The Faithful Dissident asks some interesting questions about how different in some areas the modern Church’s teachings are from those of Joseph Smith:
I think what I loved best about Rough Stone Rolling by Richard L. Bushman was the theological aspect. Despite all his many flaws and troublesome practices and dealings in life, some of Joseph Smith’s theological writings and teachings blow me away. I’m not sure that I can believe them all, but I was astounded to read so many things that I had never heard of in my lifetime as a Mormon.
I sometimes get the feeling that the modern Church, while maintaining a thriving and rich culture, is lacking what it once had in terms of radical theological thinking and discussion. One could, of course, argue that this is a good thing. After all, many of us argue over what constitutes “official doctrine” and what doesn’t. Speculation can be a dangerous thing, as it leads to false doctrines and gives birth to cultural myths being accepted as truth. So the less there is to speculate on, the better, right? But I must say that I often feel that Mormonism today, as it is practiced and preached in church and everyday life, is so “contained” that it’s lacking in thought-provoking theological and philosophical discussion — at least if the official manuals are an accurate indication of the type of discussions that we have at church on a weekly basis. I wonder whether it’s only natural that the Church wouldn’t be able to maintain the pace of revelation and theological discussion that Joseph accomplished in his short life, or whether the modern Church feels too “settled” in a sort of “comfort zone” so that it is therefore cutting itself short on additional revelation.
I think that a lot of Mormons, after reading Rough Stone Rolling or dabbing into Church history, come away feeling like the Church back then and the Church now are similar and yet vastly different — not just because of polygamy, but many other things. Just to name a few, here are some things that come to mind:
- School of the Prophets (is the Sunday School program the modern-day equivalent?)
- Journal of Discourses (is the Ensign the modern-day equivalent?)
- Additional and regular canonized revelation, such as what is found in D&C
- Spiritual gifts being revealed in dramatic fashion at church, such as speaking in tongues, visions, etc.
- Women being permitted to administer blessings
- The close relationship between Mormons and Freemasonry. By this I don’t just mean the temple ritual similarities, but the fact that Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders were active Freemasons and established a lodge in Nauvoo. In modern times, however, although the Church has not taken an official standpoint on Freemasonry, “Don LeFevre, a past spokesman for the church has said the church “…strongly advises its members not to affiliate with organizations that are secret, oath-bound, or would cause them to lose interest in church activities.” (Wikipedia)
Questions for discussion:
- Do you think that the modern LDS Church is the vision that Joseph would have had for it as it grew and spread throughout the earth?
- What do you think would have pleased Joseph in the modern Church?
- Is there anything that you think he would object to or be troubled by in today’s Church?
- What would Joseph think of Sunday School and Priesthood/RS meetings today?
- How do you think he would have written about himself in his memoirs if he had lived to write an autobiography? Would it have resembled Rough Stone Rolling or the current Priesthood/RS manuals?
Comments on these questions can be found here