Recently, the Mormon prophet, President Nelson made an announcement about the church’s name:
The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months.
In the announcement President Nelson asks us to stop using the name Mormon when referring to the church or its members, preferring the official name, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” or “The Church of Jesus Christ” or notably, “the restored Church of Jesus Christ” as approved abbreviations. A lot has already been said about the practicality of this directive and so that’s not something I care to talk about here.
What’s more interesting to me is the revelatory nature of it, that “The Lord has impressed” upon President Nelson’s “mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His church…” It got me thinking about the nature of revelation.
In a previous post, I talked about what it means to disagree with prophets, using disagreement as a way to properly understand problematic parts of Mormon history. In that post I talked about revelation this way:
This is revelation. It’s raining down everywhere and the church only directly captures a portion of it. In fact, the more the church isolates itself from the world, the further away from God’s revelatory streams it gets.
I believe revelation takes work and not just on your knees, in prayer work, not just in your study wrestling with the scriptures work – but also out there in the world doing good kind of work and out there in conversation with all sorts of people type of work. It requires stepping out on as many limbs as possible, making mistakes, scraping knees, even causing a little unintentional pain. Revelation often happens most profoundly during our lowest moments, when we’ve been forced to our knees from failure after painful failure.
Revelatory Dead Ends
The church actually teaches the messy nature of revelation.
Elder Holland talks here about a time in his personal life when driving down a dirt road with his son, they hit a fork in the road. It was getting late and they were far away from civilization and so felt concerned enough to pray about which road to take. After the prayer, they both felt inspired to go right. After a few hundred feet, the road dead ends. Inspiration led them down the wrong road. They turned around and proceeded down the right one. Here, Elder Holland felt like they were inspired to make the wrong decision so they could feel more confident in going down the right road.
I think this is more common and more broadly applicable than we think. I believe revelation gets us down a path, sometimes the wrong path, but the point is to get us out of indecision, to feel confident enough to act even if in the action we mess up. It’s up to us to continuously stay in-tune to the good-intentioned wrong paths, to apologize and make up for our mistakes, giving us more confidence as we u-turn and move down better ones. This type of relationship with revelation requires faith, humility and the willingness to receive and accept criticism as our decisions come into conflict with broader society.
A Church in Constant Restoration
I find President Nelson’s suggested name “The Restored Church of Jesus Christ” notable because I’m not as sure that its an applicable description of the current church as it is. Rather I think it’s aspirational rather than descriptive. It’s what we hope we are rather than what we actually are.
President Uchtdorf taught this in his talk “Are you Sleeping Through the Restoration”?
Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—
Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.”2Brethren, the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In my interpretation, this means we are collectively, institutionally, still on the journey, still trying to figure things out, still closer to the beginning than the end. It means also we will continue to make mistakes.
Ok, maybe I will say a few things about the name change. I understand the impulse. Being a Mormon is specifically what and who we are. It’s how we are positioned in the world. When someone asks me what church I belong to, it’s cumbersome to use our full name and more often than not the person I’m talking to would not make the connection. When I say I’m Mormon, they know.
I think there’s something aspirational about our official name, however. Mormon ties us to a book, “The Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ” ties us to something we hope to embody – a gospel of truth, of love, of peace, of sanctification. It’s a gospel that encomposses everything and everbody. It’s something bigger than Mormonism or Catholicism or Hinduism or Buddhism, it’s something that can and should unite the whole world.
Importantly, it’s not something we can fully hold all by ourselves. It’s too big, but I appreciate the effort. And maybe that’s what revelation is all about, in the end, it’s job is to get us out the door and to make an effort. It’s the bold act of trying to be more than we ever can be. It’s about being Christian and not just Mormon.