Obedience: Virtual RS/PH #13

HawkgrrrlAnti-Mormon, apologetics, apostasy, Bloggernacle, book of mormon, christianity, church, evangelicals, faith, God, grace, inter-faith, Jesus, joseph, LDS, Leaders, missionary, mormon, Mormon, Mormons, obedience, orthodox, plan of salvation, politics, polygamy, prophets, questioning, religion, salvation, scripture, smith, spiritual progression, temple, testimony, theology, thought 22 Comments

Welcome to the second virtual co-ed 3rd hour.  This week’s lesson is a topic that is often a seething hotbed of Mormon Matters controversy:  “Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It.”

I just spent the last week in Hollywood, so I thought it would be fun to try different readings of that title to see how the emphasis changes the meaning.  (This reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer says, “These pretzels are making me thirsty!”).

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It – with the emphasis on “obedience,”  it kind of sounds like:  “Obedience!  When the Lord Commands, Do It:  The Musical!”  The score would probably be lame.

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It – “When” as in “when and if,” or as we’ve discussed elsewhere on MM, you have to obey when it’s commanded and not when it is not (e.g. cutting off Laban’s head is A-OK when commanded, but beheading people in general is frowned upon; polygamy is grand if you’ve been asked to do it, but you may be told no if you show up at JS’s door rubbing your hands together and asking for some spiritual wife action.)

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It.  But surely, when Allah commands (or your terror cell leader says he does), you might want to think twice before you do it.  So, this reading places the emphasis on who is doing the commanding:  the Lord, one of the Lord’s servants, or your Aunt Sally telling you what she thinks the Lord wants you to do.  So–important to verify the source?

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It.  So, if the Lord’s just suggesting it (earrings & tatoos?), you could drag your feet (e.g. Oliver Cowdery translating the BOM?).

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do It.  Emphasis on action (vs. thought or questioning?).  This is probably the most orthodox reading.

Obedience:  When the Lord Commands, Do ItWell, that just makes the meaning of “it” ambigious in this context.  Which actually brings up a good point – when He commands, do what exactly?  This title isn’t really proper grammar–the pronoun “it” is lacking a direct object to the verb “commands” to explain the pronoun.  Are all commandments clear about what exactly should be done?  (Remember, we shouldn’t need to be commanded in all things).  Or is that perceived ambiguity really just an excuse to vacillate?

Think about this:  What did obedience mean to JS and to the early church members?  How has that meaning evolved over time?  What does it mean to LDS today?  What does it mean to you personally at this stage of your spiritual journey?  Here are some of JS’s thoughts on obedience from the lesson:

Earning Salvation

“To get salvation we must not only do some things, but everything which God has commanded.” (1844)

This is a clear “earning salvation” quote.  The word used here was “salvation,” although current teaching would upgrade that to “exaltation” (salvation is free for everyone through the atonement; exaltation costs extra).  How has the church’s understanding of the role of faith and works evolved?  Has the dialogue spurred by evangelical churches added clarity or confusion to our actual doctrine?  In short, why are we so doggone defensive about this?

Church Unity Imperative

“When instructed, we must obey that voice, observe the laws of the kingdom of God, that the blessing of heaven may rest down upon us. All must act in concert, or nothing can be done, and should move according to the ancient Priesthood; hence the Saints should be a select people, separate from all the evils of the world—choice, virtuous, and holy.”  (1844)

How did JS’s obsession with building an earthly kingdom of God (a Zion or city of Enoch) influence his emphasis on obedience as a means to purifying the saints into a “holy people”?  Are we still attempting to build a kingdom of God on earth today or is the church’s global status (staying put vs. gathering to Zion) shifting us toward a broader moral spectrum for practical reasons (shirtless calendar guy would probably say there is still crackdown on infractions from HQ)?  Does obedience purify us?  If so, how?  Is it important to become a “holy people” or are we fooling ourselves to think so?  Are we collectively getting holier or less holy over time?  (Evidence for “holier” = fewer apostles are being ex’d than in JS’s day).

When True Is Unpopular

“The object with me is to obey and teach others to obey God in just what He tells us to do. It mattereth not whether the principle is popular or unpopular, I will always maintain a true principle, even if I stand alone in it.” (1842)

Clearly, JS stood alone in some unpopular principles (e.g. plural marriage, King Follett discourse, etc.).  If all people have the light of Christ which tells them what is good, why are some true principles unpopular?  How can we tell if an unpopular principle is true or just outdated?  What types of peer pressure (from other churches) exist for the church?  How does the church cope with unpopular (yet true) principles? 

Principle-Based Obedience

 Joseph Smith taught the following in April 1843, later recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 130:20–21: “There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”

“All blessings that were ordained for man by the Council of Heaven were on conditions of obedience to the law thereof.” (1843)

How does the emphasis on the underlying principle (the law upon which it is predicated) vs. the obedience itself add meaning to this idea?  Here are some possible examples to consider:  temple attendance vs. temple worship, accepting a calling vs. magnifying a calling, prayer vs. seeking to know God, being born again as an event vs. enduring to the end faithfully (finishing the race).  How does changing to principle-centered worship vs. activity-centered worship make us more spiritual?  Why is it so easy to forget the underlying principles and start checking our duties off a list?

Becoming Holy Like God

“Remember, brethren, that He has called you unto holiness; and need we say, to be like Him in purity? How wise, how holy; how chaste, and how perfect, then, you ought to conduct yourselves in His sight; and remember, too, that His eyes are continually upon you.” (1834)

This is theosis teaching (on par with NT brand theosis anyway) from a very early date (10 years before King Follett breathed his last).  Does this brand of “eternal progression” distinguish LDS from other Christian sects?  How has that distinction changed over time?  Is “eternal progression” a true but unpopular principle in our day?  Is obedience requisite to progression or does it hamper progression?


Comments 22

  1. Most of us would obey whatever the Lord commanded us to do it. Most of us will never have that opportunity.

    Things are entirely different if a person or some book commands us to do something.

  2. The chilling echo through my mind during all of this discussion was Joseph Smith’s letter to Nancy Rigdon: “Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof until long after the events transpire.” I believe it, just as I believe in consecration, but I’ve a long way to walk before arriving there.

    “Is obedience requisite to progression or does it hamper progression?”

    It depends on what one is obedient to. If a human, and a human’s whims, it will hamper it someday, at some point, without fail. If one has the Spirit of God to inspire, then it is definitely a prerequisite.

  3. “Most of us would obey whatever the Lord commanded us to do it. Most of us will never have that opportunity.”

    All of us can have that opportunity – outside of faith in a prophet or a book of scripture.

  4. I have to teach this lesson in Relief Society next week, and it’s a tough one for me. It’s of course necessary to teach small children to obey, but the Church doesn’t seem to wean them from chanting “follow the prophet” to develop their own sense of judgment. Telling grown adults to “obey” is a bit creepy, IMO.

    I’m not sure how I’m going to approach this lesson, but these are excellent thoughts. Thanks!

  5. Hawkgrrrl, this was a great lesson. I got so much more out of this than I did from RS this morning. It was entertaining, engaging, and it made me think. Pondering principle-based obedience vs. activity-centered worship gave me a little spiritual lift and inspired me to improve. Thank you!

  6. Steve EM Said: “Just chill and go with the flow. Jesus saves.”

    There is this simple declarative statement from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

    “If you love me, keep my commandments.”


    And, of course, Paul was not a little concerned that the Philippians were becoming slackers and “chilling out” to much in his absence.

    “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”


  7. “All of us can have that opportunity – outside of faith in a prophet or a book of scripture.”

    Are you speaking from personal experience, or are you relying on faith in a prophet or book of scripture to tell you this?

  8. ECS – good luck on your lesson. We haven’t done this one yet either (it’s next week), so I’m glad if this gives some food for thought. I agree that the “obedience” word is a tough one. It does sound like being asked to put your brain on hold. Yet, I have no problem with the idea of aligning ourselves with God’s will. My own approach is 1) trivial stuff, I just do, and 2) big stuff, I seek spiritual confirmation of God’s will; if I get it, I do it.

    Bored – I have also been slipping into activity-centered worship lately. It’s a good one to remember.

    Thanks for your comments. I had considered discontinuing this series, but maybe I’ll keep going on them.

  9. hawkgrrrl Said: “Does this brand of “eternal progression” distinguish LDS from other Christian sects? How has that distinction changed over time? Is “eternal progression” a true but unpopular principle in our day? Is obedience requisite to progression or does it hamper progression?”

    Youmay have no doubt heard of Margaret Barker, a Methodist Minister whose studies about the First Temple have lead her into heretical (in the Nicean sense) thoughts about theosis wherein the High priest of the temple was said to be going to see God as he approached the veil of the temple and became god upon passing through the veil.


    Christ seemed to think obedience was fairly important: “If you love me keep my commandments.” Moreover, Paul contemplated working out one’s salvation with “fear and trembling.” Our danger today is more likely taking our easy in Zion. Still there is great danger in sanctimony as C.S Lewis reminded us.

  10. Thoughts on Obedience:

    1. Christs invites but doesn’t demand obedience: “If ye Love me keep my commandments.” John 4:15

    “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” John 5:10

    This is abiding on the “Pure love of Christ” or “charity.”

    Paul having experienced the Paul love of Christ as charity and describes it in his beautiful letter to the Corinthians. The wealthy Corinthians like American culture today were noted for their love of pleasure and a “corrosive atmosphere of public immorality, all of which encouraged moral laxity.” http://www.history.com/encyclopedia.do?vendorId=FWNE.fw..co217100.a#FWNE.fw..co217100.a

    (I Corinthians 13: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.”

    We are also assured that now see “see through a glass darkly” which gives us more reason to cling to Iron rod.

  11. So here’s my question. When given the choice between obiediance to the instructions of the prophet or the voice of god to your own heart, which should you choose. You indicated that perhaps some of the counsel from the prophet is just a suggestion (extra earings, coke, etc.)

    Perhaps the biggest issue today is the recent instruction from the first presidency to support the ammendment of the constitution in california. I have personally spoken with many members who are deeply disturbed by this because in their hearts they do not agree. A number of people have written the brethren at http://www.signingforsomething.org and I suspect they will have collected hundreds or thousands of letters before november. Some of the letters are pretty hostile, but there are a number of thoughtful and articulate letters from active members as well.

    Do you think this request to support a piece of legislation is an example of a suggestion? Is this something we should feel free to ignore if we don’t feel the voice of the spirit confirming it, or is this something vital to our salvation as a people? How does one discern what is a commandment vs. a suggestion?

  12. Bob Cox said: “A number of people have written the brethren at: http://www.signingforsomething -dot-org”

    Full disclosure: I went to signingforsomething-dot-org and indicated the reasons I supported Propostion 8 and the churches position. This was in all likelihood not forwarded, because following my post the page titled “Arguments that do not Persuade us” was removed form the site. It is their right to their opinion and to filter opinions going the the brethren from their site. it is disingenuous to try to suggest they are in anyway representative.


    I received this welcoming e-mail:

    Thank you for submitting your letter. We appreciate you voicing your opinion on this issue, and we’ll post it on our site as soon as our volunteers screen it for inappropriate or off-topic content.”

    Apparently, being for proposition 8 was off topic.

    Some members have expressed a desire to resign their membership over this issue. While we are not encouraging resignation from the Church, we recognize that members have this right. The website MormonNoMore-dot-com is a resource for those who have asked for this information. We would remind those contemplating resignation of the serious nature and ramifications of such action.”

    Enough said…

  13. I read the lesson in the J.S. manual last night. One theme about obedience that I’ve never appreciated is that if you obey you will be blessed. Obedience = blessings is drummed into our heads incessantly, and the Ensign and our culture are replete with stories about people giving their bishop their last dollar for tithing and then receiving a $1000 check in the mail. I’m not a fan of this approach.

    Not only does the poor soul who tithes his last dollar not get the promised check, but it creates an inappropriate sense of entitlement with respect to blessings. Shouldn’t we pay our tithing because it’s good to pay our tithing, not because we want more money? Shouldn’t we be kind because it’s good to be kind?

    I disagree with the quid pro quo teaching that God will bless us if we follow the rules. It’s not empirically true, and it encourages people to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Wonder if I can bring this up in R.S. next week rationally or if I’ll just start ranting about the Platonic idea of the Good.

  14. ECS said: “I disagree with the quid pro quo teaching that God will bless us if we follow the rules.’
    King Mosiah addressed your concerns in Mosiah 2: 22-24
    “And behold, all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.
    And now, in the first place, he hath created you, and granted unto you your lives, for which ye are indebted unto him.
    And secondly, he doth require that ye should do as he hath commanded you; for which if ye do, he doth immediately bless you; and therefore he hath paid you. And ye are still indebted unto him, and are, and will be, forever and ever; therefore, of what have ye to boast?”

    Keeping the savior’s commandments is charity or the pure love of Christ which is it’s own reward in that we become aligned with the Savior. (see I Corinthians 13.)

  15. ECS – I think this can be brought up effectively. It was recently discussed in our RS a few months back on a different lesson (can’t remember which one). Some of the discussion points were:
    – bad stuff still happens to good people; that’s the point of life.
    – obedience doesn’t equal immediate blessings, just better able to handle the crap life throws at you (paraphrasing here).

    The sisters can always handle a tough question, in my experience. Also, the interesting point about the “law upon which it is predicated” would mean that obedience only brings blessings if you are basically obeying the spirit of the law, not just the letter of the law (entitlement problem).

  16. Hawkgrrrl,

    I love your series! Please keep it up. Some of us are lurking with little time to leave a thoughtful comment.

  17. I know someone who is involved in the http://www.signingforsomething.org website and it sounds like they have been having a pretty big discussion about what to do about letters like yours. I asked them about it and they pointed me to a new page they put up called “the other side”

    Here’s what it says.

    “We realize there are many people who disagree with us on marriage freedom and political independence. That’s fine, and we encourage those people to follow the First Presidency’s advice to contact your “local Church leaders [who] will provide information about how you may become involved …”

    However, we’ve summarized some of the arguments we’ve heard from people who disagree with us, and you’ll see our response to each of these arguments below. We encourage everyone to understand both sides of this debate and make up their own mind about the issue of marriage freedom.

    Here are some of the arguments that don’t persuade us. (If you’ve got an argument we didn’t include, e-mail it to dissent@signingforsomething.org.”

    This is then followed by a discussion of the church’s talking points for defeating Proposition 8.

    I don’t think they mean to be disengenous… not all of them have any desire to resign, they just want a broad coalition that can include everyone’s voice who dissents from the current political push.

    I’m curious if you all see that push as a “commandment” or a suggestion?

  18. Bob Cox – personally, I see it as a request more than a commandment or suggestion. Of course, I don’t live in CA. If I did, I would probably just not do it, but I’m not very strongly opinionated either way on the issue.

  19. i like it and all, but where you say “Most of us would obey whatever the Lord commanded us to do it. Most of us will never have that opportunity.”
    That is where you’re right and wrong, all of our prophets, or at least most have struggled with God has told them to do. Mainly because it’s a huge lifechanging move to make, so many were shocked blind, they almost didn’t want to believe God would just speak to the *lowest* in society, but they had very good faith and God knew what was to happen so all turns out good ^^. And all do have an opportunity with what god wants us to do, doesn’t matter how small or large it is, we all are a important part of this earth.
    Maybe all of us waln’t get a beautifull physical greeting from him but there is a test everyday where we wake up and thank him for being amongst this planet each and every day and fufill our task everyday, it’s a mission ^^.

  20. “Obedience: When the Lord Commands, Do It.”

    The thought sounds great but then come all the caveats and questions. Who is the Lord that is issuing the command?
    1. If it is Christ Jesus and He is speaking directly to our souls then we have been given a private revelation and such a private revelation is solely binding on the individual not on the community. Since it comes from Christ Himself, then we should obey and do it.
    2. What if the command comes from a prophet who claims that Christ gave him/her this command? First we must judge the standing of this prophet. There have been suspect prophets in the past and will be more in the future. Mohammed found it convenient to announce a command from Allah for actions that he wished to have justified. For instance, he wished to marry his 8 year old niece but hesitated until he conveniently announced that Allah had become angry with him for hesitating and had ordered him to marry the girl. Now knowing all these facts, I would feel that this command was suspect from the start.
    3. Joseph Smith appears to have also found his prophecy a convenient justification for actions he personally wished to take. When a man begins to practice polygamy and then later announces his prophecy as a command from the Lord, I would say that that is a very suspicious use of prophecy for personal justification.
    4. Both Mohammad and Joseph Smith must be tested as prophets why the

    We should judge prophets and their so called commands from the Lord by the criteria appointed in scripture. The Bible never says to test a prophet by prayer, but by his message. Deuteronomy 13 warns that a prophet must teach correctly about God. Chapter 18 tells us the prophet’s prophecies must come to pass. Paul tells us in Galatians 1:8-9 that even angels can appear with a wrong message. We are to compare the message with the teachings of the apostles. In Acts 17:10-12, when Paul went to Berea to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah to the Jews, we read “these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed…” Note, Paul did not tell them to go home and pray about it. They were praised for searching the scriptures, in other words, testing the message to see if it agreed with the prophecies of the Messiah.
    Note that John also made an appeal to fact, not feeling, when he declared “that which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;…that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…” (I John 1:1-3) He continued in the next chapter, verse 21, “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth…let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning….” Chapter 4, verse 1, “beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.”
    Peter wrote specifically to warn about false teachers: (2 Peter 1:15-16) “Moreover I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance. For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty….” In Chapter 2, verse 1, he continues “but there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies,…and many shall follow their pernicious ways…” Then in Chapter 3 he continues “this second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: that ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandments of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers…” Notice, he refers them to past teachings and facts, not to feelings or prayer.
    I think we misuse James 1:5. That verse is for wisdom during times of temptation and persecution, not for knowledge or testing a prophet. He goes on to warn in Chapter 4, verse 3, about those who pray (and we assume it was in Jesus name) for the wrong things—”Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss…” This verse shows our own desires or misdirected ideas can play a part in the answer. If someone claimed God said we should rob a bank and give the money to the poor, would we need to pray about it? God has already spoken on the issue in the Ten Commandments.
    So why should we pray to know if God and Jesus appeared to Joseph Smith to show him that they are two totally separated gods with resurrected bodies? Or that there were gods BEFORE our heavenly father. (See Smith’s sermons in the LDS History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 305-312, 474-476)
    Compare his sermons with Isa.43:10-11, 44:6-8, 24-25, 45:5-6, 18-24, 46:5-10. Joseph Smith contradicts Isaiah—which one should we believe? Until J. Smith’s time, Christians test prophets, pastors, and teachers by the Bible. Even the Popes ground their pronouncements with biblical references and verses. Even they do not speak infallibly off the cuff.
    But we seem to test the Bible by our prophets. Maybe we go about testing the message backwards. The Bible was here first. Therefore even Joseph Smith must be tested by it, not the other way around. Certainly a decision regarding our eternal life is the most important one we will ever make and deserves careful examination.
    So at the end, we return to the beginning we need to judge who is saying the Lord commands and by what authority do they say He commands. Only then can we judge that we should do it.

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