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How Callings Work in the Latter Day Saint Church

I’ve been thinking about this topic for awhile, ever since someone I know tried to convince me that bishops are like politicians, trying to gain more power and prestige.  I figure that other people probably don’t understand how things like that work in the Latter Day Saint church, so I thought this might be interesting to others who are curious.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, as in any organization, different members have different responsibilities.  In the LDS church, these responsibilities are called “callings.”  Callings vary in level of responsibility and, I suppose, in prestige, from greeter (who greets people in the lobby), through bishop (pastor/minister/whatever you like to call them), and many more.

These callings work a bit differently than they do in other organizations.

We have a lay clergy, meaning people are not paid for their work in the church.  I’ve taught classes, organized activities, and performed music, among other things, and have not been paid for any of it.  The idea of being paid to teach Sunday School is very strange to me.  We see church callings as a type of service, both to the other members of the congregation and to Heavenly Father.

We don’t volunteer for these positions.  As I like to say it, we are “voluntold.”  Someone in a leadership role will ask us to take on a calling.  We can say no if we like, and sometimes people do, though it’s true that we are encouraged to always accept a calling.  Those in charge of choosing who to call for a particular position are expected to pray to receive inspiration for who to call.  Similarly, when extended a calling, we are to pray for confirmation that it is right.

The most qualified person isn’t always the one called.  People who don’t have teenagers are called to be with the youth.  People who have never been teachers get called to teach.  People who have never been administrators get called to lead auxiliary organizations.  You’ll hear a common refrain: “Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies,” said by President Monson.  Moses was slow of speech.  Noah didn’t know how to build an ark.  Peter was a fisherman, not a priest.  Similarly, God teaches us what we need to know in order for us to do what He asks us to do.

We don’t get promoted for doing a good job.  Callings don’t work like your place of employment.  People don’t move up to more prestigious positions by gaining seniority.  We don’t strive for more “prestigious” positions.  In fact, a joke you’ll sometimes hear when someone has been called to be a bishop or Relief Society (women’s organization) president is along the lines of, “Should I give you congratulations or condolences?”

Generally, people are called to positions of less responsibility in order to gain experience before being given a “big” calling, but not necessarily.  It’s also frequent to go from being a bishop or president to being a teacher or having some other, smaller responsibility.  It all comes down to the purpose of these callings, which is to serve.  It’s not the bishop’s job to tell people what to do.  The bishop’s job is to guide and serve.

That’s what it all boils down to: we fulfill responsibilities at church in order to serve.

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More On Grace and Works

I often worry about whether or not I’m good enough.  I know I mess up a lot.  I’m not as patient as I should be, I act rudely to my husband, I don’t always keep the Sabbath holy, I forget it’s fast Sunday, and on and on.  It’s really easy to put myself down as I think about all the ways I fall short.

That’s why my husband suggested I listen to this particular talk from the Saturday morning session of the October 2016 General Conference.  It’s titled, “Am I Good Enough? Will I Make It?” from Elder J. Devn Cornish of the Seventy.

This talk was exactly the message I needed.  In this talk Elder Cornish showed that he cares about and understands the feelings of the members as we try to do the right things but just can’t.  If you have ever felt that discouragement, you should go read the whole talk.  Here I’m going to give some of the highlights and my thoughts as well:

“Sometimes when we attend church, we become discouraged even by sincere invitations to improve ourselves. We think silently, ‘I can’t do all these things’ or ‘I will never be as good as all these people’…Please, my beloved brothers and sisters, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing. We falsely judge our self-worth by the things we do or don’t have and by the opinions of others.

We sometimes compare ourselves to other members of our ward, believing that they are successfully doing all the things we feel we can’t.  I think it’s also important to note that we don’t necessarily know what other members are struggling with.  They may look like they are doing all the right things and that we can’t compare with them, but they make think the same about us.

Salvation isn’t a competition.

I also really struggle with the idea that I have inherent worth.  I think of my worth as being dependent on my productivity.  If I’m really smart or a great teacher or really good at keeping a family history, then I must be worthwhile.  That’s what goes on in my head.  Instead, I need to remember that my worth comes from being a daughter of God.

“If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.”

This one is so hard for me to remember.  Discouraging thoughts about how I’ll never be good enough don’t come from Heavenly Father.  Those come from Satan.  Heavenly Father encourages us, rather than discouraging us.

Elder Cornish focuses on what direction we are facing, rather than on where we are.  If we keep trying to be like Christ, then that is enough.

“Our Heavenly Father intends for us to make it!”

I really love that.  Heavenly Father didn’t send us here with the intent that we would fail.  Like every good teacher, He doesn’t set us up for failure.

“If we will sincerely repent, God really will forgive us, even when we have committed the same sin over and over again. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said: ‘However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made …, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.'”

“None of us will ever be ‘good enough,’ save through the merits and mercy of Jesus Christ, but because God respects our agency, we also cannot be saved without our trying. That is how the balance between grace and works works.

I forget this sometimes.  I don’t have to do it alone.  It was never intended that I do it alone.

I’ve bookmarked this talk, because I think I’ll be going back to it again.  I don’t always feel like conference talks are especially relevant to me, but this one feels like it was given directly to me, about the things I need to hear.  I know that the church leaders are inspired by the Lord, and knowing that helps me keep going.

“For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  –2 Timothy 1:7

Provo City Center Temple

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The Provo City Center Temple is on South University Ave. in downtown Provo, Utah.  Construction began in May, 2012, and was dedicated in May, 2016, after an open house to which all comers were invited.  It’s the 150th temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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There is a central tower capped with a statue of Moroni, with four towers, one in each corner.

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This temple was originally a tabernacle, not a temple.  A tabernacle is meant as a meetinghouse for the church. The tabernacle was heavily damaged in a fire in 2010.  In 2011, President Monson announced that it would be rebuilt as a temple.  The interior was completely redone, but the facade of the tabernacle was preserved.  The tabernacle’s pulpit was also saved.

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The landscaping around the building is lush and beautiful.

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I love this reminder of the purpose of temples: to unite families for eternity.

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A reflection of the temple in the glass wall of its neighbor.

Additional references:

  • History of the Provo City Center temple on LDSchurchtemples.com
  • History of the Provo City Center temple with lots of pictures on lds.org

Salt Lake City Temple

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Last summer, my husband and I made a trip to Utah, and we spent a day at Temple Square.  You’ve got to admit, it’s a pretty impressive structure.  The walls are 9 feet thick at the top, and 6 feet thick at the top. The angel Moroni statue on top is 14 feet tall.

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It’s even more impressive when you know a little of it’s history.  Construction on it began on July 28, 1853, only six years after the Latter Day Saints arrived in what we know as the Salt Lake valley.  The city of Salt Lake was planned around the location of the temple.

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The stone used to build the temple was brought here from a quarry 20 miles away.  The whole temple took 40 years to build.

There are many other buildings at Temple Square, as well as monuments and gardens.

20160617_113024    The temple and the Tabernacle, a meetinghouse for the members and the first home of General Conference.

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The temple and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

The words “Holiness to the Lord. The House of the Lord” can be found on every temple to remind us of the purpose of the temple.  It is a sacred and beautiful place where we can worship Heavenly Father, make covenants, and feel His power in our own lives.utah-june-2016-127

If you want to learn more about the Salt Lake temple, you can learn more at LDSchurchtemples.com

You can learn more about the purpose of the temple at LDS.org

Hymns in Common

Here follows a list of hymns that Catholics and Mormons have in common.  But first, a little background, because it amuses me to tell it:

My husband and I are historical reenactors.  We, along with our guild, portray the court of Mary, Queen of Scots, at Scottish games.  One of the things my husband and I do at these events is sing folk songs for our own amusement and for the patrons.  Since we don’t go to church on weekends with faire, we wanted to sing some hymns with one of our fellow reenactors.  He’s Catholic, and we’re Mormon.  So we had to figure out some hymns that we both knew.

So I called my mom to ask her to look in the hymnbook.  But she wasn’t home and couldn’t help me.   “Call your brother,” she said, so I did.  It must have sounded like a strange request.  I asked him to open the hymnbook to the index and start reading titles.  When he came to a title that my husband and I and our Catholic friend knew, we had my brother read out the lyrics to us and I wrote them down.

I’ve since created a songbook for use at faire with folk songs and hymns that we know or are trying to learn.  The hymns section began with that modest list.  Here I’ve expanded that list after some more research into LDS and Catholic hymnodies:

  • “All Creatures of Our God and King” Text: St. Francis of Assisi; Music: German folk tune
  • “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” Text: Theodulph of Orleans; Music: Melchior Teschner
  • “Angels We Have Heard on High” Text and Music: French carol
  • “Beautiful Savior” (Crusader’s Hymn) Text: Anonymous, 12th century; Music: Silesian folk song
  • “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” Text: Charles Wesley; Music: Anonymous; Lyra Davidica
  • “Faith of Our Fathers” Text: Frederick W. Faber; Music: Henri F. Hemy; Refrain: James G. Walton
  • “For the Beauty of the Earth” Text: Folliott S. Pierpont; Music: Conrad Kocher
  • “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” Text: Charles Wesley; Music: Felix Mendlessohn
  • “I Know that My Redeemer Lives” Text: Lewis D. Edwards; Music: Samuel Medley
  • “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee” Text: Attr. to Bernard of Clairvoux; Music: John B. Dykes
  • “Joy to the World” Text: Isaac Watts; Music: George F. Handel, arr. by Lowell Mason
  • “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” Text: Attr. to John F. Wade; Music: Attr. to John F. Wade
  • “Once in Royal David’s City” Text: Cecil Francis Alexander; Music: Henry J. Gauntlett
  • “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow” (the Doxology) Text: Thomas Ken; Music: Louis Bourgeois, from Genfer Psalter, 16th century
  • “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” Text: Joachim Neander; Music: from Stralsand Gesangbuch, arr. by William S. Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt

Songs that are not part of the official LDS hymnbook, but known among Latter Day Saints:

  • “O Come O Come Emmanuel” Text: Anonymous; Music: French tune, circa 1400s
  • “Be Thou My Vision” Text and Music: Ancient Irish hymn

Latter Day Saint official hymnbook and other music resources:  https://www.lds.org/music/library?lang=eng

Catholic Hymns:

This isn’t really meant to be an exhaustive list, but it was an interesting way to spend an afternoon.  What are your favorite hymns?  Share them in the comments below!

The King James Bible and the Restoration

The King James Bible and the Restoration

On a recent trip to Utah, I went to Deseret Book, since there are none where I live.  Deseret Book is an LDS bookstore that publishes books primarily for an LDS audience (well, yeah) in a variety of genres.  I went in looking for some church history.

Once I laid my eyes on this book, I knew what I wanted.

2011 marked the 400th anniversary of the first printing of the King James Bible.  In commemoration, the Religious Studies Center at BYU held a symposium with lectures on a variety of topics concerning the KJV, particularly in how it relates to Latter Day Saints.  Several of the contributors also wrote in essay form for publication in this book.

The essays, according to my own grouping, cover roughly three main topics:

  1. The importance of the Bible to Latter Day Saints
  2. The history of the Bible, and the King James version in particular, and its influence
  3. Why the church uses the King James version, and how we came to get the Latter Day Saint edition

I will go over each of these main topics:

  1. Latter Day Saints do sometimes tend to de-emphasize the Bible in favor of our other books of scripture.  This is a mistake.  The scriptures were all meant to work as one, as indicated in
    1. Ezekiel 37:19: “Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph [the Book of Mormon], which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be in mine hand.”
    2. 2 Nephi 3:12: “Wherefore, the fruit of thy loins shall write; and the fruit of the loins of Judah shall write; and that which shall be written by the fruit of thy loins, and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of fall doctrines and laying down contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to a knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the acknowledging of my covenants, saith the Lord.”
  2. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press truly was miraculous.  He must have been inspired to make the leaps that he did.  It just so happens that a big push to translate the Bible into vernacular languages happened at around the same time…Translating the Bible into English ended up being particularly problematic, as the Catholic clergy wanted to maintain control over holy writ and, consequently, their followers.  William Tyndale was martyred for his efforts to translate the Bible into English.  Eventually, there were several competing Bibles in English, the Geneva Bible being the favored translation of the Protestants.  The Geneva Bible also had extensive commentary that was very anti-authority, which was problematic for the church and the crown of England.  At the instigation of the Puritans, King James I (VI of Scotland) commissioned a re-translation with no commentary allowed.  Although not initially popular, the King James version became the Bible in America, to the point that it was referred to as the “common Bible.”  Much of the language that we see as so beautiful largely came from Tyndale’s translation.
  3. There are problems with the King James version.  It was translated from the Hebrew and Greek, but the Greek version used was not especially old compared to other New Testament manuscripts, particularly ones found later than 1611.  We do not have the original texts, only copies of copies of copies.  These texts do not agree in many places, and there really is no way of knowing (without inspiration from God) which is correct.  In spite of many translations of the Bible made from older manuscripts than that of the KJV, the Latter Day Saint church continues to use the KJV in preference to others, with our own edition published in 1979, which includes a Topical Guide, Bible Dictionary, and the Joseph Smith Translation (inspired changes and editions made to the Bible by Joseph Smith).  Scholarly analysis of ancient manuscripts can only take us so far.  Which is why we needed the Restoration, begun with Joseph Smith in 1820. Latter Day Saints are not lacking anything from imperfect transmission of the Bible because we have modern day revelation.

This book is marvelous.  It has so much information and so many wonderful insights, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the King James Bible.  It might be a bit dense for someone without much background in the topic, but still a worthwhile read.

 

 

 

Misquoting Jesus: A Review

Recently I read Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, by Bart D. Ehrman.

I’m ambivalent about this book. On the one hand, Ehrman has clearly studied and researched his topic extensively, presents many interesting examples, and attempts to make dense research accessible to the layman. On the other hand, he is very repetitive (especially in the first few chapters), sometimes tedious (as in the chapter on early textual analysis), and is decidedly atheist at this point in his life. (Of course, some readers may like that, but I feel it’s important for a Bible scholar to disclose, which he only does obliquely.)

The pathos in the introduction describing his own experiences pulled me in; I sympathize with him while disagreeing with his conclusions. The early chapters rather sensationalized the idea that the Bible has mistakes in it. (Yeah? And? Not exactly news.)

In the last few pages, he goes off on a strange tangent, asserting that there is never any such thing as a “right” interpretation of any text whatsoever, that all meaning is created by the reader. As a teacher, I can say with certainty that there are such things as wrong answers when it comes to reading comprehension.

All in all, it was an interesting book, and thought-provoking. I understand now how difficult it is to discover what the Bible originally said. Which shows why we so desperately need inspiration, rather than relying solely on our own faculties.

Throughout the book I found myself earnestly wishing that the Latter Day Saint missionaries had only found Ehrman while he was in college.  I think his faith would have taken quite a different direction!