Being Wise about the Word of Wisdom: Abolishing Dietary Minutiae as Measurements of Righteousness

(The following essay was written by Scott S. Mitchell, a principal contributor to this website.)
Image result for green tea
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “Church”) are required to possess a temple recommend in order to be allowed into the church’s temples to participate in Mormonism’s most sacred rituals and ceremonies. The recommend is signed by two ecclesiastical leaders, and it certifies that the member is sufficiently righteous to enter Mormonism’s holiest place.  The temple recommends are obtained by members meeting with a local ecclesiastical leader.  In those interviews they’re asked questions to determine their religious beliefs, and degree of adherence to LDS commandments.  If found worthy, they must undergo a second interview with a leader possessing even higher authority, who then repeats the same questions asked in the first interview.  If they pass this interview, they receive the temple recommend, which is a little wallet-sized slip of paper bearing the person’s name, membership number, congregations to which he belongs, and the signatures of those who interviewed him. The possession or non-possession of this little piece of paper thus becomes the standard most commonly used by Mormons to determine each other’s level of religious devotion. Church leaders naturally aspire to have all members be “recommend holders.”
The ceremonies and rituals performed in the temple include marriages, which Mormons teach last throughout eternity if the couple lives righteously, but otherwise end at death; special blessings, or “endowments,” wherein individuals are promised exaltation and godhood if they stay faithful; and vicarious works for the dead.   These vicarious rituals, called “ordinances” in Mormon terminology, include baptisms, conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost, washings and anointings, endowments, and marriages for persons who, for whatever reason, didn’t get the chance to participate in them during their mortal lives, but might accept Mormonism’s message in the hereafter.  The belief in the necessity and practice of these ordinances as a prerequisite of exaltation and godhood is fully explained in the essay Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation, elsewhere on this website.
In order to prove oneself worthy to receive a temple recommend, Mormons must certify that they don’t drink coffee, tea, or alcoholic beverages, and do not use tobacco.  This health code, referred to by Mormons as the “Word of Wisdom,” purports to be a revelation Joseph Smith received from the Lord in 1833 describing which substances should and shouldn’t be taken into the body.  It is found in Section 89 of the LDS book of scripture Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”).  Abstention from the proscribed substances is as fundamental to Mormonism’s orthodoxy as abstention from pork is to orthodox Judaism.  In this essay, I will list the numerous reasons why I believe an individual’s consumption of coffee, tea, and moderate amounts of alcohol, or use of tobacco, should have no bearing whatsoever on whether she is deemed  righteous and worthy to enter the temple, or to participate fully in anything else.
Let me first make clear that I fully recognize the benefits Mormons have enjoyed by abstaining from alcohol and tobacco.  Alcoholism can ruin the physical and emotional lives of alcoholics and their family members, and can poison relationships with friends.  It causes deaths  from drunk driving and violence that would otherwise not occur if the drinker were sober.  Tobacco causes cancer to smokers, and sometimes, to those who have to inhale their smoke for extended periods of time, and it damages voices and facial skin.  Because active Mormons avoid these substances, they have avoided much harm to their lives to which smokers and drinkers are more vulnerable.
But it cannot be emphasized enough that all these benefits can be, and are, enjoyed by people of other religions, or no religion, who don’t regard abstention from alcohol or tobacco as a commandment.  Such people don’t abuse substances for the simple reason that they recognize that it’s good for their health not to do so.  In other words, it isn’t the commandment aspect of abstention that brings health and happiness; it’s the benefits the individual perceives will come from abstaining from substance abuse.  If Mormonism made it a rule for me to brush my teeth after meals, and to buckle my seatbelt before driving, would that mean I couldn’t avoid cavities or vehicular injuries unless I became Mormon?  Do we always need a commandment to enable us to care for our own health?
Furthermore, I, a lifelong Mormon myself, have no ulterior motive of de-stigmatizing the use of tobacco, or the overuse of alcohol, so as to assuage my own pained conscience.  I have never drunk alcohol or used tobacco, and don’t plan to start, except to the extent that I might in the future drink wine when partaking of the sacrament as Jesus intended.  I don’t drink coffee, either, though not because I think God would ever care about such an embarrassingly trivial thing.  What I argue for here is abolishing the Word of Wisdom as a standard of righteousness, and relegating it back to what it’s supposed to be–non-mandatory health advice (only part of which is scientifically sound, as discussed below) that individuals can heed or ignore without ramifications for their standing in the Church.
Biblical Accounts of Jesus’ Rejection of Dietary and Health Codes as Measurements of Righteousness
Of course, all religions have a right to determine what rules they deem important. But if Mormonism seeks to emulate Christ’s teachings, it should abolish such requirements as antithetical to his gospel.  It should have done so long ago.  Because this hasn’t been done, a great many Mormons have grown up misunderstanding what their religion is supposed to be all about.  Thus, the first reason to abolish the rules against coffee, tea, tobacco and moderate amounts of alcohol is that Jesus himself made clear that such rules have no place in his church. When confronted by the Pharisees with the fact that his disciples ignored the Jewish religious tradition of washing their hands before eating, Jesus responded by explaining that such health-related practices weren’t spiritually consequential.  In Matthew 15 we read:

11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

12 Then came his disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying?

13 But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.

14 Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

15 Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable.

16 And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding?

17 Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught?

18 But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man.

19 For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:

20 These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.

After Jesus’ departure, in his early church Paul reinforced these same concepts to the Colossians converts to the church, instructing “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink,” explaining that these relics of Judaic law were not part of Christ’s gospel.  (See Colossians 2:16.)

Can there be any doubt that if contaminated food doesn’t spiritually defile a man or woman, coffee, tea, moderate amounts of alcohol and even tobacco don’t spiritually defile them either?  Jesus himself drank wine, and he famously provided six jugs of  of wine for a wedding celebration as his first miracle.  (See John 2:1-10.)  The Pharisees, ever eager to criticize Jesus and his disciples, found fault with the iconoclastic wilderness man, John the Baptist, for not sitting down and eating and drinking with the Jews, alleging he must therefore be possessed of a devil.  But of Jesus, who, like everyone else, did eat and drink with sinners, publicans, and everyone else at meals and feasts, the Pharisees said “Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber. . .”  (See Matt. 11:18-19.)  Jesus rebuked them for this, leaving no doubt that judging a person by what they ingest, or even how much of it they ingest on a particular occasion, was incompatible with his own more elevated gospel–an ethos of heartfelt kindness towards others.

With Jesus’ teachings in mind, we should reconsider the subject of temple attendance within Mormonism.  If, as Mormons believe and teach, temple ordinances are so overwhelmingly important that the consequences of performing or not performing them last throughout the eternities, should an individual’s ability to attend the temple ride on whether she has a cup or two of coffee to start her day, or tea with her lunch, or a glass of wine with her dinner?  If a man invited Jesus to dine with him and offered him beer to drink as part of that meal, would Jesus refuse the offering, giving the reason that he needed to keep himself unspotted from sin?  What if the man smoked a cigar every time a child or grandchild was born, or when his football team won a game, and offered one of those cigars to Jesus to celebrate with him?  Would Jesus abstain for purity’s sake (as opposed to a morally neutral reason such as perhaps not liking the smell or taste of cigars)?  Judging from Jesus’ own words, it is far more likely that Jesus would drink a beer with his host, just like he drank wine with his hosts and disciples, or that he would have no objection, at least  based on health or morality, to smoking one of the man’s cigars to celebrate with him.  (He might refrain because he found it unenjoyable, of course, but even then, he likely would have accepted a glass of champagne as a substitute.)  Regardless, how can Mormons justify denying someone entrance to what is deemed the eternity-altering temple, based on such spiritually insignificant behavior as drinking tea, coffee or moderate amounts of alcohol, or using tobacco?  Doesn’t it make a mockery out of our religion to be so obsessed with such minutiae?  Isn’t it not only unscriptural, but indeed blasphemous, to teach that the same Lord who taught the Beatitudes as the centerpiece of his sermons to the Jews and Nephites, is the one who will deny you eternity’s blessings because twice a day you drink antioxidant-rich green tea?

The Word of Wisdom’s role in adjudging righteousness is even worse than that of merely determining who enters the temple and who doesn’t.  In the endowment ceremony itself, one of the covenants dead people make, through their live temple patron proxies, is to accept the “Law of Consecration” as contained in the LDS Doctrine and Covenants, which is specifically named Thus, the book containing the health and dietary guidelines in Section 89 receives specific formal recognition by God as a book of scripture whose teachings are binding, even on the dead.  Of course, a reading of all the sections of that book, including the parts that may appear to address the “Law of Consecration,” demonstrates that it is not written with the spirits of dead people in mind as its intended audience.  In fact, though the book’s sections, with Section 89 being the perfect example, are clearly instructions for persons with live physical bodies only, the book is afforded preëminent status in the temple’s vicarious rituals for the dead.  The things the Doctrine and Covenants says now become things dead people have to agree to as part of their acceptance of the gospel in the spiritual realm where they dwell.  (In the temple endowment ceremony, the Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim to accept as the keystone of their religion, is not mentioned, either by name or by reference to its content. Even the Bible isn’t mentioned by name, though many of its writings are alluded to throughout the endowment ceremony.)   It thus becomes difficult to argue to an orthodox Mormon that anything in the Doctrine and Covenants isn’t to be taken as greatly important, given the divine specific endorsement of it in the temple ceremony.  It’s not hard to see how Mormons come to regard words about coffee, tea and tobacco to be at or near the center of their religion.  How and why did we ever let ourselves get into this morass of doctrinal absurdity?  It certainly isn’t taught in the Bible or Book of Mormon.

Book of Mormon Teachings on Dietary and Health Codes

The Book of Mormon corroborates Jesus’ strong rejection in his biblical teachings of using physical health guidelines to measure a person’s righteousness.  The Jewish health guidelines, which the Nephites inherited as descendants of the house of Israel, had originated with the law of Moses.  In addition to all its other regulations, this law defined which animals could be eaten as meat and which could not, which parts of edible animals could be eaten, and what combinations of food were permitted or forbidden.  It also decreed such things as when baths and washings should take place, and how long couples had to wait after menstruation to engage in sexual intercourse.  But when Jesus visited the Nephites after his resurrection, he pointedly put an end to the Law of Moses, explaining that its purpose had been fulfilled in him.  (See 3 Nephi  15:2-8.)  The law he replaced it with was his own higher law of inward spirituality, and it contained no dietary or health rules.  Instead, Jesus taught the people to believe in him, repent and be baptized, and continue on with humility thereafter.  He then repeated to the Nephites the Sermon on the Mount which he had delivered in Palestine, which concerned individuals’ obligations of kindness to each other.  In so doing, Jesus also instructed that no additional rules be appended to his new doctrine and gospel.  (See 3 Nephi 9, 11-14 generally, and 11:39-40 specifically.)  With the Mosaic Law now discarded, the health and dietary laws contained within it were also discarded, no more to constitute part of Christ’s gospel.

But by exalting the specifics of the Word of Wisdom to commandment status, and judging our people by what they ingest like the Pharisees did with Jesus and his disciples, Mormonism has invented a new orthodoxy, resembling, at least in spirit, the law of Moses that Jesus did away with.  This recent iteration contains new prohibitions not even found in the original.  (As will be demonstrated below, Mormonism’s new prohibitions, in several instances, don’t even promote better health, despite that being their intended purpose.)  Predictably, the same damage suffered by the Israelites to their understanding of what is religiously important has occurred in modern Mormonism.  We have taught our people to misapprehend what’s important and what’s not.  It’s extremely common for our youth to belittle peers who are different or eccentric in some way, but to nevertheless consider themselves righteous because they don’t drink, smoke or chew.  Some of our most morally righteous members don’t feel comfortable attending church because they can’t seem to do without their morning coffee, or are worried someone will smell tobacco or beer on their breath.  And, as discussed above, we use our rules on coffee, tea, tobacco and alcohol to keep people out of the temple, implying that God himself is arbitrary and capricious enough to hold a cup or two of tea or coffee against us, but not a bucket of fried chicken, or a big steak cooked rare.

The Lack of Logic Behind Mormonism’s Dietary Rules

Mormonism’s dietary rules have also, over time, proven to be illogical, for a number of reasons.  The least important of these is the fact that the wording of D&C 89 cannot reasonably be interpreted to forbid what Mormons are taught it forbids.  D&C 89:9, the verse wherein coffee and tea are supposedly implicated, is surprisingly vague:  “And again, hot drinks are not for the body or belly.”  Section 89 nowhere specifically mentions coffee or tea, but merely, “hot drinks.”  Church leaders have provided a somewhat convoluted interpretation of this term, holding that hot drinks means caffeinated tea and coffee, and even cold, caffeinated ice tea, but not hot drinks containing no caffeine, and not even hot drinks like hot chocolate which do contain caffeine, but not as much as in coffee.  To add to the confusion, even the proscription against caffeine is also only inferred, as that substance isn’t specifically mentioned in D&C 89 either.  In fact, no explanation for why hot drinks would be unhealthful is provided.  Since Section 89 purports to be a revelation from  the Lord’s own mouth, it’s puzzling that the Lord would not specifically name coffee and tea as the harmful substances, or explain why some forms of them are harmful.  The standard practice elsewhere in scripture is that the Lord doesn’t specify all we should do to live righteous lives, but is specific when setting forth that which we shouldn’t  do.  Section 89 seems to be a departure from the normal scriptural pattern.

The failure to name coffee, tea, or caffeine, or to explain why hot drinks do damage to one’s health in any other way than other hot things can harm us, is all the more puzzling when considering that other plant-based foods such as wheat, corn, oats, rye and barley are specifically named, and are recommended for various purposes, in verse 17.  “Pure wine of the grape of the wine” for sacramental purposes is also mentioned in verse 6.  (For more thoughts on the need to use actual wine in the sacrament, as opposed to the current LDS practice of using water, see The Mormon Use of Water Instead of Wine in the Sacrament elsewhere on this website.)  If grapes and wine and five kinds of grain can be specifically mentioned, why can’t coffee or tea?  Logical explanations are hard to come by.  It is just as difficult to argue that the Lord didn’t know the English words for tea or coffee as it is to argue that Joseph Smith wouldn’t have understood those words had they been revealed to him by the Lord.  Neither explanation is logical.

Along these same lines, if this is truly a revelation from God, it’s odd that the Lord would be unable to find any more descriptive phrase than “strong drinks” in verses 5 and 7 to describe all alcoholic beverages.  The Mormon practice of abstaining from all alcohol is based on the assumption that the Lord used “strong drinks” to refer to all beverages containing alcohol other than wine from grapes, which is mentioned separately as useful for the sacrament.  Thoughtful individuals might wonder again, “Couldn’t the Lord be a little more specific?”  There are many strong drinks that don’t contain alcohol, and I’m told the converse is also true; some alcoholic drinks are milder than black coffee, various teas, or liquid medicines.

In addition to using vague words to describe what is forbidden, another illogical assertion in verse 5 is almost too obvious to mention.  There, the drinking of wine is declared to be “not good,” when, as demonstrated above, Jesus and his disciples drank it regularly, and Jesus defended its consumption as having no moral implications.  Perhaps Joseph Smith himself portrayed wine negatively in these verses, without divine input, because of his own father’s tendency to find solace in wine when confronted with what he considered his own frequent failures to lead his family.1  Whatever the reasons, they’re not scripturally based.

Two final problems in relying on D&C 89 as the basis for Mormonism’s health and dietary rules are significant indeed.  The first of these is that the counsel in verses 12 and 13 to eat animal flesh sparingly, or better, “only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine,” is completely ignored in the Church.  No questions are asked in temple recommend interviews whether the church member eats too much meat.  It’s ironic that the overconsumption of meat, which has scientifically proven health consequences, is the one dietary guideline Mormons have chosen to not accept as a measurement of righteousness, and as the guideline they follow the least.  Mormons consume beef, pork, turkey, chicken, duck, pheasant, quail, elk, venison (and of course fish) just as much as anyone else.

The second of these two final problems is the most important of all the ones related to the wording of D&C Section 89.  Verse 2 specifically declares the entire section “to be sent greeting; not by commandment or constraint” but as “the word of wisdom.”  Incredibly, Mormonism’s leaders have done the opposite, making what was at first regarded as unusual dietary guidelines promulgated by Joseph Smith, and mostly  ignored by Church leaders and laity during the 1800s, into full-blown, rigid commandments in the early decades of the 20th century.  It is hard to understand why this was done.  Perhaps church leaders decided that to have a legitimate religion, it was necessary to have a plethora of restrictive rules, as were possessed by the pre-Christian Jews, and the later Baptists and Puritans.  Whatever the reason, the process whereby Section 89 health advice became commandments, which were then used to measure righteousness, required the Church to completely violate the spirit and letter of the express words introducing the guidelines.

D&C 89 is only Partially Reliable as Sound Health Advice

If Church leaders aren’t persuaded that, for moral and doctrinal reasons, they should discontinue using the Word of Wisdom as a measurement of righteousness, they might still be persuaded by recent scientific studies, which demonstrate that the effects of drinking coffee and tea, and moderate amounts of wine (and even some other alcoholic beverages used wisely), actually promote better health.  See, e.g., 10 Proven Benefits of Green Tea – Healthline , wherein it is asserted that green tea is the world’s most health-promoting beverage; Coffee: Benefits, nutrition, and risks – Medical News Today ; The latest scoop on the health benefits of coffee ;  Coffee and health: What does the research say? – Mayo Clinic ; Health effects of coffee: Where do we stand? – CNN –CNN.com ; and Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?

A reading of these articles suggests their conclusions are reliable, as the authors of each of them not only cite to myriad scientific studies, but are careful to point out risks associated with the misuse of coffee, tea and wine.

All in all, when faced with the above arguments, the only plausible reason why LDS Church leaders may refuse to make the changes called for above will be that admitting the church leadership has erred, and that this error has gone uncorrected for almost 100 years, is incredibly painful.  It implies that not all decisions by Church general authorities are divinely inspired, and that some errors they make, whether negligently or on purpose, are of great magnitude and last a long time.  Hopefully, current leaders will be able to prayerfully review their Word of Wisdom-related teachings and practices, ignore ego-driven and face-saving considerations, and simply ask the Lord, “O say what is truth?”  If they do, I believe change will come, and will improve our spiritual health.

 

Footnotes

1. Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2005) 42, 55.

 

The Most Consequential Reason behind Doctrinal Errors Gaining Acceptance in the LDS Church

A careful student of Mormonism’s scriptures will, at some point, inevitably notice a puzzling fact.  The most high-profile teachings of Mormonism, those that most distinguish the LDS Church from other Christian religions, are at odds with the teachings of the Book of Mormon and Bible.  Counterintuitively, the student finds that the  book for which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is most famous–the Book of Mormon, Mormonism’s namesake–has been repeatedly contradicted, upstaged and supplanted by the teachings in two books the Church has canonized–the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price— and by the ideas that resulted from Joseph Smith’s many claimed revelations and heavenly visitations.  Biblical teachings have suffered the same fate.  This observation is the subject of a book currently being written by M.S. Brothers entitled Restoration II:  Defending the Bible and Book of Mormon against LDS Theology.  Orthodox Mormons accept the doctrines and practices promulgated by Joseph Smith, even if the conflict between those teachings on the one hand and the faith’s first two canonical books on the other hand, is obvious upon a comparative reading.

For example, the doctrine and gospel taught by Christ in the Bible and Book of Mormon is dramatically different than the LDS theology of exaltation and godhood through rituals performed in Mormon temples.  This discrepancy is the subject of an essay on his website entitled “Jesus’s Doctrine and Gospel versus Mormonism’s Teachings of Temple Priesthood Ordinances and Exaltation.”

Another clear example is the unequivocal condemnation of baptizing little children found in Moroni Chapter 8 in the Book of Mormon.  But such straightforward message  from the prophet Mormon did not stop Joseph Smith from claiming a revelation from the Lord in which church members were commanded to baptize their children at the age of eight.  As a result, the Mormon Church now practices the baptism of eight-year-olds.  This  discrepancy between straightforward Book of Mormon teachings (which are also strongly implied in the Bible) and current LDS philosophy and practice is addressed in this website’s essay “The Baptism of Eight-year-old Children.”

A third example, though not as important as the ones outlined above or discussed elsewhere on this website, is one that is immediately noticed by non-Mormons who visit LDS sacrament meetings for the first time.  They are invariably surprised to observe the use of water in place of wine in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper.  The Bible suggests “the fruit of the vine” should be used; the Book of Mormon unequivocally requires the use of wine.  But Joseph Smith, after initially accepting the Book of Mormon’s requirement of wine, later claimed the Lord had revealed to him that it didn’t matter which drink was used in the sacrament.  Accordingly, Mormons some 70 years later adopted the use of water in place of wine.   This subject is addressed in this website’s essay “The Use of Wine in the Sacrament.”

Many, many other examples could be cited, and most of them will soon become the subject of essays here if they have not been written about already.  But the question of why Mormons are so willing to accept and adopt Joseph Smith’s revisions and replacements of doctrines taught in the Book of Mormon, even if those doctrines are taught by Jesus himself to be immutable, remains.  In this writer’s opinion, it boils down to this:  Though Mormons purport to accept that Joseph Smith was human and fallible, they absolutely cannot accept that he could be fallible enough to declare his ideas to be revelations from the Lord when they really weren’t.  Other men and women in the church might be guilty of this, and Joseph might have comparatively minor flaws, but, the reasoning goes, Joseph simply couldn’t have THAT flaw.  Mormons are sure that if Joseph Smith were capable of having an idea that originated with him, but which he claimed had been revealed to him as the word of God, spoken in the first person,he wouldn’t be a good enough man for the Lord to have chosen to bring forth the Book of Mormon as a choice seer.

Similarly, and even more steadfastly, Mormons cannot accept the suggestion that Joseph Smith, as opposed to other church leaders and upstanding members, and religious leaders from all other churches, could ever have been capable of claiming a heavenly manifestation or visitation he didn’t actually have.  This would disqualify him as being too sinful for the Lord to use him for the purposes Mormons believe he was used for.

As a result, when a conflict occurs between the teachings contained in Joseph Smith’s claimed revelations and visitations and the clear theology of the Bible or Book of Mormon, the overwhelming majority of active LDS church members adhere to what Joseph taught, and try to ignore Book of Mormon and Bible theology to the contrary.

 

The Mormon Use of Water instead of Wine in the Sacrament

(Note to reader:  The text below was the latter part of a letter sent to seven LDS apostles in late 2014.  No response was ever received.)

Related to the subject matter above [concerning the baptism of eight-year-old children], though admittedly not as important, is the practice of using water for the sacrament instead of using wine as ordained by Jesus.  More should be said on this issue than to merely point out that Jesus, when he ate the last supper with his twelve apostles, used wine to symbolize his blood, saying, “This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  Matt. 26:27-28.  For, after his resurrection, when he instituted the sacrament among the Nephites, he actually commanded his people on how the sacrament should always be administered thereafter, stating that they should use wine in remembrance of his blood.  The two words I’ve placed in italics in the previous sentence aren’t mine; they were actually used by Jesus.  See III Nephi 18: 8-14.  As you know, the sacramental prayer which he ordained for use in this holy ordinance contained the word “wine”, not the word “water”.  See Moroni 5: 2. Jesus never did suggest to the Nephites that water was permissible as a substitute for wine for use in the sacrament, nor did he make any aspect of the sacrament optional, or modifiable to the preferences of later congregations or church leaders.  We read in Moroni 4:1 these unequivocable words:  “The manner of their elders and priests administering the flesh and blood of Christ unto the church; and they administered it according to the commandments of Christ; wherefore we know the manner to be true . . .”

In 1830 the church adopted in every respect the Book of Mormon teaching and practice regarding the use of wine for the sacrament, Joseph Smith representing that this had been received from Jesus Christ.  See D&C 20:78-79.

Somehow, though, Joseph Smith later felt free to produce a purported revelation from this same Jesus Christ contradicting his previous straightforward commandment on how to always administer the sacrament.  In Doctrine and Covenants 27:2, we are told that “it mattereth not what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink when ye partake of the sacrament . . .”  The context of this modification, according to the caption preceding the text of Section 27, is that Joseph had gone to procure wine for a religious service, but returned without it, claiming that an angel had met him along the way and told him his errand was unnecessary, and neither bread nor wine were vital to the ordinance.

One doesn’t have to be particularly cynical to entertain the thought that Joseph Smith’s explanation for why he returned from his errand empty-handed sounds a little self-serving.  But one needn’t reach that issue, since Christ had left no room in the first place to materially alter the symbols used in the sacrament.  He deliberately instituted wine because its blood-like color reminds us of the blood he shed for us. It also helps us recall that he drank wine as he explained the imminent shedding of his blood to his apostles during the last supper.   D&C 27 therefore cannot be authentically from God, unless we believe the teachings of the Book of Mormon were not necessarily for us in the latter days after all, and that though those teachings were originally declared irrevocable by Jesus himself, they were always revocable if Joseph Smith claimed he’d been instructed otherwise.   D&C 27 thus becomes much like D&C 132 and 68 in that it directly contradicts and reverses the teachings of the Book of Mormon.  This is the same Book of Mormon described by Joseph Smith in its Introduction as “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion,” and by Joseph again in D&C 20:9 as containing “the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also.”

(D&C 27 is historically and doctrinally problematic for several other reasons which I’ll not discuss in full here.  These problems are thoroughly covered in H. Michael Marquardt’s 1999 book The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary, pages 72-80.  Among these issues is the fact that none of the thirteen verses of spectacular text after the word “earth” in verse 5 of this 1830 revelation was included in Edward Partridge’s handwritten manuscript version, or in the first three published versions from 1831 through 1833.  The added text only appears for the first time in the 1835 Doctrine and Covenants, and speaks of heavenly manifestations as if they had already occurred before August and September of 1830.  Verse 12 of the 1835 version is the first time Joseph Smith claims he had been visited by Peter, James and John, though the event is inferred by the church to have occurred sometime in May or June of 1829.  Also, the text in verse 11 identifying Adam as Michael wasn’t first taught by Joseph Smith until late 1833, so this appears to be another anachronism.  And though the Bible makes clear Elijah and Elias are the same person, Joseph in verses 6-9 not only represents them to be two individuals who both visited him, but also claims the angel Gabriel to be Elias.  Neither Partridge’s handwritten manuscript, which is held in the LDS Church archives, nor the 1831 text published in the Painesville, Ohio newspaper The Telegraph, nor the church’s  March 1833 Evening and the Morning Star 2 and 1833 Book of Commandments Section 28 versions contained any of this material.)

Using wine in the sacrament would in no wise threaten the sobriety of our otherwise teetotaling LDS Church members, nor inhibit our ability to discourage substance abuse.  Until 1911, Mormon congregations used wine for the sacrament, with no alleged deleterious effects on members.  And, since the dangers of alcoholism are graphically portrayed in the Bible and Book of Mormon, and both books repeatedly highlight specifically the dangers of drinking too much wine, restoring sacramental wine wouldn’t alter the church’s Word of Wisdom emphasis.  Instead, it would add meaning to the emblems we partake of in our sacrament meetings.

Perhaps it is felt that it would be unwise to allow children and teenagers to develop a taste for wine early in life by allowing them to partake of sacramental wine.  This concern for children, which would be expected of any conscientious parent, makes sense.  But it is irrelevant here, because in the church of Christ, children aren’t supposed to be taking the sacrament in the first place.  After instructing the Nephites in the manner of administering the sacrament, Jesus told them, “And this shall ye always do to those who who repent and are baptized in my name,” (see III Nephi 18:11) which automatically excluded children, as we have seen above.  Children don’t understand the gravity of the ordinance.  The result of our current practice is that at a very early age, long before they’ve made any covenant with God, much less understood the gravity of those covenants, the sacrament is trivialized in the minds of LDS children.

The reasons such a large number of our membership become inactive early in life, and stay that way, can be best understood if we imagine the answer we’d get if we asked an inactive Mormon this question:  “Brother Jones, how could you have fallen away from the church, after having made such solemn covenants with God when you were baptized, and having renewed those sacred commitments almost every week for the next four or five years when you took the sacrament?”  Brother Jones would surely respond something like this:  “Well, I didn’t really think about it back then.  I was too young to understand how serious it was to do those  things.  My parents had me baptized when I was eight, and I was probably about two when they started giving me the sacrament.”

May God help us all to discern his truths.

Sincerely,

M.S. Brothers