Of late, I have begun to believe that, although the church is interested in orthodoxy, it is far more interested in orthopraxy. That is to say, the truly important things that were restored were the ordinances and the priesthood authorizing some to perform them. In part, I have come to this notion due to the general lack of official response to the whole issue of inactivity and the issue of how we count membership. I think we would rather have people baptized than going to church (although we would obviously prefer both).
What think ye?
10 Replies to “A notion”
I think I agree that our theology and doctrines are less defined than acceptable practives in the church. However I don’t think the way we count membership has anything to do with that. I think counting memebrs of record is simply the standard that was set from the beginning and changing mid-stream would create apples to oranges confusion. Further, if we set some official standard for active (like say one sacrament meeting per month) then it gives some kind of license for members to gravitate to the lowest common denominator. (This LCD thing is just human nature and manifests itself in things like fast offerings being far from generous because members think the price of two meals is enough even when they have more more they could spare…)
The apples-to-oranges argument on membership statistics only goes so far. First, it would be quite easy for the church to publish two statistics: one the legacy measure and the second a revised measure which more accurately represents the actual number of people who are in any real sense members of the church. Hence, I agree with the impulse of John C.’s post in terms of looking for some deeper reason that the only available membership numbers are still the same unhelpful members-of-record measure.
Ah, but my apples to oranges was only the first part of my argument, what say you to the second part about the dangers of setting an LCD for “active”?
(Yes I know we have talked about this overall subject at your blog, RT… maybe you should link to that so I can remember what we said there)
Geoff, I think my main posts on membership statistics are here, here, and here. The related post on the ethics and theology of high membership turnover (which I’m rather proud of, I guess) is here. (Apologies for the link bomb, John. But blame Geoff — he requested it!)
There already is a lowest-common-denominator for activity: attending once in three months. This standard is used for some intra-church statistical purposes. Your point, of course, is about what would happen in we had a more widely publicized LCD. My hunch is that it wouldn’t hurt anything. After all, being minimally active won’t get you a temple recommend, which serves as a bright-line social and spiritual incentive for full activity.
I suppose what motivated this link more than anything is the impression that the leadership isn’t all that put out by the statistics. I know that that is a generalization based on an assumption developed from conjecture. I just have the impression that if the low attendance was a problem, in the mind of the brethren, we would be getting much more training on it than we currently are. Ergo, I wonder if, for the brethren, the fact that these people had the opportunity to have these ordinances performed really was the most important thing, according to the brethren, as it might make it easier for them to work things out in the long term, even if they are inactive/uninterested in the short term.
I’ve pondered the same phenomenon. Definitely orthopraxy over orthodoxy (although I don’t like the use of the word “orthodox” for describing the beliefs of Mormonism, I’ll use it here as a relative term). Perhaps this comes from the church majority practice of works-based righteousness (over and against faith-based righteousness)?
Personally I think there are two self defeating attitudes. One, that if we can just get people worthy to perform the ordinances…they can work it out through eternity, active or not. Second, if they are dead we can just perform the ordinaces…and they can work it out for eternity.
I think the LCD issue stems from the fact that we are such a “levels” or “degrees” based church (right David J, works based). We often think, “since I am doing all that I can, what is the least that will get me by?”
I agree that we are a people who resist orthodoxy (although there are some temple interview questions (our only real creed) that imply some dogmatic must-haves). Most of what we are asked about to get into the temple has to do with behaviors, not beliefs or attitudes. And, symbolically at least, these behaviors are sufficient to get us into the presence of God.
In particular I am arguing for your points one and two. I think that this is counter to how most people view the relative temporal importance of doctrine and ordinance. I am not certain that the brethren share that view.
And, symbolically at least, these behaviors are sufficient to get us into the presence of God.
I had a systematic theology professor once state: “If I get into heaven, it will be in spite of my theology.” Everyone laughed, but I sat in the class thinking the same thing. I’m grateful the recommend interview doesn’t ask what I think/believe/know to be true (for the most part). I think there is a question about having faith in Jesus’ atonement, but that’s about it. You’re right John, everything after that is geared toward praxis. And I never thought about the rec. interview as a formal creed, but I totally see where you’re coming from. The AofFs I think would come close to confessional credism as well.
“since I am doing all that I can, what is the least that will get me by?”
Dude, my thoughts exactly. This attitude was rampant in the Judaism(s) of Jesus’ day — many of his inquisitors attempted to pull this sort of rationality on him, and well, you know his responses to them. “Doing the minimum” is, IMO, probably worse than doing nothing at all because it isn’t genuine. Jesus asked for genuineness in conversion and practice, not “dead works.” Again, I blame works-based righteousness as the culprit. It almost invariably leads to sadness and despair, and a feeling that one cannot “do” enough. But on the flip-side, I think an overly stern faith-based righteousness can lead to what I call “Christian complacency” — sitting around twittling our thumbs and just “believing” but not doing anything while those around us might need our “works” in order to live the gospel. There’s a fine line between the two, and for me, happiness is attained when I have a foothold in each.
I am not certain that the brethren share that view.
I concur. However, keeping tabs on orthopraxy is a way, as stated earlier, of maintaining the status quo and also a way of proper accounting procedure. Again, we’re a works-based group, and so naturally we have numbers that illustrate growth, decay, expansion, retention, wealth, poverty, etc. etc. It is by these works that we understand ourselves. Many other denominations are not even remotely aware of their own size and presence in the world because they don’t have a unified method of accounting built into their orthopraxy. I mentioned to my SS class that the (seemingly) boring accounting report given in April conferences isn’t for the world at all — I believe it is intended for the members to consider how they are doing. So yes, the brethren are aware of it.
I was not aware of the “once every three months” thing. Who maintains that? The ward clerk?
Tithing settlement seems like it would be an important checkpoint for activity, but perhaps not.
(my apologies for a temporary thread hijack)
David, your remarks about works-based righteousness leading to sadness and despair hits the nail on the head. My wife is particularly susceptible to this, as she sees all of the senior citizen members of RS, who seem to have it all together, while she struggles. I wonder if you could apply that theory to the supposed statistics about Utah having the highest rate of Prozac use.
It’s a little weird to me to take a look at attitudes in the church. The stereotypical view of the Catholic church is that they are filled with guilt, but I think we are more representative of that than they are. Again, it’s odd, because you hear at conference to be of good cheer, or to live the gospel is happiness. Perhaps it is, once you get to the point where you sin less and achieve more.
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