I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D&C 38:27)
Unity is required of the saints
We are commanded to “be one” (D&C 51:9) in Christ, even “as [Jesus is] one in the Father” (D&C 35:2), for the gospel principle of unity is patterned after the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, “which is one Eternal God” (Alma 11:44). The required oneness is to “be perfect” (2 Cor. 13:11), the saints being commanded to be “of one mind” (1 Pet. 3:8), “of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32), “of one accord” (Philip. 2:2), of “one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity” (Mosiah 18:21), as “one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5), being “united in all things” (2 Ne. 1:21) and “united in mighty prayer and fasting” (3 Ne. 27:1).
The “one body in Christ” refers to the church of God, meaning that the saints have a “duty to unite with the true church” (D&C 23:7), to worship as a group and “agree upon [God’s] word” (D&C 41:2). This is a physical gathering of saints in which they are to “meet together often” (D&C 20:55,75).
Just as the resurrection of the dead will dress the naked spirits again, restoring the body “unto its perfect frame, bone to his bone, and the sinews and the flesh upon them, the spirit and the body to be united never again to be divided, that they might receive a fulness of joy” (D&C 138:17), so the physically gathered church, or corporate body of the church, is designed to never be divided into schisms, so that it becomes “a whole and complete and perfect union” (D&C 128:18).
Such unity is only to be of like things, thus the saints have been taught by Paul “that a believer should not be united to an unbeliever” (D&C 74:5) and every man of the church has been commanded by the Lord to “be alike among this people, and receive alike” (D&C 51:9).
The commandment to be one makes dissenting behavior a sin
There are nine instances of the word dissent in the scriptures, all of which occur in the Book of Mormon. The word never appears as a noun, only as a verb. It is also always portrayed as a sin.
For the modern reader, using modern dictionaries, the idea of dissenting behavior being a sin makes no sense, whatsoever. A review of the modern definitions and the definitions at the time of the publication of the Book of Mormon (taken from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary) will quickly show why there is so much confusion on this issue.
According to the modern definition of the intransitive verb to dissent, it means “to withhold assent” or “to differ in opinion.” (Assent means “an act of agreeing to something especially after thoughtful consideration : an act of assenting : acquiescence, agreement”.) The verb has no religious connotation, however if we look at the noun dissent, we find that although it can be used generally to mean a “difference of opinion”, it also can be used more specifically to mean either “religious nonconformity,” “a justice’s nonconcurrence with a decision of the majority,” or “political opposition to a government or its policies.”
The current religious meaning (“religious nonconformity”) is a nonspecific version of what the word used to mean during the times of Joseph Smith. In Joseph’s time, to religiously dissent specifically meant “to differ from an established church, in regard to doctrines, rites or government.”
So, for example, if all the men who attend my ward dress in white shirts and ties (not because of church doctrines, rites or government, but just because that is the customary attire) and I attend wearing a blue shirt with no tie, I am guilty of nonconformity (and some might call it religious nonconformity since it is nonconformity to a custom that occurs in a religious setting), but not guilty of differing from the established doctrines, rites or government of my ward, for none of that gives a dress code for attending the ward. Dissent in the modern sense could be any religious nonconformity, regardless of how insignificant it is, whereas dissenting behavior in Joseph’s time specifically meant nonconformity to the doctrines, rites or government of an established church.
No one can righteously dissent from the true church of God
The scriptures brought forth by Joseph Smith teach that dissenting behavior is a sin, but this must be understood by the definition used in Joseph’s time. Here are all nine instances in which the word dissent is used in the scriptures, all of which are found only in the Book of Mormon:
And the people of Ammon did give unto the Nephites a large portion of their substance to support their armies; and thus the Nephites were compelled, alone, to withstand against the Lamanites, who were a compound of Laman and Lemuel, and the sons of Ishmael, and all those who had dissented from the Nephites, who were Amalekites and Zoramites, and the descendants of the priests of Noah. (Alma 43:13)
And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites, and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord. (Alma 46:7)
And now who knoweth but what the remnant of the seed of Joseph, which shall perish as his garment, are those who have dissented from us? Yea, and even it shall be ourselves if we do not stand fast in the faith of Christ.
And now it came to pass that when Moroni had said these words he went forth, and also sent forth in all the parts of the land where there were dissensions, and gathered together all the people who were desirous to maintain their liberty, to stand against Amalickiah and those who had dissented, who were called Amalickiahites. (Alma 46:27-28)
Nevertheless, they could not suffer to lay down their lives, that their wives and their children should be massacred by the barbarous cruelty of those who were once their brethren, yea, and had dissented from their church, and had left them and had gone to destroy them by joining the Lamanites. (Alma 48:24)
Behold, can you suppose that the Lord will spare you and come out in judgment against the Lamanites, when it is the tradition of their fathers that has caused their hatred, yea, and it has been redoubled by those who have dissented from us, while your iniquity is for the cause of your love of glory and the vain things of the world? (Alma 60:32)
And I write this epistle unto you, Lachoneus, and I hope that ye will deliver up your lands and your possessions, without the shedding of blood, that this my people may recover their rights and government, who have dissented away from you because of your wickedness in retaining from them their rights of government, and except ye do this, I will avenge their wrongs. I am Giddianhi.
And now it came to pass when Lachoneus received this epistle he was exceedingly astonished, because of the boldness of Giddianhi demanding the possession of the land of the Nephites, and also of threatening the people and avenging the wrongs of those that had received no wrong, save it were they had wronged themselves by dissenting away unto those wicked and abominable robbers. (3 Ne. 3:10-11)
Now there was one among them who was a Nephite by birth, who had once belonged to the church of God but had dissented from them. (Hel. 5:35)
All dissenters from the true church of God are sinners
According to our modern dictionaries, a dissenter is “one that dissents”, and since we know what it means to religiously dissent, that means that a religious dissenter is one that does not religiously conform. But in the time of Joseph Smith, a dissenter was “one who separates from the service and worship of any established church.”
The words dissent and dissenters, as found in the standard works, carry the meanings the words had during the time of Joseph Smith. So, when we read in the Book of Mormon that there were people in the church who dissented, it doesn’t mean that there was a difference of opinion or general religious nonconformity, but that those who dissented were advocating a change in the church’s doctrines, rites or government. And when we read of dissenters from the church in the same record, it does not mean that they were just people who had a difference of opinion, but that they were people who had separated from the church and had begun performing worship services that were different from those of the church.
Unbelief is the cause of dissenting behavior
Now it came to pass that 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. They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened. And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God. (Mosiah 26:1-4)
Although the above scripture speaks of non-members who never ended up joining the church, the dissenting process is the same for members of God’s church. Any believing member who chooses to begin to doubt the word of God will begin to dissent in his heart, meaning that he will begin to desire that the doctrines, rites and/or government of the church of God be changed (in conformity with his new belief system). This state of heart, in which the man spiritually separates himself from those who choose to not doubt the word of God, can lead to contention and disputations, and if not resolved by a restoration of belief (through repentance), ultimately will end in the member becoming a dissenter, so that he now physically separates from the body of the church and engages in worship services of another church or belief system. The Zoramites present a prime example of this process:
And it came to pass that as he [Korihor] went forth among the people, yea, among a people who had separated themselves from the Nephites and called themselves Zoramites, being led by a man whose name was Zoram—and as he went forth amongst them, behold, he was run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead. (Alma 30:59)
Now it came to pass that after the end of Korihor, Alma having received tidings that the Zoramites were perverting the ways of the Lord, and that Zoram, who was their leader, was leading the hearts of the people to bow down to dumb idols, his heart again began to sicken because of the iniquity of the people. (Alma 31:1)
Now the Zoramites were dissenters from the Nephites; therefore they had had the word of God preached unto them. But they had fallen into great errors, for they would not observe to keep the commandments of God, and his statutes, according to the law of Moses. Neither would they observe the performances of the church, to continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation. Yea, in fine, they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances; therefore, for this cause, Alma and his brethren went into the land to preach the word unto them. (Alma 31:8-11)
We see from this that Zoramite dissenters had separated themselves from both the church of God and also the Nephite nation itself, creating a new religion which rejected the established doctrines, rites and government of God. This separation occurred because they stopped believing in the things of God, as taught and practiced by God’s church:
Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ. (Alma 31:16)
All dissenters from the church of God make the same claim: that the church of God is apostate and thus its doctrines, rites or government must be modified in order to bring it back into God’s good graces. This claim may be made because the church does not sufficiently change with the times or it may be made because the church has made a change that the dissenters feel was not authorized by God. When the saints of God inevitably refuse to permit the dissenters from altering God’s current callings, laws and ordinances to conform to a more modern philosophy or to a more ancient or earlier practice, the dissenters separate and do their own thing, becoming a law unto themselves.
Now, from the perspective of the church body, to dissent is to advocate heresy and thus a dissenter is an apostate heretic (someone who advocates heresy and has separated from the church), whereas from the perspective of the dissenter, the church is too corrupt (apostate) to improve and thus must be abandoned and perhaps even actively criticized and fought.
We see from this that both sides make, essentially, the same claim: that the other party is in error and refuses to be corrected.
Unrepentant dissenters must be silenced and cut off
Unbelief is an infectious plague, that if left unchecked will affect the entire church body, causing both spiritual and temporal destruction to come upon the church. Spiritual destruction happens because unbelief and dissenting behavior are sins, thus subjecting the man to the devil’s power and captivation. And temporal destruction happens because the church body no longer qualifies for temporal deliverance from the Lord, which requires unity.
Because of these real dangers to the church, when a dissenting voice is heard among the church, it must be silenced as soon as possible. Thus we read,
And it came to pass that after there had been false Christs, and their mouths had been shut, and they punished according to their crimes; and after there had been false prophets, and false preachers and teachers among the people, and all these having been punished according to their crimes (WoM 1:15-16)
False Christs, false prophets, false preachers and false teachers cause people to doubt the word of God, creating dissenting behavior, which could grow into church schisms, in which people become dissenters, separating from the church of God. There are three valid (authorized) ways that men of God use to silence dissenting voices.
And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures. But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults. (3 Nephi 1:24-25)
So, the first way to silence false ideas and teachings is to have the high priests correct the errors, showing them their faults, so that such people repent of their sins and turn from their errors and become, again, converted to the true faith and doctrines and rites and government of God, confessing their faults. This first step allows people who made honest, doctrinal mistakes to self-correct and remain in safety with the body of the saints.
If, however, the false teachers do not repent, but persist in their dissenting behavior, endeavoring to preach and teach the same errors (heresies) to other members of the church, the high priests are required to shut their mouths by cutting them off from the church. Although the now non-member is free to preach as he sees fit to the members, excommunication removes his legitimacy in the eyes of the body, so that they may more readily see that the false teacher is in error, and thus should not be listened to.
Repentance, disfellowship or excommunication
In the modern church of God, the saints have been give three ways to deal with dissenting behavior: the leadership can correct the errors and those who dissent can repent and be restored to full fellowship, or, if the dissenter needs more time to repent and come to a proper understanding of the word of God, he may be disfellowshipped, so that he is not permitted to teach false doctrine to the church, until such time as he fully repents and becomes, again, a believer in God’s word, understanding it by the Spirit. Disfellowship really is for those who are still confused over the word of God, but who desire to come to an understanding that allows them to remain with the church. The last way is excommunication, which is for dissenters who refuse to repent or even acknowledge that they have done anything wrong.
The door is left open to return to the flock
Jesus told His twelve disciples, concerning the member of the church that was unworthy of partaking of the sacrament, because of transgression,
But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered. Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them. Therefore, keep these sayings which I have commanded you that ye come not under condemnation; for wo unto him whom the Father condemneth. (3 Nephi 18:31-33)
Excommunication, then, is a true principle of the gospel, one which must be performed on all those church members who do not repent of their sins after they have been admonished of them. Following this commandment keeps those who are in charge of regulating the church justified before the Lord, and also keeps the flock safer from the effects of false teachings and bad examples, which effects or fruit is spiritual and temporal destruction. The commandment to excommunicate unrepentant sinners was also given to the modern church, with the same promise of justification for the leadership if they obey the same.
And him that repenteth not of his sins, and confesseth them not, ye shall bring before the church, and do with him as the scripture saith unto you, either by commandment or by revelation. And this ye shall do that God may be glorified—not because ye forgive not, having not compassion, but that ye may be justified in the eyes of the law, that ye may not offend him who is your lawgiver—verily I say, for this cause ye shall do these things. (D&C 64:12-14)
So, even if the judges (who are charged to judge whether the sinner will remain in the church) forgive the man who refuses to repent of his sins, and would rather release him without any discipline applied, doing so would break the commandment given to the leadership, of excommunicating (cutting off) unrepentant sinners. The only way to remain justified before the Lord is to obey the commandment and cut off all those who refuse to repent, regardless of what the sin is.
Nevertheless, after being cut off, they (the leadership) must keep an open door policy, allowing the dissenters who repent of their sins to come back into the fold.
A difference of opinion does not constitute dissenting behavior
Scriptural dissenting behavior deals only with church doctrines, rites and government. Some people, though, cannot differentiate between scriptural dissenting behavior and the modern, generic definition of dissent, which merely means “a difference of opinion.” So any censuring they see, of any kind, is viewed as morally wrong, a violation of one’s right to free speech, as put down in the First Amendment.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The problem with that view, is that a church is not a public institution, but a private one, and like all private institutions, it has certain rules which its membership is expected to obey.
We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship. (D&C 134:10)
A case in point: Korihor
In December of 2011, I wrote on the Times and Seasons blog the following:
Korihor was not a religious freedom advocate battling an oppressive central government.
Korihor was a liar couching his lies under the guise of belief. He did this because liars were punished, it being against the law to lie (see Alma 1:16-17.) So, he pretended to preach according to his belief. Everyone who heard him preach, knew he was lying, for he told blatant lies (see Alma 30:35) but pretended it was merely his belief. He was repeatedly bound and taken before the authorities because it was obvious to everyone that he was breaking the law by lying, but no one knew what to do with him because of his stubbornness in always couching it in belief, for the law had no hold upon anyone for their belief. In other words, atheists had freedom in their society, but not pretended atheists, only people who truly believed that there was no God. Korihor, though, from his speech, revealed himself to be a liar and showed that his intention was to merely deceive the people.
Now the text clearly shows that this was Korihor’s crime: lies. Repeatedly when questioned by Alma, the topic of lies is brought up. He is on trial for lying, or intentionally deceiving people, which was a punishable crime among them. The people of Ammon, who first bound him, “were more wise” (Alma 30:20) than those at Zarahemla because they were more righteous. The Nephites at Zarahemla could see that he was a liar and deceiver, but they just let him go about breaking the law and deceiving the people. Not so with the Lamanite people of Ammon.
Again, Korihor was bound and sent up to the authorities with testimony of his lies, for there must be witnesses. Nevertheless, they couldn’t do anything to him because he pretended he was entitled to his own beliefs, therefore, he was, each time, set free, outside of the lands that he preached among, until he finally came to Alma, who, through the power of God, put a stop to his destructive work of lies.
I could have worded that a bit better than I did, but it’s good enough for the point I am trying to make, which is that once you break the laws of a society, whether it is a public society like the Nephites or a private society like the church of God, you become subject to whatever penalty is attached to that broken law. In the case of religious dissenting behavior and dissenters, freedom of speech or of the press is allowed only insofar as you do not transgress the laws of God by your speech or writings. Once you are found promoting wickedness or falsehoods by your spoken or written words, the church has jurisdiction over you and also a responsibility to censure you (to shut your mouth) in the prescribed, scriptural manner (correction and repentance, disfellowship or excommunication). In public society, freedom of speech or of the press does not grant you the right to commit slander or libel.
What saints do when unrepentant sinners are around
We are free, then, to use our agency to do good, but when we use it to commit evil by our speech and the words we write, we come under condemnation of God and it is every saint’s duty to denounce and resist all the evils that are observed by them. This is why the witnesses came forth during the first trial of the original Mormon church:
And now in the reign of Mosiah they [the unbelievers] were not half so numerous as the people of God; but because of the dissensions among the brethren they became more numerous.
For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest.
Now king Mosiah had given Alma the authority over the church.
And it came to pass that Alma did not know concerning them; but there were many witnesses against them; yea, the people stood and testified of their iniquity in abundance. (Mosiah 26:5-9)
Now, I will unfold this saintly duty and peculiarity a little farther down in this post, as it cannot be overemphasized.
Therefore, my beloved brother, Moroni, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God. (Alma 61:14)
But Jesus commanded:
But I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also (3 Ne. 12:39)
Which instructions are the saints of God supposed to obey? Both. (I only mention this in case some commenter says, “But Jesus said to not resist evil! So Pahoran was wrong!”) I will not explain this seeming contradiction as that is not the topic of this post. Just suffice it to say that a saint typically does not shut his mouth at iniquity, unless the Holy Ghost constrains him not to speak.
The following instructions were given to saints:
And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled.
And if he or she confess not thou shalt deliver him or her up unto the church, not to the members, but to the elders. And it shall be done in a meeting, and that not before the world.
And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many.
And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed. And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God.
If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her.
And thus shall ye conduct in all things. (D&C 42:88-93)
Who does the chastening? Who does the rebuking? Who determines who has offended publicly or in secret? Who delivers the unrepentant sinners to the law of God? The saints do. More on this later.
Re: those who learn and obey the whats only if the whys suit them
And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them (Abr. 3:25)
Doing all things that the Lord commands includes bridling the tongue (see James 3), which means that the spoken and written word must likewise be put under gospel constraints. Intentionally false (heretical) teachings, then, break the commandments.
Some people in the church say that mortality is a school to learn the things of God, as if it were knowledge that saved us. They emphasize that we ought not to be blindly obedient, but ought to obey rationally, with understanding of why we are commanded to do whatever it is we are commanded to do. They are more concerned with the why than with the what.
Such people, if they cannot understand the reason behind a commandment or doctrine, may end up openly questioning its divinity. In other words, they may start to propose a theory that the doctrine or commandment has a non-divine source and begin to teach it among the people. If confronted by a saint and told that the alternate teaching is heretical, the proponent may do as Korihor and say it is merely a belief or a hypothesis which may or may not be true, and that there is no harm in questioning things which may be false. In other words, he or she will claim, like Korihor, that this is not a teaching, but just an interesting idea: to consider that a doctrine or commandment or teaching of the church is man-made and not divinely given.
Ye say that those ancient prophecies are true. Behold, I say that ye do not know that they are true….And ye also say that Christ shall come. But behold, I say that ye do not know that there shall be a Christ…I do not deny the existence of a God, but I do not believe that there is a God; and I say also, that ye do not know that there is a God; and except ye show me a sign, I will not believe. (Alma 30:24,26,48)
Such heresies come from putting knowledge before faith and requiring that one know and understand something before one will believe it to be true.
Although it is true that man is here to learn, he is only here to learn obedience to God.
And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer. (D&C 105:6)
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered (Heb. 5:8)
Separating goats from sheep is a gospel principle based on obedience
Obedience to the whats, not knowledge of the whys, is the deciding factor in determining where we go.
and they who keep not their first estate shall not have glory in the same kingdom with those who keep their first estate (Abr. 3:26)
So God separates those who keep His commandments from those who don’t, and puts them into separate kingdoms. This is why the church is charged with excommunicating all those who do not repent of their sins. This separation, or division, is based upon the heavenly pattern. Just as there was a separation in heaven between the 1/3 and the 2/3, and the 1/3 were cast out, so here on earth more separation is commanded to occur, for those who transgress the law of God and do not repent.
But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted (Alma 42:22)
Once you break the law, the punishment is not immediately inflicted, but you are granted a space to repent, resulting in two sets of commandments. The first commandment is to keep the law, which, if you disobey, you then get a second commandment, which is to repent. Only when you refuse to take advantage of repentance and the atonement, does the law require that you be cut off from the church by excommunication.
Cutting off the people by excommunication furthers the work of division that the Savior spoke of.
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matt. 10:34)
Jesus gathers his elect into one body and then uses his sword to divide the sheep from the goats, and the wheat from the tares, pruning the body from time to time as fruit withers upon the branch, showing its true nature. In other words, the gospel net draws all sorts of fish into the church, and then it gets sorted, according to what type of fish it shows itself to be. If a man appears to be a sheep, or wheat, or good fish or fruit, he is to remain with the saints, but if he shows himself as a goat, a tare, rotten fruit or spoiled fish, he is to be cast out. The test of goathood, or tarehood, or rottenness is two-fold: does the man obey the commandments? If yes, he stays. If no, does he repent of his sins? If yes, he stays. If no, he must be cast off.
Pruning (excommunication) is to take place on an as needed basis, in order that the gospel tree does not perish.
Before anyone can be excommunicated in this church, they must first be tried for their membership. As everyone is considered innocent before being proven guilty, the Lord has given in His scriptures the divine pattern of church trials and courts.
There are three types of church courts or trials that the scriptures speak of, and six types of judges. The pattern is designed around checks and balances, in order that power is not concentrated in the hands of any one person or group and so that everyone who is accused has a fair, balanced trial, in which everyone’s rights are upheld.
The six types of judges
Two or three (or more) church members in good standing become judges when they act as witnesses. This is the law of witnesses and it is based upon the righteousness and holiness of a saint. It is the saints who will judge the nations and all things pertaining to Zion, for they are sanctified (holy) and are duly qualified to determine whether someone has transgressed.
The bishop judges the good standing of the membership, and thus the saints, because a bishop is to receive an accounting of everyone’s stewardship.
The two elders
The two elders judge the case laid before them by the two or three (or more) saintly witnesses, the bishop attesting to their good standing. If there are sufficient witnesses, the two elders judge whether the accused has confessed and repented. If the accused refuses, then the elders pass judgment upon the accused, as required by the scriptures.
The church congregation
After the two elders come to a guilty verdict, they must lay the case before the congregation, which then must take a vote to sustain the action or oppose it. If the majority agrees, the decision is ratified and valid and the accused is excommunicated. If the majority disagrees, no action is taken. The congregation, then, judges the decision of the two elders, and decides whether it was correct or not.
The stake president
The stake president, like the two elders, judges the case laid before him by the witnesses and makes a decision concerning which party is right or whether both are wrong.
The high council
The twelve high council members vote to ratify (make valid) the decision of the president. If a majority does not agree with his decision, it does not go through.
The three types of church courts or councils
Bishop’s court or council
The bishop is to receive an accounting of everyone’s stewardship and is to know who is consecrating properties and moneys, or donating funds as tithing or fast offerings, etc., to the Lord. This gives him a unique perspective into who is and is not a wise and just steward. Nevertheless, his judgment and jurisdiction are not independent but only activate with just testimony.
And whoso standeth in this mission is appointed to be a judge in Israel, like as it was in ancient days, to divide the lands of the heritage of God unto his children; and to judge his people by the testimony of the just, and by the assistance of his counselors, according to the laws of the kingdom which are given by the prophets of God. (D&C 58:17-18)
And it shall come to pass, that after they are laid before the bishop of my church, and after that he has received these testimonies concerning the consecration of the properties of my church (D&C 42:32)
And also to be a judge in Israel, to do the business of the church, to sit in judgment upon transgressors upon testimony as it shall be laid before him according to the laws, by the assistance of his counselors, whom he has chosen or will choose among the elders of the church. (D&C 107:72)
Because of this, a sinner who confesses to a bishop cannot be tried by the bishop, nor his testimony used against him, because the testimony is of a sinner, not a saint. In other words, only the testimony of the just (someone who hasn’t broken the laws) can be used in trials. Nevertheless, with just testimony, the bishop and bishopric are authorized to judge only whether someone is in good standing or not, and is contributing to the upkeep of the poor and the kingdom. In other words, the bishop’s jurisdiction deals primarily in temporal matters.
Elder’s court or council
The elders’ jurisdiction to judge is activated by witnesses coming forth and testifying of the wickedness of some member. The bishop, if available, is required to be present that he may attest to the good standing of the witnesses. If two witnesses in good standing testify against a member, that is sufficient to condemn. If there is no confession and repentance afterward, the elders must lay it before the members, to ratify the excommunication. The elder’s council is designed to be used for matters of transgression only, to try a person for his or her membership.
High priests’ court or council
This court, known as a high council, is to settle difficult and important matters, and like the other courts, only receives jurisdiction when two or more saints testify as witnesses. For example, if there is a property dispute, one saying that his property line extends 15 feet down the hill and his neighbor saying that it only extends 10 feet, the high council can be used to address these matters, if there are sufficient witnesses.
Scriptural patterns are no longer followed
The above are the scriptural patterns, which are no longer precisely followed. For example, the elder’s council has been completely done away with. Instead, the high council now tries the men of the church who have had Melchizedek priesthood conferred on them, and the bishopric tries everyone else, for membership. Nothing outside of transgression is brought to trial anymore. You can’t take a property dispute to the church courts and receive a judgment. Instead, everyone is told to settle the matter amongst themselves, or to use the man-made court system.
The checks and balances that were present in the three-court pattern have been removed and power has been concentrated into fewer and fewer hands. Many of the rights guaranteed to all the members have been weakened or altogether removed. If we compare the scripturally revealed pattern of church courts with today’s current practice, it can plainly be seen that today’s practice and procedure makes the word of God, as written in the scriptures, of none effect, effectively removing the justice that was inherent in the original pattern. In other words, the current church court system is no longer based upon just principles, but is corrupt.
Church courts and the rights of a member
Disfellowship and excommunication is to occur in the church according to prescribed laws given of God in the scriptures. The procedure itself is divine and designed to preserve the rights of every accused member in the church, that justice prevail at all times. As I explained in another post, the Bill of Rights may be used in a church setting to protect one’s rights:
Because the Lord has approved of, or justified, the Bill of Rights, latter-day saints are fully authorized to include it as part of their scriptural canon. This is not to say that it is scripture, for it was not written by the power of the Holy Ghost, nor does it contain the revealed words of God, nevertheless, as an inspired and approved writing, it may be used to defend or safeguard one’s rights in a church setting.
The Fifth Amendment says,
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The twelve high councilors are, essentially, a type of grand jury, charged with investigating the merits of any accusations, witnesses and evidence. Their duty is to judge whatever is presented to them according to the canonized word of God. Church courts, then, were intended by God to incorporate this principle.
An accused latter-day saint cannot be a witness against himself because according to the law of God, only church members in good standing can act as witnesses. A confession, then, is insufficient to convict. Church courts, as detailed in the scriptures, cannot use someone’s confessed testimony as evidence against them, yet that is exactly what is done today by the church bishops, and also for high councils (disciplinary councils), if the accused allows the testimony into evidence. Such practices are completely at odds with the word of God.
The Wikipedia says this about due process:
Due process is the legal requirement that the state must respect all of the legal rights that are owed to a person. Typically, “Due process” means 1) NOTICE, generally written, but some courts have determined, in rare circumstances, other types of notice suffice. Notice should provide sufficient detail to fully inform the individual of the decision or activity that will have an effect on his/her rights or property or person. 2) right to GRIEVE (that being the right to complain or to disagree with the governmental actor/entity which has decision making authority) and 3) the right to APPEAL if not satisfied with the outcome of the grievance procedure. Due process balances the power of law of the land and protects the individual person from it. When a government harms a person without following the exact course of the law, this constitutes a due-process violation, which offends against the rule of law.
The church court system is supposed to incorporate the principals of due process, requiring notice, granting a right to grieve and also to appeal. Current practice has kept these safeguards more or less intact. Now let’s turn to the Sixth Amendment.
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
All of these principles are supposed to be incorporated into church courts. The trials are supposed to be speedy and are supposed to be public (when they are presented to the church congregation for a sustaining or opposing vote, which no longer happens). The jury, which is the 12 high councilors, are supposed to be impartial, which is often no longer the case. The accused is to be tried locally, in his branch, ward or stake, where the sins were allegedly committed. (Trials are still local, but accusations may come from outside of the branch, ward or stake, such as from Salt Lake.) The accused is to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. (This still happens.) The witnesses are to testify in front of the accused during the trial. (The law of witnesses, to my knowledge, has been almost completely phased out.) The accused has the right to call witnesses in his favor. (This is still allowed.) And lastly, one half of the high councilors that speak are to be the advocates of the accused. (This no longer happens.)
There is also the Seventh Amendment:
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
All high councils were designed to be, in fact, trials by jury, requiring a ratification vote by the high councilors to validate the president’s decision. This is no longer the case. In current practice, the stake president can convict regardless of what the other men say about the case. Therefore, the right to trial by jury has been denied to the saints. But this right is found in the scriptural pattern, like the others listed above.
So, we see from this that the church court system, as detailed in the revelations, incorporates many of the same principles found in the Bill of Rights.
D&C 42 and D&C 102
The patterns of the two main court (trial) systems, the elders’ council and the high council, are given in D&C 42 and 102.
Section 42 gives the pattern for the elders’ council, which dealt specifically with transgression, beginning with verse 78 through verse 93.
Verse 78 states that every church member must obey the church commandments and keep their church covenants.
And again, every person who belongeth to this church of Christ, shall observe to keep all the commandments and covenants of the church. (D&C 42:78)
Now, that is the standard (obeying commandments and keeping covenants). But what does the church do if it transgresses? The previous section (41) said the following, but did not give the procedure for how one should be cast out or judged unworthy:
He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you; for it is not meet that the things which belong to the children of the kingdom should be given to them that are not worthy, or to dogs, or the pearls to be cast before swine. (D&C 41:5-6)
So, the rest of section 42 gives instructions on what the church should do when someone transgresses, or how to go about casting him or her off. We learn in verses 80-82 that when there is transgression in the church, the transgressors are to be tried in a church court trial before two elders of the church, and that if there are two church witnesses, that the accused shall be (not may be) condemned, and that after condemnation the congregation is to be informed of the case and of the decision and they are to vote on the matter by the raising of their hands, the Lord expecting them to uphold the decision and testimony of the witnesses:
And if any man or woman shall commit adultery, he or she shall be tried before two elders of the church, or more, and every word shall be established against him or her by two witnesses of the church, and not of the enemy; but if there are more than two witnesses it is better. But he or she shall be condemned by the mouth of two witnesses; and the elders shall lay the case before the church, and the church shall lift up their hands against him or her, that they may be dealt with according to the law of God. And if it can be, it is necessary that the bishop be present also. (D&C 42:80-82)
We also learn that the bishop needs to be present, if possible.
The next verse (83) basically says that verses 80-82 is the pattern for all church trials for membership.
And thus ye shall do in all cases which shall come before you. (D&C 42:83)
Verses 79-87 give the pattern for dealing with transgression in the church as follows: if a man breaks a law of the land, he is to be delivered up unto the law of the land, and if he breaks the law of God, he is to be tried in a church court.
Verses 88-89 explain that no member is to be tried in a church court unless he has offended someone and been confronted and rebuked and has refused to confess, repent and be reconciled. Also, that the first part of the trial is to take place in a private meeting with the elders, so that the accused has an opportunity to confess, repent and seek reconciliation, avoiding any judgment and embarrassment in front of the congregation. The second part of the trial (in front of the congregation) only takes place if the accused refuses to repent.
Verses 90-92 explain that public or open offenses require public or open rebuking, while secret offenses require secret rebuking.
Lastly, verse 93 says that this is the pattern in all things for behavior concerning rebuking, chastisement, offenses, confession, repenting, reconciliation, and church trials.
And thus shall ye conduct in all things. (D&C 42:93)
Trials for membership due to transgression were designed by the Lord to be the jurisdiction of the local elders and congregation, since they would have much more knowledge about the individuals involved (accused and accusers) than would the high councilors and stake president, who potentially could live elsewhere, in another part of the stake. On the other hand, trials about other matters, such as property disputes and other similar matters, were designed by the Lord to be the jurisdiction of the high council because they would not have intimate knowledge of the details of the local disputes, and therefore would be more likely to be impartial judges, the outcomes not affecting them one way or another.
That said, let’s examine section 102. The heading to Doctrine and Covenants section 102 reads:
Minutes of the organization of the first high council of the Church, at Kirtland, Ohio, February 17, 1834. The original minutes were recorded by Elders Oliver Cowdery and Orson Hyde. The Prophet revised the minutes the following day, and the next day the corrected minutes were unanimously accepted by the high council as “a form and constitution of the high council” of the Church. Verses 30 through 32, having to do with the Council of the Twelve Apostles, were added in 1835 under Joseph Smith’s direction when this section was prepared for publication in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Although D&C 102 is not a revelation, it contains the information on how the first high council was organized and operated, which organization came of revelation, and which operation was given by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. So, although we don’t have the pattern dictated directly by the Spirit, we do have a recording of the pattern (the minutes) as witnessed by two men who were present when the pattern was shown. The minutes were later corrected by Joseph, so we can be sure they are reliable.
As I said before, the modern procedures for how church disciplinary councils are operated render the word of God of none effect, making modern courts fundamentally unjust. The error comes from a misreading of section 102, which gives the “form and constitution of the high council”, to be followed by all high councils.
Okay, so let me unfold the errors.
Modern church disciplinary councils operate under color of law
The following document,
gives the current procedures used in these courts. Here are a couple of quotes which manifest the errors:
“In a stake disciplinary council, the stake president is assisted by twelve high councilors. Their role is easily misunderstood. Uninformed persons are tempted to liken the high council to a jury. In view of the not well understood instructions in section 102 of the Doctrine and Covenants, there is also a tendency to view individual high councilors as prosecutors or defenders. Neither of these comparisons is appropriate. Members of the high council are present to “stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and injustice’ (Doc. & Cov 102:17). In other words, they are to give added assurance that the evidence is examined in its true light and that the procedures and treatment of the accused are consistent with equity and justice. Their roles are illumination and persuasion, not advocacy or decision.” (Dallin H. Oaks)
“After hearing any additional comments from the high council, the stake presidency withdraws from the council room to confer in private. After consultation and prayer, the stake president makes the decision and invites his counselors to sustain it. The stake presidency then returns and announces the decision to the high council. The stake president asks the high councilors as a group to sustain his decision. The high council cannot veto the decision; it is binding even if it is not sustained unanimously.” (Church Handbook of Instructions)
Neither of these quotes is correct. Or, in other words, they are correct in that the modern church procedure operates as they state it does, but they are not correct in that the procedure they use is entirely at odds with the written word of God.
Here is what the section actually says,
Whenever a high council of the church of Christ is regularly organized, according to the foregoing pattern, it shall be the duty of the twelve councilors to cast lots by numbers, and thereby ascertain who of the twelve shall speak first, commencing with number one and so in succession to number twelve.
Whenever this council convenes to act upon any case, the twelve councilors shall consider whether it is a difficult one or not; if it is not, two only of the councilors shall speak upon it, according to the form above written.
But if it is thought to be difficult, four shall be appointed; and if more difficult, six; but in no case shall more than six be appointed to speak. (D&C 102:12-14)
So everybody picks a number out of a hat, from one to twelve. If the case is easy, just two men speak; if difficult, four men speak; and if really difficult, six speak. The rest do not speak, but just listen.
The accused, in all cases, has a right to one-half of the council, to prevent insult or injustice.
And the councilors appointed to speak before the council are to present the case, after the evidence is examined, in its true light before the council; and every man is to speak according to equity and justice.
Those councilors who draw even numbers, that is, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12, are the individuals who are to stand up in behalf of the accused, and prevent insult and injustice. (D&C 102:15-17)
In behalf of
Now, here is where brother Dallin gets it wrong (and shame on him!, since he’s supposed to be a lawyer). The expression “to stand up in behalf of the accused” means “to stand up as an advocate of the accused.”
BEHALF, n. behaf. [See Behoof.]
- 1. Favor; advantage; convenience, profit; support, defense, vindication. The advocate pleads in behalf of the prisoner. The patriot suffers in behalf of his country.
- 2. Part; side; noting substitution, or the act of taking the part of another; as, the agent appeared in behalf of his constituents, and entered a claim.
AD’VOCATE, n. [L. advocatus, from advoco, to call for, to plead for; of ad and voco, to call. See Vocal.]
- 1. Advocate, in its primary sense, signifies, one who pleads the cause of another in a court of civil law. Hence,
- 2. One who pleads the cause of another before any tribunal or judicial court, as a barrister in the English courts. We say, a man is a learned lawyer and an able advocate.
- 3. One who defends, vindicates, or espouses a cause, by argument; one who is friendly to; as, an advocate for peace, or for the oppressed.
AD’VOCATE, v.t. To plead in favor of; to defend by argument, before a tribunal; to support or vindicate.
All of that is from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary, showing that this is the very meaning of the phrase, contrary to what brother Dallin would have us believe.
The reason why brother Dallin and the other church leaders feel the need to wrest this scripture into saying something it isn’t saying is because they have transfigured the high council into something it was never intended to be: a church court dealing with transgression and trials for church membership. So, they cannot conceive of a righteous man advocating the cause of someone who could be an unrepentant sinner, like the lawyers do. (Jesus is our advocate with the Father only if we are penitent, for the impenitent do not have Him as their advocate.) The thought of advocating impenitence, then, is understandably repulsive to them, so they simply interpret the scripture another way, to make it work according to their procedure. But the very words themselves do not fit.
High councilors could advocate the cause of the accused because these were not meant to be matters dealing with transgression, but merely “important difficulties.” In other words, disputes over this and that private matter. In such cases, the accused may be right, or may be wrong. The high councilors who were chosen by lot to speak, could put themselves in the place of the accused, for they weren’t attempting to excuse sin, but to show a private matter from the perspective of the accused.
The CHI says that the high council cannot veto the stake president’s decision, but that is flat out wrong.
After the evidences are heard, the councilors, accuser and accused have spoken, the president shall give a decision according to the understanding which he shall have of the case, and call upon the twelve councilors to sanction the same by their vote.
But should the remaining councilors, who have not spoken, or any one of them, after hearing the evidences and pleadings impartially, discover an error in the decision of the president, they can manifest it, and the case shall have a re-hearing.
And if, after a careful re-hearing, any additional light is shown upon the case, the decision shall be altered accordingly.
But in case no additional light is given, the first decision shall stand, the majority of the council having power to determine the same. (D&C 102:19-22)
Here is the meaning of the word sanction, from Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
SANC’TION, v.t. To ratify; to confirm; to give validity or authority to.
Thus, the twelve high councilors vote to ratify, confirm, give validity or authority to the stake president’s decision. Without such validation, the president’s decision is non-binding. That is what ratification is all about.
Unanimity is not required for ratification, only a majority vote. In other words, the majority of the council has power to determine whether the first decision shall stand, as well as whether there is no additional light given. The reason for the re-hearing is not because some councilors disagree, or even that one councilor disagrees, with the president’s decision, but because one or more of them think there may have been an error, meaning that the stake president overlooked something. This is why the section talks about additional light.
But should the remaining councilors, who have not spoken, or any one of them, after hearing the evidences and pleadings impartially, discover an error in the decision of the president, they can manifest it, and the case shall have a re-hearing. (D&C 102:20)
IMP`ARTIAL, a. [in and partial, from part, L. pars.]
- 1. Not partial; not biased in favor of one party more than another; indifferent; unprejudiced; disinterested; as an impartial judge or arbitrator.
- 2. Not favoring one party more than another; equitable; just; as an impartial judgment or decision; an impartial opinion.
Current church practice in church courts creates a conflict of interest. The witnesses who present evidence or who make accusations and bear testimony, are biased, but the high council and stake presidency is supposed to be unbiased and impartial. That requires that none of them can act as witnesses, nor make accusations. Any church court that has any of the councilors or any of the stake presidency acting as a witness or making accusations, in any degree of bias, cannot be called impartial and thus is nothing but a farce.
Guilty until proven penitent is a bastardization of the law
Another practice in the church court system is the assumption of guilt upon the accused. In the Lord’s law, every saint is innocent until proven guilty, but the modern church court procedure assumes the accused is guilty and thus that the accused, in order to be in God’s good graces, must confess his sin and show penitence before the council, otherwise the council will see him as an impenitent sinner, instead of as a penitent sinner, and will have to apply the penalty the Lord’s law requires. This practice makes all those who say they are innocent of any charges appear impenitent, even if they really are innocent.
Evidence alone is not enough
It is called the law of witnesses for a reason. Evidence of wrongdoing, without an eyewitness testifying, is insufficient. The witnesses are the saints and it takes a saint to condemn anyone. Also, every word must be established by two or three witnesses. So if someone in the church, for example, publishes some literature or book, but none of the saints are offended by it or bring up accusations against the author, the high council has no jurisdiction to lay charges against the author, nor does the stake presidency, nor the bishopric. Charges or accusations can only come from a saint’s testimony and it requires two saints’ testimonies for any of these men to obtain jurisdiction to bring a judgment against a member. The Lord made it this way because it is the jurisdiction of His saints to have the first and final word, judging both the nations of the earth and also Zion.
Behold, I, the Lord, have made my church in these last days like unto a judge sitting on a hill, or in a high place, to judge the nations.
For it shall come to pass that the inhabitants of Zion shall judge all things pertaining to Zion.
And liars and hypocrites shall be proved by them, and they who are not apostles and prophets shall be known.
And even the bishop, who is a judge, and his counselors, if they are not faithful in their stewardships shall be condemned, and others shall be planted in their stead. (D&C 64:37-40)
The saints are given free reign to judge all things, both inside and outside the church, including all the leaders from top (apostles and prophets) to the bottom (bishops). The word of two or more saints against any man, woman or child of age in this church condemns that person, regardless of his or her office.
Excommunication is supposed to be a congregational affair
Excommunication (cutting off a person from the church) is in similitude to the cutting off from the presence of the Lord which will happen to all the sons of perdition at the last day. Since that last act of cutting off is, in actuality, a spiritual death, even a second death, cutting off is representative of death. In other words, excommunication represents the death penalty, or capital punishment. Only those who do not repent receive this penalty.
The authority to inflict (the similitude of) death upon a sinner was never meant or designed by God to be in the hands of one man (a stake president) nor three men (the stake presidency), nor twelve men (the high council). The final decision was meant to be in the hands of the saints who make up the congregation.
But he or she shall be condemned by the mouth of two witnesses; and the elders shall lay the case before the church, and the church shall lift up their hands against him or her, that they may be dealt with according to the law of God. (D&C 42:81)
Without such congregational ratification, we end up with secret trials like those of the Gadianton robbers.
Now there were many of those who testified of the things pertaining to Christ who testified boldly, who were taken and put to death secretly by the judges, that the knowledge of their death came not unto the governor of the land until after their death. (3 Ne. 6:23)
Let the saints do their duty
It is the duty of a saint to lay charges, make accusations and bear witness against all wickedness they see. If they see (scripturally-defined) dissenting behavior, they will resist it and seek to silence it. They are the Lord’s anointed and the only ones authorized to condemn; not the bishop, or high council or stake presidency. (See Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed.)
And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ. (Moroni 6:7)
And if any man or woman shall commit adultery, he or she shall be tried before two elders of the church, or more, and every word shall be established against him or her by two witnesses of the church, and not of the enemy; but if there are more than two witnesses it is better. But he or she shall be condemned by the mouth of two witnesses; and the elders shall lay the case before the church, and the church shall lift up their hands against him or her, that they may be dealt with according to the law of God. (D&C 42:80-81)
It is right and proper for them to prune the church and bear witness against unrepentant sinners. They would be remiss in their duty if they shut their mouths at the sight of wickedness. So do not harp on them or put obstacles in the way of their duty, otherwise they will end up condemning you.
The purpose of this post
I wrote this post to show that, according to the scriptural definition, there is no such thing as a sinless dissenter; that the church is commanded to be one; that dissenters should be silenced; and that excommunication is a divine principle. I never expected to get into the unrighteousness of current church court procedure. I never expected or intended to judge the courts and find them “wanting in the balance” (see Dan. 5:27). But I did and that’s that. Nevertheless, despite the courts being corrupt because they do not conform to the divine pattern, to dissent is still a sin, all dissenters still should be silenced, unrepentant sinners still must be cut off from the church and excommunication of unrepentant sinners is still a righteous thing to do.
The question that remains, then, is what do we do about the courts? How can they be reclaimed and made right and just again, according to God’s revealed pattern? What steps must be taken by saints, working in unison (as one in Christ) within the stakes and acting on the promptings of the Holy Ghost, to administer “judicial reform” and bring the courts back into conformity with God’s laws? I don’t, as yet, have an answer to these questions. But there is one thing that I am certain of: although the institutionalization of the current church court procedures, in defiance of the written word, poses an obstacle to change, God’s saints have power through faith to rebuke anything they deem offensive, and correct anything they deem incorrect, whether within or without the church, for it is their duty and prerogative to judge all things. So I guess it just comes down to this: will they also judge the church courts and find them wanting?