Friday, February 3, 2017

Which Commandments, Again?

"Obedience is the first law of heaven".

Where did this phrase come from?  Is obedience really the first law of heaven?  If I recall correctly, Jesus was asked what was the "first commandment", and it wasn't obedience.  In fact, Jesus' first, second, and "new commandment", the last one he gave prior to his crucifixion, was to love.  So, I'm a confused, wayfaring fool who doesn't quite understand this.

Doing a little digging, I found the first instance of this quote in Mormon church doctrine.  In 1874, in an attempt to encourage wives to be obedient to their polygamous husbands, Joseph F. Smith said,
So sisters, do not flatter yourselves that you have nothing to answer for so long as you may have a good husband. You must be obedient. Obedience is the first law of heaven. (Journal of Discourses, 6:24) 
Now I know that the provenance and doctrinal validity of Journal of Discourses is suspect -- after all, we don't practice polygamy any more.  And, gee, I cannot think of a less politically correct statement than requiring that wives must be obedient to their husbands.  But this doctrine didn't stop there.  It continued.  Scrolling forward 75 years, the doctrine was repeated by Bruce R. McConkie in his seminal volume "Mormon Doctrine":
Obedience is the first law of heaven, the cornerstone upon which all righteousness and progression rest. It consists in compliance with divine law, in conformity to the mind and will of Deity, in complete subjection to God and his commands." (P 539) 
From that point onward, the explicit statement "Obedience is the first law of heaven" can be found throughout LDS doctrine.  It can be found in the bulk of LDS standard teaching materials, and in April 2013, LDS Prophet Thomas S. Monson proclaimed the session in general conference.  In fact, there are over 150 references to this statement within current church materials.  In that "doctrine" is "what is taught" by the Church, it's pretty clear that Obedience is not only the first law of heaven, but it is also LDS Church Doctrine.

But how does this square with Jesus' rather explicit statement of the first, second, and his last mortally-delivered commandment to Love.  The answer might come quickly, for in same chapter of John (14) where Jesus gave the "New Commandment" to love one another, he also said,
"If ye love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
So, ok, I got it.  We show our love for god by keeping his commandments.  Yet, as I read this text, the imperative nature of "Keep my commandments" is questionable -- to me, it is a statement of fact: when we love Christ, then we keep his commandments.  We don't obey in order to prove or demonstrate love, but rather, because we love, we obey as a result: love, and the Grace of Christ, impel us to obey, not the other way around.

But I digress.  Regardless of how the idea of "Keeping commandments" or "obedience" became of primary importance in the LDS church, I have to ask a fundamental question:

Which Commandments?

When Moses went to the mountain of the Lord, he came down with the tables of the law, ten commandments.  Jews celebrate the gift of these commandments as God clearing up what mankind should do to live in peace, harmony, and prosperity.

Yet even as Moses was speaking with God, the people demanded that Aaron construct a "golden calf" -- symbol of Ba'al -- to rule them and to whom they would pay homage.  Ba'al means "master".

The contrast is stunning.  Moses receives from God the Law, but mankind prefers to have masters rule them.  Moses, coming down from the mountain casts the tablets of the law against the idolatrous symbol of rule by masters, demonstrating that the rule of law is superior to the arbitrary rule by masters.

But which law?   Which Commandments, Again?

At first, the people of the israel lived in peace to a point under "judges".  They tried the ten simple rules.  But simple laws are too simple for mankind.  What does it mean to not kill?  what about war?  What does it mean to not commit adultery, does it include polygamy?  homosexuality?  what?  People get confused at these laws.  IN the chaos that evolved under the Judges, when there was no king in israel, people did as they pleased, interpreting the Law to their own fashion.  This led to the destruction of a tribe in israel in the incident at Gibeah, and people demanded a solution.  They demanded a King.  Ba'al arose again in the form of Kings, bad kings all.

Years later, a humble prophet Hosea laments the history of Israel since the Incident at Gibeah. By choosing kings over god's simple law, the people had rejected god and become "not his people" and "without mercy".  Hosea attempted to restore the simple law.

But it didn't work.  People still got confused.  They needed more instructions as to what to do.

The evolution of the Torah shows that the priests after Hosea weren't satisfied with ten simple rules, so they expanded the rules to make rules to prevent people from breaking rules.  And who made up all these rules?  The priests did.  The masters of the law expanded the law.  Aaron and his sons created a new kind of golden calf: Ba'al in the form of man's laws worshiped as if they were from god.  613 commandments that to this day, orthodox jews attempt to follow the the very jot and tittle of the law.

It got to the point that the very rigorous law of rabbinical judaism had created an impossible situation for people -- they became rule-bound rather than embracing god's simple laws.

In this environment, Jesus was born and lived.  He noted that the Church leaders of his day "teach for doctrine the commandments of men".  (A quote ironically present in the 1838 version of the First Vision)

One of the scribes -- lawyers of rabbinical Judaism -- asked him, "Which is the first commandment of all?"  Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Mark 12:28-31).  Upon these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40).

God revealed through Jesus the Divine Law:
1.  "Hear O Israel, I AM Our Gods, I AM ONE"
2.  "Love the Lord the God with all thy heart"
3.  "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

Simple.  Easy.  Once again, the commandments are reduced to Love: of God, of others, of self.  Not possessive love that tries to own and control others.  Not preferential love that is "partial" to those of our family and culture.  No.  Godly love.  Unconditional, liberating, abiding love.

More, when Jesus taught of leadership, he categorically rejected Ba'al -- the idea of earthly masters.  "Call no-one Father, for there is only one Father in Heaven".  In fact, Jesus only reprimand or condemnation were those who put themselves into Moses seat -- the Ba'als of his day -- the leaders of the church who washed themselves in elite separation from the blood and sins of that generation.

In demonstrating how to lead, he removed his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist -- dressing like the lowest of slaves, and performed the most menial service of washing the feet of his disciples.  This wasn't anything like what the LDS church embraces as a "second anointing".  It was a model of how to lead, the exact opposite of a kingly anointing.  He even washed the feet of the Son of Perdition.

The simple Gospel of Jesus Christ was based upon recognizing the divine in all of us (I AM Our Gods), and to love that God as expressed in our daily walk of love and compassion towards all. Those who, out of necessity, are called to lead and teach, must recognize that they are servants, not "Masters" (Ba'alim).  Yes, there must be order and leadership, stewardship and accountability, but those entrusted with these responsibilities must never become Ba'alim either in their own minds, or in the minds of those they serve.

What happened?  Where did that go?  On one hand, Catholicism re-instituted a lot of rules and regulations -- doctrines, catechisms and behaviors that controlled the people.  This likely arose out of the need of the Roman emperors to have a new State Religion that could control the minds and hearts of the people.  Constantine was brilliant, and the Bishops at Niceae willingly complied.

They meant well.  It wasn't the "Great Apostasy" we talk about in our religion.  It was more of a creeping gradualism to re-institute legalism and Ba'alim/earthly masters.  It's simply a human tendency to favor strong leaders, worship them, and in response, strong, narcissistic leaders arise to meet the human need.  And these Ba'alim, these "leaders", these "King-men", establish their rules as the law people must follow.

For me, the biggest challenge in being a Mormon is realizing how much this dynamic plays out in our church.  Instead of Godly Love being our first law, we teach that "Obedience is the first Law of Heaven."  This unfortunate untruth was first laid out in the context of Polygamy, then resurrected in "Mormon Doctrine" -- arguably one of the worst things ever to be published (right along side of Miracle of Forgiveness); but then has been preached consistently ever since.

In preaching this abortive doctrine, we are never told "obedience to WHAT or WHOM", yet our children are drilled in their heads:
- Follow the Prophet...he knows the way, and cannot lead you astray.
- If I obey, I'll be happy all day.

As adults, we are commanded to have uncompromising loyalty to the Church and its prophetic leaders.  If they pronounce something, then we are to obey it -- no questions asked.  This is what our coded-language calls a "Committed disciple of Jesus Christ".

I once was leading the music in a stake priesthood leadership meeting where Boyd K Packer was to attend.  We were ordered to be in our seats, dead silent, for fifteen minutes prior to the meeting.  As BKP and the other stake leaders entered in order of hierarchical precedence, we were to silently stand.  I was seated on the stand directly  in BKP's line of sight -- I looked him in the eyes and politely nodded, yet he had no response whatsoever, nothing. It was as if a dead shark were staring back at me.

In that moment, I had a complete understanding of what a golden calf -- the representation of Ba'al is all about.  It is without life, love, or humanity.
- Instead of realizing we are all One in God, it creates an elitest separation of the anointed ones from the blood and sins of the rest of us.
- instead of Love for God felt in our mind and heart, we are to reverence these men as if they are God.
- instead of Love of neighbor, we favor only those who are worthy of our exalted love.
and most of all, we obey these men.  Obedience is the First Law of Heaven in the LDS Church.  And Obedience means one thing only: to whatever our Masters tell us to do.

This blurring of the line between what are god's laws versus the commandments of men creates a deliberate confusion in the mind of the believer: because we teach for doctrine the commandments of men, we have instituted arbitrary human rules as if they are equal to God's simple commandments: we are thus manipulated to obey men with exactness instead of following god's laws.  We are like Aaron's followers worshiping the golden substitute for God's laws.

This is idolatry.  This is to follow king-men.  this is the precise behavior Jesus condemned with all of his might and soul.

Yet in response, Jesus did not advocate leaving Judaism.  In like manner, having way-fared through various faith traditions, this human nature to worship Ba'alim is everywhere.  I recognize that by leaving, moving, or trying to change the church is not going to help me return to that simplicity of Love.

No, I need a different strategy.  Between the extremes of Ba'alim of our Church Leader-Worship idolatry and the legalistic, high-demand of our rigid, correlated rules, there must be a Middle Way, something Centered on Jesus actual teachings and the pattern of his life.  I have a choice.  I do not need to leave.  I do not need to argue.  I do not need to evangelize the Simpler Way.  I can live it.  I can BE it.

I can stop being angry and resentful of the past, or dreading of the future, by Centering myself in this moment, finding the Way I can Love others -- and myself -- instead of focusing on all the defects I can easily find everywhere.

If I take Love seriously, I need to find the Way to love my church and culture, even if it has been abusive.  This isn't to condone or embrace the abuse -- let alone participate in it -- but rather, to stand as witnesses of a more excellent Way.  If we follow Jesus, we can be vocal about the abuse, but we need to do so in a loving way, to be witnesses of god (Love) in all times and in all places we may be.

We witness by being loving.  Jesus said that if we love god, we keep his commandments.

And...Which Commandments, again?


  1. Here are the commandments you seek.

    Luke 6
    27 ¶But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you,
    28 Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.
    29 And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloak forbid not to take thy coat also.
    30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
    31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
    33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
    34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
    35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
    36 Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.
    37 Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:
    38 Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.

    You will find these repeated in Matthew chapters 5-7 and also 3 Nephi chapters 12-15.

    As he himself said:

    And now it came to pass that when Jesus had ended these sayings he cast his eyes round about on the multitude, and said unto them: Behold, ye have heard the things which I taught before I ascended to my Father; therefore, whoso remembereth these sayings of mine and doeth them, him will I raise up at the last day.

    1. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully, I captured the essence of those verses in saying the following in the original post:

      "God revealed through Jesus the Divine Law:
      1. "Hear O Israel, I AM Our Gods, I AM ONE"
      2. "Love the Lord the God with all thy heart"
      3. "Love thy neighbor as thyself"

      Simple. Easy. Once again, the commandments are reduced to Love: of God, of others, of self. Not possessive love that tries to own and control others. Not preferential love that is "partial" to those of our family and culture. No. Godly love. Unconditional, liberating, abiding love."

      Rabbi Hillel was asked to explain the entire Torah while standing on one foot, upon which he did so, and said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn."

      There is no higher law than love. Hillel, Jesus, Confucius, and so many others have discovered that there is NO other law than love.

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