If I were a member of any religious tradition, if I dug into the heart of it, I expect I would come to the same conclusion. I think the way we see religion in practice, too many of us narrow and limit it within creeds and tribes, engaged in bitter, polarized competition for converts. Christianity like other religions is missionary-oriented, which I think is good and important. Religious traditions should be in conversation with the world, offering up its best offerings and allowing those who seek for shelter in a broken world a bit of comfort and community.
Joseph Smith was born and raised in a time and place where religious revivals were in full swing. He saw what the bitter fruits that religious confrontation could bear. Struggling to know his own place in this confusing circumstance led him into have visions and revelations and eventually a new, deeply American religion. Reading the Doctrine and Covenants, which is really just a collection of mostly Joseph Smith’s revelations as the church was just getting started, bundled together in mostly chronological order. There’s very little consistency from section to section. Some are short, some are long and incredibly sprawling. There’s no attempt here at definition or boundaries, simply Joseph Smith’s interactions with the divine. To me, the primary message of Joseph Smith’s revelations is that religion is big.
With that as prequel, this week’s Come Follow Me is D&C 88. Richard Bushman in his book “Rough Stone Rolling” introduces it this way:
Like other revelations, the “Olive Leaf” moves from subject to subject. Nothing in ninetheenth-century literature resembles it. The writings of Swedenborg come closest, but they were much less concerned with millenarian events. The “Olive Leaf” runs from the cosmological to the practical, from a description of angels blowing their trumpets to instructions for starting a school. Yet the pieces blend together into a cohesive compound of cosmology and eschatology united by the attempt to link the quotidian world of the now to the world beyond. The revelation offers sketches of the order of heaven, reprises the three degrees of glory, delivers a discourse on divine law, offers a summary of the metahistory of the end times, and then brings it all to bear on what the Saints should do now.Rough Stone Rolling, page 206.
The word that kept popping into my mind reading D&C 88 is big. The sections on light in particular. Just some examples follow:
11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your aunderstandings;
13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.
In other words, Mormonism places Christ at the center of everything and everything is within the realm of Christ.
The revelation pivots to the physical elements of the earth, binding the heaven and the earth. Expanding on the degrees of glory revelation of 76, Joseph Smith links resurrection and body to kingdoms and laws. That living the celestial law actually means filling the “measure of our creation” whatever that might mean for us as human beings and as individual people with unique talents, gifts and circumstances. It goes beyond our Sunday religious service or even our religious identity but how we orient our entire lives within this earth accepting calling with graciousness and service.
21 And they who are not asanctified through the blaw which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit canother kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.
36 All kingdoms have a law given;
The blessings of eternity seem to be more about what we are willing to receive than it is about what we are willing to do.
32 And they who remain shall also be aquickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are bwilling to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.
The kingdom analogies are interesting, given kingdoms, kings and monarchies have been an historically common form of government. Like most things, Christianity (and by extension Mormonism) flips these notions completely on their head – everyone becomes priests, everyone becomes kings, kingdoms are everywhere.
And if we are to be priests and kings, what is our responsibility in this? Scholarship. Education becomes an essential component in Joseph Smith’s theology. The church orients its members deeply into the world. Everythig is a kingdom and those who interact with all things interacts with God, “moving in his majesty and power.”
40 For aintelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; bwisdom receiveth wisdom; ctruth embraceth truth; dvirtue loveth virtue; elight cleaveth unto light; fmercy hath gcompassion on mercy and claimeth her own; hjustice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.
Those who take the ideas in verse 40 seriously would engage fearlessly in study and discussion. Being informed in and with science, the arts, philosophy. Mormonism, lived well, interacts naturally with the world and folds in the insights and discoveries within its theology. It’s boundless. Whatever is true, falls within the purview of the church.
The revelation ends with a call into deep study.
78 Teach ye diligently and my agrace shall attend you, that you may be binstructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
79 Of things both in aheaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must bshortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the cnations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a dknowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
119 aOrganize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a bhouse, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
In summary, Mormonism is expansive and takes in everything. Those within covenant are called into service, yes, but also into learning, study and teaching. Our homes and churches should be places of faith, wisdom and learning for the benefit of society. God is in all things, so must we.