Tuesday, March 4, 2014

# 33: Alma 1:26

One of my favorite verses in the Book of Mormon is Alma 1: 26.

And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God.  And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength.

A long time ago I wrote in the margin by that verse, "The way life ought to be."  And I still feel that way.

The way life ought to be is this: everybody works, according to their ability, Monday through Friday.  Saturday is a day to play.  Sunday is the sabbath day, the day everybody should go to Church.  Repeat that for your whole life, and I think you'll be happy.  And if everybody lives the way that's prescribed in Alma 1: 26, we'll have strong communities.

Mormonism has evolved a lot over its nearly two hundred years of existence, but one thing that hasn't changed is the practice that the Church has an unpaid local clergy.  There are some jobs, like mission presidents, General Authorities, Institute teachers, that get compensated monetarily.  Plus there are lawyers and accountants and public relations people and other people that get paid.  These people work for the Church over 40 hours a week, so they can't hold normal jobs, so they deserve a modest pay for their efforts.  

Most everybody that the average church member deals with, however, - bishops, relief society presidents, stake presidents, high councilors- volunteer.  And to get to the paid positions, you typically have to work for years and years in unpaid positions.  I doubt many people would be willing to work their way up the corporate LDS ladder, so to speak, just for the money.  

So, by and large, the Church still lives by the beautiful principles taught in Alma 1:26.

Another way that the Church expresses equality between the preacher and the hearer is by holding fast and testimony meetings.  In these meetings, anybody in the congregation is welcome to get up and start preaching.  So, in a way, everybody is a preacher and everybody is a hearer.  We take turns preaching and we take turns hearing.

In other churches, there is usually one paid minister, and he preaches every Sunday.  The people in the congregation don't get much of a chance to speak.  But in our Church, the LDS Church, everybody has a chance to preach, and everybody is expected to preach.

Another way we express equality among preachers and hearers is by all wearing white in the temples.

Of course, if you look for ranks in the Church, you'll find them.  If you look for prideful preachers, you'll find them.  Even in the temple, when the bishop is wearing the same white outfit that you are, you still know he's the bishop, and you treat him accordingly.

And in fast and testimony meetings, even though everyone is welcome to speak, we all know who is in charge.  We know that the bishop presides over the meeting, and that if somebody goes too far off script while bearing their testimony, the bishop has the responsibility to correct any false doctrine that may be preached.

But you have to have ranks in an organization.  There's no getting around that.

All things considered, the Church is doing a pretty good job of living out Alma 1: 26.   And even if the Church doesn't live up to the ideals spelled out in the Book of Mormon, at least it has those ideals.  It's better to have ideals and fall short of them than it is to have no ideals at all.

Oh, and another thing:  You might find it odd that I quote the Book of Mormon as scripture, and as an authoritative source of inspiration, when I don't believe it's a literal historical record.

I find that odd too.  Ha ha ha.  The world is odd.

For about a year after my faith crisis, I could hardly stand to pick up the Book of Mormon.  For my whole life I thought that it was the infallible Word of God, even more pure and trustworthy than the Bible.  I thought it was the most correct book on earth, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.   I read the Book of Mormon slowly, closely, carefully, over and over and over.  I took notes.  I took Institute classes on it.  I used literary analysis techniques to try to discover its secrets.

Once I found out the truth about the authorship of the Book of Mormon, I felt betrayed, and I just couldn't even read the book at all anymore.

To be clear, I don't think that the Book of Mormon is a literal, historical record of ancient inhabitants of North or South America.  I think Joseph Smith wrote it.  Most of the material came from the Bible.    Some of it came from Joseph Smith's imagination.  For more information on how Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, read An Insider's View of Mormon Origins by Grant Palmer.

But just because Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, that doesn't mean it's not inspired, and that doesn't mean it's not inspiring.  I believe that it's both inspired and inspiring.

Now, about two years after my faith crisis, I pick up the Book of Mormon every day.  I love that book.  I loved it as a child, I loved it as a missionary, and now that I'm in my thirties, I still love it.  I read it a little differently now, but I still love the book.

Everyday, I read the Book of Mormon out loud with my wife and two daughters for scripture study.  The book has some great stories in it, but what I look for mostly now in its pages is wisdom.  And you don't have to dig very deeply to find wisdom in the Book of Mormon.  Just flip it open to any page, and I think you'll find something of value.  I no longer take the Book of Mormon narrative literally, but I take it seriously.

If you stay LDS, you'll unite yourself with a community of believers who regularly study the Book of Mormon and use its principles to run the Church and order their lives.  In the wise words of Martha Stewart, "it's a good thing."

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