A recent post on By Common Consent was highly critical of the Church’s recent actions meeting with Mormon Women Stand and being unwilling to meet with members of Ordain Women. In particular, one part of the post stood out to me:
This raises an interesting question for those who lead the church, and therefore—according to the doctrines of the church—speak for Christ. Are we more concerned with boundary maintenance than universal care for souls? Is boundary maintenance the more Christian choice? Are we so certain about the eternal rightness of our cultural attitudes about gender that the loss of these souls from our fellowship is worth rigidly and publicly enforcing those boundaries?
I posted a comment on the post, but I felt strongly enough about my response that I wanted to make a post here and perhaps elaborate a little bit more fully. Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:
Boundary maintenance, as you put it, is essentially the reason that we have Prophets and Apostles that we may “be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness . . .” Without Prophets and Apostles clearly explaining God’s will and enforcing it, it is so easy to drift almost unnoticed into apostasy. If we read Paul’s letters or the other epistles, they are essentially engaging in acts of boundary maintenance. Paul is responding to a heretical practice that arose and telling the members in the name of Christ to stop. Some of those practices critiqued may have in their day seemed petty or illogical (buying food that had been sacrificed to idols, eating blood, etc), but they were seen as essential for the perfecting of the saints and the progress of the kingdom of God. The result of members ignoring this advice was apostasy, at first individual and ultimately collective. Ultimately the people of Christ’s time lost the Apostles because they would not Hearken and considered their words to be uninspired or a thing of naught.
The more I have reflect on this comment, the more I have become convinced. Many have remarked about the alleged “inconsistency” in Paul and James discussion of faith v. works. Some have suggested that these Apostles had a different understanding of fundamental theology. I have always found a more charitable answer far more plausible. Each was writing in response to the particular heresies and challenges that faced the members they counselled. Those to whom Paul wrote had failed to understand grace and felt that they could rely solely on their works. James was instead writing to those that believed that Grace allowed them to neglect good works and to enjoy their “christian liberty.” Both of these extreme positions were misguided. Grace and works both were necessary components of the faith. Paul and James both warned members who had embraced extreme ideas outside of the boundaries of the Christian faith.
Every general conference, we listen to the Prophets and Apostles warn us to not stray from the core doctrines of the Gospel. We frequently hear talks reminding us to avoid the philosophies of man and the doctrines of the world. We hear both reminders of the importance of faith and the examples of the importance of Christian service and works. Like those in the time of Paul and James, some members suffer from too much emphasis on works, while others claim to have faith but fail to follow through and act upon what they claim to believe. The Apostles tend to preach the middle ground because each of these extremes come as a perversion from Satan.
We see extreme examples of this in the heresies of the early Christian period and the Book of Mormon. For instance, the Gnostics embraced the beautiful teachings of faith in Christ, but perverted true teachings of the importance of our physical bodies. The Zoramities in the Book of Mormon likewise embraced a faith of being a chosen people of God, but took it to the extreme of excluding all others from God’s graces. It is in these appeals to extremes that Satan triumphs.
Thus, the Apostles and Prophets of all generations have been engaged in “boundary maintenance.” This is because of the seductive allure of extremes. For instance, focusing on Grace and Christ’s message to love others and not judge is alluring and necessary. His mercy and charity is at the core of the Gospel. Yet, Satan loves it when we focus solely on these teachings and forget that Christ also urged us to keep his commandments and to be perfect. I am so grateful to have Apostles and Prophets willing to search for that perfect balance between mercy and justice and to urge each of us to seek that balance through faith and prayer.