Going All Sorts of Gentile

It’s almost Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost went wild, which brings to fiery minds the thought of not only that particular world-turned-upside-down event but assorted others a whole lot like unto it, which other events alas never got their own red-letter day on the calendar, even though they probably deserved to, and so it occurred to me, why not just piggyback them all onto Pentecost, given their decidedly Pentecost-like qualities, and commemorate them all together, and not just as something dead and done and so last year, but as something with very possibly bone-shaking and world-rocking consequences right here and now? Especially my two very favorites: Peter’s dream, and Paul’s vision.

Oh, Peter had the dream, yes he did, but Paul—well, he had the vision. And I’m not talking here about his Damascus-going literal vision, but his plain old figurative one, regarding what exactly ought to be done about Peter’s odd dream. And that plain old figurative vision was this: if you’re going to go to people you think are strangers and invite them to join you and stay with you, the way Peter was suggesting, then you have to really go to them, instead of expecting them to do things just the way you do. Yes sir, that was the really big piece of seeing, right there.

tuvisionOh sure, Peter’s dream was big too, so big that at first it was like Moses slapping Pharaoh with a clever new plague, or something right out of a freaky psycho horror Chucky movie, what with all those forbidden-to-eat animals floating breezily down on a big sheet straight at Peter’s head, which when you think about it was just about the worst dream a guy who’d been forbidden to eat or even touch those sheet-riding animals could have imagined, something very much akin to the time big Ricky O’Connor stuffed a cigarette butt down my skinny little throat because I told him there was no way in the world I would ever smoke or even touch a cigarette, that’s how pure I was, and then Ricky went and unpurified me by making me dang near swallow the filthy thing.

Things got even worse in the dream when Peter heard a voice sounding like it was meant to be God’s, egging him on and saying, Go ahead and eat, Peter, it’s okay, plus it’s lunchtime and you’re hungry, but the totally flummoxed Peter was thinking, Absolutely no way could this be God, because God has already said (i.e. in holy writ), Don’t you dare eat those animals. Or at most Peter was thinking: Well if it is God, then it has to be some kind of test to see whether I’ll do what He’s already told me to do even when He is apparently telling me to do the opposite; or Maybe this is God trying to trick me, saying to his helpers, Let’s mess with Peter the way we did with Job, in fact let’s get James Earl Jones to do the voice and make it really convincing; or Maybe God is just saying, Let’s let the devil do his angel-of-light thing, to make it seem like it’s okay to eat forbidden-to-eat animals after all, even though it’s actually not.

All that lotto-ball-style jumbling in Peter’s spinning head goes exceeding far toward explaining why the voice had to tell him three times to eat up, and why pure Peter said, No I won’t eat anything unclean, prompting the voice to snap back, Don’t go calling unclean what is every bit as clean as you, until finally on the third time Peter just barely (maybe centimeterly) got the nerve to take the very big mental leap necessary to think Wow, maybe this really is God telling me to do something He’s told me not to do. Which leaping was made a whole lot easier by the dream ending and a relieved Peter realizing that he wouldn’t have to actually eat those animals after all: nope, in real life they were still forbidden. They’d just been a purely metaphorical sort of cinematic-device to get unforgettably across to Peter a message that was at least as big as actually eating the animals would have been: namely, that all the people Peter and other Jesus-believing Jews had been absolutely certain were unclean (i.e. Gentiles) actually weren’t, and could therefore hear the good news that Jesus-believing Jews had so far been spreading just among themselves, and even join the Jesus-believing community too.

Yes, that world-turned-upside-down realization regarding the Jesus-believing viability and overall worth of Gentiles was an extremely huge deal all by itself. “God has put no difference between us and them,” was the stunning conclusion Peter came to from his close encounter with the surely odiferous sheet, which conclusion ran exactly opposite of what he’d always assumed God had said. But how in the world was he going to convince other Jesus-believing Jews of this? It would take something special for sure, and luckily he got it, in a big Pentecost-style outpouring that overcame them when he told about his dream. Yes, agreed the others, Gentiles could hear the good news too, and join them! Who’d have ever mind-blowingly thought?!

But then along came Paul, saying that as mind-blowing as that change of mind was, well it was more of a little poof, to get things going.

See, what Peter and most Jesus-believing Jews were saying with their new revelationary idea about Gentiles, saw Paul, was this: you are free to join us now, and isn’t that great—all you have to do to do that is be like us. Which is namely, Jesus-believing Jews. Just believe all the things we do, and do all the things we do too: i.e. don’t eat the forbidden animals that floated down in Peter’s purely metaphorical dream, and you males get yourselves circumcised, and keep our Sabbath, and don’t stay married to any unbelievers, and a whole lot more. Just turn into one of us!

StPaulIcon-e1431430328461Though a strict Jesus-believing Jew himself, Gentile-experienced Paul saw a big problem looming right there, which was where his plain old figurative sort of vision came in, but good lord that figurative sort turned out to be even bigger than his Damascus-going sort, even though it didn’t come with any heavenly voices or Pentecost-like outpourings, or for that matter even with any approval from the top leaders of the Jesus-believing Jews in Jerusalem. Instead it seemed to come from somewhere inside Paul, probably just from living among all those Gentiles and getting to know them and wanting to take the good news to them and having a real strong sense of exactly how that ought to be done.

And that vision was even more specifically this: if we care enough about Gentiles to want them to join us, then we can’t just say, “Just be like us and do what we do,” and expect them to come running. We have to say something more inviting and hospitable, like, “We so much want you to hear this good news and so much want you to join our community and would so much value what you bring to it and even how you would no doubt help reshape it that we’re going to go your way a little too. In fact even a lot.” Because if we just tell Gentiles to start accepting and doing some of the things we do, even things we think are absolutely God-givenly unmissable, well the vast majority of them will never even hear us get to the truly absolutely unmissable thing, which is the Jesus-believing. Because see, to them a lot of the things we do make us totally strange too.

Paul and a few other Jesus-believing-Gentile-experienced Jews, not to mention Gentiles themselves, were sure that Gentiles could believe in Jesus just fine even if they showed their belief in their own strange Gentile-looking ways. Oh, Paul et al. weren’t going to give up everything to Gentiles of course, especially not Jesus-believing. But they were willing to give up insisting on certain things, and not little piddly things either, but big aforementioned identity-giving absolutely-unmissable non-negotiable fixed-forever God-given things that they and most others had assumed always had and always would accompany proper Jesus-believing. It was up to them to go to Gentiles, Paul more or less reasoned, instead of up to Gentiles just to come to them.

Well you can imagine the fuss that this kicked up among plenty of Jesus-believing Jews, including a very torn-from-all-sides Peter: I mean, he’d had the big Gentile-loving dream in the first place, but he wasn’t exactly comfortable going as far as Paul was now going, which you could tell from how Paul practically made fun of him in Galatians 2—oh, Peter ate Gentile-style once when he was with some Jesus-believing Gentiles out in Antioch, but then as soon as his fellow leaders back in Jerusalem heard about it he got all sheepish again! Those fellow leaders already had plenty of reason to furrow their brows about Paul, given all the metaphorical and possibly literal stones he’d thrown their way before his Damascus-going vision, and now here he was changing their precious religion too?! Plus they’d had enough on their hands trying to smooth things over between Greek-speaking Jesus-believing Jews and Hebrew-speaking Jesus-believing Jews, and now short little bald(ing) unibrowed bow-legged Paul was going to complicate things further with all this Gentile-conceding stuff?! Who did he think he was?!

Oh, some Jesus-believing Jews probably expected that opening their community up to Gentiles might mean having to make a few concessions to them here and there, like what time or what day they worshiped, or exactly how they worshiped, or what languages they spoke, and of course it would take a LOT of patience to show Gentiles how to do all the unmissable and non-negotiable Jesus-believing things just right. And at a conference held to try to solve this whole Gentile-loving mess, leaders in Jerusalem (including Peter) even gave up some serious ground on the absolutely unmissable and theretofore non-negotiable matter of circumcision: okay, Jesus-believing Gentile males wouldn’t have to do that, maybe that was asking a little too much. But especially the most devout Jesus-believing Jews said there couldn’t be any budging on other non-negotiable things, like the Sabbath, and what you ate and drank, etc., because how could you say you really believed in Jesus or loved God if you didn’t do just right the things that He had told them to do?

IMG_2239 (2)Paul kept on budging anyway, at least for Jesus-believing Gentiles, saying in Galatians for instance that Gentiles didn’t have to keep the Jewish dietary code after all. Sure, Jesus-believing Jews should of course keep it, and all the other things they kept too, but again for Jesus-believing Gentiles those things just didn’t matter to their believing, or their love for God. Still, here was the thing, said Paul: for all their differences, all Jesus-believers—Jew and Gentile—could be part of the same community, and not just in the abstract sense of community, or the classic separate-but-equal-congregations sense, but in the same actual physical elbow-bumping literal sense. They didn’t have to be strangers and foreigners to each other, because what made them familiar and united them and what even made the community a community was their mutual hope in Jesus and the love and respect for each other that ought to flow from that, even more than the many particular God-given ways they thought everybody ought to be showing that.

So for instance, said Paul, if you don’t eat certain animals, that’s just fine, but don’t despise believers who do, and don’t say they’re not true believers; and if you do eat certain animals then don’t despise believers who don’t. If you show your belief by treating the Sabbath as a special holy day, fine, but don’t despise believers who prefer to treat every day as equally holy; and vice versa too. And so on. In fact maybe the Pentecost-like spirit that Jesus-believers so loved and very occasionally felt came especially not when they were showing their belief the same exact way but precisely when they weren’t and then realized that their non-sameness didn’t really matter. Oh, they were still different from each other all right, still Jesus-believing Jew and Gentile, Bond and Free, Black and White, Male and Female, Young and Old, and So On Forever and Ever. It was just that those differences didn’t make a difference any more. Just like on Pentecost, they understood each other even though they were speaking different languages.

It wasn’t any surprise at all when Jesus-believing Gentiles started arguing real soon among themselves too (e.g. as in Paul’s letter to Timothy), over just exactly what was the right unmissable non-negotiable Jesus-believing God-given Gentile way to show your hope in and love for Jesus. And Jesus-believing Gentiles would keep arguing with Jesus-believing Jews too, each of them making fun of or fuming over the way the other did things. Face it, it’s not easy to see somebody claiming to be a part of the religion you love who does things differently from you. Even saintly John the Revelator a generation or two later went all Apocalyptic on Paul’s disciples, charging them with corrupting the original Jesus-believing God-given pure religion for the sake of some Gentiles, which corrupting was sure to bring about the end of the world not at some distant future time but very possibly tomorrow, and not in some distant place but right here in the hellish Roman Empire, because of what Paul and other fake Jews had done to the religion, which was sure to bring down the wrath of God, thank you very much Paul.

But if Paul hadn’t have done what he did then Jesus-believing would have been a pretty tiny and very-closely-held enterprise. Some people, like John the Revelator, would have been fine with that: better pure and small than corrupted and big, he would’ve thought. But Paul thought all sorts of people could benefit from the good news, and he had a different vision from John of what doing that meant, and what pure meant, and it didn’t involve never allowing anyone to diverge from the way you did things or always standing up for and defending your way as the only way or even avoiding the people you thought were impure, but instead involved sitting down and figuring out how you could tweak your ways a little here and even make a wholesale change there and okay even rethink even certain apparently non-negotiable unmissable ways in order to help accommodate people you’d thought were strangers, because you were sure that your mutual hope and love in Jesus rose above all that, or better yet underlay it, like some big pillow, softening everything.

Still, over the Christian centuries the Peter-like tradition dominated at least the narrative of what the religion was ideally about, which was namely heroically standing up and defending and never ever bending assorted unmissable and non-negotiable ways of being a Jesus-believer. But the quieter and also less-obviously-heroic Paul-like tradition lived on too, at least in messy practice, still asking as usual, what can we do to accommodate your ways and help you feel welcome in our community? Which if you’re used to hearing exclusively the Peter-like tradition is about as stunning as Peter’s big dream was. Paul’s tradition wasn’t always as easy to notice over the centuries, because it happened mostly in the doing rather than the preaching and so you have to look at doing over long periods of time to spot it, but it was there, whenever new groups and customs and ideas and understanding were bumped up against and worked with.

Paul’s tradition hasn’t exactly dominated the ideal narrative in Mormon centuries either, as any actual accommodating of new groups, or accommodating ourselves to the wider world so as not to be excessively removed from it, tends to get forgotten pretty fast, or if it’s too obvious to get forgotten it gets the way more acceptable label of continuing revelation (most famously with polygamy and race), which label Paul would have surely been wholeheartedly happy to apply to what he was doing too, even though he might have had a slightly different idea from many moderns of exactly how that label worked, in that his involved a lot of creativity and imagination and initiative-taking in figuring out how to work strangers into the Jesus-believing world, instead of just waiting to be told.

Come to think of it, though, that sort of initiative-taking was basically how Spencer Kimball said revelation worked during his own world-turned-upside-down experience too, about race; thus he realized that if there were going to be a revelation on the matter then it depended in a big way on him opening his mind and heart to reconsidering and reimagining and even giving up his old absolutely certain assumptions, which process led him to see that God had put no difference between himself and those he’d been sure were strangers and foreigners, and then to actually wanting a revelation affirming that they were in fact full-fledged fellow-citizens[fn 1]: “Revelations will probably never come unless they are desired,” he concluded.[fn 2] And he didn’t seem to mean desired exclusively by someone in his leading position either, because he knew very well that all sorts of ordinary believers had been desiring and feeling the very same thing he was.

In fact anyone who lived through that whole experience in the 1960s and 70s probably got a whole new insight into how the Pentecost-like event following Peter’s dream probably went too—i.e. that maybe a very good reason Peter’s fellow-believers were so glad to hear and accept his dream was that Peter was very likely not the only one having it, either among Jesus-believers or even Gentiles themselves. In fact the Spirit-moved Gentile Cornelius came right out and said as much, and the Spirit-moved missionary Philip came right out and did as much, baptizing a Spirit-moved Ethiopian eunuch—the very first (and very stranger) Gentile convert—even before Cornelius or Peter had had their dreams, and even before the community had given its official stamp-of-approval to doing such a strange thing.

Oh, believers are probably always going to argue over how much you can accommodate the strangers you hope will join and stay with you, and over just what exactly it takes to be a good Jesus-believer, just like they have from the start. And it’s probably even okay to discuss that friendily (sic), as long as it doesn’t get nasty[fn 3], and as long as everyone understands that your unity and mutual respect as Jesus-believers are even more important than the particular thing you’re arguing about[fn 4], and that Jesus-believing unity doesn’t even actually come through everybody thinking and doing everything the same or even in your differences somehow magically disappearing, but instead through everyone realizing that every single different and sometimes oddball part of the believing body you all belong to, even the apparently useless appendix-like parts or unheralded little-toe parts or even very least pure don’t-need-mentioning parts, are all somehow important and necessary and therefore equally valuable[fn 5].

Looked at like that, Paul-style, well then accommodating and sitting-down and maybe even compromising can actually have some good connotations instead of bad, and be called something nice, like religious acts of love or at-one-ing, instead of something ugly, like corrupting or watering-down or caving-in.

That was Paul’s big upsetting vision all right, and it would be every bit as upsetting today too, if it was put to work with the same sort of gusto that Paul put it to. But of course, upsetting is the nature of Pentecost, and things like unto it.


[fn 1] “I had a great deal to fight…myself largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.” Edward Kimball, “Spencer W. Kimball and the Revelation on Priesthood,” BYU Studies, 47/2 (2008): 48. Strangers and foreigners and fellow-citizens of course from Ephesians 2.

[fn 2] Ibid., p. 46.

[fn3] Basing myself here on the account of Jesus’s visit in 3 Nephi 11.

[fn 4] Basing myself here on Jesus’s reply to the question of what was the great commandment, which answer basically was, well there are actually two, namely Love God and Love Your Neighbor, making them practically matrimonially linked; which is reinforced by I John 4 saying that you can’t say you love God if you don’t love your brother, and Paul saying in I Cor 13 that you can be the most rule-keeping and spiritually gifted person in the world but if you don’t love your neighbor well nothing else really matters, and Paul saying in Galatians 5:14 that all the law was fulfilled in this word: love your neighbor as yourself.

[fn 5] Romans 12, which doesn’t specifically mention the appendix etc.

29 comments for “Going All Sorts of Gentile

  1. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 9:08 am

    That’s a heck of a post Craig. The difficulty — just like the glory of the Paul-vision you note — is in the practical details. History and personal experience combine to show we’re not so good at the put-our-arms-around-each-other-and-be-united-in-something-central-despite-massive-periphery-differences. We tend to excommunicate and kill each other instead. And unfortunately, willingness to excommunicate and kill tends to track genuine belief and willingness to genuinely sacrifice and conform to God’s commands. “Watered-down” isn’t merely glass-half-empty rhetoric concerning difference. The cartoonish flare of your post is wonderfully entertaining and as such allows you to offer very serious and pointed commentary. But I worry that, practically speaking, it doesn’t offer us too much to go on.

    I don’t say this to criticize the project — I hope I’m on your team. But I think the challenge is massively daunting, and I’m not sure Paul’s Vision as articulated is terribly helpful — beyond perhaps it’s ability to stoke our imaginations (which, I suppose, might really be the heart of the challenge; so maybe it is terribly helpful). This project, however, is I think one of our grand challenges: how do we allow and genuinely embrace a diversified, mutually committed-to-one-another Restoration without losing existential commitment and the good of living as a people? And what is the Restoration equivalent of Jesus-believing? And whatever that is, can it sustain peoplehood?

  2. EBK
    May 11, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I love this! We like to pretend that we have progressed so much over the past 2000 years and would never make the mistakes of those ancient people. But people are people and we continue to make the same mistakes and have the same arguments in every generation. That’s why ancient scripture can still apply today, we aren’t all that different from the early Christians.

  3. May 11, 2016 at 10:16 am

    You describe really well what Bart Ehrman in his book “Lost Christianities” documents in detail. The Ebionites were with Peter — join us and keep all the Jewish Law. Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah and we need to continue in the Law He gave. Then there were the Marcionites, who were just the opposite. They believed the Jewish god of the OT was not the Jesus/God of the NT, and the OT was to be done away, entirely. Their canon of scripture included mostly Paul and a couple of the Gospels. This was all happening around the time John was writing the apocalyptic end of world narrative, which Paul seemed to have adopted as well. There really wasn’t an “original church” at the time of Christ. There was a movement and a following, but the “church” part wasn’t really an organization. It was a diffused community (many different communities) of Jesus believers, and their beliefs about Christ and his divinity and just about every other aspect of what it means to be a Christian. The proto-orthodox won out, branding the others “heretics” and so it goes. Being “one in the body of Christ,” unfortunately, may be an illusion. But it’s an illusion only in the sense of our inability to truly “be” one. It’s something we strive for and must, but will we ever arrive? I don’t know.

  4. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 10:17 am

    You’re right James, the difficulty is always in the practical details, but I focus here on the basic principles of Paul’s basic approach because they’re so easily lost sight of in all the fighting that usually goes on over the practical details. That approach might be summed up as: wanting strangers to join and stay with you in your Jesus-believing community will probably mean going their way, or at least letting them go theirs, instead of just insisting they go yours; it might even mean giving up (to them) things you’ve always considered to be the most basic parts of your beliefs, as circumcision and Sabbath-keeping and diet-observing etc. were to Jesus-believing Jews. This serious accommodating of serious differences is really the part that is missed (at least among believers) in the whole going-to-the-Gentiles story, and that therefore makes all the fighting over practical details probably more heated than it ought to be.

    With those principles in mind, then you’re right again, it’s all about imagination, and taking initiative, and figuring out how to accommodate each other, and that is indeed what I’m trying to put a very metaphorical shoulder to. I could make a whole list of how I think those principles could be translated into practical details, as could anyone else too, but I didn’t want that to be the focus. Again, it’s more of a way to approach differences.

  5. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 10:41 am

    EBK, you’re right, but it’s always amazing both how cliche it is to say that scripture still applies and what a revelation it is when it hits you again.

    Mormonfarmer, I don’t know either, but it seems worth trying. The communities you name are among the many, many which show how hard it is. Or maybe it’s so simple we can’t see it.

  6. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2016 at 11:12 am

    The NT history here is interesting (at least to the degree we can reconstruct what was likely going on). Saying that having the gentiles bring their ideas sounds good, until you realize the problems that even Paul faced with gnostics, false prophets and so forth. I’m not sure I’d say the John of Revelations is at odds with Paul seems a bit off since Paul says pretty similar things at times in his own epistles.

    The real issue is the question of what in the Law (or the traditions built up around it) persists after Christ. There already were conversion narratives in Judaism even if it wasn’t a proselytizing movement the way Christianity became. This really was a big change from those traditions.

    Effectively you have Christianity becoming non-Judaism. You can understand why that was a shock. It’s really the destruction of the temple and then the final destruction of Jerusalem and its conversion into Aelia Capitolina that makes the bigger break between Judaism and Christianity. Although it was already setup by this involvement of gentiles into the faith. It really makes the new exile not apply to the Christians although we then see Roman persecution of Christians as well until they finally take over the empire centuries later.

  7. Olde Skool
    May 11, 2016 at 11:16 am

    Ummm, isn’t the Restoration equivalent of Jesus-believing Jesus-believing?

  8. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Yes, and that’s the “very serious and pointed commentary” I was referring to. Again, kudos.

    In addition to the practical details where we fight and things get rough, I worry (practically) about the power of the Pauline vision/approach to bind the community. That was my favorite part of your post, btw, where you allude to “if it’s not apparent in the writing, it’s certainly apparent in the community practices.” Along these lines, I think we see exactly this phenomenon taking place on the ground amongst individual families and communities in Mormonism. It’s interesting that the Pope recently took a similar approach with marriage & family issues in Catholicism. Whether it’s merely steam-valve releasing, or whether it can presage a substantive change (and whether substantive change can sustain overall community), I’m not sure.

  9. The Other Clark
    May 11, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Much to think about here, with
    (1) The steady drumbeat from Church HQ that revelation will never contradict scripture–except when it does
    (2) Women and the Priesthood– Are we open to accepting new paradigms
    (3) New converts in,say, Africa. How far is the Church ™ willing to go to accomodate them? So far, they’re still singing out of the same hymnbook we are, but would drums (or whatever cultural worship traditions they have) really “ruin” the services? Ditto for every other congregation beyond the Mormon Corridor

  10. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Clark — yes. And in this sense, all those dour, Peterian, naysayers were exactly right. The Jesus-believing Jewish community didn’t really survive. It’s hard to blame them for fighting against what was in fact their dissolution, and of very little consolation to say, “Ah, but come on, Jesus-believing continued!”

  11. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 11:46 am

    If there’s nothing more to the Restoration than Jesus-believing, then the Restoration’s rather redundant and superfluous at best (at worst, it’s what our critics claim).

  12. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Right, but my point is that what drives the divestment of Judaism is much more Rome than Peter or Paul.

  13. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Clark, no doubt there were all sorts of arguments, and, as I say, there always will be. But it doesn’t mean it’s worth giving up on trying to figure out how to accommodate, or that accommodating isn’t a Christian tradition (at least in practice). The stuff on Revelations and Paul’s disciples is from Elaine Pagels’ book on Revelation.

  14. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Nice start, The Other Clark; right, this could go on and on. One of the things that first got me thinking about this was in the 1970s or early 80s when I saw an image of a senior missionary couple in Africa showing the locals how to play a very tiny and surely reedy electronic keyboard for church, presumably instead of drums or other local instruments, as if the (electronic) keyboard was a true and unmissable and even eternal part of Jesus-believing or -worshiping, completely neglecting how keyboards were rejected in certain branches of Christianity for long, as too worldly, until they became acceptable and even the default instrument of choice. Of course I didn’t know that last bit at the time, but something about the picture struck me as odd. And that of course is a pretty small thing, in comparison with some of the big and fundamental things Paul was giving up. If you did the sort of imagination exercise James mentioned above, and tried to find some modern Mormon parallels to the sorts of things Paul was giving up–well I think it would be really hard for a lot of us to do the same.

  15. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    One place to start with imagination, James, would be to imagine what modern Mormon parallels might be to the sorts of things Paul was willing to make concessions on. Those were huge for Jesus-believing Jews, and would be huge for Mormons too. But if you can imagine such things, then you have a chance to grasp what Paul was doing, and what that might mean for you.

  16. JKC
    May 11, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    That was my reaction, too, Olde Skool.

    James, I disagree that making faith in Christ the point and purpose of the restoration renders the restoration redundant or superfluous. If that were true, you could basically say the same thing about any dispensation. All prophets are redundant, until you realize how thick-headed humanity really is, and how much we need repetition–and not just repetition, but also currency–that is, to truly experience what is means to believe in Jesus, you have to experience what it means to believe in a Jesus that continues to work through his church in literal ways.

    Put differently, if you agree that Jesus-believing in its fullness was lost through the apostasy, then the restoration is not redundant or superfluous. If you believe that Jesus-believing continued alive and well, then I suppose you would need to look elsewhere for what makes the restoration unique. Personally, while I’m happy to concede that faith in Christ persisted in some sense, I don’t believe that there is much at all in the church that either (1) doesn’t derive from Jesus’ incarnation and death, or (2) isn’t designed to increase faith in Jesus’ incarnation and death, so anything that might seem to be unique is not really something different from Jesus-believing, but is the fullest expression of Jesus-believing.

    In addition to that, I’m not so attached to uniqueness as a cardinal virtue, anyway.

  17. Clark Goble
    May 11, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    I suspect we’re going to see the church change culturally quite a bit over the next few decades. I think to really expand in Asia and Africa requires changes we’ve not yet made. Evangelicals for instance are growing extremely fast in Asia in a way we aren’t. Not that growth is or should be our only aim. However it does suggest that a stumbling block is our cultural assumptions – especially in our church services largely lifted from American low church protestant traditions. Even among Americans there’s enough grumbling about meetings that I suspect we’ll start to see changes on part with what happened in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

    The danger of course is that the more you ease up on correlation and “one size fits all” the more often you get Bishops and Stake Presidents doing screwy things. I think that oft told story of wards left alone during WWII only to be found adopting very Catholic like sacrament meetings remains in the back of most of the brethren’s mind.

    Again it’s worth noting that by all appearances what happens fairly early on in the 1st century Palestinian church are a series of schisms. And many of these schisms, such as the gnostics, are not at all minor. The very meaning of Jesus changes radically differently. Indeed while we can see Paul as pushing this openness, as I said it’s a double move. He wants openness to the gentiles yet at the same time he’s also spending much of his epistles yelling about apostasy. From the LDS perception the attempt to reign in the schisms is unsuccessful. The Church as a whole goes into hiding.

  18. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    I couldn’t have said it any better JKC, so I didn’t. And so yes there’s a lot to that Olde Skool.

  19. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 4:10 pm

    It probably will, since change is always going on, sometimes so slowly it’s not always easy to see, or we imagine it’s the first such change to something. And it’s not just about adapting to other places; it’s about adapting to all sorts of people, including within what you assumed was your own pretty uniform culture. If we don’t like the adaptation, we might call it schism; if we do, we might say it’s expanding the definition of a culture, or religion.

  20. Craig H.
    May 11, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Right, James, how the community is bound, or not, depends on what it cares about most, I presume. Does binding have to come through following basically the same practices and rituals and even detailed beliefs? Or does binding happen through something that transcends those, ethereal as it sounds? More concretely, I studied this in microcosmic settings, namely in mixed-faith families and marriages, especially during the time of the Reformation. A small percentage couldn’t function at all, and broke apart. Most tolerated each other but didn’t exactly accept each other. Another small percentage made their relationship the highest form of their religion, based on the idea that observing the second great commandment is the best way to show your love for God in the first great commandment. This last group had unity too, even though they didn’t have the same religion. I know more recent couples which include a believer and total unbeliever, and they’re able to achieve this same sort of binding. But it’s hard, I’m sure.

  21. HH9
    May 11, 2016 at 7:58 pm

    I read this this morning and half way through thought, hey Craig should read this, it sounds a lot like him. The first comment told me why I had that impression.

    This reminds me of a book I just read, The Bible Tells Me So, by Peter Enns. Who also agrees the NT is just one surprise after another and when we try to confine scripture or God into our notions of him, we end up with far less than he has on offer.

    I think there are dozens of things in the restoration that make us reconsider our non-negotiables/never missables. That’s sort of the heart and soul of the restoration. To take just one example: families. Say what you will about Joseph, but he was clearly open to radically reconsidering just what a family is. Polygamy was a part of that, but polyandry, posthumous sealings, adoption sealings, sealings in name only, sealings for time only all show an expansively different family he was just beginning to imagine. We’ve been trying to shove the implications of this reimagining back into a Victorian box ever since. Now, I don’t want us to go back to polygamy, but exploring threads of the restoration that we’ve under-explored would be nice. (I like your point that it is on all of us, we can’t just sit back until a leader tells us to move.) I imagine it might give new possibilities for conundrums currently plaguing us.

  22. James Olsen
    May 11, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    JKC/Olde Skool/Craig H.:
    It’s hard to tell if we’re talking past one another or agreeing, or if there’s a disagreement we haven’t yet brought to light. In the context of the OP, we’re urged toward a single, unifying principle that allows all of us to carefully, imaginatively, creatively compromise and come together — just as Paul’s vision allowed early Jewish Jesus-believers and Gentile Jesus-believers to do. This is all done with an aim toward us Mormons adopting this sort of creative inclusivity, and particularly toward our being able to get past older understandings that make strong claims about the necessity of certain ideas/practices. Anciently, as our parable goes, folks were successful to the degree they realized that in the end it’s all about Jesus. That’s all fine and good, but it certainly doesn’t justify the Restoration — one simply can’t argue that other’s lacked Jesus. UNLESS you make a move like JKC just did: the problem is that other folks’s Jesus isn’t really Jesus or isn’t Jesus enough or isn’t current-enough-Jesus. Then great, the Restoration’s very relevant. However, if we make that move, it looks like we’re just repeating the olde skool Peterian Christian move of fighting over who the real Jesus was/is (which then doesn’t allow Jesus-believing to serve as the centrifying principle). Ultimately a lot of those Peterites came together around a Jesus-believing set of creeds (and destroyed or ignored the subgroups who didn’t go along with it). The Restoration’s taken a fairly dim view of those creeds. Vis-a-vis the rest of Christianity, Mormons tend to take JKC’s view — we’re (in some sense) realer Jesus-believers.

    But that’s not, I take it, what the point of this parable is. The point is, how can we Restorationites be more Pauline and less Peterian amongst ourselves. Perhaps JKC’s right here too: our central tenet is Restoration-Jesus-believing.

    I’ll admit, I’m a bit skeptical concerning this solution for two reasons: I don’t think our current articulation of Jesus is different enough from others’ to sustain the differentiation or bond us together. This is especially true as the world gets ever more comfortable with Jesus-believing having nothing to do with people-building. But maybe it’s just that I’m an old Peterian crank who thinks peoplehood is central to the Restoration (and the good life), when really, I ought to just be more Protestant (er, Pauline) Jesus-believing.

    At any rate, Craig, great post. I’ll take my leave now.

  23. Ralph C. Hancock
    May 12, 2016 at 8:44 am

    It’s called Marcionism. Today you can call it Badiou-ism. I’m not against heresies in principle, but this one has problems.

  24. May 12, 2016 at 11:02 am

    While I know that some people read this and hope that you’re suggesting big social justice issue changes for the church, that’s not what comes to the forefront of my mind. I feel like there’s a cruft of items built up in the Handbook of Instructions, all because some Apostle imagined what a “perfect” ward looked like, and then when he discovered that some wards weren’t doing that, wrote it into the handbook that they should.
    And I might even agree that lots of things would reflect the perfect ward, but we need some wards to be less than perfect.
    I particularly think we could make some good progress with ward activities. I can only imagine what it would be like for a new convert\recent active to try and plan a ward activity, only to be confronted with a last minute list of things they can’t do\did wrong. One example would be bringing hay or corn stalks into the building as decorations for some fall themed activity. I know it really bums my mother-in-law out when she decorates the building, only to be told that some items are forbidden according to the handbook. That’s not going to destroy her testimony, but I can easily see it giving some the sense that “you’re not one of ‘us’ yet.”
    Another example that really stands out in my mind is the “no face cards in the building” rule. About a year back the Elders quorum hosted a bring your own game – game night at the building. A convert of around a year showed up with face cards and poker chips. Now of course there wouldn’t be any actual gambling, but still the EQP thought it wouldn’t be appropriate. He took the member aside, and in private and informed it that it would be preferred if poker wouldn’t be part of the Elders quorum official, sanctioned activity. The new member was understood, and had a great time playing whatever he played that evening. He did go inactive a few weeks later, and I’m sure it wasn’t because of this. But I can’t help but think that it did add to an overarching feeling that he was struggling with the idea that he wasn’t one of ‘us’ yet. Yes, he had been baptized, but probably felt like he wasn’t ‘Mormon’.

  25. Craig H.
    May 12, 2016 at 11:49 am

    James, I couldn’t have said that any better either; a very nice summary of what the post was supposed to be about, and especially a very interesting explanation of what you meant with your comment 7.1. I’m not sure that peoplehood isn’t important to Protestants, if you feel like explaining that, but again very nicely put.

  26. The Other Clark
    May 12, 2016 at 11:51 am

    I suspect that many of the items Jader mentions as forbidden by the Handbook are driven by insurance agents, not apostles. These include:
    * Bans on cornstalks and hay in chapels (increased fire danger)
    * kitchens for warming only, not cooking (again, to decrease fire risk)
    * Helmets for missionaries and bans on contact sports to decrease risk of accident

    Another set of rules are purely to separate Mormonism from Protestantism
    *ban on brass instruments in worship
    *Eliminating stained glass in chapels
    *No crosses

  27. JKC
    May 12, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    James, when you say this “one simply can’t argue that other’s lacked Jesus,” I get what you are saying, but at the same time, if you accept the canonized account of the First Vision, that appears to be more or less what Jesus had to say at least about the “professors” of Christianity before the restoration: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” It’s not that their idea of Jesus was wrong (at least, not primarily that), it’s that they didn’t really come to him. So the restoration is not really an argument that our Jesus is real-er or better, it’s a call to repentance.

    This is why I’m not so attached to uniqueness as a cardinal virtue. Being unique is fine if it happens to coincide with being wright, but being non-unique is not a problem in and of itself. The restoration doesn’t need to justify itself by being unique.

    As far as the question, what is the unifying principle specifically for the restoration, I’ve agreed with Olde Skool that it is “Jesus-believing.” But I suppose the more detailed answer would be the one that Jesus himself gives in 3 Nephi and elsewhere: the set of principles that he calls “my gospel”: (1) Jesus came to do the Father’s will, (2) the Father sent Jesus to draw all men to him, (3) Jesus died on the cross to draw us all to him on conditions of repentance, (4) if we come unto him through faith and repentance, which we demonstrate through baptism, he will sanctify us by giving us the Holy Ghost.

    Now, of course, there are differences between us and non-restoration Christians with respect to what we believe and how we worship. But it’s my opinion that unless those differences go to what Jesus calls “my gospel,” they are relatively minor and it’s not clear to me that emphasizing those differences for purposes of distinguishing ourselves is at all desirable. This is not to say that we should shy away from differences or hide them, but acknowledging difference as a fact of life and emphasizing it with the goal of drawing distinctions are two different things. Emphasizing difference for the sole purpose of making a case for uniqueness, especially when it is difference as to something other than core beliefs (what Jesus calls “my gospel”) in my opinion can have (and has had) the undesirable effect of creating confusion over what are really the core essential beliefs, and what are things that are incidental to those beliefs.

  28. JR
    May 12, 2016 at 12:44 pm

    The Other Clark (12.1), while we’re taking this thread off on a tangent, I note:
    1. Currently we have no “kitchens”. Instead, we have “serving areas.” This is not simply because of fire risk, but at least partly because many local jurisdictions would require periodic inspection and licensing of “kitchens” but not “serving areas” where no “cooking” is done.
    2. We haven’t had a ban on brass instruments in worship for decades. (Though some GAs have still not caught up with the Handbook.) Instead “most” brass and percussion are deemed inappropriate and the decision is delegated by the Handbook to the Bishop for ward meetings and to the Stake President for stake meetings. For a long time now we have had local authorities who are not afraid to take such responsibility and who can tell the difference between a brass player incapable of playing the instrument appropriately and those who are capable.
    3. There are crosses in some old LDS chapels. There was a time when American protestants rejected crosses as a symbol of catholicism. It was the anti-catholic attitude that prevailed against the LDS apostles suggestion that a cross be erected on Ensign Peak. There’s a very interesting cultural history to be considered in connection with the LDS love/hate relationship with the cross as a symbol of Christianity. We still sing “Onward Christian Soldiers”, originally titled “Hymn for Procession with Cross and Banners” and intended for a procession of Christian children following the cross bearer.

  29. Clark Goble
    May 12, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I suspect the majority of things in the handbook are driven by past “disasters” whether that’s fires, leaders with poor intuitions or ability to follow the spirit screwing things up, and other such things. So while insurers and lawyers are part of that I think times the brethren have had to clean things up over the past few decades plays at least as big a role. And JRs right that there are big legal regulations regarding public kitchens. I’m pretty sure grease traps and water inspections are part of this along with yearly state agriculture/FDA inspections. Also I believe as soon as you publicly make something you’re legally responsible in a way you aren’t if you’re just serving. (I’m not sure on the details of that)

    Some things just didn’t make much sense and are clearly cultural. Say no brass instruments in church. It’s to maintain a common atmosphere at odds with what Evangelicals have. As JR noted though that’s changed although the cultural bias towards piano and strings is huge. I’ve never heard of drums being allowed as a practical matter.

    I didn’t know they’d eliminated stain glass. Of course most stain glass along the wasatch – especially those dating to the 70s – are horribly tacky and dated.

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