Monday, October 27, 2014

A follow-up by Jerry Thomas

Last week, Jerry Thomas offered a comparison of Mormon and Eastern Orthodox Christian temple theology. A reader by the name of Christian Piper offered a thoughtful critique. Here is Jerry's response:

Rather than respond to Christian Piper’s interesting observations via comments, I am responding with another posting. My response enlarges on the themes presented quite elliptically in the original post. 

First, you object to my breaking the arcana disciplina, the ancient promise among Christians not to speak of the Mystery, even avoiding mention that bread and wine were involved, let alone the theology of the “metabole,” the method, whatever it may be, by which the believer receives Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharist. While it is interesting to note that both the Divine Liturgy and the endowment are shrouded in mystery, the cat has been out of the bag so long for Christians that we forget even that it exists, as we constantly have to field questions about this topic. Since I openly discussed the theology of the veil being Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist as the fulfillment of our participation in the Temple—which is the most sacred thing I believe, the heart of it all—I thought that LDS wouldn’t mind “taking the lid off” of their rites, as has been done with Christian rites by hostile readers for many, many centuries, and comparing the Orthodox understanding of crossing the veil and the LDS understanding, which could not be accomplished without examination of the key moment in the central rite, secret or not.

Secondly, I agree that increasing understanding of the role of temples and how that became Christian liturgy makes Mormonism more like Orthodoxy than it is like other Christian faiths. Thus, the thing you like about Mormon temples, their exclusiveness, applies to the Orthodox as well. To “hide the Mystery” we’ve erected an entire battery of walls, screen, veils, curtains, and doors, but in Holy Communion all of those come down, and only those deemed worthy by a less rigid, but by no means less effective, policing of the matter by the clergy are allowed to approach and receive. Orthodoxy, while open to all to worship with us, maintains a tight control on who is actually “in the Church,” which means receiving Holy Communion.

I am from a Masonic family, as well as a Mormon family. My son is an active Mason. I understand that a direct comparison between the initiatory rites all Masons go through to become a Master Mason and the LDS endowment does not extend to the text. This is why I mentioned specific elements. I was undergirding my thesis that something changed between Kirtland and Nauvoo and we know among the things that changed was Joseph moving from not being a Mason to being a Mason. The Masonic rituals sparked his prophetic imagination and developing the endowment was part of an entire new program he was developing at the time of his death that was to culminate in his receiving publicly what had already been done in private, proclaiming Joseph Smith to be the “King of Israel.” Between Kirtland and Nauvoo, something happened.

As to your last point, I do think that not invoking the Holy Name of God when one passes through the veil in the Holiest Place is not in keeping with Temple Tradition. The only time in the First Temple when anyone entered the Holiest Place was on the Day of Atonement. And then only after sacrificing a goat with a sign on it reading, “YHWH,” and eating its raw flesh and drinking its blood, does the high priest, now bearing a sign saying “YHWH,” for it is YHWH’s blood that is shed and it is YHWH who enters the Holiest Place with His Blood, does the high priest dare to enter beyond the veil, bearing the blood and the incense, and stand before the Cherubic Throne. Now this action became the action of each and every Christian when receiving Holy Communion. Now each Christian bears Jesus’s Name (the Saving Name of God) and acts as a high priest in Israel, even infants, and eats of the flesh and blood of the bloodless sacrifice instituted by the Lord Himself. I find it quite odd that the endowment fails to invoke the Holy Name of Jehovah (keeping with endowment terminology) while crossing through the veil.

The Holy Name of God has power and is to be used sparingly and appropriately is a lesson we learn from Scripture and from the practice of the Second Temple to only utter YHWH’s Holy Name aloud on the Day of Atonement. The Name and Atonement go together. Leaving it out at the very moment when the Atonement is being ritualized does raise my eyebrow, for one. Although I don't know, nor can anyone know, why the Holy Name of God is lacking in the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood, I can hazard a guess. Consistent with Joseph Smith's theological tendencies towards the end of his life, it seems clear that he was moving to a concept of God that we might call "transpersonal." It wasn't God the Father Himself who was "eternal," it was the "Priesthood," the culmination of which was the "Priesthood of God." In the Second Token the "mystery" is revealed: there is no Creator God but only an eternal "priesthood" that births the "gods."

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Guest Post: "Health in the Navel: A Comparison of Mormon and Orthodox Christian Temple Theology" by Jerry Thomas

I am very excited to share with you a post by fellow Mormon-to-Orthodox convert, Jerry Thomas:

One unique feature of the LDS Church, especially considering its time and place of origin, is its insistence on the importance of temples. When the Saints were sacrificing in Kirtland to build the first Temple it was because the Lord had promised them an “endowment” with “power” upon completion of the temple. In Section 110 of the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph described the experience he had with Oliver Cowdery of seeing and hearing Jesus announce: “7 For behold, I have accepted this house, and my name shall be here; and I will manifest myself to my people in mercy in this house. 8 Yea, I will appear unto my servants, and speak unto them with mine own voice, if my people will keep my commandments, and do not pollute this holy house.” The interesting feature of this “endowment” is that it lacked any of the features of the later “endowment” as developed in Nauvoo under clear Masonic influence. The vision of Christ that Joseph had in Kirtland, however, was immediately following the Lord’s Supper, the key event in the dedication.
Although the first Mormons got their ideas about temples from the Holy Bible, the Orthodox Church has been building and worshiping in temples since the founding of the Church. A true temple, in Orthodox understanding, is where “two or three” are gathered in Christ’s Name for the purpose of participation in the Holy Mysteries, particularly Holy Communion. These impromptu temples came first, often in people’s houses, and only later did the Church become established enough to build buildings.
In the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, with the Lord’s Supper as the central rite, we find ourselves well within the common Christian tradition. It is with the further development of the “endowment” as a separate rite, with the Lord’s Supper still celebrated in the temples on occasion, but no longer the centerpiece, that we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory in the traditions of Christianity. This new rite contained features taken directly from Masonic ceremonies, including the handshakes and the Five Points of Fellowship, as well as the penalties. Many of these elements were eliminated or downplayed in the 1990 revision of the endowment.

Even though the Lord’s Supper was eliminated from the central temple rite, “washing and anointing” were added. These can be seen as a repeat of baptism and confirmation (by anointing, as in the Orthodox Church) or both can be seen as a continuation of the rites accompanying the Day of Atonement when the high priest had to bathe in the ritual bath and vest to participate in the rite.  
In the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Lord (as His Body and Blood) comes out of the veil to be among His people (through their participation in Holy Communion). In the LDS Endowment, the opposite happens. The participant enters the Celestial Room through the veil after reciting the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The text of this is apparently the most sacred part of the Endowment, as it is often eliminated even in “exposes” of the Endowment. A careful examination of this text, then, is in order to understand what is happening in the Endowment. “Health in the navel, marrow in the bones, strength in the loins and in the sinews. Power in the priesthood be upon me and my posterity through all generations of time and throughout all eternity.” First, one notices that neither God nor Christ are invoked to cross through the veil! The first part seems to be an invocation for health and the second part invokes “the priesthood,” not God or Christ as the origin of the “power” to be passed on through all time. Second, while the Scripture ties together the “veil” and Christ’s “flesh,” making clear that Holy Communion is how one “enters through the veil” ([Heb 10:20 KJV] By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh) and this connection persisted at Kirtland, the Nauvoo endowment removes even mention of Christ from the action of entering through the veil. Third, while it is clear that the Scriptures are being quoted in the first part ([Pro 3:8 KJV] “It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones”) is there a Scriptural basis for the remainder? Job’s description of the mythical monster “Behemoth” is the only possible Scriptural basis for the remainder of the first sentence: “[Job 40:16-17 KJV] Lo now, his strength [is] in his loins, and his force [is] in the navel of his belly. 17 He moveth his tail like a cedar: the sinews of his stones are wrapped together.” Here we find “strength,” “loins,” and “sinews” together, the only place this happens in the Holy Bible. The second sentence of the Second Token of the Melchizedek Priesthood may be alluding to these Bible verses: 
[Exo 29:9 KJV] And thou shalt gird them with girdles, Aaron and his sons, and put the bonnets on them: and the priest's office shall be theirs for a perpetual statute: and thou shalt consecrate Aaron and his sons. [Exo 40:15 KJV] And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations. Here we find the idea of the “priest’s office” or the “priesthood” being “everlasting throughout their generations,” reminiscent of “the power of the priesthood” invoked to “be upon me and my posterity for time and all eternity.”  
In the New Testament and subsequent Orthodox teaching “priesthood” refers to several different concepts: 1) the Aaronic priesthood of the Second Temple 2) the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ and 3) the “priesthood of all believers,” which is participation through the Mysteries in Christ’s Melchizedek priesthood. In later developments, a fourth meaning was added, the “priesthood” of the Christian clergy, which priesthood derives from the “priesthood of all believers,” which priesthood is Christ’s Melchizedek priesthood. There is no role for the Aaronic priesthood, a hereditary priesthood, in the New Testament nor in the subsequent Christian Church. The titles, however, of the Aaronic priesthood were incorporated into the Church with “bishops” being “high priests,” “presbyters” being “priests,” and “deacons” being “Levites.”
Thus, the present-day Orthodox Church has buildings called temples with a “holy place” and a “prosthesis” (Table for the Showbread). Often the “holy place” is divided from the rest of the temple by a veil and an icon screen or wall. It is from this place that several “entrances” are done—with the gospel book before the readings and with the prepared sacrament before the blessing, culminating in the entrance of the Lord Himself as His Body and Blood during Holy Communion. It was following Holy Communion when Joseph Smith saw Christ in the Kirtland Temple. This is what one would expect based on the Holy Bible and Christian tradition. Between Kirtland and Nauvoo something changed and Holy Communion ceased being the culmination of the Holy Mysteries in Mormonism. Instead, an odd rite with Masonic roots culminating with an entrance of the believer into the “celestial kingdom” while invoking the power of the “priesthood,” presumably the Melchizedek priesthood of Christ, without reference to the Holy Name of Jesus or to Christ or to God, has taken the place of Holy Communion in Orthodox Christianity.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

"Was there a Great Apostasy?" A great review from Soul Device

Some kind of “apostasy narrative” is required to explain why a group that did not exist for nearly 2,000 years can consider itself the true expression of Christianity. Obviously, if the Church founded by Jesus did not go into apostasy, there would be no excuse to create a new group or “restore” what was “lost.” Unlike most Christian sects that attempt to locate themselves (in some form) throughout Christian history, the Mormons accept and explain their non-existence by claiming the Church founded by Jesus Christ disappeared from the Earth shortly after its creation.
I wrote previously of the problem of the Latter-day Saint (LDS or Mormon) story of a “great apostasy” of the early ChurchHERE. Now I would like to expose some of the errors of the primary text used by the LDS in support of such an idea: Mormon Apostle James E. Talmage’s book The Great Apostasy: Considered in the Light of Scriptural and Secular History (hereafter: “TGA”). Written in 1909, the point of Talmage’s work was to present “the evidence of the decline and final extinction of the primitive Church” as evidenced by “scriptural record and in secular history.” The reason this alleged apostasy is so important to Mormons is that it under girds their movement’s very existence. This is admitted on the very first page of TGA:
If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (TGA, Preface – emphasis added)

Read more at: