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A Changing Church?


Critics and even some Church members seem to assume that nothing should change in the Church. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living church (D&C 1:30) which believes in on-going revelation. “We believe all that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and we believe that he will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God” (Article of Faith 1:9).

This seems a hard concept to grasp for some, who have an idea that the Church was given to Joseph Smith as a complete, ready-made package. Not so! The Restoration was revealed “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30) and continues to be revealed — the restoration is on-going. That’s the way the Lord works. When times, circumstances and understanding change, policies and procedures change, new ones are introduced and doctrinal understanding is expanded.

In “Come Follow Me”, we’ve recently studied the story of Peter and Cornelius which resulted in Gentiles receiving the gospel — for the first time. During his mortal ministry, Jesus limited missionary work to the Jews (Matt. 15:24). But just a few years later this policy is altered to include all mankind. The change was very hard for some to accept. Until then it had been assumed that only Jews could be Christians. The reversal caused huge criticism, debate and only gradual understanding and acceptance.

We’ve recently experienced a less earth-shattering change in a similar timeframe. In 2015 the Brethren announced a policy concerning same-sex marriage and the children in such families. This year, four years later, the policy has been adjusted as a result of experience, additional understanding, developments in civil law and society, all leading to further revelation. Yet just as in Paul’s day, some members and many nonmembers have difficulty accepting the change. How, some ask, could the policy of 2015 be based on revelation, if revelation is now claimed for the 2019 policy? Yet the underlying doctrine has not altered.

Part of the difficulty might lie in a misunderstanding of how revelation is received. Another is the differences between doctrine, principles, policy, procedures and commandments. Some members confuse policy and doctrine, which are different yet both can be commandments.

“Procedures, programs, the administrative policies, even some patterns of organization are subject to change. The First Presidency are quite free, indeed quite obliged, to alter them from time to time. But the principles, the doctrines, never change. If we overemphasize programs and procedures that can change, and will change, and must change, and do not understand the fundamental principles of the gospel, which never change, we can be misled.” (Boyd K. Packer, The Things of the Soul (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), 65 [Address given at Regional Representatives seminar at general conference April 1984.]

We sometimes make assumptions that are not justified. Sometimes, the Lord allows us to persist with procedures that are imperfect which are gradually adjusted, “line upon line”. One thing for sure: in a living Church, there are many more changes waiting round the corner. Are we ready for them?


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