“Aaron actually made my day by posting that chapter on Exaltation. I was really hoping for some significant changes. I recently participated in a conversation with a member online comparing our differing understandings of exaltation. I noticed that the Gospel Principles manual made an assertion(s) that was never made by Joseph Smith or by the scriptures, and I pointed out the part that I didn’t agree with. I’m glad to see that part was changed in the revised addition. I think this definitely a good thing!” (>>)
I will just say that for one who understands ALL the doctrine of the church, and who has read and studied, and learned concerning the words of the Prophets, nothing has changed from what was written to what is now written.
All that has happened is they have omitted certain items and topics that are difficult for the average person to truly grasp, and thus these topics or more a stumbling block then they are a blessing. This does not make them false, nor does it mean the church is denying them as doctrine. All it means is that they are looking after the spiritual welfare of the members. (>>)
At the end of the day, the Mormon Church is a fog machine, not a lighthouse beacon. The changes to Gospel Principles please all sorts of people in the Mormon Church with contradicting reasons to be pleased. I take a cautious and pessimistic approach to analyzing seeming changes from the Salt Lake institution. I am attempting to be optimistic about God at work, pessimistic about the depravity of unregenerate humanity, and realistic about changes (or lack thereof) that are taking place. Until we see the miracle of repentance, confession, tears, and godly sorrow, I implore anyone with an unchecked optimism to practice discernment and avoid naivety. Expect God to do great salvific things, but don’t be to quick to recognize a change as of repentance when it is done without integrity, clarity, and repentance.
Here are six reasons to be cautious:
1. Historically, when a Mormon teaching has died, it has died silently. Leaders lack the integrity to denounce it, and lack the pastoral love of their people to make clear contrasts between what is being taught and what was taught. The most important blog post I’ve read on this issue was at TimesAndSeasons.org, called, “How Does Mormon Doctrine Die?”. The best example is that of the lifting of the priesthood ban. The Church lifted the ban, but never from the highest institutional channels explicitly denounced the theology that leaders once used to justify the ban. So the theology largely still continued among the Mormon people, and only started to die off with the effects of deemphasis, silence, and time. Had the Mormon Church denounced the theology once used to justify the ban, and named names, it would have called into question the reliability of the historic succession of its prophets and apostles.
2. Mormonism attempts to keep old doctrines by using new, euphemistic, cryptic language. For example, the Mormon Church replaced the statement in chapter 47, “These spirit children will have the same relationship to them as we do to our Heavenly Father” with “These spirit children will have eternal increase”. This will function in different ways for different people. For a few, it will draw back from the explicit nature of the potential worship-relationship between our future spirit children. For many others, it will simply continue this notion, yet with a short phrase that isn’t so clear.
4. Mormonism employs a deceptive “milk before meat” philosophy. As quoted above, shematwater interpreted the changes as a milk before meat stategy:
“All that has happened is they have omitted certain items and topics that are difficult for the average person to truly grasp, and thus these topics or more a stumbling block then they are a blessing.”
In another context a Mormon writes,
“I would be careful bringing [up] this matter with any nonmembers… [H]ow to address this [Lorenzo Snow Couplet theology] with nonmembers[?]. My advice: don’t. This is difficult doctrine. Remember, milk before meat.” (>>)
The popular internet Mormon apologist Jeff Lindsay even writes that such topics can be beyond meat, being a kind of “dessert”:
“I personally feel that the whole of issue of ‘gods’ is an advanced topic that we don’t know a lot about, so I consider it as meat (actually, dessert) that doesn’t need to be served as the first course.” (>>)
Mormon Ian M. Cook writes:
“Fundamentally you are right, we need to stand up and distinguish ourselves from the pack.
“I have an experience though that makes me think twice about it that way. I was about 16 and I had recently learned some of the deeper doctrines of the church etc. Not sure where I heard it, but I happen to be sitting on the school bus talking to a bunch of people about LDS doctrine. I was teaching the plan of salvation. The other kids were really interested. I went so far as to teach the three degrees of glory and then I told them we could become Gods.
“I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later, I was helping this guy build a house and I didn’t realize it but he was a recent convert to the church and the step father of one of the kids that were listening to the conversation. He told me that his step son really liked what I had to say, up until I got to the Gods part. It turned him away from the church.
“I have felt bad about it since then. This kid was the only member of the family that did not join the church. This was based on what I taught.
“Perhaps he would have found this out later and left the church anyway. I can’t help but think that he could have been converted more spiritually and then he could have accepted those teachings.
“Milk before meat as they say.” (>>)
Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson once wrote,
“I myself prefer not to discuss certain things in certain venues. And the fundamental nature of God is one of those things…” (>>)
5. Mormonism prides itself in using non-”creedal”, ambiguous, amorphous theological language that functions at different layers in different contradicting ways for different people. This is related to #2 and #4. Mormonism seems to appreciate the usage of language that does’t yield enough the kind of clarity that causes unwanted problems. One example here is the change in Gospel Principles in the 90’s from becoming Gods to becoming “like” God. For outsiders, this usually brings to mind the notion of becoming morally pure and sinless like God. For insiders, it more often than not denotes the act of becoming equal with God in knowledge and power (if you take the Prattian view) or achieving the level of knowledge and power that God has now (if you have the Brighamite view; cf. the relevant MRM article). It denotes becoming a God worshiped and prayed to by our own spirit-children. Some Mormons are uncomfortable with this and choose not to think about it and even opt for a re-invented Mormon theology that denies the traditional understanding of the Lorenzo Snow couplet. But more often than not the euphemisms like becoming “like God” serve a purpose of obfuscation, not clarification.
6. When Mormonism makes corrections to its own teachings, it confusingly refers to them as “clarifications”, implying that the same teachings have persisted to now only with elucidated language. In my experience, Mormons have a penchant for describing fundamental, contradictory changes as natural progressions. Moving from Adam-God to post-Talmage theology, for example, has been described to me as God’s plan for moving the church line upon line, precept upon precept. The 1978 revelation to lift the priesthood ban is spoken of as a clarification overriding a mere past “policy” of church. The 1916 formalization of the Elohim/Jehovah naming conventions are spoken of as a clarification of what was Mormon doctrine all along, despite the fact that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had radically different usages of the terms. As Mormon historian Thomas Alexander writes,
“Perhaps the main barrier to understanding the development of Mormon theology is an underlying assumption by most Church members that there is a cumulative unity of doctrine. Mormons seem to believe that particular doctrines develop consistently, that ideas build on each other in hierarchical fashion. As a result, older revelations are interpreted by referring to current doctrinal positions. Thus, most members would suppose that a scripture or statement at any point in time has resulted from such orderly change. While this type of exegesis or interpretation may produce systematic theology, and while it may satisfy those trying to understand and internalize current doctrine, it is bad history, since it leaves an unwarranted impression of continuity and consistency.” (>>)
All these things considered, I am driven to take a cautious approach when discerning the movement of Mormonism. The Mormon Church is an evil, corrupt, dysfunctional organization that lacks integrity, institutional repentance, and a real pastoral love that yields clarity, crisp contrasts, and more practical bottom-up measures of correction and methods to afford checks and balances. For 179 years the Mormon Church has moved its people in a direction with theological momentum. This has affected real people that I love. When people flippantly give the Mormon Church a free pass for all this momentum it has created, I have to wonder if they have the same dwelling Holy Spirit that I do. I am not content to suppose that certain unsavory teachings and beliefs in the Church will simply die out in four or five generations to come. Playing the endless game of quasi-ecumenism over shallow common ground won’t do. Today is the day of salvation, and in accordance with the gospel-call to get on board with the kingdom of God, we are to call persons and institutions to repentance and the fullness of joy in the truth of Jesus Christ.