What Would Joseph Have Thought About the Modern LDS Church?

12 Oct

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


Posted by on October 12, 2009 in History


2 responses to “What Would Joseph Have Thought About the Modern LDS Church?

  1. Tom

    January 23, 2010 at 5:31 am

    Good stuff. I’m of the mindset that Joseph would be none too happy with today’s “mainstream” church, it’s affiliation with all that is Babylon, it’s watered down teachings, and so on. We learn in H.P. and E.Q. the same things we were taught in primary 20, 30 or 40 years ago. Just look at that new Gospel Principles manual…

    Whatever the issue, where are the visions, the gifts of the spirits, the manifestations and so on? Moroni tells us that if these gifts aren’t present, then we’re without faith and a disbelieving people. Certainly, whether it’s the changes in the priesthood ordinations, the way we court Babylon, the temple changes or whatever it may be, the foundation Joseph laid is but a shell of itself.

    Perhaps Joseph’s last dream before his death explains this, which can be found here:


    You could understand a hesitant nature as Joseph turned and looked back. headed to Carthage jail for the last time. He had wanted to take the saints to the Rocky Mountains. He felt and had prophesied that they would go there and become a vast people in the shadows of that cathedral. They indeed did but Joseph didn’t go with them. He left a church in turmoil. Like leaving for vacation by saying good-bye to his irate baby at the babysitters house. Indeed, the lower laws have been embraced and the saints have shook hands with the Gentiles now. Joseph had much to worry about. It may have been the fault of a people unwilling to live Celestial laws in a Terestial existence but Joseph knew from several personal insights, including the two discussed below, that when the servants of God returned to make the house aright they would find corruption muddying the once clears waters of revelation. Anxiety over this is prevalent in the dreams below but lets read them to find parallels and what they tell us about us.

    The last recorded dream we have in our possession is recorded below….

    I was back in Kirtland, Ohio, and thought I would take a walk out by myself, and view my old farm, which I found grown up with weeds and brambles, and altogether bearing evidence of neglect and want of culture. I went into the barn, which I found without floor or doors, with the weather-boarding off, and was altogether in keeping with the farm.

    While I viewed the desolation around me, and was contemplating how it might be recovered from the curse upon it, there came rushing into the barn a company of furious men, who commenced to pick a quarrel with me.

    The leader of the party ordered me to leave the barn and farm, stating it was none of mine, and that I must give up all hope of ever possessing it.

    I told him the farm was given me by the Church, and although I had not had any use of it for some time back, still I had not sold it, and according to righteous principles it belonged to me or the Church.

    He then grew furious and began to rail upon me, and threaten me, and said it never did belong to me nor to the Church.

    I then told him that I did not think it worth contending about, that I had no desire to live upon it in its present state, and if he thought he had a better right I would not quarrel with him about it but leave; but my assurance that I would not trouble him at present did not seem to satisfy him, as he seemed determined to quarrel with me, and threatened me with the destruction of my body.

    While he was thus engaged, pouring out his bitter words upon me, a rabble rushed in and nearly filled the barn, drew out their knives, and began to quarrel among themselves for the premises, and for a moment forgot me, at which time I took the opportunity to walk out of the barn about up to my ankles in mud.

    When I was a little distance from the barn, I heard them screeching and screaming in a very distressed manner, as it appeared they had engaged in a general fight with their knives. While they were thus engaged, the dream or vision ended. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Section Six 1843-44 p. 393)

    In the dream the vineyard is likened unto Josephs old barn and property. The dream I believe, is a bit more specific than the below parable, speaking of the church proper and not the broader idea of the vineyard as a whole. Joseph begins by telling of its appearance being in disarray. He refers to a “curse” that has been put upon it. I can’t help but think this is a continuation of our condemnation, which started in Josephs day and our continual decline in revelation and celestial law.

    Joseph views the place and is rather sad at its degenerate state. He even ponders how to fix it up (what a work that would be!). A “company” of men than come in arguing, tell Joseph it isn’t his, though they can’t seem to agree on who’s it is. They threaten Joseph with his life. Joseph says whatever, you can have it and determines to leave. This tells me that we are not talking about an eternal spiritual inheritance here, but rather a physical structure, as Joseph would have argued harder to keep it. Organizations, buildings, systems people who worship them, etc…the expendable part of the church. The guy continues to tear into him, but another group enters the fray claiming ownership. While these two parties are arguing, Joseph peaceably leaves.

    Of course I liken this to the Servant, coming causing a stir amongst the church and its people and leaving to the wilderness out the backdoor (3 Ne. 21: 9-10). The servant steps in to the situation for a moment. His presence is alarming to those who are in charge. He states his right to set the church in order (section 85). They fight him over it, and he decides to take those who will come with him and turn the “church” (barn) entirely over to the hand of flesh.

    When he/they leave its a sticky situation. Mud covers them which would slow the departure but mainly just leave unsightly residue that would need to be cleansed later, on all those who go with him. The mud would be cleaned and a better organization set up when they get to a new inheritance (JS-M 1: 27).

    As he leaves, Joseph hears the men fight for their lives over it. I would assume that these two parties are the makers of the covenant of death (Isa. 28: 15, 18). The Church Corporation and the Gov’t they shook hands with. The Gov’t brings the knives to the party and all those who relied on the arm of flesh are taken off guard by it. While those who recognized the true servant of God depart for a better place with mud on their clothes from past experiences (2 nephi 28:14)

  2. Samuel Shaffer

    May 21, 2010 at 8:57 pm

    Unfortunately my response to nearly all those questions is found in the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith page 327, “I cannot believe in any of the creeds of the different denominations, because they all have some things in them I cannot subscribe to, though all of them have some truth. I want to come up into the presence of God, and learn all things; but the creeds set up stakes, and say, “Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further”; which I cannot subscribe to.”
    The Church is constantly saying, you may go this far but no further. After I had been married in the Temple and the Bishop said I had everything I needed to go to the Celestial Kingdom and to now just be a good obedient member, I felt damned. I had gone as far as anyone was aloud to in the Church and now I was at the mercy of being a good business man to even think about anything higher.
    You are told that if you attempt to live the higher Law you will be severed from the Church, and it is now your obligation to sit and pretend to be interested in a painfully shallow Elder’s quorum manual. The Church has continually stooped to the lowest common denominator and continues to slid down the slope. I was taught deeper doctrines in Sunbeams than now is being taught in Gospel Doctrine. The banner of Orthodoxy is to repetitively hear the same thing over and over and over and over, and be a good Sunday member.
    Unfortunately I think Joseph Smith would say he would have nothing to do with the Church, it being just as mainstream sectarian as anything else these days. The members will inevitably let precious doctrine after doctrine, and sacred ordinance after ordinance fad into oblivion, or be radically changed to adhere to the political correctness of the world, and everyone who wakes up and opposes it will be cast out and ridiculed until dooms day.
    Brigham said there was a lot more cats in the bag, after Polygamy and Adam-God to be revealed, but the modern Church leaders have been throwing cats back into the bag for well over the last hundred years. This is what orthodoxy always does to the truth. Do you want Pharisaical orthodoxy or the truth?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: