Several years ago, the LDS church president spoke of their ambition to make things less complicated in their church:
I need not tell you that we have become a very large and complex Church. Our program is so vast and our reach is so extensive that it is difficult to comprehend. We are a Church of lay leadership. What a remarkable and wonderful thing that is. It must ever remain so. It must never move in the direction of an extensive paid ministry. But we know that the administrative load is very heavy on our bishops and stake presidents, as well as some others. An awareness of that fact has led the Presidency and the Twelve to hold a number of meetings, some of them long and interesting, in which in effect we have taken the Church apart and then put it together again. Our objective has been to see whether there might be some programs we could do away with. But as we have analyzed these, we have not seen much that could be dropped. To drop one is like giving away one of your children. You haven’t the heart to do it. But I wish to assure you that we are aware of the burdens you carry and the time you spend. In this priesthood meeting I wish to mention a few of the items we have discussed. I think you will note that we have made some progress, although it may be small. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “To Men of the Priesthood,” October 2002 General Conference Priesthood Session).
When he said, “in effect we have taken the Church apart and then put it together again,” although outwardly a commendable notion, there is no consideration to the idea that programs could well be chosen and administered, or abandoned altogether, on the local level without central oversight.
Speaking to his twelve disciples of old, the Lord said:
The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:25-27).
Perhaps it is for this reason that the only result of the LDS meetings to reorganize their structure was, “…that we have made some progress, although it may be small.” Progress towards what end? Perhaps it could be said, instead, that giving up one of their centrally correlated programs was like giving up one of their idols…which throughout history has been ironically difficult for mankind to do, despite the absurdity of worshiping vain things that cannot provide salvation. Without fail, religions that once thrived from direct blessings from heaven, have all eventually dwindled to the point of clinging to their buildings, programs, structures, and traditions when apostasy has set in.
It is evident from the scriptures that the Gospel of Jesus Christ includes sacred oral traditions replete with ceremony, ordinances, and consistency (see Alma 12:9-11). But, care should be taken with temple rites, as much mischief can be done by their misuse (consider Cain vs. Abel, Brigham Young’s polygamy and blood oaths, and see Helaman 6). But, in the proper context, correct rituals can be uplifting, and even essential for our exaltation:
Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed. All must be saved on the same principles. (Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 308).
An altered form of the oral tradition that Joseph Smith began in Nauvoo is available in LDS temples or online for review (see caution below). Because it has been altered over the years, it stands in the category of apocrypha, along with many other works that give insight into the ancient oral tradition of the Gospel (see Masonic rituals, and The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, especially his work on the Lord’s 40 day ministry, and the Egyptian Endowment, etc).
I used to be a Free and Accepted Mason, and I can say I believe Joseph Smith translated Masonry and restored what principles were lost into the beginnings of a format for use by the Priesthood in the last days, much like he translated the King James Version of the Bible…but we have lost much of what Joseph has restored.
There are no “keys” that give any man authority to change ordinances instituted before the foundation of the world, for the Priesthood, that are not intended to be changed. Therefore, changes in the endowment ceremony by definition make the ceremonies, to the degree of change involved, apocryphal, and inclusive of “interpolations by the hands of men” (D&C 91). The word history/definition of the verb form of “interpolation” is:
interpolate (v.) 1610s, “to alter or enlarge (a writing) by inserting new material,” from Latin interpolatus, past participle of interpolare “alter, freshen up, polish;” of writing, “falsify,” from inter- “among, between” (see inter-) + polare, which is related to polire “to smoothe, polish.” Sense evolved in Latin from “refurbish,” to “alter appearance of,” to “falsify (especially by adding new material).” Middle English had interpolen (early 15c.) in a similar sense. Related: Interpolated; interpolating. (see here).
Section 91 expresses principles revealed by the Lord on how to treat Apocrypha, and is worthy of a careful review before attempting to study any text about temple rituals, or to attend an LDS temple itself. In fact, because the rituals are intended to be transmitted in person with heaven’s approval, care should also be taken in reviewing online or written materials. For those who have already received ordinances with heaven’s approval, they can be a useful way to review, especially if the LDS Church has unjustly taken away your temple recommend.
The best current resources for getting at the truth of what is contained in the Gospel’s oral tradition is to read the standard works, Joseph Smith’s teachings, and Denver Snuffer’s teachings (See Denver’s posts here and here where he says in part, “I’m acquainted with all the changes. I have found them all and studied them all. I know all of the many differences.”). Within their teachings are the Savior’s principles that must be applied first in order to prepare for higher, sacred knowledge. That is enough to build upon today. We cannot have more if we do not appreciate and live what we have already been given (see 3 Nephi 26:9 and D&C 88:33). In the chapter entitled “Preserving the Restoration” in Denver’s book of the same title, he says:
There is nothing special about us, but there can be. We do not need hundreds of temples, but will need one to which Christ can come. We will not need to perform endless work for the dead until there has been a covenant made by God with us. We must be first connected to the fathers in heaven. Only then can we do something to liberate the dead. (pp.526-527).
Having activities for youth are great and wonderful, but become an encumbrance and a hindrance to righteous living when idolatry is involved. Parents are not excused from their responsibility to be the primary teachers of the gospel to their children, so any other wholesome program for youth can be substituted for LDS Church programs as the parents supplement with Gospel teaching on their own. If you choose to wade through the idolatry included in LDS youth programs (that encourage youth to “follow the prophet” and to follow LDS leaders), then you face the challenge of contradicting their errors and persuading your children with truth from the scriptures to combat the evil influence of those programs. But, such a course may be worthwhile if you simultaneously want to take advantage of the good left in those programs. The choice is yours. Many parents organize activities for their youth with their friends in fellowships that are just as uplifting and productive. With many having served in LDS callings for years, it is easy to reproduce only the good parts of activities that are developed from wise, divinely inspired orderliness that the LDS have now commercialized and promoted to yield high tithing receipts and participation. It is perfectly OK to opt out of the LDS Church corporation’s versions of the programs and recreate them on your own, according to God’s will. Then you can pick and choose the parts that are the most uplifting and leave behind the dross.
Nothing needs to be chartered and officially sanctioned unless it involves more people than your immediate family. Follow wise principles and get heaven’s consent before important endeavors, and if you do involve a larger portion of the community, get their common consent and avoid getting trapped into false traditions and bureaucratic excesses. Be smart, be safe, be frugal, and be free. If you were once willing to put forth great effort for a calling and to get the praise of leaders, do it again for your family and for the Lord, where not much of your effort will get recognized publicly. This can include ordaining your young men (or old men) to the Priesthood outside of the LDS Church (see Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, pp. 509-515) and encouraging proper preaching, teaching, expounding, and exhorting (see 3 Nephi 14:6). The Lord may call them to service in good and worthwhile organizations that can take them on similar assignments paralleling LDS missionary service (see our post here). The Lord may inspire them to preach in ways more powerful than the limited approach of the LDS for their youth (see Denver Snuffer, Preserving the Restoration, pp. 519). Remember that this movement started with a 14 year old boy being visited by the Father and the Son, who became a 22 year old who began and finished the translation of ancient scripture.
Much of LDS missionary work is babysitting unconverted missionaries. It is an affront to the Lord and a compulsion for some who have no desires to serve God, but seek only to fulfill a family and cultural obligation. The notion that a mission is what a youth needs to get converted is a false and damnable idea. The pattern the Lord outlined is simple and profound: “If ye have desires to serve God, ye are called to the work” (D&C 4). If there is no desire, there is no call. That being said, there are still sincere, and miraculous efforts in the LDS missionary program from those who truly desire to serve the Lord, but remember, there was no MTC in Joseph Smith’s day, and what was likely Joseph’s sealing to Emma was outside of temple walls (see Denver Snuffer, Passing the Heavenly Gift, footnote 10, p. 18).
Although these are general guidelines, and not specific answers to some of the topics in the question, it should be evident by now in our posts that we do not seek to be the final answer on these questions, but to direct the learner to the scriptures and to the Lord. Hopefully you will see the spirit of the scriptures in these posts, and recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd when it has been evident, and be able to face God correctly in your journey forward.
Here are some other noteworthy resources, including a piece about sincere missionary work and inspired resources on how to conduct marriages approved by heaven, matching earlier practices of Latter-day Saints in Joseph Smith’s day:
(Rock Waterman, Where I Went Wrong On My Mission)
(Article on Marriage from the 1835 D&C, section 101)
As other conditions arise that require direction from heaven on how to proceed, such as what to do about Patriarchal blessings, and other important items, heaven can be sought and revelation obtained as God grants it.
Concerning callings, the restraint and balance required of Hyrum Smith by the Lord in regards to preaching is noteworthy in D&C 11, but service to our fellowman is always commendable (See Rock Waterman, The Refiner’s Fire, and D&C 58:26-33).