The convoluted process for determining Mormon doctrine on this or that score today, is nowhere near as simple and direct as showing up at Newell Whitney’s store, buying a plug of chaw, a quart of whiskey, and going upstairs to the School of Prophets to ask Joseph Smith. Indeed, the “process” of determining Mormon doctrine currently isn’t even a “process.” It just sort of happens. “Mormon” doctrine mutates daily and continues to just slop out of the pulpits and quorums and other organizations in the church, extrapolated from raw journals and personal, pet writings of Mormon authorities over the years.
A good example of some of these sorts of apocryphal sources is the a decades-after-the-fact interview with Zebedee Coltrin about his attendance in the previously mentioned School of the Prophets that originally met above Whtiney’s store. And while helpful on one level, Zebedee could pretty much say anything he wanted to about what was taught or performed there and assign any doctrine or practice to anyone he felt like. But whether coming from Zebedee Coltrin or Brigham Young, this is the sort of informational source the LDS church has relied upon for its “doctrine” since Joseph Smith was assassinated. And it’s not a good thing.
Don’t take my word for it. Bruce R “McConcrete,” the late apostle who wrote in stone, will make the case for me:
The following is a letter written by LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie and sent to a BYU Professor by the name of Eugene England. The purpose of McConkie’s letter was to let Dr. England know that he was very displeased with certain ideas he was espousing publicly. These included teachings taught in the past by leaders such as Brigham Young….
The letter itself is quite lengthy so I have condensed it. It deals with a number of LDS “doctrines” and doctrinal camps that Brother England was attempting to reconcile through the examination of the historical teachings primarily of Brigham Young and Joseph Smith. The “King Follet Discourse,” is one of Joseph Smith’s most popular apocryphal writings, and is at the center of England’s postulations:
THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
The Council of Twelve
47 East South Temple Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
February 19, 1981
Mr. Eugene England
xxxxxxxx, xx xxxxxxx
Dear Brother England:
This may well be the most important letter you have or will receive. It is written in reply to an undated letter from you which came in an envelope postmarked, September 4, 1980. Your letter enclosed a 19-page document which you had prepared under the title, “The Perfection and Progression of God: Two Spheres of Existence and Two Modes of Discourse.”
In your letter and the article enclosed with it, you set forth the thesis that although God knows all things as pertaining to our sphere of existence, there are nonetheless other spheres beyond ours in which Deity continues to advance and progress in knowledge and truth. In espousing and explaining this philosophy you suppose you are harmonizing quotations from various of the early Brethren. Some of these statements emphatically say that God knows all things and has all power and others of them say that he is advancing in knowledge and understanding and is gaining new truths.
On Sunday, June 1, 1980, I spoke at one of the multi-stake firesides in the Marriott Center on the subject, “The Seven Deadly Heresies.” In that talk I said:
“There are those who say that God is progressing in knowledge and is learning new truths.
“This is false — utterly, totally, and completely. There is not one sliver of truth in it. It grows out of a wholly twisted and incorrect view of the King Follet Sermon and of what is meant by eternal progression.
“Eternal progression consists of living the kind of life God lives and of increasing in kingdoms and dominions everlastingly. Why anyone should suppose that an infinite and eternal being, who has presided in our universe for almost 2,555,000,000 years, who made the sidereal heavens, whose creations are more numerous than the particles of the earth, and who is aware of the fall of every sparrow — why anyone would suppose that such a being has more to learn and new truths to discover in the laboratories of eternity is totally beyond my comprehension.
He [Brigham Young] was guided by the Holy Spirit in his teachings in general. He was a mighty prophet. He led Israel the way the Lord wanted his people led. He built on the foundation laid by the Prophet Joseph. He completed his work and has come on to eternal exaltation.
Nonetheless, as Joseph Smith so pointedly taught, a prophet is not always a prophet, only when he is acting as such. Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord.
Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel. But, be it known, Brigham Young also taught accurately and correctly, the status and position of Adam in the eternal scheme of things. What I am saying is that Brigham Young, contradicted Brigham Young, and the issue becomes one of which Brigham Young we will believe. The answer is we will believe the expressions that accord with the teachings in the Standard Works.
Yes, Brigham Young did say some things about God progressing in knowledge and understanding, but again, be it known, that Brigham Young taught, emphatically and plainly, that God knows all things and has all power meaning in the infinite, eternal and ultimate and absolute sense of the word. Again, the issue is, which Brigham Young shall we believe and the answer is: We will take the one whose statements accord with what God has revealed in the Standard Works.
I think you can give me credit for having a knowledge of the quotations from Brigham Young relative to Adam, and of knowing what he taught under the subject that has become known as the Adam God Theory. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that Brigham Young will have to make his own explanations on the points there involved. I think you can also give me credit for knowing what Brigham Young said about God progressing. And again, that is something he will have to account for. As for me and my house, we will have the good sense to choose between the divergent teachings of the same man and come up with those that accord with what God has set forth in his eternal plan of salvation.
This puts me in mind of Paul’s statement: “There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” (1 Cor. 11:19.) I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality. We will be judged by what we believe among other things. If we believe false doctrine, we will be condemned. If that belief is on basic and fundamental things, it will lead us astray and we will lose our souls. This is why Nephi said: “And all those who preach false doctrines, . . . wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!: (2 Ne. 28:15.) This clearly means that people who teach false doctrine in the fundamental and basic things will lose their souls. The nature and kind of being that God is, is one of these fundamentals. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation, but Brigham Young also taught the truth in these fields on other occasions. And I repeat, that in his instance, he was a great prophet and has gone on to eternal reward. What he did is not a pattern for any of us. If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines, we are making an election that will damn us.
It should be perfectly evident that under our system of church discipline, it would be anticipated that some others besides Brigham Young would pick up some of his statements and echo them. Those who did this, also on other occasions, taught accurately and properly what the true doctrines of the gospel are. I do not get concerned when a good and sound person who. On the over-all, is teaching the truth happens to err on a particular point and say something in conflict with what he has said himself on a previous occasion. We are all mortal. We are all fallible. We all make mistakes. No single individual all the time is in tune with the Holy Spirit, but I do get concerned when some person or group picks out false statements and makes them the basis of their presentation and theology and thus ends up having a false concept of the doctrine, which in reality, was not in the mind of the person whose quotations they are using.
Wise gospel students do not build their philosophies of life on quotations of individuals, even though those quotations come from presidents of the Church. Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works. When Section 20 says that God is infinite and eternal, it means just that and so on through all of the revelations. There is no need to attempt to harmonize conflicting views when some of the views are out of harmony with the Standard Works. This is what life is all about. The Lord is finding out what we will believe in spite of the allurements of the world or the philosophies of men or the seemingly rational and logical explanations that astute people make.
We do not solve our problems by getting a statement from the president of the Church or from someone else on a subject. We have been introduced to the gospel; we have the gift of the Holy Ghost; we have the Standards Works and it is our responsibility to get in tune and understand properly what the Lord has revealed and has had us canonize. The end result of this course of personally and individually pursuing light and truth is to reach that millennial state of which the scriptures say it will no longer be necessary for every man to say to his neighbor “know the Lord,” for all shall know him from the greatest to the least. Joseph Smith says this will be by the spirit of revelation.
…It is not in your province to set in order the Church or to determine what is doctrines shall be. It is axiomatic among us to know that God has given apostles and prophets “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and that their ministry is to see that “we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” (Eph. 4:11-16.) This means, among other things, that it is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent. You do not have a divine commission to correct me or any of the Brethren. The Lord does not operate that way. If I lead the Church astray, that is my responsibility, but the fact still remains that I am the one appointed with all the rest involved so to do. The appointment is not given to the faculty at Brigham Young University or to any of the members of the Church. The Lord’s house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to proclaim the doctrines.
Now you know that this does not mean that individuals should not do research and make discoveries and write articles. What it does mean is that what they write should be faith promoting and where doctrines are concerned, should be in harmony with that which comes from the head of the Church. And those at the head of the Church have the obligation to teach that which is in harmony with the Standard Works. If they err then be silent on the point and leave the event in the hands of the Lord. Some day all of us will stand before the judgment bar and be accountable for our teachings. And where there have been disagreements the Lord will judge between us. In the meantime if we want to save our own souls we need to strive with all the power we have to be in harmony with the revelations and not to be teaching or promulgating doctrines that suit our fancy.
I advise you to take my counsel on the matters here involved. If I err, that is my problem; but in your case if you single out some of these things and make them the center of your philosophy, and end up being wrong, you will lose your soul. One of the side effects of preaching contrary to what the Brethren preach is to get a spirit of rebellion growing up in your heart. This sort of thing cankers the soul spiritually. It drives people out of the Church. It weakens their faith. All of us need all of the faith and strength and spiritual stability we can get to maintain our positions in the Church and to work out our salvation.
Now, I think I have said enough in this letter so that if you are receptive and pliable, you will get the message. If you are not, rebellion will well up in your heart. I pray for your well-being. I repeat: the door to my office is open. Perhaps I should tell you what one of the very astute and alert General Authorities said to me when I chanced to mention to him the subject of your letter to me. He said: “Oh dear, haven’t we rescued him enough times already.”
Now I hope you will ponder and pray and come to a basic understanding of fundamental things and that unless and until you can on all points, you will remain silent on those where differences exist between you and the Brethren. This is the course of safety. I advise you to pursue it. If you do not, perils lie ahead. It is not too often in this day that any of us are told plainly and bluntly what ought to be. I am taking the liberty of so speaking to you at this time, and become thus a witness against you if you do not take the counsel.
I repeat: I have every good wish for you, pray that the Lord will bless you and hope that things will work out properly and well in your life.
Bruce R. McConkie
P.S. I am taking the liberty of sending copies of this response to those to whom you sent your communication.
It turns out Bruce R McConkie is more cynical than I have ever been. And I grew up believing him to be the most obnoxiously pious of the pious. The most nose-rubbingly enlightened of the enlightened. I will also tell you that Brother McConkie was so enthusiastic about his unique calling in this matter that he mailed out so many copies that they instantly became common currency in anti-Mormon camps. What actually came of this screed is nothing but fodder for anti-Mormonism. In terms of its doctrinal merits, It vanished into a very quiet oblivion. It went to the same theological wastebasket that his Seven Deadly Heresies talk went to—except of course this too became great fodder for the anti-Mormon efforts around the globe, because in that little jewel of a discourse, he said things like, having a personal relationship with Christ is heretical. You’d think the “greatest theologian of our times” would have the discernment to see how raving, anti-Christian sound-bites could be used against us, wouldn’t you?
Then again, McConkie has also been on the other end of the theological power structure. Bruce R knows well how it feels on the other side of the lecture about following what the Brethren want taught:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
47 E. South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
David O. McKay, President
February 3, 1959
Dr. A. Kent Christensen
Department of Anatomy
Cornell University Medical College
1300 York Avenue
New York 21, New York
Dear Brother Christensen:
I have your letter of January 23, 1959 in which you ask for a statement of the Church’s position on the subject of evolution.
The Church has issued not official statement on the subject of the theory of evolution.
Neither ‘Man, His Origin and Destiny’ by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, nor ‘Mormon Doctrine’ by Elder Bruce R. McConkie, is an official publication of the Church. . . .
In the context of his own censure and the Brethren’s repeated disavowment of his most popular book, McConkie’s letter to England is truly an amazing document. Imagine the sheer ego it would take to just casually quote yourself from a talk you gave recently rather than type out a new paragraph like a mere mortal having a normal conversation. But that’s the psychological profile of an academic. If it’s published, it’s authoritative. Even if you’re publishing yourself it’s still authoritative.
Here also, is Bruce R McConkie as the pot calling the kettle black. He says to teach what the “Brethren” teach. That takes a lot of hutzpah from a guy who’s own seminal work, Mormon Doctrine, got him spanked and spanked hard by the “Brethren” for publishing unauthorized and offensive doctrinal errors from cover to cover. Then he has the gall to say Brigham Young taught false doctrine. Worse than that, to paraphrase David O McKay, McConkie’s whole tone and demeanor in Mormon Doctrine seemed deliberately designed to tell the entire orthodox Christian world to feck off. Frankly, that message still comes through loud and clear even after Brethren-enforced “corrections.”
Oddly enough, Brigham Young, who McConkie found guilty of teaching doctrine not approved by the “Brethren,” was the first “Brethren.” Brother Brigham is why we now just call them “The Brethren.” McConkie however, is the guy who made “The Brethren” sound like a mafia hit squad, who’d be talking to you later if you didn’t take his advice right now.
Apparently a live Bruce trumps a dead Brigham. And yes Bruce, if you’re reading along up there, the LDS church has in fact believed one thing under one president, and another thing under another president. Ironically, you yourself point out that Brigham Young taught that Adam was God as president of the church, and then say this is damnably false doctrine according to you and then current leadership.
David O McKay, another case in point, firmly stated that there was no doctrine at all demanding that negroes be denied the priesthood, that it was a policy matter that could be reversed. He even led a council of the combined quorums in 1969, and achieved an affirmative vote to do so, until Harold B Lee, out of town on business, came back and made such a stink that they had a losing re-vote, based upon his insistence that it was a canon doctrine matter that would require a revelation to change. Joseph Fielding Smith then succeeded McKay as president and further imposed this negro-anti-priesthood doctrine upon the church. Others, like McConkie, went on writing books and essays explaining in great detail the logic and reason of how negroes would never receive the priesthood in this lifetime. Smith died in 1972 and Harold B Lee sat in for a year succeeding Smith. He even more emphatically bolstered enforcement of the doctrine of the negro being denied priesthood authority, claiming it would not happen until some distant future eternity. Then he died in 1973, and under Spencer W Kimball a few years later, that promised, priesthood-bearing eternity arrived upon the Mormon negro rather suddenly. So suddenly, that McConkie had no defense for his vehement Mormon Doctrine commentaries paraphrasing Fielding Smith’s theology about it other than “I was wrong.”
The point is Bruce, you were merely parroting your father-in-law, a president of the church, and he was wrong. So was Harold B Lee, also a president of the church. So was Brigham Young on the matter. So was John Taylor, his successor, and I could name many more LDS presidents and “Prophets” who were wrong on the matter as it turns out.
McConkie says Brigham Young contradicted Brigham Young. Then he says a prophet is not always a prophet. He then quotes Joseph Smith debunking himself and half of what he ever said or wrote by implication. Then McConkie says (and even I shudder at this) that God allows even Brigham Young to teach false doctrine. God allows false doctrine to be taught in the church—even if from its president and Prophet.
See, good ol’ Bruce couldn’t just correct Gene England and let it lie. And McConkie doesn’t even think to question the reliability of the records which supply us with these crazy Brigham Young “doctrines,” the most obvious weak link. And then he really crosses the line into full hypocrisy: He doesn’t claim the “Brethren” to be infallible, just omnipotent.
If Brigham Young leads me to hell, argues McConkie, well, I guess I’m in hell but Brigham gets off because he’s a great prophet and did all those other good things that insures his reward anyway. I also presume that if Bruce R McConkie leads me to hell, I’m again the one stuck in hell, not The Conk. McConkie say it’s on his head for teaching me the false doctrine that sent me there, but what I guess that really means is that old Bruce will feel really bad about my plight as I eternally splash in the Lake of Fire, while he’s up there writing pompous letters on his Celestial letterhead to underlings in the lower Kingdoms of Glory.
The solution Bruce McConkie demands of you, is that you should not explore Brigham Young’s teachings, a man who saved the religion and was hand-picked by Joseph Smith to take over, but rather you should embrace the superior teaching and enlightenment of Bruce Redd McConkie instead. McConkie doesn’t make any promises though. He admits he might not be right either, but compared to Brigham Young, the odds of correctness improve greatly, he clearly implies. Still not much comfort in that Bruce.
Now, I called Bruce R McConkie a hypocrite back there a bit. I mean that in a very classical sense. McConkie in this letter to England, did just what he faulted Brigham Young for doing back in the day. He pulled a great big handful of doctrinal turds out of his arse just to make a point and win an argument. He used this arsenal of stinky theology just to fling poo at England for effect, acting like the King Monkey of the primate house at the zoo. McConkie was intellectually crafting talking points, not, divining rounded statements of universal truth.
And you see, when you check this little McConkie rant against Mormon canon as he suggests, he only condemns himself. Wilford Woodruff I think would disagree with the notion that God allows false doctrine to be taught by the LDS president. Woodruff seemed to think it wasn’t in the Lord’s mind, not in the Lord’s program to let the “Brethren” lead the church astray with false doctrine. And that’s canon. Bruce.
Yes, the Twelve or other general authorities serve as a representative body who are authorized to call out the “Brethren” on false doctrine—whoever that “Brother” might be. That’s not necessarily all that mystical. Church government is inspired by God to do this job. The problem is, until recently it hasn’t been doing the job at all, it’s been doing the same schizophrenic waffling McConkie is doing, running for dogmatic cover between urging the faithful to continue lapping up every silly babble from the mouth of the current “Prophet,” telling the rank and file to shut up about any confusion or doctrinal uncertainty, while at the same time claiming the liberty to fight amongst themselves over just who’s twist on what doctrine is going to be binding for this next generation or so—but behind closed doors and very quietly.
Keep in mind now, that McConkie was not assigned to write this letter. It is sent on Council of Twelve letterhead and he makes an anonymous allusion to some other “general authority” he suggests he had discussed the matter with, but there is no official assignment here to do or say anything from the “Brethren.” And as McConkie points out himself, no single apostle has any inherent authority to define doctrine at all. Witness for Christ, yes, preach doctrine as defined by the First Presidency, yes, but apart from some special assignment not even the apostles are authorized to preach or doctrinally define anything they want. That would be Protestantism.
That Mormon apostles and general authorities have felt they are freely entitled to explore, ad-lib, publish, and promulgate their own doctrinal, literary and presentational works over the ages without permission, editorial input, or approval from the First Presidency is the problem. Bruce McConkie makes this clear in his letter to England, yet McConkie had this problem pointedly spelled out for him by the Brethren with his own first doctrinal effort, Mormon Doctrine, and McConkie pressed ahead anyway in direct defiance of the wishes of then president David O McKay. So, as I say, McConkie is a hypocrite of the first order in this matter.
The key to understanding Bruce R McConkie, is to know that he is merely the sum of all he’s read. He’s a consumer and regurgitator theologically, not a producer and refiner. Bruce R McConkie’s sole source of theological insight and authority was his ability to recall and vehemently quote a lot of things written by a lot of actual authorities scattered around in a lot of places. Naturally, he centers onto the canon, the standard Works. No problem there, except that he neglects to see that a huge chunk of these were delivered by Joseph Smith in modern times. I guess we’ll “prove” Joseph Smith’s uncanonized teachings by checking them against his canonical teachings. That’s the same way Bruce R footnotes Bruce R to prove Bruce R is correct.
McConkie’s main thesis is entirely sound. Essentially, the difference between Joseph Smith or Brigham Young telling fireside stories and Joseph Smith or Brigham Young speaking modern Holy Scripture, is a formal vote of the “Brethren” in the various quorums sanctioning some of his writings as canon, and others as unreliable. Full canonization naturally, would also require the sustaining vote of the general body of the church. But McConkie’s fallacious logic myopically ignores the fact that we use Biblical texts as canon as well. Joseph Smith himself said that these were not entirely reliable. Joseph Smith in fact started rewriting the whole Bible, because Joseph Smith thought the Bible was pretty messed up in some very important places.
God did not give us the Standard Works as McConkie pretends. A collection of “prophets” gave us the canon–every scrap of it. The “canon” we use has been authored, processed, edited, proven and finally sanctioned by the very “Brethren” McConkie claims are “allowed” by God to be flawed and false. They are therefore also freely entitled to falsely canonize their falseness.
Bruce R McConkie really wants to be a foaming fundamentalist. Bruce wants to be able to send you to hell if you don’t sign up. Bruce wants to send you to hell if you don’t swear an oath to the official dogma he’s appointed himself to define out of an inerrant canon like a Latter-day Calvin. He just doesn’t quite know how to get there from here so his connective logic is a bit silly.
Mormons do not believe the Bible to be inerrant. What hasn’t been dealt with clearly however, is whether or not any of the modern canon is inerrant. By implication you co go either way with the argument. It’s either been recorded by mortal, fallible man and subject to error, or it’s been controlled directly by the guiding hand of God, written, translated, and preserved by a string of Prophets, and therefore exactly the message God intended to deliver.
Likewise, McConkie in one breath declares the “Brethren” to be modern prophets, to be treated for all intents and purposes as inerrant, while in the next breath he censures Brigham Young, the second most sanctified Mormon Prophet in history, like he’s some hick preacher who showed up to the tabernacle drunk regularly, took the pulpit with no preparation whatsoever, and commenced to spout off any random old rubbish on his mind at the moment. (Probably too close to the truth there…)
McConkie would just love to play the Grand Inquisitor, but Mormonism isn’t dogmatically precise enough to give him the tools he needs to torture a confession out of you and set you on fire. And the fact is, he never got the job of Big Boss so he could actually authorize himself to do it.
Our poor Bruce in his day, was painfully twisted in his understanding of a number of basic LDS doctrinal concepts. He railed one day in a grand assembly at BYU, against Salvation by Grace Alone, and slapped around yet another BYU religion professor, and author of a book, who had the audacity to promote developing a “personal relationship with Christ.”
On occasion, his honesty caused him to use the bully pulpit to expose teachings—both within as well as outside the church—with which he did not agree. One issue that caught my attention was his public rebuke of George Pace, an associate professor at BYU. Pace had been advocating that members should strive to have a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” a popular theme in evangelical circles but anathema in Mormonism. In March 1982, McConkie gave a devotional address titled “Our Relationship with the Lord” that branded Pace’s book as “unwise” because it contained “plain sectarian nonsense.”
On another occasion he publicly condemned the concept of salvation by grace alone, dubbing it the “second greatest heresy” of Christendom. (The idea of God as a spirit won top heretical honors as McConkie called it the“father of all heresies.”) In this speech he recalled an experience he had while driving his car and listening to an“evangelist who was preaching salvation by grace alone.” When this radio evangelist offered his listeners an invitation to be saved simply by believing in Jesus, McConkie commented, “Unfortunately I did not accept his generous invitation to gain instant salvation; and so I suppose my opportunity is lost forever.” The crowd laughed. (“What Think Ye of Salvation by Grace?” BYU devotional address, 10 January 1984).
Mormonism teaches that Jesus is literally and spiritually our big brother. We grew up together. We have the same mother and father. He took human form as we did and lived His life with us. There isn’t a much more personal relationship than that. That isn’t sectarian nonsense and it isn’t evangelical Christianity. It’s a far more intimate and personal fundamental relationship than anything in “orthodox” Christianity. Bruce McConkie doesn’t know that, which makes him ignorant, not a great theologian.
Likewise, the truth is, fundamental Mormon doctrine states that anyone who accepts Jesus Christ as their Savior is “saved” and goes to a reward greater than our imagination can illustrate. Not only that, Joseph Smith taught that you will have a chance to accept Christ here or in the next life and it’s all good. Bruce and his Utah cult of personality, and I mean that this time, have no understanding of the difference between the word “salvation,” and “reward.” The simple fact is that Mormons have always believed in a universal salvation based upon “Grace” alone. The problem is, Utah-product McConkie and his fellow intellectual and theological refugees in the Valley-0, have redefined anything short of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom as damnation and hell, and anyone not clearly a candidate for the highest reward of the highest heaven, as the damned. If you want to talk about false doctrine and heresy Bruce, there you go. I’ll just say it. Bruce R McConkie was a heretic.
What’s wrong with Mormonism? I asked that question in this series long long ago. The answer is right here: You can’t blame Bruce R McConkie for believing what he did, because his brain struggles for logic and inspiration from the isolated confines of an entirely self-contained Utah Mormon culture. His beliefs arise out of the collective “common sense” of a people self-removed into an environment of cultural inbreeding within a complete shelter from criticism. The Utah Mormon culture has actively promoted for generations, an unnatural lack of intellectual or religious insight or intuition. The Utah church has for generations deliberately eliminated, by the usual estimations, some 2/3 of the human race as candidates for their private, closed, extreme, ultra-pious society, because they do not lower themselves to minister to or associate with those who have not demonstrated a high predisposition toward Celestial Glory—as they self-define these characteristics. Furthermore, the Utah culture has officially incorporated into its church dogma the notion that even Celestial Glory is damnation unless the highest degree of Celestial Glory is achieved, and therefore even the very elect may not be elect enough to be worth wasting any time on.
In short: Bruce McConkie believes that if all you’re doing is keeping souls from the fires of hell and teaching people to live good lives, it’s not worth the church’s time and effort. Bruce R McConkie demands performance. Bruce R McConkie demands statistics and measurable, demonstrable piety and an absolute surrender of every aspect of your life to the “program.” The Mormon “program” will get you to the Celestial Kingdom. Mormons think this attitude is the epitome of wisdom and enlightenment. And so, naturally, in his day, still locked in that dusty Zion gestalt, Bruce McConkie easily found a vast and deep following in Mormonism who’s instinct was to simply defer to his greater intellect and wisdom due to his “calling,” rank, and position in the church.
Indeed, Bruce McConkie, was regarded by most of his era’s Latter-day Saints as a spiritual genius with a direct phone line to God, and was hailed by church president, Joseph Fielding Smith, as, “The greatest theologian of his generation in the church.” This might be expected from Smith, inasmuch as he was McConkie’s father-in-law and McConkie was his theological lackey. Smith was not coincidentally the first major Mormon theological organizer in the Mormon leadership chain, to clean and compile LDS doctrine into a coherent guide to Mormon orthodoxy. In this regard, while McConkie was an excellent scholar and had something of a photographic memory for chapter and verse, all he really did in actual practice was serve as his father-in-law’s chief editor and theological promoter. Most of what Bruce R McConkie wrote comes down to a paraphrase of doctrines promoted by Joseph Fielding Smith.
McConkie’s entire body of work is almost exclusively based on the teachings of his father-in-law. Mormon Doctrine is simply an organized collection of doctrinal issues paraphrased from his father-in-law’s previous efforts such as Fielding Smith’s articles from the Ensign, ultimately published as a series of books called Answers to Gospel Questions. McConkie’s second most famous work, Doctrines of Salvation, is, as I say, merely a direct and credited collection of Fielding Smith’s lectures and essays with McConkie commentary bridging and supporting them. McConkie’s Doctrinal New Testament Commentary is again based primarily upon Fielding Smith’s take on Mormon theology. Where McConkie cites previous Mormon authorities, like Brigham Young or Joseph Smith, these references are again chosen as a reflection of Fielding Smith’s use of them.
Those who think me harsh should consider McConkie’s own confession in his last talk before his death:
“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears. But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.” (Ensign, May 1985, p. 11.)
What McConkie clearly admits here, contrary to the belief of most of his fans, is that at the moment of his death he still had not personally seen Jesus the Christ much less had lengthy interrogatives with Him. McConkie’s “inspiration” clearly came through the very conventional means of a “still, small voice” and the same sorts of highly subjective, highly emotional, extremely personal “impressions” anyone else gets. One could easily concede and admire the semantics of McConkie’s faith-based argument that he could not be more sure about Christ’s Divinity, but this leaves neither he nor his fan base with any particularly deep, detailed, or even “new” insight into Mormon “doctrine.”
Bruce R McConkie tells us nothing you could not have read thousands of years ago from better writers and bigger authorities in Proverbs or Psalms or any of the Gospels. Unlike Brother Bruce, all of these ancient authors actually saw, heard, and were taught directly by Jesus Christ. If you follow Elder McConkie’s strongly worded warning to Brother England, go read them instead of checking out what Mormon Doctrine has to say about it.
McConkie’s works in general are characterized by their authoritative tone. McConkie once wrote to a Mormon scholar in 1980, “It is my province to teach to the Church what the doctrine is. It is your province to echo what I say or to remain silent.” In his best selling Doctrinal New Testament Commentaries and Messiah series, the sources that are most frequently cited as authority for his interpretational positions are other works authored by himself. He explained, “I would never quote another man unless I could first square what he said with the scriptures and unless he said what was involved better than I could.”
What McConkie’s father-in-law did, as president of the church mind you, was something fundamentally different than what McConkie spent his life doing. Joseph Fielding Smith was academically sifting through the thousands upon thousands of LDS commentaries, journals, conference notations and whatnot, trying to validate what he considered to be “correct” doctrines as he understood them, and debunk “false” doctrines as he found them circulating amongst his flock. He did so from a position in the end, of ultimate church authority, as its “prophet” and president. Before that he worked on assignment by the First Presidency. Joseph Fielding Smith also naturally relied upon his own father’s prophetic disposition in these matters—church president Joseph F Smith. Joseph F Smith was the first church president to seriously scrutinize Mormon folklore and even the previously sacrosanct ramblings of Brigham Young, and take an open stance of “correction” regarding the promulgation of many popular Utah Mormon doctrinal myths like Joseph Smith’s alleged “White Horse Prophecy.”
During his administration as President of the Church, President Smith made significant official statements of Latter-day Saint doctrine:
- “The Origin of Man“: In November 1909, in the midst of public interest in theories of evolution, the First Presidency issued a statement concerning the Latter-Day Saint doctrine. It affirms that God created man in his own image. The document also succinctly reiterates the doctrine of twofold creation (spiritual followed by temporal), the premortal existence of man, and ends noting that man, as a child of God, is capable of evolving into a God.
- “The Father and the Son“: On June 20, 1916, the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued a statement examining the LDS use of the term “Father” in scripture, clarifying times when the word referred to God the Father and when the word referred to Jesus Christ. The statement identified four different uses of the word “Father.” God the Father is the literal parent of the spirits of mankind and the earthly father of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is referred to as “the Father” when discussing his role as creator of the earth, when he acts as “the Father” of those who abide in his gospel, and when he acts with the authority of his Heavenly Father while on earth.
- “Vision of the Redemption of the Dead“: On October 3, 1918, Smith received a revelation on the nature of the spirit world and on Jesus Christ’s role in ensuring that the gospel is taught to all men, living and dead. A written account of the revelation was submitted to the general authorities of the church on October 31, 1918 and was unanimously accepted. The revelation was initially published in December 1918, and was added to the Pearl of Great Price, an LDS scripture, in April 1976; it has since been removed from the Pearl of Great Price and added to the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 138. This revelation complemented an 1894 statement on the eternal nature of the family and appropriate work for the dead issued by Wilford Woodruff. Genealogy work by members of the LDS Church increased after both of these statements.
Building on F Smith’s doctrinal bent toward unifying historical and contemporary doctrinal issues, his son, Joseph Fielding Smith, took up the cause of a church-wide debunking, clarification, and correction of LDS “doctrine” and put it to the pen. For years, as apostle and president, he published question and answer sessions in church publications and carried this information over into talks, lectures, books, instructional manuals and other published media. He was probably the most prolific and most authoritative LDS theological author of all time. He was certainly one of the most coherent. Like his father before him, he wrote in official LDS volumes published by official LDS institutions, and he spoke from apostolic, prophetic, and presidential authority. His son-in-law, Bruce R McConkie, simply out of self-assertion became the last in this particular generation of LDS doctrinal weeding.
Note again however, that McConkie only ever did body-and-fender work. He never built a car. He never designed so much as a hubcap. He had apostolic title, and occasionally published his opinions in LDS official media. Personally however, he added almost nothing to LDS doctrinal knowledge. His work rather, concerns almost purely the rote parroting of other “prophets” and authorities, to which, he adds primarily his own verification of “correctness.” Bruce R McConkie McConkie had obviously intended to die leaving us his gift of what he considered to be the definitive work on “Mormon doctrine.” But as we see, in a church based on ongoing revelation, “official”doctrine at best can be rather flexible and dynamically gravitate toward greater and greater enlightenment, and at worst, become so diverse and prolific, that it becomes confused and nebulous.
David O McKay, Harold B Lee and others also attempted to thin out the rural Mormon folklore that had long become intertwined with hard-core LDS doctrine, through the Correlation Movement that began in earnest during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Most of this effort was good obviously. But the central, almost egomaniacal assertion hanging like a pall of stupidity over the entire effort to establish a rational, authoritative Mormon “orthodoxy,” is the contention so often boasted from Joseph Smith’s day to the present, that Mormonism has “restored the fullness of the gospel.” While this braggadocio promises a lot in one sentence, it remains a pretty hollow boast. Mormons can’t in fact even agree upon what “gospel” means nor content themselves that they’ve gotten just as full of it as they can get.
Mormon generation after generation keeps prying and poking around vague, disconnected little mental ramblings of the early church authorities, preserved with varied historical legitimacy as if every member of the church was constantly and desperately trying to reassure themselves that they really are in on the secrets of the universe. And the problem is, the nature of that boast and the culture of Mormonism itself, actually encourages the faithful to read, pray, ponder, and have their own “revelation.” Bruce McConkie’s assertions to Eugene England aside, even sticking to the Standard Works, when millions of people take up their right to personal revelation, sometimes they come up with all sorts of queer ideas. This is just as true of LDS leadership over the ages as it is with the general membership. As McConkie said however, when Brigham Young gets a queer idea here and there, I guess it’s just God’s test to see if we’re spiritually stupid enough to fall for it.
So don’t fall for it.