Sunday, May 10, 2009

A visit to an LDS church

This morning, I visited an LDS church for my first time. I had wanted to visit one for some time, but I was too chicken. Since the Mormon worldview is so radically different than the Christian worldview, I guess I expected church to be radically different, too. But the church service was a lot closer to what I am used to than going to a Kingdom Hall, although I think Jehovah's Witnesses have a much more Christian worldview than Mormons do.

I don't know if what I saw this morning was typical of an LDS church service since it's Mother's Day, and a lot of churches deviate from the norm on Mother's day. In most churches I've been to, there's usually a pattern. There'll be a time of singing in the beginning followed by a sermon, and then maybe one last song. But today, a few different people got up and said nice things about their mothers, but there was no sermon. We sang a few hymns, but we didn't sing them all at the beginning. We just sang them at various times during the service.

I looked through the hymnal, which you can search by topic, and saw the section on "agency." Under the "agency" topic was a hymn called Know this: That Every Soul is Free. Being a Calvinist, I was most interested in the lyrics. Here they are:

Know this, that every soul is free
To choose his life and what he'll be;
For this eternal truth is given:
That God will force no man to heav'n.

He'll call, persuade, direct aright,
And bless with wisdom, love, and light,
In nameless ways be good and kind,
But never force the human mind.

Freedom and reason make us men;
Take these away, what are we then?
Mere animals, and just as well
The beasts may think of heav'n or hell.

May we no more our pow'rs abuse
But ways of truth and goodness choose;
Our God is pleased when we improve
His grace and seek his perfect love.
Clearly anti-Calvinistic, although it's a common misconception that people are "forced" as if against their wills in the Calvinist view. In Calvinism, those who sin do so quite willingly, and those who worship Christ also do so quite willingly.

I thumbed through the hymnal and noticed that many of them were dated from as early as the 1700's, which means they could not have been strictly Mormon hymns. And there was nothing unorthodox about any of those hymns. Many of the hymns, including the particularly Mormon hymns, were rich in theological content, unlike a lot of Christian songs today.

This was probably the most rowdy church service I've ever been to. There were a lot of noisy kids, and even the adults were talking to each other a lot. I kind of felt sorry for the individuals who got up and spoke because it didn't look like many people were paying attention to them. It was difficult for me to pay attention because of all the distractions going on around me. I wonder if that is normal for Mormons. I've heard they are into having big families with lots of kids.

Communion was served with water. I had heard about that before, but that was the first time I'd ever seen communion done with water.

No offering plate was passed around or anything like that.

I noticed that almost all the men wore black slacks and white shirts. When I first got there, it seemed like all the men we wearing black slacks and white shirts, which made me stand out like a sore thumb. I was wearing khaki slacks and a coloured shirt. I figured they'd know for sure I wasn't a Mormon, and then they'd want to talk to me. But nobody talked to me. Then I saw a few other men wearing khaki slacks, and that made it all better.

After the service, which lasted maybe an hour at the most, there were other classes. My friend, who had invited me, said there was a class for newcomers where I could ask questions. I decided not to go just because it had already taken a lot of nerve for me to show up at the church to begin with. I am quite shy in person, so it's difficult for me to go to a new church at all, but it's even more difficult for me to go to a new and unusual church!


At 5/11/2009 6:22 PM , Blogger The Blog of John said...

I seem to recall that LDS churches do not have an office of pastor and that different men in the church are called upon by their bishop at different times to give whatever counts as a sermon.

My guess as to why there was no offering plate passed is because Mormons tithe 10% of their income as a matter of course. It is expected of them, so perhaps they just mail in a check every month?

At 5/11/2009 10:47 PM , Blogger Sam said...

The Bishop was present. He introduced a young fellow who was being or had been ordained into the Aaronic priesthood, but that was pretty much it. I also remember one woman who was giving her testimony say something out our "heavenly mother."

At 5/11/2009 11:12 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Some additional information to clarify what The Blog of John said:

Mormons don't have an office of pastor, and the term is not used too often in the church. A pastor is understood to be any person who is like a shepherd to a flock. It could be used in a generic sense to describe various offices in the church where a person is called to lead a group of people whether at a church-wide level or at a local level, but the Mormon bishop would probably correspond most closely to the idea of a pastor.

Both men and women are called upon to offer 'talks' in church. The word sermon is not usually used.

At times the bishop may request special donations from the members of the ward (local congregation), such as the tsunami a few years back and hurricane Katrina, but usually the tithes are used for the needs of the church and its worldwide humanitarian efforts.

Although some members mail in their tithing to the bishop's home, most hand their tithes and offerings to the bishop or one of his two counselors before or after the sacrament meeting, or in one of the other meetings held on Sunday.

P.S. I'm a 'Mormon'.

At 5/11/2009 11:20 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Matthew, thanks for chiming in. Are the talks that people give during church usually on a certain topic? I mean are they meant to teach? Or are they usually more like personal testimonies? There were three or four people who got up and spoke this past Sunday. They were all testimonies--mostly just talking about how thankful they were for their mothers.

At 5/12/2009 8:14 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Usually the first Sunday of the month is set aside as a Fast and Testimony meeting. Members are encouraged to fast for two meals and are invited to share their testimonies during the Sacrament meeting if they feel moved to. The testimonies could be anything from an answer to their prayers, Christ's atoning sacrifice, the truthfulness of the gospel, Book of Mormon, or some other principle, often accompanied by a personal experience.

As far as assigned talks, most often the bishop assigns a general subject or maybe even a specific idea on which he would like the speaker to focus. The speaker would then develop that topic as they saw fit. Usually the talks tend to be doctrinally based, but you would often find personal, historical, or faith promoting stories, quotes from past leaders, scriptural dissertations, testimonies, and other material referenced.

I would say talks are generally meant to teach but speakers might also seek to inspire, encourage, or invite others to increase their faithfulness in living the principles of the gospel.

At 5/12/2009 9:13 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Now I have a few questions for you, Sam. What drew you to the topic of "agency" in the hymnal? Is Agency a word that is part of the doctrine of Calvinism or of Protestantism, or is it more of a philosophical side issue? What does the word Agency mean from your perspective? The term Agency is commonly used in Mormonism; is it commonly used in Protestantism, is it sort of an old fashioned term, or do you use other terms to express the idea? Sometimes Mormons will refer to "free agency". Are Agency and Free Agency synonymous to you, or are they different, and if so, how?

At 5/12/2009 10:02 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Matthew, thanks again for your detailed answer. Are there any checks and balances when a bishop asks somebody to give a talk? I mean does the Bishop only ask people to give a talk when he's sure the person knows enough about the topic? What would a Bishop do if somebody gave a talk and said some thing the Bishop thought were doctrinally incorrect? Or what if they speculated beyond what the LDS Church taught? Are there any qualifications for a person to give a talk? For example, do they have to be male, or do they have to be ordained in some priesthood? Does the Bishop himself give talks, or is he more of an administrator?

From my perspective, agency is just a synonym for volition. Any sentient being that has the faculty of volition is an agent. That's how I use the word. The reason I was drawn to this particular subject in the hymnal is because I was under the impression that "agency," loomed larged in LDS doctrine, and that Mormons put a great deal of emphasis on free will. And I was under the impression that Mormons subscribe to the libertarian view of free will. That view differs greatly from my own, which is why I was interested in the hymns associated with it.

Unless there are subtleties to the Mormon view that I don't know about, I think most protestants agree with Mormons on this issue. But one of the things that distinguishes Calvinists from most other Christians is that we do not subscribe to libertarian freedom--at least not insofar as morally significant action is concerned or the ability to accept or reject the gospel. We believe people act consistently with the condition of their heart, whether they are dead in sins (i.e. depraved), or whether they have been made alive in Christ (i.e. regenerated). I personally don't subscribe to the libertarian view of freedom in any action, whether morally significant or not.

At 5/12/2009 11:24 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Just about anyone could be asked to give a talk, including the youth (ages 12-18) in the ward. Younger children also give short talks in Primary, a class for ages 3 - 11.

In fact, about four years ago our family was asked to talk about the Sacrament. We all participated, including our four children ages 2, 4, 6, 8. Their 'talks' were only a few sentences long consisting of what they thought about the sacrament.

The bishop would probably not assign a given topic to someone who he knew would have a hard time with it (i.e., assigning Marriage as a topic to someone recently divorced), but having said that, I don't think he would 'censor' anyone. In other words, you don't need the most faithful person to speak on Faith. A new member whose faith is a bit shaky could easily provide interesting insights and may learn and grow themselves by such as assignment.

A bishop could correct something that he felt was incorrect. I've seen this done a few times in a Sunday School class type setting, usually done in the form of a mild correction. I can't remember anytime where a bishop interrupted a Sacrament meeting talk to make a correction, although that would be his prerogative if he felt it were needed. I would guess that a bishop would more likely privately speak to the person afterward, if needed, rather than publicly correcting. I've heard lots of things said over the years that I do not think are 100% correct, but I think most of us know that we are all at varying levels of understanding, and take that into account.

Qualifications? None that I know of. Male or female, black or white, priesthood or not. I'd even bet there have been a few people who were planning on getting baptized that have given talks prior to their baptism.

The bishop or one of his counselors conduct the meeting. One of them bears their testimony at the beginning of Fast and Testimony meeting each month. Also from time to time they will put themselves on the program as the speakers.

At 5/14/2009 12:14 AM , Blogger The Blog of John said...

Matthew, can I ask you a question? In several of your responses to Sam, you mention the "Sacrament meeting" or simply "the sacrament" in a singular form. What is the LDS definition of "the sacrament?" Is it just communion? Most Protestants accept two activities as sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper. (Roman Catholics accept at least seven.)

At 5/14/2009 9:21 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

The main Sunday meetings for a Mormon are:

1) Sacrament meeting (which Sam attended), a meeting for families/all members (all ages),

2) Sunday School (ages 12 and up) separated by age group for the youth and a general class for all adults, and

3) Either Priesthood meeting (males ages 12 and up) separated by age and/or Priesthood office or
Young Women/Relief Society (females ages 12 and up) separated by age for the young women.

Children under 12 attend Primary in place of 2) and 3) above. They spend half that time in a general Primary meeting as a group, and the rest in a class setting based on their age.

At 5/14/2009 9:41 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

It's called 'Sacrament meeting', because the most important thing that is done is the partaking of 'the Sacrament' (in Mormon lingo). Other activities done in this meeting sould include prayers, hymns, announcements, testimonies, talks, special musical numbers, and possibly baby blessings and confirmations (bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost to those recently baptized).

While technically the proper name would be, 'the sacrament of the Lord's supper,' it is commonly referred to as simply 'the sacrament'. I also understand the various sacraments in Catholicism and Protestantism, but Mormons would not generally refer to them as sacraments, but rather, ordinances. The 'sacrament' is considered an ordinance as well. So a Mormon would be less likely to say, 'the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of the Lord's supper', and more likely to say, 'the ordinance of baptism and the ordinance of the sacrament'.

By the way, you are very smart to ask for a definition. I think one of the problems that Mormons and Protestants have when they speak to each other is assuming the words they use have the same meaning. So your sacrament is more like my ordinance, and my sacrament is your communion/Lord's supper. When we learn the other person's corresponding terms, we find a bit more common ground than when we simply say something doesn't make sense and stop there.

At 5/14/2009 10:05 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Matthew, you have been very informative and clear, and I really appreciate that.

I think one of the problems that Mormons and Protestants have when they speak to each other is assuming the words they use have the same meaning.

That is a good observation.

At 5/15/2009 2:02 PM , Blogger Paul said...

That surely is a good observation. We should remember this even as it relates to how Protestants and Mormons use such basic words as God, Jesus, and salvation.

Matthew, Sam mentioned that communion was served with water. I don't recall hearing the explanation for why this is. Is it always water? Why did the LDS church decide to go this route?

At 5/16/2009 6:40 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Bread and water are commonly used, however, other items could be used instead. The second verse in the 27th section of the Doctrine and Covenants (a compilation of some of the revelations to Joseph Smith) says:

For, behold, I say unto you, that it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.

In some parts of the world where the water is unsafe or suspect, bottled or pasteurized drinks could be used instead, perhaps some type of juice.

With respect to the bread, I've heard of situations where something else was used as well, like tortillas. My guess is that the original 'bread' used by Jesus at the last supper would have been unleavened bread, since it was the passover season, and so our common bread, or whatever, may not be the same thing anyway.

At 5/17/2009 10:23 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Thanks for that answer, Matt. Makes sense that the form of the sacrament should be secondary to its meaning. But you then go on to say: "In some parts of the world where the water is unsafe or suspect ... perhaps some type of juice."

This makes it sound like water is the norm. Is it usually the case that water is used, then? That sounds backward from Protestants, who actually use wine (as was the case with the passover that Jesus was celebrating and fulfilling), but then move on to juice if they have an issue with the alcoholic content, or maybe could use something else in a pinch.

I understand that there's no reason for Mormons to concern themselves with Protestant practices, but even from what Smith says it seems as though water would be somewhere deeper down the line of preferences.

At 5/17/2009 10:34 AM , Blogger Paul said...

Back to that song, Sam.

It's very interesting to see such an explicitly Arminian song. I don't remember encountering anything like it before, either in hymn books or in the Bible itself. The only time I've seen that language is in the writing of someone arguing against Calvinism.

If there were only such explicit language in the Bible, then we might settle this age-old soteriological debate.

At 5/17/2009 1:01 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Paul, I don't think I've ever been to a protestant church that used wine for communion. They have all used juice. The only church I've ever been to that used wine was a Catholic church. Maybe I just need to go to your church. :-)

Yeah, that hymn definitely struck me as being polemical. I imagine it was aimed at the Presbyterians. If I'm remember right, the major denominations that Joseph Smith and his parents had to choose from were the Methodists and the Presbyterians.

Regarding the will, I think there are some pretty explicit scriptures...

Jeremiah 13:23 "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil."

Luke 6:43-45 "For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit, nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they pick grapes from a briar bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart."

Matthew 7:17-18 "So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit."

John 6:65 "And He was saying, 'For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.'"

John 10:26-29 "But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me...My Father, who has given them to me..."

John 6:37 "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."

Romans 8:6-8 "For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

Proverbs 21:1 "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes." (compare Ezra 6:22)

Proverbs 16:19 "The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps."

Acts 5:31 "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins." (See also Acts 11:18 and 1 Timothy 2:25)

Philippians 1:19 "For to you it has been granted for Christ's sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."

Deuteronomy 2:30 "But Sihon king of Heshbon was not willing for us to pass through his land; for the LORD your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, in order to deliver him into your hand, as he is today."

Ezekiel 11:19-20 "And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them and I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God."

Ezekiel 36-26-27 "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances."

Many more could be cited if I felt like looking all of them up.

At 5/17/2009 6:07 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Water is the norm, and probably became our custom based on the availability of water. I imagine wine, or even juice for that matter, was hard to come by while crossing the prairies or settling the inter-mountain west.

You mention preferences, and I can see your preference being to get as close to the wine used originally as possible, and that makes perfectly good sense to me. If my church were to have a preference, I would think it would be based on two things, practicality and distraction.

Practicality: In many areas of the world, water is fairly easy to come by, requires no refrigeration, no one is allergic to it, or is afraid it will stain their child's nice Sunday dress when the inevitable 'oops' happens. (Okay, I threw that last one in for fun, but you get the idea.) Most church buildings have a faucet in them which dispenses water, but I have yet to see a faucet which dispenses juice. Again, I'm being silly, just trying to demonstrate the practicality of using water. A loaf of bread is also easier to find that unleavened bread. (By the way, my father-in-law is allergic to wheat, so he brings a small portion of some non-wheat type of bread to church. Those preparing the sacrament handle it separately and give it to him while the rest of the congregation is given the regular type of bread.)

Distraction: Bread and water, which is normally used, would be less distracting than crackers and milk. That would probably detract from the purpose of the sacrament if that were done. And just imagine the stir that Snickers and Mountain Dew would create. (Will I get sued if I don't put the little trademark characters next to their brand names?) Anyway, the point is that if something else were used in place of what's commonly seen, we would prefer something less distracting so the focus could more easily remain on the purpose of the ordinance, not the emblems used.

At 5/17/2009 7:05 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Thanks for the flesh out, Matt. Good points, but one observation: if the point is not to be distracted from the focus of the ordinance ("sacrament" as Smith called it in the quote), then I'd think something more approximating blood (like wine or juice) would be the preference wherever possible. I'm sure most American churches have access to Welch's products, and any individual church should not necessarily be bound by the constraints of those with the most limited resources.

At 5/17/2009 7:06 PM , Blogger Paul said...


There are indeed Protestant churches that use wine in communion. Try this search Google search for examples of that: "lord's supper" "we use wine". In fact, I remember once as a teen when I went to an event with a Methodist church where wine (watered down) was served to the largely teen audience!

I agree that there are more explicit statements in Scripture that can be leveraged for the Reformed position. Even these can be equivocated with enough creativity (and I've seen some very creative exegesis). However, there's not anything that I can think of that would be an unquestionable treatise on the issue like what Calvin would write up to summarize his position. I guess, though, that there are many doctrines for which this could be equally said. We sometimes have to do a bit of work to put verses into context and nail down the loose edges with other relevant passages.

At 5/17/2009 7:33 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Chicken looks and feels more like flesh than bread does, so if you get your congregation to use chicken (or some other meat), I'll see if mine will go for grape juice or wine.

While we're on the subject, I just looked at a few verses in the Bible (KJV) and I could not find where it said that wine was used (I always assumed it did). It mentions bread and a cup, but not what was in the cup. I'm not implying anything by it. I just found it interesting. BTW, I do believe it was probably wine of some type.

At 5/17/2009 9:09 PM , Blogger Paul said...


Good reply, but Jesus employed bread and used bread analogies for his own flesh. I think that trumps. Since it is pretty well understood that the Passover involved wine, and the Last Supper was a Passover celebration, it seems pretty uncontroversial to think that wine was used. The only people I've ever heard argue against that were those who had issues with alcoholic beverages in general, but even they go with juice.

At 5/17/2009 9:13 PM , Blogger Paul said...


I just stumbled upon this passage in 1 Ti 5:23, where Paul is listing advice for elders:

"No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (NASB)

That's one I hadn't noticed before.

At 5/18/2009 11:30 AM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

But Jesus employed water and used living water analogies with the Samaritan woman. I don't remember any wine analogies, therefore, I think that trumps.

Now, in case you haven't figured it out, I'm being absurd for a purpose. The Blog of John and Sam have been very respectful with their questions and I have sought to do my best to give them the Mormon view – not to convert them, but to answer their honest curiosity. But lately I'm getting questions implying that Joseph Smith would not condone the use of water and that water is not proper since it does not resemble blood as well as wine does.

I've been parroting back this type of logic in an attempt to demonstrate its absurdity, but it's not working. So if you'd like to know why Mormons think the way we do, I'll do my best to give you the my viewpoint and you can take it for what it's worth. The short answer to all of your questions is this: As a Mormon, I believe that God continues to speak through living prophets today just as He did anciently, and that if He says it doesn't matter what is used, then I have no problem with water. I don't expect you to accept that viewpoint, but I would like to answer your questions without the follow up jab.

At 5/18/2009 5:49 PM , Blogger Paul said...


I didn't think that your water response was "absurd." It was well worth considering. Some might consider what we are doing to be dialog rather than an absurd type of logic. However, since it seems to offend I'll decline from further comment.

To be perfectly honest, I was attempting to push a bit with my questioning to see what the actual rationale for the use of water might be. Something as seemingly small as this issue might harbor some larger theological differences that I was hoping to discover. I didn't know whether Mormon's, perhaps, sought to deemphasize the blood atonement, or some other factor might be involved. Since your answer merely addressed logistical issues I stuck with questions along that line of thinking.

It sounds as though you are ultimately saying that you use water because one of the recent living prophets has decreed that this is what is to be used. Is that what has happened? Just one more question: is it now forbidden to use juice (or wine)? I understand the doctrine of abrogation, so I have no problem understanding why it might be a pointless exercise to exegete biblical passages on this.

Oh, one more question if you'll indulge me. Why wouldn't you want to convert Sam and John?

At 5/19/2009 6:07 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...


Your last response gives me a better understanding of what you were trying to do, but it seems like you are looking beyond the mark, trying to find something in my answers that I haven't said.

The actual rationale for the use of water? The verse from the Doctrine and Covenants I've already quoted above and the fact that it's drinkable. Who decided it? Don't know, don't care. All I care about is that I can drink it and remember the blood shed by Jesus and His sacrifice and atonement.

Please don't try to 'discover' something about the Mormon idea of blood atonement or anything else by the type of liquid that we drink. You are almost guaranteed to be wrong with that approach. If you want the answer to a question, ask that question.

Juice is not forbidden. In fact, I used it in an example above! Is anything forbidden? Did you read what I have already written? (Look for the part which says, "it mattereth not...")

"Why wouldn't you want to convert Sam and John?" That's interesting that you think that's what I said.

At 6/01/2009 12:59 PM , Blogger Judy said...

OK - I have someting to say... I just wrote the most eloquent comment, addressed to all three of you, and then discovered that when I went to sign up to add my comment (I'm not a blogger!) it was deleted! Darn! Well, if I see that this test comment posts, I'll try again - although I doubt it will be as brilliant as the first one I wrote.

At 6/01/2009 1:24 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Judy, that has happened to me lots and lots of time, so I feel your pain. The smart thing to do (which I hardly ever do) is write in notepad or Word, and then cut and paste.

I'm going to take your word for it that your original comment was brilliant and give you the credit for it anyway. Let's just pretend like whatever it is you said, I've already read it, and I was totally wowed by it.

Wow, Judy! That was incredible! :-)

At 6/01/2009 1:25 PM , Blogger Judy said...

OK - Let's try again.....

I am the chorester in my LDS ward. That means I'm the one who stands up in front during Sacrament Meetings and waves my arm around, directing the congregation as we sing the hymns. It is part of my job to select appropiate hymns for the given topics each Sunday.

An up-coming topic will be Free Agency. I knew there was a hymn in our hymnal that had the line "What are we then? Mere animals..." but I couldn't remember the title of the hymn. So, rather than thumbing through the entire hymn book, I Googled those words and found this blog.

I don't read blogs. Really! But this one caught my eye and I ended up reading every word of it.

Sam and Paul, I want to compliment you on the way you asked your questions and voiced your concerns. You were very respectful - and the comments you made and the questions you asked were extremely understandable to me. I was born and raised a Presbyterian, and actually lived a pretty worldly life until I joined the LDS Church at the age of 35. So I had the same questions you are asking.

Matthew, I am in awe of you! With patience and love - and humor - you were able to eloquently answer all the questions these two fine young men sent your way. You even were able to squelch the come-backs that were creaping in, without being offensive OR defensive. (Sounds a bit like football!)

Thank you - all three of you - for an informative and enjoyable discussion. AND for helping me find the hymn I was looking for, Sam!


(And no, this was not NEARLY as good as my first try!)

At 6/01/2009 1:29 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Glad to help, Judy. And I'm also glad you found my blog. Feel free to chime in with your eloquence any time!

At 6/01/2009 2:20 PM , Blogger Judy said...

BTW, Sam - I also had a TREMENDOUS problem with the Book of Mormon. When I realized that I was (darn it!) gaining a bit of a testimony of the teachings of the LDS church, I still could not give any creedance (sure wish this thing had a spell-check!) to anything from the Book of Mormon, because I had absolutely no testimony that it was true scripture.

It wasn't until I found some references in the BIBLE (KJV) that backed up some of the "new" concepts/terms I was hearing from the missionaries, that I was finally able to open up my heart enough - and let down my defenses enough - to finally gain a testimony that Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon is actual scripture left to us my the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. these Bible references remain dear to my heart, and I keep a list of them in the cover of my BofM. I would be more than happy to share them with you if you are interested.

I started looking into the church (back when I was a single gal) because I became smitten with an LDS guy I met. It went through three sets of missionaries before I got serious about it. I am a rebellious soul, so I totally understand your misgivings.

Are you still "taken" with Sierra? If so, you'll surely want to know if you can fit into her LSD life. You know - you'll want to either jump in with both feet, or leave the pool entirely. Give it a chance. It can't hurt.

At 6/01/2009 3:30 PM , Blogger Judy said...

If you have any questions, just ask. I'm gonna get off the computer now and stop this blog stuff. You are welcome to email me. Have a great week, Sam I am!

At 6/01/2009 5:03 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Judy, it is so funny you used the word "smitten" when talking about the LDS guy you got interested in. I've been using that word a lot lately when talking to my family and friends about Sierra. Things have pretty much fizzled out with Sierra, but I'm not completely unsmitten with her just yet.

It is also really interesting to me that you would get a witness about the teachings of the LDS Church, but not about the BOM or Joseph Smith. I don't see how it's possible for the LDS Church to be the true church if its founder was a false prophet or the BOM was a work of fiction.

I would be interested in knowing more of your story and the Bible verses you wanted to share with me, but I kind of like to stay on topic with my blogs, so I'd rather do it through email. I would email you, but I don't have your email address. Mine is banana underscore nut underscore bread at hotmail dot com.

At 6/03/2009 4:43 PM , Blogger 60's Guy said...

On the subject of water vs. wine. In Doctrine and Covenants Section 27, it says that while Joseph Smith was on his way to buy wine for the sacrament for a church service, a heavenly messenger stopped him and said, "" . . .it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament, if it so be that ye do it with an eye single to my glory—remembering unto the Father my body which was laid down for you, and my blood which was shed for the remission of your sins.
Wherefore, a commandment I give unto you, that you shall not purchase wine neither strong drink of your enemies;
Wherefore, you shall partake of none except it is made anew among you. . . ."

Later, in Section 89, Joseph Smith received this revelation:

". . .Behold, verily, thus saith the Lord unto you: In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you, and forewarn you, by giving unto you this word of wisdom by revelation—
That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father, only in assembling yourselves together to offer up your sacraments before him.
And, behold, this should be wine, yea, pure wine of the grape of the vine, of your own make. . . ."

Perhaps the "conspiring men" are those who increase the alcohol content of wine. Anyway, in light of those two revelations, the Church decided later on to do away with wine altogether and use water.

What's really important is the reason we take the liquid, what ever it is, in the sacrament:

". . .in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. . . ."

as quoted from the Blessing on the Water.

At 6/04/2009 3:13 AM , Blogger Sam said...

That is fascinating, 60's Guy! Something else I didn't know! Thanks for posting that.

At 6/04/2009 12:33 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Good questions and answers in this section.

I thought I might try to add clarity about the church offices that have been mentioned. The offices of bishop and bishop’s counselor were specifically mentioned, along with Judy’s office of chorister in her ward (our word for congregation). In LDS wards, almost everyone has an office, or what we refer to as a calling. Bishop and bishop’s counselor are two that are most easily identified by outsiders visiting the church because they sit up front and preside over and conduct the sacrament meeting. Over the course of a lifetime, church members end up serving in many, many callings, and often have the same calling more than once. If you think about it, every job that is done as part of our Sunday worship or other weekly sessions for youth and children are run by people, young and old, who are serving in their assigned callings.

What is important is that no calling is considered more important than any other, and that no one is paid for the service they provide in their calling. That means that the bishop has a full-time job to support his family just like every other member of the congregation. There are specific levels of authority and the related responsibility that comes with it, but higher levels of authority do not mean higher levels of importance. In fact, the most important functions any of us fill are as spouses and parents when we are married with children.

A bishop is the ecclesiastical leader of the ward and is responsible for what takes place in ward meetings. All other church members report directly or indirectly to him (this is a bit of a simplification, but exceptions are few and not worth explaining at this point). The bishop and his counselors (the bishopric) issue callings to the leaders immediately below them, and those leaders then request that additional callings be issued to the next layer down. Take for example the Primary, which is the organization that teaches the children ages 3 to 11. The bishopric calls the Primary President who, in turn, requests certain members to serve as counselors, teachers, music leaders, activity leaders, etc. A fully filled Primary organization must have 20 or so adult leaders in it. The same is true of each organization within the ward.

Certain callings are limited to holders of the priesthood, and the priesthood can be held only by worthy males over the age of 12. Bishop and bishop’s counselor are examples of callings that can be held only by priesthood holders.

In my life, I have served as a ward missionary, ward mission leader, clerk (keeper of financial and membership records), bishop’s counselor, primary teacher, Sunday school teacher, priesthood quorum teacher, young men’s organization leader, and have held several callings at the level above the ward, which we refer to as a stake (and the exception I mentioned above). Almost every calling I’ve had, I’ve held more than once at different times or in different wards.

In case you are wondering how the bishop and his counselors are selected, the LDS church is a top-down organization, and ward leaders are appointed by the stake, whose leaders are appointed by general and area authorities who report ultimately to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency (the prophet and his counselors) in Salt Lake City.

At 6/04/2009 12:56 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Curtis, thank you for that. I actually asked both Kay and Sierra about the organization and structure of the wards and could not get a clear picture from them, but this does help clarify things for me.

There's another thing I've been wondering about. The Book of Mormon says in a few places that the spiritual gifts will never be done away with, and it even condemns people who say they will. So I'm wondering whether these spiritual gifts determine the offices and jobs that people have in the church. There are, for example, gifts of teaching and of administration. Do these gifts determine that a person will be asked to teach or serve in an administrative capacity? Do Mormons determine that somebody is gifted in some area before appointing them to those jobs?

I'm also wondering about the gift of healing and how that is practiced in the LDS Church. And I'm wondering about the gift of prophecy. I get the impression from the Bible that lots of people can have the gift of prophecy, but that in the Mormon church there is only ever one prophet at a time. Do Mormons make a distinction between the gift of prophecy and the office of prophet?

At 6/05/2009 10:54 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

Do Mormons determine that somebody is gifted in some area before appointing them to those jobs?

We believe that everyone has spiritual gifts, but that the individuals may not know what gifts they have. Separately, we believe that God assists church leaders in identifying who should get which calling and when. So while obvious handicaps may be taken into consideration when bishopric members discuss who should get which calling, pretty much anyone deemed worthy for a particular calling may be taken into consideration. Once discussion is complete, the leaders take the question to God in the form of prayer, and we believe strongly that He helps guide in those decisions.

I have seen many times where people are surprised to receive a calling, but excel in it once they get to work. I have seen others accept a calling that everyone thinks they will excel at, and have them perform below expectations. You never know what you are capable of doing until you try. Over time, people come to realize that they do have special spiritual gifts in certain areas, but they tend not to let themselves be limited by them although they do work with confidence in those areas when asked.

I'm also wondering about the gift of healing and how that is practiced in the LDS Church.

We believe in the gift of healing, and have ordinances around using that gift. Specifically, members of the higher priesthood officiate in this ordinance, which involves anointing with consecrated oil and issuing a blessing. We believe that healing depends primarily on the faith of the person receiving the ordinance, and secondarily on the faith of the person(s) administering it, but faith is heavily involved. Persons receiving the ordinance do not have to be members of the church (I once gave a blessing to one of my sisters). We do experience the occasional miracle, but don’t believe in special shows or public demonstrations; health blessings are usually a very private matter.

We also believe strongly in God’s will, and the importance of physical limitations in this life that are meant to teach us something. So there is nothing wrong with or about a person who has a disability, nor is there necessarily a need to “heal” it. There are also times when we are meant to die and pass into the next life, and accept that God may not assist with a miracle healing in such situations. But I have personally had some significant spiritual experiences around the healing ordinance, both as a giver and receiver of the ordinance, so I know of its power and impact. I also understand why we don’t talk about such experiences very much – they are very personal.

Do Mormons make a distinction between the gift of prophecy and the office of prophet?

Yes. Each of us can have the gift of prophecy, and we are expected to use the gift, when necessary, within our own families or to fulfill our callings. The difference is that we are only free to try to use this gift within our area of assigned authority and responsibility. So a ward member will never be given prophecy experiences for the entire ward – those are reserved for the bishop if they become necessary. And the bishop of a ward will never be given prophecies for the entire church.

Since the church president has responsibility over the entire church, he is often thought of as the official prophet, but the rights to prophecy (we refer to them as “keys”) are held by the entire quorum of apostles, as it is necessary for them to bestow the keys upon the new prophet once the previous one passes away.

At 6/05/2009 11:37 AM , Blogger Judy said...

Wow! I sure wish I had had Matthew and Curtis around when I was investigating the church! When I joined the church I had to learn this stuff using the learn-as-you-go method, and it was difficult, and - yes - strange! Here, we have the opportunity to learn stuff about the inner workings of the church in a safe, respectful, thoughtful setting - and we are, thankfully, receiving correct information. Granted, it would be very easy for someone who didn't like the LDS church to come on here and give some pretty weird comments, but so far that hasn't happened, as far as I can tell. I compliment all of you for this nice conversation. I am enjoying popping in on it now and then to see what's going on. What are you thinking about it, Sam I am?

At 6/05/2009 1:23 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Judy and Matthew,

Don't leave me all alone out here!! ;>)

At 6/05/2009 2:11 PM , Blogger Judy said...

Aw, Curtis, I'm here for ya. But I think I'll let you handle these questions since you are doing such a beautiful job. I don't know where Matthew went...we haven't heard from him in awhile. So, I think I'll just back and enjoy your great answers. Now, if you get a question about Relief Society or Visiting Teaching, I'll jump in and try to be as eloquent and thorough as you are with our friend Sam. BYW, don't you just love the questions he asks? Smart guy, that Sam I Am!

At 6/05/2009 2:28 PM , Blogger Matthew Andreasen said...

Curtis and Judy, thanks for your words. Last I looked, this blog had died down, so I haven't looked at it for a while. I'll check back next week since I'm leaving for the weekend.

I agree that Curtis has done very well with the explanations he has left.

At 6/05/2009 2:53 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Sam and his readers have asked some very interesting questions, and have been quite respectful.

Off topic - I have spent some time reading Sam's website where he describes hand-crafting bows (as in bow and arrow bows, and not giftwrapping bows). He claims that if you will just make one, you will make more, but the process looks way too complicated for me. So I just read and dream of having something like that!

Sam, you should link to your bow site from your main blog page.

At 6/05/2009 4:07 PM , Blogger Paul said...

Sam's got some cool hobbies. He's learning the violin and making one himself! And I hear he makes mean banana nut bread and smoothies.

Sam is a very gracious host and has more personal skin in this game. I live in an area that has many Mormons, and my wife and daughter have Mormon friends. I don't have much direct contact with them to engage in one-on-one dialogs other than the two Mormon missionary encounters I've had. Unfortunately, by the second encounter I had done quite a bit of research and I think I'm on their blacklist now :(
Someday I will blog on that encounter, since it played out very interestingly.

BTW, Curtis, you are doing a fine job.

At 6/06/2009 12:01 AM , Blogger Sam said...

What are you thinking about it, Sam I am?

I am enjoying it, Judy you are. :-) As eloquent and brilliant as you are, it's just not fair for you to let Curtis do all the question answering!

I agree with Matt, Judy, and Paul that Curtis is doing a great job, especially for being just an average guy. :-) Curtis, how did you find my bow building web page? I did post a few blog entries relating to my bow building a while back. Making bow is far easier than it looks. I put off making bows for many years just because I was intimidated, but after making my first couple of bows, I wished that I hadn't waited so long.

At 6/07/2009 9:19 AM , Blogger Curtis said...

I found your bow website by clicking on the link to your profile where you have a link to the other site. Awesomely fantastic stuff! You are a very talented man.

Since you live in Austin, we may have another hurdle much more difficult to overcome than religion. I am a Texas A&M Aggie.

At 6/07/2009 9:40 AM , Blogger Sam said...

Thank you Curtis. I think we can easily overcome our new hurdle just because I'm not into football. :-) Where are you from, though?

At 6/07/2009 2:30 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

I consider Abilene, TX to be my home town, although I was born in Florida and grew up all over the world because my Dad was in the military. I attended high school for all three years in Abilene and got my first undergraduate degree from McMurry University in town there. Then on to TAMU where I got a second undergraduate degree.

At 6/07/2009 11:21 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Well I'll be! My mom's parents have lived in Abilene since I can remember, and we lived there until I was seven. I think my older brothers and sister still consider it their home town.

At 6/08/2009 12:59 PM , Blogger Curtis said...

Wow, small world. My parents moved to Austin when I was a freshman in college. My oldest sister (1 yr younger than me) and I both graduated HS in Abilene, and she got undergrad and grad degrees from UT. I have a brother who also graduated from UT. I am the only Aggie, but I am also the only one of us kids who never lived in Austin with the family. My sister and I consider Abilene to be our home town, but the three middle kids consider Austin to be. The two youngest attended high school in Florida where the family moved after my Dad retired from the military, so they consider Florida home.

At 6/08/2009 1:25 PM , Blogger Judy said...

EW! I hate this! Again, this silly blog wound not accept my password, so I lost my message! It was a good one, too! ... I'll try again....

At 6/08/2009 1:36 PM , Blogger Judy said...

Well, HOWDY, Y'ALL! I'm as tickled as a wart hog in a briar patch that y'all are from Texas! I'm not. However, I DID sell another puppy today - that means there are only two left out of seven. Did I just change the subject? Back to the subject though, I wanted to let you know that my husband and I are Language Missionaries (Spanish) as well as Daily Dose teachers (teaching Spanish-speaking people how to speak English) in our area. I took Spanish in school (although I have forgotten most of it) and Harley (isn't that a great redneck name?) speaks fluent Spanish as a result of his mission in Argentina. Add that to the fact that we both just LOVE Mexican food - and we would fit right in down there in southern Texas, don't ya think? In fact, I have Latino friends down there in Weslaco, so when we go visit them we'll pop in on you and say "YE-HAW!" Have a great day now, y'hear?

At 6/18/2009 7:54 PM , Blogger Judy said...

So...where'd you guys go, anyhow?! I hope I didn't scare you off with my silly faux-Texas accent. I was just pullin' yer leg, afterall. Have a super summer vacation and I hope you are having nicer weather than we are here in Utah. Rain, rain, rain! PS - been to any more church meetings lately, Sam?

At 6/18/2009 8:09 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Judy, I've been planning on going to the new comers class at some point, but I haven't been back yet. We haven't gone anywhere. We're just continuing with the "Book of Mormon" series. I put up Part 8 last night, so we're almost half way through it.

It is hot, dry, and miserable in Austin, TX. :-( I wish we had more bad weather.

At 6/18/2009 8:13 PM , Blogger Sam said...

Part 7 I mean.


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