Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Restoration Challenges to the Reformation

When I teach the apostasy and restoration aspects of the Melchizedek Priesthood prep class, I focus on some of the foundation Gospel principles of the restoration that were direct refutations of the current religious beliefs that dominated the Protestant Reformation.

The most fundamental example of a challenge to the very foundation of the Reformation was Joseph’s insistence that, although Catholicism had screwed it up over the years, divine authority actually was meant to reside with mankind. Protestant reformers knew that they did not have “divine authority” (and said so explicitly), and they recognized clearly that the Catholic Church had lost that authority. Their only “logical” conclusion, given the lack of divine authority vested in men, was to shift such authority to “the Word of God” - since they knew they couldn’t claim it for themselves. That “Word of God” was the Bible - all that they had that everyone agreed represented His words to man - and that investiture almost required that inerrancy become the standard, since any errors would destroy all sense of God’s authority existing at all on the earth. Finally, if the authority of God was invested in the Word of God, the only authority available to man was through a deeper and fuller understanding of that Word - which opened the door for Divinity Schools and Masters of Theology degrees - and their lay counterpart, the individual preacher who could quote the Word in a charismatic and inspiring way.

Joseph Smith shook the very foundation of their claims to divine authority - not just by claiming to have been called as a prophet, thus restoring divine authority to man, but also by introducing an additional source of God’s word (The Book of Mormon), thus removing the exclusivity of the Bible. In essence, he said, “Well, you did the best you could with what you had, but the old system you rejected is back in place with new materials - so accept a system your very foundation rejected or run along and play your human games.”

Many members have a basic understanding of this conflict, but I think not nearly enough really understand why the conflict produces such intense and vitriolic reactions. Given what Joseph taught, and what it means about the very core creeds of Protestantism, the reaction doesn’t surprise me one bit - then or now.


Unknown said...

I definitely understand the inherent tension.

Off-topic a bit, but can you point me to some authority that addresses, specifically, the Catholic Church's "fall".

Much appreciated.


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that many protestants believe in the priesthood of all believers--that the priesthood resides in every person who believes in Jesus. The source does not need to be traced back to the beginning, because it already resides in the worshippers.

Whereas in Catholicism (and Mormonism) the priest often stands between humans and God, in much of protestantism the link is believed to be direct to God without the need of any human intermediary. While clergy/priesthood exists in those branches of protestantism, it is a matter of order in the Church, not the possession of unique power or authority of the clergy/priesthood to access God or God's power.

At least that it my understanding.

Anonymous said...

Ray, that was me (DavidH) who just posted re priesthood of all believers)

Papa D said...

Sorry, it's taken so long to get back to this.

Aileen, the standard probably is LeGrand Richards' book, "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder". In it, he states his opinion that it's either the Catholic Church or the Mormon Church - that Protestantism doesn't have a leg to stand on. I think that's a self-fulfilling prophecy to some degree, since he's seeing everything in terms of organizational authority, but it's a well-reasoned presentation.

A much more controversial take is Bruce R. McConkie's book, "Mormon Doctrine". If you've read a lot in the Bloggernacle, you probably already understand how out-dated and speculative that book is (as well as how negatively many members view it now), but its view of Catholicism certainly was mainstream in the Mormon Church for decades.

I would recommend almost anything by Hugh Nibley. His exegesis is old in some cases, but his explanations are fascinating.

Fwiw, I personally think it's important to position the "Great Christian Apostasy" as well-advanced long before the Holy Roman Empire decided to use and alter it to become the unifying religion of the empire. MUCH of the Pauline epistles, for example, are read best, imo, in light of advancing apostasy - as letters attempting to stem the tide of doctrinal degradation and schism within the ancient church. Without that foundation, the early Catholic councils of correction and unification are much harder to understand.

Finally, I would look at the last books of the OT and the total recorded silence in the Bible between Malachi and the birth of Jesus. (roughly 400 years) That time period provides a truly enthralling foreshadowing within Judaism, I believe, of what then happened to Christianity.

Papa D said...

David H, you are correct - and I think there is much power in that construct that plays out in interesting ways in Mormonism. Again, however, the irony is that such a position is completely at odds with Biblical inerrancy - since, if "authority" rests in individuals to interpret God's word (as is the foundation of Mormonism, despite its hierarchical structure) and come to differing conclusions, the word is not really inerrant.

At the core, this is Protestantism's primary problem - the paradoxes they dismiss merely as "mysteries", therefore allowing speculation to explain the unexplainable outside of their closed canon. Such speculation is fine with an open canon, as in Mormonism.

In the end, when push comes to shove, most Protestants actually believe what we teach in FAR more instances than they will admit - since admitting it would mean they have to acknowledge we are right. That's just unacceptable.

Unknown said...

Thanks Ray, and sorry for the delay. My computer access is often limited as my husband continues to look for a job (we're month 3 of unemployment).

I will have to look for the Richards' book. OTOH, I have read lots ABOUT Mormon Doctrine, but haven't actually read the book itself. I've seen it discredited so much that I decided to not take time with it.

Question for you regarding Hugh Nibley. I guess two. Are there any particular talks/reading that you recommend? Also, and I'm not sure how to put this gently and respectfully -- in lieu of allegations made by Mr. Nibley's daughter (Martha Beck), is he still considered authoritative in his writings, or put another way, has there been any backlash considering some of her allegations? How do LDS view her and her allegations? Perhaps I should say, how do you view her and her allegations?

I enjoyed your thoughts at the end of your comment, and I intend to consider that. Interestingly enough, I too tend to think that it's Catholicism or Mormonism, and as much LDS reading as I do (pro and con), I also do lots of reading on/about Catholicism. Being raised in the religion and attending Catholic higher institutions unfortunately did not grant me an in-depth knowledge of my own faith. I do believe that the LDS faith does a much better job of educating their youth in their religion. My biblical knowledge is seriously lacking, and in order to make this monumental decision, I need to make that better. As much as I can "feel" something, I need to know it in my head.

Thanks again for your help.


Papa D said...

Aileen, first, I don't know how to say this diplomatically, but my personal view is that Martha Beck is really, really screwed up - and it's not because of her father abusing her. I don't believe he did for one moment, mostly because everyone else in the family (including multiple sisters) is unanimous in their rejection of her claims. It has to be hard being lesbian and the daughter of such a prominent Mormon figure, but I just can't reconcile her charges and the universally unified reactions of everyone else who knew the man and his family. Personally, I try to be charitable and grant that he might have been a demanding man (perhaps even "emotionally abusive" in the limited sense of someone who just doesn't really listen and understand and demands perfection but still is a loving father mode), but at the core I think she has twisted whatever the truth is into a self-justification as a way to "legitimize" her lifestyle in her own mind. That's a guess, but I actually have read enough of her claims and her family's responses to discount her charges completely.

Just to clarify my own stance on Mormon Doctrine:

I think it is fine for a mature member to use it as a reference tool, since Elder McConkie truly was a brilliant man and an exceptional scriptorian. I just think the negatives of what I view as his "mistakes" outweigh the positives of his insights - qualitatively, not quantitatively. I have it on my bookshelf, and I use it occasionally, but only for certain topics - and less and less each year. There just are very good alternatives now.

As to Nibley's writings, FARMS published a series of books years ago that are compilations of lectures and talks. For the Book of Mormon, I would recommend, "Lehi in the Desert/The World of the Jaredites" (a combined volume). For an overall, cosmological view, "Nibley on the Timely and the Timeless" is wonderful. On the Early Christian Church and Apostasy, I would recommend, "Mormonism and Early Christianity". Finally, for a good OT overview, "Old Testment and Related Studies". The Book of Mormon work is the shortest and most "readable"; ironically, it looks like I listed them in order of size - smallest to largest.

Again, there are more modern authors who use more recent research to address more narrow topics, but Nibley is one of the best, imo, to get a good, singular voice about the breadth of what you are asking.

I also HIGHLY recommend Stephen Robinson's "Believing Christ" and "Following Christ" for a very good discussion of the core of the Restored Gospel. Many people, including I, give him some credit for helping Mormons talk more about the foundation of grace in our theology.

I hope I didn't just overwhelm you with suggestions, but you asked. *grin*

Unknown said...

Wow. At this rate, I should be able to schedule those missionary discussions sometime in 2011. *grin*

Thanks again for your suggestions.

I better get reading!


Papa D said...

By sometime in 2011, my second son might be serving in your area. *grin*

I'm sure you know this, but I don't recommend waiting until you feel you "know everything" before joining the Church. Pay for my flight, and I'd be happy to baptize you before you finish all those books. *VERY big grin*