Friday, November 12, 2010

Shifting sands...

There has been a lot of buzz recently surrounding the new soon-to-be-released-(but-already-leaked) CHI. Having had an opportunity to peruse some of its contents already, I can confirm that––just like every other edition of the CHI––the book is mostly boring. Of course it is. For those who are interested, there are already several posts in the bloggernacle detailing differences between the forthcoming edition and the previous one (promulgated in 2006) on subjects such as priesthood blessings, homosexuality, and the new prohibition on playing Uno. (The post from that last link is so many kinds of awesome.)

The post from Wheat and Tares (linked above under "priesthood blessings") was something of a catalyst for me, mentally, spurring a crystallization of a few previously unconnected thoughts. In short, I think we may be watching a subtle, but significant shift occurring in LDS theology.

Let's begin by first reviewing the pertinent changes to the CHI:

Brethren who perform ordinances and blessings should prepare themselves by living worthily and striving to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
A priesthood leader who oversees an ordinance or blessing ensures that the person who performs it has the necessary priesthood authority, is worthy, and knows and follows the proper procedures.
Only brethren who hold the necessary priesthood and are worthy may perform an ordinance or blessing or stand in the circle.
Leaders encourage worthy fathers who hold the necessary priesthood to perform or participate in ordinances and blessings for their own children [29, 2006 CHI].
Only a Melchizedek Priesthood holder who is worthy to hold a temple recommend may act as voice in confirming a person a member of the church, conferring the Melchizedek Priesthood, ordaining a person to an office in that priesthood, or setting apart a person to serve in a church calling.

As guided by the Spirit and the instructions of the next paragraph, bishops and stake presidents have the discretion to allow priesthood holders who are not fully temple worthy to perform or participate in some ordinances and blessings. However, presiding officers should not allow such participation if a priesthood holder has unresolved serious sins.

A bishop may allow a father who holds the Melchizedek Priesthood to name and bless his children even if the father is not fully temple worthy. Likewise, a bishop may allow a father who is a priest or Melchizedek Priesthood holder to baptize his children or to ordain his sons to offices in the Aaronic Priesthood. A Melchizedek Priesthood holder in similar circumstances may be allowed to stand in the circle for the confirmation of his children, for the conferral of the Melchizedek Priesthood on his sons, or for the setting apart of his wife or children. However, he may not act as voice [140, 2010 CHI; italics added].
In the Wheat and Tares post the 2010 guidelines are viewed as being stricter than those from 2006. I would disagree. Part of the argument derives from the words "worthy to hold a temple recommend." Contrary to the W&T post, I do not read this as identical to "must have a temple recommend." Rather, the priesthood holder must meet the requirements, but need not have the actual document. Perhaps this is nit-picking.

However the 2006 text does not presuppose any distinctions regarding degrees or gradations of worthiness; the 2010 text clearly does. I would suggest that the meaning of "worthy", as used in the 2006 CHI, was generally applied in the sense of "temple worthy." That is not to say that there were never exceptions, and I would presume (and hope) that local leaders who feel so inspired would also be willing to make such exceptions, even though the 2010 CHI makes clearer distinctions and more specific recommendations: if inspiration cannot trump policy, we have moved above (or, more likely, below) the need for revelation.

In any case, this policy shift seemed to be related to some thoughts expressed by Dallin H. Oaks in a recent address in General Conference:

Another part of a priesthood blessing is the words of blessing spoken by the elder after he seals the anointing. These words can be very important, but their content is not essential and they are not recorded on the records of the Church....

Ideally, the elder who officiates will be so in tune with the Spirit of the Lord that he will know and declare the will of the Lord in the words of the blessing. Brigham Young taught priesthood holders, “It is your privilege and duty to live so that you know when the word of the Lord is spoken to you and when the mind of the Lord is revealed to you.” When that happens, the spoken blessing is fulfilled literally and miraculously. On some choice occasions I have experienced that certainty of inspiration in a healing blessing and have known that what I was saying was the will of the Lord. However, like most who officiate in healing blessings, I have often struggled with uncertainty on the words I should say. For a variety of causes, every elder experiences increases and decreases in his level of sensitivity to the promptings of the Spirit. Every elder who gives a blessing is subject to influence by what he desires for the person afflicted. Each of these and other mortal imperfections can influence the words we speak.

Fortunately, the words spoken in a healing blessing are not essential to its healing effect. If faith is sufficient and if the Lord wills it, the afflicted person will be healed or blessed whether the officiator speaks those words or not. Conversely, if the officiator yields to personal desire or inexperience and gives commands or words of blessing in excess of what the Lord chooses to bestow according to the faith of the individual, those words will not be fulfilled. Consequently, brethren, no elder should ever hesitate to participate in a healing blessing because of fear that he will not know what to say. The words spoken in a healing blessing can edify and energize the faith of those who hear them, but the effect of the blessing is dependent upon faith and the Lord’s will, not upon the words spoken by the elder who officiated [Priesthood Session, April 2010; italics added].
How often do we hear people speak in tongues? (Yes, yes, I know. Missionaries do it all the time. I am here referring to the variety of speaking in tongues that was more common in the early days of this dispensation, including immediate revelatory interpretation. I am not using "the gift of tongues" in the "what happens when you read books, use flashcards, memorize vocabulary, buy Rosetta Stone™, and study abroad" sense.) Very, very rarely. Most Mormons (like any other sane person*) would feel a little creeped out by attending some the more exuberant varieties of Pentecostal services. In general, LDS attention to and focus on the cultivation of charismatic gifts has waned. That is, we all seek personal revelation, but we already know what the only acceptable answers are.

I wonder if Elder Oaks's GC comments and these revisions to the CHI may indicate further baby steps in that direction. I guess I needn't have brushed up on my snake-dancing skills.

*Yes, my bias is showing––but, luckily, I. DON'T. CARE.

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