Change Isn’t Just for Politicians

“Change” is not just a campaign issue in politics, it is a frequent topic of religious debate as well. While “change” can be a winning theme in political campaigns, change is often viewed with fear and suspicion in religion. Not only are people naturally reluctant to change what they believe, but in the Bible we we see that change is often associated with apostasy and rebellion against the ways of God. Of course, that means that divine change is often needed to get people back on track. And the coming of Jesus Christ represented huge changes in biblical religion.

For the Latter-day Saints, changes in modern practices or doctrines implemented by LDS prophets are said to be evidence that we are a cult. The argument seems to be that God would never change any commandment or rule, so changes made by LDS prophets must “prove” that the Church is not of God but deserves the negative label “cult.” And changes in details of temple worship or other aspects of our practices are often used by our critics to attack our faith.

God’s nature does not change, and absolute truth does not change, but the rules and instructions God gives to man are adapted for our time and circumstances, and DO change. This is part of the reason why we need continuing revelation and living prophets.

The early Christians had many changes in their doctrine and practice relative to the “mainstream” practices of Judaism at that time, and had changes relative to Old Testament teachings. Were early Christians therefore cultists, in the negative sense of the word?

Consider a few examples. Should Christians keep the feast of the Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, and offer animal sacrifices? Yet the Old Testament tells us that these rites should be kept FOREVER (Exodus 12:14-24). Should we keep the Feast of Firstfruits, which was to be a “statute for ever throughout your generations” (Lev. 23:9-14), or the wave offerings of sacrificed animals, another “statute forever” (Lev. 23:15-21), or the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:33-44, esp. v. 41) or offerings of flour and frankincense (Lev. 24:5-9), also said to be everlasting and perpetual? Do modern Protestants and Catholics strictly observe the Sabbath day as taught in the Old Testament (absolutely no work or shopping and observing the Sabbath on Saturday)? Yet the Old Testament practices were said to be given as “a perpetual covenant” and a sign between God and Israel forever (Exodus 31:16-17). Many of these Old Testament ordinances and observances were changed in the original Church of Jesus Christ – not by men, but by revelation from God.

Further examples include circumcision, which was said to be “an everlasting covenant” in Genesis 17:13, yet this commandment was later changed, making circumcision of no importance at all (1 Corinthians 7:19, Galatians 5:6). The change was made through revelation to living apostles and prophets. A dramatic example of revealed change occurred in the revelation to Peter that showed him the Gospel was now to be preached to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. That revelation in Acts 10:9-18 occurred with the help of a vision in which Peter was commanded to eat “unclean” things. This revelation directly contradicted two previous Biblical revelations. One was the instruction from Christ that the Apostles were sent to preach to the house of Israel, not to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5; see also Matthew 15:24); the other was the prior strict prohibitions against eating the very things that Peter was commanded to eat (Leviticus 11:2-47). Those changes may have been hard for Peter to accept, but they were from God and he obeyed. (Speaking of food, are Christians today allowed to eat fat? Yet a prohibition against eating fat in Leviticus 3:17 is said to be a perpetual statute.)

How can we account for the changes that occurred in laws and ordinances that were said to be perpetual or forever? God can give a set of laws that are to be ongoing until He issues a change – but He must do it, not man. The changes that took us away from many aspects of the Mosaic law, as with the changes away from the still older rules of Sabbath observance and circumcision, were made under divine inspiration after the Atonement of Christ had been completed, which fulfilled the Mosaic law and required or permitted change of other practices. God did not change, but the rules that we needed were changed. The changes were revealed by those having authority, not by committees. Besides change made through apostles and prophets, Christ also personally reversed, modified, or strengthened several previous teachings of past prophets (e.g., see Matthew 5, esp. v. 21-22, 27-28, and 31-44).

Based on the many changes in laws and commandments documented in the Bible, it is entirely incorrect to say that modern prophets are false if they reveal any changes in practices or rules. The real issue is not whether we agree with them, but whether they are true prophets or not. That question, again, can be answered–or rather, can begin to be answered (that clarification is a recent update)–by determining if the Book of Mormon is true. If it is not, Joseph Smith and all successive prophets in the Church were false. If it is true, then we should be careful not to reject those whom the Lord has called.

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Author: Jeff Lindsay

100 thoughts on “Change Isn’t Just for Politicians

  1. A well constructed comment. I’m aware of members who have struggled with changes in policy or practice, which do not represent changes in doctrine. Just as at the time of Christ, people tend to revere the old prophets and reject the very prophets for their own time. i’m sure we will see further changes as the world evolves and the Church confronts it.

  2. I have noticed that many people I talk with have not only trouble with the fact that we allow latter-day revelation to supersede older revelations, but also that we can accept 21st century latter-day revelation over 19th century latter-day revelations.
    A living oracle of God is worth more than a thousand epistles and books from dead ones.

  3. Just part of the “hazards” of belonging to a church that believes in continuing revelation. To paraphrase Russell B. Long, being led by revelation is like being on a raft, you won’t sink, but your feet will be wet.

  4. The real issue is not whether we agree with them, but whether they are true prophets or not. That question, again, can be answered by determining if the Book of Mormon is true.

    Not really. Certainly if the BoM is false, then so are the latter-day prophets in all likelihood. But if the BoM is true, nothing can be inferred about the prophets after Joseph Smith.

  5. …and even if the prophets were true, in the sense that they hold the keys and the authority to receive revelation for the Church, that’s no guarantee for the truth of their every statement.

  6. I liken what happened to Peter in regards to the Gentiles with our 1978 revelation that the Priesthood could now go to the blacks.

    What if back in Peter’s day, all the Gentiles did was comment ‘why only now? Jesus was a bigot!’ They didn’t. They gratefully accepted the Gospel with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    I’m grateful that most blacks are simply grateful that they too can now hold the Priesthood. We should never question God’s ways. While we may never understand the ‘whys’, He does. And anyone can come unto Him with a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

    It seems to me, note that, seems to me, that people who reject living Prophets are those who lack a certain humility to truly be able to accept the Lord’s way, instead of their way. They seek our preachers who will say what they want to hear instead of find the truth and conform to it.

    I also know there are many, who like I was, are simply being led astray by false teachers, and like me, will come to the knowledge of the truth eventually. The Holy Ghost will reveal it line upon line until they realize the need to pray about it.

  7. sssspinnnn….

    =P

    Jeff, I can see how LDS folks might appreciate this post, but my guess is that for most of us who are non-LDS – we might be slightly aghast by your argument.

  8. Hedgee,

    I hope that you (and Jeff) know that I mean no harm =) Much of what I say is said in jest…

    I admire Jeff’s call to both LDS and non-LDS: The real issue is not whether we agree with them, but whether they are true prophets or not. That question, again, can be answered by determining if the Book of Mormon is true. If it is not, Joseph Smith and all successive prophets in the Church were false. If it is true, then we should be careful not to reject those whom the Lord has called.

    It all rests upon Mr. J Smith =)

    And maybe we also need to add The Pearl of Great Price (as well as The Book of Mormon) to the list?

  9. I’d like to reword that: “The answer to that question begins by determining if the Book of Mormon is true.”

  10. NM thanks for the clarification. What do you think of the main point of this post, which I think, is that change is necessary.

  11. Yes, RWW…

    I think it telling you felt an obligation to include that second statement about “every statement” being true…such an argument is KEY, CENTRAL to your overall thrust. Without it, what is a good secular anti-Mormon to do? Nothing left but to maybe grumble a bit about angels and demons along with throwing around some Dan Brown-esque conspiracy allegations…

    The problem secular anti-Mormons (and many Mormons tend to accept their premises) have is not so much that we accept continuing revelation but that we accept revelation…they’ve had their fun w/traditional Christianity, now let’s turn to the Mormons…white, rich, patriarchy that they are…

    And alas, we Mormons, uneducated (and willingly so) in the ways of the world as we are, at best sit back and let them snipe while they define the terms of the debate for us. Worse yet, we assume that by accepting some element of relativism, we betray the “built on a rock” foundation that carries so much capital in our discourse.

    Some precious few allow for change, but do so in a way that sounds so utterly blind to its implications that it likely makes the seculars laugh hysterically.

    Latter Day Saints need to craft a cogent way of describing our most beautiful paradox of free-wheeling intellectualism and hard-and-fast obedience…a book has even been written on the subject…but w/o such a model, alas, while the public continues to be confused by us, we’ll be happily whistling a tune canning peaches while the media/public thinks we’re drinking Kool-Aid…

  12. I think what confuses me isn’t in necessarily the changes to things that could be explain as God relating to us or us to Him but I am instead confused by when it seems to be changes of absolute truth.
    To use the temple as an example, many prophets said that the ritual can’t and shouldn’t change but it has.

  13. Anon…

    Name chpt. and verse on that please…

    On the contrary, Elder Maxwell even talks about “tactical morality”–moral standards meant mostly to distinguish us as a people. Wearing one pair of earrings, not drinking coffee, a PLETHORA of things…I mean, really, eating two 1 lb. burgers a day is certainly worse for you than drinking coffee…but one will keep you out of the temple and the other will not…

    But prophets saying rituals shouldn’t change? Heavens, John Taylor changed the endowment ceremony from what BY had in mind…Pres. Hinckley changed it…they didn’t wear white clothing back in the day, but we do now. The NT sisters wear head coverings to distinguish them from prostitutes, but it was part of church policy.

    All of these things have changed…all of them constitute a ritual…I would need to see some pretty crystal clear evidence (and a preponderance of it) to believe that rituals are etched in time immeorial…

  14. Russtafarian said: “I mean, really, eating two 1 lb. burgers a day is certainly worse for you than drinking coffee…but one will keep you out of the temple and the other will not…”

    I have to disagree with this. The word of wisdom actually says to eat meat sparingly… I think if we were all honest about this, none of us would get a temple recommend.

    Sorry, that was a bit off-topic.

  15. SKB:

    A little quibble now and again doesn’t hurt–humor me…

    Actually, I have had bishops spell out quite clearly what “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom” means…and they don’t mention meat…nor will you find the meat clause in any talk by any general authority…

    Elder Packer: “Members write in asking if this thing or that is against the Word of Wisdom. It’s well known that tea, coffee, liquor, and tobacco are against it. It has not been spelled out in more detail.” To use another example, you might say that it’s unwise to drink liters and liters of soda…more so than it is to drink an occasional beer or cup of coffee. Indeed, I would encourage individuals to ask their priesthood leaders about the issue. But really, we digress…

    The central argument still stands: the directives we have received (even if little meat were spelled out as a temple requirement) often have more symbolic than substantive value…and I have the luxury of Elder Maxwell’s backing. See his talk (“some thoughts…” given in 1976 to the Behavioral Sciences symposium).

    What think y’all?

  16. you mormons always have that fall back position. if the BoM is true then it is all true if not then none of it is true. you guys are in a win win place. it is a book of faith and can not be proven false so it will always stand like the Bible reguardless of the proof. if proof is found in support of the BoM then you win again. you mormons don’t play fair.

  17. “(even if little meat were spelled out as a temple requirement)”

    What kind of meat and how many oz.s per day per body size per. female vs. male or adult vs. child. Supper size me.

  18. How do we know Peter was acting as a prophet when he was “commanded” to eat unclean things? Maybe he was just hungry and wanted some pig on a spit. So called prophets often have self-serving “revelations.”

    If God really did command us to eat unclean things, does it mean that we must eat pork and shellfish?

    There’s an assumption here that I don’t buy: some people have their own thoughts and ideas, and others are the mouthpieces for God (some of the time).

    If we decide that someone is a prophet, but concede that they aren’t a prophet all the time, how do we separate their craving for pork or desire for lots of wives from decrees issued by God?

    Seems to me that if God wanted to send a message, he wouldn’t send it to one person who then has to convince the world that he’s not just making something up for his own benefit, he would send it to every mind in the world at once. Then we could all agree it was a divine revelation.

  19. Great post! I went through a little discussion on my blog that talks about Book of Mormon geography and ancient history. The point of my blog is to present my ideas and theories not to prove the Book of Mormon is true. The discussion went into proving whether scriptures are true based on ancient texts and artifacts. I kept telling the commenter that it is only by the Holy Spirit that I know what is true or not. He was determined to prove me wrong and I gave up on him. I even told him basically the same thing that Jeff said. That we don’t practice or teach some of the things from the 1800’s that were common among the members of the Church. The basic doctrine is the same but the finer details have changed over time as we continue to receive revelations.

  20. Rhys:

    Fortunately for the Latter Day Saints, your question is based on an incorrect premise…

    Thank heavens that the prophet does not work in solitude. Revelation is a collective process–I have not yet seen in my lifetime nor over the course of the past century a revelation, decree, declaration that has not involved a collective process…and most of the time, this is not a harmonious process. Disagreement is real…and from my sources, we do not get a declaration until there is unanimity amongst the brethren (though D. Michael Quinn’s work, Extensions of Power questions this, his source analysis has been thoroughly skewered, so I’m skeptical of his conclusions).

    Finally, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that sustaining the brethren is a one-way street of them telling us what to do after which we, LDS robots that we are, happily do it and sing “Come Come Ye Saints” as we work (though it’s a fine hymn and is not bad for background). The brethren have insisted not only that we must find out for ourselves; they’ve even taken a radical position. That is, we only when the brethren have been moved by the Holy Ghost (and to what extent) when WE are moved by the HOly Ghost. Only the HOly Ghost can tell us how to apply the brethren’s teachings. The brethren cannot.

    Hope this helps.

  21. Hi All,

    Russtafarian I want to pose a question for your consideration. You’ve indicated that sustaining the brethren is not a one way street. Yet, in sacrament meetings, when asked to sustain someone’s calling, or sustain say President Monson as prophet, no one ever takes the radical position of saying no, I do not sustain this person. Are you saying that in the very short, 3 or 4 second period of time the faithful are given to decide whether to sustain or not, the faithful actually have an opportunity to think, ponder and pray about such matters? I would suggest to you that they do not, and that the unanimous responses of Yea to each of the matters of ward business addressed at the beginnings of sacrament meetings are more the result of peer pressure than they are the result of true guidance from the Holy Spirit.

    I do agree with you that the Holy Spirit does guide us. I also agree with you that God still provides revelation to us. I would dare say that most catholics would agree with the proposition that God provides continued guidance and insight and revelation to his children. Over the centuries Christ has appeared to the various saints. And in that same time frame Mary has appeared to various saints as well. In each of those instances, new revelations about faith and the nature of God and prayer have been provided.

    Where the true divide lies, and its really the crux of the issue, is whether God actually provided revelation to Joseph Smith or not. If JS made up the whole account of the first vision, then it really wouldn’t matter if the BOM was true, or if the LDS church is led by prophets. I say that because if JS made up the whole story, then it stands to reason that none of the rest would be true, because the entire basis of the BOM, and revelation to prophets would be premised upon a lie told by JS. My personal belief about JS is that he made up the whole first vision for his own gain. No one has to agree with me on that point, but it is what I’ve come to learn through prayer and reflection.

    Another thought I would interpose here is that everyone might want to read Romans 12 through 16. In those chapters there’s a great dialogue provided by St. Paul on what it really means to be a christian. Also included in those chapters are some great messages about tolerance of others’ beliefs and practises. Good lessons for us all to follow.

    Catholic Defender

  22. Russtafarian,
    I’m Anonymous above (only the first one, I don’t know the other Anonymous).
    When I said that the church leaders have stated that the temple ritual can’t/shouldn’t be changed I was referring to the following:
    -The switch from ritual washing to a dab of water on the forehead. As best I can tell that is supposed to be a baptism but I know Brigham Young calls anything other than an total immersion a “transgression of the law.” (The Essential Brigham Young, p. 195)
    -Joseph Smith said, “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not be to be altered or changed”. (Ensign, Aug 2001, p. 22)
    -Since the Church insists that the rituals are a restoration of the Old Testament rituals how can they be changed and still the original ceremony?

    Sorry it took me awhile to reply. I look forward to your answer.

  23. First Catholic Defender:

    I would suggest to you that your concerns would deal more with the imperfection of members than it would with the church…and as we are both members of churches who have had a scandal or two take place in them, I would hope you could relate with that position…

    Secondly, there indeed have been individuals who take that radical position…my father was in such a meeting. A ward division was being proposed and half a dozen individuals opposed it. And then there was the famous incident with N. Eldon Tanner in General Conference.

    Finally and most importantly, your position is utterly unprovable by empirical evidence. You do not know what kind of struggles these members have gone through, what kind of thought process has racked their minds. You have absolutely no ground to stand on beside that of your largely normative theories that assume Mormons are sheep. In other words (according to your argument), Mormons must be accepting peer pressure b/c they raise their hands to sustain their leaders. Why do they sustain their leaders? Well, because they accept peer pressure…I think you see the problem.

    I have been in the faith for many, many years…I have yet to hear a word of blind obedience…no one I know well (others, I can only make superficial assessments as to their motives) has ever just taken the prophet as being the prophet merely b/c he or others say so.