Review of Fluhman, J. Spencer. “1835: Authority, Power, and the ‘Government of the Church of Christ,’”

Fluhman, J.  Spencer. “1835: Authority, Power, and the ‘Government of the Church of Christ,’” in Joseph Smith the Prophet & Seer, edited by Richard N. Holzapfel and Kent P. Jackson, 195-231.  Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010. [Mormon/Priesthood/Ritual/Liturgy/Worship/Theology]

The majority of this article lists and describes the many changes in church organization and government transpiring in 1835.  But a significant portion relates to ritualization and introduction of ordinances in this period.  Fluhman points out that the doctrines of established Protestant churches in American at the time had for centuries rejected Catholicism’s seven “sacraments” and rigid priesthood structure for the Lutheran doctrines of “salvation by grace” and the “priesthood of all believers.”  They retained only baptism and the Eucharist, but even these were not considered essential to salvation. This led Fluhman to examine how Mormonism’s position on the priesthood and ordinances, including those relating to the temple, developed and were received or rejected not only by Americans, but by the Saints as well.

Fluhman makes two important points about these developments.  First, these doctrines and practices were revealed “line up on line,” and what seems clear to us today, took time and patience to answer questions, work out doctrines, definitions, procedures and policies.    Indeed, we may “have underestimated how demanding and drawn out the process can be.” he writes.  (p. 224) The changing and growing definition of certain important words such as elder, high priesthood, High Priest, apostle, keys, seal or sealing, and endowment, demonstrate the gradual growth of insight and understanding of priesthood offices, functions and ordinances.  Sometimes a term was used in two or three different ways as new revelation was received and new understanding evolved. Concerning the solidification of these terms Fluhman observes,” I am suggesting that the Prophet came to an understanding of things more slowly than we have imagined.” (p. 211) Another statement is equally as strong: “Joseph Smith learned the hard way that as soon as he said something like “We now have all the authority or power God intends for his people,” some other authority, power, or deep insight came and rearranged the ecclesiastical furniture.” (pp. 212-13) Thus, during this period of growth and development priesthood organization was “flexible” and priesthood-related terms were malleable. Fluhman’s second point is gradually they coalesced around the plan of salvation and the temple and therefore, the temple can be seen as “the culminating contribution of Joseph Smith’s ministry.”  (p. 224)

In conclusion, Fluhman returns to his earlier question about the LDS view of the relationship of the doctrines of grace and sacraments.  His review of 1835 shows “the trajectory of Latter-day Saint theology and practice in the early years led away from the standard Protestant position on the sacraments.” (p. 216) He suggests that Section 84 “pulls  together the ordinances of the priesthood and the Atoning One” in verses 35-37 which teach that those who receive the priesthood “receive” the Father and the Son.  “Every ritual act in the Church is in fact an act of reception or acceptance” and therefore “by being baptized, confirmed, or endowed, we receive Jesus.” (p. 226)

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