Can Someone Help Me Understand…

What I have in my hands here is a nice, large can filled with worms. Please observe what follows as I open said can…

There has been two good long discussions lately that have caused me to strongly experience a feeling that I used to have frequently. I describe this experience this way: I come upon a conversation about some aspect of the Gospel or scriptures that is being discussed by others. I’m very interested and I follow along and occasionally make points. But eventually I discern that I’m not really participating in the discussion because I don’t understand some major aspect(s) of what is going on. It’s over my head and I can’t figure out either what is being said or how it is relevant to the topic. My experience has been that eventually I usually discover that my own views were quite simplistic and that I was not following the conversation because I did not understand how my own views had long ago been passed up/expanded upon/delved into/whatever and so it was my own limited knowledge that was my barrier.

My education since my mission has reduced the number of times that this happens greatly. But occasionally, as now, it still happens. Now I’m better able to identify it and get to the heart of what I’m not following. I’d like some help in the two current cases of this. One is public, the other is not. I’m posting this here, however, to hopefully help other ignoramuses like myself and to ask if I’m the only one left on this blog (Chris H. being a possible exception) who still experiences this.

The two cases are these: The first has been occurring on the in-house email list here at FPR and concerns the apostacy. The other was JC’s most recent post here at FPR and concerns, among other things, our tendency in the Church to want to see ourselves in the past. From my following of these discussions in these two areas it is clear to me that I’m guilty of having an overly simple view of some of the issues being discussed here.

My problem with the apostacy discussion on the back channel is so near to the beginning of the extensive conversation that my fellow bloggers are going to collectively groan and role their eyes at me. I can’t recreate the whole discussion (not even come close) but my issue that hung me up early was this: They were discussing the difficulties of the traditional LDS view of the apostacy. They quickly moved past a point that I thought solved many of the difficulties that occurred from moving past this point. However, I could easily see that the problem is likely that my views are too simplistic. So I’ll explain my understanding and hopefully someone can condescend to set me straight because I got really lost really quick after that.

My (supposedly, in my mind prior to now) understanding of how and when the apostacy occurred is this (in a nut shell): Jesus and the Apostles knew that a complete apostacy would occur not many years after Jesus’ death and almost immediately after the Apostles all died. Their writings and their works were to this affect: get as many people into the Church as possible in order to save as many people as possible before the apostasy comes. They can see the false apostles, false prophets, and false teachers creeping out of the woodworks everywhere and they know that the problem is going to be compounded so thoroughly when they all die that the Church will fall into apostacy almost immediately. And they say as much in certain places, if not quite that explicitly.

Now, this is problematic. And that was one of the driving themes, initially, behind the discussion that took place. Why would God let this happen? Can’t answer that one. Nowhere else in all of scripture does God let a full apostacy like this occur and nowhere else does he let an apostacy go on and on for so long. Why did the Apostles stop ordaining new Apostles to replace the old ones? Was doctrinal corruption the cause of the loss of priesthood or the other way around? When was the moment that the Church was officially, fully severed from God? All great, compelling questions.

Here’s what I’d concluded: Doctrinal corruption came early, way before the Apostle died. This caused much of the wickedness that accounted for personal apostacy in the Church (for example: Paul exaggerates that everyone of his converts in Asia has abandoned him). Priesthood continuation ceases when the Apostles decide to stop ordaining new Apostles. And because Apostles are the only group of priesthood holders by office who can ordain others to the same office the priesthood peters out through a lack of being able to ordain new individuals and personal apostacy. The proof of the exceedingly widespread doctrinal corruption is in the very early appearance of rival Christian groups in the second century. They are everywhere! And the “gospel” is different, sometimes radically different, in each of their minds. This is a very simplified version but I think you all get the point.

This view has its challenges, of course. Why couldn’t the Apostles contain the widespread doctrinal corruption? Why did they stop ordaining other Apostles? (I know this is potentially anachronistic but bear with me) This one really baffles me. Did God tell them to? Why? Under what conditions would God do so? They couldn’t find anyone righteous enough to call? Really? I have a hard time believing this but the historical fact is undisputed: No group ever claimed (that I’m aware of) that the Apostles really did keep ordaining other Apostles and their guys are it. There just stopped being Apostles and at least its not just my problem.

So here’s the question: Where am I wrong? Please show me where my seriously incomplete education (I’m not being sarcastic here) has failed me and given me an incomplete understanding of your guys’ conversation. Seriously. Because up to now I was feeling pretty good about my story I’d put together until I couldn’t follow your guys’ conversation.

The problem I had with JC’s post is simpler. And my solution had already been offered by Kurt. Dealing specifically with the current ban on homosexual relationships as an example of Church members using ancient scriptures to justify current positions, JC argued that the only explicit ban on homosexual relationships is in the OT. Kurt told him that it was also in the NT and elsewhere. (Kurt is right, Paul hates it and explicitly condemns it in Rom. 1:27, 1 Cor. 6:9, and 1 Tim. 1:10) But for me the issue is this: JC and Kurt are both right on a couple of points discussed (you should really just read their comments). The OT laws do not apply to us because that law was fulfilled. Any points of contact between its commandments and our own constitute elements that God wants lived in each age. Points that differ don’t apply because we were not issued that law. Likewise in every dispensation. A person is only required to live the law as given in the dispensation he/she lives in. Studying old dispensations is fun and noticing that God is (largely) consistent on some points from age to age while not on others should always be kept in context. Hence we cannot condemn people for homosexuality based on old laws, we may only expect them to comply with the current one. Any consistency (or lack thereof) on the part of God in giving his laws in respect to this must be discussed with this base in mind.

Now, these two view points seem pretty straightforward to me. And that’s where my suspicions get raised. Anything too neat and tidy is probably oversimplified when it comes to issues this complex. So I have to requests to make of the ‘Nacle: Can any of you set me straight (or maybe I should say share with me how you view these two points) and does anyone else have any issues/experiences like this? Please share.

10 Replies to “Can Someone Help Me Understand…”

  1. I have to say I loved your use of the phrase “peters out” to describe the loss of priesthood when the apostles all died. Very clever. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  2. I am I being grouped with the “ignoramuses.” What the heck! That may seem be the case by I am not an ignoramus. I just do not care nor see why I should care. Of course, I feel that way about many things.

    Also, I think that our in-house email discussions are in-house for a reason.

  3. LXX,

    Not sure how much I can help, but I wonder if you can see the cleverness of “peters”. The priesthood “peters” out… “Peter” the apostle… I’ll chime in more when I get a chance.

  4. LXXL,
    Actually, your solution about the sexuality issue is much more elegant than Kurt’s. As you have phrased it, the authority of any scripture is only given where it concurs with modern revelation. That is, modern revelation is the only real source of authority, any scripture is only authoritative where it can be made to conform to our contemporary expectations. I don’t really have a problem with this solution so long as it acknowledges its interpretive logic.
    As for the NT passages that you have cited, these are all extremely debated. For instance, the term often translated as “homosexual” (malakos) would in its ancient context refer to any “effeminate” person, not just those who took the passive role in homosexual sex. The problem, then, is the same thing that was raised in the discussion with Kurt. When we reduce this term to only refer to homosexual sex, and ignore its ancient range of meaning which would include men who did the dishes, dance, wear nice clothes, etc, we are making an interpretive move to serve modern interests. For Paul, the modern metrosexual would be just as condemned as the homosexual because the logic for his argument against homosexuality is rooted in a logic about what masculinity consists of. If we want to really take Paul seriously on this point, then we must adopt a 1st c. view of masculinity. The problem is that the ancient view of masculinity doesn’t really work in a modern context, so we choose to ignore it and only emphasize its homosexual connotation because that is what we choose to think is important about that term.
    For a moderately good discussion of the issue of homosexuality and the Bible, see Ronan’s post

  5. On the apostasy question, I join your simplicity. In my mind, the apostles didn’t call any new ones because at some point – presumably because of a combination of geography/travel and deaths – they simply couldn’t get together a quorum to name a new apostle. My explanation my be even more simplistic than yours!

  6. There’s more to the Biblical argument against homosexuality than just explicit statements condemning it in either the OT or the NT. There’s also the positive argument about what was thought of as sexual purity. Pure sex in the biblical context always meant “one man, one woman”. If we follow the virtue ethic that Jesus sets up and extol people to be “sexually pure” it still leaves homosexual behavior outside to scope of virtue.

    I realize none of this is the point of the LXX post. Sorry.

    Historically speaking, for me, the argument for total Apostasy only makes sense once you’ve already put on the “restoration glasses” that Joseph Smith offers. I seriously doubt if there has been anyone who, in researching early Church history, discerned that an Apostasy and a loss of priesthood occurred. THEN started looking for a restoration and found Joseph Smith’s explanation of what true Apostolic Christianity to be true and accurate.

    Restoration arguments are usually back-ended explanations for justifying X, Y, and Z in new movements.

  7. Dando,
    The question is not what is the true “biblical context” for sexual morality, or what Jesus or any of the biblical authors though was sexually moral. The question is why we accept the “biblical” view of some things and not others. Why should we privelege Jesus’s views on sex (btw, he says that we should be eunichs…), but not his view that we should give up all that we have materially if we are going to follow him?
    Further, the issue is if we can ever really accept these “biblical” norms if we don’t really accept the cultural assumptions about masculinity and other gender roles which inform them.

  8. Chris: No offense man. I just thought that you might suffer from us dweebs over-lingoing. Not at all meant to be a comment about your intelligence. For real.

    Axe: That must be it.

    TT: That is exactly the kind of thing that I was talking about. I was taught in Greek class that some of those terms referred to the two partners of a homosexual relationship without any caveat.

    Dando: Fair enough. But I don’t know of many scholars who think that, say, the 4th century church is the same as the 1st century church. Even some of the 2nd and 3rd century Christian scholars saw the 1C guys as simplistic and so they elaborated and built upon the 1C thoughts and beliefs. That things changed dramatically is hardly disputed from what I’ve read. Also, the apostacy was a major JS doctrine and one that I must accept if I take him for a true prophet (which I do naturally). Go looking with modern revelation guiding you and all those changes look like possible support.

  9. A person is only required to live the law as given in the dispensation he/she lives in. Studying old dispensations is fun and noticing that God is (largely) consistent on some points from age to age while not on others should always be kept in context. Hence we cannot condemn people for homosexuality based on old laws, we may only expect them to comply with the current one. Any consistency (or lack thereof) on the part of God in giving his laws in respect to this must be discussed with this base in mind.

    I agree. The problem with the discussion with Kurt is that he recognized this with respect to issues such as human rights, but denied it (or at least early on denied it) in regards to sexual morality. The problem, I think, (and it is a difficult one indeed), is to make sense of stability and change. We want to say for instance, that God doesn’t change. On the other hand, we know our world is always changing. How do we make sense of these seemingly incongruant states?

    In terms of the discussion about the apostacy, the only question I would have here is would your view of the apostacy change if you read the NT as a second century document? In other words (and I’m not tyring to make a historical claim), how much of our peception of the apostacy is rooted in our need to justify our theology, rather than in the available historical material? Now, I don’t do work in this period, so I’m merely raising this question and not trying to make an assertion about the text of the NT; but this raises questions about us and our relationship with history.

    If there were specific points in the private list where I was unclear (or perhaps you didn’t understand), feel free to bring them up there.

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