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Friday, October 14, 2011

LDS Church: the perfect Evangelist Church?

According to Gibbon, the spread of Christianity within the Roman Empire was
assisted by the five following causes: I. The inflexible, and, if we may use the expression, the intolerant zeal of the Christians, derived, it is true, from the Jewish religion, but purified from the narrow and unsocial spirit which, instead of inviting, had deterred the Gentiles from embracing the law of Moses. II. The doctrine of a future life, improved by every additional circumstance which could give weight and efficacy to that important truth. III. The miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church. IV. The pure and austere morals of the Christians. V. The union and discipline of the Christian republic, which gradually formed an independent and increasing state in the heart of the Roman empire.
It occurs to me that the division of Christianity that most emulates these qualities today is the LDS Church, which just happens to also be one of the fastest growing churches in the nation.

My thoughts are based on my interactions with members of the LDS church rather than an academic study into the topic. For that reason I hope that members of the church will provide their thoughts in the comment section below. Anonymous posting is fine, as always.

Cause I: Exclusive zeal and abhorrence for idolatry. In my last post, I characterized this as being a spritual separatist, but today I am reading this as strictly adhering to one's belief in the public sphere. My friends who are Mormon would not, for example, go see rated R movies. They would politely decline an offer of alcohol or cafeinated beverage. It is clear that Mormonism transforms one and causes one to be in the world but not of it.

Casuse II: Certainty of Life After. I was discussing theology with a Mormon friend and explained that my church did not tell people what to believe but suggested that they seek their own truth in Scripture. She said, "That's because your church doesn't know for sure, right?" She was right. I think absolute conviction about afterlife, and prelife, is a quality to fairly attribute to LDS members.

Cause III: Miracles. The truth is that my recent interactions with friends in the LDS church have not addressed healing ceremonies. Although, growing up in Indiana I was riding with a father and son who were both active in the local LDS church and they talked about the power of healing ceremonies. I am not sure if physical healing brought on by Mormon Elders goes on today much.

Cause IV: Being Good People. Frankly, this is what I think is the biggest distinction between devout Mormons and devout Christian Fundamentalists. Many fundamentalists are super nice people, obviously, but there are a good number who are vicious in the judgmentalism. The first word that anyone uses to describe Mormons as a group is how friendly and kind they are.

Cause V: United & Disciplined. As a person who thrives on curiousity, I see the uniformity of theology expressed by members of the LDS church to be a drawback. But, that's for me personally. I don't think one could deny that the Mormon Church puts forward a united front on matters theological and social.

Is this a fair assessment of the characteristics of the LDS Church? Does it make sense that these same causes were present in the early church movement which spread through the ancient super power that was Rome? Should other movements consider emulating these characteristics?

9 comments:

Susan said...

Interestingly, being involved with a more conservative evangelic Christian community, I would say that those Christians are completely convicted about the after-life - no questions there, they also DO have their elders lay-on hands for healing (not at my particular church but at friend's churches) and also DO live with certain restrictions - not caffiene and alcohol but try to shield themsleves from corrupting wordly things.

JimII said...

And, it at least seems to me, that conservative evangelic churches are very successful too. Particularly those who refrain from visciousness as I am sure the members of your church do.

Tiffany Quintana said...

Sounds good to me;). I've never heard of a 'healing ceremony'. Priesthood holders give blessings--annointing with oil, laying on of hands. Also blessings to newborns, fathers' blessings, etc. Here is a link to our Articles of Faith--it spells it out better than I could:
http://lds.org/library/display/0,4945,106-1-2-1,FF.html

JimII said...

Tiffany,

Thanks for the comment and the link. It is pretty clear.

Bob Howard said...

Both the LDS faith-orientation and that of evangelicals seems to partake in an Enlightenment, rationalistic posture, with an emotionalist patina. By these nouns, I mean no insult, but rather an assessment of what motivates the energy, adherence, and doctrinal crystallizations. That is, the orientation for both parties is toward a rationally-explainable set of actions and ideas. Both aim toward some sort of rational certainty. "Of course!" some might respond. "What else is there?" Look at other Christian movements from other historical periods, and you might see much more ease with ambiguity (as indeed Jim himself expresses). Both groups aim toward "salvation," which is a definable quality. You learn the "rules" from the "rule-book" (Bible) -- again, reaching for certitude.
The hidden glitch in all this is that if God is truly God, humans simply cannot know everything about God (by definition -- and in practice), otherwise we would become God. Which means that God is beyond all human definition, and beyond the Bible. Which also implies that God is (alas!) beyond human control, and so we can achieve only a limited "certainty" -- only a probability that God is "like" this or that. As Paul put it, "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7).
Absolute certainty simply is not available to us two-legged human types. The Enlightenment, for all of its real triumphs, missed on that one. We can be absolutely certain about many, many things. But not about God or God's ways -- not with scientific accuracy. Even "inerrancy" (= certainty about the Bible, its sources, and its meaning[s]) is a belief, a theory, if you will. There is no sure-and-certain proof.
All of which is to say that both of these two groups operate on the assumption that you can have absolute, final, valid knowledge of God and God's requirements. Within an Enlightenment world-view, you can make such a claim. But either before that particular orientation appeared ("pre-modern period") or afterward (the famous "postmodern" evironment) -- lotsa luck.
Which is not to say that there are (or can be) some mighty good folks among 'em. Absolutely. But don't try to sell me on "we have the rock-solid certain answers." No such beast exists, at least amongst us earthlings.

JimII said...

Bob,

Interesting comments as always. First off, I think it makes sense that religious movements that present certain facts as objective evidence would be successful in a world that generally runs on objective facts. Second off, I agree with you about the lack of certainty, although I'm not sure it is necessarily true as a result of the nature of God. Surely God could communicate God's intentions unambiguously if God so intended.

Bosco said...

I have always found the Mormons to be an interesting group. On the one hand, those people are dedicated! Sure, it's annoying to walk out to get your paper only to find the mormons on the front porch waiting to convert you. But, you have to admire their tenacity. How many Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, etc do you see walking around professing their faith and truly trying to convert? Obviously there are missionaries that do this work but typically in foreign countries. Not a whole lot of walking door to door here in America unless you are mormon or jehovahs witness. On the flip side, why no caffeine? What harm did a nice cold soda ever do?

JimII said...

Bosco,

Agreed on admiring dedication and commitment. On caffeine, I think on the one hand it is simply a example of commitment. Why no meat on Fridays during Lent? Why fast until sundown during Ramadan?

To the extent warm drinks are considered to interfer with one's experience of the world as it is--that is, to give you a pick me up--I suppose I get that as well.

Bosco said...

Jim,

I would have to agree with your theory that caffeine is simply an example of commitment. I cannot think of anything else that sounds reasonable so I will go with that. I enjoy your blog, I discovered it today and will continue to follow it and occasionally post comments to keep your blogging spirits up.