Religion and Faith At Their Core

Technology and globalization have always pressured religion. Historically contrived lines are being blurred at the present time through the mixing of diverse cultures as a result of technology and globalization. Here’s a recent example showing how the Church of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon Church) has struggled with new things:

Church Clarifies Word of Wisdom, Stance on Green Tea, Mocha, Vaping in Statement

by LDS Living Staff

Aug. 13, 2019

In a recent New Era article, the Church offered some clarifications to the Word of Wisdom, specifically concerning substances like mocha, latte, macchiato, espresso, green tea, iced tea, vaping, e-cigarettes, marijuana, and opioids.

On February 27, 1833, Joseph Smith received a revelation while inquiring of the Lord. That revelation, outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 89, has come to be known in the Church as the Word of Wisdom. But where do new substances fit into this revelation given more than 150 years ago?

Vaping: The New Era article outlines the negative effects of e-cigarettes, stating that “vaping is clearly against the Word of Wisdom.”

Mocha, Latte, Macchiato: While the phrase “hot drinks” in the Word of Wisdom was later defined as tea and coffee, many still have questions about specific drinks or flavors. The New Era provides this advice: “(1) If you’re in a coffee shop (or any other shop that’s well-known for its coffee), the drink you’re ordering probably has coffee in it, so either never buy drinks at coffee shops or always ask if there’s coffee in it. (2) Drinks with names that include café or caffé, mocha, latte, espresso, or anything ending in -ccino usually have coffee in them and are against the Word of Wisdom.”

Green Tea and Iced Tea: According to the New Era, both green tea and iced tea are still considered tea and are against the Word of Wisdom.

Marijuana and Opioids: Despite the legalization of marijuana, the New Era warns against the use of habit-forming substances unless prescribed by a physician for specific medical purposes.

In another New Era article, President Russell M. Nelson spoke of the importance of caring for our bodies, which he calls “a transcendent miracle.” He said, “Your body, whatever its natural gifts, is a magnificent creation of God. It is a tabernacle of flesh—a temple for your spirit. A study of your body attests to its divine design. . . . Anyone who studies the workings of the human body has surely ‘seen God moving in his majesty and power.'”

On August 15, the Church released the following statement:

“The Word of Wisdom is a law of health for the physical and spiritual benefit of God’s children. It includes instruction about what foods are good for us and those substances to avoid. Over time, Church leaders have provided additional instruction on those things that are encouraged or forbidden by the Word of Wisdom, and have taught that substances that are destructive, habit-forming or addictive should be avoided.

“In recent publications for Church members, Church leaders have clarified that several substances are prohibited by the Word of Wisdom, including vaping or e-cigarettes, green tea, and coffee-based products. They also have cautioned that substances such as marijuana and opioids should be used only for medicinal purposes as prescribed by a competent physician.”

When Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord on February 27, 1833, he received a revelation today known as the Word of Wisdom. From the beginning, the interpretation and implementation of the Word of Wisdom was complex. The opening line in the revelation stated: “To be sent by greeting; not by commandment or constraint.”

That wording led to debates about whether the revelation was a commandment or a guideline. A number of other questions also arose, including the meaning of “hot drinks” (D&C 89:9).
The Word of Wisdom received less attention after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in June 1844. During the exodus from Nauvoo in 1845, a list of suggested supplies for the westward journey was printed in the Nauvoo Neighbor. The list included one pound of tea and coffee and one gallon of alcohol per family.

In Winter Quarters, however, Brigham Young tried to curb the use of alcohol. A sweep at Winter Quarters uncovered five barrels of moonshine in a single day.

After the Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley and the hardships of pioneering began to recede, Brigham Young made additional attempts to persuade Latter-day Saints to follow the Word of Wisdom. By 1860 President Young had ended his personal use of alcohol, tobacco, tea, and coffee, except for medicinal or sacramental purposes.

Renewed efforts by Church Presidents John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and Lorenzo Snow moved the Latter-day Saints toward total abstinence from the harmful substances. By 1900 evidence suggests that most Church leaders were living the Word of Wisdom. A landmark event came in 1902 when President Joseph F. Smith instructed stake presidents to refuse a temple recommend [permission to enter a temple] to “flagrant violators” of the Word of Wisdom. For the first time, violation of the Word of Wisdom led to restrictions in Church privileges.

This trend continued under Heber J. Grant. President Grant was a fierce advocate of Prohibition and a strict interpreter of the Word of Wisdom. In 1921, observance of the Word of Wisdom became a requirement for admission to the temple. President Grant clearly taught the revelation as a commandment, not as a guideline or a suggestion.

By the 1940s and 1950s, the question was not if the Latter-day Saints would live the Word of Wisdom but how far they would go in their zeal to follow its precepts. In 1945 Elder Joseph F. Merrill preached a fiery sermon against excessive use of meat. Elder John A. Widtsoe and his wife, Leah, wrote a book on the principles of the Word and Wisdom and gave as their opinion, “The expectant mother who uses caffeine-containing beverages is laying the foundation for failure in life for the unborn child.”

Other Church leaders advocated a more measured approach. When a theater employee apologized for giving President David O. McKay a cup with the Coca-Cola logo on the outside, the prophet quipped, “I don’t care what it says on the cup, as long as there is a Coke in the cup.” While individual interpretations have varied since the days of Presidents Heber J. Grant and David O. McKay, most faithful Latter-day Saints settle on the common ground of abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea, and harmful drugs.

Why was there such a gradual approach to accepting the Word of Wisdom as a commandment? President Joseph F. Smith offered the following opinion: “The reason undoubtedly why the Word of Wisdom was given—as not by ‘commandment or constraint’ was that at that time, at least, if it had been given as a commandment it would have brought every man, addicted to the use of these noxious things, under condemnation; so the Lord was merciful and gave them a chance to overcome, before He brought them under the law.”

The Amish have a practice designed to deal with change in adolescence, called rumspringa. It gives Amish adolescents some limited license to experience what the Amish call “English” culture as they decide whether to remain in the Amish community. There is some generally sedate partying and other practices which can occasionally get out of hand, with alcohol, drugs, and sex not being unknown, but usually everything is conducted with propriety.

The preamble to the Seventh Day Adventist Church 28 Fundamental Beliefs says:

Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of the Holy Scriptures. These beliefs, as set forth here, constitute the church’s understanding and expression of the teaching of Scripture. Revision of these statements may be expected at a General Conference Session when the church is led by the Holy Spirit to a fuller understanding of Bible truth or finds better language in which to express the teachings of God’s Holy Word.

It has always struck me as interesting that the Seventh Day Adventist Church was founded on an erroneous religious idea; namely, that we were set aside for a special transition in 1844. Because of this and the absence of a creed, we above all should be open-minded to new ideas over time, as culture changes.

We’ve seen that the seeds of change have been part of our Church, the Latter-Day Saints’ Church, and the Amish Church, but change affects even religions resistant to change. This week the Moslems celebrate the Eid festival that marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and is associated with Abraham’s sacrifice of a goat in place of his son Ishmael (Isaac, in the Christian Bible). As part of the celebration, Moslem families have traditionally slaughtered a goat in the halal (ritually proper) way by cutting its throat and letting it bleed to death. Cairo was little more than a scattering of encampments when Islam was formed, but if all the families in today’s Cairo (pop. 20 million) were each to slaughter a goat, the streets would run red with blood. So now, halal abattoirs all over the Islamic world can be contracted online to slaughter goats and distribute the meat to the family and to the poor as is the religious tradition.

The nascent Christian church was itself highly resistant to change, as this account by Paul illustrates:

Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. It was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but I did so in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. But from those who were of high reputation (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—well, those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me. But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas [Peter] and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.

But when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?

“We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Galatians 2)

Change is inevitable, but it is not easy. In Europe, as this Pew study suggests, religion is not just changing—it is becoming irrelevant:

91% of the population was baptized as Christian and of those 81% were raised as Christian. 71% considered themselves Christian but only 11% say that religion is important in their lives. This contrasts with 53% of Americans who attend church at least monthly.

Evidently, change causes tensions in the Christian church in the US but is driving people away from church in Europe. What principles—perhaps Godly principles—are at work here? Paul’s account to the Galatians (above) in which he strongly condemned the status quo to which Peter and other leaders of the nascent church clung and argued passionately for change, lays out two principles:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. (Galatians 1:15-17)

Paul’s principles to effect change were [1] not to consult with other people, and [2] to distance himself from the leadership. Would these work today?

Anonymous: If Paul was so adamant about his beliefs, why did he go back to see the leadership after 14 years? He said the Holy Spirit told him to go, but why would it?

Don: Maybe God is a change agent.

David: The principle seems to be: When in doubt, turn to God, to the Holy Spirit, the inner voice. Don’t turn to people.

Anonymous: Could God have wanted Paul to look more into the nascent church and its Mosaic roots? Maybe it’s a hint that we should open our minds to the beliefs of others. Satan is always trying to divide and conquer: Perhaps Satan was urging Paul to reject and withdraw from the leadership.

Paul said that if his actions were to cause someone to fall he would desist. Peter might have been against allowing Gentile culture in on the grounds that it would cause Jews to stumble in their faith. Peter might not have been the hypocrite Paul said he was. Jesus gave us the freedom to be ourselves, and unlike Paul, Peter was personally close to Jesus. Peter was also open to the Gentiles and also received a vision telling him to go preach to them.

Don: Peter talked about all this:

… our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:14-16)

Kiran: Why did Paul have to withdraw to Arabia, a place with a different culture to his own? Was it to avoid having to battle with his own cultural influences?

Don: He did seem to go for a retreat, self-examination, introspection, to get in touch with his inner light.

Pastor Giddi: Jesus ignored culture when it came to mixing with Gentiles:

Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

Unlike Paul, when (figuratively speaking) in Rome, Jesus did not try to do as the Romans did. He ignored what they did and just did His own thing.

Kiran: Jesus dealt mostly with Jews. His meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well was a rare exception.

Pastor Giddi: And he broke tradition by accepting water from a lower caste.

Anonymous: All that matters is that we pass on our beliefs and convictions through love.

Pastor Giddi: And for salvation:

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

I believe we can do as the Romans do, without compromising our faith or our religion.

Kiran: Jesus came to save the lost, the doomed, such as me. If I then try to save other people, I need to explain myself. I wonder if Paul felt something like this when he went into retreat. When I left my culture, I fell in love with a person—Jesus—who made me feel that I was not alone. It happened very quietly. I would retreat to the bank of a nearby lake to read the Bible alone. But we will never be saved in this life—we will always be in the process of being saved, so it’s hard to go and preach salvation to others. The best we can do is to live for ourselves.

Pastor Giddi: If we feel we are being saved and then go to preach, we are not doing what God asked us to do. The disciples did not wait to be saved before going out to preach—Peter had even denied Jesus. They went because Jesus told them to. One can save others while in the process of being saved oneself.

Don: The Mormons felt compelled to forbid vaping when it was introduced. Was the ban necessary for salvation? Is ordaining women even worse than vaping? Is the core of religion unchanging, while everything peripheral can change? Where is the line between the core and the periphery? Trivial things, such as what to eat, are the cause of tremendous upset.

David: Paul seems to have concluded that when we have such questions, the church is the last place to go. The only place to go is inside, to withdraw into ourselves. The bumper sticker that asks: “What would Jesus do?” seems trite by virtue of being on a bumper sticker but it may be a critically important question depending on the issue at hand. No doubt Jesus would get out of bed and slip into sandals every morning. Are we supposed to do that too, then?

That is obviously trivial, but what what would Jesus do if a crowd was arguing about the ordination of women rabbis when he showed up at the synagogue? My guess is that He would give a “render unto Caesar” comment: “This is Judaism’s business, not God’s business.” Throughout his life, Jesus taught and demonstrated what is God’s business. Treating women, like all other human beings, with love and compassion, is God’s business. Ordination is not fundamentally an issue of love and compassion, and is therefore not the business of God, it seems to me.

The church has strict rules concerning such issues, but the inner voice, at least my inner voice, is silent on them. My intellect is all for women’s ordination, but on rational grounds. It’s not a matter of love and compassion, it’s not a spiritual issue. Words and rationality do not work at the spiritual level.

Anonymous: We fight about the trivia but don’t discuss the core issues. Mother Theresa said something like: “In the end, it’s not between ‘us and them’—it’s between us and God.” Even the Bible cannot come close to it. Scripture is directional but it cannot substitute for core, central, experience. We do well to listen to those who have had those core experiences. Living in the faith is what leads experience whose meaning cannot be denied. It leads to enlightenment.

David: I bet this is what happened to Kiran when he was reflecting on the bank of the lake. I doubt he was contemplating the divine joy of abstaining from lamb chops and Budweiser. I think he was having that deep, wordless, experience of communion with God, untainted by doctrine.

Anonymous: But doctrine serves a useful purpose in pointing one in the right direction.

Don: This is the key issue of our discussion: What is the role of religion if the core issue is communion with God and communion with God transcends religion? The core issue is centered on God, is immutable, and has been with us all, everywhere, ever since the Creation. Religious direction raises lesser issues yet leads to greater strife.

David: A church situated near a peaceful lake has a sign with an arrow saying: “This way to God.” Does the arrow point to the door of the church, or to the lake?

Kiran: One thing is for sure: I loved the doctrine of my Church because I loved Jesus. If I had not loved Jesus, I would not have cared about the Church or its doctrines.

The nascent church leaders in Paul’s time debated hotly on such issues as whether to eat meat with blood in it. Issues such as the Sabbath were not on the agenda.

Don: The direction from God was simply to take care of the poor. Which leads to the Judgment.

Anonymous: We are finding that some things in the Mosaic law are good for us in purely physical terms. Circumcision, for example: Jesus never mentioned it. It does not affect salvation, but is good for us in this life.

David: Right. The Judgment does not send the meat-eaters to the left and the circumcised to the right. Doctrinal issues are simply irrelevant to things of the spirit.

Don: We seem to have painted ourselves into a corner. If religion is not the way to salvation, what is it good for? Community of faith? Mutual help? People do get reassurance and comfort from belonging and from rules that define and identify. That is good, but it does not confer salvation. Is it feasible for religions to adopt a mission that does not involve salvation?

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