One of the paradoxes about the Word of Wisdom is that the name (drawn from the opening line of the text from the 27 February 1833 revelation) indicates that it is good advice while it’s treated as a commandment in the Church today. I’ve discussed this in detail in the past, so I’ll leave the full subject to that treatment as well as the historians of the Joseph Smith Papers Project, but the short version is that it’s not clear when the revelation became a commandment for members of the Church. It may have been intended as a commandment all along, it may have been accepted as a commandment by Church membership in general conference in the past, or it may have become a commandment at the time it began to be enforced as part of temple recommend interviews. The interesting part of the history is that all three of these versions of commandment-ification are rooted in the others. The Word of Wisdom began to be enforced during the early 20th century because Church leaders believed that it had become a commandment in the time of President Brigham Young, mostly pointing to a vote at a conference in 1851. That vote was used to legitimize the belief that the Word of Wisdom had been declared to be in force as a commandment to Latter-day Saints as it became a requirement for temple recommends in the early 20th century. Yet, when…
Category: Come Follow Me Currculum
“This is the light of Christ“
As one of Joseph Smith’s largest revelations, Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88 (or, as Joseph Smith called it, “the Olieve leaf which we have plucked from the tree of Paradise”) has a lot of different talking points. As historian Richard Lyman Bushman wrote: “Nothing in nineteenth-century literature resembles it. … The ‘Olive Leaf’ runs from the cosmological to the practical, from a description of angels blowing their trumpets to instructions for starting a school. Yet the pieces blend together into a cohesive compound of cosmology and eschatology united by the attempt to link the quotidian world of the now to the world beyond.” The majority of this Olive Leaf revelation was recorded on 27-28 December 1832, with the end section being recorded as a separate revelation on 3 January 1833 that became so closely associated with the December revelation that they were eventually combined into one document. Among the topics that moved beyond the mundane world of the now is a metaphysical discussion towards the beginning of the December revelation about Jesus the Christ and light. This portion that discusses Jesus and light has given rise to the idea of an interesting entity in Latter-day Saint through—the light of Christ or Spirit of Christ. The revelation states that: “I now send upon you another comfortor, even upon you my friends; that it may abide in your hearts, even the holy spirit of promise. … This comfortor is the promise which I give unto…
“These two Priesthoods”
Words can be a bit slippery, particularly when we use them in different ways over time. Take, for example, the use of the word “ordinance” in the Church. In its most basic sense, an ordinance is an authoritative order; a decree or a piece of legislation (think of a city ordinance). It seems very possible that many of the time when the word occurs in the Doctrine and Covenants, the word is used in this manner, referring to the laws or decrees of God. On other occasions, the term may be used as an appointment or commission (in what is now an archaic use of the word). In the Church today, however, it is generally used to refer to religious rites like baptism, confirmation, endowment, etc. Hence, it becomes tricky when interpreting statements like the one in the important 22-23 September 1832 revelation (now Doctrine and Covenants, Section 84) that “in the ordinences thereof the power of Godliness is manifest and without the ordinences thereof, and the authority of the Priesthood, the power of Godliness is not manifest,” whether ordinances refers to the laws of the Gospel, an appointment as a result of priesthood ordination, or the sacred rites of the Gospel. Gratefully, at least there isn’t much confusion about whether ordnances is the intended use in the Church when the term ordinance is used. Priesthood is another word that is a bit difficult to pin down. While we know it generally refers to…
“This is Elias”
In both the Vision studied recently (D&C 76) and the first revelation studied this week (D&C 77) there is a mysterious figure referenced as Elias. Throughout the remainder of his ministry, Joseph Smith would use this name-title to refer to individuals who served as forerunners with preparatory or restorative responsibilities. But, at times, it also seemed as though he had a specific individual in mind, possibly drawing on references to the name Elias used in the King James Version of the New Testament. Who was this person? How did Joseph Smith understand his role? The revelation now known as D&C 77 was recorded in March 1832. As Joseph Smith worked on his New Translation of the New Testament, he came to the Revelation of St. John the Divine and dictated a series of questions and answers to explain some of the symbolism in that book. On two occasions, the text refers to Elias. In answering the question, “What are we to understand by the angels ascending from the east Rev 7. Chap. & 2 verse?”, the text responds: “We are to understand that the angel ascended from the east is he to whom is given the seal of the living God over the tweleve tribes of Israel … this is the Elias which was to come to gether to gether the tribes of Israel and restore all things.” In answering the question, “What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John as mentioned in the 10th. Chapt. of Rev“,…
“Bodies Terestrial and not bodies Celestial”
As I was working on my previous post, I had a thought I wanted to explore, but not enough space there: If we believe in eternal progression but also want to argue that there are limits to upward mobility in the eternities, we run into the question—why? Why wouldn’t it be possible to continue repenting and progressing after resurrection and judgement? While there’s a lot of potential answers (God said so, lower motivation to work on things in this life, etc.), one of the more interesting answers from Church leaders caught my attention as something to ponder. That answer was that the bodies we are resurrected with determine the level of glory in which we can dwell. During his efforts to state that God doesn’t believe in opportunities for second chances in the afterlife, Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that: The true doctrine is that all men will be resurrected, but they will come forth in the resurrection with different kinds of bodies—some celestial, others terrestrial, others telestial, and some with bodies incapable of standing any degree of glory. The body we receive in the resurrection determines the glory we receive in the kingdoms that are prepared. Thus, according to him, the type of body you receive at resurrection determines which kingdom you’re locked into forever. In teaching this doctrine, McConkie draws on the language of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15. In that epistle, Paul discusses the resurrection and states…
“They cannot come worlds without end”
One of the methods that paleontologists use to understand the age of a fossil in relation to other fossils at a site is by looking at layers, or strata. The basic idea is that layers build up over time, with organisms becoming part of the sediment layers as the organisms die and get buried while the sediments continue to build up, then become fossilized over time. Since layers build upwards, older layers will generally be found lower in the strata levels, with the newer layers being superimposed on top. Thus, each layer provides a snapshot of what was living (and dying) at a given time period, with fossils found deeper in the layers coming from earlier periods and fossils found higher in the layers coming from more recent eras. A question that become important in interpreting Joseph Smith’s revelations is whether we can approach studying the ideas presented in them in a similar way—with each revelation functioning as a fossilized snapshot of a dynamic and evolving theology—or whether every revelation should be treated as an individual presentation of a unified, unchanging theology. A doctrinal debate in the Church that is heavily impacted by which route you take in interpreting Joseph Smith’s revelations is the idea of progression from kingdom to kingdom in the afterlife. In other words, after resurrection and judgement, can individuals who were assigned to the Telestial Kingdom continue to progress and repent to the point that they…
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 76: The Vision
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C section 76, The Vision of the Celestial Kingdom — plus, was Joseph Smith a poet?
“Exhortation to the churches”
It can be easy at times, when studying the early history of the Church through the lens of the Doctrine and Covenants, to forget that there was a whole life and existence in the Church outside of the main gathering places in Ohio and Missouri. We spend so much time following Joseph Smith and his companions that the lives of those not immediately around him can fall by the wayside. Even when studying later periods, it can be easy to forget that there were times during the mid-1800s that the majority of Church members actually lived in Britain rather than the US. Not that focusing on the Doctrine and Covenants in this way is bad (they are scriptures after all), but at the point in the Doctrine and Covenants where we’re at, we do catch glimpses and reminders that the Church was larger than its headquarters and that the branches outside of those areas needed tending to stay aligned with what was happening at the focal points. A few examples stand out from the revelations we’ve been studying these past few weeks. When Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Sidney Rigdon were commanded to travel to Cincinnati in an August 12, 1831 revelation (D&C 61), they were told to “lift up their voices unto god against that People,” then “from thence let them Journy for the congregations of their brethren for their labours even now are wanted more abundantly among them then among the…
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 71-75: Criticism, Consecration and Proclamation
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 71-75, addressing Criticism, Consecration and Proclamation
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 67-70: The Lord’s Witness, Inspiration, and Parenting
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 67-70, addressing The Lord’s Witness, Inspiration, and Parenting
“When moved upon by the Holy Ghost”
At this point in the year, we’ve finally caught back up with the context of where we began—Section 1. The conference in early November 1831 (at which Sections 1, 67 and 68 were recorded) was focused on publishing the revelations that Joseph Smith had been—a project which would come to be known as the Book of Commandments and later The Doctrine and Covenants. It is, perhaps, inevitable in a religious movement that believes in both being led by prophets and that everyone can receive revelation that there are going to be tensions about who is able to speak for the Lord. From a revelation sparked by the Hiram Page incident in September 1830, we have the statement that: “No one shall be appointed to Receive commandments & Revelations in this Church excepting my Servent Joseph for he Receiveth them even as Moses.” This placed the burden of receiving revelations for the Church squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Church. At the November 1831 conference, however, members of the Church expressed concerns about whether the revelations were the Lord’s words or whether they were Joseph Smith’s words. Section 67 issued the challenge to “appoint him that is the most wise among you or if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it then ye are Justified in saying that ye do not know that is true” as a way to rebut those concerns. Section…
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 64-66: Forgiveness, Zion’s Ensign and Our Thoughts
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 64-66, addressing Forgiveness, Zion’s Ensign and Our Thoughts
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 63: Rebelliousness and Signs—The Lord is in Control
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C section 63, addressing rebelliousness and signs, but concluding that the Lord is in control
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 60-62: Missionary Work
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 60-62, addressing missionary work and the Lord’s support for us.
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 58-59: Timing of Blessings, Sabbath Day
The end is always a new beginning. The arrival of the first Latter-day Saints in Independence, Missouri was both an end and a beginning. They accomplished the goal of gathering to Zion, but then realized that now they had to actually build Zion—a process that has, in a variety of ways, continued ever since. For the Saints at that time, the revelations contained in D&C 58 and 59 show the process of realizing that the new beginning of Zion contained a new set of struggles, and struggles that were very different from what they expected. For us today, these sections point out, symbolically, at least, that we are also facing struggles in our process of building Zion. And in these sections we find two different messages about the blessings we often expect. First, we learn that blessings don’t come automatically—God is not a vending machine. Instead, blessings come according to God’s timing. And second, we learn that by keeping the Sabbath, we will receive both temporal and spiritual blessings. The Timing of Blessings The Saints who lived when the bulk of the Doctrine and Covenants were written faced a lot of struggle and suffering. These trials were often seen as necessary to their salvation, and the blessings they would receive were expected only in the future, if not in the next life. Eliza R. Snow captured this view in the following poem, written in late 1843 during her stay…
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 51-57 — Temporal Zion
By going in order through the Doctrine and Covenants, the Come Follow Me lessons sometimes show the concerns of the Church at a particular point in time. The seven sections included in this lesson are quite varied, but all demonstrate temporal concerns — where to put all the immigrants arriving in Kirtland, how members should share what they have, how should church members fulfill the command to gather to Missouri and who should be doing the printing of Church publications. But despite these temporal concerns, in these sections there are clearly spiritual lessons which are germane to the temporal needs and directives. These include learning to become a faithful, just and wise steward, and learning to be pure in heart. Being a Faithful Steward Eliza R. Snow is likely considered to be a faithful steward by most Church members. But like most of us, she had to make the decision to follow the gospel. She wrote about that decision in the following poem, and of the stewardship responsibilities that came with that decision. When I espous’d the cause of truth by Eliza R. Snow (1841) Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”-Matt. 7:14 When I espous’d the cause of truth, The holy spirit, from on high, Promply instructed me, forsooth, To lay my youthful prospects by. I saw along the “narrow way” An ordeal, which the saints…
“Whoso forbideth to abstain from meats”
It’s a well-known grammar joke that punctuation can save lives, since there is a difference between saying: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and: “Let’s eat Grandma!” Punctuation and grammar do make a difference, as Oakhurst Dairy found out the hard way a few years ago. In a legal case about overtime for drivers and a state law in Maine, the debate centered on the grammar of the law, which required time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, with exemptions for: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. The lack of a comma after “shipment” allowed the truck drivers to argue that the law only made an exemption for packing for distribution (along with packing for shipment) rather than distribution of the products being part of the exemption, which meant the company hadn’t been paying them appropriately for overtime. They won the case, costing the dairy company $5,000,000. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the law was changed soon afterwards to read that the exemptions included “storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of” the products. Discussion of whether the Doctrine and Covenants endorses eating or not eating meat can come down to grammar and punctuation choices. The two main sections that come into the debate are Section 49 (a 7 May 1831 revelation) and Section 89 (a 27 February 1833 revelation). In…
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 49-50 — Marriage, Falsehood & Edification
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 49-50, addressing marriage, identifying falsehood & edification through spiritual gifts.
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 46-48 — Welcome, Spiritual Gifts, History and Sharing
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C sections 46-48, addressing being welcoming, spiritual gifts, keeping a history and sharing the lands we own.
Lit Come Follow Me: D&C 45 — Standards and Zion
Poetry for this week’s Come Follow Me lesson, D&C section 45, addressing the raising of gospel standards and establishing Zion.