From Charisma to Bureaucracy in Two Pages

October 11, 2006 | 33 comments
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About two weeks ago I went to the University of Richmond to do some research on Mormon history. Thanks to Terryl Givens, Richmond has acquired a set of the Selected Collections DVDs that were released a while ago by the Church Archives. Hence, I found myself in a library carrel in Virginia reading Orson Hyde’s handwritten 1834 minutes for the Kirtland High Council.

Reading through the minutes, I came to what would later become section 102 of the Doctrine & Covenants. If you read the version published in the D&C it is not much to look at. It is a set of instructions that lay out the procedures by which cases are to be tried before the high council. The procedures themselves are interesting but there is not much else in the section. It is a formal, institutional document, complete with the signatures of the two clerks: Orson Hyde and Oliver Cowdery.

The original minutes are much more interesting. A series of cases had been tried before the Kirtland High Council. Some had worked well, and some had gone spectacularly wrong. Most notably, a man named Hurlburt had been tried for some sort of sexual transgression and avoided any action by insisting upon his regret and godly sorrow to Joseph and the council. He then went about Kirtland bragging that he had fooled Joe Smith’s god. The High Council reopened the case and excommunicated him. He went on to become the first apostate Mormon to publish an anti-Mormon tell-all: a genre that has survived to the present day in such classics as Leaving the Saints.

Reading through the minutes, you can sense Joseph’s growing frustration with the High Council’s activities. Joseph finally responded with a very long sermon to the council on their role and responsibilities. Section 102 comes from that meeting. The original minutes, however, begin with Joseph’s sermon not the text of the later section. To be sure, the sermon includes an explanation of the procedures set forth in section 102, but rather than the neutral institutional voice one sees there, Joseph’s sermon is an impassioned invocation of the ancient prophets. For him the High Council is a continuation of the ancient order of things restored in the last days. He talks of how mighty elders of the past sat in solemn assembly and handed down inspired wisdom to the people. He noted that in those glorious days gone by no one slept in meetings! Rather, in the council the ancient prophets communed with God himself.

Immediately after this sermon, the minutes note that the decision was made to make a formal record of the council’s actions, which consisted of accepting Joseph’s teaching. The next page then contains the text that became section 102. Joseph’s soaring mytho-poetic vision of councils of ancient prophets communing with God is transformed before you on the page into stolid institutional procedures. The Weberian progress from charisma to bureaucracy is accomplished in just a few lines.

For many a historically minded Mormon intellectual, the shift is seen as a kind of fall from grace. The original audacity of the Restoration, so the well-worn complaint goes, has been crushed under the demands institutionalization. Yet the shift from visions of the ancients to institutional procedures was at the very heart of what Joseph Smith did. It is not a bastardization of his vision, but rather a central part of it. There is a real sense in which there are Mormons today because after the soaring sermon on the ancients, Joseph and his brethren produced the plodding text of section 102.

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33 Responses to From Charisma to Bureaucracy in Two Pages

  1. Julie M. Smith on October 11, 2006 at 10:12 pm

    “He noted that in those glorious days gone by no one slept in meetings!”

    I suppose Eutychus doesn’t count . . .

    (This is a fascinating post by the way.)

  2. Ardis on October 11, 2006 at 10:54 pm

    Richard L. Bushman claimed that Joseph Smith’s greatest achievement was not the Book of Mormon, or his concept of the City of Zion, or any number of other visionary and tangible triumphs that he listed. He said Joseph’s real monument was the creation of the Mormon people. I’m still trying to understand completely what he meant by that; it’s fuzzy in my mind. It seems that you’re on the same page thought because you recognize this as “a central part� and a “real sense in which there are Mormons today.� It must have been quite an ah ha! experience to recognize a compact evidence of that right on the page in front of you.

  3. Mark Butler on October 11, 2006 at 11:19 pm

    The wonder of such institutions is not that they work when every member is an angel, the wonder is that they are set up to work properly when every one is not. So it is with many other things in the Church – established so provide for a smooth transition from the governance of a fallen people to the accord of a celestial one.

  4. TrailerTrash on October 11, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    Great post! Weber’s thesis has such a powerful hold on us to this day, but it is so rooted in a Lutheran account of the history of the early church that we really must question the theological bias of the model itself. For Mormons, I just noticed that our account of the apostasy is quite different in certain respects that our Lutheran source. Rather than seeing institutionalization as the problem, it is the failure of institutionalization which is at the heart of our telling the early Christian story. As you noted, what you are offering us here is a theological model that is not only more productive, but describes what is actually going on much better! Bravo!

  5. Nate Oman on October 12, 2006 at 8:01 am

    ” I just noticed that our account of the apostasy is quite different in certain respects that our Lutheran source. Rather than seeing institutionalization as the problem, it is the failure of institutionalization which is at the heart of our telling the early Christian story.”

    This is a very interesting insight. I’d never thought of it in those terms before, but what you say makes a great deal of sense. Of course, the version of the Apostacy that you lay out is late Joseph Smith rather than early Joseph Smith, who seems to have been more concerned with the loss of spiritual gifts, prophecy, etc. There is an interesting essay buried in this insight.

  6. JKC on October 12, 2006 at 9:15 am

    While I do think that its accurate to say that for many mormons the Apostasy is told as a “failure of of institutionalization,” I think Nate makes an important distinction that that is only half the story–the loss of charismatic gifts is an important part (perhaps the most important part, at least initially) of the apostasy narrative.

    Another angle on the apostasy story is that it was not institutionalization per se, but institutionalization with the state apparratus that led to the loss of the charismatic gifts. Maybe this is straying too far from Nate’s post, but it makes a good deal of sense. When the Christians went from being a persecuted Jewish sect to being the official state religion of Rome, goes the story, they lost, or rather abandoned, those gifts in favor of the more forceful political will. In doing so, they violated Jesus’ pronouncement that his kingdom was “not of this world.” When the church gained Constantine, they lost the Holy Ghost.

    Of course applying this apostasy narrative to the mormon context might be problematic. Nauvoo and the Great Basin Kingdom were very much of this world. Still, thinking about the apostasy this way may help to reconcile the loss of gifts vs. failure to institutionalize versions of the apostasy story.

  7. Mike S on October 12, 2006 at 9:38 am

    Richard L. Bushman claimed that Joseph Smith’s greatest achievement was not the Book of Mormon, or his concept of the City of Zion, or any number of other visionary and tangible triumphs that he listed. He said Joseph’s real monument was the creation of the Mormon people.

    I think this is an excellent point and goes along with the last paragraph of the original post. The crux here is that Joseph recognized that charisma is too thin a thread on which to hang a living institution. It must instead function as the thread to which a stronger rope is attached (as when pulling a rope between ships: you first send across a thin line, and then use it to bring across the heavier cable) and which can then handle a living church. This is the difference between someone being more invested in themselves and maintaining their own leadership and being invested in the people or the ongoing institution — the difference between, say, the governance views of Saddam Hussein and George Washington. It ultimately points to the difference between a self-absorbed cult leader and a prophet led by his vision of the divine — not just in himself, but in everyone.

    This, I think, goes to Bushman’s comment about Joseph creating the Mormon people: we as a people coudl not exist if he had maintained charisma as the currency of the church. Down that road leads only dwindling schism. As TT said above, the institutional church is not, as many have supposed the issue; it is instead the necessary vehicle by which the message goes forth in spite of lapses in inspiration, and which prevents charismatics (including those such as Hurlburt, mentioned above) from leading the body astray.

  8. Joe Spencer on October 12, 2006 at 10:21 am

    Nate, wonderful post.

    There is reason to pay close attention to the process of institutionalization in early LDS history. Joseph seems to have desired from the very beginning to hand all the day-to-day work over to the Church, rather than to carry it all upon himself. He seems, in a way, to have attempted to retire when the translation was finished, and again when the Kirtland house of the Lord was completed. The organization of the councils was part of the Kirtland house of the Lord project. It seems to me that every time Joseph tried to except himself from the business of the Church, he was forced to call for institutionalization. But the development of that institutionalization allowed Joseph something of a distance from Church procedure, precisely so that he could bury himself in prophecy, revelations, and translation. Institutionalization provided, in a way, for the spiritual gifts.

    I think this is important because the Nauvoo era of the Church is so profoundly charismatic. The Church was running, for that early period, rather smoothly, and Joseph was able to become again a charismatic leader. The institutional revelations such as section 102 disappear in the Nauvoo era, and the D&C begins to be a collection of Joseph’s inspired words on this or that occasion. All of this ties up well with Joseph’s translation of Revelation 12. The Church gives birth to the Kingdom (which is, quite clearly, the spiritual gifts/endowment bound up with the temple). Anyway, a thought or two.

  9. Mark B. on October 12, 2006 at 10:54 am

    The remarkable thing about the Sec. 102 procedures is that they indeed produce an environment where inspiration can flow and the will of God can be done. Because, ultimately, the decisions in councils are not made bureaucratically–it’s not by majority vote, but by decision by the presiding officer and sustaining by the council members that decisions are made.

    The procedures are the “liberating form” (to steal Marden Clark’s term) that open the way to a revealed result.

  10. Eugene V. Debs on October 12, 2006 at 11:53 am

    If you’re going to invoke Weber, then you should see his larger point: everything tends toward the iron cage of bureaucracy. That’s the modern condition. His thought is totalizing, and does not posit an “outside” where charisma–something he wasn’t exactly promoting–thrives. Weber also links bureaucracy with industrial capitalsm and says, in _The Protestant Ethic_ that the iron cage may last “until the last ton of fossilized coal is burnt.” So it’s not that Mormonism changed, but that the economic, technological, and political reality surrounding Mormonism changed and being Mormon became more like being modern.

    BTW Nate, this is an interesting discussion, but your claims would be stronger if you had actually quoted from the minutes you read.

  11. Rosalynde Welch on October 12, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Ah, so good, Nate, thanks. And a great discussion, too.

    It’s my impression that a deep misunderstanding of the revelatory culture of the early church is at the heart of most laments that the heavens seem to have turned to brass in these latter days wherein the leading councils write in the institutional idiom of public relations. Joseph communed with the heavens, to be sure; one must accept that if one is to accept any of his claims, and very clearly he was possessed of a singular capacity for religious imagination. But the “thus saith the Lord” idiom in which the revelations stand canonized today, and the mytho-poetic method that informs them, seem to have been a sort of format, a particular voice that a writer assumed for particular purposes. Reading Oliver’s early drafts of what became Section 20 drove this point home to me with some force.

    It’s not clear to me, in other words, that the charismatic idiom is any more authentically revelatory that the institutional idiom to which we’ve become accustomed today.

  12. Rosalynde Welch on October 12, 2006 at 11:56 am

    Oh, and I was going to add that in many ways the very opacity of the D&C in its canonized form gives rise to this sense that there has been a decline in revelatory capacity among the leading councils.

  13. iNate Oman on October 12, 2006 at 12:15 pm

    Eugene: Unfortunately, I didn’t make copies of this part of the council minutes, as it was not related to my research. Your point about Weber is good, and it also points out the way in which those who invoke Weber to lament the moral and spiritual failures of modern Mormonism can mistakenly misread the import of his sociology. (BTW, one of my proudest moments in law school came when I accused Duncan Kennedy of “playing post-modern bad boy rattling the iron cage of modernity” rather than doing real legal philosophy. It is as close as I have come to making a really erudite insult ;->.

  14. Nate Oman on October 12, 2006 at 12:25 pm

    RW: I think that your point about the thus saith the Lord idiom is extremely good. It nails down explicitly something that I’ve thought for a long time. If you just read Joseph Smith’s writings or sermons, it becomes pretty clear (at least I think) that he didn’t necessarily sharply distinguish between prophetic rhetoric and some more literalistic view of revelation. One can take the blurring of distinctions too far of course. JS did recognize at least some of his revelationsas being seperate from things like letters sermons, etc., and I am not sure that we always know that much about their actual composition, although we can trace out things like textual history. Still, looking at something like section 121 in its original context — part of an extended open letter to the Saints from Liberty jail — you can’t really identify some moment in the text where prophetic rhetoric stops and “revelation” begins.

    It is not simply, however, the idiom that has changed. We also seem to have a different notion of the relationship between prophetic counsel and cannonization. Of course, much the D&C, particularlly the later sections, was cannonized later, in Utah, and I get the sense that it was less a matter of culling out “authentic” revelations from “mere” sermons, etc. than it was about interpreting Nauvoo-era teachings and trying to identify what was fundamental and/or authoritative.

  15. Matt Evans on October 12, 2006 at 12:45 pm

    Joseph Smith displayed characteristics typical of the entrepreneur — wrapped up in the big picture, bogged down by the minutiae. His only recourse, like any other successful entrepreneur, was to delegate the mundane — the record keeping, even the transcribing, to secretaries. I don’t know that I share Nate’s conviction that stripping the persuasive language Nate says proceeds the procedures in D&C 102 was necessary. It seems to me that the section would be better with the context of the procedures purposes.

    Rosalynde, I think the charismatic idiom feels more authentic than the institutional idiom because it claims to be revelation. Institutional revelation seldom claims that it comes direct from the Lord, and for that reason it lacks the power of prophetic statements willing to name sources. While reading through the stories of disaffected Mormons, I was surprised how many of them identified President Hinckley’s interview with Mike Wallace as a key turning point. Several of them said they were struggling at the time with the church’s claims of modern prophets and being the only true church. When Wallace asked President Hinckley if he was a prophet, Hinckley answered, “I am sustained as such.” They said they wanted him to bear testimony of his calling, to confirm to them that he wasn’t just the presiding administrative bureaucrat, and that when he punted and said something no one could dispute, it dealt their struggling testimonies a harsh blow. Upon reflecting on their experience, I think something is added when speakers testify their words come directly from God, and is missing when they don’t.

  16. J. Stapley on October 12, 2006 at 12:59 pm

    Not much to add, but this a great post and discussion.

  17. Mark B. on October 12, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Matt:

    I understand that Joseph F. Smith gave a similar answer to a U.S. Senate committee when he was asked the same question.

    I suspect that Pres. Hinckley knew the story and thought it well to use the same answer.

  18. Matt Thurston on October 12, 2006 at 3:14 pm

    Very well put, Rosalynde (#11)!

    Many aspects of “revelation” trouble me… is it coming from God; if so, how filtered is it by personal bias; is institutional LDS revelation qualitatively different from personal revelation or from institutional revelation of other faiths, etc.

    Nevertheless, whatever “it” is, I’m pretty sure the process is the same yesterday as today, in terms of quality, and probably quantity too. Comparing the “write up” of revelation yesterday and today is, as you say, more a difference of style than substance.

    I’m curious if you would extend your theory back further to include scriptural revelation from the BoM and Bible? Is, for example, Jonah being swallowed by the whale colorful, mythic “idiom,” a speaking/thinking/writing product of the times, or did God work in really mysterious ways back then?

  19. Rosalynde Welch on October 12, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    Matt Evans, I’m sympathetic to the disillusionment those struggling members experienced. On the other hand, I don’t think that the Brethren necessarily ought to artificially perpetuate an archaic discourse that has very little purchase in the present day in order to protect a naive understanding of revelation. Furthermore, I suspect that many more people—members and non—- would be put off by a strong form of “thus saith the Lord” than otherwise, myself included.

    Matt Thurston, I don’t know. I really don’t. There’s pretty good reason to believe that science has obviated the mysterious ways of God in providing an explanation for so much that was once mysterious. I honestly don’t know how far faith can accommodate a whiggish re-reading of scripture.

  20. Matt Evans on October 12, 2006 at 4:23 pm

    Rosalynde, is it the “thus saith the Lord” formulation that sounds artificial? That’s not what I have in mind, and doubt it’s what the now-disaffected members had, either. Rather, it’s the certainty the early prophets conveyed that the words weren’t theirs, but the Lord’s. I believe that to be a crucial form of testimony bearing. Samuel the Lamanite began by saying something like, “The Lord has commanded me,” and that seems neither tepid nor archaic. You may be saying that the former prophets’ certainty was no more concrete than the muted claims the institutional church makes today, and that the former prophets’ were in fact no more certain that their words were God’s the the modern prophets seem to believe. Finally, the fact that such claims may sound odd to us says more about the religious culture we were raised in than the nature of God’s interaction with men.

    The promise of the Restoration was the power of God again on earth, and I’m sure on your mission, like mine, there were many people who, when told there was a prophet of God today, as in the biblical times, were very disappointed to learn he wears an American business suit, works in an office building, and attends lots of administrative meetings; just like Jerry Falwell. The institutional church makes it very hard to convince people we’re the same church that existed at the time of Christ, just in suits and minus the healings and gifts. Of course, it may be that it’s the popular perceptions of the primitive church that are all wrong.

  21. Matt Thurston on October 12, 2006 at 5:54 pm

    Thanks, Rosalynde (#19)…

    As far as “faith accommodat[ing] a whiggish re-reading of scripture”… you may be correct that “scripture” would not survive, (or if it did, it would probably hold a less exalted purchase), but there is no reason to believe “faith” would not survive. In fact, who’s to say that faith wouldn’t potentially increase, if not flourish, if stories or scripture were more firmly rooted in the world as we currently experience it? I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels untethered to reality when trying to draw lessons or teachings from scripture that sometimes bear no more semblance to reality than Aesop’s Fables.

    I liked the response you gave to Matt Evans, also in #19. I sometimes wonder if we shouldn’t re-interpret past revelation/scripture using modern sensibilities. At a minimum, it reduces the profound disconnect some people feel when comparing past and present. Matt Evans worries about people leaving the Church because modern prophets don’t use flowery idiom; my worry is the opposite, I worry about people leaving the Church because they cannot reconcile modern reality with past fantasy.

  22. Matt Thurston on October 12, 2006 at 6:19 pm

    Matt Evans #20: “Finally, the fact that such claims may sound odd to us says more about the religious culture we were raised in than the nature of God’s interaction with men.”

    It could of course say the opposite — it could say more about the religious culture the original prophets (i.e. Samuel the Lamanite) were raised in [or the translating prophet's (i.e. Joseph Smith) culture, centuries later] than the nature of God’s interaction with men. It makes more sense for me to believe that God, and the laws of nature, are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, than it does for me to believe that “Man’s understanding” is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    You said, “The institutional church makes it very hard to convince people we’re the same church that existed at the time of Christ, just in suits and minus the healings and gifts.”

    Yes, it appears to be easier to write about past prophets who performed healings, gifts, and other miracles 2,000+ years ago, than it is to actually perform healings, gifts, and other miracles today. We can’t prove something that might or might not have happened thousands of years ago, but it seems to take little effort for many to believe it. In any case, you raise some excellent, fascinating questions. To me, they all say more about “Man” than they do about “God.” And yet, paradoxically, it sometimes seems that by better understanding Man, we better understand God.

  23. Matt Evans on October 12, 2006 at 7:32 pm

    Matt,

    I agree that it makes more sense, and think most people feel the same way, to believe that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. That concept is what makes noting changes in the way prophets state their authority so difficult: if the modern prophets are directed by the same God as Moses, Nephi and Samuel, why doesn’t God tell them to bear the same testimony when they are speaking on His behalf?

    You thought my concern was for a dearth of “flowery idiom,” but that’s not the case at all. We don’t miss poetry or rhetorical flourish, we miss testimonies of _authority_. Modern prophets don’t testify that they are acting for God the way the prophets in scripture did. That variance in testimony is what I’ve been getting at — I don’t see testimony as being culturally dependent. For that reason I don’t think we can attribute the change in emphasis to cultural shifts unless we can explain why modern people don’t need to hear the prophets’ bear testimony of their authority the way people used to. And as you can guess, I think people need to hear testimonies yesterday, today, and forever.

  24. DavidH on October 12, 2006 at 11:45 pm

    Jesus may also have sometimes been reserved in His testimony of Himself when interviewed by secular authorities. Matt. 27:11.

    Personally, a person’s prefacing his testimony with “I know” or “I know beyond a shadow of doubt” does not add to its force when I hear it. A simple, “God lives and loves me”, or “I have felt the promptings of the Spirit”, can be just as (or more) spiritually powerful to me as listener. It is the spirit of the testimony more than the words that matters to me.

    In the same manner, I do not think a leader’s (including the President of the Church) prefacing his or her statements with “God has revealed to me” or “Thus sayeth the Lord” adds to their spiritual force (at least to me). To me, it is the Spirit that confirms that he or she is speaking under God’s inspiration–not the fact that the leader claims he or she is so speaking.

    I suppose if a leader claimed to be speaking for God at a particular time, and I did not feel a spiritual confirmation, I would listen particularly closely anyway. But I would do so anyway, even if the leader only said, “Please listen closely, even if you do not agree,” or “I feel strongly about this.”

    I prefer it that way. If nothing else, it leaves us our agency, and room for us to seek confirmation.

    I do not know anyone who left the Church because President Hinckley did not use strong LDS language of testimony about his own calling in the interview with Mike Wallace. I am sure they exist, however, just as there are those who left the Church because the statements in, say, the Proclamation on the Family were too strongly worded for them.

  25. Matt Thurston on October 13, 2006 at 12:46 am

    Thanks, Matt.

    Good points. I guess I put more stock in the veracity of the testimonies of today’s prophets than I do yesterday’s prophets. The testimony of yesterday’s prophets are words on a page. The words are not worthless, but I have my reservations about “feelings” confirming the literal truthfulness of past words. That these feelings are a kind of confirmation of some general truths, I can accept with caution, but as a diviner of literal truth, that Samuel the Lamanite literally said and experienced X, Y, and Z, I have my doubts.

    We clearly disagree on the issue of testimony being culturally dependent. I think it is; you think it is not.

    I appreciate the reserve and humility with which today’s prophets proclaim their testimony. I don’t think they’re holding anything back. They’re telling it how they see/feel/experience it. I’d be horrified if they exaggerated their spiritual experiences to win converts. If their testimony lacks the charisma of the prophets in our stories, I’d be more inclined to question the testimonies of the prophets in our stories, than I would the testimonies of our current prophets.

  26. JKC on October 13, 2006 at 11:20 am

    David (24) makes an interesting observation about saying “I know” in a testimony, and how it might relate to the rhetorical structures that also gave rise to the “thus saith the lord…” and then later the more modest “word and will of the lord,” on to simple proclamations. Are mormons now more or less likely, I wonder, to use the “I know” idiom in beraing testimony than they were in the early days of the church?

    If you grow up in the church hearing “I know” repeated so much that you think a testimony is essentially a mormon catechism or creed, it would make sense that it would lose its power. Just for fun, sometime (maybe in an exceptionally boring testimony meeting), try bearing a testimony without saying “I know.” Or if you do say “I know,” follow it up with “I know because…” It really forces you to think about what you’re saying.

  27. Matt Thurston on October 13, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Excellent points DavidH and JKC!!

  28. Matt Evans on October 13, 2006 at 12:46 pm

    David,

    Thanks for your comment. I thought of Christ’s answer, too, but unlike a trial (strike that — OJ and Saddam come to mind) the 60 Minutes interview presented a rare chance for 20 million people to hear the testimony of a prophet for the first time.

    More importantly, there’s an obvious reason you and I don’t need President Hinckley to preface his statements with “the Lord has revealed to me;” we accept him as a prophet and believe what he says is inspired. We believe that because someone bore that testimony to us. People who do not yet accept the prophet’s authority don’t know that President Hinckley is any more authoritative than Jerry Falwell. Even many Mormons, knowing that prophets are only authoritative when speaking as such, listen for cues from Presidnet Hinckley to see if he’s claiming to speak as a conduit for God. Half the bloggernacle dismisses his inconvenient counsel out of hand unless Hinckley specifically testifies that God appeared to him that morning and commanded him to deliver these words. (That tells you how half the bloggernacle accepts inconvenient counsel! : )

    Matt,

    Rather than fear the prophets are exaggerating their spiritual experiences, I’m hoping they are drastically downplaying them: each ward has a dozen people who bear testimony of a spiritual experience that is greater than I’ve heard from any of the current leaders testify. The testimonies of the revelation for OD2 are notable only for their muted quality. President Hinckley has said he looks at a painting of Brigham Young and wonders how Brigham would address various problems, and said he had an impression that the church could build more temples if they built them without laundry and cafeterias. I think all Mormons would be disappointed to learn that those spiritual accounts are exaggerated.

    Joseph F. Smith had a prominent vision, and his five predecessors all saw Jesus personally. Mormons hope that the reason their modern leaders no longer talk about seeing Christ isn’t because they aren’t His leaders and He’s not appearing to them. The trick is reconciling an unchanging God with his asking leaders of one generation to testify of their visions and unique callings in the past, but to withold them now. The most compelling answer, though a let-down compared to the excitement of believing we’re in the great and last days, is that we’re living in Omni, Phase II.

  29. Matt Evans on October 13, 2006 at 1:00 pm

    JKC, I’ve heard a couple people bear their testimony beginning each paragraph with “I believe.” That mild variation was enough to pull people upright in their seats.

  30. Matt Thurston on October 13, 2006 at 3:38 pm

    Matt, do you have a source for “and his five predecessors all saw Jesus personally”? Obviously, ignore JS, but when did BY, JT, WW, and LS see Jesus personally?

    As for “drastically downplaying” their testimonies, why would they do that? I can’t think of a conceivable reason. And please, lets not trot out the we’re-not-worthy-or-obedient-enough-to-recieve-it excuse. When I was on my mission, especially in the MTC, the idea that our prophet was having personal discussions with God or Jesus on a fairly regular basis was pretty commonplace. The familiar refrain was, “We don’t know what degree of involvement the Prophet has with the heavens,” the forgone conclusion somehow being that some amazing things were happening. (Again, like 2,000 year old stories, it seems easier to believe what you don’t see than what you do.) But this is just urban-legend-like speculation, not based in any kind of grounded reasoning/experience. Why can’t we just accept them at their word?

  31. Adam Greenwood on October 17, 2006 at 8:41 am

    “As for “drastically downplayingâ€? their testimonies, why would they do that? I can’t think of a conceivable reason. And please, lets not trot out the we’re-not-worthy-or-obedient-enough-to-receive-it excuse.”

    You’re misreading Matt E. if you think he’s insisting that the prophets must be downplaying their testimony. He would like that to be the case, for emotional reasons, but he’s not saying it is. Far from it, though, he thinks we’re in an Omni 2 situation.

    Also, you’re wrong. Worthiness or obedience is not just an excuse, it’s a valid strand of Mormon doctrine. I can think of other reasons, too: maybe the brethren realized that there had always been an unhealthy element to the Saints fascination with the spiritual experiences of the brethren and that as communications improved this element would become even worse; maybe some prophet at a specific point decided to make the change and conservatism and inertia have continued to follow that practice; maybe its part of the same phenomenon that’s led us to be more reticent about the temple; maybe its part of the increased harmony and unity among the brethren–keeping quiet about dramatic experiences may be helpful in a world where not all have the same gifts; maybe it was felt that too many members were getting their spiritual experiences at second-hand (though, if so, I think we’d see more of an emphasis on getting our own spiritual gifts and experiences); maybe it was felt that public spiritual gifts were too radical in the modern world and would hinder the missionary effort (though, if so, we’re probably in for a reevalution in S. America and esp. Africa); maybe the brethren recieved a revelation to that effect, and durn if they know why either.

    Anyway, I don’t know if the brethren have dramatic experiences we don’t hear about. I don’t know if any of the reasons I give above are true. But (here’s the point) you don’t either.

  32. Adam Greenwood on October 17, 2006 at 8:43 am

    “Why can’t we just accept them at their word? ”

    Is there word to accept? As far as I know, President Hinckley has not specifically denied receiving revelation or seeing Christ or what not. Has he? Have the brethren?

  33. Mark Butler on October 17, 2006 at 9:17 am

    I don’t think there is some sort of necessary and extraordinary merit in speaking face to face with God or angels on a regular basis. One should consider what receiving the Second Comforter means on a day in and day out basis. I understand it is like being aware of the presence (and feeling) of what we often call the general assembly and church of the Firstborn [1], and having interactive spiritual conversation (communion) with the Father and the Son:

    The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
    To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, to have the heavens opened unto them, to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.
    (D&C 107:18-19)

    [1] D&C 76:67; 93:22; Heb 12:23, etc.

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