If you are ever bored, just pick up the Doctrine and Covenants and read something, and then try to fit it into our modern church practice. Of course sections 89 (Word of Wisdom) and 132 (polygamy) are easy targets, but lets look at section 107 today.
21 Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
22 Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.
This is pretty straight forward, and what the church has today, a First Presidency. But now things get interesting.
23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
24 And they form a quorum, equal in authority and power to the three presidents previously mentioned.
Equal in Authority? When was the last time the Q12 issued a proclamation, or did anything on their own without First Presidency approval? But wait, there is more!
25 The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
26 And they form a quorum, equal in authority to that of the Twelve special witnesses or Apostles just named.
So, the Q70 is equal in Authority to the Q12! If we apply the transitive property of equality then the Q70 is equal in authority to the FP (a=b, b=c, then it follows that a=c)
Have you ever seen the Q70 exercise this authority? And who holds the trump card? They all do jointly!
32 And in case that any decision of these quorums is made in unrighteousness, it may be brought before a general assembly of the several quorums, which constitute the spiritual authorities of the church; otherwise there can be no appeal from their decision.
The “spiritual authorities of the church” is a general assembly of the quorums (FP, Q12, Q70), and meeting together they can resolve disputes. Maybe they had such an assembly two years ago, and they voted to overrule the FP on the LGBTQ Exclusion policy?
Keep reading, it gets better.
36 The standing high councils, at the stakes of Zion, form a quorum equal in authority in the affairs of the church, in all their decisions, to the quorum of the presidency, or to the traveling high council.
This gets a little confusing, but as I see it, the standing high councils are the ones that each Stake currently has. The traveling high council is the Q12, and the standing high council is the one that each stake has. The word council is plural, meaning there are more than one. Also section 102 tells about the organization of the standing high council, and verse 12 says “Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern,….” I understand this to mean that there will be multiple standing high councils, just like we have today.
These standing high councils are equal in authority to the quorum of the presidency (FP), and to the traveling high council (Q12). How would that even work? I mean it is in our canonized scripture, which we accept as the word of God, but there is no way every Stake High Council could be equal to the FP and Q12. Maybe when there was was a hand full of stakes this could work, but the Lord obviously didn’t foresee that there would be thousands of stakes.
What do you think of this?  Is it time for the D&C to be retired? Is there a mechanism in our Church to “de-canonize” something? It happened once before in 1921 when all of the “Doctrine” in the Doctrine and Covenants (i.e the Lectures on Faith) were removed. Is it time to de-canonize large portions of the D&C?
 To put my apologetic hat, they may all be “equal in authority”, but the FP “presides” over the Q12, and the Q12 presides over the Q70, and they all preside over the standing high councils. Just like a husband and wife are equal in authority, but the husband presides. Is this a valid argument?
Is it time for the D&C to be retired? Well, I have no idea how it got canonized in the first place (actually, I do). It’s so full of guidance that we ignore. And it’s so full of micromanagement that just so happened to serve Joseph Smith’s personal agenda and has no relevance today even if we “liken the scriptures unto ourselves”.
Here’s what I propose: let’s start with section 89. After all, the TBMs might be afraid of hot drinks but from what I can see they ain’t eating meat sparingly / only in times of famine.
LDS lessons on the D&C are generally about how to read the D&C not for what it says but (waves hands, mumbles a bit) that it somehow means exactly what the Church believes and does in the year 2021 and *not* what it actually says. Of course, LDS lessons do the same thing with the OT, the NT, and the Book of Mormon, it is just more blatant for the D&C.
DHO said something to the effect of “in a church with continuing revelation, there is no distinction between doctrine and policies”. In that sense we should just rename the book “Policies and Covenants” of 1838. It is a fine relic of the past, so I hope they don’t throw it out. The current handbook overrules the D&C when it comes to church governance. It would be cool if the High Council still had governance where stakes were formed and held more authority than the Q12. That was the case in Nauvoo and caused a lot of the succession problems between Marks and Young. The Q12 used to have a lot more power after the move westward, but were neutered by BY pretty quickly. In todays church, consolidation of power has almost rested entirely on the prophet himself. This makes decision making a little easier, but also brings with it a slew of problems that JS was trying to avoid.
I see some parallels between the executive orders that bypass any legislation in American politics and the executive power that Nelson has taken upon himself. I can’t think of another Prophet who brought such a long list of pet peeves with him into that office. I often wonder how he was able to sustain the previous three prophets when it is quite obvious he thought they were off on certain teachings and the direction they were going.
In my opinion, the equal authority between quorums should prevent violent pendulum shifts from one person to another. At this point equal authority only applies when the FP is dissolved due to the death of the prophet. They hold the power until a new prophet is chosen. I think that is the apologist line as to how that particular scripture applies to todays church. I don’t see violent shifts happening in the church quite yet, but if Uchtdorf was prophet, then Bednar, then Gong you could start seeing more and more of it. (Look at the last two Popes of the Catholic Church if you would like to see what that looks like in another 100 years.) It really throws members who think “DOCTRINE” never changes for a loop (that is the tone behind BB post) and the vacillating threatens testimonies.
I agree with Zach that concentrating power in the hands of the First Presidency without oversight is hugely problematic, but I also can’t imagine trying to steer a ship as big as the present-day COJCOLDS with 100+ captains of equal authority. Maybe it made more sense at the time D&C was written—1835 when the membership totaled a few thousand people. Joseph may have seen the church ballooning to fill the earth, but he didn’t (and couldn’t be expected to) organize it for that scale.
We Mormons have an impulse to harmonize everything that’s ever been said in scripture or over the pulpit, but of course that’s not practical. We also like to believe the scriptures were “written for our day,” but the truth is all scripture is only ever written in and for the present.
*at the time D&C 107 was written…
It doesn’t take much logic and reasoning to argue successfully that the D&C was nothing more than a Church Handbook of Instruction (with some goofy personal revelations inserted), and it has gone through several revisions and a few additions since first published. Same as our current CHI. So for that reason, I don’t give the D&C much “spiritual” attention. It also has a very 19th century American view of science and the universe which is so dangerous for believing members because they judge science by whether or not this “scripture” supports it. Ultimately, the doctrines are mostly outdated or restated in the CHI, and that is what I and my family get judged by in 2021. Perhaps the Church implicitly understands and admits this by combining the D&C curriculum with “church history.” Otherwise, we would be better to just study the CHI all year (can you even imagine how awful that would be?)
My guess is that the LDS Church has kept the D&C a part of our “scriptures” and the “standard works” because of who those “revelations” came from and they exist sort of as a proof of how the church is supposed to work (ongoing revelation). Of course, there are numerous “doctrines” or “teachings” that are still presented as such, and most of our worst doctrines (but also most distinctive) come from the D&C (i.e. WoW, polygamy, tithing, us vs. them mentality–“your enemies,” etc.).
As for the “equal in authority” stuff as pertains to certain priesthood quorums, I think Joseph Smith can be described as a brilliant visionary and intriguing theological thinker, but he absolutely sucked when it came to holding a consistent, credible theory and application of priesthood authority and church governance. We don’t even have a legitimate priesthood restoration narrative, but claim we do. And once JS died, there were 9 or so legitimate claims to authority for church succession, which seems like a pretty big deal for the only living and true church.
Reality is, the current church and its leaders cherry pick stories and doctrines from scriptures and sometimes twist their meanings to conform them to make their point (we all do this in our everyday lives, don’t we?), but then tell us that the most important teachings are from current leaders even more than the scriptures. The canon of scripture has likely never been less important to membership.
I seriously think studying the D&C this year has been a trainwreck and I honestly wonder if they are going to revamp it for next time or focus way, way more on Church history. I mean, I know that technically we’ve studied it before many times but at least for me with CFM I really have read things more carefully, plus it’s what we’ve done for YW lessons and not just Sunday School. And so at least in my bubble a lot of people are reading it carefully for the first time in a long time and are like … hmm this is weird.
As has been mentioned, we always cherry pick from scripture but it’s way easier to justify that with “ancient” scripture. The D&C? Not so much. If you are a non-literal believer the D&C is impossible to stomach.
Back to your original questions, no the D&C shouldn’t be canonized IMO and if today’s standards were applied to it, it wouldn’t be. But the Church will never, ever de-canonize it.
As for the quorums, as was noted earlier wasn’t it Brigham Young who consolidated power because one set was more loyal to him? I think it’s Michael Quinn who wrote all about this.
The idea that the Brethren govern with unanimity contributed to weakening the comparative authority of the FP vis-a-vis the Q12 and Q70. If there had ever been a public dispute, with the FP and Q12 wanting different approaches, those verses may have become relevant really fast. Instead, the narrative is that the highest Church councils are unanimous. It doesn’t matter which quorum has the most authority if everyone always agrees. It really would be interesting to see how many of the FP and Q12 spoke up against some of RMN’s policies initially before falling in line, (especially things like banning the word Mormon after previous leaders had done so much work with the branding).
I agree with Zach: “I can’t think of another Prophet who brought such a long list of pet peeves with him into that office.” If RMN had been able to openly disagree with previous prophets, maybe there would be a balance of power among the highest Church quorums because they would have had to settle out a turf battle. But instead, he went along with the unanimity when he wasn’t in charge, and now he’s got control of the unanimity.
It would be fascinating if we had a Church schism at the highest levels. I can’t picture it happening, but these verses do give some groundwork for a possible battle of the quorums. (I don’t think it would be gay rights; if I had to predict something big enough to split on, it would be the way politics and religion are being combined to produce an authoritarian state. Perhaps some of the Brethren might want to excommunicate #DezNat leaders to send a clear message against violence and fascism and other Brethren are willing to see how far things go.)
Re: Melinda’s pertinent observation.
I retired in Maryland in 2013, and my wife and I were called to be Service Missionaries in the Baltimore Mission, and attended several of the missionary conferences. Russell Ballard came out and presided over one of the conferences that we attended. He can be a very candid man. During his remarks, he stated, “it is very hard to get the FP and Q12 to agree on any important issue.”
Gotta love it.
I think this is a recipe for a glacial bureaucracy. It is certainly a recipe for members of the Q12 to try and outlive colleagues they disagree with.
Something different caught my eye.
“Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
Of the Melchizedek Priesthood, three Presiding High Priests, CHOSEN BY THE BODY, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith, and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the Presidency of the Church.”
It’s not clear to me what chosen by the body means.
Body (smallest group to largest):
All people currently in one of the authoritative quorums.
All people that hold the office of high priest.
All people that have the Melchizedek Priesthood.
All members of the church.
Chosen (most open to most closed):
Person with the most votes among the general membership wins.
Someone in the “body” puts forth a name, another person in the body seconds it, and a vote is held among people in the body. This process could largely be ceremonial in that there’s no real surprise, everyone knows the name that will be put forth beforehand. In the case of the church, Joseph choosing himself at the conference in Amherst.
Another approach in the same vein just mentioned, maybe “chosen” doesn’t mean someone getting a say in who is selected but it’s watered down to mean a simple ratifying vote. Much like the modern day (and meaningless) sustainings during general conference. The body (church membership) “chose” the first presidency but in practice the body had no say whatsoever in the actual names that are brought forward.
The literal body chooses. As in the most senior, literal, physical body (corpus) that doesn’t die “chooses” to become the president of the church. Then that surviving body unilaterally selects the other two bodies to fill out the presidency.
I just have to add thar I read @Zach’s comment about … “At this point equal authority only applies when the FP is dissolved due to the death of the prophet. They hold the power until a new prophet is chosen.”
… I was reminded that, contrary to what I believe is established tradition, we did not wait until the next General Conference to install RMN as prophet after Monson’s death. Rather, he seems to have installed himself and his new first presidency via press conference a couple of weeks after Monson’s death. It was for me a troubling start to what has been a troubling presidency.
You left out verse 27, which reads as follows:
So if a unanimous Q12 opposes a unanimous FP, there is a standoff (unless a unanimous Q70 breaks the tie). So we are not simply ignoring the D&C–the conditions for “equal authority” are clearly established and those conditions have simply never been met. They are as relevant today as they were in Joseph Smith’s time (which is to say, not very, as the conditions were never met then either.) The “equal authority” arrangement could become relevant if each quorum could select its own members without the Church President’s interference.
@Elisa As much as I dislike RMN, I am pretty sure that he didn’t do anything distinctive here, and that all of the new FPs in the past 40 years have been reconstituted within a few weeks of the passing of the President, rather than at the next General Conference.
@Fred VIi As I understand it, not sure if it was from the Greg Prince book on DoM, but somewhere I read a first hand account and if I remember right, the formal process is that the Q14 meets and the 2nd most senior Apostle nominates the most senior as President (who then names counselors) and then they ritually vote from most junior to most senior to approve, so I suppose this ritual voting could be interpreted to more or less follow what is written in the D&C.
Now that I think of it, the “equal authority” arrangement was arguably relevant to the post-martyrdom succession crisis. The surviving members of the FP were not unanimous (Sidney Rigdon supported himself as the new president–Amasa Lyman, the other counselor, supported Brigham Young). The Q12, however, united behind Brigham Young and he became President. The modern Church teaches that because of the “equal authority” clause, the FP is automatically dissolved upon the death of the President. But the scripture doesn’t actually say that–it seems to me that the scripture would support unanimous surviving counselors thwarting the accession of the president of the Q12 were they so inclined.
@10ac – could be. I remember people complaining about the way Nelson did it as differing from the past (maybe just in the public announcement?) but maybe they were just picking a fight. I am certainly no expert in the area of Church presidential succession, I only sit in awe and wonder at the miraculous “coincidence” that the longest-serving apostle always happens to be selected by God as the next prophet / president ;-).
Well, Section 102 has been effectively de-canonized already. BY made sure the Q12 were the top dogs after Joseph’s death. And once he became president of the church, the first presidency took the lead. 102 died along with common consent. R.I.P.
Conference talk study in PH & RS and regurgitation in sacrament meeting speaking assignments means we shouldn’t have to be bothered with those pesky scripture things anyway.
Oh – on succession issues. Remember that the church is organized as a corporate sole with the president of the church being the sole “owner” and thus, effectively the CEO/COB. The corporation cannot function without the sole – so a successor must be quickly installed. That cannot wait for up to six months. The mechanism for selecting the successor must be in the by-laws.
In that sense, succession in the presidency may be every bit as much a function of corporate procedure as of revelation which happens to always select the senior apostle.
For me, the overarching message here is that the D&C needs to be seriously abridged or put to rest. Something also needs to be done with the OT. Most of it is no longer relevant or needed. Parts of it could be studied as literature, for example Job and Ecclesiastes.
The NT could do without the Book of Revelations. And the BoM needs be do something about the skin curse. The Church needs to concentrate on the message of Christ. “ All are one.”
Roger Hansen, agreed. I suspect most if not all members are pretty on board with the idea that not all scriptures are created equal and some are entirely unnecessary. The Song of Solomon is an easy target since JS said it wasn’t inspired and some church president stapled it shut according to urban legend.
The question is which scriptures are actually useful to the church’s mission and if we even have a mechanism in the “living” church for cleaning house. Actually, that could be a fun idea for a W&T post (if it hasn’t been done already) —which standard works (or sections of standard works) actually have utility for the church today and which are so problematic that they do more harm than good?
@kirkstall I would actually be super concerned about giving the Correlation Committee free reign to decide which parts of the Bible we can ignore. Sure, there is plenty that I think we ought to, but I’m not sure we’d agree on which parts.
This all really raises the broader question of what scripture is. If we’re defining scripture as the actual words of God, like what actually came straight from God’s mouth, then there’s a lot of (most? all?) the D&C, and Bible, and Book of Mormon, that I probably think needs to be deleted. But that’s not even how I view scripture at all. I’m reading “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” by Marcus Borg so this is on my mind right now. His position is that scripture is a human, not divine, product – it’s a human response to people’s experience of God. The Old Testament – ancient Israel’s experience of God. The New Testament – early Christianity’s experience of God. (He doesn’t address the D&C – I guess that would be the early Church’s / Joseph Smith’s experience of God. The Book of Mormon … well, that’s complicated depending on whether you believe it’s an account of early Americans or Joseph Smith … either way, it would be one of theirs.) In any event, scripture tells us about how those people experienced and saw God, and tells us their rules and perceptions and beliefs and how *they* saw things. Not necessarily how God sees things.
That doesn’t mean scripture isn’t valuable. Borg again, it’s valuable for all sorts of reasons – scripture can be sacramental (a mediator of the spirit), its metaphors and stories (and history) can disclose the character of God. Scripture can help us develop a *relationship* with God. It’s literally the construct and the language we use to talk about God in Judeo-Christianity so it’s an incredibly important framework, and Borg really believes that the authors had encounters with the divine that they were trying to describe in writing (but that language is limited in how it can express such encounters). But in any event, scripture is the finger pointing to the moon, not the moon.
If we view scripture in this way, then I don’t know that canonization really matters, and I suppose we don’t need any Church committee to edit the scriptures for us. Now, I do wish that they would more carefully assign reading materials for Sunday study, because some just simply doesn’t seem very valuable and pretending that they are is silly. But otherwise, I think we should leave it to our own devices to decide what we think teaches us about the nature of God – and what we think mostly teaches of about the culture and experiences of the people who were writing the books. I think a good chunk of the D&C is the latter and we’d be better off owning to that.
Pardon the tangent. I’m totally obsessed with Borg at the moment.
“To put my apologetic hat, they may all be “equal in authority”, but the FP “presides” over the Q12, and the Q12 presides over the Q70, and they all preside over the standing high councils. Just like a husband and wife are equal in authority, but the husband presides. Is this a valid argument?” It’s not a valid argument here, and certainly not in the case of marriage. Preside and equal aren’t the same thing.
If you visit the Kirtland temple, it is constructed in alignment with these verses (although they didn’t have a fully formed 70 yet, I don’t think). I’d be interested in hearing Rich Brown’s take on these verses from the CoC.
The fact that this entire conversation can happen without women being part of the authority equation at all (except for a brief mention in the metaphor for pseudo-equality in marriage) just infuriates me. That’s all I have to say.
I think trying to decanonize the OT and NT is a non-starter. Mormons already seem cult-ish enough to most Christians, so I can’t imagine the uproar that would follow if the LDS church did this. I agree with Elisa that the best approach would be to teach actual bible literacy, so we wouldn’t need to pigeon-hole each book into a just -so story from God and could accept that these are simply the stories of how their writers thought about God, and could be totally wrong but still provide spiritual insight.
For obvious reasons, I think decanonizing any part of the BoM would probably also be a non-starter, although it would be interesting if the church simply took the approach of just emphasizing the abridged version that is used when a language is first added to the translation list. It could print this as the main version of the BoM for CFM study. I don’t know if it is different now, but on my mission we only had select chapters of the BoM in Khmer, Laotian, and Hmong. These included a good chunk of 1st and 2nd Nephi, Jacob. Most of Mosiah, a few chapters of Alma, just about all of third and fourth Nephi and Moroni. So totally lost “the wars” sections, etc… So you could not officially decanonize BoM chapters, but could more or less take some things out of the mainstream reading which would probably have the same effect.
So that leaves us with only really having the chance to officially decanonize parts of the D&C and PoGP. I am old enough to remember when they took out all the weird codenames from the D&C, so I can easily imagine elimination of redundant sections. But I would be deeply interested in what it would take in terms of a catalytic event to decanonize the most problematic sections or even just parts of sections. The removal of the codenames came when Packer et al went through and created the fully correlated, footnoted, indexed version of the four LDS standard works we have currently. I could only imagine decanonizing
whole or large sections being done under the auspices of some similar effort, perhaps to make an abridged set of scriptures for translation and CFM study for a world-wide church. Maybe a greatest hits of the D&C and PoGP and then let everything else just be part of the JSPP. It would be fun to get to decide what gets left, but I am actually more interested in thinking about what it would take for the LDS church to decide it should make a meaningful effort to do so. I would be curious if Rich Brown could share how the CoC was able to do this (I believe they eliminated many sections that came before the two branches split). And would LDS pride get in the way of removing some of the obvious choices? For instance, would a committee be unwilling to suggest the removal of the BoA figures because critics would gloat? Would we have to canonize the Fam Proc so that the D&C would stay a similar length after removing the most toxic stuff like section 132? Would fear of critics saying this was an attempt to hide these sections prevent their removal? Could the committee come up with a plausible (to members, if not critics) explanation for removing problematic sections without directly stating that we (hopefully) don’t believe this is God’s will anymore?