A Return to the Roots

A few Sundays ago the topic of the sacrament meeting talks was the “restoration”. It had all the necessary ingredients: restoration versus reformation, authority being lost as the ancient apostles were killed, our church being the “same” as the ancient church, and America as the prepared homeland for the restoration.

A brief discussion I had with someone between sacrament and sunday school centered on bringing up the differences rather than similarities bewteen the Latter-day church and the ancient church. By only discussing the restoration as a return to the early church, do we sometimes create an awkward space to talk about differences? Can we spell out some of these differences in a faith-reaffirming way?

I’m no historian of early Christianity, and so I won’t even try to make any historical claims (although those with historical interests are more than welcome to); but I am wondering what kinds of similarities are essential to our “restorationist” claims, and what kinds of differences are we comfortable accepting?

14 Replies to “A Return to the Roots”

  1. I wonder what evidence of the early church that LDS use to support the idea that the church is to be lead by A prophet. The New Testament certainly makes it clear that prophecy was a part of the early church but I don’t see anything that suggest that there was only one prophet and he lead the church.

  2. Dando, it’s a First Presidency thing, in theory anyway, with Peter being the President/Prophet even though the NT never calls him either. Just something Joseph Smith revealed.

    As for similarities and differences, my experience has been that most members, myself included when I was younger, don’t like to talk about differences between the Church today and JSs church. Or BYs church. I think that the basic principles, ordinances, and priesthood are really all that is necessary to have in common. Especially because there is almost nothing else in common. Contra AoF 6, I think that organization is one of the least important things to have restored exactly the same. Beyond having Apostles, everything else seems so fluid that it’s a bit like policy: not commandment, not permanent, changes with the times. Beyond the fundamentals, it can all be different and almost all is from what I see.

  3. I stopped thinking this way a long time ago. As I have studied it is possible to say that things are as simple as the Sacrament speaker said, and yet more complicated then many realize. If there are any similarities they are probably found in a belief in Priesthood authority, saving ordinances, salvation by grace and works, and the importance of a hierarchy of leadership. But whether they wore white shirts and ties and so forth, who knows.

  4. I wonder what evidence of the early church that LDS use to support the idea that the church is to be lead by A prophet. The New Testament certainly makes it clear that prophecy was a part of the early church but I don’t see anything that suggest that there was only one prophet and he lead the church.

    I think the scriptural “support” for such an idea is the Matthew passage where Jesus talks about founding his church on the rock (Is it chapter 16?). As I mentioned in the original post, however, I’m not necessarily interested in the historical specifics; so in all likely hood the passage could be interpreted differently (and perhaps more correctly). The claim probably also has historical roots in the coming forth of the church in the 1830s–the need to have one head of the church rather than multiple “prophets”.

  5. I think that the basic principles, ordinances, and priesthood are really all that is necessary to have in common.

    The ordinances also change though, don’t they? The baptism in Mosiah for instance (the prayer in particular), or the temple ordinances. Although it would be interesting to think that we may be more united in practice than belief (not that you were implying that, but that’s where my mind is headed).

  6. I’m no scholar of early Christianity either, but in responses to comment 1 by Dando, it would certainly seem on the surface that there was enough belief in “A” leader for the Catholic tradition with it’s focus on Peter (stretching from the New Testament passage on the “rock”) as the pre-eminent Bishop over all to evolve fairly early on.

  7. I certainly can understand the idea that one man needs to be the head of the church. But what I was getting at is what necessarily makes that man the prophet? I don’t really see anything prophetic in the life of Gordon Hinkley so I don’t know why he’s called “prophet” nor do I understand why outliving your counterparts on a committee gives you the spiritual gift of prophesy. So I’m wondering if there is scriptural basis for that notion (LDS canon included) But none of that is the point of the OP so I don’t mean to side track the issue.

    I think it’s clear to anyone that the LDS worship style has MUCH more in common with 18th Century Protestantism than with 1st Century Christianity. It will be interesting to see when and how the church starts incorporating changes to the worship style. Even the most fundamentalist of members would have to recognize that Peter didn’t appoint a organist to the Relief Society Meetings. (hopefully that has a little more to do with Smallaxe’s point)

  8. Re: 7

    Technically, “the prophet” as we call him casually, is no more a prophet than any of the others that we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators. The office is not called the prophet, but the President of the Church, or The President of the High Preisthood, or the Presiding High Priest. Sometimes I like to refer to Preident Hinckley in this way and watch ward members (espcially the Utah transplants) look confused.

  9. SmallAxe: Good point. It’s part of the reason that I was specific about using the word “basic” but even there it’s squishy.

    Dando: I’ve had a couple of conversations with people where we have concluded that in the sense of the NT ecstatic prophet Wilford Woodruff was our last real “prophet” and that since then we’ve had men who are primarily Presidents. If you catch my drift. I have wondered if they show more gifts in that area privately but then the whole idea of having a prophet run your Church is that he shares his ecstatic gifts with the Church and uses them to bless it. Some people might argue this but the fact is that there is a glaring difference in this area when you compare how JS and BY et al ran things compared to todays Presidents.

    Also, I know one polygamous sect here in Utah believes that the titles/roles of Prophet and President are not the same and they believe that the Prophet role was given to their guy while the President role remained in the main LDS Church. Not an idea that too many members that I know like though.

  10. I find it interesting that on the one hand we talk a lot about continuing revelation and speak of things yet to be revealed–but on the other, we go to considerable effort to find similarities to our doctrines and practices in antiquity, sometimes to the point of asserting rather implausible connections. I’d think that at least in theory, we’d have plenty of room to do things differently. But I can’t think of many instances where something has been presented as “this is a new thing, revealed for our time”–rather, things are usually framed more along the lines of, “from the beginning of time, God’s people have taught/believed/practiced x.” In the context of our theology, though, it seems like we could just as plausibly explain things in terms of new revelation as in terms of a restoration of something ancient.

  11. One of Elder (Russell M.) Nelson’s favorite quotable passages, from the continually waxing eloquent pen of Joseph, says something about a “welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories [that] should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time.” So my question is: how is our worship similar to that of Enoch’s followers? or Noah’s? or Samuel’s? or the Brother of Jared’s? Ah yes, the quest for similarities could stretch on and on forever, but somehow I think that the worship services here in Orem where I live and those in Muskegon, Michigan where I spent seven months as a missionary (in which not less than three certifiably insane “mystics” would preach every fast Sunday) are likely as different as those of different dispensations. And yet, we all are a part of this big (relatively, right?) organization and all believe what we believe and go to the temple and sense that there is something…

  12. I tend to thing of these things in terms of the rhetoricity of truth claims rather than their facticity. The appeal to that which is “new” and to that which is “old” function differently and for different purposes. Both claims are used to establish authority, and the tension between them is resolved by the particularly American value of “tradition” and “progress” being intertwined.

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