Saturday, January 17, 2009

Church organization

Some people are bothered by the fact that the church’s current organization isn’t to be found anywhere in the early Xian church, whether in the records of the church in the Mediterranean basin or in the Book of Mormon. Some people say it’s because they didn’t have the fullness of the gospel that we have now, and therefore they didn’t have the organizational structure, but i think there’s an easier way of thinking about it.

After all, there’s nothing that says that we have a “fullness” of church organization right now, any more than any other group did. In fact, it may be like dietary codes—it appears that (at least most) every group of God’s covenant people has had a dietary code, but that they’ve all been different.*

Similarly, it may be that the organization of the church (or equivalent group) has been different at all points, and that’s okay. Or, even more intriguingly, it may be that there have been different titles and roles because they’re all different, with equivalences possible at different levels.

Since i’m an academic, a possible parallel that occurs to me is in academic degrees: The US system has an associates, which doesn’t really have parallels elsewhere, the Scottish and Canadian systems have bachelors degrees that are equivalent to each other but not the US bachelors, which is equivalent to the Scottish masters and the Canadian honors bachelors, while the US masters and Canadian masters degrees are equivalent. Then there’s doctoral degrees, which are thought to divide neatly into professional doctorates like those for law, medicine, dentistry, &c., versus research ones like the PhD, but what about the EdD, which stands somewhere in between? They are, however, all doctoral degrees. And then there’s the MFA, which is terminal but not doctoral, and the DLitt, which is doctoral but in many ways radically different from all the rest.

Maybe church organization throughout history is like all these different systems—due to different needs, there have been different titles used, and they haven’t always been the same, and there have even been completely different structures used. This doesn’t mean one of them reflects a “fullness” of organization, it just means that it’s what was used in that particular circumstance.

* Well, unless you’re one of those people who believes Jesus never drank fermented wine, like some Gospel Doctrine teachers i’ve had (and apparently most of the people i’ve been in Gospel Doctrine classes with, or at least most of the vocal ones). Odd, though, how nobody ever mentions pork when claiming that everybody’s always had the same dietary restrictions…

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