Monday, August 18, 2014

Analyzing Scripture: D&C 1:30 - "The Only True and Living Church"

First, here is verse 29:
And after having received the record of the Nephites, yea, even my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., might have power to translate through the mercy of God, by the power of God, the Book of Mormon.

Now verse 30:

“And also those to whom these commandments were given”

Joseph was mentioned in v.29 in relation to the translation of the Book of Mormon, but this verse references others – also those to whom “collectively” the commandments within the subsequent D&C were addressed.

“might have power to lay the foundation of this church,”

Lay the foundation does NOT mean or even imply the entire construction, only the setting of the foundation; thus, there is a solid implication that others “to whom these commandments were [NOT] given [yet]” would continue the construction upon the foundation built by these first people.

“and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness

I think “obscurity” is self-explanatory – and the Church certainly was obscured back then. In many ways, that only recently has been completed; in many ways, it still is being accomplished. I read “darkness” as describing the spiritual darkness of an apostate world – a light shining from the darkness to be set on a hill outside of that darkness, if you will. The fascinating aspect is that those who would “bring it forth out of obscurity and darkness” aren’t limited necessarily to the first group but appears to include those who later would build on the original foundation. I wonder how much of that removal process was figurative and how much was fulfilled by the literal exodus to Utah.


I always have read this verse as if it had a dash instead of a comma. It simply makes more linguistic and grammatical sense that way.

“the only true AND living church upon the face of the whole earth,”

of all the possible meanings for “true”, I like the following – as it relates to an organization: of the right kind; such as it should be; proper: to arrange things in their true order.” That changes the concept in very real and, I believe, important ways from what generally is assumed. In that light, I like the following definition for “living”: pertaining to, suitable for, or sufficient for existence or subsistence – which implies feeding in such a way that life can continue – meaning life-giving or regenerating – as in “living” water. Therefore, an altered translation might be something like, the only proper, correctly arranged/ordered and eternal-life-giving church . . .”

Also, the use of true “and” living can imply that there are other churches that are either true “or” living, but none that are both. I don’t know for sure, but I do think there is a powerful possibility of an implicit suggestion that some other churches might be partly true (not fully false) and lack, more than anything else, the grander vision that would make them “come alive”. I’m not sure that is what was meant, but it is a conclusion with which I agree – and which can be supported by the text.

“with which I, the Lord, am well pleased,” 

From a scriptural basis, this simply means “very pleased” – as opposed to merely pleased. It draws an implicit distinction between being “well” pleased and simply being pleased. More on that later.

“speaking unto the church collectively and not individually.” 

The Church as an organization is well-pleasing unto the Lord, even though any number of individuals, with no respect to position [even the Prophet himself], may not be “well-pleasing” at any given moment.  I think this is supported by the number of times Joseph Smith was chastised and called to repentance in the Doctrine & Covenants. 

I favor a period at the end of this verse. The dash, in context, makes vs.20-30 a parenthetical comment and ties v.31 to v.19 – and I simply don’t see that as the proper connection. It just doesn’t make sense.

When we look at this verse, there are three separate and distinct classifications used to describe the “church” – which, taken together, appear to constitute the full meaning of the word “church” in God’s eyes. “The foundation of this church” and “the true church” appear to refer to the basic organizational structure and essential offices (which are properly ordered and arranged), while “the living church” appears to refer to the Restored Gospel it teaches (especially the concept of eternal life that follows faith, repentance, baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost). On the other hand, “the church collectively and not individually” appears to refer to the membership. It’s fascinating for me to think of this as one more example of the use of a “trinity” construct to describe perfection.

Shifting gears a little, when I look at what I think the verse actually says, I am left to discount what I believe it does not say – even what has been assumed by many but simply isn’t there. The following are a few of the things I believe are incorrect assumptions – things the verse simply does NOT say:

False Assumption #1) The Church’s structure was restored exactly as existed in the time of the ancient apostles. Any deviation from the ancient structure invalidates its “true” structure, and every part of the current organization was in place in the ancient Church.

Hogwash. It just doesn’t say that. We do believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive church, but it clearly was only the foundation that was laid at the time of the Restoration. Furthermore, the relevant Article of Faith (#6) follows the “same organization” statement with a listing of essential responsibilities/offices, not the entire structure. Also, architecturally, since we are dealing with a “foundation” upon which a structure will be built, similar or equivalent structures can contain radically different internal components and still be the same shape or structure. This idea is bolstered by the increasing complexity of the organizational Church as it grows numerically and geographically – changing the outward appearance and internal structure, but not affecting the foundation in the slightest – as well as the differences that appear to have existed among the various congregations within the ancient Church.

False Assumption #2) All other Churches are bad or abominable.

That simply not said – here or in JSH 1:19, which I analyzed a couple of weeks ago. They might not be “of the right kind; such as [they] should be; proper: [arranged] in their true order,” but it does not say they are evil or bad. They might not make the Lord “well pleased”, but there is nothing that says the Lord isn’t “pleased” with them in some or many ways. In fact, the usage of a qualifier ["well"] generally implies that the same term without the qualifier ["pleased"] applies to the entities being compared. I know it is a radically different interpretation than the standard one, but I believe the words of the verse itself state that the Lord is not displeased with all religions other than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – that at least some others do please Him to some degree.

False Assumption #3) Other churches (and members of those other churches) are spiritually dead.

That assumption is stupid, in my opinion. Their churches might not be living in the sense that they provide eternal growth [“eternal life giving"] – since they don’t even teach life eternal, as we understand it – but there is no statement saying the other churches cause their members to be separated from godliness, which is the orthodox definition of spiritual death within Mormonism. At worst, if other Christians accept their churches’ teachings fully and reject Mormonism completely, the vast majority of them still will live immortally in the presence of The God they worship – Jesus, the Christ. Nothing in verse 30 says otherwise.

False Assumption #4) Our leaders are “true” (infallible) and will never teach things that are not 100% true.

The verse itself says the Lord is NOT well-pleased with individuals in the Church, and it is followed by the numerous rebukes of Joseph, Oliver and others in the “commandments” it prefaces. The Church as a whole is well-pleasing and will continue to provide life to its members, but individual members, no matter their standing, still can incur the Lord’s displeasure.


Jana said...

Thanks for these interpretations. Lots of things for me to ponder upon!

Anonymous said...

I think you offer a lot of great insights on this particular section of verses.

One thing I find interesting is how quick we are as a faith to draw on the praise found in these verses (after all, most testimonies contain some form of these same words), and yet we entirely forget that it only took two years for the Lord to utter something different about this same church that is called True and Living.

In D&C 84, he says the whole church is under condemnation. Primarily because it wasn't taking seriously the powerful things that Section 1 says were brought forth specifically to help bring them out of darkness.

Apparently, we started off alright, but quickly failed to fully measure up. The condemnation has been repeated in our day by Pres. Benson, when he said we've not yet come out from under it, and then it was repeated again by Elder Oaks when he quoted Pres. Benson.

I think that is one of the things we must recognize if we are to actually understand what it was the Lord was trying to tell us with Section 1.

Section 1 appeals to our ego and our desire to be right. Section 84 strikes at that ego and says we have much to do if we are to rise up and receive what God has offered.

It's no wonder the ego likes and cites Section 1 way more often than it considers the message of 84.

I don't mean this to be critical of you or the post you wrote. Simply think it is important to understanding how and why the Lord can make such statements only 2 years apart.