Joseph Smith was the prophet of “the restoration,” an idea that is vital to Mormon theology. He used a term that we still often talk about today in Church: The Dispensation of the Fullness of Times. It refers to the name for the current Gospel era we live in today, the 7th and last dispensation, a dispensation where all things become known.
For it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. And the voice of Michael, the archangel; the voice of Gabriel, and of Raphael, and of divers angels, from Michael or Adam down to the present time, all declaring their dispensation, their rights, their keys, their honors, their majesty and glory, and the power of their priesthood; giving line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little, and there a little; giving us consolation by holding forth that which is to come, confirming our hope (Doctrine and Covenants 128:18, 21)
In the original, contemporary context, this idea was seen in the spirit of millennialism rampant in 19th century America. This is certainly one view. It is the more traditional view. I propose another perspective, an interesting and perhaps surprising view that has profound implications for the LDS Church in the 21st century. My thoughts are directed towards the parallels this theological concept has with a social revolution we are currently experiencing, one that started more than 100 years after Joseph Smith’s death. It gives his idea a prophetic twist.
The Information Age:
“The Information Age, also commonly known as the Computer Age or Information Era, is an idea that the current age will be characterized by the ability of individuals to transfer information freely, and to have instant access to knowledge that would have been difficult or impossible to find previously.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information_Age)
Like the Bronze Age or the Industrial Age of the past, the Information Age is rapidly changing the nature of human culture. Whereas before new tools helped humans master their physical environment, the Information Age is transforming the way we think. Information is free (not limited) and rapidly available at the touch of a few buttons. It can not be easily restricted by leaders to craft and enforce the stories the way they wish. Manipulation still happens, but it is getting harder and harder to control and manage distortions.
In the world of religion this is also true. For hundreds and even thousands of years, information was limited. Historical views could easily go unchallenged. We understand the natural world better. We understand history better. Now we are starting to understand religion, scripture and their histories better. I see a trend as we head towards a fullness of information, a dispensation when knowledge is restored through careful research and study. We have seen an explosion of this in the past two or three decades within Mormonism. Ideas that often went unchallenged are constantly under pressure from the vast resources of the internet and the work of contemporary historians in the field of Mormon Studies. Indeed, the existence of blogs like Mormon Matters attests to this idea I am talking about. I am just a “regular guy” member of the LDS Church. I hold no particular special title, yet I can reach thousands of other members of our Church to present an alternate idea like this.
In the secular world, websites and other communication applications declare and request rights, keys, powers and authorities from the days of text-only Web all the way down to Twitter, giving line upon line of information, concept upon concept, here an update there an update, until all is known and understood.
Now for the practical implications in the LDS Church. Average everyday members are going to the internet to research for their classes. They are likely to find as much challenging information as traditional “faithful” and orthodox resources. I see it being harder and harder for teachers to make wacky and dramatic claims of faith in their classes unchallenged, and a huge pressure on what I call “cultural” artifacts to stay alive. It is a pruning process, like the branches of the olive tree which are not bearing sweet and tasty fruit. Bad ideas are getting cut off and cast into the fire. This is what I meant when I called it a surprising and prophetic development because the pruning happens against cherished or longstanding traditions, even the words of the founding leaders of our own religion at times.
This is disturbing to many for sure. I see it as exciting and positive. The evolution isn’t stopping. If something is wrong, we will figure things out over time as long as we do not cling to our assumptions and expectations in the face of the “restoration” process. The restoration didn’t happen one day and then stop. We’re evolving towards an end, not holding fast to a fixed point. It is indeed the dispensation of the fullness of times, a fullness of information and truth, in both the secular and religious world.
-Brian Johnston, www.staylds.com