Laymen = Clergy: The Genius of Mormonism?

John Hamer history, Mormons 24 Comments

When the Church of Christ was organized on April 6, 1830, none of its members were professional clergy, but all its adult male members were endowed with “priesthood.” For millennia, Christians had wrestled with defining the roles of lay people and the clergy in expressing piety. If the sacraments were the preserve of the clergy, how should pious lay people channel their devotion to God? The Mormon answer to this question would be straightforward: in the restored church, laymen were the clergy.

At a formational conference a few months after its organization, the church approved a set of “articles and convenants” that initially defined three priesthood offices: teacher, priest and elder. Teachers were to exhort the membership and see that they meet often. Priests had the additional authority to administer the sacrament (communion), to baptize members and to ordain teachers and other priests. Elder was the highest position. In addition to encompassing the roles of the others, elders were to lead all meetings, ordain other elders, and confirm membership in the church by the “laying on of hands and the giving of the Holy Ghost.” Elders were explicitly equated with “apostles,” and many early elders referred to themselves as apostles. Although Joseph Smith was known as a prophet, a seer, a revelator and a translator, his initial “office” in the church was “first elder.” His original assistant, Oliver Cowdery, was given the role of “second elder.”

Releasing the priesthood to laymen was like harnessing the whirlwind. Often, immediately following baptism and confirmation, new members were ordained as elders of the church. Then, the new elders would themselves depart on missions, charged with evangelizing and baptizing their neighbors — spreading the good news of the restored gospel.

The office of deacon was soon added beneath teacher with the primary assignment of assisting the other offices. Then, in February of 1831, the office of “bishop” was added and the first bishop was given charge of the church’s communitarian property in Missouri. A second bishop was created in December of that year for Kirtland. By November 1831, deacons, teachers, priests and elders were grouped into quorums and each quorum was assigned a “president,” e.g., “deacons quorum president.” In the spring of 1832, the Saints began ordaining each other to be “High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” At the same time, a “presidency” of the High Priesthood, known as the church’s “First Presidency” was established.

In 1834, twelve high priests in Kirtland were called to a new “High Council” of the church. A second High Council was created in Missouri along with a second church presidency. The High Councils soon became the church’s leading legislative and judicial bodies. A third, special “Traveling High Council of Twelve” was called and given charge of the church’s missionary work. These apostles were to be assisted by “Quorums of Seventy,” led by seven Presidents of the Seventy.

What had begun with a simple structure evolved into something much more complex in just a handful of years (see diagram). Nearly every man in the church had some level of priesthood authority.
An explosion of offices

Although other churches have lay ministers, this explosion of offices seems unique to Mormonism. This leads me to a couple of questions: To what extent was this distinction the engine that fueled the early church’s success? Can an elaborated lay priesthood be fairly called the genius of early Mormonism? As the lay priesthood has continued to evolve, what are the advantages and challenges for the LDS church today?

Comments

comments

Comments 24

  1. John,

    Excellent post as usual. I do think one of Joseph’s greatest accomplishments was the restoration of the lay ministry. It certainly fulfills the purpose of having the members of the Church really engaged in the work of the Church rather than as an audience. It helps create the real commitment we see. The downside is that many times, the spiritual “Peter Principle” comes into play. People, mainly men, get called to positions in which they are not able to step up and perform. Even though we adhere to the principle that “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” is does not always work.

    but, it has fueled the growth of the church all these years to have actively engaged members who have a job to do.

  2. John,

    I love the visuals you add to each post. I am rereading Rough Stone Rolling right now and am up to about 1835 (when these visuals are applicable). They really increase comprehension of LDS Church structure, such as it was. I recall that Joseph would often bypass the bishop in Zion and address his letters of concern to the newspaper editor. I think that this is a challenge that lay leadership continues to present in the Church. Since channels of authority are so informal in today’s Church, those without line authority but easy access to those with position (like fellow ward members of General Authorities) may have an inordinate influence on decisions made. It’s almost like the “coziness” factor gets in the way of effective communication and decision-making, especially when it results in a good old boy’s network. Erasing the line between laity and clergy reinforces this already natural human tendency.

    The strength in this approach is I have no trouble seeing those in authority as just as inspired and/or moral as myself, just chosen to serve for a certain period of time for certain reasons. If we required celibacy or academic prerequisites we would have more of a sense of apartness from our leaders.

  3. Nilsson,
    I think the point is that we don’t want the church to have a sense of ‘apartness’ from the leaders. In fact I would argue that there is already too much of a that sense. For instance, I have had people argue that there are specific blessings reserved for the prophets & apostles that ‘ordinary’ people just can’t get. That most people aren’t worthy of certain blessings. I really hate that. It drives me up the wall, and I just think its a blatant lie.

    If the scriptures and the prophets are to be believed at all, then all of the blessings mentioned in the scriptures are open to all of Heavenly Father’s children, so long as they are willing to accept the grace of the atonement into their lives. Now that may require submitting themselves to certain ordinances, but that’s just how it is. But I’ve never seen anything in the scriptures that makes me think that Nephi is going to receive any reward that Benjamin O. can’t also receive if I do the things that I’m supposed to do.

    All that a sense of ‘apartness’ does is enhance the idea that the lay members of the church (as opposed to those who are called to give up their secular lives, such as the Twelve and the First Presidency, which are a small group indeed) are not worthy of the same blessings or inspiration that the high leadership is. In no way does it enhance the authority of those in leadership, and I think it may undermine it to a tangible degree.

  4. I have said on more than one occasion that this “genius of Mormonism” is also its biggest challenge – that it provides the most amazing opportunities for growth but also for failure. In my experience, the greatest joys are experienced within the structure of the lay clergy (including women in that description), but the deepest disappointments and devastation also are experienced within that same structure.

    For example, how many members have been uplifted and “saved” (in a very real way) by a loving Bishop or RS Pres or HT/VT who had no way of knowing what was needed but provided it anyway? Conversely, how many members have been crushed in one way or another by a Bishop or RS Pres or Stake Pres or HT/VT who abused authority or simply wasn’t in tune with the Spirit when inspiration and discernment was crucial?

    Yes, I believe the lay clergy is a “genius of Mormonism” – but true genius can be both enlightening and destructive. I wouldn’t change it for the world, but we need to recognize the issues it also brings to the table.

  5. Benjamin O,

    I agree with you, and perhaps go further than you, in thinking that spiritual equality of blessings exists for all of God’s children. The First Presidency and Twelve have no more right to inspiration from God than a newly baptized 8 year old. They simply have a larger administrative portfolio.

    The fact that early members of the Church felt comfortable calling the president of the Church “Brother Joseph” and that we would shrink from calling the current occupant “Brother Tom” says something about the development of a clergy-like attitude. Especially when he has spent more time in full-time Church service than in any other occupation, it becomes difficult to see how there is not some modicum of apartness which accrues to him, as opposed to those who are engaged in the secular world full-time. The same argument could be used to say that our full-time missionaries are clergy. In fact, in Germany, for legal purposes, I was clergy for two years, although our bishops and stake presidents weren’t, for understandable reasons.

  6. Ray,

    Given that you wouldn’t change the lay predominance in the LDS Church, what are some ways we could ameliorate it’s negative byproducts? Sensitivity training? A one-day new bishop’s orientation at Area headquarters?

  7. John: Ironically, most of my answer would be to run the Church more in accordance with what the CHI requests.

    My immediate response is more training at every level by the direct Priesthood leader (and support structure). Area Authorities with Stake Presidencies; Stake Presidencies (and Stake Auxiliaries and High Councils) with Bishops and Ward leaders; Bishops with Ward Auxiliary Presidents; Auxiliary Presidents with their counselors; etc. The difficulty is walking the line between micro-managing and teaching correct principles / letting them govern themselves; trying to keep mistakes from happening and allowing the growth that comes from mistakes that happen.

    I struggle a bit with this one, since I really do believe the structure is there for widespread, individual growth and communal bonding – and truly is genius. I just think we all need to be aware of the inherent dangers and address them head-on. I think we need to be open and apologetic and humble whenever we screw up. After all, we are a church of “called and assigned volunteers” – and I don’t want to give up the wonderful side of the sword just to eliminate the possibility of being cut by the other side.

    That’s a long-winded, “I’m not sure.”

  8. I think a strength in this early structure was that it harnessed the benefits of volunteerism, but imbued such “volunteers” with 1) a sense of divine calling and divine authority and 2) loyalty to the hierarchy and the Prophet and 3) malleability where needed.

    On the matter of authority I disagree with Joseph Smith’s claim that any unique or special authority was conferred by God upon the church. Still I believe the Holy Spirit can work to call men to works which glorify God, and the commitment of many LDS then and now are testament to how this certainly can be true for the good service so many members accomplish. The debate over any veracity of special authority aside — which is another discussion entirely — I think “the authority narrative” is a unique strength of Mormonism that helped it largely transcend flaws, schisms, crimes, and everyday shortcomings because lay leaders saw themselves as unique, justified and set apart from the world by God himself.

    The LDS priesthood structure, due to the conception that all are called and ordained of God, and that such authority was conferred through the special mission and ordination of Joseph Smith, created a hierarchical and denominational loyalty that American Christianity largely hasn’t created — nor tried to create. It also created distinct loyalty to Joseph Smith as the unique “intercessory” between followers and Christ. I think this was historically important because the burgeoning church was comprised largely of uneducated, untrained, and religiously disaffected converts. Creating this “spiritually-enabled meritocracy” contributed to the church lay structure feeling specially and uniquely qualified and comfortable positioning itself directly in combat (both real and spiritually) with the American Christian Protestant establishment — from the top all the way down to the deacons. Smith successfully transferred the “argument of ideals” away from a commitment to the perfection of Christ (and its connected scripture, tradition and history) to that of a commitment to the perfection of the church structure (and its unique, charismatic, evolving and “restored” nature).

    By imbuing divine revelatory precedent down to the local level, it allows the church to preserve a loyalty to the hierarchy, its mission and unique restorative authority while also creating a doctrinal malleability and flexibility at the local church and adherant level. As the church has aged this has uniquely allowed itself to carve out its place as it has mainstreamed and jettisoned or downplayed distinct beliefs or practices. From the outset, the Bible was defined as untrustworthy, save intercession through the Prophet as to what had not been “mistranslated”; new scripture and revelation became an open canon that is constantly in flux (or treated when needed as in flux), therefore practical loyalty is, really, to confidence in the current leadership, its titles and “keys”, and not to tradition, canon nor historical precedent–at least not on any level comparable to Christianity or Judaism. I think it is fair to say both Mormons and Christians are both, then and now, loyal to Christ as they understand Him. And ultimately in the LDS experience there is a more engendered climate where the individual filters messages for pressing efficacy all per the individual’s spiritual witness more than measuring it against scriptural standard, tradition or past authoritative statements.

    I hesitate to consider this LDS structure as “genius” because I think there would be more “proof in the pudding”; the LDS church really doesn’t have the data behind it making it appear to me to be a more inspired and divine structure compared to other denominations. Still the faith does have unique strengths that has allowed it to be probably the most distinct American religion ever, and to carve a small place for itself in world religions. As Ray intimated, these great strengths also often become great weaknesses, which ultimately makes it a faith to appeal to some and not to others. I’ve believed for a long time, even when I was Mormon, that divinity can certainly manifest in the LDS experience like it can in other Christian faiths, but I think it is by God’s grace, in spite of the authoritarian hierarchy, not by virtue of it.

  9. JfQ, I believe that the church organization is “inspired” in three distinct ways:

    1) The re-institution of an “eternal, universal ordinance orthodoxy”;

    2) The purest form of “the priesthood of believers” – where every individual is personally invested in the success of the organization, and “growth” is construed not just in numerical terms but “progression”, as well;

    3) a focus on fruits (righteousness) over intellectual/doctrinal understanding (sprituality).

    I think we fail whenever we lose sight of those elements – when we assume some are outside the salvific effect of our ordinances, limit our application of God’s grace to only those who appear to be like us (hence, Elder Wirthlin’s talk), or start worrying more about what we say or think or believe than what we do and become.

  10. Ray (9):

    I don’t want to insinuate I don’t think the LDS church has inspiration. I disagree with its claim to unique and special authority — its “One True Church-ness”. I can see your point in #1. Though I disagree with how the LDS church has implemented its ordinances I appreciate the general reasons most believers hold behind it, and why they revere it.

    #2 can be functionally found quite easily in other Christian denominations. We just don’t usually call it a “priesthood” and operate more consensually, which also helps the benefits of personal enablement and investment to be more functionally accessible to women, IMO. Regarding point #3: I think most Christians continue in their faith for the same reasons you cite Mormons do. In many Christian churches doctrinal understanding may be more professionally addressed, illuminated and emphasized given that those who preach are usually trained for the task, but I would consider intellectual commitment a minor or non-motivator for most who are church goers. Even a dominant grace-oriented environment usually is still accompanied by emphasis and commitment to realizing the fruits of righteousness. Look at all we have in common ! 🙂

  11. JfQ, yeah, we’re just brothers from another mother. 🙂

    Let me be a little more precise, while agreeing that we really do have FAR more in common than most people (Mormons and other Christians) realize.

    1) It is the universal breadth of the ordinances that still is not common among other Christian denominations, as evidenced by the assurance that I will wind up in Hell that is nearly unanimous in many congregations. Not all individuals believe this, but the VAST majority do. Again, it kills me that we are seen by many as denying grace, when our theology is much more universal in its application of grace than the foundation of most other Christian denominations. That universal application of grace is the core of the way we view ordinances, and it is uniquely participatory – which leaks into #3.

    2) The temple is seemed anathema by most Christians, but it is the single best example of participatory salvation in the Church – the best example of ALL (man, woman and child – at least teenager) participating in the “eternal” fruits of vicarious ordinance work. There is a real genius, imho, in that structure that is missing completely from other denominations – and that is true even if there were no actual binding efficacy in the ordinances themselves. I just don’t see the same kind of symbolic power in action in other denominations.

    3) I agree that many Christians continue in their faith through what they do and don’t really focus – in their own lives – on worrying about understanding every little point of doctrine. I don’t argue with that – not at all. However, there is a fluidity and openness to change and acceptance of new knowledge and understanding within Mormonism that drives many Christians nuts, which is manifested by those who claim we are damned specifically because we don’t agree on those specific points of doctrine.

    For example, I can believe the creation narrative to be figurative; I can argue that abortion is not ALWAYS prohibited; I can be open to the possibility that social and “moral” standards can change over centuries and within cultures; I can accept the Church’s new position on homosexuality; I can change my mind on any number of issues without once thinking that it should threaten my testimony – specifically because I am focused on becoming and recognize that the doctrinal squabbles really don’t mean squat in the long run.

    That’s very different than most Christian structures. I agree we have MUCH in common, but there are significant differences that I personally think are “inspired” or “genius”.

  12. Jon, again, another fascinating treatise on Mormon history. I would interested in you take on the historical adjustments of Priesthood offices and their corrolated effects upon the differences in the CoC, Bickertonites, Restorationits, Strangites, etc. I found it earth shattering for me when I found out that the original settings apart in Priesthood offices happened in Kirtland, far away from Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River, with some seeming idea of Peter, James, and John being a kind of afterthought, at least according to Bushman. Seems to me that while the Melchezedik Priesthood is essentially based in mystical beings from heaven, that the officeso of the Priesthood are policy-adjoinders that come and go with the wind.

  13. John, loved this post. I think you hit the nail on the head.

    I remember reading a lament by a Christian preacher a couple years ago that there are so few men attending Christian churches these days. You can find exceptions to this trend, such as in the big megachurches that seem to attract large numbers from every demographic. But as for your average hometown churches, the women far outnumber the men in the pews (or so the author reported).

    I thought about how gender-balanced our Sunday attendance seems to be, at least in my Stake, and wondered whether one of the reasons we perhaps haven’t experienced the same degree of decline in male attendance in the LDS church owes to the fact that men in the LDS church are given responsibilities and callings that make them feel valued and needed, which gives them more of a reason to show up to church each Sunday.

  14. The gender bias may possibly seem higher in attendance, but the 08 Pew Forum study shows that the ratio of American men:women who self-identify with any religious tradition is roughly equal across most faiths. Women (according to this study) are highest in historically Black Protestant (60%), but men are higher (~60%) in Hindu or unaffiliated categories. The subsequent study, due out soon, should give us a better metric on evaluating practice, including attendance. See: http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits. Other metrics like age, race, education, and geography/regionality seem much more predictive of religious affiliation (and which type) than gender.

  15. Post
    Author

    Thanks for all the great responses and insights. I still have more thinking to do on this one. I apologize for not being interactive — I’ve been working around the clock rendering a corporate promotional documentary which saps all of my computer’s processing capacity and all of my brain’s willpower. I’d like to say there’s light at the end of the tunnel in my schedule, but I don’t see it… 😛

  16. When I explain our practices to non-LDS, there are a two things that always seem uniquely ingenious to me: the lay clergy/everyone has a calling and our belief in the three degrees of glory (even adulterers come off winners!). The lay clergy creates a different type of engagement & growth for individuals, and the three degrees of glory brings hope and charity together nicely. Our belief system doesn’t damn people to hell just for disagreeing. Everyone who’s even trying gets an upgrade after this life.

  17. hawkgrrrl said, “Our belief system doesn’t damn people to hell just for disagreeing. Everyone who’s even trying gets an upgrade after this life.”

    Hawkgrrrl, are you saying this just to get me to write? 😉 Anyhow, this is a point of perception I’ve found pretty common in my experience, and I’d like to say something about it. (Since I’m biased, please call me on it if I misrepresent.)

    It seems a funny mental picture to paint that “Mormon Hell” still smells of roses while “Christian Hell” smells of sulfer. The truth is that each faith tradition believes in the reality of hell — a place of separation from God — and that this is ultimately a regretful state, even if the allegories about it seem so divergent. (Even if a Latter-day Saint contends their doctrine’s “lesser glories” have quite a bit of glory even still it is technically still “hell”; And of course, the place reserved for “sons of perdition” isn’t a pretty image either.). Both traditions hang on faith that there is glory and salvation for those who accept Jesus Christ as Savior, and this is an ultimate necessity. Each faith believes that God has the power to accomplish his redemptive work for those who will accept Him.

    Either faith tradition is full of plenty of folks who make it their business to judge who’s been saved or not. That human weakness aside, only God can judge who really has accepted Him. Protestant Christians (aside perhaps strict Calvinists) believe that God has the power to reach out and save each of His children who will accept Him in faith. This is accomplished in many ways (evangelism, scripture, missionary work, spiritual witness, dreams, etc.), but since the dispensation of Christ all who will accept Him WILL be reached. We need not depend on human measurements to judge whether God is accomplishing His work; we trust He delivers on His promise, and reaches all who have or will have saving faith. All with this faith will be saved and enjoy communion with God in heaven, though the rewards in heaven do differ according to the kind of lives the Children of God have lived. (Rewards are distinct from salvation in our doctrine.) In a sense, this has some similarity to the “degrees of glory” angle of LDS exaltation doctrine.

    Mormons also believe that God knows all who will accept Him and He will reach them in this life or in the next life (Moroni 8:22 notwithstanding) through requisite ordinances, pending the nature of the recipient. This life is the time to repent, and those who would not accept in this life, will not do so in the next. The ordinance emphasis makes it seem like Mormon theology is more gracious and fair compared to Christianity, when in truth it merely redefines, IMO, the scope and method in which God does His work. Admittedly, it is quite a unique distinction between our faiths, and it does place more of a role for fellow humans to have a part in “saving” their dead. While this is common Christian sticking point it is not a quite so fair a characterization, either, to say Mormons are taking the ultimate power of salvation away from Christ. (And fairly, orthodox Christianity with its sacraments has some similarity and difference to the strategic thrust of even these two general categorizations.)

    Admittedly, the approach between denominations is different, and is founded on very different understanding of salvation doctrine — and is a point of examination and fair debate. Yet in the spirit of mutual understanding I think it is honest to say that either faith tradition places a lot of trust in God’s loving and merciful nature, that He seeks (and will) accomplish salvation for all of humanity who will accept Him. That our two faiths manifest this in very different theology and practice definitely has its basis for discussion — and perhaps even divide. But ultimately I think it is disingenuous for either tradition to judge the other on the metrics of whose God, whose theology, is more just, nice, compassionate, fair, loving or generous. Both believe in a powerful and loving God who will save all who are His. Is this fair to say?

  18. Very well said, JfQ – except for those who condemn Mormons and JW’s and Catholics to Hell for not believing in “the real Jesus”. That’s not just Calvinists.

    I know this torques some Christians, but I phrase it this (not unique) way:

    Based on the common definition of salvation employed within Protestantism, if denominational affiliation were not known and ONLY the core principles of the Gospel were discussed, Protestants believe all of us will end up in what we call the Terrestrial Kingdom. It’s only when the actual denomination becomes known that we end up in Hell. Likewise, using those same parameters, Mormons believe that the majority of Christians, regardless of denomination and including Mormons, will be together in either the Terrestrial or Celestial Kingdom.

    So, why do we fight so much? It’s because the way we represent the doctrinal differences ends up being condescending and argumentative, mostly because our “natural man” perspectives are to distinguish and discriminate and label and exclude – out of a strong protective reflex. We also don’t like being told we are wrong, so we fire back by telling the others they are wrong – and we end up fighting over different ways to say much the same thing.

    Granted, I think you’re wrong, JfQ. *grin* I just don’t think it will make any difference in the long run, with what I’ve seen of you here.

  19. “But ultimately I think it is disingenuous for either tradition to judge the other on the metrics of whose God, whose theology, is more just, nice, compassionate, fair, loving or generous. Both believe in a powerful and loving God who will save all who are His. Is this fair to say?”

    JFQ, The problem here is that there are not multiple right answers to these questions regarding salvation and heaven. It’s either one way or the other. My view has always been that if Mormonism is wrong (which I do not beleive), then the worst case scenario for me is that I would have done too much to merit my reward since I have done exactly the same thing as the Christian does to obtain his/her salvation plus a WHOLE lot more.

    If we are right on the other hand, many will fail short of the highest degree of glory.

  20. Let me add one more thing:

    I believe we will be judged on how well we live the teachings of Jesus, NOT by how well we articulate them or the nuances of our intellectualization of them. That is, imo, the underlying foundation of Mormon theology – that we will be rewarded by what we become.

    That belief is true of most other Christians, as well; we just phrase the belief differently. We speak of agency and choice and accountability, all built on the foundation of assumed and often unarticulated grace; “they” speak of election and the in-dwelling of the Spirit, etc. – all built on the foundation of assumed and always articulated grace. The difference is that, ultimately, we allow for different expressions of belief to lead to the type of “becoming” that leads to exaltation; many Christians equate different expressions with non-saving, dead works that, therefore, lead to damnation.

    If there were a translator attached to our utterances that changed our words into what others would say if they meant the same thing, I think it would astound both sides how much we would agree with each other.

  21. Ray said, “Very well said, JfQ – except for those who condemn Mormons and JW’s and Catholics to Hell for not believing in “the real Jesus”. That’s not just Calvinists.”
    Thanks. Your points are right, of course. Well said. Each of the sides has some distinct and incompatible doctrines, that can’t be bridged — or seem pretty far to bridge. But many adherants through elitism, protectionism, discrimination, “natural man” or whatever, have a hard time finding productive ways to build bridges, and politely define the differences. And even when we politely define them differences they can still bristle closely held, defensive feelings — for example if I were define “the real Jesus” or you defining that Christians don’t have a Celestial-like (connotative not denotative sense) concept of heaven. Yep, in some things we don’t agree. Not easy to have productive dialogue.

    I mentioned Calvinists, well, because the hard-core elective predestination sorts don’t believe that all or necessarily many will be saved, and especially wouldn’t agree with what I articulated about what I consider a compelling, hopeful, powerful, gracious and compassionate salvation doctrine. Instead, just His elect will be saved, which either may include us or may not. And only time will tell. And if not, to Hell we go! It’s not meant to be fair — God is sovereign, right? 🙂 (I know that’s not an entirely accurate description of Calvinist election theology; while it has a strong logical backbone behind it, I find it pretty ethically demoralizing and less-than-hopeful transformationalist-wise.)

    “Granted, I think you’re wrong, JfQ. *grin* I just don’t think it will make any difference in the long run, with what I’ve seen of you here.”
    *grin* So what did you mean by this last statement anyway??

  22. JfQ – I really wasn’t trying to call you out. But while you’re out, I disagree that the so-called (non-LDS) Christian view of Heaven & Hell as held by most adherents is much like the three degrees of glory at all. The “traditional” view is that you go to Heaven or you go to Hell. Your personal view of Hell (like the LDS view) is not a literal lake of sulfur and brimstone; you are stating that Hell is a mental state, a symbolic depiction of separation from God. The view you have expressed is not a traditional Christian view. Many Catholics have preached a literal (not figurative) roasting of souls in Hell. There is a story often told about the soul of one of the damned coming to visit a still-living relative and leaving burn-mark fingerprints in the footboard of the bed as evidence that this damned soul was visiting from Hell. Many preachers have believed in a literal place called Hell run by the Devil. It is essentially an updating of the Hades of Greek Mythology.

    I have never personally met a single soul who met the description of a “son of perdition” deserving of outer darkness, and I have only met a few who would qualify for the lowest (telestial) of the three degrees of glory. We have been told that the telestial glory is similar to the earth we now inhabit. That’s pretty glorious if you ask me. Many people I know are living a great, terrestrial life, trying their best to follow Christ, which we are taught will yield something along the lines of a traditional Christian heaven (minus the trampoline-clouds and harps). I have a hard time envisioning Celestial glory and I’m not sure who I know is living at that level (I can’t see into people’s hearts). It’s quite different for LDS to believe that in sharing the gospel we can provide saving ordinances to people and help them live the gospel more fully vs. an Evangelical view that if you don’t believe and profess your faith in their specific way, you will be damned. Again, this is just my view. Clearly you see it differently. Perhaps that is the benefit of a mega-church–no pesky centralized organization proscribing doctrine for you, so you can believe whatever you choose based on your own interpretation of the scriptures and your own prayer and faith experiences. I’m not being dismissive in saying that; I believe it is a legitimate approach and that your views are thoughtful and uplifting, but I simply disavow it as a “traditional” Christian view.

    There was a good article in time.com in February about the mistaken notions many Christians have about Heaven that contradict scripture. Here is a link:
    http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1710844,00.html

  23. As I said, I think we will be judged by what we become – by how valiantly we strive to become like Jesus – to live what we understand, whatever that is. A good indication of that, imo, is how well we develop the characteristics articulated in the Sermon on the Mount – how “perfect” (complete and whole) we become. Based on what I’ve seen of your sincere efforts to live what you believe, I have no doubt you are striving for just that.

    I think you are wrong in some of your conclusions about the Church, but I’ll make sure your work gets done again if you’ve actually been excommunicated – and if you haven’t (if you are still a member of record), I believe “when you are old (even if that’s after death) you will not depart from it.” *grin*

    Seriously, all joking aside, from what I know of you, you are producing real and true and sweet fruit of the vine, and Jesus said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” That’s good enough for me.

  24. Pingback: The Genius of Mormonism: Missions at Mormon Matters

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