The Unchanging, Changing Church

Photo of General Sherman by Jim Bahn
Photo of General Sherman, the largest living organism, by Jim Bahn.

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

The first talk in the priesthood session of the April 1973 General Conference was The Aaronic Priesthood MIA by Elder Victor L. Brown. Even after reading the talk, I really have no idea what the program was, and I couldn’t even tell you if it’s still in force. (Some parts of it seemed familiar, others less so.) It’s a very odd feeling, to read a talk given nearly a decade before I was born about a bold, new program that I’ve never heard of.

It made me think of Mosiah 26, when

there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.[ref]Mosiah 26:1[/ref]

Even though Alma and Mosiah’s lifetimes were only separated by a couple of decades from their children, the separation of a single generation was enough to create a wide chasm in their worldview. Alma and Mosiah’s children had to rediscover their own faith.

And it’s the same for us: every generation has to rediscover many of the truths and relearn the lessons that their parents’ generation already discovered and learned. It’s so easy to think that—because we’re members of the same Church our parents were members of—we understand the things that they did. Perversely, the complacent assumption that we get it is one of the biggest stumbling blocks that holds us back from actually going out and discovering and learning what we don’t yet know.

There’s a sense in which the Church is always the same. It’s right there in our Articles of Faith: “We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church.” [ref]Articles of Faith 1:6[/ref] But there’s also a sense in which every generation—and every single individual and family—has to recreate or rediscover the Church for themselves not just once, but again and again throughout their lives.

The Church—when you think of it as the actual members—changes when those members change. It also changes in reaction to the surrounding culture. That’s what prophets are for, after all, to warn the people of present problems. If society didn’t change—and if the Church didn’t need to change its programs and policies and emphases in reaction—then we wouldn’t need continuing revelation and an open canon.

The mission and the doctrines do not change, but the policies and the members do. The twin imperative of stasis and change may seem contradictory, but here’s how I think about it: It’s our job to sink our roots deep so that we can grow.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!

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