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 It. Well, 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:
“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?
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?