Abide #15: Doctrine and Covenants 116-120

  • Sections 116-120 reveal a Church and prophet trying desperately to make the best of a bad situation. By the date of the last revelation a third of the Quorum of the Twelve would apostatize. The Lord directed that the Church move its headquarters from Ohio to Missouri. The Latter-day Saints changed their main county of residence. 

    In the midst of this, God gave them answers, but not ones that did not immediately seem to pay off in the short term. However, the Lord’s revelations pointed to things working out in the long run. Identifying the place where Jesus would return before the Second Coming. Sending out missionaries to bring in new members. The importance of councils and counseling with them to allow for a wide variety of perspectives and voices to make a decision. Or, thinking even bigger picture, sometimes we just have to remember that the Lord’s timeline is a LOT longer than ours. 

  • Sections 116 to section 120 reveals a church and profit trying desperately to make the best of a bad situation. By the date of the last revelation, a third of the Quorum of the 12 would apostatize. The Lord directed that the church move its headquarters from Ohio, to Missouri, and then from Jackson County to northern Missouri. In the midst of this, God gave them answers, but not ones that seem to fix their problems in the short term. However, the Lord’s revelations point to things working out in the long run, he identified the place where Jesus would return before the second coming, where to send missionaries to bring in new members, and laid out the importance of councils and counseling with them to allow for a wide variety of perspectives and voices to make decisions, or thinking even bigger picture. I wonder if he was teaching us that we have to remember that the Lord’s timeline is a lot longer than ours is. My name is Joseph Stewart. I’m the Public Communications Specialist at the Neal A Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University. Janiece Johnson is a Willes Center Research Associate at the institute. And each week we will discuss the block of reading from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Come, Follow me curriculum. We aren’t here to present a lesson but rather to hit on a few key themes from the Scripture block that we believe help fulfill the maximum Institute’s mission to inspire and fortify Latter-day Saints in their testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and engage the world of religious ideas. 

     

    Joseph Stuart: Now, I mentioned in the introduction, the place where Jesus would come before the second coming. Janiece, could you tell us more about what Latter-day Saints know today as Adam-ondi-Ahman? 

     

    Janiece Johnson: Sure, so section 116 says that it was a revelation given to Joseph near White’s Ferry, a place called Spring Hill that’s in Davis County, Missouri. There’s only one verse we’ve got the shortest section of all of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. But it actually comes from a larger journal entry in Joseph Smith’s 1838 journal. And he talks about them traveling to Adam-ondi-Ahman. Lyman White lived in Adam-ondi-Ahman. He lived at the foot of Tower Hill, President Smith called it, Joseph called at Tower Hill because they said that there was the remains of an old Nephitish, I’m not entirely sure how to say that a word I’ve only ever read, Nephitish altar, an altar from the Nephites, and they camped there on a Sunday. And then they went to Whites Ferry, they spent some time around this area. And then it says, “But afterwards named by the mouth of the Lord was called Adam-ondi-Ahman Because said he, it is the place where Adam shall come to visit his people. Where the Ancient of Days shall sit is spoken by Daniel the prophet.” Now, Orson Pratt said, Adam-ondi-Ahman is actually the Adamic tongue, the Adamic language, and he speculated that it was that it meant the Valley of God where Adam dwelt. But, and we’ve got different people trying to translate this in different ways, but this becomes a Latter-day settlement. But it also becomes an important point in this Latter-day theology that brings eventually the Garden of Eden to Missouri.

     

    Joseph Stuart: Yeah, and this is something frankly, with things like Adam-ondi-Ahman that require a lot of speculation to think about beyond what we know from the historical record. Ihink it’s important to remember that it signifies that Jesus will return again, rather than to think about how exactly it’s going to fit in when Jesus does come again, but would refer you to the article in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism on Adam-ondi-Ahman, as well as the Joseph Smith papers on the same topic.

     

    Janiece Johnson: Let’s talk about section 117. This is a revelation that is given to multiple people, but I just want to talk a little bit about Oliver Granger. He is not someone who is necessarily familiar to us. He was born in New York in 1794. He was nearly blind from 1827 on. Now thinking about perhaps terms of legal blindness, someone that we would call being legally blind today. He was a licensed Methodist preacher. He was baptized and then he moved to Kirtland together with the saints in 1833. The first presidency called him a man of the most strict integrity and moral virtue and, in fine, to be a man of God. He was appointed as Joseph’s agent, and he was left in Kirtland to sell church property. I want us to point out verse 13, “therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my church, saith the Lord.” So this references his work as an agent, and then I think is the most important piece here, “when he falls, he shall rise again, for his sacrifice shall be more sacred and to me than his increase saith the Lord.” I suspect that the Lord could say this about any of us. When she falls, she shall rise again. We are all going to fall. We’re all going to make mistakes. We’re all going to sin. But the Lord has faith that we will rise again.

     

    Joseph Stuart: Yeah, well what good is the Savior who doesn’t save anyone. Again, I love that phrase from Dr. Steven Robinson in thinking about how the Lord knows we are going to mess up and still in his infinite love and wisdom, that God sent His only begotten Son, that through him, we might have eternal life not to be condemned, but that we might be saved. With section 118. We are going to discuss missions later on, it’s important to remember that the 12 apostles are going to be called to Great Britain. And that this maybe didn’t seem like the most immediate way to fix the problem of contention in the church was to send its leaders across the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s something to remember that the Lord knows better than we do.

     

    Janiece Johnson: And England would become a major strength for the church, we would have 1000s and 1000s, at least 10,000 British converts who would immigrate to the US in the 19th century that became a significant element of the church.

     

    Joseph Stuart: Yeah, several lines of my family, for instance, came from Great Britain, so not only England, but also Ireland and Scotland through these missions.

     

    Janiece Johnson: And Wales. Don’t forget Wales. 

     

    Joseph Stuart: Shout out to Wales. In section 119, it speaks about tithing, and a misnomer is that tithing has somehow replaced the law of consecration. We discussed this in earlier episodes when we discuss the law of consecration, but I think it bears more discussion now that we’re discussing tithing specifically.

     

    Janiece Johnson: Yeah, there’s this folk doctrine that tithing did away with consecration. I would argue that maybe you’re not listening in the temple, if you think that. But prior to 1838, we have the law of consecration and then tithing is mentioned in the revelations. And it was something that was talked about, but it was defined amorphously. It was defined as any freely consecrated goods, or money. In September of 1837, the Kirtland bishopric talked about Malachi’s promise, that the windows of heaven would open up, and that the blessing would overflow. Just a little side note, that verse still comes to me in Spanish before English. I have been home for my mission for a really long time. Yet it’s sobreabunde, it overflows. That’s what comes to me when I think of Malachi. In December 1837, the Missouri bishopric talks about each household is supposed to donate 2% of their annual worth, after paying debts. But here Joseph asks the Lord, “show unto thy servant how much thou requires of the properties of thy people for a tithing,” and what’s the response?

     

    Joseph Stuart: “All their surplus property and 1/10 of their interest annually.”

     

    Janiece Johnson: Okay, so 10% of what the saints would earn in interest if they invested their net worth for a year. This is a little more complicated than how we normally think about it today. So Edward Partridge, the bishop in Missouri, writes to Newel K. Whitney in Kirtland and gives him this example, so if a man is worth $1,000, the interest on that would be $60. And 1/10 of the interest would of course be $6, thus you see the plan. For tax accountants, this is something today we would call imputed income, and based on an appropriate rate of return and the value of a person’s assets. However, this has shifted over time, and we have shifted how we define tithing today.

     

    Joseph Stuart: You’re right that tithing has shifted in the way that we think about it, including in the late 19th century, when President Lorenzo Snow visits St. George in the late 19th century in the midst of a drought tells them that if they will pay their tithing, that rain will come. They pay their tithing and the rain comes, but today we have a more specific view of what it means to pay tithing. 

     

    Janiece Johnson: Today in the handbook the church quotes a First Presidency letter from March 19 of 1970. And it says “the simplest statement we know of is the statement of the Lord Himself, namely that the members of the church should pay 1/10 of all their interest annually, which is understood to mean income, no one is justified in making any other statement than this.” So the question we get in a temple recommend interviews, or when we are accounting for our tithing at tithing settlement at the end of the year, is are you a full tithe payer?

     

    Joseph Stuart: Yeah. And they don’t ask you to bring in your W2, or they don’t audit you. They’re asking for your honest accounting, are you a full tithe payer. And the tithing funds of the church go to a number of extraordinary causes, including missionary work, including church building. And there’s a Council on the Disposition of the tithes that is laid out in Section 120. This is something that you may remember from the Saturday afternoon session of General Conference when a non-general authority comes up and says “this is the report of the Council on the Disposition of the tithes,” and explains that the church has followed correct financial practice and that the church is in a healthy financial place. As historians will tell you, the church has not always been in a healthy financial place. But since the mid 1960s, after implementing modern accounting principles, what’s important about the Council on the Disposition of the tithes is that it brings together a lot of really smart people to say, how should the church spend the money, the sacred funds that the church members have donated in order for the church to work on a global scale?

     

    Janiece Johnson: I think that it’s an interesting thing to think about. Robert D. Hales, who was on the Council on the Disposition of Tithes for more than 30 years of his life, talked about this back in 2002 in general conference, the talk was just called Tithing. But he said, “it’s remarkable to witness this council heed the Lord’s voice. Each member is aware of and participates in all the council’s decisions. No decision is made until the council is unanimous. All tithing funds are spent for the purposes of the church, including welfare, care for the poor and needy, temples, buildings, upkeep of meeting houses, education curriculum. In short, the work of the Lord.” Elder Hales continues, “I bear my testimony of the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes. I have sat on this council.” At that point, he had sat on it for 17 years, “as the Presiding Bishop of the church and now as a member of the Quorum of the 12. Apostles, without exception, the tithing funds of this church had been used for his purposes.” I think that’s a remarkable testimony.

     

    Joseph Stuart: I think that’s a great place for us to stop this week. We’re going to leave you with the words of President Boyd K. Packer, when he discussed Oliver Granger in General Conference. 

     

    Boyd K. Packer audio: There’s a message for Latter-day Saints in the seldom quoted revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, in 1838. “I remember my servant Oliver Granger. Behold, verily, I say unto him, that his name shall be had and sacred remembrance, from generation to generation, forever and forever saith the Lord.” Oliver Granger was a very ordinary man. He was mostly blind, having lost his sight by cold and exposure. The First Presidency described him as a “man of most strict integrity, and moral virtue and didn’t find to be a man of God.” When the Saints were driven from Kirtland, Ohio, in a scene that would be repeated in Independence, and Farr West and Nauvoo, Oliver was left behind, to sell their properties for what little he could. There was not much chance that he could succeed. And really, he did not succeed. But the Lord said, “Let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my church saith the Lord. And when he falls, he shall rise again. For his sacrifice, shall be more sacred unto me than his increase saith the Lord.” What did Oliver Granger do that his name should be held in sacred remembrance? Nothing much, really. It was not so much what he did as what he was. When we honor Oliver, we honor as much, perhaps more, his wife, Lydia Dibble Granger. Oliver and Lydia finally left Kirtland to join the saints in Farr West. They’d not gone, but a few miles from Kirtland when they were turned back by a mob. Only later did they join the saints in Nauvoo. Oliver died at age 47, leaving Lydia to look after their children. The Lord did not expect Oliver to be perfect, perhaps not even to succeed. “When he falls, he shall rise again. For his sacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase saith the Lord.” We cannot always expect to succeed, but we should try the best we can. “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their work. According to the desires of their heart.” the Lord said to the church, “when I give a commandment to any of the sons of man to do a work unto my name, and those sons of men go with all their might, and with all they have to perform that work, and cease not their diligence, and their enemies come upon them and hinder them from performing that work. Behold, it behoveth me to require that work no more at the hands of those sons of men, but to accept their offering. This I make an example unto you for your consolation, concerning all who have been commanded to do at work, and have been hindered by the hands of their enemies and by oppression saith the Lord, your God.” The few in Kirtland are now millions of ordinary Latter-day Saints across the world. They speak a multitude of languages, but unite in faith and understanding through the language of the Spirit. These faithful members make and keep their covenants and strive to be worthy to enter the temple. They believe the prophecies and sustain the ward and branch leaders. Like Oliver, they sustain the First Presidency and the Quorum of the 12 apostles and except what the Lord said, “If my people will hearken into my voice, under the voice of these men whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.”

     

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