The English Nature of the Mormon Constitution

The Church has a certain amount of constitutional law, by which I mean norms and rules that govern and control its institutional structure. What is the nature of this constitutional law? I would submit that the Church ends up being more English than American. Priesthood quorums illustrate why this is so.

Today the flow chart of church government seems pretty clear. We have wards presided over by bishops. The wards are part of stakes, which are presided over by stake presidents. Then we have either regional presidents or (in North America) direct presiding by the Twelve, mediated by area authority seventies. There is, however, something a little artificial about this structure.

If you read the Doctrine and Covenants it basically isn’t there. The most relevant section here is 107. There you will see discussions of the first presidency, the twelve, the “traveling high council” (there is some ambiguity as to whether this refers to the twelve or not), stake presidents, high councils, and priesthood quorums. No wards. Indeed, the priesthood quorums seem to be the relevant unit of organization. Twelve in a deacons quorums, twenty four in a teachers quorum, forty eight in a priests quorum, and ninety six in an elders quorum. The stake itself seems to be defined in part as a priesthood quorum — of the high priests in this case — presided over by the stake president. My understanding is that during the lifetime of Joseph Smith this was the basic ecclesiastical organization of the Church. There were wards in Nauvoo, but these were not so much congregational units as administrative divisions concerned with temporal affairs (basically the collection of tithing and the organization of labor on the temple.) There are no ward chapels in Nauvoo, but there is a Seventies’ Hall.

Under Brigham Young, the ward gradually emerged as the congregational unit, but as late as 1877 there was considerable debate as to whether or not the Bishop was the presiding priesthood authority in the ward, with some taking the position that quorum presidents were not subject to his guidance or control. (I am not quite sure what this meant in real practical terms.)

Even today, the structure of quorums remains. Elders quorum presidents are called by the stake and not the bishop and those who hold callings in the Elders quorum — like me (instructor) — are called and set apart by the quorum presidency rather than the Bishop. (In several instances, this has resulted in my having double callings.) Furthermore, the jurisdiction of bishops’ courts does not extend to Melchizadeck priesthood holders because they are — in some sense — still responsible through the quorum structure rather than the ward structure.

Hence, we have this odd system where there is an “archaic” government structure that is enshrined in constitutional documents, but which doesn’t really function in actual fact. The “archaic” institutions remain and the documents giving them life and being are revered as canonical, but the day to day functioning is governed by other, “unwritten” norms and rules. (These rules are, of course, written down but in sources that enjoy nothing like the authority of the cannonized texts.) This sounds very English to me. In contrast, American constitutionalism is much more document centric, with the actual structures of power envisioned in the document functioning more are less as they are written. To illustrate what I am talking about, an “American” constitution would have the actual functioning institutions — wards, enlarged authority for bishops, etc. — enshrined in canonized documents.

I don’t know if there is any real lesson or insight into law, interpretation, or church government here, but I am struck by the fact that our current structure tends to rest on a loose rather than a tight reading of the revelations. At the same time we nevertheless maintain administratively illogical structures solely because they are contained in the canonized texts. For example, it makes more sense given the current administrative structure for bishops to call Elders quorum presidents just as it makes more sense to have a high priests quorum in each ward. Yet both of these innovations would be inconsistent with section 107. We thus have this ambigious relationship between our constitutional texts and our actual contsitution. Dicey would be proud, although I suspect that Madison would be bit horrified.

96 comments for “The English Nature of the Mormon Constitution

  1. This is very interesting. I have to think some more about this. If the comparison is valid (that’s what I’m skeptical of), the phenomenon might have something to do with ad hoc solutions to practical problems not addressed in the “canonized” charter documents. The canonized pronouncements remain valid and in force, but ad hoc, practical solutions are necessary (which don’t necessarily run afoul of the structure laid out in the canon).

  2. Also, wouldn’t the modern American state look like an unfamiliar beast to Madison, given the developments of the modern administrative state and the constitutionally determinitive pronouncements of the Supreme Court that alter or modify the actual text of the Constitution? To that extent, how much better is the English comparison really than a plain-old American constitutional comparison?

  3. “But couldn’t you point to the CHI or other policy iterations as being subsequent constitutional-level amendments? ”

    You could make such an argument but you would be wrong. However much people try to claim otherwise, the GHI is not canonical. It ain’t bound in leather and carried around in special bags. It lacks the same sort of charismatic authority, if you will. (Charismatic, I admitt is a bad choice, but you get what I mean.)

    John: Perhaps you are right, but I think that there is still a real distinction between the American and English models. All of the major American institutions are in some way contemplated by the constitution. Even admin agencies are generally formally part of cabinent departments (admittedly independent agencies like the FTC, FEC, or Federal Reserve are not.) An example of what I am getting at. The constitution has quite a bit to say about the office of the presidency. In contrast, there is no foundational English constitutional document that defines the role of the prime minister. This seems like a big difference.

  4. Where does the Church Handbook of Instructions come in? Is this an EU-style bureaucratic intervention into a cranky, crazy-paving constitution?

  5. Well, Nate, I don’t want to threadjack you, but I’d guess that in terms of how things in this Church get done, the GHI is as important to many as the NT. That’s a sad state of affairs as I agree the CHI/GHI is noncanonical, but I think it’s true nonetheless.

    Part of the problem, Nate, is that our Church doesn’t have a single constitutional document. We draw from all kinds of scriptures and policies as we go, some of Magna Carta importance and others of mere anecdotal reference. But that lack of centrality is part of our rustic charm: we defy theological reference points and remain an enigmatic church for partly that reason.

  6. Steve: But that is my point. The GHI of instructions defines (sort of) how things actually happen, but it is not cannonical. It is not clear to me why it is necessarily a sad state of affairs that the GHI has more influence than the NT on church administration. The NT says virtually nothing on the topic. Perhaps you are thinking that the GHI represents a kind of legalism that crowds out authentic Christianity. Perhaps you are correct. I am not sure how to really verify this claim. It is interesting to me, however, that the revelations DO have some institutional and administrative pull. Church disciplinary councils, for all their evolution, still basically follow the procedure set out in the D&C.

    One interesting question is whether the diffuse and decentralized form that Mormon constitutional law takes can be fitted into any broader story. Weber and Maine, for example, both had rather grand historical narratives about the evolution of legal systems. (Maine for example posited a progression from fiction to equity to legislation.) Hayek had a kind of counter narrative where rationalization of legal ad hocery was a mark of legal degredation.

  7. One last comment and I am off to the library: Why exactly is it a “problem”? It obviously offends the aesthetic sensibilities of American (and American-trained Canadian) lawyers, but is there anything really “wrong” with it? For example, it is not clear to me that the American approach to constitutional law is decisively superior to the English approach.

  8. Nate,

    The reason why Bishops do not call and oversee the Elders quorum presidency is that Elder is an office of the Melchizedek priesthood and Bishop is an office of the Aaronic priesthood–The Bishop is the president of the Priest quorum. The president of the Priest quorum does not have the authority over the Elders.

  9. Eb: True, sort of. The Elders’ Quorum president, however, is not the presiding elder in a ward congregation. This is the Bishop. This choice is not specified in section 107, which is the source for the rationale that you state.

  10. Nate, the problem with relating present LDS governing structures to D&C 107 (or any other D&C section) is the intervening “Revolution of 1844,” when the Quorum of the Twelve, previously something like a missionary committee whose members sometimes discharged additional ad hoc duties, took over leadership of the Church. Post-1844, the two other governing quorums of the Church became simply adjuncts to the Twelve — the First Presidency was led by the senior member of the Twelve who generally took two other apostles as counselors, and the Seventy became an increasingly junior quorum operating under the direction of the Twelve. In contrast, note that at the time of Joseph’s death, none of the First Presidency (Joseph, Hyrum Smith, and Sidney Rigdon) had ever served in the Quorum of the Twelve. The First Presidency as it existed in Joseph’s day (to which D&C pronouncements refer) no longer exists. What we call the First Presidency today is merely an executive committee of the Twelve.

    I suppose the present LDS system looks fairly English, with the FP drawn from a larger pool of apostles, much like the PM and executive ministers are drawn from a larger body of legislators in the English sytem. One might also note how much the Twelve’s present style of leadership exemplifies deference to seniority and a public show of unanimity on all issues, much the way traditional Japanese corporation committees approached institutional governance.

  11. Brits certainly don’t have a “problem” with the English constitutional approach. And there is certainly no reason, in my mind, to assume that the Church would be better off to follow the supposed American approach (if it really does not do so already, I’m still wondering whether I agree with Nate on that or not) rather than a more free-flowing, ad hoc English constitutional approach. This delves a little into a bigger issue, that of administrative policy in the Church versus straight out revelation (whether “canonized” in the standard works or modern, oral revelation of the Geneal Conference kind). If the GHI is really represents just uninspired policymaking that attempts to manage a growing and complex Church society, then maybe it should defer to D&C “constitutional” pronouncements. I missed the memo, though, on the hierarchy of “constitutional” sources in Latter-day Saint thought.

  12. Dave wrote What we call the First Presidency today is merely an executive committee of the Twelve.

    Which means that there are really 15.

  13. Within this formulatted compare/contrast between English and American systems isn’t one of the big differences the fact that we really don’t have a COnstitution or Magna Charta per se. While we stick to cannonized and Joseph Smith received revelations to a large extent it seems that at any moment the prophet has the ability to disregard much, maybe most (certainly not all) of the administrative framework of the Church. Meaning some would complain but if Pres. Hinckley completely reorganized the structure of both wards and stakes (through revelation) it would happen and most would think twice about it, talk about it but no more. It seems, esp. on an administrative level that modern revelation written or not trumps any written document (but perhaps I have stated that hyperbolically). One intersting rather empirical experiment might be to compare the changes in the temple administration and ceremony versus changes in general church admin/theology to see if practices established by canon (general church admin) changes less than non-canonized practices (temple ceremony). It would seem that this would get at whether we give cnanonized practices more or less authority than non-canonized practices. My hunch is that it would be about the same. Meaning the church generally has changed just about as much as the temple ceremony and thus (if the experiment actually shows anything) we are no more bound by canon than by adminstrative pronouncements such as the GHI when modern revelation comes into the picture.

  14. It seems obvious to me that “in terms of how things in this Church get done,” the GHI is what counts, not the scriptures. I’m surprised that this proposition would even be remotely controversial. (Furthermore, in determining doctrine I think books and manuals like “Gospel Principles” are more important than the scriptures, but that’s another topic.)

    The scriptures are only controlling to the extent that the leaders who write and revise the GHI (and give direction in other ways) feel compelled to follow them. I’m not sure whether they approach this task in terms of “constitutional interpretation.”

  15. Lyle, I wouldn’t say that. But that might be the more appropriate question here: whether proceeding under the GHI, or as Nate put it, under the English approach which blends canonized authority with practical (pragmatic) solutions into a hybrid “constitutional” system, is indeed ultra vires, and if it is, if that is even a bad thing theologically speaking.

  16. Yes, indeed interesting, Nate. And that’s only part of the complexity. Add to that the relation between missions and stakes as so many experience in the international church. Missions are comprised of member districts composed of branches. These do not always match with the missionary zones and missionary districts of the mission. If a stake is organized, branches become wards, but some may not be strong enough to do so and remain branches which may be under the stake jurisdiction, unless the mission keeps a member district with those branches, often within the geographical circle of the stake. Combine that with the quorums. And next compounded by all the various translations in other languages of our names for units and offices. And the amazing thing about it, is that it creates a certain great internal dynamic, but totally incomprehensible for the outsider.

    In Europe, of course, we feel perfectly comfortable with this state of things. We got used to an organizational complexity we cannot understand anyway. And as a Belgian, with four governments, three presidents, a couple of prime ministers, a king, three official languages, two communities, four regions, three capitals — well we can handle stakes, missions, districts, branches, zones and quorums.

  17. Great subject, Nate. Perhaps I can add one or two, or three points.

    First, the Church Handbook of Instructions is published by the Church directly for the specific purpose of Church Administration. It outlines the “how to’s” of administering Church policies and procedures. Because it is published directly by the Church, it can be considered scripture or revelation. It is the first line of defense, after the cannonized scriptures, for those in administrative positions from EQ president to the First Presidency.

    Second, because we believe in continuing revelation, it only makes sense that as the Church grows, revelation will dictate those changes necessary to govern that growth. The coming forth of the Area Authority Seventy is a prime example of this.

    Third, like the EQ President, the Bishop is also not the Presiding Elder of the ward. Rather, he is the Presiding High Priest of the ward. And while it is true that the EQ President, and the High Priest Group Leader are called and set apart by the Stake President, because they function within the boundaries of a ward, they are “subject” to the administration of the bishop; the bishop, on the other hand, is called by the First Presidency, through a stake president. For instance, technically speaking, an EQ President cannot call a home teacher and make assignments without first having obtained clearance from the Bishop. Because only the bishop is privy to the innermost secrets of the life of the members through confession and counselling, only the bishop has the ability to determine worthiness of a member within a ward to hold a calling.

    Fourth, we are taught throughout scripture and modern prophets that we are to be in the world, but not of the world. Why, therefore, would the Church necessarily follow any given secular form of government? Would we not follow the government established by the Savior, as it is, after all, his Church?

  18. It’s interesting to note, in speaking of the anarchy of church governance, that some of the ‘rules’ we take most for granted are not even rules at all. Nate has alluded to this. Take for example the rule that the First Presidency is composed of the senior apostle and two others from that quorum. And yet, at least three times since the church came to Utah, there have been counsellors in the first presidency who never attained apostolic status. In truth, there is no such rule at all.

    Our systems of succession and apostolic replacement are equally ephemeral. It is far from impossible that when President Hinckley dies, we could wake up and find that Richard G. Scott has been ordained the president of the Church. As well, when the next member of the quorum of the twelve dies, we might see five years without a successor named, or we might see the prophet choose an apostle that half of the quorum despises. The unanimity and consensus and “oldest living apostle” norms are all comforting and helpful, but even if a norm attains 99% of the time, it falls far short of offering the security that a binding constitution can offer.

    In short, there’s a world of distance between something we’re pretty sure is going to happen, and something we’re definitively bound to follow. And there’s more of the former than we think in the church. Good post, Nate.

  19. “Because it is published directly by the Church, it can be considered scripture or revelation”

    bwah ha ha ha! Tell me you are kidding, KK. That’s a gross misreading of the Handbook, even on its own terms. Sadly, that’s the mindset I lament in comment 5; too many local leaders take it to be scripture.

  20. Ryan, your inclusion of such traditions, which are another set of guidelines altogether (apart from the “constitution(s)” in the D&C and the administrative policy guidelines of the CHI), actually strongly supports Nate’s original suggestion that the Church structure is developing along similar contours as the English constitutional system. In the latter, mere tradition, or traditional ways of doing things, govern certain aspects of the constitutional structure despite being neither mandated by a charter document nor even provided for in administrative writ.

  21. Some historical notes:

    An ancestor’s journal includes regular references to attendance at quorum meetings (he was a 70), and almost no reference to attendance at ward meetings–in the SL valley between 1849 and 1860 or thereabouts. Sunday meetings were almost always held at the temple block, first in the bowery and then the old tabernacle. I don’t recall any references to bishops, even though the writer’s father had been a bishop in Winter Quarters.

    The old 70’s quorums were numbered. I vaguely remember references to numbered quorums in the late 50’s, early 60’s, but I don’t know if the quorums were wholly within stakes, or if they ignored stake boundaries.

    Speaking of 70’s, it wasn’t until October 1976 that the 70’s quorums were organized at the general church level. Before that time, there had been Assistants to the Twelve, dating from about 1941, and a First Council of the Seventy, who were the seven presidents of the 70’s quorums. All this despite what now appears to be the clear direction of Section 107 as to the organization of the 70’s quorums.

    I believe that much of church organization can be seen as the result of broad directions having been given to the prophets, but not much detail. Similar to the instructions about sacrament meetings: “as directed by the spirit” or priesthood meetings: quorum presidents are to “sit in council with [the quorum] . . . and teach them their duties according to the covenants.” Nothing at all about Sunday school or Relief Society or Primary.

    Do “as seemeth you good” is liberating, but extremely challenging, and I suspect that there are times that the glass seems more dark than others.

  22. Wilfried: Interestingly, the branch and district system of organization is older than the ward and stake organization. The church had organized branches with branch presidents (I believe that they were called “presiding elders”) in Joseph Smith’s day a good three or four decades before the ward-as-congregation model crystalized.

    Dave: You thesis about the FP is drawn, I am assuming, from Quinn, who is the one who makes the argument. It is interesting, but not without its faults. One of the obvious ones is that counselors in the FP need not be Apostles and frequently are not. Furthermore, the President calls his own counselors without imput from the Quorum of the Twelve. The notion that the Quorum of the Twelve sets apart the president of the Church, however, is as you point out, a post-section 107 phenomena. (Incidentally, while the Quorum of the Twelve became the governing council of the Church in 1844 the FP was not reorganized until several years later.) Interestingly, the only language in 107 about the calling of the FP is that it be composed of three high priests upheld by the faith and prayers of the church.

    I do think that ed, HL, Dave and others who claim that the revelations are irrelevant for Church government are overstating their cases. As I pointed out, the Quorum structure continues to follow the revelatory pattern, even though it does not make sense administratively. Church courts follow the revealed pattern, as does the structure of stake government — presidency and high counselors. Furthermore, the revelations are something that current prophets look to. For example, the abolition of the office of Assistants to the Twelve and the creation of the First Quorum of the Seventy was in part an effort to bring administrative structures within the revelations. The same is true of the transformation of regional representatives into “Area authority seventies.” Here is where the English example is instructive. There are certain elements of the English constitution that could, in theory, be abolished or changed by a simple act of Parliament. Yet these elements have such a powerful hold on the constitution that they are not changed — basic legal protections in Britian such as the rule against double jeapordy and trial by jury in criminal cases follow this model as do basic constitutional structures the prime minister and his cabinet. The tradition — and the documents that it is enshrined in such as Magna Carta — have a real constitutional force even if it is not easily formalized in terms of “controlling law.”

  23. A note on Seventies: During the succession crisis of 1844, Brigham and others ordained most the MP holders in the Nauvoo area as 70s. The reason was that Elders Quorums were under the jurisdiction of the stake president — who was hostile to the Twelve — and the 70s quorums were under the direct control of the 12.

  24. “Because it is published directly by the Church, it can be considered scripture or revelation.”

    If that’s the only criteria for being scripture or revelation, we are officially doomed.

  25. Great post, Nate! Actually, I think it is very fitting that there would be a lot to the way the church is run, even key aspects, that was not commanded by God in the sort of way that would be canonical. I think we need more : )

  26. The next time you hyenas are called to be bishops why don’t you take that silly little hand book and chuck it into fire, then get down on your knees and ask God what he’d have you do.

  27. Jack, what is the point of your post? Name-calling is certainly out of order. Also out of order, it seems to me, is the assumption that someone who believes that the Handbook of Instructions is not scripture or revelation (a comment that is not central to this thread) also believes that it is of no use and without any inspiration. The second of these may just be the result of hasty thinking. The first, however, is bad manners. Lighten up.

  28. Sorry for the name calling.

    I don’t think I was anymore “hasty” in my thinking than those who jumped all over Kelly’s comment. And furthermore, I find a strange bit of irony in a guy getting raked for elevating the handbook to something akin to scripture when the whole tenor of this thread suggests that cannonized scripture doesn’t really address current administrative needs.

  29. Steve and John,

    Having been a bishop, I can assure you that the CHI was my first line of defense, after the “cannonized” scriptures, for church administration. I had a copy with me almost always, and anytime a question would arise regarding a policy or procedure, I would open the volume that applied and follow the instructions. I new that if I did so, I would always be found within the bounds the Lord had set for His Church, and would be justified in the decisions I made.

    Quite frankly, I take great offense at your flippant responses. It would appear that neither of you have been in a position of administration in your wards, or you would understand. The First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles, together I am sure with a staff of full-time church employees, has pulled together the CHI in order to bring unity and uniformity to an ever growing church body. I doubt there is a bishop alive that will tell you they never read the CHI (or its predecessor) or followed its teachings.

    As for publications by the Church, and specifically by the Corporation of the First Presidency, (Now copyrighted by Intellectual Reserve, Inc.) being considered scripture, if you accept that the CHI was written by inspiration and the guidance of the Holy Ghost, and what the Holy Ghost speaks is scripture (see Doctrine and Covenants), then the CHI is scripture, albeit not cannonized.

  30. In the article “The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple” by Donald Q. Cannon, Larry E. Dahl, and John W. Welch, Ensign, Feb. 1989, 7, we read the following:

    “In addition to restoring ancient principles, Joseph Smith added new revelations to the body of scripture: the volume of sacred writ was not to be closed. Many of these revelations were communicated during regular conferences, then printed in official reports. Significantly, these revelations stand as scripture itself: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, … my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38.)

    “Thus, by experience and revelation, Joseph learned and taught (1) that scripture is nothing more or less than the word of the Lord, (2) that the book of God’s word is not closed, (3) that God speaks to all dispensations, (4) that scripture must be correctly understood through the spirit of truth, and (5) that the words of the Lord’s servants when moved upon by the Holy Ghost are scripture, too. (See 2 Pet. 1:20–21; D&C 68:4.)”

    D&C 68:4 “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”

    It is interesting to note the attitude of those living in some states at the time Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon. “These doctrines came into Joseph Smith’s world as radical ideas. Joseph’s Christian contemporaries accepted as scripture only the books of the Bible. They considered that volume to be a single, complete, and absolute source to be understood quite literally. Thus, the laws of the Massachusetts Bay Colony described the Old and New Testaments as “containing in them the infallible and whole Will of God, which he purposed to make known to Mankinde,” the denial of which was punishable by fines, whippings, banishment, or death. (ibid.)

    “The Palmyra Reflector warned Oliver Cowdery that he might be sent as a convict to the Simsbury Mines if he dared to proclaim [the Book of Mormon] message in ‘the principal cities of the Union.’” (ibid.)

  31. Kelly, I’ve been in plenty of “administration,” although it wasn’t during your year-long stint as bishop. If you want to take offense at my ridicule, well, that’s your right. I’d already apologized for my e-laughter. However, your statement is still ridiculous and doctrinally unsound.

    And here’s a little tip: “canonized” = made canonical. “cannonized” = shot out of a cannon. Now if you’re claiming that the Handbook is cannonized, I’m with you.

  32. I just read Jim F.’s comment. I agree that the point is not central to the thread and apologize for carrying forward with any threadjacking. (See that, Adam? That’s what apologizing should look like!)

    Nate, perhaps we can draw out your theory a little more, and speculate as to the causes for the current structure’s underpinnings. Why the hodge-podge? If we believe that the Lord guides every step in the forming of His Church, then it would seem to be to not be too difficult to accept some kind of deliberate design theory regarding Church administration: His hand can be seen in its workings. But how far are you comfortable taking that idea? Does it permeate every quorum, every policy?

    Perhaps the loose structure you’ve outlined has been done so as a counterbalance to the deliberate design theory. Let me explain: had there been a full-fledged single constitutional document, church leaders would then have less flexibility and capacity to adapt church structure and policy to suit current needs. As the church grew, our constitution might have proven too narrow. So, the Lord has deliberately designed a loose church structure, purposefully leaving plenty of blanks to fill and plenty of revelations to interpret as our church goes forward. The Lord’s hand, in other words, can be seen at times in his relative restraint.

    Sorry, for a moment I waxed almost poetic.

  33. I’m a little surprised that Kelly referred to the CHI as his first line of defense, after the scriptures. I no longer have a copy of the CHI, but my recollection was that its opening paragraphs stated that in fulfilling callings one was to take guidance from (1) the Spirit, (2) the CHI, and (3) the scriptures—in that order. (I’m sure someone can check me here.)

    In this connection, a stake president once remarked to me something along the lines of, `I try to do what feels right and trust that the Lord is guiding me through the Spirit. We have “the book” [holding up the CHI], but “the book” is just what we cling to when we don’t have the Spirit and are really unsure what to do.’ For him, I’m sure the scriptures came in a very distant third behind his own inspiration and (rarely) the CHI, for administration purposes.

  34. No one’s mentioned the talk by Elder Packer, “The Unwritten Order of Things” (PDF available from; Google for HTML versions). He extols the unwritten order, while saying it’s compatible with scripture. Maybe on the level of principles, as Elder Packer seems to argue, but definitely not specifics.

    I like that Nate’s post takes an hard-headed look at the specifics. The more common approach is to look at the scriptures, cherry-picking and prooftexting to find consistency of details between current and past doctrine and practice, showing little interest in understanding the scriptures on their own terms and in their own time. This tendency to look back nervously to the past for confirmation (and also cling to the present “book”) is a little strange, given our evident ability in practice to sweep all manner of things under the rug of Continuing Revelation. I guess it’s a symptom of a kind of institutional multiple personality disorder: we are The Restoration of New Testament Christianity (or even Adamic Christianity), and also the Utopian Kingdom which will Reveal and Implement All Things Not Yet Dreamt of in Your Philosophy.

    Joseph himself was able to manage this, shall we say, dichotomy much better than we have been able to since—and to bring others along with him. He seems to have had a protean ability to avoid being pinned down, in a way that makes `hard-headed looking at specifics’ seem—well, petty. His supreme confidence, majestic ideas and plans, and magnetic personality have a power to square the circle even to this day: “it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the gfoundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.”

  35. I’m sorry that I’ve come late to this post. This is an excellent topic – thank you Nate for initiating it.

    Although I don’t think that I would elevate the CHI quite to the level of scripture, I do otherwise agree with Kelly Knight’s post #21. And, in response to Jack’s #32, I think that rather than kneeling and asking the Lord what to do, a Bishop need only look at the CHI to learn what the Lord has already directed that he do.

    Speaking from my own experience, I also admit to usually carrying a copy of the CHI with me whenever I may be in an administrative position. (My wish is that I could get the CHI in some digital format so I could keep it on my PDA). However, I have always preferred to turn to the scriptures (the canonized ones) first, and to the CHI only when unsure of some administrivia, minutia or some other specific detail needs to be answered. I believe most other Bishops and Presidents do the same, even if they sometimes fail to communicate well the fact that the justification for some decision is based on the scriptures.

    Generally, the CHI offers guidelines for better understanding the principles set forth in the Standard Works, and is not a replacement for them. In addition, it removes ambiguity in specific guidelines for administration so that there is uniformity in the Church (as much as can be expected in our diverse, world-wide church). In some instances, it provides additional instructions not found in the scriptures because such provisions have become necessary in our day and age for legal or safety reasons. It also provides guidelines for such mundane tasks as how several wards share a building and who orders the sacrament cups.

    If there is a vital administrative or policy question that can not be answered by first turning to the scriptures, then the CHI becomes invaluable.

    Perhaps I’m not understanding what Nate has referred to, but I don’t see that there is a conflict between the canonical pronoucements from the Lord and the CHI or actual practice. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head in the CHI that is clearly opposed to the scriptures (that doesn’t mean there isn’t any). Quite the opposite, nearly every page of the CHI bases it’s principles on clear references to applicable scriptures.

    Scripture…? well, I don’t know if I’ll go that far, but I understand Kelly’s intent, and I agree that the CHI is absolutely vital.

    I also agree wholeheartedly with Steve Evan’s point about the loose-structure in #38, and add to it also the idea of an evolutionary restoration in Church government, rather than a revolution where the final organizational structures might have been laid out in pedantic detail pre-1844. I would also suggest that the evolution is not over, and thank God for continuing revelation.

  36. I wonder if Kelly or Jim could provide any examples where they used the scriptures to answer administrative or policy questions?

  37. Jim: I am not saying that there are direct conflicts, e.g. section 107 says that Elders Quorums may have 96 members but the CHI says that they may have 97 members. Rather, I am saying that there are logical or structural inconsistencies. It makes more administrative sense for the Bishop to call EQPs than for the Stake president to do so given the fact that functionally EQ act as units within a ward, much like the RS or the Primary. We stick with the revealed structure but it is now nested in an institutional context quite different than the institutional context that seems to be contemplated by section 107. Now I am willing to admit that I may be reading too much into section 107 here, but on my mind the text seems to contemplate a church institution primarily organized around priesthood quorums rather than congregational units.

    In this sense, our constitution is rather like the British. In many ways the formal structure of British government is monarchical and there are various idiosyncries — such as having the Queen read the government’s annual message to Parliament as though it were her own — that reflect this archiac formal structure. In reality, however, the UK is a well functioning liberal democracy. Read administrative power does not reside with the Crown or even with Parliament. It resides with the ministries and the government.

    As it happens, I am a huge admirer of the British constitution. It seems to work remarkably well. There are certain advantages to the American model (the first amendment provides better protection for freedom of the press than does the British constitution, for example), but there seems to be some real institutional staying power in the British embrace of anachronism (is that a word?). It simultaneously provides legitimacy, continuity and flexibility. The American constitution, by contrast, is much less flexible and I think that this can create problems that the English avoid.

  38. “…in response to Jack’s #32, I think that rather than kneeling and asking the Lord what to do, a Bishop need only look at the CHI to learn what the Lord has already directed that he do.”

    This was the point I was trying to make (though with an overly sarcastic tone). However, I agree with Christian in that the Spirit has primacy over any text – canonized or non.

    Oh, and while we’re on the subject of canonization, Steve, you better lump the whole of canonized scripture in the cannon shot category when it comes to church admin. as it is far more blunt and unexacting than the CHI while, at the same time, potencially more forceful in its intrumentality because of its canonized status.

  39. Nate,

    I know that you’re merely sharing your observations, but I wonder if part of the wisdom of keeping the elders and high priests under the jurisdiction of the stake president has do with accountability. Real stewardship, accountabilty, and judgement are functional only where priesthood keys are operative.

  40. It’s hard to think of a specific instance of using a passage from the scriptures to answer an administrative or policy question, even though it *seems* like there should be so many. Why should it seem so? Because whenever a question about *anything* comes up, in my mind at least, I first think to the scriptures… “where does it say that the Bishop only sets apart the SS President, not his counselors… hmmm… ” and then only when I can’t think of a specific section/verse, THEN I turn to the CHI.

    However, I think another factor that contributes to the *perception* that leaders use the CHI in preference to the scriptures is because the Standard Works are generally so much better understood by most members, as well as their interpretation and application. The principles contain within are well established and static. Questions about the policies in the scriptures are as likely to be raised – if at all – in GD class as in the clerk’s office, and among quorums, classes, or even informal gatherings, rather than in PEC meeting.

    However, the areas of Church goverment and practice that most members may be unaware of are usually those that remain only in the CHI – hence, the purpose for which it was written. Thus, a leader may be quick to quote the CHI, because the scriptures don’t say anything about missionaries not riding in a car without a MP holder present.

  41. Nate: Perhaps I am not fully appreciating the dichotomy between DC 107 and CHI (oversimplifying the symbols of the opposing sides) because I don’t necessarily agree that it makes more sense for the Bishop to call an EQP rather than the SP, simply because he presides in that sub-set of the Stake. As was mentioned before, the scriptures, do not talk about wards, but they do specifically talk about establishing Stakes of Zion. So, the misunderstanding is probably rooted in the perception of a single congregation (ward) being an autonomous organizational sub-unit, which it is not (although in practice it may appear to be).

    The ward is an administrative organizational unit of convenience. Ultimately, all local authority and Priesthood leadership is centered on the Stake Presidency and the High Council. I see the Bishop as an appendage to the Stake Presidency, specializing in temporal affairs, but also with the delegated authority to preside in spiritual matters. Even then, the Bishop’s authority in spiritual matters is limited, e.g. discliplining MP holders.

    In my mind, there would only be a conflict in the order of things IIF the Bishop did have delegated authority to call and set apart an EQP. If so, then the Bishop might be able to issue a call contrary to the wishes of the SP, who is the President of the MP and whose right it is to make such a call.

    The scope of Aaronic Priesthood structure is the ward – an administrative division with immediate authority for temporal affairs. Melchizedek Priesthood structure extends across the Stake. Just like a ward can have more than 1 Deacon’s or Teacher’s quorum (if the numbers justify it), the Stake has multiple Elder’s quorums. The SP is president of the one HP quorum in the Stake, who delegates limited authority to Group Leaders across geographic boundaries conveniently corresponding to wards.

    In a ward, the Priesthood offices which are appendages from the Stake are the Bishop, HPGL, and EQP. By revelation, the Bishop is President of the AP and a Common Judge in Israel. The EQP is President of the Elders in the local vicinity, but can not preside if another HP is present. The HPGL is the spokesman/representative of the SP to the HPs in the local vicinity, but does not preside because he is only a representative, does not hold keys, and is not a Common Judge. The Bishop is the one man of these three designated to preside. Perhaps it would be easier to see the flow of power from the Stake if the position of HPGL were eliminated and the Bishop presided and conducted the HPG in the Ward. However, the Bishop’s primary responsibility is to the AP and temporal affairs. He must divide his attention from this focus as little as possible, and so a HPGL is called to help shoulder this part of the Bishop’s burden.

    In the latter days, the Bishop is first a HP because only a HP holds authority to preside in all offices of the Church, and literal descendents of Aaron are not generally recognized in the Church today. A literal descendent of Aaron, in addition, does not have the authority to preside over an Elder, and so in practice, though he could be ordained to the office of Bishop, he could be not preside in a Ward. A HP is ordained to the office of Bishop in the Levitical Priesthood, set apart as President of the Priest’s Quorum (and the entire Aaronic Priesthood in the Ward), set apart as a Common Judge in Israel, as well as the Presiding High Priest in the ward. These several functions combine into one man, and it is not by the virtue of his ordination to Bishop that gives him the right to preside over the Melchizedek Priesthood in the ward, but it is his ordination as a High Priest and his setting-apart as Judge. Thus, both Temporal (Aaronic) and Spiritual (Melchizedek) authority is combined into one office, and separation of powers is eliminated.

  42. Here`s an example of using the scriptures to decide an administrative matter (used first, without an explanation to me, at least, when my father was a bishop, and later used by me, with the scriptural backup).

    The handbooks divide up AP responsibilities for the sacrament as follows: deacons pass it, teachers prepare it, priests bless it.

    The only basis in scripture for any of this is the priests blessing of the sacrament. See D&C 20.

    When I was a deacon, our ward (a BYU ward that my father was bishop of) had one deacon (me), no teachers, and a floor of Deseret Towers full of freshmen who were priests. (In those days, most young men were not ordained elders until just as they left on missions.) My dad assigned me to help prepare the sacrament, despite what the handbooks said.

    I have made the same assignment or instructed others to do so. In D&C 20, the list of the teachers` duties ends with “and are to be assisted in all their duties in the church by the deacons, when occasion requires.“

    Simple example, but it works to go back to the text, and follow it.

  43. I have similar example, Mark B. I was ordained a priest before I was 16 because we didn’t have any priests, and no one to bless the Sacrament (without jumping awkwardly from place to place) because there were only two people in the branch who were Melchizedek priesthood holders. It was my understanding that the branch ordained me at Elder Hinckley (“elder” then) suggestion, based on the fact that 16 wasn’t an age mandated by scripture.

  44. I think a case could be made that some of the early brethren expected an “American” constitutional model, but that things eventually evolved otherwise. For one thing, they took “common consent” seriously early on—I think this was one of David Whitmer’s beefs, I vaguely remember.

    But more interesting here is a case that might be made about Oliver Cowdery’s expectation of a Church carefully regulated by established, authoritative documents. This argument could be made based on the history of Sec. 20 and the Article on Marriage.

    Robert Woodford’s BYU dissertation on the textual development of the D&C discusses a document indicating that it was actually Oliver who first received and wrote a revelation on the Articles and Covenants of the Church. It was heavy on procedural matters, and a good part of it was later used in Sec. 20. Such Articles were common in churces at the time; perhaps it was Oliver’s impetus that started things off in this direction. A few months after the organization of the Church, Oliver had a dispute with Joseph over additions Joseph made to what is now D&C 20:37, showing Oliver’s commitment to the established and agreed-upon constitutional text.

    The Article on Marriage (and the one on governent) were apparently written by Oliver, and voted upon in a conference in Joseph’s absence for inclusion in the 1835 D&C. The text of the Article and later Utah commentary strongly suggest that it was Joseph’s early experimentation with polygamy that brought the Article into existence. Oliver apparently thought a document formally accepted by the Church would be sufficient to bind Church practices (including Joseph’s behavior). How wrong he was! Joseph was later said to have been much displeased. He let the publication stand, and indeed the Article persisted in the D&C until the 1870s; subsequent developments, of course, show how free we became in (not) following the American model of strict adherence to `constitutional documents.’

  45. The Article on Marriage was not treated as a regular revelation, though. It was never included as a numbered section of the Doctrine of Covenants, right? The Lectures on Faith were also included in early version of the D&C, even though they also were not considered revelations.

  46. Agian, I stand by the argument that I made earlier, that what is spoken or written when moved upon by the Holy Ghost is scripture. Thus, the canonized (sorry for earlier misspellings) standard works are scripture, as well as that which is authorized and published directly by the Church, the Corporation of the First Presidency, or IRI. Therefore, the CHI is scripture, albeit not readily available to the general membership.

    Mark B gave the same example I would give, that of deacons being able to help prepare the sacrament under the direction of a teacher, priest, or MP holder. One might also consider the direction given in D&C 20, 84, 128, and others that describe various offices within the priesthood and how those offices are to be fulfilled.

    As for the question on wards, though we have very little in scripture about wards, Section 128 of the D&C refers to the wards of the city (Nauvoo) and the need for each to have a recorder to keep track of events within the ward.

    Lastly, administratively speaking, the duties and responsibilities of various offices or auxilaries (sp?) are outlined in the standard works, while the methodology of administration is outlined in the CHI.

  47. Given the role of the CHI as scripture or quasi-scripture in the modern church, it is ironic that the reformers of the past had to begin their work by campaigning to make the bible available to non-clergy. It seems surprising to me that distributing the CHI is restricted in much the same way now as distributing the bible used to be. There are probably good reasons for the current policy, and at least it isn’t accompanied by the severe consequences that used to go with unauthorized distribution of the bible.

  48. Jim, I do think it fairly clear the the Lectures weren’t considered revelations. (Especially since only one of them appears to have been primarily written by Joseph) They may have been based upon revelation. They may even have been viewed as having some inspiration. But I don’t see how they could have been viewed as revelation the way the rest of the D&C was. (Well, acknowledging that some sections of the D&C also aren’t revelation in the normal sense of the term)

  49. So Kelly argues (#21) that the CHI, which is unavailable to the general membership, and goes through various revisions requiring old copies to be destroyed, “can be considered scripture or revelation.”

    On the other hand, Frank (#53) says that the Lectures on Faith and Article on Marriage, which appeared in the D&C for decades, “weren’t considered revelations.” One should also note that there are many sections in the current D&C that are introduced as epistles, instructions, etc., rather than “revelations.”


  50. Thanks for the examples, Mark and Jim.

    I note that in these cases the scriptures were used not to see what they prescribed, but simply to allow something they didn’t explicity prohibit.

    I’m beginning to think Nate’s original post has it exactly right.

  51. I am curious why it is the form of evolution of the documents that is receiving the most attention and not the content or purpose.

    For example, a fundamental notion of the American constitution is the doctrine of the separation of powers and its use to prevent tyranny.

    I am interested, Nate, in your take on the relative effectiveness of English constitution in preventing tyranny and continuing the analogy into what elements in the Church “constitutional” structure prevent the excerise of unrighteous dominion.

  52. Kelly: Agian, I stand by the argument that I made earlier, that what is spoken or written when moved upon by the Holy Ghost is scripture.

    I think this is an important idea, but I take away some different possibilities than Kelly does.

    Kelly seems to think this implies that every single `authorized’ or `official’ publication or utterance constitutes scripture, apparently based on the assumption that no `authorized’ or `official’ publication or utterance would ever be made without being “moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” I think the long history of changes and reversals in the innumerable list of `official’ policies and pronouncements makes this untenable; not even the rug of Continuing Revelation is big enough to cover all that.

    The more interesting implication of D&C 64:4 is the possibility that there may be things in the canon that are not scripture. Canonization is a relatively narrow concept: it’s whatever is accepted by a sustaining vote of the Church as `standard’ for doctrine and practice—whether explicitly presented as revelation or not. In contrast, scripture is not determined by what is voted on, or what is bound in leather; it is determined only by what is given by the Holy Ghost.

    Hence, for example, many would argue that up to 1870s the Article on Marriage was canonized, but was never scripture; and that Sec. 132 was scripture even before it was canonized.

    Similarly, President Hinckley can say to news interviewers that Lorenzo Snow’s couplet is `not doctrinal’ (i.e. not canon), because neither the couplet nor the King Follett discourse have been canonized by sustaining vote. However, it is almost certain that he believes the content of the couplet is Scripture.

  53. Christian, without going back through my posts and checking for sure, I believe I mentioned not only D&C 64, but also D&C 1. It is obvious that an interview on Larry King does not hold the same weight as a conference talk, or an official declaration or proclamation made over the signature of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles. However, we learn from D&C 1 that what the Lord has spoken, he has spoken, and all of his words shall not “pass away”, whether by his own voice, or be the voice of his servants, it is the same.

    I suspect that few of us would consider the Lord’s words as less than scripture, and I choose to believe that what is published by the Church as doctrine, policy, or procedure, including the CHI, is scripture. I am quite certain, though obviously I have no way of verifying it personally, that before the CHI is revised, or policy changes are sent to ammend the CHI, they are carefully considered and the guidance of the Lord is sought prior to publication. Thus, they are the will of the Lord, the mind of the Lord, and ought to be given the same weight and consideration as the standard works.

    Ed suggests that change or revision is a bad thing. However, this is the “true and living” church, and as such would of course have changes to suit the needs of the present membership. I don’t think that the youth of Joseph Smith’s day need the “For Strength of Youth” booklet describing the need to avoid short skirts, pornography, and other issues that are particular to today’s youth. Therefore, we have continuing revelation and direction from the Lord through the prophets to guide us “in these latter-days”.

  54. Ed,

    There are now and always have been revelations or scripture that God does not wish to be made publically available. The most blatant of these is probably the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.

    Also, our current standard workds contain all sorts of things which are not scripture and are not canonized. The biggest example would probably be the Bible Dictionary or its more recent, smaller, incarnation in some triples. Thus there is a history for including “bonus material” in the books containing the revelations of God.

    And the D&C actually is pretty explicit that deacons are to assist teachers in all their duties, thus the example really is a positive scriptural one.

    I think Christian is right in noting that there is a distinction between canon and scripture. Since I don’t know the history of the Article on Marriage, I couldn’t guess whether it ever made it to being canon. I tend to think of canon as related to binding covenants on the Church, but I have no particular basis for that view.


    In general, I understand your frustration that the current D&C does not seem to lay out the full ecclesiastical structure of the Church, and in some cases it actually doesn’t seem to even be followed. On the other hand, I am often surprised by a visiting authority who brings together a couple of passages of scripture and shows how this is what we are doing. So I am reluctant to go as far as you in saying that we ignore the canonized stuff in favor of other things. I think the people who think about this stuff all the time perhaps can draw more connections than we see.

    I could take issue with your characterizations above as well. You consider the quorum structure “archaic”. But really, you’re just saying it is old. Bishops are Presiding High Priests over the wards, thus their dominance, which fits perfectly the revelations. And all the stuff about Quorums not reporting to the Bishop solely, you seem to view as the unfortunate mixing of the old and new, but isn’t that how any institution looks; the mixing of the old and new? Surely it is overblown to say that we ignore the D&C’s revelations, though it is true that they do not contain every part of the current Church. The Constitution does not mention the FCC. The D&C does not mention the Relief Society. But we have other documents that establish the FCC and the Relief Society, and we view those documents as authoritative.

  55. Frank: You are misunderstanding me. I do not view the current “constitutional law” of the Church as unfortunate. I don’t even think that we “ignore” the revelations. As I have been at pains to make clear and as others have pointed out, the revelations have some real administrative bite. Furthermore, I don’t think that by and large the current structure contradicts the revelations, although I think that it is often based on an administrative logic at odds with the administrative logic of the revealed texts. Look, I am a lawyer. I read a text that provides a bunch of rules and institutional structures, and I immediately begin trying to think about the logic that holds these rules and structures together, where there are gaps, and how those gaps might be filled out based on that logic. Taking this approach to constitutional revelations in the Church — e.g. sec. 107 or sec. 20 — you would not arrive at the current administrative structure. I don’t think this is a problem, but I do think that it is interesting. We are in this situation where the revelations do not determine the institutional structure the way that the first three articles of the US Constitution determine the institutional structure of the federal government. At the same time, it is wrong, I think, to claim that the revelations just don’t matter and church administration has developed willy-nilly without any reference to canonized texts. How do we think about this? That is my question.

    As for archiac, I mean more than simply “old.” I mean that they are manifestations of a previous institutional structure, one that does fit completely comfortably within the administrative imperitives of the current structure. Again, I don’t think that there is anything “wrong” with this. The British constitution is no “wrong” because the unity of legislative and executive power ultimately rests on the archaic fiction that the king is running the country. The Westminster model has been a much more successful template for liberal democracy world wide than has been the American model.

  56. Martin: You ask an interesting question, but I am not sure that is is the right one. You assume that the primary purpose of institution making is to protect individuals from abuse. This is certainly central to liberal political theory and the mythos of the American constitution. However, it is far from obvious that this is the only or even primary criteria by which insitutions should be judged. Admittedly, we have the language of “unrighteous dominion,” which we can translate into liberal terms of tyranny, rights, etc. etc. I am not convinced, however, that this is exactly what the concept is about. For example, sec. 121 doesn’t seem to cast the problem of unrighteous dominion in institutional terms at all. It talks about it in terms of priesthood and its presence or absence. This may be linked to institutional structures and concerns, but not obviously so.

    If you read the Oath and Covenant of the priesthood, it is largely about relating current priesthood holders back through stories to primal, archetypal priesthood holders — Adam, Moses, etc. In these terms, it seems to me that the institutional purpose of the priesthood is — in large part — to create continuity between modern priesthood holders and ancient priesthood holders. The goal is less to model institutional structures on scriptural templates or according to modern (liberal) concerns with administration (or rights) than to place priesthood holders inside the scriptural narrative itself. The point is that the institutions are supposed to provide us with a space in which we experience God and his authority with the same immediacy as did the ancients.

    This may provide a functional account of “Mormon constitutionalism.” The church is an institution in the here and now with particular administrative imperitives that must be accomodated. At the same time, it must maintain the continuity between dispensations that was established in the founding, constitutional revelations. I suspect that this is what accounts for what I am calling its “Englishness.”

  57. I understand your point, Kelly, and please don’t mistake my intention, but I’m still not ready to elevate the CHI to the level of scripture. I believe in the value of the CHI and use it regularly (I’m going to check on the page number for your Sacrament Meeting prayer guidelines when I get a moment – maybe during lunch), but it is only a tool for understanding/implementing Truth, not a source of Truth itself.

    We seem to agree on the idea that there is scripture, and then there is scripture. However, your criteria for categorizing scripture, seems to allow only 2 or 3 discrete levels – canonical, non-canonical, and maybe Larry King. I think I would suggest more of continuum, based on some theoretical measure of “purity” or “clarity”. The revelations that are accepted as being sufficiently “pure” end up being canonized. Some pronoucements (Family Proclamation) may not be canonical, but certainly acceptable as scripture. Other spiritual impressions may fall so far away from the canonical threshold that they are no longer in the range of what could be described as “scripture”. 3 discrete pigeonholes, however, do not allow such fine resolution.

    Here’s a personal example (which may not be helpful… we’ll see). When I was in the MTC, I struggled quite a bit. I was not fully prepared for a mission, and I was trunky (fortunately, the minute we touched down in Japan, I was over it – being a Pacific away brings reality home pretty well). One of the reasons I was trunky is because of a girl (no surprises here, huh?).

    I remember vividly sitting in class, supposedly learning Japanese verb conjugations or whatever, but my mind really was on Tina. I suddenly felt a powerful rush – like warm wind, except it moved *through* my chest, not around me. Picture the scene on the island with the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Arc (except my face didn’t melt). I was so surprised, I over-reacted and nearly fell out of my chair. The feeling was so strong, my eyes were moistened, and when I recovered, I had the clear impression that Tina was going to wait for me. I was walking on cloud 9 the rest of that week.

    (This story is extremely embarrassing, but it is all true, and I share it only because A) it is germane and B) doing so may prove to be cathartic).

    Of course, she didn’t wait for me. In fact, she dated some cute guy “bad boy” (think Colin Farell), ended up unable to be married in the Temple, and she never wrote me in Japan – not even once.

    As a missionary, I think I qualified as a servant of the Lord. I was moved upon by the Spirit, in fact, that is probably one of the top 5 most unmistakable spiritual experiences of my life. But, the impression I received was not scripture.

    Other than the Standard Works and Conference talks, I hesitate to label anything as scripture. In fact, I am hesitant even to regard Conference talks by anyone other than the FP or 12 as scripture, though I do enthusiastically support the 70, Presiding Bishopric, General RS Presidency, etc. Furthermore, I recognize that not even the 12, or even Pres. Monson, can make an official pronoucement of doctrine for the entire Church. Only Pres. Hinckley can do that. The Family Proclamation, however, was issued by the entire group of Prophets, Seers, and Revelators, and not President Hinckley alone. In addition, I am fully aware that even our canonical scriptures, despite being the most correct books, are not infallible – Moroni and Joseph Smith both acknowledged mistakes in the BoM.

    So for me, the CHI probably falls on the continuum somewhere between Education Week and the Gospel Doctrine manual… probably after True to the Faith, but before Gospel Principles…

  58. Ed,

    I think that you’ve mischaracterized the relationship of the scriptures to the handbook in the instances that Jim F. and I raised. In Jim’s case, it wasn’t a matter as to which there was no specific prohibition–it’s a case where the scriptures are completely silent (unless you look to John the Baptist’s being ordained “in his mother’s womb” as an example of the earliest age at which one could be ordained a priest. In the case I cited, D&C 20 is explicit in authorizing deacons to assist teachers in all their duties in the church, where occasion requires.

    Now, granted, preparation of the sacrament is not a duty prescribed in the canon, but it is a duty assigned to the teachers by the leadership of the church. My point is that the scriptures, read together with that assignment, lead to the result I described.

  59. I was mainly trying to extend the argument and agree with you, that, OF COURSE, the institution of the Church is unAmerican constitutionally.

    I didn’t assume that the primary purpose of institution making was to prevent people from abuse, I assumed that any comparison of the American constitution with another would contrast what you call the “mythos” of the American constitution with the “mythos” of the other (God save the King, anyone?).

    Another perspective I would like to point out is that there are too many “musts” in your last paragraph. It is in the interest of lawyers, particularly american ones, to overrate the value of continuity and underrate the value of revolution. But I think I recall that Jefferson is not your favorite founding father.

  60. Kelly: I also recall you referring to Sec. 1, and I don’t dispute that verse 38 means that when the Lord chooses to speak through his servants it’s as good as if the Lord himself had spoken. But it is a logical fallacy to assume that this implies the Lord is speaking whenever his servants speak (if A therefore B does not imply if B therefore A).

    Remember another key concept from Sec. 1 (verses 19-20): “that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord,” and consider it in light of D&C 64:4. Because Scripture is defined as what is given by the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Ghost is experienced only on an individual basis, it is necessary that each individual judge what is Scripture according to the Holy Ghost. To simply accept every word of the servants as Scripture without obtaining the ratifying Holy Ghost is “trusting in the arm of flesh,” and constitutes a violation of D&C 1:19-20.

    This is the right, nay, responsibility of each individual. It’s not to say that we have to verify every jot and tittle of the handbooks by the Holy Ghost; we can go along with it as something that is probably OK with the Lord most all the time. But it is a serious matter to decide (even for ourselves) that something is “the word of the Lord,” Scripture, and something we ought not to decide in blanket fashion without the Holy Ghost. Instead, we should recognize that much of what we receive represents the servants’ best judgment, which may be fine with the Lord most of the time, but is not necessarily Scripture.

  61. Nate: We are in this situation where the revelations do not determine the institutional structure the way that the first three articles of the US Constitution determine the institutional structure of the federal government.

    I agree with this.

    “For example, it makes more sense given the current administrative structure for bishops to call Elders quorum presidents just as it makes more sense to have a high priests quorum in each ward.”

    This is less obvious to me. I understand that it messes with the pretty flow chart, so if by “making more sense” you mean “making a prettier flow chart”, then I agree.

  62. Frank: The flow chart point is not primarily aesthetic. Bureacratic organizations function best when their are clear lines of authority and areas of responsibility. The Quorum strucuture of the creates dual lines of authority and overlapping areas of responsbility without clear hierarchies. I am not saying this is a big administrative problem. Actually, things run quite well. However, it is inconsistent with the basic administrative logic of the current organization. Again, this doesn’t make it “wrong.” There is more to the world than administrative logic.

  63. Nate:

    I think you are suggesting that it makes more sense for Bishops to call EQP and HPP because you are considering the Ward to be the basic organizational structure of the institutional church(I’m not going to get into family being the basic unit). This may appear to be so because the generic term “congregation” is usually synonymous with “Ward” and weekly congregational meetings include Sacrament Meeting in the Ward. However, based on revelation, I believe the basic organizational unit of the institutional church is the Stake.

    So, I don’t think it makes more sense for a Bishop to call the EQP or add a new HPP to the ward. I think of the ward as a dependent, administrative sub-unit, not the seat of autonomous spiritual authority.

    So, in order to reconcile the organization with actual practice, perhaps it would make more sense to shrink the size of wards and make more services available at the Stake level.

  64. I don’t think this is true. In fact, I am offended so deeply that I may weep at any moment.

  65. One last comment on the Lectures on Faith: Woodford’s dissertation also clearly shows—based on the descriptive pages before the Lectures on Faith and what are now the “Sections” in the 1835 D&C—that the “Doctrine” was the Lectures on Faith, and the “Covenants” were what are now the “Sections”. Hence the current retention of the name “Doctrine and Covenants” is anachronistic since what was originally called the “Doctrine” (i.e. Lectures on Faith) is no longer there.

    My guess is that one reason the Lectures were removed was that some of the descriptions of God sound more like the creedal formulations than Joseph’s later, more anthropomorphic concept of God that became standard.

  66. “The church is an institution in the here and now with particular administrative imperitives that must be accomodated. At the same time, it must maintain the continuity between dispensations that was established in the founding, constitutional revelations.”

    This is the best distillation of your post, or of any post, that I’ve seen. So much about the church is contained in these two sentences.

    Steve E., on apologizing:
    You do make excellent apologies, I admit. It must be the practice . . .

  67. Jim- hajimemashita. 1978 kara 1980 ni Nagoya ni dendo shimasta. However, I have forgotten most of my Japanese. Fortunately, I have not forgotten an experience similar to yours, though more to do with my personal testimony of Joseph Smith. Perhaps I will write about it on my blog.

    In reality, I find that I agree with you largely, but still hold that the CHI can be considered scripture. I don’t think that teaching “truth” is the requirement, but rather, the source of the information.

    Christian, I learned a very important lesson on my mission. We had, for the first year I was out, made it a practice to tract only houses. At the beginning of my second year in country, we had a new mission president come out. Shortly thereafter, he changed the policy of tracting and asked that we start doing mostly street tracting. In addition, we were to ask only one question: “If you found God’s true church, would you join?” If the answer was affirmative, we taught them the Joseph Smith discussion on the street and made an appointment for the next discussion at their home. If the answer was negative, we said a polite thank you, and went on our way.

    This new approach met with some disdain and uncertainty by many missionaries, including yours truly. Street tracting was “scarey” and the last thing I wanted to do. At this same time, however, I was called to be a DL, given a new companion, and sent to a new area to each of us (there were missionaries there but we replaced one whole companionship). There and then I had to take a decision that would change my outlook on listening to the counsel of church leaders. My companion and I decided that, even though we didn’t necessarily like the idea, we would obey the MP. The results were outstanding. In fact, in his three year period, baptisms increased 800% in the mission, and the retention level was in the high 70’s as I recall.

    I don’t know if the MP was inspired or not, or whether he took this decision because he saw it used elsewhere. What I do know is that the results spoke for themselves, and that the “reward” came, not as a result of the method necessarily, but because of our willigness to listen to and obey the counsel of one of the Lord’s servants. The promise to us was the same, whether the Lord told us to street tract, or the MP did.

    Perhaps those who are fathers in the audience will support this. I have found, and marvelled over, a number of times when my children needed advice that I didn’t know how to give. In many cases I “shot from the hip”, but in virtually every instance where my children have listened to the advice, even apprehensively, I was right! The evidence of that is that my children were blessed for their obedience, whether my advice was necessarily accurate or not.

    I hope that made sense…

  68. hmmm…. I hesitate to bring this up because it could branch us way off topic…

    As you are probably aware, Kelly, missionary work in Japan suffered a severe setback in the late 70s-early 80s. The setback, however, would not be immediately obvious by looking strictly at the records. Huge numbers of Japanese were baptized at functions euphemistically called “bath parties” or “American clubs”. To this day, Japanese Stakes have records of individuals who do not recall ever attending Sacrament Meeting, or don’t even know what the BoM is. This huge runup was immediately prior to the dedication of the Tokyo Temple (in 1980), and was instigated in part, in order to justify a Temple by exploding conversion numbers.

    My father in law – Jiro Numano (some of the Sunstoners here might recognize his name) – publishes a local member newsletter in Japan, was a member during that period, and has extensively studied the period. He made a presentation about this at a Sunstone Symposium a year or two ago about this (although it was very poorly attended… I guess a Japanese scholar talking about conversion trends in 1970 Japan is just not as interesting of a topic as women in the Priesthood).

    Anyway, I’m not suggesting that you baptized anyone who was not adequately prepared, nor that your MP was part of the culture of leadership that contributed to this massive breakdown in missionary work.

    However, the fact is that there were servants of the Lord who spoke – ostensibly by the power of the Holy Ghost – and a terrible spiritual tragedy was committed.

    Were the directives to baptize Japanese individuals as a prerequisite to taking Eikaiwa scriptural as well?

    This is yet another reason why I tend to reserve the classification of “scripture” to specific pronouncements made by the President of the Church, and the mere fact of having been under a state of spiritual inspiration when saying or writing something does not qualify it as scripture.

    (Eikaiwa is English conversation class, for all of you who were not fortunate enough to be called to serve in the land of the rising sun. It was intended to be a form of free community service for a very education-minded society, besides being a great way to break the ice in a typically closed society. In the time period I’m talking about students were required to have a cold dunking in something that resembled a Japanese bath as an initiation into the “English Club”. I forget the term the Japanese saints use for this period – I’ll have to ask Jiro to remind me – it’s something that when translated basically means “the dark times”.)

  69. Jim Richins —

    Is any of your father-in-law’s research on that period available online? I’d be very interested in seeing it.

    You can email at rbi at cs dot duke dot edu.

  70. I don’t have a copy with me, although since writing that post I’ve decided I need to get a hold of him and get a copy myself.

    If you just google him, you should find 2 or 3 references for stuff that he has done along these same lines.

  71. One comment about the Tokyo Temple. The temple was announced in a regional conference held August 1975. That was a year or two before the time that you’re describing Jim.

    Now, perhaps Pres. G (shouldn’t name names, should we?) felt that preparation for the temple should result in a rush of baptisms, but it wasn’t needed as an encouragement to the brethren to make the decision to build the temple. That decision had already been made.


    You might talk to your father’s partner, who went to Japan as MP in the early 80’s. He mentioned to me once that part of his responsibility was to try to “clean up the mess.”

  72. Mark B. —

    I’ve heard various things from various people — My mom’s dad was a mission president in Osaka in the early 80s as well, and I’ve heard report from others as well. I’ve never talked to my dad’s partner about it, though. Thanks for the pointer.

    I’m mostly interested in hearing from someone who has arm’s-length distance from the situation (or at least a hand’s breadth).

    Back to your regularly scheduled programming now. We can talk about this somewhere else some other time.

  73. Kelly, for me the examples you describe fall in the category I previously described as “the servants’ best judgment, which may be fine with the Lord most of the time, but…not necessarily Scripture.”

    I think we see differently the purpose God would have in sending us here.

    I think the purpose would be for us to learn how to judge and apply Truth relatively independently. I see the leaders’ counsel as sort of like the answers in the back of a math book. Even if they’re correct, their primary value is to help validate what you’re learning to work out on your own. Simply copying the answers from the back of the book doesn’t prepare you to do math on your own—just like being an automatic follower doesn’t prepare you to deal with your own worlds in eternity. And occasionally, the answers in the back are wrong. You don’t know until you work it through yourself.

    From what I can tell, you seem to think God just sent us here to learn to blindly obey. I fail to see what purpose that would serve us in eternity.

  74. Mark,

    You are correct about the timing of the Tokyo Temple. I was not careful enough when I described that period. I’m going off of (faulty) memory of what Jiro said in his symposium presentation.

    I, too, hope that the Japanese baptism run up can be discussed at another time. Maybe I can even get my father in law to participate. I will convert him to T&S, though a secret initiation won’t be necessary.

  75. Jim,

    While what you say about the Japanese run-up to the Temple dedication may be true for some missions, or maybe the Tokyo missions, not once did I ever hear from the MP, the MA’s, a zone leadere, or anyone who might even remotely be aware, that we were pushing for baptisms for the purpose of the temple. Personally, I had only 12 baptisms my whole mission, which was somewhat normal for my time 78-80. As for Eikaiwa, we stopped holding classes because we found that largely, they were a waste of time. Same with basketball.

    Christian, you wrote “From what I can tell, you seem to think God just sent us here to learn to blindly obey. I fail to see what purpose that would serve us in eternity.” Absolutely not what I believe. What I do believe, however, is that as we learn to listen to our leaders in the direction they give us, and CHOOSE to obey, we are blessed for that obedience.

    I assure you that I am one of the more rogue members ever to occupy the seat of a bishop. I lasted one year, partly do to the fact that I questioned some of the SP’s policies. Though those questions did not rise to the level of any kind of court, the SP became somewhat frustrated with my relentless persuit of some ideas. When the opportunity came to split up one of the sister wards in my building, the decision was taken to have the bishop of that ward remain, and release me (Oddly enough, as presently constituted, the new ward consists 90% of members from my ward, and 10% from the other ward. If you look at the boundaries of the new ward, it seems evident that they were extended and construed so as to bring in the other bishop.)

    Mind you, I am fine with this decision. I now teach the Young Adult Sunday School class and couldn’t be happier. So, to say that I promote blind obedience would be a misnomer. Rather, I believe that we will be blessed for our obedience, which obedience comes of faith that in the end, God is in control ultimately, and will take into consideration the human frailties of our leaders and ourselves.

  76. Now, I have a question for whomever chooses to answer, hopefully many will. This question is asked in all sincerity out of a true desire to understand. When I was involved in apologetics, I would ask questions of others from other religions wanting to understand their position so I could more accurately articulate my own position.

    Here it is: If one is so unwilling to accept the guidance and direction our leaders give, or call into question the voracity of the lessons they teach (Elder Packer’s story of the missionary punching his companion being a concocted story, for instance), why does one remain active in such an obviously flawed religion?

    It seems to me that one would want to disassociate one’s self rather than live in the apparent misery it brings. If one is so unhappy, why stay?

    I am serious about my desire to learn the answer to this. In fact, I will go so far as to not even comment on the answers, I will simply read them for understanding and move on no criticism, no debate.

  77. Jim,

    If you are interested, I would be happy to host a discussion of the Japanese run-up on my personal blog. I would find it interesting to learn about as this is the first I have actually ever heard of it.

    If this suites you, let me know. My blog is

  78. Kelly, to a certain extent you need your own thread for this, so you may want to establish one on your own blog.

    This issue has been explored to a certain extent at BCC, here. Generally, the conclusion is that all religions are flawed to some degree. But this Church possesses the power of God despite its weaknesses — therefore, where else should one turn? Moreover, not everyone believes in a take-it-or-leave-it church; that is, it’s entirely possible for people to pick those aspects of the Church they like, and remain active, happy mormons. To a certain extent, all of us do this — some just more so.

    Does that help?

  79. Bryce, one link to Jiro’s writing is

    Sorry, I don’t know how to do html.

    Jim, I found the article by Jiro interesting, but was surprised at the number of similarities to the ward in which I am a member. Jiro makes the point that many wards have attendance down around 150. While bishop, our attendance was averaging 122 each week (with total membership around 430). Jiro makes a point that much of this can be accounted to what I think he calls outmigration. Same here. In fact, there is one ward in north Phoenix we affectionately call Holiday Park North because so many of its members are the children of members who live in our ward but chose to move out (we call this “white flight”, an indication of the significant increase of Hispanics in this part of town. Our stake has two Spanish Wards that are growing, while the English wards are shrinking. As the Hispanic influence in business, food, culture increase, whites are looking for an escape to surroundings reflective of a white culture. Personally, I call this natural selection). Not to mention that in the 10 years I have been in this ward, perhaps as few as 25% of the current membership was here 10 years ago.

    I guess my point is that, while the modernization of Mormonism to suit a Japanese culture would be a good thing, (I never understood celebrating the 24th of July in Japan), many of the problems extant in Japan are universal, and perhaps a discussion could be held to determine how to overcome these universal problems, while at the same time adapting the church (sans a change in doctrine, covenants, policy) to a local, more cultural level.

    It might be kept in mind, however, that the reason Elders Oaks and Holland are in the Phillipines and Chile respectively is that the Church, left to local control, was slipping from its foundation into the local cultural abiss.

  80. It seems like we have branched off onto one or more tangents. That was exactly what I feared might happen, and why I was hesitant to post my #77. I decided to forge ahead and post because Kelly had mentioned the 800% increase in 1978-1980 Japan, and I felt that that particular example is as far from being persuasive evidence of the REAL topic as you can get. In fact, I still believe it underscores my sub-point, which is that the definition of scripture can not be limited to having been moved upon by the Holy Ghost. This sub-point itself is intended only to support my contention that the CHI should not be considered scripture, and that this does not in any way reduce its value or utility in the Church.

  81. Jim,

    I suppose the you and I will have to agree to disagree on this matter. You will continue to see the CHI as useful, but not scripture, while I will continue to see the CHI as essential and scripture.

    The conversation, though, has been most useful in helping me understand the various positions that members of the Church take on this important topic. Thank you.

  82. The funny thing is – there is also that which is ‘scripture and not useful’ regarding church administration or any number of other areas of concern. I guess it boils down to definitions.

  83. Kelly,

    Perhaps, it’s a stretch to say “not useful in any way whatsoever” which I think may be implied in my comment. However, the scriptures are not as useful as they use to be with regard to church administration. It is simply impossible to build the current administrative structure based upon the information set forth in the D&C alone. It is also impossible to address the many current welfare or moral problems that plague us today by simply turning to the scriptures. (as I’m sure has been true in every age to some degree)

    At any rate, I was being a little silly when I reversed what you said in response to Jim – that is “…to see the CHI as useful, but not scripture”. (which I think is a correct assessment of Jim’s view on the matter) So, my question is: what constitutes an “inspired” text, that which is scripture but not useful, or that which is useful but not scripture? Hence my question about “definitions”.

  84. Jack,

    Again I go back to a previous post and quote from the February 1989 Ensign “Thus, by experience and revelation, Joseph learned and taught (1) that scripture is nothing more or less than the word of the Lord, (2) that the book of God’s word is not closed, (3) that God speaks to all dispensations, (4) that scripture must be correctly understood through the spirit of truth, and (5) that the words of the Lord’s servants when moved upon by the Holy Ghost are scripture, too. (See 2 Pet. 1:20–21; D&C 68:4.)”

    If the CHI provides direction in the administration of the Lord’s Church, and the guidance of the Lord was sought by the General Authorities is the compilation of the CHI, then items 1 and 5 above both apply, and the CHI should be considered scripture.

    If the CHI was written soley on a whim, based on personal bias of the writer(s) without any direction from the Lord, then yes, I would agree that it is “useful but not scripture”. But I don’t believe this, and I really don’t believe that you believe this.

  85. “…and I really don’t believe that you believe this”

    You’re right. However, I do believe that documents such as the CHI are far more transient in their usefulness than canonized scripture. So, I think the real question is: what constitutes canonized scripture and how does it differ from other inspired texts or pronouncements?

    I think answering this question may help in bringing together the extreme ends of this argument – one end being fundimentalist in nature (i.e., inspired text generally ceases with the death of Joseph Smith) and the other being mystical in nature (i.e., every utterance sent forth from the Church’s administrative structure must be inspired because it’s the Church)

  86. Jack,

    I think that you and I both, and perhaps most of those on this thread, tend to fall somewhere in the middle of your two extremes. Personally, I believe that scripture did and does transcend Joseph Smith and what he received as revelation. I believe that each of the prophets have received guidance and issued prophetic utterances that should be counted as scripture, On the other hand, I also have read some of what BY has said, and cannot necessarily accept it as the word of God.

    I do not believe that every utterance from the mouths of the prophets, apostles, or other General Authorities, is necessarily inspired or scripture, though it may be inspiring for many.

    On the other hand, I believe that, even though transient, the CHI has come together under the very specific direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve, is inspired for our specific day, and will make of us better people as we follow the policies and procedures it outlines.

    I suppose that when all is said and done, outside of “canonized” scripture, you and I will have to agree to disagree on other publications of the Church.

    Thanks for the engaging conversation…

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