February 26, 2010

Welch- BoM as Keystone of Church Administration and Organization

Notes from the 2010 Church History Symposium [Bushman's are forthcoming]

John W. Welch, "The Book of Mormon: The Keystone of Our Church Organization and Administration" 

(Right click here and select "save as" to download Welch's handout.)

Wading upstream against a river of historical studies that argue the surprising lack of prominence given to the Book of Mormon by early Church members, Welch argues that the book is the keystone and foundational document of organization and administration in the Church. The elements of organization are scattered among expressed words, revelations and experiences of Nephite leaders and people. The alert reader can assemble beneficial principles, practices and procedures that are consummate with mind and will of Lord as seen in the BoM. Welch seeks to identify them and argue that earliest readers followed BoM as an administrative handbook precisely and sometimes explicitly. He builds his case from textual, practical, and historical details.

After 1829 the BoM became main revelation of the new Church, the authoritatively binding document for the  fledgling church. How could early members embrace it without taking its teachings seriously, including admin guidelines, he asks.

Modern LDS may not recognize the influence. Most people paid little notice to this essential role of BoM when writing history. Reasons BoM overlooked: Admin history not focused on often, or researchers were not well enough versed in it, or overlooked the elements, or may relegate BoM to separate cateogory of documents to spend more time with letters and journals. This is understandable, BoM not written as historical document in same sense. But writers of BoM spoke to readers, assuring them they had seen the modern day and were writing for their benefit. How could a reader not see those words as applying to them? When decisions are made today we don’t always make it explicit, don’t refer to directly to hdbk.

People should no longer ignore elephant in room, the BoM, as a persitent and even dominant source of early administrative genius.


Exhibit A: Articles of the Church of Christ, 1829.
--told a little about the "interesting background" to this document, revelation by Oliver Cowdery, never publicly used. The earliest step in preparing an admin handbook for church. He places its reception after JS and OC had translated 3 Nephi and Moroni, OC was on fire to build up the church. Gather out of 470 original mss. pages of BoM the basic instructions and guidelines around which to administer in the church. Selection process a daunting task. Must have been aided by HG to remember where admin. matters found. Included 3 Nephi 9, 11, 18, 27, Moroni 3-6 with isolated phrases from other passages. Clearly influenced directly by BoM.

Exhibit B: Article sand Covenants of Church, which would become D&C 20.
The first official handbook for the Church. Does not believe the earlier one was a draft of sec. 20. but it has similarities drawing directly from BoM.

Exhibit C: McLellan and Woodruff journals
Hard to divest selves of modern view of church. back then didn’t have primary, relief society, meeting houses, etc. but they did have the BoM. Until 1835 there wasn’t much else in print, in LDS Library. On 33 different documented occasions McLellan spoke from BoM, and on other occasions spoke on sec. 20. 1832, spoke on the “utility” of BoM. practices and doctrine. McLellan responded once to a sermon by Boynton noting he  had not mentioned BoM, which was poor form. Probably better known and used in early formative days of church than we often have realized. It was the only Mormon book at the time.

Exhibit D: Selected Administrative Directives Found in the BoM
These examples are often presumptive, implicit early uses of the BoM, showing overall conformity to these principles to modern day instructions.

Welch provided a four page document with examples from the BoM, noting some of them may be stretching. Download it here


Sione said...

I think his assertion is tenable, but I also think that the Church's institutional organization around the 1830's, could just as easily be linked to protestant organizations of the time. I think Bushman addresses a few similarities between the two in RSR. I'll look for a ref.

BHodges said...

I think it's oversimplistic to argue that the BoM is largely responsible for the org. of the early Church. What about influence of environment in the translation itself, for example? At the same time I think there are some significant things the BoM added, like ordinance prayers, etc.

In all, I think Welch's paper is interesting but insufficient.

the narrator said...

While I do think the the BofM was used in many ways as a source for organizing the Church, the difficulty is that the organization of the church in the BofM seems to be based on 19th century Protestant models.

Where the BofM seems to clearly not be the keystone/foundation is later Mormon theology, where nearly every distinctive LDS teaching (pre-existance, temple endowments, theosis, post-mortem evangelization, rites for dead, eternal families, a clear separation of deities, God the Father being embodied in flesh, priesthood separations, three-degrees of glory, etc) are absent in the BofM. Instead nearly all scriptural proof-texts for these are located in the Bible.

J. Stapley said...

Hm. Without seeing the whole presentation, I am somewhat surprised that an argument that the Book of Mormon was more influential than say Methodism in early Church administration would be persuasive.

David G. said...

While I agree that Welch probably takes the argument too far, I don't think it can be denied that BoM administration did influence the Articles of the Church of Christ and its subsequent iterations. Faulring's work has established that, so I don't think Welch is that off-base to claim that early Mormons did use the BoM in their administrative development, if not in their public preaching. Now, you could argue that Methodist discipline influenced the administrative language in the BoM, but that doesn't negate the point that the early Saints were using the BoM text more than has perhaps been recognized historiographically.

J. Stapley said...

I agree, David. It is very important. Part of the disadvantage of not attending is not getting a fair picture of what is presented.

W. V. Smith said...

I'm not sure I understand why Welch devalues the OC version of the Articles. The 1830 version is clearly dependent. Cowdery's reaction to JS's later alterations suggests this too, I think. Tvedtnes gave a much earlier and I think maybe more coherent version of BoM and early church gov.

BHodges said...

I'll scan Welch's handout and add it soon. My general impression was that Welch was arguing for a much larger influence by the BoM than I would; the data could be read very differently depending on one's theory of BoM translation, for example. I enjoyed his challenge, though.

BHodges said...

Added the scan on 1 March 2010.

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