By and large we are ruled by tradition

I remember reading a Brigham Young talk to the effect that we mostly live by traditions. He said that some of the members may have noticed that he didn’t always come to Sunday meetings. He pointed out that Sunday meetings were something we held because our fathers and their fathers had Sunday meetings. He said that Sunday was really intended as a day of rest, and made the point that our traditions about Sunday meetings actually stand in opposition to what the Lord intended the Sabbath to be, as we made the Sabbath a busy day instead of a day of rest through our traditions.

Now, my point is not so much to discuss what Brigham Young said, as much as to point out that all of us are mostly bound by our traditions. We have a hard time sorting out what is quintessentially the gospel from what is a tradition.

I think it is important to come to terms with that reality.

As things stand one of our strong traditions is that our righteousness is related to what one might call church “company morale”. This has not served us well. Attempting to sort out tradition from truth is actively discouraged among us because that sort of question detracts from church company morale.

Because of this, if one was to recount Brigham Young’s words as if they were one’s own ideas, without crediting their source then we would cause others to assume we weren’t fully committed to the gospel. But of course, they were Brigham Young’s thoughts.

The idea that we always need to say things that are “uplifting” is another of our traditions. Partly because our definition of the word “uplifting” is highly tainted by the ideas of men. Partly because it is a bogus idea in the first place. Much of what Christ said, as well as large portions of what his prophets said does not qualify as uplifting, particularly by the modern criteria. Certainly “give not that which is holy unto the dogs” would not pass the modern muster. If people recognize the quotation, they would make exception for it. But if you state the same thing with words like “Letting people go to the temple unworthily is giving something sacred to a dog” you will fail the modern test that everything we say needs to be uplifting. But you would just be saying what Christ said.

The point is that we not only have a few traditions here or there, but that, as Brigham Young said, by and large the saints are ruled by tradition more than by the revelations and scriptures.

And the reason that matters is that until we admit that, we cannot undo that. We cannot overcome traditions with truth while we have it burned in our mind that everything in the church is perfect and that to question any part of our practice is to question God himself.

So strong are we in this, that we judge the scriptures by our traditions, instead of judging our traditions by the scriptures.

Yes, the twelve and the prophet are leading the church precisely as the Lord wants.

No, I don’t think that means Brigham Young was wrong.

There is a difference between knowing the prophet and the twelve are giving the Lord’s direction to his people and insisting that we are practicing everything in the most perfect way it can be done. To do that, we would need to pay the price. We hardly know our own doctrine. Our doctrine should define our practices. But we don’t know our doctrine, and tradition defines our practices instead. This cannot change until we as a people take our scriptures far, far more seriously than we take our traditions.


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John Robertson

I am nothing more than a regular member of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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