Another Way To Look At The Sacrament

I’ve always thought of the bread and water of the sacrament–the body and blood of Jesus–as emblems of his death only. That makes sense–the ordinance is to commemorate the Atonement.

But lately I’ve also been focusing on how it could direct us to his life, as well as his death.

The prayer on the water says, “the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them” (D&C 20:79), that second part explicitly directing us to think of Lord’s infinitely painful sacrifice that last night and day of his life.

The prayer on the bread, however, only mentions “the body of thy Son,” with no added description like there is on the water.

Indeed, the first two of the three Biblical synoptic gospels (John does’t mention the Last Supper), inspires this: both mention the body of Christ, without any further explanation, but then also mention the blood of Christ, with the overt follow-up about it being shed as a sacrifice for us:

Matthew 26:26-28

26 ¶And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.

27 And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;

28 For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

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What Is Section 132 Really About?

Not marriage. Not really. A question about marriage is the impetus for the revelation, and information about it is given at a few points, but that information is always incidental, and given to illustrate points about the revelation’s larger theme.

Consider that section 132 is the last revelation Joseph Smith received that’s included in the Doctrine and Covenants. What might be the most important message of that book overall for the Saints in this dispensation? It’s one that is indeed extremely important and relevant for us this very day.

 

WORD COUNTS

In 66 verses, the word “marriage” is only used two times. Other marriage-related terms occur not much more often: “marry” and “sealed” occur six times each, “concubines” and “wives,” four times each. The most commonly used marriage-related terms are “wife” and “adultery,” which occur ten times each; and “adultery” is always mentioned in material that’s meant to ensure that that sin is not committed.

Contrast that with the frequency of these other significant terms:

  • Commanded, commandment, priesthood – 7 times each
  • According, appointed, received—9 times each
  • Exaltation, receive—11 times each
  • Abide—12 times
  • Power, word—13 times each
  • Covenant—15 times
  • Servant—16 times

And perhaps the most important term of all, as suggested by frequency of use:

  • Law—32 times

 

132

A word cloud of terms in Doctrine and Covenants section 132

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Complete Chronological Standard Works-DRAFT

UPDATED 1.8.2017  Here is a PDF of the revised draft–it still isn’t complete, but it’s a huge improvement over the original posted here two years ago.

chronological-standard-works

Original post:

This graphic is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.

For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.

Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.

We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.

We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.

Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.

Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.

I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at lds.org for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.

The Bible chronology is one that is widely available online (for example, here, here, and here); I have modified it only very slightly where I thought useful.

The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).

“The Whole Concatenation of Diabolical Rascality”

Probably the single coolest phrase in all of scripture, right there.  In Doctrine and Covenants 123, Joseph Smith encouraged the Latter-day Saints to keep track of all the “libelous publications,” as well as property damage and physical abuse, they had suffered.

Verse 5 uses this unique and memorable phrase to summarize that record: “the whole concatenation of diabolical rascality.”  Isn’t it wonderful?

First of all, it’s funny in the way that wordy phrases are, using multiple long, obscure words right next to each other.  Also, it’s a perfect example of that 19th century style of excruciatingly exact wording.  The individual words themselves are quite funny, too.  “Concatenation.”  Just say that one aloud.

Everybody should definitely highlight this phrase in their own copies right away.

And if you haven’t read the Doctrine and Covenants, you really should.  Who wouldn’t want to read a book that has gems like this in it?

 

 

The Five Missions In the Scriptures

A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be?  We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:

 

Old Testament : Obey the law

New Testament : Perfect the saints

Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel

Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom

Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord

 

Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.”  The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”  Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.

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The New York Times Admires Joseph Smith’s Civil War Prophecy

In a blog post last week about Mormons and the Civil War–focusing on the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Brigham Young–the New York Times mentioned this:

Fascinatingly, Joseph Smith had prophesied in 1832 that an immense civil war would someday transform America, and that it would start in South Carolina.

It is fascinating, isn’t it?  A couple of commenters noted that there were good reasons in 1832 for predicting such a thing, but that hardly does the prophecy justice.  I submitted the following as a comment, but it hasn’t been published yet:

Joseph Smith’s Civil War prophecy is impressive.  As Jeff Lindsay notes, in 1832, Smith predicted that:

  • The war would begin with the rebellion of South Carolina.
  • It would cause the death and misery of many souls.
  • The Southern States would be divided against the Northern States.
  • The Southern States would call upon other nations for assistance, even upon the nation of Great Britain.

And that, later, Great Britain would enlist help from other nations in wars which would “be poured out upon all nations.” 

For those who think this was a lucky guess based on 1832 politics, one would be hard pressed to explain why the opinion wasn’t common, and why Smith repeated the claim eleven years later, in 1843.  The original prophecy is in a Mormon scripture called Doctrine and Covenants 87; the reiteration is found in D&C 130:12-13

Not only did Smith predict the war, but he even foresaw details like the South calling on Great Britain, which it did (this fact is even mentioned in the second National Treasure movie). 

There are plenty of other instances of recorded prophecies by Joseph Smith which came true:  http://www.jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/FQ_prophecies.shtml

Thomas Friedman Agrees With Jesus Christ (Sort Of)

In Tuesday’s New York Times, Thomas Friedman goes on about our supposed over-extending of natural resources and calls his piece, “The Earth Is Full.”

How right he is!  About the title, at least:

For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.  Doctrine and Covenants 14:17-18

Of course, the Lord uses the same phrase as Friedman’s title not to fret about scarcity, but to reassure us that He’s filled the Earth with enough to always provide for humanity.  Friedman might like the follow-up that we’re obligated to use that abundance to care for those in need, though.

Evil in the Temple

The last few times I’ve been to the temple, I’ve noticed how the endowment addresses the nature of evil: frankly, honestly, directly, in an unflinchingly sober manner that leaves no doubt that we must face this enemy head on. 

I remember seeing something anti-Mormon once that criticized the temple endowment for its references to evil, but in the overall context, I’m grateful for it.  One way to interpret the message of this aspect of the temple might be this: “Yes, there is a lot of suffering and misery in life.  A path of righteous discipleship will not shield you from that–in fact, it will make you more aware of it and will put you more directly in conflict with it.” 

It’s ironic that active Mormons are often stereotyped and mocked for living inside some kind of super-sterile, Pollyana-ish bubble, for I can think of nothing in the world so brutally clear about the pervasive presence of evil in the world–and our imminent danger from it–as the endowment.  Unlike the schlocky nihilism of Hollywood, though, the temple does not revel in bleakness on this point.  Just as the temple repeatedly stresses that we must each constantly strive to resist the darkness pressing in on us from all directions, it likewise very clearly teaches us the way to be delivered from that darkness.  Such a lesson may be the primary mission of the temple. 

Not only does the temple address evil “in an unflinchingly sober manner that leaves no doubt that we must face this enemy head on,” it reassures us that we are not alone in this contest.  In fact, we are not to engage evil on our own terms at all.  In order to victoriously resist life’s varieties of vicissitude, we are to sublimate our will to Christ’s and follow Him in all things, letting His power over evil save us.  That, too, is a major lesson of the temple:

“Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.”  Doctrine and Covenants 10:5

The Pattern Of Our Spiritual Journey

I’ve been reading James Ferrell’s The Hidden Christ, which is extremely excellent, and I just read chapter 19, “The Dispensation’s of the Lord’s People,” where he gives a chiastic chart of Earth’s history.  It’s very good, and it reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for a month or so, since my wife and I had a discussion about what the Earth will be like after the Second Coming. 

That got me to researching, and some things clicked with me.  Below are some notes I’ve been putting together about these thoughts.  They represent my attempt to put some doctrinal concepts in a recognizable pattern, and it strongly emphasizes the role of Jesus Christ.  In fact, looking at our spiritual journey this way adds a powerful dimension to our understanding that, through the Atonement, Christ “descended below all things.”  We can see here that, literally, his suffering and distance from the Father were absolutely beyond even the worst of mankind’s experience.  It was also, again quite literally, the ultimate turning point in history. 

The only thing that confused me at first was the idea that, if Eden and the Millennium are Christ’s domain, then how could the Father also be present in the Garden of Eden?  I soon realized that God may go anywhere He wishes; it is we who are limited by veils and sin.  After all, didn’t both the Father and the Son appear personally to Joseph Smith in this fallen, telestial world?  Joseph Smith had to be transfigured for that to be possible, and I suppose Adam and Eve must have enjoyed a similar experience, in their innocent and immortal state, to behold the Father in the Garden. 

On a slightly less spiritual note, this map also highlights an aspect of good storytelling, which has also been on my mind lately.  I often think that basic story patterns are essentially encoded into us (think of Campbell’s Hero With a Thousand Faces, as well as the fondness for using elemental stories to resonate with us in the scriptures and temple), and one of the most fundamental aspects of good story is that the hero must face a daunting, scary setback in the middle, even suffering a literal descent.  Think here of Odysseus going down to Hades, the discouraging tones of The Two Towers and The Empire Strikes Back (each the middle of an epic), or the predictable fight that the lovers must have in the middle of every romantic comedy, before they reconcile and reunite (sappy, but also another Atonement-centered device). 

Most of the “insights” on this chart aren’t very original, but I enjoyed drawing it up to see these things together in graphic form for the first time.  This is only a rough draft, and any refinement to it is welcome.  Click to enlarge. 

The Law of Consecration, As Contained in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants

During a recent session in the temple, I was hit with particular force that we are to study the law of consecration not in general, not in a vacuum, but specifically as it is taught in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Besides the factual and motivational information I’ve found in this brief project so far, I’ve been impressed that this aspect of the gospel agrees so well with our growing emphasis on charity and service, as per President Monson (best exemplified in adding “care for the poor and needy” to the mission of the Church). 

So I’ve been trying to read up on this basic celestial law, from sources that focus on its development in the D&C.  First, not surprisingly, I looked it up in the index to the scriptures.  This list includes all those in the Topical Guide, plus several others:

See also Common; Devote; Equal; Inheritance; Order; Poor; Property; Substance; United Order; Zion

D&C 42: 30-39 (D&C 51: 2-19; D&C 58: 35-37) principles of consecration explained.

D&C 42: 30, 39 consecrate of thy properties for support of the poor.

D&C 42: 32 consecrated properties not to be taken from church.

D&C 49: 20 one man should not possess above another.

D&C 51: 3 every man equal according to his family.

D&C 51: 5 transgressor not to have claim upon portion consecrated to bishop.

D&C 58: 36 (D&C 85: 3) a law for inheritance in Zion.

D&C 78: 5 order established that saints may be equal in bonds of heavenly and earthly things.

D&C 83: 6 storehouse kept by consecrations.

D&C 105: 5 Zion can only be built up by principles of celestial law.

D&C 105: 29 lands to be purchased according to laws of consecration.

D&C 105: 34 let commandments concerning Zion’s law be executed and fulfilled.

D&C 124: 21 bishop to receive consecrations of the Lord’s house.

The next source I thought of was the CES manual for the D&C.  It has an essay in the appendix which is entirely devoted to teaching the law of consecration.  This may have been the best single source for what I was studying.  One of the many useful things in this section of the text was this series of self-analysis questions:

1. Are you contributing to or detracting from a spirit of unity in your home? in your ward or branch? in the Church as a whole?

2. Is your life in harmony with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost so that you will contribute to a unity of thought and action in the kingdom?

3. Do you truly have an attitude of consecration? Is your primary concern in life to consecrate everything you have or with which you will be blessed to the building up of Zion and the Church on the earth?

4. Do you have enough confidence in your commitment to truly say, “I am willing to sacrifice anything and everything for God”?

The third of the official sources I used for this study was BYU’s Scripture Citation Index, where I looked up the references given in the index, to see how they had been used in general conferences.  Continue reading

No One Can Establish Zion Alone

For me, the scariest verse in all of scripture has always been D&C 103:2: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there…”  It’s hard enough to be a shy introvert now without having to be surrounded by people throughout eternity, too!  But there’s an important lesson in that truth about the nature of real spirituality, and it’s one that I’ve long been trying to learn.

Other teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants affirm that being sealed in the temple is necessary to qualify for exaltation, the highest salvation with which anyone can be blessed.  For example, D&C 131:1-2 reads, “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; and in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage],” and the very next section contains this even more explicit promise: “And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant…they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things…” (D&C 132:19). 

The point is that nobody can be exalted alone.  This supreme gift can only be bestowed on those who have successfully grounded their lives in the service of others–a family.  (I hasten to add here that the Church has clearly taught that nobody will suffer any loss of blessings because of any opportunity that they just didn’t have here on Earth–see, for example, Dallin H. Oaks: “The Lord has promised that in the eternities no blessing will be denied his sons and daughters who keep the commandments, are true tho their covenants, and desire what is right.”)

Just as exaltation cannot be achieved by a lone individual, neither can Zion be established by such.  There is no such thing as a marriage of one; similarly, there is no such thing as a Zion of one.    Continue reading

A Scriptural Warning Against Navel Gazing and Hand Wringing

In our Sunday School class today, the parable of the nobleman and the olive trees in Doctrine and Covenants 101:43-62 was brought to our attention to help teach about following the prophets.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this story before, but it strongly underscores some things on my mind lately. 

This parable is meant, in the strictest context, to illustrate to the early Latter-day Saints the importance of helping to gather and establish Zion, as opposed to their general reluctance to do so previously.  The story has a nobleman with a field of olive trees, which he gives to the care of a staff of servants who are charged with building hedges and towers around it for security.  The servants promptly overanalyze their orders, debating its merits; after all, they say, this is a time of peace, and couldn’t the money be better spent on humanitarian projects (D&C 101:47-49)?  While they discoursed with each other, an enemy did come in and destroy the trees. 

Like all parables, this one would seem to have a broader application, as well.  If the Lord’s intention in telling this story was to impress upon us his “will concerning the redemption of Zion,” we could extend this to mean Zion in general, as in each of our families, wards, stakes, and the church’s spiritual condition overall.

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Now That’s Charity

Elder Holland’s recent Conference talk about the intense depth of suffering experienced by the Savior for the Atonement–and the Church’s incredibly successful YouTube clip from it–have got me thinking about how this episode also teaches us perhaps history’s greatest lesson about charity. 

Sometimes I’m tempted to pull my head back into my shell and call it quits as far as the world is concerned.  I think we all feel that way sometimes.  Work is stressful–or lost, finances are tight, illness is soaking up strength, family problems are heartbreaking, addictions are threatening, or a combination of these or any of a thousand other adversities conspire to drag us down.  Often we may feel that the best option to preserve what little sanity we have left is to circle the wagons and just worry about yourself, and let the rest of the world go its way. 

When this temptation surfaces, it’s good to remember how the Savior conducted himself in the midst of the Atonement.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus Christ felt infinitely for “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and…the pains and sicknesses of his people…their infirmities…[and] the sins of his people” (Alma 7:11-13)–truly, every negative experience every mortal has been, will be, or even could be called to pass through–a sacrifice so profound that the “suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18), He did not pull his head into his shell, or circle the wagons, or give Himself up to worry or self pity, letting the rest of the world fend for itself. 

First, he Continue reading

“Work Smart” Myth Exposed

The popular maxim “work smarter, not harder” is pure hogwash.  It implies that clever tricks can supplant sustained effort.  While effectiveness is unarguably a virtue, nothing can take the place of sweat.

In teaching, we can implement all the cutesy activities, routines, and fads that the educrats can imagine, but the bottom line is that no class will be optimally productive unless the teacher is giving enthusiastic direct instruction, then guiding students through practice.  Even during in-depth independent work, we teachers must be circulating the room, checking on student work one on one.  It’s exhausting, but nothing less produces the best results.  It’s inconvenient for me, too, but we can’t just sit at our desks for an hour and occasionally bark orders and expect real learning to just happen. 

In church service, it’s even more true.  No amount of efficient program planning, curricular correlation, or assignment reporting–worthwhile as those things all are–will ever do half as much good as simply rolling up our sleeves and bringing gospel messages to people in their homes.  Passionately involving ourselves in people’s lives with meaningful service is going to take far more effort than the bare minimum requirements of any calling or ministry, but it’s also absolutely necessary to help grow anyone in the direction of Zion. 

Clichéd as it is to lament the passively entitled mindset of contemporary society, it’s still true.  If we want to help the world remember the value of good, plain, old fashioned hard work, we must, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to see in the world. 

We may sometimes feel the need to step back and rest, but we can’t let it become a habit; the stakes in the things we care about are too high.  Wear out, don’t rust out. 

26 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

27 Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

28 For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:26-28, emphasis added

13 Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven—

14 These should then be attended to with great earnestness.

Doctrine and Covenants 123:13-14, emphasis added