Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Waldenström legacy – a distaste for orthodoxy

Last Sunday, I was released from my calling as councilor to the bishop in my ward. In short, you could say that I blogged my way out of the bishopric. Since there are a few questions still unanswered with regards to how it all went down, I will only make one small comment about it in this post.

This experience has made me reflect on the state of the Church today. What was the reason for my release? Was it a valid reason? What can you and I learn from all of this that will help us reconcile ourselves to the will of God through the Atonement of Christ? (2 Ne. 10:24)

This post should've been cut in half (on my wife's order). However, when I tried to shorten it, I realized it had to be like it was. It's long and covers topics that might seem unrelated. With this said, I commend you for reading past this paragraph and I hope you will get something out of it.

The Waldenström legacy – a distaste for orthodoxy

Joe Hill is my grandfather's uncle. He's a legend among socialists, and was executed by the state of Utah in 1915, falsely accused and convicted for murder. While a young boy, he went to a church headed by minister Paul Petter Waldenström. William Adler, author of "The Man Who Never Died: The Life, Times, and Legacyof Joe Hill, American Labor Icon”, relates the following about Waldenströms view on the Christian faith, and the Lutheran church he belonged to.
"Waldenström's heresy was that he was an ordained Church of Sweden minister whose loyalty lay closer to the Bible than to institutional orthodoxy. He was dangerous because on crucial points in the Scripture his reading was at odds with Lutheran doctrine, and because no Church of Sweden preacher had greater ability to speak his mind from the pulpit–or less fear of doing so. Waldenström preached that the essence of faith was not one's adherence to theological orthodoxy but one's personal bond with Christ. "Salvation," he wrote, "depends on the individual's relationship to the savior who God gave to the world." And for Waldenström and those whom he inspired, a lite steeped in glorifying Christ was a life dedicated to bettering one's community." (p. 96-97).
I like this, a lot. Thanks to Adler, I have a new favorite 19th century minister. 

Just like Waldenström, I'm not so concerned with religious orthodoxy as with our struggle to have a personal relationship with the Savior. This view seems to be shared by Joseph Smith.
"I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believe as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It don't prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine." (The Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 183-184; compare to TPJS p. 288)
Religious orthodoxy is epitomized in the development, acceptance and belief in creeds. 

Joseph would've been against the development of Mormon creeds, just like the Savior seems to have been. In the canonized version of the First Vision, Christ relates to Joseph that, "all their (that is, the religious denominations) creeds were an abomination in his sight" (JS-H 1:19). If Christ considers all creeds to be abominations, regardless of their content, I can't say, but neither the Lord nor his Prophet seems to have been very fond of them.

”Is the LDS Church in Apostasy?”

In a great post on Rational Faiths, Corbin Volluz, asked the challenging question ”Is the LDS Church in Apostasy?” He explained that one of the hallmark signs of apostasy in the early church (having a church run by men who gathered in councils and held debates, letting their decisions rest on the collected wisdom of mortal beings) has now crept into the Church (the leaders of the Church ”counsel together to establish doctrine that is consistently proclaimed in official Church publications”). The product of the council at Nicea was the famous Nicene creed. What’s the result of the councils in the Church Office Building? The doctrine of Christ, or Mormon creeds? 

Are there any Mormon creeds? The only maxim denoted "creed" is the one attributed to Brigham Young ("Mind your own business"). However, this isn't directly related to the Mormon faith. A possible creed may have been reiterated by president Uchtdorf in his talk from the October 2006 General Conference (this is an echo of earlier teachings to the same effect).
A testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will always include these clear and simple truths:
 - God lives. He is our loving Father in Heaven, and we are His children. 
- Jesus Christ is the Son of the living God and the Savior of the world. 
- Joseph Smith is the prophet of God through whom the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in the latter days.
- The Book of Mormon is the word of God. 
- President Gordon B. Hinckley, his counselors, and the members of the Quorum of the  Twelve Apostles are the prophets, seers, and revelators in our day. (Emphasis added)
Notice that he uses the word always. I guess that the Christian world in general could use the same word when talking about the doctrine established in the council of Nicea (a true Christian will always believe that the canon is closed, God is three personages in one, and so forth).

In his talk, Uchtdorf establishes a creed like core for our testimonies of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. This must, as I've experienced, be in place and firm beyond questioning for one to be eligible to fully participate in the Church. It is, as it were, the basis for the Mormon faith and Mormonism in general.

Mormonism redefined 

What is Mormonism? I proclaim the following:
Mormonism is an attitude towards and hunger for truth, not a set of beliefs. In this sense, each and every honest seeker of truth is a Mormon, regardless of the amount of truth they currently possess and the amount of unbelief they need to repent of. This is the real big tent Mormonism.
Brigham Young seems to agree. The following quotes are from Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, chapter 2, p. 16-17
I want to say to my friends that we believe in all good. If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.  
Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; […] If God has called an individual and sent him to preach the Gospel that is enough for me to know; it is no matter who it is, all I want is to know the truth.  
“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” […] “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. 
It is our duty and calling, as ministers of the same salvation and Gospel, to gather every item of truth and reject every error. Whether a truth be found with professed infidels, or with the Universalists, […] it is the business of the Elders of this Church […] to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation, to the Gospel we preach, . . . to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.
Say what you want about Brigham Young, but he sure is quotable. I like what he says here, and I believe it’s true. But this isn’t how the Church rolls these days.

In an interesting blog post (Corbin Volluz, again), it was noted that the only thing that what will get you kicked out of the Church is a public declaration that you are unsure if the current president of the Church also is a prophet, seer and revelator. Sadly, it's been said that there’s only one doctrine left, and there seems to be some truth to that statement.

As I was released, I was told, that there can’t be any doubt in the minds of the people I was leading (as a member of the bishopric), that I know that president Monson is a prophet and God’s mouthpiece on the earth. I firmly believe that Joseph would've lamented this development. 

This leads us to these questions: Which facts and truths do you need to have a spiritual conviction of in order to be saved? Do we have to know that Joseph was a prophet, that the Book of Mormon is true or any of the truth claims of the Church? I honestly believe that I don't have to believe and have faith in anything else than the divinity and Atonement of Jesus Christ and his teachings. Everything else is at best an instrument to the development of real faith. There's a distinction between faith in Christ and instrumental faith in other aspects of the restoration. We mustn't conflate the two.

Testimonies and faith

In the same talk from October 2006 General Conference, Uchtdorf stated that ”a testimony is a most precious possession because it is not acquired by logic or reason alone, it cannot be purchased with earthly possessions, and it cannot be given as a present or inherited from our ancestors. We cannot depend on the testimonies of other people. We need to know for ourselves. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Every Latter-day Saint has the responsibility to know for himself or herself with a certainty beyond doubt that Jesus is the resurrected, living Son of the living God” (“Fear Not to Do Good,” Ensign, May 1983, 80).

Eight years later, Uchtdorf said ”that this personal testimony of the gospel and the Church is the most important thing you can earn in this life. It will not only bless and guide you during this life, but it will also have a direct bearing on your life throughout eternity.”

The concept of receiving a testimony has, in my view, overshadowed the need for real faith in the Savior. I would suggest that a testimony is concerned with facts; did Joseph see the Father and the Son, is the Book of Mormon true, Jesus did resurrect. Knowing the facts is helpful and creates a sense of peace and assurance. This kind of testimony, however, won't make you take the needed steps into the dark and thereby see the light of the Lord break forth. Only true faith in Jesus will do that. A testimony (in the sense the word is used in the Church) is a good start, but I believe that if we believe that this also is the end, we will be disappointed.

The Mormon usage of the word testimony is misleading. What is a real testimony? A testimony was originally understood as the communication from an eye witness, uttered to proof a fact. As we read in John 3:32:
He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
A real testimony can only come from a witness. Since few of us have this witness about the reality of Jesus (because we haven’t witnessed his existence in a real and literal sense), something else needs to guide us.

With regards to future challenges, Heber C. Kimball said to the Saints that ”you will be left to the light within yourselves. If you don't have it you will not stand; therefore seek for the testimony of Jesus and cleave to it, that when the trying time comes you may not stumble and fall." [Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, pp.450-451]

The testimony of Jesus = Jesus’ testimony of your relationship to him

The testimony of Jesus is said to be the spirit of prophecy, and presumed to be the possession of everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (Rev. 19:10). Accordning to Ezra Taft Benson, ”A testimony of Jesus means that you accept the divine mission of Jesus Christ, embrace His gospel, and do His works; it means you accept the prophetic mission of Joseph Smith and his successors.” (Ensign, May 1982, p. 62.)

There’s some merit to president Benson’s words (which I won't go further into here), but I would suggest that the testimony of Jesus is more akin to what Enoch experienced than to what president Benson expressed. In Hebrews, we read the that:
By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. (Hebr. 11:5; emphasis added)
Enoch received the testimony of Jesus (God). Jesus had seen his works and knew his heart, and could attest to the fact that Enoch was his and pleased him. Jesus sealed Enoch as his own (Mosiah 5:15). This testimony surely is an anchor to our souls (Eth. 12:4). With this testimony, Abinadi was able to finish his message, regardless of the daunting prospect of getting burned om the stake (Mosiah 13:1-10).

If the great deceiver can get us preoccupied with good things (a testimony of facts), we will never get to the core and get a hold of what’s best (true faith in Jesus Christ). Then he has won. We don’t have to become murderers or adulterers in order for the Devil to disturb our eternal progress. He needn't do more than make us believe that we are done, when we in fact haven't but started (if we think we are on our way to the Celestial kingdom without even having passed through the gate, then we surely are up for a rude awakening; 2 Ne. 31:13).

The quest is to gain the testimony of Jesus and cleave to it. Until that day, the light of the Gospel should brightly burn within us. If we want to call it a testimony, sure, go ahead. The most important thing isn’t what we call it, but that it’s vibrant and brings you joy. But, believing that faith in anything else than Jesus will carry us over the valley of the shadow of death is, at best, misinformed. At worst, it's damning idolatry.


  1. Great post! Really enjoyed reading it! I agree with your view on what a testimony is. Very fitting for the day as it is fast and testimony Sunday today.

    /Fredrik W

  2. I think I see possibly why you were released from a position of eledged example. You are confused, and your rhetoric is filled with confusing half truths and circular logic. Case in point: the Council of Nicea also gave us the Biblios, which is the Bible we hold as scripture, excluding along with Constantine's scholars the writings proposed but rejected at that time. Not all bad things are all bad. And not all good things (like mormonism) are all good. Your assertions avoid this truth and thus mislead the reader. For the informed and thinking crowd it is obviuos that balance is good, perfection, in a perrson, a prophet or an institution is a myth, and you gotta run with the best you can get, not rain on the parade just because a little cloud rolled by. Especially when they trusted you to help lead the march. I recommend you let your wife continue to proof your blog. She is wise.

    1. Speaking of circular logic and confusing rhetoric...huh? Don't listen, Christian. Continue to speak your mind. Keep up the good work.

    2. Doran, thanks for taking the time to read and to comment!

      You are right that many things aren't true or false - it could be partly true and partly false. If you've read my post "All or nothing," you would see that I agree with you on that one. With this said, it could possibly be true that good things have come from the council at Nicea. I don't think I have to assert to this, since I haven't made the opposing point - that everything from this council was bad. I just stated that the creed that emanated from this council is an abomination in the eyes of the Lord. That's all. I trust that my readers can handle this distinction.

      The Church has been my religious home for all my life. I'm now in the process of building myself a spiritual home aside from the institutional Church, and this certainly makes me confused sometimes. My purpose with this blog is to become less and less confused. Please stick around to see this happen.

      I will pass on your compliment to my wife. And yes, she’s great!

  3. There are a number of issues with your positions, though you also hold some very reasonable ones. For the sake of time I am going to focus on the former. First, to say councils in and of themselves are somehow a sign of apostasy is unsubstantiated and frankly, ludicrous. What would you call the meeting held following Jesus' and Judas' deaths to fill the vacancy he left among the twelve? (Just one example, though there are many others)

    Second, I think I would agree with you when you state Mormonism isn't necessarily being a member of the LDS Church. You can certainly consider yourself a Mormon and not agree with the LDS Church's positions and teachings. Having said that, why would you want to be a member of a bishopric in the Church if you disagree with its teachings? Doesn't the Church have a right to choose its congregational readers? And choose those who agree with its own fundamental teachings? I am honestly dumbfounded that you can't see why you were released from your position of leadership and authority. You sit across the room from a member and ask them, "Do you sustain the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and prophet, seer, and revelatory and as the only individual on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys?" Why would you beefy in a position to pose that question to anyone if you don't believe it yourself?

    Finally, it is a complete falsehood that someone is excommunicated for not believing the president of the church to be a prophet. It is true however that one can be excommunicated for teaching and expounding the position to others and seeking to convince them of their opposing position.

    1. Family Guy!

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      I’m glad you find some of my positions as reasonable. And I’m not surprised that some of them come across as not so reasonable.

      First, I didn’t say that councils per se is a sign of apostasy. My family isn’t apostate, even though we hold a family council. Nor was the church after the deaths of Jesus and Judas. The problem is the use of councils to decide what is truth and the doctrine of God/Christ. This should only be done by revelation. To do it in a council without revelation from God is trusting in the arm of flesh, and apostate.

      Second, I wanted to be a member of the bishopric, since it gave me a chance to serve, to lift, to love and to inspire the members in my ward. I wanted, and still want to help them come to Christ. I loved the opportunity to sit down in interviews and talk about life, faith and the struggle of life in general. My role was to support the bishop and teach about the Gospel of Christ. I did that. With this said, I agree that the church has the right to decide who’s a leader and who’s not. The thing that I oppose is the fact that one has to believe that the president of the church is a prophet, seer and revelator, even when there is no such fruit (at least, I haven’t been able to find any) to be examined. This shouldn’t be a fundamental teaching. But, since it appears to be, I understand why I was released and I’m not bitter about it, nor am I surprised. So, I guess we see it from the same perspective. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about this in my post.

      When it comes the the temple recommend question (you quoted nr 4), I can answer that for myself in the affirmative. Albeit my interpretation of it might differ from that of others, I still can say I support the 15 at the top as PSR (you know what? I’d love to hear a prophecy, a vision or a revelation from one of them, and if one came and the Holy Ghost testified that it’s true, I would believe it and follow it).

      Finally, I guess we have to agree to disagree about the grounds and reasons for the ongoing excommunication of faithful members of the church.

      I wish you the best, and I hope you’ll come back to challenge my assertions!


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