On May 4, 1834, Joseph Smith and approximately 200 volunteers departed Kirtland, Ohio on a mission that came to be called Zion’s Camp, with the stated intent of reclaiming Missouri lands that had been unlawfully taken from the Saints. As you know, the group marched 900 miles to Missouri, suffered greatly, avoided a battle, and failed to reclaim Zion. By all accounts Zion’s Camp was a failure.
But the effort had exceptionally important consequences for those who participated. Some bickered, complained, rebelled and showed their true colors during the march. Others became committed loyalists to Joseph Smith and the gospel. Some died. Others left. But by facing this hardship, those who remained loyal learned valuable lessons that prepared them for future assignments. Upon returning to Kirtland, Joseph Smith organized the Quorum of the Twelve and the Quorum of the Seventy, primarily from those men who had proven faithful in Zion’s Camp.
Therefore, though the effort failed in its stated purpose, it did not fail in the Lord’s purpose, which was to prepare a core of believers for greater assignments that lay ahead.
Our current situation holds many parallels to the difficulties that faced the early LDS church. The trajectory of the Remnant Movement seems to closely track the early church, and most particularly the Kirtland days. The assignment to create a statement of principles is no exception.
The assignment originally came to the scripture committee due to the proposed elimination of Section 20 of the LDS Doctrine and Covenants. Section 20, as you recall, contained not only a basic set of principles for the Lord’s church to follow, but also an org chart of offices and set up a hierarchical system that would be added to in several subsequent revelations. It was designed to control a formal organization with inequality. The assignment to replace it is important, not just for content, but for the abandonment of false traditions.
After coming to mutual agreement that section 20 should be removed due to its hierarchical nature, it was revealed to the scripture committee that a replacement should be written, and that assignment was delegated to one person, resulting in an inspired document. Some flatly denied that any statement of principles was needed in the scriptures, others found faults, offered suggestions, or produced different documents with the same goal of replacing Section 20. As you know, immense time and effort went into multiple meetings, attempts, and votes, all seeking to come to unity on a single document all could accept.
Great lessons and tremendous blessings have resulted from all these efforts and meetings. Those in attendance testified of miraculous changes as disputes were resolved, hearts were united, and opponents became friends. Like Zion’s camp, though the stated goal has not yet been achieved, tremendous blessings have come from all the efforts thus far on the statement of principles project. These efforts are all good, noble, and undoubtedly part of the Lord’s plan to change our hearts and knock off our rough edges. All that has happened so far should be honored and celebrated.
Perhaps one lesson to take from these efforts is just how deeply rooted our gentile LDS traditions are, and how very difficult it can be for us to unite in following the Lord’s instructions, even in what should be a “light thing.” Undertaking this project has forced us to confront our collective weakness.
The Lord gave us a clue about his underlying purposes in having us create this statement:
“I require a statement of principles to be adopted by the mutual agreement of my people, for if you cannot do so you will be unable to accomplish other works that I will require at your hands.”The performance of this work isn’t just about the final product; it’s about preparing us for other works that yet lie ahead. Like Zion’s Camp, this effort has been arduous; and like Zion’s Camp, it has changed and improved those who participated.
As we attempt to march back to the original religion revealed to Adam, Abraham, and the Fathers, it appears we must overcome the stumbling blocks that hampered the progress of the children of Israel in Moses’s day, the Nephites, and the other lost sheep, not to mention the Former- and Latter-Day Saints. One of these is the incident of writing a preface to the Book of Commandments in November 1831. As we know, the saints refused to allow the committee to write the preface, instead requesting that Joseph receive the revelation, which became section 1 of the LDS D&C. With this assignment, the Lord, in His mercy, is allowing us to humbly revisit that scenario until we get it right so that we can gain the wisdom we need to grow into the body of Christ by working together in this assignment.
In the end, we really, only learn in two ways—either by precept or by experience. Learning by precept means we study the scriptures and live by their teachings—which is something the Lord says we haven’t done well at. So in this case, the Lord has given us an assignment to help us learn by experience. He desires a people who are prepared to carry his work forward and labor with Him in the vineyard. This assignment is part of our preparation, if we receive it humbly and complete it faithfully.
At Sunday’s conference, Denver Snuffer said the following:
I have been ashamed of us because of recent events. Subsequent to the Lord’s answer we have continued to be quarrelsome, bickering and unkind to one another to such a degree, we certainly must offend the Lord. I thought God would be so disappointed with us that it was wrong to proceed and therefore I prayed to call this off. To my surprise, the Lord did not expect us to do things right at first, He expects us to learn how to do things right. Failure is part of learning…God alone will establish Zion; his instructions are vital and necessary for us…But the path to Zion is to be found only by following God’s immediate commands to us. That is how He will bring it. He will lead us there. There is no magic, there is no sprinkling fairy dust that will take you to where God is. It does not, and cannot happen that way. He will lead us, teach us, command us, guide us, but we have to be the ones who become what He commands. We have to be the ones who do what he bids us do.
Our efforts thus far have not resulted in the mutual agreement the Lord requires. We could regard this as a failure. But what’s most important is the learning. God did not expect us to get this right at first, but He does expect us to learn from the process. We must be willing to recognize our errors and do things differently--or in other words, repent. To that end, we propose deferring, as always, to Christ’s word. As we move forward in the recognition that the Lord requires this labor of us all, we propose to start with the Lord’s stated parameters for the assignment.
We first note that the Lord does not give much instruction and correction to the content of prior efforts. Perhaps all versions were equally acceptable in His eyes. We cannot say. However, the Lord does call this assignment a “statement of principles,” which should inform us about what it should and shouldn’t contain.
Principle: (n): a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.
Therefore, the statement needs to be confined to fundamental truths or propositions, and should avoid opinion or cultural interpretation. Though many true statements could be included, we must confine ourselves to that which is fundamental.
Principles are unchanging, and therefore our statement shouldn’t include things that are true for only our place or time. Any statement that will need revision and change in the near future is not a statement of principles.
The Lord requires “mutual agreement.” Therefore, we must select principles upon which we all can mutually agree. Let’s look outside ourselves for an example:
Go to any Christian church and ask everyone you meet if Jesus is Lord. You’ll find not just unanimity, but also mutuality on that notion. Every person will be tied in bonds of love to every other person in that congregation by that single, joyful proposition alone.
They didn’t take a vote on that, and a majority decided Jesus is Lord, and forced the others to agree. No, they all, individually, personally, agree with their whole hearts. Whatever else may divide them, they are of one heart in that principle.
This is the standard the Lord has set. This is being of one heart! Do you see how much more He wants for us? How He wants to use this requirement to draw us closer to Him and closer to each other? How the humility to try again will bless us all with a much better view of ourselves in relation to God’s standard?
The Lord wants to make our hearts right. And we can get there with true principles, simply stated. We can all unite around the principle that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. That is a light thing.
We can easily unite around other principles as well. The Doctrine of Christ. The Lord’s Supper. Marriage. The Covenant. But it will take humility to lay aside that which divides us and instead focus on that which unites. This is the opposite approach to what has been attempted so far. But that’s OK, because what has been attempted so far has not yet succeeded. Therefore, a change of course is warranted and advisable. It is the best possible way to proceed.
All of us who are involved in this effort already agree on a body of fundamental truths, contained in the covenant we have accepted. Therefore, it ought to be a light thing to agree to a statement of those things we have already accepted by covenant.
This statement isn’t so much FOR us, as it is a reflection OF us. It is the common core of our shared belief, and is the seed the Lord has planted, which He expects to grow in our hearts until it becomes a mighty tree bearing the fruit of eternal life. Thus, the Lord has asked that our statement, once mutually agreed upon, be added as a guide and standard.
“When you have an agreed statement of principles I require it to also be added as a guide and standard for my people to follow. Remember there are others who know nothing, as yet, of my work now underway, and therefore the guide and standard is to bless, benefit and inform them—so I command you to be wise in word and kind in deed as you write what I require of you.”
According to the Lord, this statement isn’t for us to use to govern ourselves or our fellowships! After all that work and love and compromise, we’re not writing something to guide ourselves! Did you get that? The Lord wants us to help others come to where we are. Obviously, we don’t need a guide to tell us how to do the sacrament, or to baptize, or to exercise faith. Hopefully we already know these things. So the Lord expects us to kindly, wisely, guide those who will follow in our footsteps. The purpose of this document is to bless, benefit and inform THEM.
“Seek to recover the lost sheep remnant of this land and of Israel and no longer forsake them. Bring them unto me and teach them of my ways, to walk in them.”
If our mission is to gather the lost sheep remnants, our statement of principles must be designed around THEIR needs, and not our own. They will not benefit from our cultural blindness, our baggage of tradition, or our gentile notions about how to compete with one another. They will need pure principles, unencumbered with our opinions and biases. They will need truth. It is an act of love and service, not to mention wisdom and kindness, to put aside our own preferences, biases, opinions, desires, pride and envy, and instead focus on them and their needs. This statement is the first step in our ministry to the other lost sheep.
Those who follow will likely have no understanding of the history and traditions of the gentiles through whom the Lord began this work. He therefore gives two requirements:
Wise in Word
The wisdom of man is foolishness, and truly wise words come from Christ. Therefore, the statement should be sourced from Christ’s words, and not from man’s opinions.
Kind in Deed
If the goal is to “bless, benefit and inform” those who will come into this movement, we should be kind in considering their needs. Our statement needs to be simple, understandable, and applicable to all. Let’s use baptism as an example. There will most certainly be those who know nothing about baptism, who will need this document as a guide. It should therefore offer a basic statement of the need for baptism, as well as the proper way to perform the ordinance. This is a kindness to those who are trying to figure out what to do. Obviously, many other examples could be given as well. We must be kind so our statement will bless, benefit and inform those in need, without the burden of unnecessary complexity or excess minutiae.
- The Lord has laid this responsibility upon us all. Mutual agreement requires equality and voluntary acceptance. We can’t get there by delegating this effort to one person or even a committee.
- The Lord has ensured, through the words given in Answer and Covenant, that we revisit this stone of stumbling until we can get it right.
- This effort is to be undertaken by those the Lord calls His people by covenant. Therefore, those who have not accepted the covenant have no part in creating this statement. This is wisdom in the Lord.
- The prior documents and efforts have served valuable and wonderful purposes. We have all learned from this process. But we cannot expect to continue with the same approach and get different results than what we have already achieved. A new approach is required.
- In moving forward, we must focus on fundamental principles, simply stated, using Christ’s wise words, and kindly adapted to the needs of those who will come after us.
- Because we have already accepted a number of principles by covenant, we have the advantage of a basic body of principles upon which we all fundamentally agree.
- Mutual agreement, though a high standard, is achievable. If we can align our hearts and minds with God’s on these basic principles, then we will be one. We will then be His. We can do this!
In the final installment of this series, we will propose specific steps we can take as a united group to complete this assignment, reach mutual agreement, and please the Lord.