Cultural Traditions Do Not Trump God’s Commandments

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Recently the Deseret News published an article about President Nelson’s visit to Nairobi, Kenya. There he spoke out against the practice of paying a bride price:

“That’s not the Lord’s way,” President Russell M. Nelson told about 2,000 Kenyans and other Africans Monday night inside a large, oval, wooden event center styled after traditional huts in Nairobi, Kenya. “The Lord’s way is to be married in the temple, for time and all eternity, with your children sealed to you.”

He added that if he’d had to pay for his wife, “I would have missed five children, because only with my last five was I out of debt.”

He also taught the importance of paying tithing

President Nelson also said tithing can break cycles of poverty in poor nations and families.

“We preach tithing to the poor people of the world because the poor people of the world have had cycles of poverty, generation after generation,” he said. “That same poverty continues from one generation to another, until people pay their tithing.”

The law of the tithe was followed by ancient peoples as taught by Old Testament prophets. LDS faithful believe God restored the law and its blessings for those who follow it by giving one-tenth of their income to the church.

I think these statements by President Nelson really emphasize the importance of knowing and understanding God’s commandments so that we don’t get mislead by cultural traditions.

To start off, President Nelson said that paying a bride price is “not the Lord’s way.” The idea of not paying a bride price is a very strong cultural tradition in western society. However, we can know this cultural tradition is false because in the scriptures (Deuteronomy 22:28-29 and Exodus 22:16-17). In these scriptures we know there are cases where men are commanded by God to pay a bride price.

This means that, yes, paying a bride price IS in fact, in these cases, the Lord’s way. All we need to do is look in the scriptures to know that. That fact that President Nelson back up his statement by using his own western cultural experience, rather than the Word of the Lord, tells us that this teaching is simply his own opinion.

Not to mention that paying a bride price does not exclude one from being married or sealed in the temple. If you’re curious about Bride Prices and Dowries, I recommend this article.

indexAnother false cultural tradition we encounter relates to how people view tithing. Here are President Nelson’s main points about tithing:

  • Tithing means giving on 10% of your income to the Church
  • Paying Tithing will break cycles of poverty.

First, we need only look at Section 119 of the Doctrine and Covenants to know that the first statement is not what the Lord has taught. In this section the Lord defines that amount of tithing to be paid as this:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord, I require all their surplus property to be put into the hands of the bishop of my church in Zion,

3 And this shall be the beginning of the tithing of my people.

4 And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

To summarize, the Lord defines Tithing in this section as:

An initial payment of all of one’s surplus property, then every year after that, one tenth of their yearly interest.

The Lord has told us that Tithing is NOT one tenth of your income. And paying tithing in the way that Mormon culture teaches can lead to poverty, not alleviate it. It’s simple mathematics. A person who gives 10% of their money away is going to have less money to support themselves than someone who gives away one tenth of the interest of any surplus money they have beyond their needs.

But what about blessings? Surely the Lord will give greater blessing to the person who pays 10% of their income. Nope. That’s not correct. The Lord taught in Doctrine and Covenants 82:10:

10 I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.

sabbathchangedIf we make up tithing to mean 10% of income rather than 10% of interest on surplus after an initial giving of all surplus, then the Lord is under no obligation to bless us for obeying the fake law that we made up.

But there’s more to the second point that President Nelson brought up, you see, tithing has nothing to do with helping poor people in general. Instead tithing has a very specific purpose of helping the priesthood. Anciently tithing was used to aid the Levites who used it to sustain themselves since, because of their Priesthood duties, they didn’t have any land to produce food or livestock. The Lord gives this same purpose in Section 119.

Tithing is to be used:

2 For the building of mine house, and for the laying of the foundation of Zion and for the priesthood, and for the debts of the Presidency of my Church.

There is nothing in there about helping poor people, or alleviating poverty.

The Lord actually gave us different commandments to alleviate poverty. For example, in Doctrine and Covenants Section 42 we read:

30 And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them, with a covenant and a deed which cannot be broken.

31 And inasmuch as ye impart of your substance unto the poor, ye will do it unto me; and they shall be laid before the bishop of my church and his counselors, two of the elders, or high priests, such as he shall appoint or has appointed and set apart for that purpose.

That’s right, the Lord has given us consecration as a way to care for the poor. Namely we are commanded to gather to Stakes of Zion and consecrate everything we have to the Lord. Everything that is in excess of what we need and want will be used to help the stake wherein we reside. To put it simply, we gather in groups and pool our resources. It’s nothing more amazing or magical than that.

One of the reasons we have the scriptures is to help us avoid putting our cultural traditions ahead of God’s commandments. These statements of President Nelson are not consistent with what we know about the commandments of God, so we must be careful to avoid focusing on them at the expense of the actual commandments of God. I’m not telling you to disregard everything the President Nelson says. I’m just saying that we should be careful and check to make sure that What he says is from God, before we go run with it as if it were doctrine.

Posted in Commandments, Law of Consecration, Prophets, Scriptures | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Whether by Mine Own Voice or by the Voice of My Servants


We have just finished a General Conference. This is important because we have a promise given in the scriptures that we can rely on:

“Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.”

Meaning that we have no reason to doubt anything a leader of the Church says, because it’s the same as if the Lord Himself had said it.

This promise can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 verse 38:

38 What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.

Here we learn that this phrase is actually just a small part of a whole idea. That idea is a continuation of the preceding verse, and is basically stating that the Lord has given us many prophecies and they will all be fulfilled. The Lord will not make excuses for seemingly unfulfilled prophecies or prophecies that seem like they will never be fulfilled. The Lord then drives the point home my saying that all even though the heavens and the earth, which are practically eternal in comparison to human lifespans, will pass away, His Word will never pass away. All His word will be fulfilled. Then comes the familiar part where He says, whether that fulfillment comes by His own voice or by the voice of His servants, it is considered the same.

There’s just one problem. This phrase isn’t talking about what we thought it was. This isn’t a promise by the Lord that we can trust that whatever Church Leaders says is the same as if the Lord had said it. Instead it is a statement that it doesn’t matter whether a prophecy of God is fulfilled by His voice or the voice of his servants. In fact the Lord has never commanded us to just take someone’s word for it. We are commanded to search things out, ponder them, and pray about them.

This brings up another question. Who are the Lord’s Servants? To answer to this question the Lord has given us many indications as to who His Servants are. First the Lord will tell us who they are. Throughout the scriptures the Lord called people to be his Servants. The Lord spoke to Moses through the burning bush. He called Lehi in a vision. Joseph Smith received revelations wherein the Lord stated the he was God’s servant. All of these people were able to give us accounts of the Lord’s voice calling them to be His servants.

But who’s to say Joseph Smith didn’t just make up his revelations. There should be a way to check them. Well, in addition to asking God himself, in 3 Nephi 14:15-20 we receive a warning about false prophets. This includes the second indication we have been given. We can know true servants of God by their fruits. Is the claimed prophet bringing forth revelations? Are those revelations good? Do they support the commandments God has already given?

As members of the Church we trust that Russell M. Nelson the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve are God’s Servants. But did you know there has not been one published piece of evidence where God, in His own voice, acknowledges Russell M. Nelson as His servant. All we have is other mortal humans saying he is. Even Russell M. Nelson has never said that he is a prophet, nor has he ever said that he has seen Christ. Why then do we assume he is the Lord’s Servant even though the Lord never given us any indication that he is?

It’s because he was called as the President of the Church. Surely that at least implies that He was called of God. Well…not really. In fact Russell M. Nelson himself confirmed this when he stated:

“When a President of the Church passes away, there is no mystery about who is next called to serve in that capacity.”

He is saying that when it’s time to call a new President of the Church there is no question who it will be. They already know. And if they already know, why would they need to ask God?

Why is there no question? Because the Charter of the Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints already specifies who will be the next President. That’s right, it’s a legal document, not a revelation that determines the next President. Russell M. Nelson was called to serve as President of the Church, first and foremost, by the succession clause of the Corporate Charter.

But that’s all just legal stuff. I mean, who really cares about that? What really matters is fruits, right? Just look at all the new revelations we got during conference. There was the reorganization of the Elders Quorum, the modification of Home and Visiting Teaching. Here’s the problem, while words like “revelatory” and “inspired” were used to describe these changes. We have no published revelation where the Lord commanded these changes to be made. So we really don’t know if the Lord commanded this or not.

Now, before you tell me to just go and pray about it; first show me the Lord’s words concerning these changes, so I can know what to pray about. Praying for confirmation without that crucial information would be like missionaries asking investigators to pray to know if the Book of Mormon is true BEFORE they’ve even read it. Of course they need to read it first, so they will know what they are praying about. The very idea is ridiculous. So why do we think it is less ridiculous when it comes to the claimed revelations of Church Leaders?

Interestingly, as far as fruits go, 80% of the section in the Doctrine and Covenants are “thus saith the Lord” revelations. Even if we accept the 14 Fundamentals of Following the Prophet, where is states that “The prophet does not have to say ‘Thus saith the Lord;'” you’d expect that over that past 100 years or so, there would be at least one “thus saith the Lord” revelation produced by Church leaders.  Yet there hasn’t even been one.

Meanwhile, over at the Community of Christ(RLDS), their Doctrine and Covenants is up to 165 Sections. Ours is only at 138.

Now you may think that’s not a fair comparison; because for us talks in General Conference are our modern scripture. The problem with that is our own Church Leaders have told us that’s not true. In Handbook 2 it states:

17.1.1 Scriptures

The standard works of the Church are the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In many languages, the Church has approved one edition of the Bible to be used in Church meetings and classes. Likewise, the latest authorized edition of the other three books of Latter-day Saint scriptures should be used. No other works are to be promoted or used in the Church as scripture.

The Church has clearly stated that only the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price are scripture. Contrary to popular belief, nothing else is scripture to us, not even Conference talks.

So are modern Church Leaders the Lord’s servants? That’s a great question; and one I leave up to you to decide. For me the jury is out. I think in general, L-dS General Authorities are good men who are trying to serve God. But it seems the only ones proclaiming them to be the Lord servants are those who already believe; while the Lord himself has appears to be silent on the issue. My rule is never to reject anyone who claims to speak for God. Instead I study out their claims and ponder them. If their revelations are in harmony with what God has already established, then their message should be accepted.

But we must be careful never to give anyone carte blanche just because they spoke for the Lord in one thing. After all, not everything prophet speaks is the same as if the Lord had spoken it.

Posted in Church, Prophets, Scriptures | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

An Insane Holiday Celebration You Won’t Believe

1200px-Bg-easter-eggsThis weekend millions of people will be celebrating Easter. Decorating and Eggs, preparing food, gathering with family. Amidst the chaotic joy, comes an anticipation of spring. Christians give special significance to this holiday, because it is a reminder of the resurrection of Christ.

But did you know there is something even more important to be remembered during this time?

The Bible narrative teaches us that thousands of years ago God’s people, the Israelites, were enslaved by the Egyptians. They were forced to work and toil. But one day an Israelite man was called by God to lead these people to freedom. Moses, who had been raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, returned from self-imposed exile and instructed Pharaoh that the Lord commanded him to let the Israelites go.

Moses-Ten-Commandments-MovieThe Pharaoh didn’t listen and the Lord sent plagues. But Pharaoh continued to harden his heart until finally the Lord said He would send another plague:

”[..]About midnight will I go out into the midst of Egypt: And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts.”
Exodus 11:4-5

cartoon-blood-on-the-door-postsThis would have been such a scary time, but the Lord provided a way for the Israelites to escape. The Israelites were instructed that on the fourteenth day of the first month (of their calendar) they should take a male lamb, without blemish, and kill it. Then they should take the blood of that lamb and spread it on the door posts of their homes. Then that night they were commanded to roast the lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. There was to be no food left over and if any was left, it was to be burned in the morning.

That night the Lord came, and any homes that had kept his commandments were saved from the plague. They had been passed over. Following this the Israelites were finally freed. They took their things and left Egypt.

But that wasn’t the end of the commandment. God also commanded that this day was to be a memorial to be observed by all generations and to be kept as a feast forever. Exodus 12:14-20

As part of this memorial the Lord commanded that his people should eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day, all leaven should be put out of the house. Additionally on the first and seventh day there should be a holy gathering, with no work done on those days. This is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

FD004828-56a55f6c5f9b58b7d0dc90b0.jpgNow, you may not be aware but the time for keeping this commandment as a memorial is this weekend. If you’re like me, I immediately searched for “Passover” on Google and was inundated with pictures of plates with circles and bones and eggs and stuff. So before you get too overwhelmed let me tell you that most of those things are NOT commanded by God. The Passover Seder plate and the symbolic items that go in each place, come from the Rabbinical tradition that evolved over time. But it is not commanded in scripture. If you want a more scriptural based approach I would recommend looking at the Karaite version. Karaites are a branch of Judaism that rejects the oral tradition and only accepts what’s found in the scriptures.

This is the approach I prefer. If you want to include other traditions that’s fine so long as those traditions compliment, rather than distract from, the commandments; and they don’t becomes so ingrained that they are perceived to be commandments.

How are we supposed to celebrate Passover? The first part to remember is that Passover is only one of two parts. Passover refers to the lamb sacrificed. The Feast of Unleavened bread refers to the meal and seven day observance after that.

MoonCrescent150914To start us off lets first look at when this memorial is to be observed. The scriptures say it starts on the fourteenth day of the first month. If I understand correctly the first day of the first month is determined by the first new moon after the barley in Israel has reached its full size. Fourteen days after that is the day of Passover. This is when all leaven should be removed from your house. This includes not only leavening agents such as yeast, some flours, and cake mixes, but also already leavened products, such a bread, etc. In my house we are working on either eating or giving away bread; then we will put our leavening agents in a cooler out back.

Next let’s look at the meal. In the afternoon of the fourteenth day, if you are going to eat a lamb, you should prepare it.  I don’t have a lamb to kill and prepare so I will be cooking a store-bought leg of lamb by flame on our grill. I recognize this is not in strict adherence to the commandments, but I would rather do the best with what I have than not do it at all. With the goal of strict observance in mind. Also during this time you should prepare your unleavened bread, bitters, and any other meal items. This should all be ready so that evening you can eat it for your feast.

As part of this fest we are commanded to remind our children of the events that took place during the first Passover. Most Jews have a ritual Haggadah reading they do. But for me, reading the account in Exodus will do fine. We will then eat our meal. It is important that every part of this meal must be eaten. If there are any left overs, they need to be burned the next morning.

food011397157786Following this, for seven days, no leaven should be in the house or eaten. If you are going to consume bread products they must of the unleavened variety. For me, I want to find a way to make these seven days special too. While it’s not in scripture, I’m going to buy or make seven gifts for my children, one for each of these days. They will be themed after the seven days of creation.

Then on the seventh day you should not do any work and have a holy gathering. After this day you can return your leaven into the house and continue as normal.

You may ask, “Why celebrate these days? I’m not Jewish.” But these days were not given as a commandment only to the Jews. They were given as a commandment to all God’s people.

Christ taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” John 14:15

Do we love Christ? If so, then why would we want to disobey His commandments? God commanded us to keep this day as a memorial of His power and mercy. Additionally, these days provide us with powerful symbols of God’s plan for us.

lambThe Passover lamb symbolizes Christ. In Exodus it is quite literally the blood of the lamb that was used so that the Lord would protect the Israelites. So too, through Christ’s blood will we be protected from destruction because of our sins.

Leavening symbolizes sin. By gathering leaven and putting it out of our houses we are representing the process of finding sin in our lives and removing it. In Matthew 16 Christ uses leaven to represent the false doctrines of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

Bitter Herbs symbolize pain. I’ve heard that the bitter herbs symbolize the pain of the atonement. Possibly even the pain of struggling to overcome our sins and turn to Christ, or also the hardships of life.

Unleavened Bread symbolizes many things. First off, it illustrates the fact that the Israelites didn’t have time to wait around for bread to rise before leaving Egypt. Second, it represents our goal of living a life free of sin. Third, from our perspective now, it is symbolic of the manna that was given to the Israelites by God while in the wilderness. Fourth, it symbolizes the “Bread of Life” aka Christ.

These days should be of special significance to all who claim to follow God according to the Bible. Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread have the distinction of being among the few holidays which, unlike Easter, are commanded of God to be observed.

Many of us were raised with a huge emphasis on the holidays like Easter and Christmas. But shouldn’t we regard those holidays which were commanded by God to be far more important?

To finish off I want to point you in the right direction with a helpful links:
Grilling a Lamb

Karaite unleavened Bread

Karaite Bitter Herbs

Karaite Kitchen – Other great recipes.

I hope you find joy in remembering the past and celebrating the amazing things God has done for us.

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