Scientists tell us that space and time are interchangeable. Luke Mastin writes in Physics of the Universe:
One person’s interval of space is another person’s interval of both time and space, and one person’s interval of time is also another person’s interval of both space and time. Thus, space and time are effectively interchangeable, and fundamentally the same thing (or at least two different sides of the same coin).
This interchangeability only applies to objects approaching the speed of light. From the practical perspective of humans living on planet earth, space and time are different. We experience time linearly, from past to future, and our experience of space is three-dimensional and constant. But when examining the nature of God (as a Being of light), I believe the interchangeability of space and time can provide some insight into the paradoxes of religion. SilverRain wrote something interesting in response to one of my recent postings:
Time is not the same to God as it is to us. The Atonement was efficacious even before it happened…The Fall affected all things (even things before it happened)…just as the Atonement encompasses all. When it happened is rather a moot point.
I think SilverRain is on to something. If God is a creature beyond time, we can’t necessarily interpret all religious events on our historical continuum. I would also add that if God is a creature beyond time, He would also be a creature beyond space, because space and time are interchangeable. So where things happen cannot necessarily be interpreted with normal spacial reasoning. I think this has profound implications for one of the most fundamental and problematic doctrines: that of being “the only true church.”
The Only True Church in Space, not Time
Mormons consider themselves the “only true church” but only right now in space, not in time. When we look back in time, there are other religions, vastly different from our own, which we also consider to be “the only true church” for that particular time. The Mosaic church, with its animal sacrifices and capital punishments bears little resemblance to our modern church. We arguably have more in common with today’s Catholics and Protestants than we do with the ancient Israelites. Yet we still believe that both our church and the Mosaic church are authorised, “only true churches.”
The Only True Church in Spacetime
But if God is a creature beyond time and space, and if He has very different “true churches” across the span of time, wouldn’t it follow that He might also have different “true churches” across the span of space at any given moment in time? Take today’s Catholics: Moses lived about 4,000 years ago, and Rome is about 4,000 miles from Salt Lake City. From God’s eternal perspective, the distance in space separating Rome from SLC would be no different from the distance in time separating Moses and Mormons. I’m not necessarily suggesting that the Catholic church is also “the true church” in the same way the Mosaic church was “the true church.” I’m only suggesting that perhaps we shouldn’t automatically disqualify traditions which differ from our own in space, if we don’t disqualify them in time. Fundamentally, I’m suggesting we reconsider what it means to be the only true church, and whether that really gives Mormon exclusive rights of worldwide divine authority at any given particular moment in time.
The Law of Moses as a Preparatory Gospel
One might argue that the Mosaic church is different from modern Mormonism ONLY because it is supposed to be a preparatory gospel. But if this strange, ISIS-like gospel of genocide and capital punishment can be seen as designed by God to be “preparatory,” couldn’t a myriad of other religious traditions also be considered “preparatory?” The children of Israel were “hardhearted,” which is why we say they weren’t given the fulness of the gospel. But people today are as hardhearted and diverse in their spirituality and beliefs as the Children of Israel ever were. If God is a creature beyond time and space, and He has created “preparatory gospels” at different moments in time, what would prevent Him from creating “preparatory gospels” at different places right now in space?
21st Century Mormonism as a Preparatory Gospel
Mormons believe that one day in the Spirit World, “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess,” uniting themselves to the truthfulness of the Gospel as we see it. However, my own personal view is that when this finally happens, we Mormons may discover that our own 21st Century Mormon gospel was itself, just another “preparatory gospel.” We know that God “has yet to reveal many things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” God Himself confessed that He had revealed things which were incorrect to past Christians, like the concept of Hell as a place of eternal fire and brimstone “that it might be more express upon their minds.” So how can we be sure that all the understandings given by God to by modern prophets represent literal and unchangeable realities?
Doctrine Not as Important as Authority
Nathaniel Givens recently wrote a post at T&S where he argued about the distinction between policy and doctrine, policy being something he believed was changeable, and doctrine something that is unchangeable. There was some lively discussion in the comments over whether doctrine was in fact unchangeable. To me, it is clear from the scriptures and the history of the church that doctrine does change. Doctrine is so changeable that I don’t think doctrines themselves are really what we should put our faith in. Rather, our faith is in the authority our church has from God, whether or not it is consistent in its doctrinal content over time.
At the end of the day, our claim to divine authority is all we Mormons really have, and the only thing we need to have. It is enough to know that God has divinely authorised prophets, and that He has called us to follow them. But how do we know if God has not authorised others who are not part of our faith in their own “preparatory gospels?” How do we know if God has not called others to follow the other authorities? We cannot know this. We can only know what God has revealed to us personally. And if that revelation tells us to follow the Mormons, that is God’s answer for us, and for us only.
- What do you think of the idea that God may view space and time interchangeably, and that He might have diverse “preparatory gospels” scattered throughout space as well as time?
- Do you believe that the LDS church could also be considered “a preparatory gospel” to an even greater light and knowledge to be revealed later?
- Do you see doctrines as changeable or unchangeable?
- If doctrines are changeable, what is the essence of our claim to be “the true church?” Do you agree that it lies only in our claim to divine authority?
- Does personal revelation entitle us to make assumptions about the truth or falsehood of contradictory personal revelations other people might claim to receive? Does a personal revelation instructing one to follow the LDS authority negate the possibility of other divine authorities for other people, and the revelations others might have to follow those other authorities?
Time is not a river…it is an ocean, with currents, eddies, and stagnant places. It does not flow like a river; and “past”, “present”, and “future” are but illusions–perceptions based upon where we are…and in which direction we are looking.
At the end of the day, our claim to divine authority is all we Mormons really have…how do we know if God has not authorized others…
The problem is aside from being a license and providing for order *authority* is a very hollow concept, empty, there is no there there with authority, it is simply used in an attempt to compel or justify compliance and rote obedience! When we pull our heads our of the sand and open our eyes we see that God has authorized others because we find that spiritual gifts (in other words the *power* of God) being expressed today through many, many non-members, (and OMG!) even by women! Obviously implicit in the exercise of God’s power is the authority to do so!
The LDS church loves it’s propritary products; the holy spirit, the priesthood, the only true church but it has always depended on conflation and circular reasoning as it’s secret sauce to create and sell these products when in truth they are just another brand (tribe) selling the same products as many other brands.
So it clearly isn’t authority that sets us apart rather it’s revealed doctrine by Joseph that goes well beyond Christianity that makes the LDS chuch different and unique, it’s the temple and it’s implications that sets us apart!
True we’ve left animal sacrifice and insense behind but If you remove the temple you have a far more Mosaic and legalistic O.T. church than almost all christian churches are. So the LDS brand oddly steps around much of Christianity by symultaniously being less Christian in it’s practices, less beatitude, less grace, more 10C behaviour policing and therefore more Mosaic and at the same time offers extra Christian doctrine!
Our faith, hope and charity are more important than our doctrine or authority. We have true doctrine, and we have true authority — but that will not save us. With <faith, hope, and charity, all centered in our Savior, we will be saved.
Our authority is commonly used to prove that we are right and therefore everyone else is wrong. It seems so very important to some to prove this point. But we don’t need to. Our authority means that our acts in connection with saving ordinances will be recognized and respected by our Savior and our God, and only our will (at least for our portion of space time). There is no other church whose ordinances will be so recognized and respected. See D&C 84:20-23 and D&C 128:9. Indeed, D&C 128:9 is so important, let me repeat it here:
It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of — a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?
Our claim to true doctrine and authority is also found in Matt. 10:40, John 13:20, D&C 84:36, and D&C 112:20. However, we have no right to use that doctrine or authority to PROVE that we are right and everyone else is wrong. For others, we don’t use doctrine or authority to convert — rather, we use persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness and meekness, and love unfeigned, kindness, and pure knowledge — our love and our example. I write all this because I think we sometimes misunderstand or misuse our true doctrine and true authority — we have it, but we gain nothing by trumpeting it about in a manner to emphasize that we’re right and everyone else is wrong.
God, man, atonement, time, space, doctrine, dogma, policy, temple, mosaic law, authority…and on, and on, and on it goes. I’m having a brain fart.
Does it really have to be this complex?! If so, that’s a message in itself.
The OP is (another) well-written and well-reasoned complicated analysis that rests on our Mormon teachings and understanding of ancient scripture and (seeming) revelations of the latter days. In reaction I wanted to state the relatively simple conclusions I have come to, after, lo, these many years of study and thought…
I had copied, “our faith is in the authority our church has from God,” from the OP as I read it…in order to paste it into my comment. I see now that 2 of the 3 comments also focus on “authority.” However, I disagree with both the OP (very cogent and interesting) in this regard and with those 2 comments.
IMO, the only clear “truth” (eternal reality) in all of space and time is that if/when we become like God (Christ-like), we will be “like” Him and “dwell” with him. Agency is the active factor–our internal will. So, while Mosaic law may have been preparatory for those people in their “time” (culture). And, supposedly, it was instituted/taught by “authority” from God. To the extent they weren’t taught (and then internalized) the attributes Christ listed in the Sermon on the Mount they weren’t becoming more righteous. To the extent that this was God’s plan (to prepare “His people” to receive and internalize the correct “gospel”), He sure sacrificed a lot of time and people in this preparatory step.
But, to cycle back to the point of my copying the statement on authority from the OP. If, as I have concluded, personal righteousness is the only eternal “end” that is of any actual consequence, then so-called “saving ordinances,” true churches, and authority from God are simply “means” to help man arrive at the best end result.
There are no better “means” that I know of, but many will accomplish, personally, the “object and design” of all these tangled and millenia-long “means” without ever knowing of some/all of them because of the inherent appeal (to our eternal, uncreated nature) and the intrinsic value of kindness, charity, honesty, selflessness, etc. I assume that a higher proportion of those exposed to the best “means” will use their Agency than those that aren’t.
If you read my comment as agreeing that “our faith is in the authority our church has from God,” then you misunderstood my comment. I regret not being clearer.
Yes, I interpreted that sentence, and even more so the first sentence of the next paragraph, as making the point.
“At the end of the day, our claim to divine authority is all we Mormons really have, and the only thing we need to have. It is enough to know that God has divinely authorised prophets, and that He has called us to follow them.”
as agreement. You go on in that next paragraph to seemingly argue that our faith in that authority is only for us, personally… “We can only know what God has revealed to us personally. And if that revelation tells us to follow the Mormons, that is God’s answer for us, and for us only.” In my admittedly limited understanding, I don’t understand what you are trying to say. If God has revealed to us personally that Mormons have the authority and the truth, why is it not true for others also?
If God reveals/confirms to us personally that some bit of knowledge is true, is it not true for everyone–such as all the space-time complexities you started the OP with, or that He really did restore the true church to/through Joseph Smith. Again, you are likely making a valid point, but my pedantic mind isn’t grasping it. Maybe other readers feel this way as well?
Interesting opening and then you seemed to boil everything down to the standard “follow the brethren” because they have authority.Maybe we should raise our view and see authority resting in Christ, not some man here on earth who clearly makes mistakes.Church authority has changed over time since Joseph Smith as to who has it,etc.
I didn’t write the words you are attributing to me, if your no. 7 is in response to my no. 6.
The working of the things of God both ways in time is a fundamental doctrine of our church as applied to vicarious work for the dead.
This is a great, thought provoking post. Clearly there have been gospels that are more “preparatory” than what is currently taught in our 21st century church. Of course, we teach that there is more to learn than we teach in church.
It is theoretically possible that some other “authorized” gospel was maintained until the 19th century restoration by Joseph. If the practitioners stayed true to their gospel teachings, they will be blessed for it. It seems clear that what Joseph taught provides additional blessings beyond any other tradition that may have survived.
Joseph taught exclusivity of baptism and other saving ordinances as practiced in the church. Any people that could not hear the latter-day gospel preached, could have had that preparatory gospel still working God’s teachings in their lives.
Before the age of discovery (15th & 16th centuries) there could not be just one church that could possibly “save” the whole world. No big deal with our understanding of God’s plan, but also a clear marker on what could have been happening away from western Christianity.
W&T is not working very well in China so I haven’t had the opportunity to follow the comments.
Briefly, some good points from ji and fbitsi.
Regarding my statement “our claim to authority is all we need.” I know that faith, hope and charity are important. But I think authority is even more important, because without it, there is no message from God to anyone, no commandment even to “love one another.” Protestants claim the Bible is the ultimate authority. Others claim personal conscience or morality is the ultimate authority. We claim prophets AND our personal revelations are the ultimate authorities. Fundamentally, religion is the idea that we have some kind of responsibility to some kind of higher authority. Without it, it’s every man for himself. So I think all things, including faith hope and charity, rest entirely upon the concept of authority. It is the LDS emphasis on authority that makes our church especially powerful, a living, functioning religion that literally changes lives. Without an idea of authority, a church dies.
fbitsi wonders why I say: “We can only know what God has revealed to us personally. And if that revelation tells us to follow the Mormons, that is God’s answer for us, and for us only.”
This interpretation arose out of my inability to reconcile contradictory revelations and religious authorities. I saw God working in the lives of other people with different beliefs, and I saw Him revealing different things to them than to me. I even saw Him revealing different things to different people in the scriptures, like the concept of Hell being either eternal or temporary.
My solution to this contradiction is that personal revelation is personal. As far as others, we are commanded not to judge. Now prophets are sometimes called to “cry repentance unto the people” and this implies a judgement on their part. They present themselves as authorised servants of God and command people in the name of the Lord. But at the end of the day, it is up to the Lord to confirm the prophet’s will and call the people Himself. Some people will feel the Spirit and hear “the call.” Others, God says, “I will stop their ears and shot their eyes that they be not converted.” Sometimes prophets get anxious because people aren’t listening, like Alma who says, “Oh that I were an angel and could proclaim the gospel in every ear.” But Alma discovers that he “sins in his wish…seeing that God allotteth to all men according to His wisdom.”
I like what ji says that “we don’t use doctrine/authority to convert.” But I think we DO use it to judge. And I am against judgement. Fundamentally, I think that is what my message is about. Personal revelation is personal. We don’t know what God may or may not be saying to someone else, so we have no business judging them for not following us, feeling sorry for them, or dreaming that one day they will accept the gospel in the next life. They are in God’s hands.
I’ve been thinking around this for some time now so it’s great to use someone else’s brain on the subject. I think the gospel is the means by which we can do least harm to each other at present, and so is appropriate for this world at this time. I think there have been many other ways of developing our thinking over history-confuscianism, buddhism, hinduism, and others too many to mention and of which I know nothing. I’m pretty sure there will have to be a lot yet to change our way of thinking and acting over eternity, having reached my age I realise there will be no perfection for me at least in this life. So I consent to your views, this is what we have now, and it’s one model of many.
I think you’re speaking from the perspective of the institution, and I’m speaking from the perspective of the individual. If so, I agree with you that our authority is important to us — vitally important — when speaking of the institution of the church. As individual members, we should recognize and respect that life-giving authority. As individual members, all of that authority, when combined with our own faith, hope, and charity, all centered on Jesus Christ, is the wonderful good news of the Gospel.
While an Episcopalian’s baptism rite might not be covered by D&C 128:9 — that is, might not be done with authority — it possibly may well be done with some or even considerable faith, hope, and charity. As such, I am willing to give it some respect. In the end, if that person has faith, hope, and charity, that is good and that is the hard part — our part of re-performing the ordinance with authority will be an easy privilege.
So yes, I want to recognize and respect the authority that is in the priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I also want to note that that authority, by itself, won’t save us.
I hope all Latter-day Saints will recognize and respect the authority we have and the men who hold it, and will receive them so that they can also receive the Lord. Then, we as individuals and also as a people can more fully be that light upon a hill that our Lord expects us to be.
Gee Nate sorry my comment was unreadable to you in China, I hope your connection improves.
Interesting ideas, but the concept that Mormonism is the “only true church” comes from a partial quote from God in the 1st section of the Doctrine and Covenants:
And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth,
That is the only part of the verse you will EVER hear quoted. But God continued after a comma separated phrase:
with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—
We are not now and were never the only “true church”. It was the only true church that for a brief moment in time the Lord was pleased with.
That was November of 1831. Ten months later in September of 1832 we had lost even that claim. In the 84th section the said:
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
Interestingly, President Benson referenced those verses in 1986 and said this condemnation was still in force.
So as I read the words of God and his prophet President Benson, there is nothing to differentiate the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from any other church since September of 1832, all of Rameumpton like chest pounding about authority notwithstanding.
The gospel tells us that it is preparatory. We have tithing to prepare us for consecration, we have 2/3 of the Book of Mormon yet to come, and more.
Of course this is one more preparatory gospel limited by our knowledge and our weaknesses.
Interesting ideas Nate. I have difficulty seeing time as the same thing as space though. I prefer to see it as a side effect of limiting space. Anyway, I don’t really buy into the whole “only true church” thing, so I certainly agree with a lot of what you have written.
I feel like Robert Heinlein just analyzed doctrine. It is very weird.