each passage was a different group of people.

  16. I’ll just add that I think that the focus of the second scripture (chronologically the first) is more about watching our words and our actions, reminding those at that time that while what we eat may influence us to some degree, what we say and do is much more likely to have a lasting consequence on others, as it reveals our true character. At that time, the term wine commonly referred to juice of any variety (fermented or not), and fermented drinks were often preferable to water in terms of sanitation as they were less likely to be carrying disease-inducing bugs (and thus a ban on alcoholic drinks made less sense from a health-related POV until such a time as proper sanitation was commonly had–and this was why being a wine-bibber was considered bad in the Book of Mormon, I think: everyone drank wine, but those who drank to excess or drunkenness were considered foolish.)

    A modern-day prohibition and code of health makes more sense because of the need to avoid addictions (which I think is the first part of the word of wisdom), and the need to maintain a healthy diet (the second part) and the need to maintain an active lifestyle (the third part). I think most members get the first part, and some of the second part, but miss the fact that there is more to it than that. I’m hardly a fitness afficianado, but I do believe that being highly overweight is probably a violation of the Word of Wisdom, as is eating to excess, or allowing yourself to become addicted to any substance (chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, or anything else). I have to say that I find it somewhat surprising that the Word of Wisdom has never been clarified or updated to deal with some of these issues, but I think this is simply a case where the Lord does not wish to command us in all things, for which I’m grateful. I want the opportunity to learn for myself, and not have to rely on the prophet for everything that the Lord can teach me.

  17. RE: #14
    “Where has it ever been taught that a Temple recommend equals salvation, or that lack of a Temple recommend equals damnation?”

    Well, if you cannot go to the temple and perform the temple ordinances for yourself, does that not prevent you from being able to passing by the angels that stand as sentinels and entering the presence of God? If not, then what is the point of performing the work for the dead? So if you drink coffee or tea or wine, you are unworthy of getting your temple blessings and therefore salvation.

    It is interesting that the word of wisdom does allow you to make and drink homemade wine. It also allows for mild drinks made from barley(beer). We pick and choose which parts are still a suggestion and which parts are commandments. As far as I know, this has been done without any further revelation, or presented to the church and voted upon.

  18. Prairie Chuck (#15) asked, “Is the WoW purely a mandate to live a healthy lifestyle?”

    No, that’s just part of it. I view the WoW as advice that inextricably ties the soul and body together, the spirit and flesh. A healthy lifestyle will result not only physical benefits, but spiritual benefits as well.

    Like I said in #11, its a wonderful concept, one that makes more and more sense to me the older I get.

  19. Matt,

    “making temple “worthiness” a personal decision — as it should have been all along — rather than an ecclisiastical decision. We are all our own worst critics.”

    Do you really believe we are our own worst critics? I have a hard time believing all of us feel that way. I definitely fall under the other category of people who got nothing out of “Believing Christ” because our biggest problem is being too lenient on ourselves.

    I would argue most teenagers are this way, too. When you see yourself as too much of an individual, you can always come up with ways the “group rules” don’t apply. This is why teenagers often reject their parents’ values, and can’t believe their parents have any wisdom to offer them (because they are too different). And sadly, this makes the scriptures unaccessible (how can old dead people have gone through what I’m going through?).

    I concede its possible for some people to do a pretty good job of self-assessment, but I consider it a blessing to be accountable to another person for following the “group rules” that qualify one for the temple.

  20. The WoW is a product of the Temperance movement, which originally was about moderation and avoiding excess which leads to committing prohibited fleshly sin (gluttony, drunkeness, and sexual impropriety connected to such, etc.) and spiritual flabbiness and distance from God. It is largely a Platonic holdover, both the philosophical perspective and the writings of Platonist early church fathers, like Origen, who advocated it, that continues to inform the world-view of many LDS and traditional Christians: that physical state = sin and spiritual state = blessedness. This dualistic interpretation, while I can’t say is summarily “bad” is nevertheless a view that biblical content, context and culture does not frequently bear out. Therefore because of this basic dislike of the physical state and its beauties and healthy pleasures, and that such could have no part of divine blessedness, it wasn’t long before Temperance moderation philosophy grew into an dominant abstinence philosophy, with the bulk of the emphasis around alcohol. The abstinence emphasis is what has solidified into the emphases and de-emphases of denominations who continue to have such policies of alcohol abstinence, like LDS and So. Baptists.

    What we also had in the Temperance movement were a lot of “pro-health” related paradigms that were largely informed by the extreme application of the Platonic dualist’s world-view. This philosophy coalesced into rote avoidance of temperature extremes in what we consume, eating certain grains and avoidance of others, and etc. Now while the Movement may have given us good ol’ American NABISCO, corn flakes and Graham crackers, the philosophy is largely considered a bit odd, to be generous, by modern evidentiary standards of health. But we have to remember Temperance wasn’t about health, per se, but the belief that constraining physical observances into a set of strict rules affected the actual quality of one’s soul and spirituality. It is a world-view that ultimately fueled the creation of other scientifically dubious practices like chiropractic and homoeopathy. By scientific and observational standards most Temperance rules don’t hold well to what we now know of health — though certainly not without some merits, especially in the earliest moderationist perspectives.

    The parts of the WoW that are the most silly products of Temperance are largely ignored these days (like the funny grain rules and winter meat consumption). That the abstinence emphasis has now grown into a nature of divine command not only underscores the extreme worldview that led Temperance moderation to become a abstinence-driven movement, but it shows just how little about health the Saints are divinely directed via the WoW. While avoiding wines, coffee and tea, that are actually extremely beneficial in moderation, many Saints continue to abuse, like many people in the culture at large, nutritionally-deficient foods, HFCS, bad fats and sugars, and etc. Take away the tobacco avoidance factors and LDS do not have much in the way of persuasive health and longevity stats compared to the general population.

    So, if the WoW is really about health, it is about time for an update and counter-Temperance effort. If it is spiritual, the most generous perspective I could think to accord the WoW is as an updated community holiness standard. Using the Bible it is clear that holiness standards are distinct from salvation-threatening sin and are open for revision.

    The best remedy for a spiritual solution, in my opinion, is to look to the Bible — content, context and culture. We have many affirmative NT scriptures, beyond the Matthew 15 reference John presented, that advocate moderation and temperance, ironically, of community dietary holiness standards. Furthermore many scriptures condemn Pharisaical-like legalism, and advocate a divine picture of humanity that is decidedly not informed by Platonist distaste of the physical state. If anything the New Earth and ultimate Heaven post resurrection of Saved Mankind is an Eden-like state of physical nature and spiritual nature being in a Divinely created harmony. Why would any Christian think that we won’t be enjoying a wonderful wine with Christ some day? Why would all those wine-oriented stories and teachings be only metaphorical? Why wouldn’t His first miracle, turning water into wine, be not only an allegory of joy, but a real, physical picture of what it means to celebrate with the Lord?

  21. AmeliaG (22)–

    Very wise words about how our own self-judgement is fundamentally flawed. The fact we are so lenient on ourselves contributes to the very perpetuation of our fallen, sinful state, and why we cannot save ourselves. The fact so few people speak truth of their own accord into themselves is probably why flawed legalistic “all good people go to Heaven” rationales continue to perpetuate. It is tough to admit we are flawed, not as righteous as we often pretend, not as sinful as we often rationlize, and totally undeserving of salvation were it not for Jesus Christ.

    I agree with you in spirit about accountability. Christians are called into community with fellow believers. Sanctification and God’s Work is highly personal, but cannot be accomplished alone and apart from others. We must have those we trust to hold us accountable. Yet I think it is wise to stay mindful of the promises of the NT: Jesus is our High Priest, we are the New Temple and His Body. We need no accountability that becomes intercession between us and God, to pronounce us worthy or grant access to salvation. Ephesians 4 states that He gave gifts of apostleship, of prophecy and truth speaking, of shepherds, of teachers, of persuasive missionaries, in order to enable us to help each other to become our whole and best selves and to be united. The common reading Eph 4:11 as an intercessionary, titular hierarchy and missing the context of v12 onward which is that leadership gifts are given to some in order to enable us His Body to do His Work is a classic case of “missing the mark,” IMO. I think this gives some of the best guidance on the focus of accountability.

  22. Matt, you did not answer my most important questions: Are you saying then that the inability to “run and not be weary..walk and not faint” is evidence that one is not keeping the WoW? Or conversely that if one keeps the WoW one is assured that he will “run and not be weary”?

    I agree that the key principle in the WoW is that there is a link between spiritual and physical health. But I am concerned when I hear “Over-eating is a gross violation of the Word of Wisdom.” You seem to imply that the proof that they are “gross violators” is that “these people cannot “run and not be weary,” and cannot “walk and not faint.”

    There are plenty of people who keep the WoW faithfully yet cannot “run and not be weary…walk and not faint.” Mormons have MS, Parkinson’s and palsies just as much as any other people. They get cancer, diabetes, heart disease and strokes just like anyone else.

    Personally, I think we risk becoming pharasaical when we reduce the WoW to a mathematical equation (Keep WoW = be healthy, overweight ≠ keeping WoW, “run and not be weary” = keeping WoW, not able to “run and not be weary” = not keeping WoW and all permutations thereof.) and miss the real principle–that as we walk closer with the Lord, we find a spiritual link to physical health.

  23. “We need no accountability that becomes intercession between us and God, to pronounce us worthy or grant access to salvation.”

    Good point, Just for Quix, and I agree. In thinking about this further, I find that my personal leniency is toward my actions, especially when they don’t measure up. Because I do feel that I have a pretty clear idea of where I stand in my relationship to God. I’m just saying that sometimes its easy to disconnect how we act toward others and how we follow and respect the commandments, and how all of that affects our relationship to God. In other words, I can pray for more closeness to divinity, and never realize that its my lack of obedience to simple commandments that’s preventing that closeness.

    To be honest, if not yelling at my kids was part of the temple recommend interview, I would try a lot lot harder not to yell at my kids. That’s wrong on so many levels, I know, but nevertheless its true, and I think God set up a system of accountability in the church so we can have a chance at making progress. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need that check, but since I’m not, I’m glad its there.

  24. Thanks for sharing your perspective Amelia. I like being able to say to my pastor, “I give you permission to speak truth into my life. To hold me accountable to that which I have committed.” I’ve given that permission to other non-ecclesiastical leaders now, as well, including my wife. I regret that I didn’t employ this kind of intentional attitude when I was LDS. If relationships worked with my leaders, then it happened to work. When it didn’t, I went it alone or got bugged at my wife nagging me. I see now that I shouldn’t assume this is a function of ecclesiastical leaders. Depending on personality, gifts and etc., we need to make intentional, accountable relationships however we can. Thanks, again, for bringing up the point even if I feel a little differently about how the WoW is used as an accountability tool. 🙂 At least I’m on the same page as my wife now.

  25. As has been said, the core of the WofW, according to the revelation itself, is the avoidance of addiction peddlers. Verse 4 makes this clear – and verse 3 is probably the most overlooked profound verse in the entire D&C. It says that the WofW is NOT the ideal “law” – that is “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints.”

    When people claim that the WofW cannot be revelation from God because it prohibits substances that are good for us when used in moderation, I always point out that such information is irrelevant to the actual wording of the WofW itself. What is best for most is NOT the standard articulated in the revelation; what needs to be followed by the “weakest of all saints who are or can be called saints” is the standard. What does this mean?

    There are saints who cannot handle ANY consumption of alcohol or use of tobacco (or other drugs) without becoming addicted. There are “conspiring men” who recognize this and spend MILLIONS of dollars trying to get these people hooked. Furthermore, there often is no way to know where your individual limit is **until you cross it**, and sometimes that simply is too late once you’ve crossed your own “addiction line”. I know WAY too many people who think they are social drinkers but have moved past that quite clearly, and I know WAY too many people who got hooked on cigarettes or chewing tobacco after their very first use.

    Last point – and this one is something that almost never gets discussed:

    IF you really are strong enough not to get hooked, you are strong enough to choose not to partake. If someone can’t give up alcohol or tobacco or coffee – if he has to justify continued use by citing physical health generalities, there might be more “addiction” going on than he realizes – meaning he might not be as strong as he thinks.

    I agree that the rest of the WofW probably is a general health standard influenced by the understanding of the time, but the part that has survived in our modern emphasis is the “eternal” aspect – the avoidance of addictions that subject our will to “conspiring men” and weaken our ability to give our will to God. If God explicitly says, “This is not the ideal, but it’s what I want my saints to live” – and if it initially wasn’t enforced as a commandment (as stated in the revelation) but was changed later (I think because) the influence of those “conspiring men” grew and those in the Church had time to adjust to it – and if it now is a requirement for temple attendance (I think because) “conspiring men” are finding more and more and more ways to addict people and influence their acts and decisions – I can understand and accept that without any difficulty.

    Fwiw, as someone who has come to realize he is prone to a bit of obsession and “addiction”, I appreciate being raised with the WofW and never having to go through the Hell of ditching an addiction. I appreciate being able to take hundreds of dollars a month that some of my friends spend on alcohol and tobacco (enriching already rich, conspiring men) and, instead, spend it on good things of my own choosing – like charitable causes and avoidance of consumer debt (another addiction of conspiring men – interesting how one feeds the other). I appreciate growing up in a culture that did not glamorize alcohol and tobacco use, keeping that type of temptation away from me in my most impressionable years.

    I’ve seen the impact conspiring men have had on our society. It is enormous and absolutely appalling. I will NEVER criticize the WofW, even if it does include outdated health statements – especially since the Church no longer stresses, emphasizes or even teaches them actively. For me, that’s just another indication that our leaders are inspired to emphasize what still is relevant to our day and move beyond what is not.

  26. Ray–

    Talking about “conspiring men,” how about the Utah alcohol control and distribution laws, Mansanto foods, HFCS and corn subsidies, nutritionally-deficient processed foods, prescription drug cartels, oil companies, American health insurance companies, fast food companies, media and entertainment companies, big box retailers, banks, credit card companies and lending institutions. . . There are many ways that political lobbies, protectionism, capitalist economics, and even plain greed conspire in many ways to try to deprive people of their money and create an addiction (read: brand loyalty) — and even in many cases risk health, whether physical, mental, financial or emotional. I don’t find conspiracies as a very compelling argument to justifying the abstinence (and especially salvation-threatening commandment) nature the more famous proscriptions of the WoW have now acquired.

    I like your line of argument regarding the “weakest among us.” I think that is an inadequate reason to elevate it into the “smell test” of loyalty and orthopraxy that it has become. Yet I’m reminded of Romans 14. Here, interestingly, the “weakest among them” appeared to be vegetarians. While Paul elsewhere condemns drunkenness, he encouraged the more liberalized Christians here in Romans (unclean meat and wine consumers) to limit themselves where it became a “stumbling block” to their fellow believer. Yet those who didn’t partake were not to judge those who did lest they create an unrighteous and “doubtful” dispute. It appears on such holiness standards as these that there are disputable matters of faith practice that do not violate God either way, but rather how we treat one another about such disputes reveals how well we follow the higher, true and righteous law.

    What an insightful balance: We are asked to judge for ourselves, and God accords us an individual wider berth than some in the Roman audience considered okay, but yet, for the benefits of one’s brothers and sisters in the community, one should be willing to limit one’s individual practice where needed. Rather than becoming a “regressive tax” nature of the current LDS practice toward the WoW, it seems, at least in spirit, that the former “good suggestion” nature of the command was wiser, even if too permissive to the minds of the more Pharisaical LDS who came along later (read: prohibitionist Pres. Grant). On the other hand, it may not be wise for me to be so critical of the WoW’s shortcomings — or enjoy a good glass of wine in front of ya’ll 😉 — lest I create a stumbling block that erodes fellowship.

  27. “We are asked to judge for ourselves, and God accords us an individual wider berth than some in the Roman audience considered okay, but yet, for the benefits of one’s brothers and sisters in the community, one should be willing to limit one’s individual practice where needed.”

    JfQ, I didn’t get into that aspect, since my comment already was lengthy, but that sums up my view on “the strong” supporting “the weakest of the weak”. I view the participation of “the strong” as their expression of love and charity and understanding of the plight of “the weak” – that they are willing to sacrifice **what really should be no big deal FOR THEM in the grand scheme of things** for the good of others for whom that same thing really is a BIG DEAL. Again, as one for whom the Fall made me one of the weak in this area, I deeply appreciate the strong who understand my situation and sacrifice this small thing in their lives for me.

  28. Agreed, Ray, but Paul advocated that the weak should be made strong; they must grow and mature in faith, helped by the strong, who here in Romans 14 are those who know the proper perspective of things like unclean food and wine. The “weaker brother in faith” is not the same as the abstaining legalist, who sins in assuming they are self-smart, righteous and able to judge their brothers who partake.

    The weaker believer here in Romans 14 are those who have not matured in their understanding (v1), who haven’t developed the faith and confidence to know that “happy is he who doesn’t condemn himself in things that are allowed” (v22) and who lack convicted faith of who ultimately purifies us: Jesus, not our behavior. The weaker abstaining position comes out of doubt, not faith, (v23) yet as long as the believer persists in this weakened condition it is righteous for them not to violate their conscience, nor be compelled by the “strong”. The “stronger brother” must always be willing to use wisdom, discernment and restrict their liberty (1 Cor 8:9) where it causes the weak to stumble (Rom 14:13). Yet permanent abstention is to treat the “weaker brothers” like permanent babes, something Paul does not state. So that may mean “no public indulgence, but private is okay” as a general rule. Others may be able to do something different to strike that balance.

    I do believe that the Christian liberty that is very evident in Paul’s writings is vital to maturity of faith where we are given free reign to choose. The weak cannot rule the strong nor vice versa. We must, together, seek the (Rom 14:17 — note here it is a this-life reality) “Kingdom of God that is neither meat nor drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” The “weak,” the legalistic, and the “strong” must help each other to achieve this unity. And certainly, until the weak are made strong, Paul said he was happy to never eat meat again lest any young Christians perish. (1 Cor 8:13)

    So, how are LDS preparing its people to use wisdom and discernment in this Word of Wisdom? Does legalism, abstention and “weakness” perpetually trump? Or is there a time and place for an LDS person to grow to be a “strong brother” and partake without any concern that they would be out of line?

  29. JfQ, I agree with the spiritual principle you are articulating 100% – and I mean that sincerely. I just believe that, in the here and now, these types of addictions can be viewed as an exception that proves the rule. I see that for one main reason:

    I’m not sure if there is a way for someone who is “physiologically weak” and susceptible to addictive substances to transcend that particular weakness and “become strong” – in the sense that they could indulge and NOT become addicted. I’m not aware of any research that shows such an ability. In fact, the heart of AA is the conscious recognition that the alcoholic, in fact, is still an alcoholic – is still weak – even if he never drinks again. Therefore, the strong giving up something of very minor consequence for them to provide critical assistance to others who will need it until the day they die is something that exemplifies the heart of the Gospel, imo.

    Phrased another way, there is ONLY one way that there can be FULL fellowship of the Saints in this particular discussion – and that is abstinence for all. Think about it, focusing on alcohol:

    If alcohol was present at Church functions, those who need to avoid it in order to remain free from their addictive tendencies simply could not afford to attend. Any non-drinking alcoholics among the membership would be excluded from those activities – and for what? It would be for nothing but “my right to drink” – placing that right to drink above the potential harm to others either by exposure to the alcohol or the removal of full fellowship with the Saints. In the hierarchy of abominations, putting my own **desire** to have a beer or a glass of wine over another’s **need** to avoid it is the height of selfishness, imho.

    Now, you asked about “private indulgence” and “public abstinence”. That is a compelling question, but, if anything, it only *highlights* the classification of those who “can handle it” and those who are “weak”. Furthermore, it encourages those who are weak to try to live a double life – drinkers in private but abstainers in public. Ask anyone who has lived with a drinking, private alcoholic about how they feel about that situation, and perhaps 100% will tell you it’s worse than a public alcoholic – since it gives that person the facade of public respectability, which makes it harder for those who regularly are hurt by the private alcoholism to seek and get help.

    The difference here, BFAM, is that I don’t see this as principally “legalism”. I see it principally as “merciful meekness”. It is merciful, because it is a decision to not risk potential harm to another when that harm is in one’s power to cause; it is meekness, because it is rooted in kindly generosity – which means giving something to someone else out of kindness and concern that need not be given.

    When you speak of “the weak becoming strong”, have you ever considered that the real challenge might just be to those who are naturally strong where addictive substances are concerned BUT weak in compassion and self-sacrifice? Which is more important to develop in order to become more Christ-like: the ability to drink responsibly or the ability to serve others through an active expression of self-sacrifice – even if that self-sacrifice is by giving up something (alcohol) that is a tiny little thing in the grand scheme of things?

    I also see the command as having come from the saints inability to follow the counsel of God when presented simply as “a word of wisdom”. As often happens with the counsel of God, laws are the result of the rejection of principles. Thus, “love God and man” became “keep my commandments” – in the NEW Testament, not just the OT. If you reject “legalism” *completely* on principle, you reject the practical Jesus – or, at least, the earliest iteration of His teachings by the apostles.

    At least, that’s my take on it.

  30. Ray said, “When you speak of “the weak becoming strong”, have you ever considered that the real challenge might just be to those who are naturally strong where addictive substances are concerned BUT weak in compassion and self-sacrifice? Which is more important to develop in order to become more Christ-like: the ability to drink responsibly or the ability to serve others through an active expression of self-sacrifice – even if that self-sacrifice is by giving up something (alcohol) that is a tiny little thing in the grand scheme of things?”

    This is a good point. I think the desire to eliminate abuse is a worthy goal, but with substances like alcohol we go about with abstinence as the norm. Yet with food or sex addiction does anyone argue the prohibition of sex? No, the answer is found in counseling, in moderation, in establishing sensitivity to triggers, in seeking relationships of accountability. So I completely agree that a church, even where alcohol moderation is considered acceptable, that at official functions that non-alcohol policy is the most sensitive. I like your nuance about self-sacrifice because so much justification for WoW-like abstinence comes out of the desire to control sin and behavior with external rules (Colossians 2) that often feed desires rather than teaching a person how to mature in faith. But your helpful nuance, which I completely believe that you believe, I do not think informs the LDS perspective of WoW proscriptions. I think legalism is a fair critique in practice.

    However, I am not a fan of solitary drinking — definitely is a red flag for those prone to addictive behavior — but I think having a drink with a meal is a healthful and pleasurable experience, especially when shared in the company of others who also are moderate drinkers. I don’t see any fear that doing so is so risky as to sublimate a happy and righteous pleasure. Nor does it contribute to a “double life” where those who know me know I like fine food and wines or liquers, but have no trouble abstaining when around non-drinkers. The double life would come, I would think, were I to claim abstinence publicly but have drinks, even if in moderation, in private.

    That said, Corinthians 10:23 provides some measure of self-reflection, even for my position, which I feel is a reasonable one: just because something is lawful doesn’t necessarily always edify nor is always expedient. Therefore, I agree with you, and I agree with Paul, it is better to err on the side of self-sacrifice when possible lest those Christians of “weaker faith” in this regard stumble.


    By the way, I think in criticising legalism I don’t reject the practical Jesus. Our earliest iterations and evidence lay in Paul’s epistles, of which Romans and 1 Corinthians I have quoted are indisputably (relatively) early and authentic (and anti-legalist where it challenges a grace-faith Christological modality). The earliest gospel is Mark’s, which, if anything, gives us a very action-oriented, compassionate “human” Jesus, in all his miracles and healings, yet still culminates in the redemptive, atoning Passion narrative. While it is likely “Q” teachings existed separately and concurrent to Mark, that later informed Matthew’s gospel, we have to remember Matthew’s was still a very halackha-observing community compared to Luke’s. Matthew’s is vehemently the most anti-semetic and anti-Pharisaical of all the Gospels, though decidedly the most “legalistic” of the four. Still I think the most practical reading, even of Matthew’s Jesus, is one who, while more sanctifiying works-oriented than Paul’s Christology, was still quite revolutionary in advancing the soteriological and personal spiritual transformative nature that was not common to the Jewish world-view. Aside from John the Baptist, Jesus appears to have been quite revolutionary to the Jewish religious establishment of its day enough to get executed. By the time of Matthew’s gospel, post temple destruction and increased Pharisaical cultural entrenchment, that gospel was even more inflammatory to the establishment than the one who executed the Savior.

  31. #25, I didn’t specifically address your point because it strikes me as obvious. As Ray said in #8 “there are any number of people I know personally who live as close to the principles of the Word of Wisdom as they can but still have “bulging waistlines,” to which I replied in #11, “good point.”

    So if you think I am talking about people with Parkinson’s, MS, or any number of other diseases or conditions that could affect weight or the ability to “run and not be weary,” as violators of the WOW, I don’t know what to say. Clearly, I’m talking about people who could be doing better in the physical fitness and/or health department, but for reasons within their control, are not.

    Should we use waistlines and physical appearance as a measuring stick for worthiness? Of course not. As my comments throughout have suggested, I’m not in favor of worthiness measuring sticks if one’s worthiness is judged by others. So while I see some benefits to “group rules” (per Amelia’s ideas in #22), as well as benefits to engaging in a periodic “personal inventory” with others, I believe personal worthiness is ultimately a personal matter between the individual and God.

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