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Friday, July 16, 2010

Church Leadership Corruption: Discussion 3 Changing Existing Ordinances and Procedures and Adding to Others

Since local Church leadership is lay leadership, local Church leadership is us – YOU and ME. My intent in writing this essay is so people can evaluate their own behavior, not label or malign others. It also assumes that local Church leadership at the stake and unit level is the only Church leadership corruption that needs to concern ordinary members today. Corrupt Church leadership ABOVE the stake level IS NOT addressed.

Please do not email the content of this blog to others. Send them the link to it, so they can read it here. It is the only way to avoid things getting altered.

Disclaimer: If anything I say violates scripture, modern revelation or current Church guidance like that contained in the Handbook, I withdraw it. I do not have direct access to all these materials, so I cannot be completely certain that what I am asserting is currently accurate. I hope the reader will absorb my general points and not pick at the details. Most of the details are for illustration purposes only.

These series of postings will consist of eight parts and be posted every three days according to the schedule below.

3. Changing Existing Ordinances and Procedures and Adding Others

Over time doctrines were corrupted and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances. “What Happened to Christ’s Church?,” New Era, Feb 2005, 8.

I want to return to my statement about not following scriptural or Handbook guidance being the best evidence for identifying corruption in stake and local Church leaders. This topic deserves extensive examination.

Not following scripture and Handbook guidance can obviously be intentional or unintentional. Intentional noncompliance is obviously apostasy. Unintentional noncompliance results in drift or “creeping change”, as its termed in manufacturing practices. Eventually, it also results in total apostasy.

On this matter, we urge you presiding brethren to seek the Spirit of God, to study and be guided by the scriptures and the General Handbook of Instructions. Church discipline is not limited to sexual sins but includes other acts such as murder, abortions, burglary, theft, fraud, and other dishonesty, deliberate disobedience to the rules and regulations of the Church, advocating or practicing polygamy, apostasy, or any other unchristianlike conduct, including defiance or ridicule of the Lord’s anointed, contrary to the law of the Lord and the order of the Church.” James E. Faust, “Keeping Covenants and Honoring the Priesthood,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 36. (My emphasis)

Straying from the truth by changing existing ordinances and adding others is what characterized the Great Apostasy. This creeping change in the early Church was labeled “apostasy.” There is no reason to label it anything differently in the modern Church. It was apostasy then and it IS apostasy now

“Wilford Woodruff, while serving in the Quorum of the Twelve, said: “Brother Joseph used to counsel us in this wise: ‘The moment you permit yourselves to lay aside any duty that God calls you to perform, to gratify your own desires; the moment you permit yourselves to become careless, you lay a foundation for apostasy.”

“He then remarked that any man, any elder in this Church and kingdom, who pursued a course whereby he would ignore or, in other words, refuse to obey any known law or commandment or duty—whenever a man did this, neglected any duty God required at his hand in attending meetings, filling missions, or obeying counsel, he laid a foundation to lead him to apostasy and this was the reason those men had fallen. They had misused the priesthood sealed upon their heads. They had neglected to magnify their calling as apostles, as elders. They had used that priesthood to attempt to build themselves up and to perform some other work besides the building up of the kingdom of God.” Chapter 27: Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007),315–26.

We know that subtle, often innocuous, changes can result in massive and devastating shifts over time. In the early Church, these shifts obliterated the true authority to act in God’s name. This resulted in the Gospel being lost for centuries. We know this will not happen again, because we have been promised that it will not. But, individuals can, and will, lose their way. Unfortunately, this can occur while they serve in Church callings and can affect their behavior while serving.

Seemingly small changes or alterations may seem innocent at first and not a cause for real alarm. But, ultimately, they will have massive consequences.

Often these shifts solidify into “traditions.” Sister Julie Beck has remarked that tradition is probably the worst reason for conducting any Church activity.

Years ago there was a little rule I made for myself that I think is pretty applicable to everyone. A good reason to have a ward activity or a stake activity is because we need it and it will strengthen our families and individuals. A bad reason to have an activity is because it’s a tradition or there’s a certain holiday we have to celebrate. When we talk about gospel patterns, we know the needs. Let’s plan the activities around those needs, and if something was a wonderful activity last year, it doesn’t mean we need to build it into a tradition. Roundtable Discussion, Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting: Building Up a Righteous Posterity, February 9, 2008.

Elder Richard G. Scott gave a serious and heartfelt Conference address about “false traditions.” Tradition is simply doing things the way they have always been done, or how you think they have been done.

When you begin a new calling, one of the most dangerous things you can do is simply continue doing what has been done by your immediate predecessor. We should all have a copy of Handbook instructions that apply to our new calling, as well as any additional guidance. This should be our guide. Once we are fluent on official guidelines, then we can consider continuing actions that are already in place. If prior actions conflict with Church guidelines, they should be abandoned.

The Handbook is the policies and procedures manual. We can be confident it will be consistent with revealed scripture. Our only concern should be in acting in harmony with it. Reliance on it can prevent creeping change. Ignoring it will result in creeping change.

From my lifetime in the Church, I have a healthy respect for Church guidelines. I have come to realize the wisdom in them. If I do not fully understand them, I follow them anyway. Top Church leaders have good reasons for what they do. I am not about to substitute my wisdom for theirs. To do so would elevate my wisdom above theirs.

Modern Church history is littered with the carcasses of people who thought they knew better than the designated top Church leaders, as well as their notions that they were indispensable to the work. We can learn from their examples.

Some years ago I was called to teach Gospel Doctrine during an Old Testament year. My duties began during the days of Samuel, the prophet. Nearly all the Old Testament from that time to the end dealt with the Church itself straying from the truth, often because no one was accessing the actual law itself.

In New Testament times, this creeping change corrupted the early Church.

During the Apostasy, many ordinances were altered or added without proper authority. The Church allowed infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling or pouring, instead of by immersion. Pagan influences and philosophies of the time crept into the Church—such as burning incense, celibacy (the clergy remaining unmarried), and the belief that the body was evil and that God did not have a body. The honoring of martyrs turned to superstition and worship.

Because of the wickedness within the Church, the gifts of the Spirit ceased and people began to deny true spiritual gifts. Without revelation, Church organization changed through the government of men, instead of through inspiration from God. Church offices were bought, sold, and voted on. “What Happened to Christ’s Church?,” New Era, Feb 2005, 8.

So, what is the solution? Rely first on the scriptures, stick to the Handbook and follow what a religion professor of mine, Dr. Richard O. Cowan, taught me in a modern Church history course at BYU, to follow concentric circles of authority. He described it this way. Think of circles within circles. At the very heart of all the circles are the scriptures and revelation from current Prophets. Surrounding that core is Church curriculum materials, Conference addresses by General Authorities, Church magazines, etc. The further you get from the core circle, the more questionable your sources are – commentary by Church members on blogs, for example, books by individual members, etc.

Dr. Cowan taught us to never stray far from that core. I always keep these concentric circles in my mind when evaluating others’ ideas.

Creeping change can occur with members. When leaders are corrupt; then change often starts galloping, rather than creeping.

I will illustrate some ways that creeping change can occur from actions that seem unimportant or innocuous on the surface.

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