Do we believe in a “timeless” church?

This post was prompted by a comment made by my brother over here. I understand that the way of God is one eternal round and that he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. But I don’t think those things mean what they seem to mean at face value. For two reasons:

1) If God is static, whence eternal progression?
2) If the Gospel is static, whence the need for continuing revelation?


29 Replies to “Do we believe in a “timeless” church?”

  1. I would definitely recommend the Encyclopedia of Mormonism entry of Time and Eternity. It says:“Whatever the subtleties of the ultimate nature of time, or of scientific postulates on the relativity of time, and of the modes of measuring time, several assurances are prominent features of LDS understanding: 1. Time is a segment of eternity… Time itself had no beginning and will have no end. 2. Time unfolds in one direction… Individual creative freedom modifies the outcomes. 3. Eternity, as continuing time, is tensed: past, present, and future. God himself… is… related to time. At his own supreme and unsurpassable level, he has a past, a present, and a future. Neither he nor his creations can return to or change the past. 4. In a cosmic sense, the reckoning of time is according to the rotations of the spheres… There is some connection between time and space, for example, “one day to a cubit” (see Book of Abraham: Facsimiles From the Book of Abraham, Facsimile 2, Figure 1)…The thesis that God is beyond time has sometimes been introduced to account for God’s omniscience or foreknowledge… For Latter-day Saints, as for the Bible, God’s omniscience is “in time.” God anticipates the future. It is “present” before him, but it is still future. When the future occurs, it will occur for the first time to him as to his creatures.” Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

  2. Interesting, Jeff. Now, answer the questions.Also, I find the following fascinating:”Neither he nor his creations can return to or change the past.”Do we have a doctrinal basis for this or is it just inference? Posted by John C.

  3. No, God is not static. Your questions are quite good enough to establish that. I suppose that it is inference, but saying that he could go back raises A LOT of doctrinal issues surrounding causation, free will and all sorts of those classic paradoxes. God can’t physically exist in two places at once means that God can’t go back to a time when he already exists.  Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

  4. Woo hoo.. finally a doctrinal issue we can sink our teeth into!God is static in terms of his knowledge… He is already omniscient, there is nothing that can be known that he does not know. (are there some things that cannot be known? Is he omniscient only in relation to us, but still learning on a higher sphere?) Orson Pratt and Brigham Young disagreed on this topic, i.e. whether God can still learn new things, i’m not sure who was on which side, but I think the more modern consensus is, as far as we “know”, He does not progress in knowledge.God is not static in terms of His Glory. The more spirit children he has, the more of them that achieve exaltation, the more glorious and exalted He becomes.Is God subject to space/time, or is it the other way around? The Encylopedia article implies God is subject to time. However Alma states (Ch 40):”8 Now whether there is more than one time appointed for men to rise it mattereth not; for all do not die at once, and this mattereth not; all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.”And the Prophet Joseph mentions poetically in D&C 84:100 a future when “time is no longer”.Most modern physicists consider time and space to be the same thing, so saying that God can only move through time in one direction is akin to saying that God can only move Eastward. more later…

  5. Is the Gospel static? Well I believe the principles of the Gospel are unchanging: selflessness, love, sacrifice, covenants, repentance, etc. I think however the “differences of administration” can change from dispensation to dispensation, and from year to year, depending on what the Lord needs us to do right now. Do we pay tithing or do we live the United Order? Do we practice plural marriage or don’t we? These things certainly can change. And also as our preparation increases, our knowledge of gospel principles increases line upon line, precept on precept. Certain gospel ideas were not revealed to Joseph in the beginning of his ministry, but as he and the Church progressed, so did the doctrine. Thus for (at least) these two reasons, we need continuing revelation, to determine the administration of the eternal principles in the here and now, and to deepen our understanding of God’s plan.To rework your question a bit, is truth static or dynamic? if something was true 10,000 years ago, is it still true today? I think the eternal truths behind God’s plan are eternal. The methods He uses to teach us and guide us can change to fit various circumstances.

  6. “finally a doctrinal issue we can sink our teeth into!”I find this vaguely objectionable. I may have to set up a poll about it.”Certain gospel ideas were not revealed to Joseph in the beginning of his ministry, but as he and the Church progressed, so did the doctrine.”I am okay with this up to a point, but I don’t think that the doctrine always “progresses”. By which I mean that the adherents get what they want and sometimes they are at the high end of the pride cycle and sometimes they are at the low end. We get what is appropriate for us, which makes the Gospel ideally, but not necessarily, progressive.”is truth static or dynamic? if something was true 10,000 years ago, is it still true today? I think the eternal truths behind God’s plan are eternal.”Well, this is the issue, isn’t it? How to determine what is timeless truth and what is context-dependent truth seems to be the problem we all have with the process.I don’t know that God has to be static. Just because he is omniscient from our context, does that mean He can’t gain in knowledge? I am not sure. Posted by John C.

  7. I disagree with Rob. We can’t say that God knows everything because there is no such thing as everything. Existence has no beginning, end or boundaries in Mormonism. Thus, no matter how big the set of things which God knows is defined, there is always more outside of it. The EM also considers those phrases which Rob pulled from Alma and D&C. I would recommend reading that entry, really.Personally, I don’t believe in absolute anything with regards to theology. I simply don’t think that Mormonism has any room for it. Posted by Jeffrey Giliam

  8. If you can already behold and comprehend everything below the earth, in the earth and above the earth, for all the eons past and future, doesn’t that pretty much constitute “everything”? How can one gain in knowledge if one already knows that?2 Ne 9: 20O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.Words of Mormon 7:”…the Lord knoweth all things which are to come…”Alma 26:35″…[God] has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things…”Moroni 7:22; D&C 38:2; 88:6, 41, etc.As far as our frame of reference goes, God’s knowledge is infinite. We cannot say whether there is more to learn on some other plane, but we cannot dispute His omniscience merely because our minds are too limited to comphrehend infinity.

  9. How about this as a standard?Anything the President of the Church directs us to do is a permanent commandment, until and if he or a successor makes an explicit change?… except that whole bit about stoning those who are disrespectful to parents, that was OBVIOUSLY not inspired… 😉

  10. But that doesn’t work. Plenty of commandments fall out of active practice without there ever being a public repudiation. For instance, the church used to be antagonistic to the idea of birth control; now, not so much. But where is the definitive statement to let us know?Also, since from our frame of reference infinite and really, really big are the same, I don’t know how literally we can read those scriptures. I don’t dispute his omniscience. I dispute that my understanding of his omniscience has to be his. Posted by John C.

  11. I am unaware of the “plenty of commandments” to which you refer. I would submit that the birth control debate is a little more complicated than you indicated. I’m not sure the phrase “birth control” meant “the use of contraceptives for spacing of children” in the 60s when the Church leaders condemned it. I think it referred to the practice of limiting family size due to financial constraints. Sure the Church has softened its language a bit on the topic, but the principle is still there: have all the children you can, as long as the mental, emotional or physical health of the parents is not harmed. Pres. Hinckley states, rightly so, that the decision is between the Lord and the parents, but he also states “the command to multiply and replenish the earth has not been rescinded.”But anyway, this thread isn’t about birth control. I’d submit that unless commandments have been specifically rescinded, they are still in force, unless they are just so obviously tied to a particular time period, like if Paul said “wear your best toga to church” i don’t think that would have to apply today. But just because a commandment from a former era is unpopular to today’s mainstream doesn’t mean we can say, “oh, that doesn’t apply anymore.”There may also be a distinction here between commandments and counsel, although I think that is a dangerously fine line to walk. For example, if Joseph counselled us to learn Hebrew in order to read the OT in the original, that is probably not a binding commandment, nevertheless, it’s still not a bad idea to comply.

  12. I’m not sure how literal those scriptures about omniscience are, either. But in the absence of any valid reason to consider them NOT literal, i think we have to take them at face value. We can’t just say, “well, the scriptures don’t really mean that ’cause no-one can know EVERYTHING”… that’s just like saying “that bit about everyone needing baptism, they don’t really mean EVERYONE, that would be impossible.”Could our understanding of “knowing all things” be different from God’s? Sure. But since He has stated over and over “I know everything” and has never seen fit to qualify that to “well, just about everything, as far as you pipsqueaks are concerned” then I think we have to take it just like He said it.

  13. Ok I’ll answer the questions then I’ll go back and check out the comments so far…1) God is not static 2) Depends on what you mean by “the gospel” I guess. But if you mean All Truth then the answer is that we don’t have all truth yet and until we do we will always need more revelation. Posted by Geoff J

  14. Rob, I am not sure that “have all the children you can, as long as the mental, emotional or physical health of the parents is not harmed.” adequately describes the rhetoric of pre-1980’s prophetic and apostolic advisement on this matter. See here , for instance. Regarding the other issue, I think that we are now talking in circles. I maintain that we do not know what we think we know and you maintain that we know what we think we know even if it isn’t what we think we know. Posted by John C.

  15. John- Well I just read that whole long dry post. Perhaps we should start a new thread to discuss birth control; at any rate, I feel like my summary adequately represents all that counsel.As to your second paragraph, you lost me. To summarize my position, from all that God has said, we must assume that in terms of His knowledge, he is static, or unchanging, because He knows everything. There is no scriptural or doctrinal basis for any other position. Your position seems to be that God did not really mean it when He said He knew everything, that instead He meant “I know a heckuva lot more than you guys.” Forgive me if I am misrepresenting you, but that’s what it sounded like to me. Or perhaps your position was that we really cannot distinguish between choice A and choice B. It’s not really clear to me.

  16. hmmmm… reading your second paragraph again, trying to make sense of it.We “know” what God has said: “I know everthing, there is nothing that I do not know”.We don’t KNOW if He was telling us the whole story, or just what it appears to be from our perspective. HOWEVER, until He tells us, “that wasn’t the whole story, there’s more..” we must assume that He meant what He said.

  17. Heh, well what’s the point of giving us any scriptures at all, if we’re not going to be able to understand what He’s talking about?Yes, I assume that when He says, “I know everything, there is nothing that I do not know” that I do understand the message He is trying to convey. I have no reason to suppose I have misunderstood the message. It seems fairly clear. Are you suggesting that with further light and knowledge from the Spirit, it may turn out that he meant “I know everything, except those things which I do not know”? Why even give us the scripture at all? Why not just say “I know more than you, so trust me”? (Which he DID say, in Isaiah, but why not just leave it at that?)Yes I am assuming that when He said “I know everything” he did not mean “All dogs have fleas” or some other unrelated message. There are only two possibilities: X or not X. He knows everything there is to know, or He does not.Blah. You’re right, we are going around in circles. I surrender.

  18. From my un-academic point of view, I would say that neither are technically static. Heavenly Father knows all…including all past, present, and future revelations He has/is/will make/made. (was that confusing enough for you?) However, He did not hand all of them to us at once and then go sit on His throne & put His fingers in His ears so He wouldn’t hear our questions or petitions. To Him, the gospel is static because He has all of it in His eternal “now”. However, to us it is not static because we receive revelation parcel by parcel. If the gospel were static for us, the value of a living prophet would be significantly lessened.So far as God Himself being static, I would say He isn’t. If He were, we would know all there is to know about Him and His will for us…individually and as a Church. We wouldn’t need to pray, because there wouldn’t be anything we didn’t know about what we need to do or be. It would probably be contrary to the Plan of Salvation ‘cuz agency wouldn’t be the same, either. We would just KNOW 24/7 what He wants…the ability to choose wouldn’t be taken away, but the seeking of His will would be gone. Also, the way He speaks to us hasn’t changed throughout history. That much is relatively static. He isn’t into coming up with all kinds of crazy new methods to convey revelation. He uses the tried and true ways…and also, sometimes, when He wants to personalize it, the ways in which He knows we will pay attention to most in our individual minds and hearts. He Himself is not static…He has an active role in the life of the Church and the earth in general. However, Moroni 10:3-5 doesn’t say “I would exhort you to figure out for yourself the best way to know if the Book of Mormon (and thus the Church) is true.” It gives you the method right there…the best way Heavenly Father has told us we can figure things out…through prayer. Insofar as we use the methods he has given us (which are static), we will be able to communicate with Him more closely and receive of His Spirit and will more fully (active).In some ways, the Church is timeless…in others, it isn’t. Just my 1.8 cents…after tithing… ~~  Posted by Stephanie

  19. He Himself is not static…He has an active role in the life of the Church and the earth in general. I don’t think “static” means frozen in place… it just means “unchanging”, where as “dynamic” would be changing over time. God can be “static” and still be involved in the daily goings-on of His church and His children.and John, i’m still waiting to hear about more of those commandments we don’t have to obey anymore since “times have changed”…

  20. Well, just to open a can of worms, when exactly did the Brethren say it was acceptable to be in an interracial marriage? Yet it clearly is now (interracial couples have been shown on the cover of the Ensign, indicating, I think, something more than toleration). This would be a clear example of what I am talking about.Also, it used to be a sign of piety to stone certain unrighteous people (ie. it was unrighteous to not engage in the stoning). Today, not so much. Posted by John C.

  21. interracial couples have been shown on the cover of the EnsignReally? what month? I don’t recall having ever seen that. Well, if your memory is correct that would indeed signal a shift, although it was never necessarily a commandment, but certainly discouraged, as recently as 1994 as our friend Helmutt would remind us.Also, it used to be a sign of piety to stone certain unrighteous people (ie. it was unrighteous to not engage in the stoning). Today, not so much.Ok, Ok, the whole Old Testament/New Testament transition did away with a lot of commandments, some of which were explicitly part of the Law of Moses, others simply related. I think perhaps that this was included in the sweeping changes that occured after the Resurrection, but you’re right, there’s no scripture that specifically says “don’t stone people anymore.” I’m still looking for more recent examples, though.

  22. It was a while ago (I think it had to do with the growth of the church in Houston). It may have been on the first page inside, too (but I remember it being prominent). I would look too, but I really don’t want to. Please, fact-check away! Posted by John C.

  23. Stephanie, I was so caught up in sibling rivalry that I forgot to acknowledge your well written comment (although, in my defense, who looks up Ensign covers? What is wrong with him?). I agree that the problem isn’t how He is, but rather how we perceive Him. I feel like we can have a good idea of the qualities of God as He pertains to us, but I worry that our limited viewpoint isn’t sufficiently acknowledged. Posted by John C.

  24. John- I hereby acknowledge your limited viewpoint :)Seriously, though, the more I think about it, the more I question your citation of a photograph in the Ensign as a signal of a shift in Church policy. I mean, what are the church photographers going to do when they visit Houston, say, “Alright we want shots of everyone… except you two, you guys go home.” Just because the Church discourages interracial marriage doesn’t mean we’re going to ostracize someone who chooses to ignore the counsel. Heck, maybe they got married before they joined the Church; it’s not like anyone is going to counsel them to get divorced now, just to follow the counsel designed to increase the chance of marriages succeeding. Now i grant you, the choice to place the alleged photo on the cover seems a little odd, but you’re backing off that assertion already…. pretty soon you’ll be saying it was in the Friend. 😉

  25. In terms of full disclosure, the photo I was thinking of is found on p. 42 of the September 1994 Ensign. While it is not as prominently displayed as I remember, it is interesting that the Ensign editors, having probably 100’s of stories and 1000’s of photos to choose from, chose this one. So, I do think it a bit significant and assumed it significant then (how else would I remember a photo that appeared on pg 42?).So, there is that. Posted by John C.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *