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In a response to the growing visibility of recent church disciplinary actions, the LDS church released a statement regarding church discipline; the discussion is found on the church information website. The charge of apostasy has been used repeatedly to stigmatize and label those who have stood out in their efforts to question and challenge the some of the current doctrines and leadership of the church.

Here is an excerpt from the press release:

What are the purposes of Church discipline?

The purpose of Church discipline is not to punish but to facilitate full repentance and fellowship for a person who has made serious mistakes.

Written instructions for lay Church leaders outline three purposes for Church discipline:

To help the individual repent and return

Repentance brings peace when we place our lives in harmony with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Church discipline is a process that helps the individual feel that change of heart and change of behavior necessary to bring full forgiveness and peace. Someone who has fulfilled the requirements of Church discipline can be completely forgiven and return to full participation in the Church.

To protect the innocent

When someone poses a physical threat to others or a spiritual threat to other members, Church discipline is conducted to provide protection to potential victims. This includes predatory practices, physical harm, abuse, fraud and apostasy.

To protect the integrity of the Church

The Church teaches its members to follow the example of Jesus Christ in leading moral, faith-centered lives. Anyone who does not meet these standards and significantly harms the integrity of the Church by their actions may face Church discipline.

To help the individual repent and return

It is illuminating to compare the discussion here with the descriptions of events in the scriptures as it pertains to the situation when ‘apostasy’ is identified as the prime factor in church discipline. While the desire to assist members to repent and return is a noble objective, how does one repent from holding an alternative view of church history? How does one repent from holding an opinion that is different from the church leadership on topics that are not in the core message of the gospel?

Alma, the elder, could have used church discipline in addressing the actions of his son, Alma, and the sons of Mosiah in their efforts to undermine the church.

Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father; nevertheless, he became a very wicked and an idolatrous man.  And he was a man of many words, and did speak much flattery to the people; therefore he led many of the people to do after the manner of his iniquities.

And he became a great hinderment to the prosperity of the church of God; stealing away the hearts of the people; causing much dissension among the people; giving a chance for the enemy of God to exercise his power over them. (Mosiah 27:8-9)

These men were ‘seeking to destroy the church, and to lead astray the people of the Lord.’ Certainly not the normal path for the offspring of the church leadership. As Alma was confronted by an angel we find out the motivation of the angel’s intervention:

And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith. (Mosiah 27: 14)

It was the earnest and faithful prayers of the people, as well as his father, that were answered with the visitation of the angel to bring into question the actions of Alma and his cohorts. Instead of excommunication, those who have been a target of church discipline in these recent months could have been the subject of prayer and fasting by the leaders of the church and concerned membership.

The scriptures are clear that the option exists to blot out the names of those who refuse to have faith, pray, and repent. Action that should be reserved for those who have rejected the gospel. For those who have voiced questions regarding church practices, gospel adherence should be sufficient ‘protection.’  The actions illuminated in this scriptural event show that there are alternatives.

Protecting the Innocent

Protecting the innocent is again a worthy objective. It is interesting that the church missionary effort puts heavy emphasis on the need for an investigator to apply to the promise of Moroni regarding the acquisition of a testimony of truthfulness of the church:

And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5)

Is it the responsibility of the church to ‘protect’ members from those accused of apostasy? Alternatively, should the members be taught to use the same powerful tool described in these verses from Moroni to ascertain ‘the truth of all things?’ Alma, in the context of the challenge from Nehor, can be argued that he took the same approach as Joseph Smith’s statement: ‘I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.’

The Integrity of the Church

Finally, are those who are brought up for church discipline and accused of apostasy impugning the integrity of the church? The leadership of the church do not seem to recognize that the integrity of the church has long been compromised by the doctrinal shifts and policy changes that have occurred over time.

On another tangent regarding the integrity of the church is found in a recent news article. In the June 29 issue of LDS Living (http://ldsliving.com/story/76205-sister-missionaries-assigned-to-proselyte-at-book-of-mormon-musical), we read of sister missionaries being assigned to proselyte outside the performances of ‘Book of Mormon Musical.’

Sister used at BOM Musical

Those of you who have seen the musical would likely agree with the content of this news article:

Not just any musical. The rollicking, raunchy and irreverent “Book of Mormon,” which takes potshots at the faith they practice.

Their goal from the area mission president was simple: Hand out cards to people heading to the theater directing them to a website (Mormon.org) that explains the religion and its practices. And to deliver the message, “Now that you’ve seen the play, read the book.”

I have attended a performance and, while it did have its good moments, it succeeded in using humor to attack some of the doctrines of the church. Is it appropriate to use such an event as a missionary opportunity, yet excommunicate faithful members who are seeking to build up the faith of individuals through a message centered on seeking God.

To apply an alternative approach, instead of excommunicating those who publically question practices, they could have deployed missionaries to the venues where these people were meeting to promote the church view on the topics at issue. Of course, that kind of activity is reserved for raunchy exploitations such as the Book of Mormon Musical.

Church discipline has become a tool to enforce orthodoxy for a wide set of issues that are completely outside the scope of the gospel of Jesus Christ. While the public pronouncement of the purpose of church discipline seems rational, the actions are harsh and dictatorial. If there is any guide for the implementation of these practice of correcting members who express concerns in public, it would be found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 121:

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.

46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.

In the end, a person’s salvation is solely dependent on their relationship with God. No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as a proxy for the Savior. Nor can any church leader interpose when a person is truly applying the gospel in their lives.  The purpose of  the gospel of Jesus Christ, as found in 3 Nephi, chapter 27,  is to sanctify us in preparation for entering the presence of our God through our faith and repentance.

Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.

As individuals and as the collective group seeking Zion, we should focus on the gospel. All this noise that is being generated detracts from that mission.

What think ye?

 

12 Responses to “The Purposes of Church Discipline”

  • Marivene:

    “No bishop, no stake president,no general authority can act as proxy for the Savior”?

    I completely disagree. They do indeed act a proxy for the Savior, every day, as they hear confessions as part of their callings, for just one example. They serve, acting for the Savior, every day, throughout the world, and when we raise our hands to sustain, we sustain them to do just that.

    • sfort:

      And just when was the Bishop in Church history given that assignment? I would love to know. I understand the Catholic Church and what they do, but the Bishop was over the storehouse originally. If you can site anywhere in the history where the Bishop was given this assignment, please show me. The only time confessions were admonished was on the sabbath “before your brethren and the Lord”. And where are the sccusers to bring even before the Bishop when they can’t be resolved by each other? The Bishop was only to hear the complaint when it could not be resoved between the parties. So the traditional narrative you have grown up with you think might be sacrosanct…Hmm, this is where some shedding may occur. It is ingrained in our belief system. We take it as legitimate because we are not supposed to reach through the annuls of history to figure this stuff out. Let’s find a common ground from our history and then we can be judges in Israel.

    • observer:

      22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost;

      23 Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain they are retained. (John 20)

    • I have to side with Marivene on this one (for the most part). The Lord does send and “authorize” His servants to “stand in” for Him. Remember the angel on the Isle of Patmos who appeared to John…and he thought it was the Lord Himself?

      I have been the beneficiary of “the Lord” speaking though (and working through) His servants on earth. My patriarchal blessing is just one such example. Heck! I’ve been able to “stand in” for Him on occasion.

      You may be right about the role of bishops, etc., “morphing” into more than was intended by the Lord, but this does not justify the global statement that “No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as proxy for the Savior”. They can and do.

      And so should you.

    • Spektator:

      If you read my post in context, my statement is this:

      “In the end, a person’s salvation is solely dependent on their relationship with God. No bishop, no stake president, no general authority can act as a proxy for the Savior.”

      My point was specific to salvation, not localized to the repentance process. I still do not believe that a bishop or stake president is capable of absolving sin. As I read the scriptures, those who are given the power to bind on earth and bind in heaven are the apostles. I don’t think this is delegated.

      There are times when confession is appropriate. I posted on this topic under the title: “Confession is good for the soul” here (http://justandtrue.com/?p=106)

      Spek

  • sfort:

    “…for doctrines the commandments of men…”

  • I think Tom Phillips’ experience with the 2nd Anointing demonstrates “the end” of Mormonism — meaning, the maximum one may obtain or experience by following its precepts (and “the Brethren”). In “the end”, your “last rite” may be — if you’re deemed “good” enough by other men — to have an apostle of the LDS Church anoint and bless you, then rinse and dry your feet, followed by your wife doing some of the same. You do not meet the Savior, merely His substitute.

    Is that what you want? Is that “good enough” for you?

    Not for me!

    One ought to read of the “reward” of those who follow prophets rather than the Lord (D&C 76:99-101). It is a telestial glory or state of existence.

    In other words, it is what we have now. Worlds without end.

  • sfort:

    Will,

    What is spoken concerning leaders is correct; however the leadership has by and large stopped the proxy process and moved into the proxy via the handbook proxy process. I have stood in counsels and it always falls back to what the brethren believe and what the handbook says. How they are guidelines and appropriate for an institution to maintain consistency and control. But as the Spirit dictates the resolution for each situation, it is entirely different depending on the circumstance. Do you believe the correct and righteous counsel…or was it the handbook? Less autonomy is given to Bishops these days held on a tight string from the Stake Presidency. Mankind does meld into the worldly process for resolving issues. To believe that leadership is exempt from this temptation is to fall prey to deception. There should have been no lynchings, period. It was not out of love but out of control which is the temptation of any organization on earth. No revelation, but new talks explaining the same thing a little differently. But then you may say, sfort, you don’t listen to them with the Spirit, otherwise you would know they are communicating from God. Really? Joseph said that unless it was thus sayeth the Lord, it is the opinion of man. The gifts of the Spirit are not manifest. Moroni says it is because of unbelief, or in other words, believing the wrong things. Organization cannot trump the Spirit of love. This is not contentios, just an observation. I am as docile as can be when I attend my meetings which barely mention the Savior anymore. Do you think that the organization to maintain itself has had no bearing on the gifts of the Spirit that should be available? I guess our journeys help us see plain things differently. Theree is indeed a void and I don’t imagine some new imagination will remove the cloud over the Church. It is a church basking in solutions that are world driven. I cry daily for direction and to be fed, and the Spirit has not changed my mind on this. On another blog there was born testimony on opposite sides of a question. Am I right about this…maybe. Am I wrong about this…maybe. I’ll guarantee you that there will be a split on this down the middle and each will testify. Does that tell you something? There is something of strong delusion that does not bring clarity to the situation. A prophet would clarify, a President would dance, because they are there to defend the institution in perpetuity. Brigham never claimed to be a prophet, and it has never changed. Each one thereafter has skirted around the announcement. There is no clarification.

  • Joshua:

    Excellent post, but I am not so sure that Alma the younger wasn’t “excommunicated” (or had at least “resigned” his membership with the saints of his day). Was he numbered among the believers, or…”Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them”. Just saying. His excommunication would not prevent his father, and the rest of the church, from praying for his return.

    Here is the word of the Lord to Alma (the Elder) on the subject:

    Mosiah 26:29 Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also.

    30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.

    31 And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same hath brought himself under condemnation.

    32 Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.

    If Alma the Younger was not excommunicated, then it would only be due to Alma the Elder’s sin – in failing to comply with the command of God to sever from the church those that will not hear the words of the Lord and repent of their sins.

    • Spektator:

      Thanks, Joshua. I used this scripture in my Sunstone paper that I read earlier this week.

      On your other insight, we do not know when Alma the younger and the sons of Mosiah went off the tracks, but the timing of their activities seems to put them after the purge.

  • Farm Boy:

    After reading this post yesterday, I happened to read 2nd Nephi ch 26:25-28, and I’d appreciate any of your thoughts about how it squares with the subject at hand.

    25 Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
    26 Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
    27 Hath he commanded any that they should not partake of his salvation? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but he hath given it free for all men; and he hath commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
    28 Behold, hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.
    29 (Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi, 2 Nephi 26)

  • Spektator:

    The reference you provided was staged by the earlier verses warning us of the actions of the Gentiles that are contrary to the objectives described by these verses.I think it fists nicely into the framework of the paper presented at Sunstone which I just posted.

    I am certainly heartened when I read the scriptures that remind us of the Lord’s interest in all men and women. The excommunications of recent note do not give us any comfort that the many marginalized by doctrinal disconnects are being treated as the Lord would have them treated.

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