025: Book of Mormon Lesson 47: Moroni 1-6

December 9, 2012

Engaging Gospel Doctrine

“To Keep Them in the Right Way”

These chapters are straightforward–Moroni, shocked he hasn’t been killed yet, shares information about the organization of the church. He teaches about:

  • The Gift of the Holy Ghost
  • Ordination of priests and teachers
  • Gives the sacrament prayers
  • Baptism and Church order

This is an ideal time to discuss the question: Why do we go to Church? What is the purpose and value of a religious community? Why isn’t the increasingly popular “spiritual but not religious” adequate?

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You can access my Lesson Notes here.

 

Thanks as always to James Estrada of Oak Street Audio for his hard work in postproduction.

3 Responses to “025: Book of Mormon Lesson 47: Moroni 1-6”

  1. SteveS Says:

    1) Moroni 1:2: The Lamanites put to death any Nephite that will not deny the Christ “because of their hatred”. That must have been some intense hatred, or there’s something Moroni isn’t telling us, or there’s something Moroni (or Joseph Smith) misunderstood about the source and nature of the Lamanites’ hatred. Vendetta and feuding and even partisan politics divided by increasingly-recalcitrant ideologies certainly cause humans to do terrible things to one another, and violence truly does often beget more violence, but genocide is pretty rare in human history, on the whole. Does the genocide edict in Moroni 1 do more to set up the thrilling and pitiful plight of the fugitive Moroni, who will “not deny the Christ”, than it creates an accurate depiction of what are undoubtedly complex problems? What other reasons might the Lamanites have had for killing Nephites than their Christian faith? Might the Nephite’s aggressive Christianity (countless missionary efforts toward the Lamanites) have been culturally imperialistic and so religiously exclusive and/or dismissive of other faith traditions that it became a symbol of a lack of willingness on the Christians’ part to live and let live? In what ways might Moroni and Mormon been blind to the functions of religion in the larger societal culture, the dysfunction of which caused huge social upheaval?

    2) Moroni 1:4: Why does Moroni write about Church organization for the “Lamanites in some future day”, forgetting to mention the larger audience of “Gentiles” who would be the largest group of people to receive his words? Indeed, if Joseph Smith and his earlier followers looked to these chapters as instructions for how to organize and run a true Church of Christ in the latter days, why would they have been addressed to the descendants of the Lamanites instead of the Gentiles who would put them into practice?

    3) Moroni 2: Does this chapter seem to suggest that conferral of the Holy Ghost was the right and purview of the twelve apostles only? Moroni says that the twelve American disciples were given this power, as were the twelve apostles in Palestine. Does this proscribe this power to only these special witnesses, the top leaders in the Church? Did Moroni and Joseph Smith envision this power as residing solely in these leaders? The text doesn’t say explicitly that *only* the 12 apostles/disciples get this power, but then why so much emphasis on apostles and disciples? I read this chapter in the same spirit as D&C 20:41-43, which states that an apostle’s duties are to baptize, ordain, administer the sacrament, teach, expound, exhort, watch over the church, and *lay on hands for the baptism of fire and the giving of the Holy Ghost.* Whereas all other duties of an apostle in D&C 20 are duplicated by other priesthood offices, the power to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. Obviously, this isn’t practiced thusly in our day, but don’t both scriptures seem to suggest that this was God’s intent for this ordinance?

    4) What to do in Christ’s church according to Moroni 2-6: baptize, give gift of Holy Ghost, ordain leaders, preach enduring faith, repentance and forgiveness through Jesus Christ, exercise spiritual gifts, administer sacrament, witness one’s spiritual conversion to one another, keep a record of membership, exhort members to diligence, meet together often to fast and pray and preach and receive sacrament, maintain order and purity within group, excommunicate unrepentant transgressors, sing, and conduct meetings according to the “workings of the Spirit” rather than a set program. This is similar to Jesus’ organization of the church in 3 Nephi (see lesson 16, and also my comment #4 which touches upon these same issues), and not too far off Joseph Smith’s original organization of the Church in 1830. Of course, churches adapt their practices and habits to the needs of their local congregations in historical context. But historical adaptation and accommodation do not account for the rather different emphases and additions to the church’s mission and activity in our day. How much of this is due to “continuing revelation”, and at what point do we look back on these verses and realize that we are no longer being true to the intent of Christ’s own counsel about what the Church is and what its members do in it? If, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie and others claim, continuing revelation trumps scripture every time, what is the point of scripture and why do we use scripture at all to justify our policies and behaviors? How are we to read scriptures on Church organization like 3 Nephi 18 or Moroni 2-6 or Ephesians 4, etc.: are they merely historical vestiges of previous practices, or do they contain kernels of truth that need be preserved to stay true to the intent of Jesus in what should be his church?

    5) Moroni 2-6: None of these chapters seems to explicitly limit priesthood ordination or service to men only. Neither does D&C 20. Of course there are other scriptures that refer to the priesthood as a power given to men (see D&C 84:33-39, for example), but these all come later, historically. Outside the LDS culture, even the term “elder” can and often does refer to a respected female member of a community. Is male priesthood exclusivity justified, or is it largely a product of cultural habitus? On the one hand, no one in Joseph Smith’s day, for example, would have read about duties of priests and said “women can be priests, too, so this may apply to them as well” because the idea of a woman priest was too foreign to them. But the text doesn’t expressly prohibit women from holding priesthood, and there are early Christian references to women in positions of power and authority in the New Testament and apocryphal Christian writings (Gospel of Mary, Junia as apostle, Priscilla, etc.). Is there room, scripturally, for women to hold the priesthood?

    6) Moroni 3: It doesn’t seem that Moroni envisioned the Church of Christ as having a universal priesthood for all worthy (male) members. V. 4 says “And after this manner did they ordain priests and teachers, *according to the gifts and callings of God unto men*…” (emphasis mine). The first clause is dependent upon the second in that this verse seems to mean that priests and teachers were ordained as they were called by God to be so ordained, and not simply a matter of coming of age or ambition or desire or even worthiness to receive it. Here priesthood is understood as a calling extended solely by God, presumably through some sort of spiritual witness, and is corroborated with D&C 20:60 (“Every elder, priest, teacher, or deacon is to be ordained according to the gifts and callings of God unto him…”). When did the modern Church begin offering priesthood to all worthy men instead of allowing God to call men in God’s own time and using God’s own means? Is desire the sole qualifier (see D&C 4:3), or worthiness and righteousness (as mentioned in Alma 13:3)? Or would the verses in Moroni, D&C 20, and Alma 13 have been read by people in the 1830s as a Calvinist-style “election” to priesthood office, where God’s foreknowledge and graceful intervention to “call” a man to the priesthood is the manner by which (some) men are selected to be ordained and serve in the Church?

    7) Is everyone in agreement that we have in the sacrament prayers in Moroni 4 & 5 a real home run in terms of providing distilled liturgical language designed to remind everyone about the core doctrine and function of the entire religion? Here we petition God the Father to be made holy through a ritual symbolic meal wherein we partake of Jesus’ offering of himself so that we are transformed from a life of sin to one of holiness, that we recommit ourselves to remembering and devoting ourselves to following Jesus’ example, and that in so doing we will be filled with God’s Spirit. These prayers are pretty amazing, imo, and yet at the same time so mundane in our worship services that we almost completely ignore them at the peril of forgetting that Jesus is the core of our faith, hope, worship, preaching, and efforts toward each other and our fellow human beings? It may be that they aren’t framed appropriately. Great art is appreciated best by constructing appropriate frames through which viewers interact with it: museums and galleries work very hard to create the appropriate context and sacred space surrounding the presentation of the work of art. It is possible that the placement of the sacrament ritual at the beginning of a meeting, just after announcements, and after singing half-heartedly one of about twenty congregational sacrament hymns, is doing the sacrament ritual itself a big disservice. The Catholic’s Mass liturgy builds and culminates at the presentation of the host and distribution of the communion as the final act and ultimate focus of the worship service. How can we frame the celebration of our Eucharistic meal to be more holy, more sacred, more focused on Jesus?

    8) Silly hypothetical: if a mischievous Teacher’s Quorum, in collusion with the Priest’s Quorum, replaced the water with wine for an LDS sacrament service, would the congregation drink it? Would partaking violate the Word of Wisdom as commandment (and not simply counsel at it first was received)? If the type of food or drink doesn’t matter in the administration of the sacrament, what would prevent a congregation from using wine in the sacrament as long as that congregation didn’t try to assert that using wine is a better or “truer” way of administering the ordinance?

    9) Is a broken heart and contrite spirit (Moroni 6:2) truly a requirement for baptism? If so, what about those that intellectually assent to the doctrinal truth claims of the church and wish to be identified with the community of the church, but do not have a spiritual witness of their truthfulness? Or what about eight-year-old children who have a nascent concept of right and wrong and have probably felt some kind of remorse for bad behavior, but almost certainly would have no idea how to understand the abstract concepts of a broken heart and contrite spirit? It wasn’t until November 1831 that a revelation was received designating age eight as the proper time to baptize children into the church (see D&C 68). Previous to this time, would only adults have been baptized into Joseph Smith’s church, and was the intent of Moroni’s counsel in Moroni 6 concerning baptism, followed by Mormon’s diatribe against those who baptize little children in Moroni 8, all geared toward arguing for mature, conscientious baptism by those who truly understood what it meant to sin and repent and desire a new life in God?

    10) I love Moroni 6:4 in that as a person pledges to remember Christ always as he or she enters a new life with God through baptism, the church is organized to remember the individual to nurture them throughout their life. This mutual reliance has the potential to be powerfully transformative for individuals and edifying for communities. It also can be dysfunctional, codependent, coercive, oppressive, and destructive when applied in the wrong spirit or intent. How do the church and its individual congregations ensure that entropy doesn’t destroy that for which all have worked and sacrificed so much, and be inclusive enough to reach out to all, including those on the fringes? At least one key seems to be an unwavering focus on the merits of Jesus as “author and finisher of their faith”. Are we sufficiently focused on Jesus in the LDS Church? How do we fight harmful cultural forces that exclude, marginalize, demean, judge, control, or hate within our church, and how do we collectively repent when we have made a mistake in policy, practice, or outreach?

    11) Moroni 6:7 gives protocol and context for excommunication. Moroni likely spent his whole life seeing corrupt, unrepentant individuals cause the downfall of the church of Christ in his day, and would likely be intensely interested in preventing such a downfall in the church in the latter days as much as possible. Purity is an important feature of in-group/out-group psychology for retaining group cohesion, but it comes at the expense of excluding individuals who do not think exactly the same way as the majority. My question is this: is there ever a justification for excommunication? If so, what are the criteria? Wouldn’t doing deliberate harm to others (physically, emotionally, or psychologically) be the sole offense worthy of sentencing an individual to exclusion from the community (muder, rape, sexual abuse, incest, etc.)? In this context, how would sex among consenting adults of any orientation, espousing alternative perspectives on church doctrine, criticizing the church and/or its leaders, or those nebulous terms “apostasy” or “covenant violation” be excommunicable offenses? Has the modern church set up an unhealthy system where there are no channels for communicating dissent or criticism without endangering one’s status within the organization (retaliation against whistleblowers)?

    Reply

  2. SteveS Says:

    Correction: in 3), the sentence

    “Whereas all other duties of an apostle in D&C 20 are duplicated by other priesthood offices, the power to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

    should read

    “Whereas all other duties of an apostle in D&C 20 are also mentioned as duties of other priesthood offices, the power to lay on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost remains the sole duty unique to the office of apostle.”

    Reply

  3. Stan Says:

    “Why does Moroni write about Church organization for the “Lamanites in some future day”, forgetting to mention the larger audience of “Gentiles” who would be the largest group of people to receive his words? Indeed, if Joseph Smith and his earlier followers looked to these chapters as instructions for how to organize and run a true Church of Christ in the latter days, why would they have been addressed to the descendants of the Lamanites instead of the Gentiles who would put them into practice?”

    I think something to add to this is that the people who were believed to be the Lamanites (i.e. the native Americans) never really adopted Mormonism to any significant degree. The 1830 mission to the Lamanites mainly resulted in the conversion of a number of white evangelists at Kirtland who already believed in restorationism. Many LDS believe the conversions of Polynesians to be a fulfillment of the prophecy that Lamanites will accept the gospel. But the Hawaiians, Tongans, Samoans, Fijians, and other indigenous inhabitants of Polynesia do not really bear much of a racial resemblance to any of the native American groups, but are racially more similar to groups in southeast Asia. Furthermore the languages spoken on the Polynesian Islands are from the Austronesian language family, the same family of Indonesian, Tagalog, and Malagasy, and do not bear any resemblance to the indigenous languages that were spoken on the Pacific coast prior to the advent of white settlers, which comprise languages from the Penutian, Na-Dene, Uto-Aztecan, and Hokan families. I can’t imagine DNA studies confirming the widespread belief that Polynesians are related to the native Americans.

    Reply

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