A Continually Progressing Church

I’ve always liked the Process Theology/Philosophy model of everything being dynamic, not static.  For example, there wasn’t a creation of the Earth, but there is a creating.  (The Earth is still being created.)

Blair Hodges applies this same model to the LDS Church, without specifically mentioning Process Theology:

. . . the restoration isn’t a one-off special delivery from God, a package dropped from heaven directly to Joseph Smith, ready-assembled, batteries included.  Instead, it is an ongoing process through which God interacts with us in building the Kingdom.  Our fallible involvement means there will be hiccups along the way.  Today we sometimes find ourselves the inheritors of a vision that seems somewhat fractured.  But I believe these fractures constitute the space which signifies–and also allows for further–growth.  Like the cracked bark of a tree that has expanded as it reaches upward and outward, leaving fissures, we bear the scars of our past mistakes, even as we grow beyond them.

Along a similar vein, Benjamin E. Parks writes:

Faith, commitment, and orthodoxy are never stolid and staid features within a static church organization; rather, they are nebulous concepts that are constantly in flux . . .

Emphasizing the point that the LDS Church was not “a package dropped from heaven directly to Joseph Smith,” Parks summarizes (Dialogue, Summer 2012):

[Joseph] Smith’s theology is difficult to determine on at least two grounds.  First, his premature death at the age of thirty-eight prevented the completion of his religious revolution.  Though he had been the recognized prophet and leader for nearly a decade and a half, the explosive theological development during his last three years showed no signs of slackening, and it can be assumed that much of his religious vision was left inchoate and unfulfilled.  Indeed, it was not until the last three months of his life that Smith’s sermons started to piece together what had previously been only theological fragments; and in his private teachings, he began to expound these ideeas to his closest followers.

The second reason for the difficulty of developing a coherent corpus of Smith’s theological work is the very nature of Smith’s prophetic persona. . . .  Smith was by nature eclectic, rather than systematic, and his teachings were emblematic of that approach.  Though they were perhaps a coherent whole in his mind, Smith’s teachings were never presented in a systematic order but rather, as Richard Bushman aptly described, in “flashes and bursts.”

So what does this mean for us members of the LDS Church?  I will leave that question for a subsequent post.

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12 Responses to A Continually Progressing Church

  1. shematwater says:

    Even considering all this, I find it interesting that very little new information was revealed after Joseph Smith, at least in regards to doctrine. Practices changed, church structure changed; but the actual doctrine of what the gospel is didn’t. Yes, there are a few sections of the Doctrine and Covenants that were received after Joseph Smith’s death, but they do not introduce new concepts and doctrine. They merely expand and what Joseph Smith had previously taught.
    We are growing as a church, but our doctrine has remained the same since his leadership, for he is the prophet of the restoration, called to restore all things to the earth.

    • rogerdhansen says:

      One of the Articles of Faith reads: “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” Aren’t we commanded to seek wisdom from the best books?

      • shematwater says:

        Your point?
        Yes, we are to seek wisdom from the best books, but we are also to have the wisdom to know which ones are the best books.
        I also do not deny continuing revelation, and I look forward to the time when the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon is revealed, as well as the rest of the Book of Abraham that Joseph Smith was never able to translate, and the records of the lost ten tribes who went north.
        I look forward to many new truths being taught, but I do not expect them to be taught anytime real soon, but rather to be revealed once Zion is fully established and the saints are prepared for them.
        I was merely making a comment on the fact that nothing new has been reveal since Joseph Smith, and in my opinion that is because he was called to restore, while his successors are called merely to lead and direct what was restored.
        It is like Moses giving the leadership of Israel to Joshua. It is recorded that only a part of his glory was to be confirred on Joshua. The reason is that Moses had authority over the entire dispensation, and was called to deliver the law. Joshua was merely called to direct and lead by that law, as were those who came after. Which is why God gave the command to have nothing added to the law until Christ came.
        Moses was told that Joseph Smith would be like him (a great law giver) and so I believe the same situation is in effect now. We are waiting for the coming of Christ to receive what we did not receive under Joseph Smith.

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  3. rogerdhansen says:

    For me, the universe (or multiverse), the Earth, the church, myself, etc. make more sense when viewed as being dynamic and not static. Christ updated Moses, Joseph Smith updated Christianity. And the evolution continues to this day. We may not have recorded revelation, but change is happening (in LDS doctrine, institutions, etc.). The same is occurring in the secular world. Some argue that technological change is occurring exponentially. Somehow, the LDS Church needs to evolve with the times.

    • shematwater says:

      And yet God declares that He is unchanging. This means that His gospel must also be unchanging, and thus the gospel that was dilevered to Moses was also delivered to Joseph Smith, and was preached by Christ. Doctrine cannot change or God would change, which is impossible.

  4. rogerdhansen says:

    First, I don’t believe for a second that God is unchanging. He is progressing, just as we are (hopefully) progressing. This concept was implied by Joseph Smith and formalized by Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow. Apostle John A. Widtsoe was also a firm believer in eternal progression (including God’s). This used to be a cornerstone of the LDS faith.

    Second, you are the only person I know who believes that the gospel and LDS doctrine are unchanging; polygamy, the united order, and the black priesthood ban are examples of an evolving church.

    • shematwater says:

      Eternal Progression does not mandate change. I believe in a form of progression, in that God is continually added to his Kingdom through his children, and their children, and so forth. His glory increases with every child (or grandchild) he has, and with everyone that is exalted.
      I have read the comments of the early brethren, and this is the kind of progression I have always seen them referring to. None of them have ever denied that he is perfect in his knowledge, power, or attributes, and that these things are unchanging. This was the central premise of Joseph Smith’s lectures on faith, and is asserted many times in the scriptures.

      As to the gospel and LDS doctrine changing, it hasn’t. The problem here is that most people confuse doctrine with practice. Practices change, and always have. But the underlying doctrine on which the practice is based remains the same.

      • rogerdhansen says:

        I don’t understand “Eternal progression does not mandate change.” Your position on Mormon issues pretty much mirrors those expounded by Joseph Fielding Smith, his son-in-law Bruce R. McConkie, and more recently by retired BYU professor Joseph Fielding McConkie. These positions were outlined in a talk that the elder McConkie gave at BYU called “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” Luckily, the silly “Man, His Origin and Destiny” is long out of print and church recently quit publishing “Mormon Doctrine.”

        But there is another point of view. One that Joseph Smith explained in his King Follett funeral discourse and that Brigham Young expanded on. For example, Young stated that the God he worshipped is progressing (and he wasn’t talking about offspring). This was a point that John A. Widtsoe loved to talk about. What is so terrible about a God that is continuing to learn and progress? I think that much of the retrenchment that current LDS leaders have regarding eternal progress and deification is to accommodate criticism leveled on us by conservative Christians. And I don’t give a damn what the conservative Christians think of my religion.

        As for the gospel and doctrine not changing, I leave that to the theologians in the church. But I’m pretty sure that there are few in the church who would argue your position, particularly given our belief in continuing revelation.

      • shematwater says:

        Please, give references to your claims.

        As to the King Follett discourse, I have read that many times and I have never even seen a hint as to a changing being that continually learns. It just isn’t there.

        Then we get the scriptures telling us this:
        2 Nephi 9: 20 “O how great the holiness of our God! For he knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it.”
        Alma 26: 35 “…my joy is carried away, even unto boasting in my God; for he has all apower, ball wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things…”
        Mormon 8: 17 “…nevertheless God knoweth all things…”
        Moroni 7: 22 “…God knowing all things…”
        D&C 38: 2 “The same which knoweth all things, for all things are present before mine eyes;”

        Similar references can be given regarding His power, His glory, and every other attribute he possesses.

        I will tell you what is so terrible about a god who is continually learning and progressing, and this is precisely what Joseph Smith said in his “Lectures on Faith.”
        A God who does not know everything, but is still in need of learning, cannot be full trusted to save us. If he still has something to learn that there is always the chance that what he knows now will be replaced with what he learns, and thus alter the very plan of redemption. How can we trust a being whose understanding is not complete, but may change at any moment? It would be like trusting mortal men, whose ideas and theories are replaced daily by what they learn. God must be perfect in knowledge, or his credibility is no greater than that of normal men.

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    In your belief structure, can’t God just be a lot smarter than we are. Does he have to have a perfect knowledge of all things? Can’t he just be omniscient as it relates to us, and not in an absolute sense.

    If God and we are going to live for eternity, is there really an end game? Is there really an end game when it comes to knowledge?

    • shematwater says:

      No, He can’t. Mainly because He has told us this is a false concept, and thus to accept it is to reject Him. But also because it creates doubts as to His ability to save. However minor these doubts are, they are there.

      Yes, there is an endgame, and there has to be. Otherwise nothing will ever make any sense.

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