Monday, October 5, 2009

Paul v. John - Oaks v. Uchtdorf: Why We NEED a Quorum of 12 Apostles

As I listened to General Conference, and as I read various responses around the Bloggernacle to the talks given in General Conference, something struck me that had never crossed my mind previously. I want to share it as my own personal epiphany from General Conference.

Elder Bednar gave a beautiful talk on the need to express AND show love in our homes. In at least four talks, love was emphasized as the foundation of our Christian discipleship. One of the reasons Elder Wirthlin's death was hard for me is that he spoke powerfully and regularly about accepting others and loving them no matter what they believe or do or say. (His talk "Concern for the One" is my personal all-time favorite.) As I listened to Pres. Uchtdorf this weekend, it struck me that he is my "replacement" for Elder Wirthlin - someone who speaks of tolerance and acceptance and grace and love on a regular basis. I am drawn to and inspired deeply by messages that focus on love and acceptance and grace and mercy.

Saturday afternoon, Elder Oaks spoke about the balance between love and law - and I have read multiple expressions of concern over his talk. Especially when viewed by those who were uplifted by the messages focusing on love, it was a difficult talk to understand and accept. For some, it seemed to be a step away from the "pure love of Christ" within the other talks that moved them so deeply. Personally, I believe it was a masterful discourse and another one of my favorites - and my epiphany yesterday morning as I was preparing to watch the Sunday morning session is that there is a reason (even a deep and abiding need) for BOTH Elder Oaks AND Pres. Uchtdorf - Elder McConkie AND Elder Wirthlin - the Apostle Paul AND John, the Revelator - Brigham Young AND Joseph Smith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the church that is called a restoration of ALL things.

I will try to explain by focusing on Paul and John:

1) Paul was a leader in the Jewish system at the time of his conversion. In summary, he was legally-minded - interpreting laws and customs, and enforcing them among the Jews. After his conversion, this background and intellectual inclination remained as a great influence in his writing. His epistles are FULL of legalistic justifications and explanations - I Corinthians 15:1-29 being a wonderful example of this as he explained and justified the early Christian focus on the resurrection, and Hebrews 11 doing the same things when explaining faith. He didn't "just" bear testimony of the resurrection and faith; he couched both discourses in legalistic terms - "court arguments", if you will.

2) John, the Revelator, on the other hand, is the apostle most associated with focusing on love. His own "gospel" and epistles are full of incredible messages of love and unity. "God so loved the world" - "If ye love me" - "By this shall men know ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" - "God is love" - and SO many other statements permeate his record and his letters.

Those who compiled the New Testament hundreds of years later chose disproportionately to include Paul's writings, but they also included John's very different focus - and James' classic exploration of faith vs. works - and Mark's quite disjointed and grammatically difficult account - and Matthew's kingship treatise. If I were in a snitty mood, I might argue with what specifically they chose, but I am grateful that they chose to include writings that focused on Jesus and His teachings in different ways - that they compiled a record that can appeal to different people with different personalities and different experiences. Those with a more legalistic bent can appreciate Paul and Oaks, while those who care more for the touchy-feely "warm fuzzies" of the Gospel can gravitate to and be inspired by John and Uchtdorf. Those who like both (as I do) also can enjoy some of Bednar and Holland, who move from one approach to the other quite regularly.

In summary, I am thankful that we have the opportunity to listen to BOTH Elder Oaks (a judge, by the way) AND Pres. Uchtdorf - since this allows ALL to hear someone with whom they can connect emotionally and/or intellectually. The key, in my opinion, is to find one's own "favorites" - while accepting that other people are doing the same with the words of apostles to whom you personally cannot connect quite as well.

I thank God for a Quorum of Twelve Apostles - and I am grateful that they don't all say the same things in the same way.


Amy E said...

Amen, Ray. I just thought, too, that it's not only for different people with different experiences but also each of us at different stages of our lives. Some of the conference speakers that I preferred more when I was younger are different than the ones I prefer now. (And that's not just because some have passed away and there are new ones. :) )

Ryan said...

That's really a really interesting observation! Especially since a great many of the most troublesome heresies, both in and out of the Church, grow out of a narrow interpretation of one Apostle's words.

No matter how much you like Paul's or McConkey's take on things, the authority of the Twelve, past and present, rests in their united voice. It's no accident that they're called a "Quorum of 12"

Quorum (noun): the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally.