We’ve come to our final post! A note before I forget–I’m away from home and I’ve cut off my access to email. So if any of you are trying to send me email, I can’t get it until the 21st. Let’s do find some other way of getting in touch if it’s urgent, though.
A question I’ve come back to again and again in thinking about this section is the relationship between the church and the law, specifically the law that is given here in section 42. Let me put a few of these thoughts together, including some that that might seem obvious and that I’ve thrown out before:
1. The church is a group of people, gathered in the name of Christ, who wait for the law together and receive the law together (v. 1-2). The church continues to be a center of gathering, until the day that the covenant people are gathered to meet Christ at his temple (v. 36).
2. The church (at least in this instance) has been commanded to gather together, and are in agreement “touching this one thing”, presumably that they want to receive (i.e. “hearken, hear and obey”) the law (v. 3). The community is governed by the law and set apart by its obedience to the law, such that those who don’t obey it and fail to repent will be cast out (v. 23-26)
3. The church is an economic community, made up of steward-households and a central bishop’s storehouse (or storehouses) (v. 30-39)
4. The church is a community of love and feeling, such that people in it mourn for and “weep” for other members that die (v. 45).
What is this law? We’ve said a lot about it, particularly about its content (as Russell puts it, the law enjoins “collective self-sufficiency, plainness, attentiveness to stewardships, and the provision for the poor”). But what form does this law take? It surely includes some rules (as Kristine suggested in the thread to the last post). “Thou shalt not kill.” But just as much it seems to outline spiritual concepts (e.g. “consecration”, “stewardship”, “cleanliness”) with the rules intended to give a sense of a way of being and acting more than they themselves specify the complete requirement of the law.
There’s also, I think, an interesting equivocation–or an opening for an interesting interpretation–rooted in the ambiguity of the usage of shall. In the KJV, but even today, shall can be used for the future indicative, or the imperative mood. In several cases in section 42, it’s not entirely clear which sense is best. For example:
“If thou lovest me thou shalt (should/ will) serve me and keep all my commandments.
“Thou shalt (should/ will) live together in love”
“The lame who hath faith to leap shall (should/ will) leap.”
The ambiguity isn’t just rooted in a word–I think it’s a fuzziness in the idea of law-governed social life itself. The law specifies what people should do. But in most cases where there is a law, we also see that people are in fact doing it. Is the law, then, not a “regulative” ideal–something people use to regulate their actions, or something that causes them to act a certain way by giving them reasons to act that way–but rather a sort of description of how they in fact do (and very well should!) act, for reasons that existed before this most recent proclamation of the law–or how they will act in the future, for reasons not wholly provided by the law itself.
I can think of examples of both. In some cases, such as the Mosaic Law, it seems that the law told them to do things that they weren’t already doing, and it provided all kinds of punishments and other reasons why they should obey these new laws. But in D&C 42, some of the things they’re hearing they already knew. In those cases perhaps the law is given as a description of the way of the kingdom–a sort of prophecy about how the kingdom is going to operate. The law is establishing the kingdom–telling people to act in certain ways and to establish certain relationships with God and with one another. But it’s also telling them what fruits these relationships will bear and what the church is going to look like.
61 If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.
62 Thou shalt ask, and it shall be revealed unto you in mine own due time where the New Jerusalem shall be built.
My understanding is that Thou is a second person singular pronoun, (and typically a more familiar usage), whereas Ye is second person plural. You, when used with Thou, is typically second person plural, but of course in modern usage it can be singular or plural. Of course there are passages in modern day scripture that seem to use Thou in the plural (e.g. D&C 42:45, “Thou shalt live together in love…”). But it is interesting that here the Lord seems to be telling people to ask for revelation and knowledge individually and that the mysteries and “peaceable” things
“Mysteries and peaceable things” The biblical references I found to “peaceable” things were great to read. Hebrew bible references were often to a kind of gentleness or friendliness: (Gen 34:21; 1 Sam 16:5), or to really nice places (1 Chr 4:40; Isa. 32:18). Romans 12 and 1 Timothy 2 use the term to refer to the mere absence of conflict, but James 3:17 says that “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.”
63 And behold, it shall come to pass that my servants shall be sent forth to the east and to the west, to the north and to the south.
64 And even now, let him that goeth to the east teach them that shall be converted to flee to the west, and this in consequence of that which is coming on the earth, and of secret combinations.
The revelations and things of the kingdom will be given to the church, but, through missionary work, also to those outside the church (even Easterners and Southerners!). The law and the revelations given to the church are sent out and offered to non-members as well. At least that’s the best I can do in drawing a connection between these verses and the context of this passage.
65 Behold, thou shalt observe all these things, and great shall be thy reward; for unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but unto the world it is not given to know them.
66 Ye shall observe the laws which ye have received and be faithful.
I’m intrigued by the idea that the church is constituted or at least distinguished by a certain kind of knowledge, specifically knowledge that is common to members of the church–things we all know and in a sense know together. It’s not immediately clear to me what kind of knowledge is referred to here. In a boring, obvious sense, members of the church tend to know about certain things that non-members don’t know about. But then again some non-members (and former members) know quite a lot about the church–the practices, doctrines, ordinances, etc. These things do seem to be at least connected to the mysteries of the kingdom–things that wouldn’t be known without the gospel and the church, and things that we know because we are members of the church. But at least in some external sense, people who don’t “observe these things” can still know them.
Perhaps there is some sense in which observing the law and living the gospel gives us some kind of knowledge that we wouldn’t have if we didn’t live these principles. I’ve been impressed for some time that I understand so many wise things that I wouldn’t have understood on my own, if I didn’t know all the church members that I’ve known and had the callings I’ve had and if I hadn’t lived in my covenants so to speak for as long as I’ve lived in them. I’m just not sure how to express that idea theologically or as an interpretation of this passage. But I think it’s talking about what I’ve felt.
67 And ye shall hereafter receive church covenants, such as shall be sufficient to establish you, both here and in the New Jerusalem.
I’m assuming, based on the sense of and D&C 28:12, that “church covenants” refers to D&C 20, in particular the institutional rules of church governance. Joe or anyone else?
68 Therefore, he that lacketh wisdom, let him ask of me, and I will give him liberally and upbraid him not.
69 Lift up your hearts and rejoice, for unto you the kingdom, or in other words, the keys of the church have been given. Even so. Amen.
The kingdom= the “keys of the church”? This is the only instance of “keys of the church” I could find in the scriptures. The more common expression, of course, is “keys of the priesthood”. What is a “key”, in a sense that applies to both expressions? Surely not “the ability to participate”–the keys of the priesthood are something more than merely having the priesthood. Is this a different sense of the term “key”?