Poured from the correlated bottle?

What comes to mind when you think about the milk and meat of the gospel? In writing my last post I stumbled across the following in Isaiah:

Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.” (Isaiah 28:9)

which led me to further pondering on the subject of milk and meat, which had been at the back of my mind since the Sunday School lesson on D&C 76 last year.

The requirement of milk before meat is mentioned in the New Testament:

I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor 3:2-3)

This verse was written to the saints in Corinth at a time when there were particular divisions amongst them, where the members were aligning themselves with individual teachers or missionaries. Paul felt teaching anything more complicated than the basics was not appropriate at the time, possibly because in such an environment those teachings would be attributed specifically to him, and not accepted by all, as the gospel of Christ. The members needed to understand they were the followers of Christ, not the particular missionary who had baptised them. If these converts were unable to come together as followers of Christ, now was not the time to be digging deeper.

The letter to the Hebrews is traditionally attributed to Paul in LDS circles, though it is more generally accepted that Paul is an unlikely author. In it we find:

For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Heb 5:12)

It was written to a group of formerly Jewish members, who appeared to be on the verge of leaving their Christian faith. The author deems it unfortunate that he finds it necessary to reteach the basics of the gospel: who Christ is, and his role in the crucifixion and resurrection. The implication is that those members have failed to use their reason, to exercise their senses in discerning good and evil.

In both these examples the continuing requirement for milk on the part of the membership does not seem to be regarded as a good thing. The leaders want them to be in a position to have meat.

The Isaiah verse interests me because meat, whilst not specifically mentioned in that verse, when taken with the others, would seem to be equated with knowledge and understanding of doctrine. It also seems to imply some necessary independence from the supply of milk. However, it seems that the people Isaiah is addressing are also unprepared to receive the meat. In context Isaiah’s statement appears to be a cry of despair. And some of those coming in for the telling off are the prophets and the priests, the ecclesiastical leaders of the day.

But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. For all tables are full of vomit and filthiness, so that there is no place clean. Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. But the word of the Lord was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.” (Isaiah 28:7-13)

There is no-one listening to the Lord. The people have mocked that they have been addressed in simplistic terms by Isaiah, as though they were children, yet they are so obviously not ready for further knowledge, when they are in such sore need of repentance. As a result of their mocking attitude they are instead promised a language they won’t understand.

The milk-meat example comes up in the Doctrine & Covenants:

And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me. For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish.” (D&C 19:21-22)

An instruction to Martin Harris in preaching to the people following the publication of the Book of Mormon, which had been funded by Martin. I have a hard time working out what Martin wasn’t meant to be teaching however, since the preceding verses seem to be discussing the necessity of repentance and role of the atonement.

And then there’s D&C 76, which covers Joseph Smith’s vision of the three kingdoms of heaven. This apparently caused some problems amongst the early members, who failed to appreciate the finer points of the doctrine, in a historical context of universalism versus a hell and damnation theology. From Revelations in Context:

The prophet learned from this experience just how delicate the testimonies of many new converts could be and counseled missionaries to take a milk-before-meat approach to teaching gospel principles (1 Cor. 3:2). Prior to their departure to England, he urged the Twelve Apostles to “remain silent concerning the gathering. the vision, and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, until such time as the work was fully established.” However, it proved difficult for some members to contain their enthusiasm for the new revelation.

Heber C. Kimball, echoing Joseph Smith’s counsel, encouraged his fellow missionaries to keep to the introductory principles of the gospel. Kimball had helped convert a minister, Timothy Matthews, in Bedford, England, and established an appointment for his baptism. But another elder, John Goodson, “contrary to my counsel and positive instructions, and without advising with any one, read to Mr. Matthews, the vision … which caused him to stumble.” Matthews failed to keep his appointment and never joined the Church.”

Am I alone in being troubled by this presentation, feeling some sympathy for the English rather than the missionaries, in this instance? Granted, the Victorian era was steeped in paternalism, but Timothy Matthews is a described as a minister, someone with presumably a good knowledge of the Bible, who already has an understanding, albeit perhaps differing in some ways, of faith, repentance and baptism. I dislike the blaming of the sharing of the vision as something that frightened him off. So maybe Timothy Matthews was a hell fire and damnation preacher who didn’t fancy the idea of a piece of heaven going to everyone. And perhaps John Goodson hadn’t recognised that, and had made a poor job of presenting the doctrinal nuance. (The vision was seen more in this universalist light at the time, as opposed to the anything but the top degree of the celestial kingdom is a fail, which seems to be the predominant tone today.) Still, Timothy Matthews was going to hear it at some point. Were I he, I’d be annoyed to discover it later, and particularly annoyed if I found out those teaching me had been specifically instructed to withhold it.

And then there’s the whole issue of correlation and presentation of the gospel to the world by an expanding missionary force seeking to grow the church worldwide. And a feeling amongst many disaffected that the whole milk before meat metaphor has been taken too far, for too long, and in many instances misapplied. Whilst on the other hand apologist accusations abound that this was a matter requiring individual responsibility to seek out knowledge, and less sucking on the correlated teat.

Let the feast begin!

Growing up at a distance from the uncorrelated meats available to many Utah and US members (see my post Growing Up Mormon in Britain), I feel a great deal of sympathy for those now encountering new information widely available on the internet. Often the apologetic group seemingly fail to recognise these members came across troubling information precisely because that individual responsibility was taken, as information became available to them. From famine to feast, as it were, with little or no help and guidance in sorting the good dishes from the bad, the edible from the inedible.

The new topics essays, whilst a baby step in the process of introducing meats more widely from a church source, are not yet embedded in the recognised support structures of Sunday School, RS and Priesthood. Perhaps that’s still a work in progress, which would appear to have begun with the new Church History Seminary manual. In the meantime, can we all please show some kindness and understanding for those like this member here, who are now having to get to grips with new and sometimes troubling information.

  • How have you seen the milk/meat metaphor applied?
  • Do you think it has a place in an internet world? If so, how?