Author: Chad Nielsen

Chad’s three great intellectual passions in life are science, history/religious studies, and music. He has pursued a career in biotechnology, but maintains an active interest in both of his other passions on the side. Chad is a four-time winning contestant in the Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University for his essays on Mormon history and has presented at the Logan Institute of Religion scholar’s forum and the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is a faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in a variety of music, teaching, and clerical callings at his church as well as in the music ministry of a Presbyterian church. Currently he is serving as a music missionary as a member of the Bells on Temple Square.

Handcarts and History

In many ways, handcarts have come to symbolize the Mormon pioneer experience. There are a few reasons for this. With the tragic experiences of the Willie and Martin handcart companies of 1856, the handcart companies are among the easiest group of pioneers to dramatize. As a result, popular Latter-day Saint historical fiction books and movies frequently focus on handcarts and the stories of handcart companies seem to come up almost as often as the rest of the pioneer companies combined in our Church meetings. And, of course, the handcart experience is the least expensive (and least complicated) pioneer experience to reproduce and therefore the most common way for Latter-day Saint youth to reenact Mormon pioneer treks, both in the western United States and elsewhere.[1] We even have movies dramatizing the trek reenactment experience now. While retelling and experiencing these things can be good, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to historical accuracy while discussing the handcart pioneers. First, not all Mormon pioneers were handcart pioneers. Overland immigration in wagon trains to the Utah Territory occurred between the years 1847 and 1869 (when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad rendered wagon trains obsolete). The handcart companies made up a small subset of this group, consisting of 10 companies during the years 1856 to 1860, and only accounting for approximately 4-10% of all Latter-day Saint pioneers.[2] By the time the first handcart pioneers entered the…

Water Alone

In my last post, I discussed an argument in favor of needing to partake of both the bread and water during a sacrament service as opposed to it being permissible to only partake of the water. This post is essentially a continuation of that same discussion (this time in favor of partaking only the water) and potentially provides a deeper discussion of the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To understand the main argument I’m presenting that it’s okay to just partake of the water during the sacrament, it is beneficial to look back to discussions that took place during the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic church had come to believe in a doctrine known as transubstantiation, wherein the emblems of the Eucharist miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Catholics also taught that the Eucharist was a sacrifice—the same sacrifice Christ offered on the cross—and was offered for the sins of the living and the dead. Thus, their celebration of the Mass had become an encounter with Christ through a repetition of the sacrifice offered on the cross. Martin Luther took a somewhat different approach, rejecting the idea that Mass was a sacrifice and also rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the same time, he still taught that the Eucharistic bread and wine did have the presence of the Lord’s body and blood (though in a more of a spiritual sense than the tokens…

Bread and Water

In my previous two posts, I discussed questions relating to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Another question my friend asked was: “If you miss the bread do you take the water? … Obviously the best answer for the first is to make sure to take both but what is proper procedure?” I think many of us have been in this situation before, for one reason or another. When you are, do you just take the water? Do you ask that they bring the bread out to you before you take the water? Or do you just let it pass and try again next time? The short answer, after doing a bit of research, is that there are no unambiguous answers to the question available from the Church. Ultimately, it depends on how your view the ordinance and can be argued either way (to take only the water or that both bread and water must be taken). Both sides of the argument can summon scriptures and the words of prophets in support of their point of view. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the arguments in favor of needing both the bread and water every time. Next time, I’ll discuss the idea of only partaking of the water. The New Testament accounts of the sacrament being instituted have the bread and wine being served in short succession, with similar statements attending each. For example, the earliest account has Jesus breaking…

Frequency of the Sacrament

I mentioned in my previous post that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been on my mind lately. One reason is that I recently had a friend ask me a couple of questions he was having trouble finding answers to. One of these questions was: “If you go to two wards do you take sacrament twice?” It brought to mind one Sunday as a teenager where I was in a group of young men who performed a music number in three different sacrament meetings and then went and helped with a sacrament meeting in an assisted living home. Some of us partook of the sacrament four times that day. Some only took it only once. Which is right? After spending considerable time searching, I found no unambiguous answer to the question, but the evidence does lead me to think that it is fine to take the sacrament multiple times on a Sunday if you put the full effort into it each time. The scriptures are somewhat vague on how often we can or should take the sacrament. In speaking of frequency, the New Testament only has phrase like “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25-26). The focus seems to be more on the purpose of the sacrament rather than…

Why the Sacrament?

For Christians, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was and is, in the words of one historian, “the central Christian ritual act.”[1] As Latter-day Saints, we participate in the breaking of bread and drinking of water on an almost weekly basis. Due to a few different reasons, I have been thinking about the sacrament a lot lately. So, I took the time to study the ordinance in greater depth, trying to understand why it’s so important and why we do it so often. During my study, I found several purposes for the sacrament and thought it might be worthwhile to share, since there were a few surprises (at least for me). First and foremost among those reasons is to remember Jesus Christ, but there is also looking forward to the Second Coming, focusing on how Christians can become one with God and with each other through Christ, and making or renewing covenants. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper exists to help us remember. Paul’s account of the Last Supper (the earliest record we have) recalls that when Jesus took bread, he blessed and broke it, then said: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye…

Updates on the New Hymnbook

It’s been nearly a year since the new core hymnbook was announced. While there have been a few rumors about the book (like a smaller size and getting rid of hymns with problematic copyrights), very little actual news has come up. Recently, however, the Church published an updated set of guidelines for the hymns and children’s songs that are being submitted. The timing is opportune, with less than two months to the submissions deadline left. Accompanying this publication are a few articles on the Church’s newsroom and on lds.org. What do these reveal about the forthcoming hymnbook? First is the announcement of the committees that are going to guide the creation of the hymnbook and children’s songbook. Two committees (one for each book) have been organized. Each has members with expertise in areas relating to the hymnbook and songbook (music, various cultures, doctrine, etc.). Members of the hymnbook committee include Steve Schank (a music manager for the Church), Ryan Murphy (the associate music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square), Cherilyn Worthen (Utah Valley University professor of Choral Music Education and the director of the Tabernacle Choir’s training school), Stephen Jones (BYU professor of music composition), Sonja Poulter (a German alto in the Tabernacle Choir), Carolyn Klopfer (author of the words to “Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth”), Herbert Kopfer (a long-standing member of the Church Music Department and composer of the hymn tune for “Home Can Be…

Grace and Cooperative Salvation

Since at least the time of Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius, western Christianity has been embroiled in a debate about salvation and grace. The two extremes have been represented as salvation by grace alone and earning salvation by our own works. Theologians and Church leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have generally followed a middle way. On the one hand, we believe in the free will of humans and that actions like baptism, temple ordinances, good works, etc. are necessary for salvation. On the other hand, however, we read in the Book of Mormon that we must “remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24). Thus, it seems that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we hold both extremes in tension but try to find a way of balancing the two extremes. Recently, I was reading a book by the Eastern Orthodox bishop and theologian Kallistos (Thomas) Ware where he described an Orthodox approach to the subject that I felt resonates well with Latter-day Saint theology. Ware wrote that human beings “possess free will,” since “God wanted sons and daughters, not slaves.” As such, “the Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon human freedom.” He goes on to explain how this is balanced with grace in their beliefs: To describe…

Spanish Hymns and the Future Hymnbook

Recently, Walter van Beek wrote an interesting post on this blog about Global Mormonism. Globalization and decentralization are important topics in the Church right now. Even within the past few weeks, the gathering of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in Rome has been portrayed as a hugely symbolic moment for the Church’s broadening its focus beyond Utah and the USA. When the new hymnbook was announced last year, Elder Erich W. Kopischke stated that one goal of the new edition was to “include some of the best hymns and songs originating in other languages that will then be translated into English and the other languages around the world.”[1] So far, the only hymn in the English hymnal to be written by a Latter-day Saint that had translated from another language is the stirring Restoration hymn “Sehet ihr Völker, Licht bricht heran!”, written in German but known in English as “Hark All Ye Nations!” The hymn was included in the English hymnal for the first time in 1985.[2] From there, it has spread around the world. As far as I can tell, the non-English hymn that stands the best chance of making its way into the new hymnal is the Spanish missionary hymn, “Placentero nos es trabajar.” One thing that must be faced to achieve the goal described by Elder Kopischke is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has historically prioritized the hymns of English-speaking…

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Throughout the Restoration

I remember seeing a survey several years ago that claimed that the two most popular hymns among Latter-day Saints were “I Stand All Amazed” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I have not been able to find that survey online in recent years, but the latter hymn would be an interesting case, since it is not included in the current English hymnbook published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am pondering on hymns that may find their way into the new hymnbook, however, and there seems to be a lot of interest in the hymn and requests for its return. This made me wonder—what is the history of this hymn in our hymnbooks? Why is it not in the current English one? What is the status of the hymn in other Latter-day Saint hymnbooks? The hymn was written by Robert Robinson and was first published in the United States of America in 1759. It is uncertain what tunes it was sung to originally, but the hymn tunes NETTLETON and NORMANDY became standard in the USA and the UK, respectively. For Latter-day Saints, the hymn text was first included in A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, published in Nauvoo during 1841 as an updated edition of Emma Smith’s 1835 Kirtland hymnbook. The hymnbook competed with a different one published by the Quorum of the Twelve in Manchester,…

A Restored Gospel Christian Calendar

We sometimes speak of the idea of a holy envy—meaning something that we admire in another a religion. For years, while remaining active in my ward, I spent a considerable amount of time at a Presbyterian Church ringing English handbells. Over time, one feature of their worship that I developed a bit of a holy envy for is their use of a liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is an approach to remembering Christ’s life throughout the year. In Christian traditions that follow a calendar, the year is divided into a series of seasons with specific moods, theological emphases, and modes of prayer. Important holidays like Christmas and Easter are proceeded by periods of penitence, reflection, and preparation (Advent and Lent, respectively) and followed by several weeks of talking about the stories of Christ and Christianity that happened because of the events that the holidays focus on. Scripture readings and sermon subjects used in church are often based on the calendar, making the calendar the foundation of their worship services. The reason I have holy envy for the calendar is because it helps people focus on Christ throughout the year—particularly around Christmas and Easter. I wanted to try it out in my personal life, so I have been developing my own version of the calendar that incorporates readings from all of our scriptural cannon to use in Sunday evening scripture study or family home evenings. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not…

Sing a Christmas Carol: Christmas Music in the Latter-day Saint Hymnbooks

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather today around the world for their Christmas Sunday meetings, Christmas hymns and songs will be sung and performed as an important part of those meetings. One thing that not everyone may realize, however, is that the options for that music varies around the world. As a teenager, I had a strange obsession with collecting Church materials in different languages. When I picked up a few hymnbooks, I was surprised to find that they were not only much smaller than the English hymnbook I was used to, but that there were some different hymns in them. This was most noticeable in the Christmas section, where I was able to spot a few carols that I knew but that weren’t in the hymnbook as I knew it. I have been curious since then what Christmas songs have received approval from the Correlation Department to become part of the corpus of Latter-day Saint Christmas music that aren’t in the English hymnbook or children’s songbook. Finally, I sat down this weekend to spend a few hours browsing SingPraises.net in order to find out. My first area of interest was in the hymnbooks. Do you agree with the Living Scriptures blog that “He is Born” (“Il est Né, le Divin Enfant”) is one of the most gorgeous Christmas hymns not in our hymnbook?[1] It actually turns out that it is in the Latter-day…

Saints, Volume 1: A Review

About a week ago, the first volume of the new official history of the Church was published. I finished reading through it this weekend, and I have to say that it is fantastic. The style of prose reads like a novel (many creative authors were employed as the writers or consultants for the book), but it is very much rooted in some of our best understandings of the events and people who lived in the early period of the Church. The combination of the two results in a very readable, but accurate history. The time frame that this volume covers is the early 1800s through 1846—the year the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo to move west. There are a lot of controversial issues related to that period, but the book tackled most of them head on. Polygamy (including Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger and a small amount about polyandry), seer stones, treasure seeking, Book of Mormon translation, Latter-day Saint pillaging and fighting during the Missouri Mormon War, Danites, the Council of Fifty, Joseph Smith defending himself with a gun in Carthage Jail, and teachings of theosis and a Mother in Heaven are all addressed. Joseph Smith’s character was shown in a more three-dimensional way than most official Church representations of him—his temper and his sense of humor are both shown, as are some of his struggles and missteps. Yet, the history is not one that focuses entirely on the men…

The New LDS Hymnbook: Changes and Possibilities

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that they were going to prepare a new hymnbook and children’s songbook for use in the worldwide Church. Specifically, the goal is to create unity in hymn numbers and selections that reflect the needs of a global organization. This is the first time in over thirty years that the official hymnbook for the Church has changed, and it is a matter of no small excitement for Mormon musicians and general membership. The current hymnbook is wonderful, but change can always bring new opportunities and improvements. Part of the excitement is that there is an unprecedented amount of involvement of general membership being made possible through online surveys and song submission opportunities. Based on trends within the Church, the history of hymnbooks in Mormonism, and the statements that have been made about the forthcoming books, what might the new hymn and song books look like? There are a number of faucets to examine in considering this question, including continuity with past hymnals, new LDS music available for use, what might be removed and changed, and the hymnbook and songbook’s relationships to the general Christian tradition of music, and the tunes being used. Let’s look at each of these in turn. Continuity During the latter half of the twentieth century, hymnbooks in the LDS tradition have been kept around the same physical size. The major consideration has been the size of hymnbook…