Saturday, May 25, 2013

My Sunday School Lesson Recap: Prophecy and Revelation - Instutional and Individual

We talked first about what an institution is: an officially recognized, formal organization granted a high degree of legitimacy and power within a society.  We talked about the practical difference between an institution and an organization from a societal standpoint - an organization being anything that is organized (including our individual bodies, from purely a scientific perspective) but an institution being a larger organization of social importance.  Institutions tend to be universities, churches, governments, prisons, hospitals, etc.  Someone mentioned the family, so we talked about marriage and family being institutions only when we give them extra importance and "honor" them in the same way as the other institutions we mentioned. 

We then talked briefly about what an individual is, and I focused primarily on the fact that individuals exist almost always within the larger scope of society - that an individual is a part of multiple organizations and institutions. 

I gave them a very general summary of the issue of authority and institutional revelation relative to Catholicism and Protestantism, stating clearly that it was a bit stereotypical in its simplicity.  I emphasized the Catholic emphasis on institutional revelation to all through the Pope (whom I labeled the "Presiding Cardinal" to make a comparison to our structure) and the Protestant emphasis on the priesthood of believers and the authority of the Bible as God's revelation to all. 

I told them that Mormonism is a composite of Catholicism and Protestantism in regard to revelation.  We looked again at the Bible Dictionary description of revelation, emphasizing that we believe in BOTH institutional revelation for all (including for the Church as a whole, presiding over by the President of the Church) AND individual, personal revelation to each member.  I wrote "Prophet" and "prophet" on the board and talked about the significance of the capitalization within Mormonism: "Prophet" being the presiding prophet among the Twelve Apostles and "prophet" being anyone who speaks the word of God under the influence of the Holy Ghost. (I also pointed out how, in those terms, Lehi was a prophet without being "The Prophet".)  We talked about a High Priest Group Leader and his responsibility concerning revelation - that he communicates revelation (and other stuff) as a representative of the Stake President (the presiding High Priest in the area), receives revelation for his local group (but not the individuals in the group), his family (with his wife, as an equal partner and participant) and himself. 

When we talked about the HPGL and his responsibility to receive revelation for his own family, I emphasized that he had no more authority or responsibility for that kind of revelation than his wife - that, ideally, they two act as one and receive revelation jointly, honoring each other in that process.  We read directly from the Proclamation to the World, and I emphasized that each sentence about primary responsibilities would read very differently if either was the only relative sentence.  I read the sentence about each parent being "obligated" to help in "these" sacred responsibilities as "equal partners" and the open-ended, non-restrictive "other circumstances" that require "individual adaptation".  We talked about how lots of members think the only righteous model for providing a living is a father working outside the home and a stay-at-home mother but that the Proclamation leaves it entirely up to each couple to make the decision about how they will provide and nurture.  It was interesting to see that they all understood that without any difficulty (even the ones with parents in the traditional model) - and it reinforced my belief that this generation will change the Church naturally and radically.   

We focused the last ten minutes on the inherent tension between institutional and individual revelation.  I used Nephi and his beheading of Laban as an extreme example - and I worded it that way, as an extreme.  I asked them if Nephi followed immediately and gladly what he perceived to be revelation from the Lord to kill Laban.  After their responses, I asked them why Nephi struggled to accept it - and how he came to accept it.  I pointed out that Nephi eventually had acted in the way that he believed was consistent with what God was asking him to do - and that, whether or not I would have done what Nephi did, the point is that Nephi had to own his decision and act according to the dictates of his own conscience. 

I shared the example of when I lived in Missouri and had to commute 40 minutes each way to church, while starting over again in my new career and being quite poor.  We attended church almost every Sunday and youth activities most Wednesdays - but we attended almost no other church activities.  It was a choice my wife and I had to make, even though other members might have decided differently and might have judged or criticized us for it - claiming we weren't faithful enough.  I told them explicitly that I have said "no" to some requests from leaders and spoken up in some meetings and privately when I felt like something that was being said was too incorrect and/or damaging to remain silent.

I told them that I almost could guarantee that each and every one of them would face something, at some point, in their lives when the direction they get from a leader ("institutional revelation" in at least someone's eyes) would conflict with their own personal beliefs ("individual revelation" in their own mind) - and that, in the end, even if hopefully it never rose to the level of Nephi's situation in any way, they also would have to decide between the dictates of their own consciences and the organizational / institutional rules.  I told them that, as my default, I accept institutional rules - but that, ultimately, I honor personal revelation whenever the conflict is such that I feel I must do so in order to look God in the eye and say:

"I did my best to do what I believed you wanted me to do and any revelation I believe I received from you."

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