Who (or what) will save us?

Each month, I have a group of people over to my house and we have what has come to be called “cottage meetings.” They began as, essentially, support groups for those of us who were bored or dissatisfied by Sunday School. We get together some evening, someone brings dessert, and someone else brings a topic of discussion, which we debate and/or discuss until the kids get too grumpy to last another ten minutes.

At out last cottage meeting, I had assigned my neighbor to bring the topic of discussion. Unfortunately, his job would make him late, so we had to start the discussing with just a prompt given over the phone. He said, “I want you to talk about the Adam-God theory.” Now, if I were to agree with Dennis, I would call this a folk belief. But I had laid the ground rules before and technically, we could discuss anything grounded in the scriptures. So we started talking about the Adam-God theory.

I’m happy to say that we didn’t talk about the Adam-God theory for long. After a short period of discussing what we thought was something related to Brigham Young’s teaching of some relation between Adam-God and something…(I still don’t know what the Adam-God theory is–is Adam a god, or was God Adam?), I pulled the conversation in a different direction completely.

I’m not just telling a story here, the story just happened to be the background to another topic I wanted to share with this community. The Adam-God theory was taught by Brigham Young. You can probably read about it in the Journal of Discourses, which some members of the LDS church claim is “doctrine.” Therefore, the argument goes, the Adam-God theory is doctrine and should be discussed in Sunday School, as well as everywhere else for that matter. However, what I noted last Sunday night, there are occasions when the general authorities disagree with one another.

For example, there are times when Joseph Fielding Smith said some things (or wrote some things) that were in disagreement with some of the things that Brigham Young said or wrote. In some respects, this harks back to Dennis’ folk doctrine concerning the infallibility of general authorities, but as I discussed this issue with the cottage group on Sunday, I started to realize something else.

There seem to be some “doctrines” or ideas that permeate the beliefs of many Latter-day Saints. Among these are several of the folk doctrines discussed in the earlier post by Dennis. Often times, we can debate to extremes the truthfulness of some of these claims: was Adam God? must we all live polygamy to be in the celestial kingdom? does God have exhaustive foreknowledge? The biggest question becomes: what do we believe? And suddenly, we think that what we believe is what gets us to heaven.

Well, I for one believe that what I believe isn’t going to get me to heaven. This is why I’m always pushing 3 Nephi 11 on people, where Christ makes it clear that his doctrine is faith on him and repentance, then baptism by water and fire (incidentally, he also says that anyone who adds or takes away is not of him). It is in whom we believe that trumps the what we believe.

I do not mean to say that we should cease discussing the Adam-God theory, polygamy as a principle, or other “folk” doctrines. It is for the purpose of such discussions that I have the cottage meetings. I just wonder if sometimes the discussion of principles, laws, and other so-called doctrinal “truths” gets in the way of our relationship with the Truth, whose doctrine was meant to turn us towards him (3 Nephi 11). Perhaps that is a problem with any theology of ideas: we get so wrapped up in defending the ideas that we forget that we worship a being. Ultimately, isn’t it that being who will save us? Or is it our beliefs?

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7 Responses

  1. Well said, Joe. I think this goes right along with, “Thinking in a Marrow Bone.” Faith in principles is often misplaced. In many cases, I think people search for these ‘overarching truths’ of the gospel so that they won’t have to worry about the future because they will ‘know’ what it will be like (sound like science, anyone?). I don’t think this is an intentional thing that people do, just one of the dangers of getting caught up in the question of what is orthodox.

    Faith in every footstep, I think, will require faith in Christ. We must have faith that He is mighty to save so that “I do not ask to see the distant scene–one step enough for me” can be true for us.

  2. The word “orthodox” makes me think of last year’s discussion with the Evangelicals in group. I think sometimes our discussions of religion and faith are debates of orthodoxy. I’m starting to wonder if our (and “their”-the evangelicals) faith isn’t one of orthopraxy.

  3. Joe, I like what you have to say here.

    You’re pushing into what I consider to be the “next step” of how we evaluate what we believe — which I would like to post sometime.

    The way I see it, it’s ridiculous to think that “truths” are valuable in their own right. Rather, they are only invaluable in relation to “the Truth” (Jesus Christ) and our relationship with Him.

  4. Just found a great post by Blake Ostler that is related to this discussion.

    See here . It’s called “An Interpretive Tradition Rather than Church Doctrine.” You need to read all of the comments as well (there’s some interesting stuff on the Adam-God doctrine).

    I really need to order Blake Ostler’s books. I think we might be kindred spirits :)

  5. Support groups for people not satisfied with Sunday School?

    That’s some weird ground right there. Would be really interested to hear what the cause of the lack of satisfaction is.

  6. Mike, I think Joe is being somewhat facetious with his comment, but I’ll let him respond…

  7. The true history of the group is a little personal – not on my end, but on the end of another member. I can’t say too much for fear of giving him away, but it really is, in a sense, a support group for him. Other than that, the group is a chance for us to talk about the gospel at a different level, much like this blog.

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