Members of the Lord’s True Church Are Our Theological Resources
To echo the Founding Brethren of our Church, I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is an all-embracing “theory” of everything, or, in a phrase, “is true” (a meta-narrative that might be termed “Mormon Theology”). That is the thesis or presupposition of this article- this Church is true.
Valuing the Church!
I want to emphasize how basically inherent the Church is to me. For it is the Church that stands uniquely revealed in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Mormon Theology is by and for the members of the Church. Our theological personal reflections presuppose the very important fact that our membership in the Church is essential to our membership in the Kingdom.
Let me quickly contrast the Church with the Gospel, knowing the Gospel to be of supernal importance.
In ways I often hear repeated in especially Quorum instruction, where my brethren will state something to this effect, “We all know the Gospel isn’t the Church.” I do get why the Gospel is not the Church, and I understand the helpful insight in also explaining why the scaffolding is not the building. But that is but a partial insight. Our personal theological resources are not free-floating truths but require both the Gospel and the Church.
Valuing the Brethren!
Within the here and now I endeavor to live the Gospel. I also believe this: that the Church’s “theory” of society provides a true knowledge of society. I would also share the belief that the Church, through its leaders, will provide an on-going conversation with members of, and those not of our Church, as well as the Lord through the Spirit. As we look back, we can see from the Lord to His Church leaders an indefectibly correct analysis of all cultural phenomena.
Valuing the Members and Our Membership in the Church!
Just a reminder: as a gift to us along with the gift of inspired leadership, each soul baptized and confirmed into His Church is given a restoration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as found in the Book of Acts. Like the primitive Saints and Church leaders in the Book of Acts, our Church also has a “worldview” that really is equally a restoration of the primitive, or the “proto-orthodox,” original, Christian “symbolic universe.”
The Church is important. The Church is needed. It is the Church that has been given the restored gospel.
A New Vocabulary Word: “Proto-orthodoxy”
Think: pre-Apostasy truths of the Kingdom.
Mormons don’t have, for the sake of conversation, what professional theologians call a “Christology.” “Christology” is the theological interpretation of the nature, person, and deeds of Christ – an understanding of Christ’s teachings, but without an attachment or emotional commitment to belief in them.
“For a number of years now,” writes the Edinburgh scholar, Professor Larry W. Hurtado, “I have proposed the term Christ-devotion’ in preference to Christology[.]'”
I stand with Professor Hurtado on his preference. In making this distinction, he does a fuller justice to our brother and sister Earlier-Day Saints.
Hurtado also intuits that while “Christology” likely delivers one into a discussion of beliefs, concepts and technical “wordings,” all of which can claim a place, “Christ-devotion” better delivers us in our study at the feet of the Master. Christ-devotion helps us stay on course as a matter of worship, in our devotional lives, and ethical ideals.
Similarly, Professor Hurtado coins the term “proto-orthodoxy” to describe pre-creedal Christianity. I think the Prophet Joseph might approve.
What is a “symbolic universe?”
The phrase “symbolic universe” intends all the many-layered ideas of reality a Mormon understands as his or her life by the light of those ideas. At different times and at different places, we change our interest in the teachings of the Gospel by the Church. Our needs change, so within the mind-boggling blessing of teachings from the Scriptures and the Prophets, through prayer, we are led spiritually through the wreckage of our lives. We may feel that we have accumulated such “wreckage” through imprudent acts of disobedience. But the Lord’s love through His Atonement always, gratefully, will let us live fully again.
One clear implication here, at least to the outsider is that Sterling McMurrin’s call for a “Mormon systematic theology” would hamstring the coping, or “because thinking,” of the Church. (I see some truth to that outsider’s advice.)
Mormon religious reflection will better prosper, in my opinion, without taking on either a “Christology” discourse or a systematic theological way of thinking about God and the Gospel. I can only tell you in making that claim it has taken over thirty years of my own studies to share it (and, additionally, I know the Lord will give us time in that way).
A Mormon systematic theology – if ever there were one — would only hinder us, as individual Church members.
It would hinder us specifically to not allow the Lord to do His Work with each of us individually, and to allow us to make sense of all the changes and challenges in life He leads us through, as we as Mormons believe and accept that He does. For instance, I for one would spend less time on my knees “wrestling with the Lord.” Instead, I would have to take time to try and get my mind around a systematic theology imposed upon me.
It all already makes sense, this life of mine, despite all of the loony times I have been placed to live in. My life makes “Mormon sense” to me.
After all, like you, I have the Scriptures and read from “the best books,” I have my ward brothers and sisters to associate with, as they are my friends in “the household of faith,” I go to and hear Conferences and read the Ensign, the Church News, and even Meridian, and I think before the Lord, often while doing so to seek His wisdom whilst on my knees.
Directing Religious Thinking to an Area Where It Can Really Do Some Good
In saying, “my life makes Mormon sense,” it sets me free into our culture to work for the good and to oppose ethical and legal evils.
Generally speaking, a culture war characterizes our own culture right now. This on-going war is characterized by two sides with different views on what is moral. The power to define what is moral is one definition of ultimate power. And in our culture, the Kingdom has a reason to push back against the forces of immorality, to maintain religious liberty so that the Lord’s missionary work can go forth unimpeded.
Rather than fight out in the open, immoralists hide cowardly behind secularity and two key concepts that together give secularity momentum.
I recently got sneak-attacked by a trusted colleague on a project for no good reason, and found myself up against these two secular ideas, which are “nihilism” and “alienation.
” Like Nephi in the fourth chapter of 2 Nephi, verse 14 forward (the so-called Psalm of Nephi), it was an experience I found alienating, which sapped my energy, and almost pushed me into the void of nihilism.
I know that my Redeemer liveth. I can very accurately make that insight without relying on any quotes from another scholar’s theory.
Now of all I have written above, I count on friendly readers to help me see better what I have tried to describe. Except for that testimony that my Redeemers lives. My thoughts have changed as I have learned and lived, but the one constant in over four decades of theological reflection, which has really made theological thinking matter to me, is from the witness of the Holy Spirit that I know my Redeemer lives. That so many of you know this, too, adds to the sweet comfort this “sentence gives.”