The Lord told the Nephites, "For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. (3 Nephi 11:29).
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we proclaim that we have living prophets who provide counsel and instruction to us today in the same way that prophets in the Bible did for the people of their day. For this reason we further declare that because there are living prophets at the head of our church who give us the mind and will of the Lord, this prevents us from falling away from the true teachings of Christ.
As we look at the Christian world we see that it is made up of tens of thousands of different denominations, each one preaching their own brand of salvation based on their interpretation of the Bible. Even within many of the larger, older, and more established denominations, there is much debate and contention about what it is they believe. LDS members are quick to point out that the reason for this is because none of them are led by a living prophet thus "they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness but they deny the power thereof" (Joseph Smith 2:19).
However, it should be noted that the words Jesus spoke in 3 Nephi as quoted above were addressed to the faithful priesthood holders of Christ's church. And what they were contending about were the differences they had between themselves over doctrinal issues (verse 28) which is the same reason why there are dissention and contention between all of the various Christian denominations of today.
But doctrinal disagreements, which leads to disputes and contention, doesn't only happen between churches but it also happens within churches, including the LDS Church. And the reason why is the same in both cases. People interpret the scriptures differently from one another.
The best example of this is the doctrine of salvation. One group quotes Ephesians 2:8,9 which says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast" and then boldly declares that the Bible clearly teaches that works (such as baptism) has no saving power because it is faith alone that saves us. Yet others read this same scripture and agree that we are saved by faith but say that our faith is shown by our works and then quote James 2:26 which says, "Faith without works is dead" to prove that works are an important and necessary part of the process of salvation.
While many members of the LDS Church see others contending over the interpretation of scripture, they declare that this confusion results from not having a living prophet who can give them the true understanding of what this scripture really means. Since living prophets eliminate this kind of confusion, this would seem to indicate that it would also eliminate all dissention. However, that is not always the case because people can interpret the words of living prophets according to their own understanding just as easily as they can the words of ancient prophets.
The purpose of the Church is to perfect the saints by helping them come to a unity of the faith in their belief about the Son of God (see Ephesians 4:12,13). While that is its purpose, the Church is far from realizing it. Even in the early Christian church while there were still living prophets and apostles to guide their understanding of the gospel, Paul marveled at how quickly the churches in Galatia had begun preaching another gospel, complaining that "there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ" (Galatians 1:7,7). To the saints in Corinth he chastised them when he learned "there are contentions among you" (1 Corinthians 1:11). And the situation today is not much different. Even though most LDS members do agree on the basic doctrines of the gospel, it is easy to see that there are many different beliefs within the Church by listening to the comments made in adult Sunday School classes or priesthood meetings.
To better understand this problem, we can relate it to politics. In America we have two political parties - Republicans and Democrats - but, in reality, we have many more. We have a group of people called Moderates and another group called Independents. These are people who vote either Republican or Democrat depending on the issue. Some of them are single issue advocates, meaning that they only care about one particular subject and are not overly concerned about other matters. Then there are others who care about many topics. Some of them consider themselves as being non-extremists and take a middle of the road approach to solving the country's problems and voting for whichever candidate appeals to their values regardless of their party affiliation.
Then there is the Libertarian Party and the Tea Party who disagree with both Republican and Democrat politicians. Although these groups are not official political parties, they nonetheless field their own candidates. Yet, within each of these groups there are still differences of opinion.
For example, the Republican Party is considered to be conservative in their views while the Democrats tend to be liberal in their views. Yet among Republican politicians there are those who are fiscally conservative but not socially conservative while others are socially conservative but not fiscally conservative while others are both fiscally and socially conservative.
In the Democrat party there are those who want the government to immediately take care of every problem Americans face, starting at birth and going all the way to death, while others want the government to only provide help where a problem exists. Both parties take an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States but some interpret the Constitution very strictly, some interpret it broadly, while others don't think it has much relevance anymore.
And the same is true among the members of the Tea Party. While all of their members claim to be staunchly Conservative, yet there are differences of opinion on what the Constitution says and on how to solve the country's problems. Libertarians also staunchly believe in the Constitution as written but they advocate having even less government intervention than does the Tea Party. Even so, there is no uniformity of belief among them.
It is the nature of man to think independently and to assume that everyone will see things the same way they do but this is to believe in something that has never been. And this is just as true with members of the LDS Church. While the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants help clarify many doctrinal issues, they don't eliminate the possibility of people having different interpretations.
Take for example the 89th Section of the Doctrine and Covenants which is commonly referred to as the "Word of Wisdom." In this section the Lord gives us council and instruction on what kind of foods and drink we should or should not consume in order to be healthy. The Church leaders have interpreted the words "hot drinks" in verse 9 to mean coffee and tea. Since both of these liquids contain caffeine, some members of the Church don't drink anything with caffeine in it, such as in carbonated drinks. However, chocolate also contains caffeine therefore some members say that drinking hot chocolate is a violation of the Word of Wisdom, while others go even further by saying that it is a sin to eat chocolate in any form. Then there are those who say that the scripture don't say anything about caffeine and feel it is perfectly acceptable to take foods and drinks containing this ingredient.
There are those who say that the four Standard Works of the Church (Bible, Book of Mormon, D&C, and Pearl of Great Price) clearly show that the Church supports the Libertarian viewpoint that man should not deny anyone their God-given right to freely exercise their moral agency. To them, this means that if someone wants to open a liquor store or an adult bookstore next to an LDS chapel, they should have the right to do so. A Libertarian would argue that for a community to ban such places of business is a violation of a person's Constitutional right to operate their business anywhere they want as long as it doesn't violate someone else's rights.
Yet other faithful members of the Church strongly disagree with this view and both sides quote verses of scripture and cite numerous situations from the Book of Mormon to back up their opinion. And the same happens when citing statements made by the General Authorities. Each side in a dispute will quickly quote any number of statements if it supports their position while the opposing side brushes away such quotes by saying they are only the personal opinions of that General Authority. In this way they can justify their beliefs by declaring that such quotes don't represent "official" Church doctrine.
In the April 1975 General Conference President Spencer W. Kimball asked the members of the Church to take care of and keep in good repair their homes and property. This included such things as fixing "broken fences, falling barns, leaning and unpainted sheds, hanging gates, and unpainted property." Even though faithful members of the Church say they fully sustain the President of the Church, yet some of them felt that President Kimball had no right to tell them how to take care of their own property. In their mind, they feel that the Church should be concerned about the spiritual salvation of man and not be dictating how members should maintain their private belongings. To them, this was a violation of their free agency to act for themselves and not be acted upon.
When the Church had asked LDS mothers not to work outside of the home because their God-given role is to tend to the needs of their children, there were a number of LDS members who disregarded this advise, complaining that it was impractical and out of touch with the reality of their economic situation.
So what we see is that, even though we have living prophets, there are those in the Church who have the strong belief that unless the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve put forth an official proclamation, any other statements made by the General Authorities are merely their opinions and do not have to be obeyed. Some have gone so far as to say that if what a General Authorities says goes against what the scriptures teach then we are not duty bound to follow their teachings. Of course, what they mean by this is that they will only obey the leaders of the Church when their statements agree with what they believe.
On the other hand, there are others who have the strong belief that every word spoken in General Conference is considered to be scripture along with those found in the four Standard Works. Others go even further and treat the words in books written by a General Authority as if they were scripture.
But even an official proclamation hasn't quelled dissent. Although the Church has formally come out against homosexual behavior, there are nonetheless many active and faithful members who do have a sexual attraction to those of the same gender. Many of these people hide their feelings for fear of being expelled from a church they strongly believe in yet, as they faithfully serve, they cannot accept the teaching that homosexuality is a sin or the Church's stand that such an attraction is unnatural and immoral.
Even among the General Authorities themselves, there can be much disagreement. Perhaps the most famous of these was a dispute between Joseph Fielding Smith when he was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and B.H. Roberts when he was a member of the First Quorum of the Seventies. Both of these men were eminent scriptural scholars and yet they had very strongly held opposing views on a particular subject.
Therefore, it is abundantly clear that even among people who share similar beliefs and who live righteous lives, and are guided by living prophets, there is always going to be disagreements. To expect otherwise is to expect the impossible. And, in nearly every case, each side is usually convinced that what they believe is the truth. In that case, it follows that if someone disagrees with them then it is always the other person who doesn't understand the "truth." And it is this human tendency that Satan exploits to stir up the hearts of men to content one with another.
But only God knows the truth of all things while we, as children of God, are striving to learn what He knows. Truth is not subjective. Instead, it is objective. That is to say, truth is not subject to what man thinks it is but rather truth is the object of man's quest. As such, man doesn't define truth, he discovers it.
And even when we think we have discovered truth, that may not be fully accurate. For example, for thousands of years the best scientific minds were convinced that the earth was flat and sat in the center of the universe where everything in the heavens revolved around us. To them, that was an absolute truth. But as mankind gained more knowledge, that view began to change and the more we peer into the heavens and the more we discover, the more our understanding of the universe changes.
However, real truth is absolute. It is what it is and it doesn't change. What does change is our perception of truth. When we get into arguments with others who don't agree with our viewpoint we are, in effect, saying that we know , with absolute certainty, that what we believe is the pure truth. And then what happens all too often is that we feel it is our responsibility to correct the other person's lack of understanding. But, in reality, what actually happens is that we try to force our understanding of what we think is truth onto someone else and try to compel them to accept our version of the truth.
This can happen even among good, faithful, righteous members of the LDS Church. Perhaps it may happen over a doctrinal issue, or a political point of view, or a procedural process, or among husbands and wives or parents and children concerning marital, financial or other domestic issues but at its core every disagreement happens because one person thinks they know the truth and that the other person doesn't.
As stated early, the only Person who really knows the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth is God and He has stated, "I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27). The only way we can be one with each other is to be one with God because when we become one with God then we can come to know the truth as He knows it.
But how can people who have such differing opinions of what they think is the truth become one with each other?
In the 107th Section of the D&C the Lord explained the organization of the church. He said it would be governed by three Presiding High Priests forming the First Presidency along with twelve traveling High Councilors who would form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and that there was to be another quorum of the Seventies. Then He explained "And every decision made by either of these quorums must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions, in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other" (verse 27).
Knowing how nearly impossible it is to get people to agree with one another, how do these fifteen or more men, each with their own opinion, come together and unanimously agree on each and every decision they make? The answer is that they come to a consensus rather than a compromise.
In a compromise everyone has to give up something they each want for something they don't want in order get an agreement. Under this system nobody is totally pleased with the final decision but each person reluctantly accepts the final settlement because they think it is the best they can expect to get at the moment.
But in a consensus people continue talking to one another until they can all come to an agreed upon and agreeable decision. In this situation, everyone is fully happy with the final result. However, for such a method to work each participant must have an open mind and a humble, teachable heart. In the First Presidency and in the Quorum of the Twelve , these men not only discuss their differences openly and listen to one another's comments with a desire to find the best solution, but they also humbly seek for the Lord's Spirit to impart His wisdom to their deliberations. Thus, when the final decision has been made, they not only are in agreement with one another but they are also in agreement with God because they have sought for and obtained His wisdom.
This same method can also be effective in resolving differences of opinions between husbands and wives, parents with older children, priesthood brethren, and anyone else who has strongly held beliefs that differ from others. However, not everyone we disagree with will have an open mind or a humble heart and when that is the case then it is highly unlikely that people will be able to arrive at a consensus. When that happens then we must rely on our knowledge of three absolute truths.
The first truth is that it is natural and to be expected that others will have opinions different from our own. When we expect others to agree with us and they don't, then we can easily find ourselves becoming frustrated and angry. The second eternal truth we must always remember is that contention is of the devil. We may be totally convinced that our position is based on absolute truth but when we find ourselves striving to convince someone else that their position is wrong we can expect that they will most likely do the same with us. Unless one or both people make a deliberate and conscious effort to keep the discussion calm, it is as certain as the sun coming up in the morning that it will eventually degenerate into an argument. When that happens, we invite the devil to join in on our conversation, which he is most anxious to do.
The third and most important truth of all to remember is that "God is love" (1 John 4:7). Where the devil is the author of contention, God is the author of peace. Where the devil is the author of dissention, God is the author of harmony. Where the devil is the author of anger, God is the author of love. As believers in Christ, our professed goal is to become like Him whom we worship and to do that we must learn to emulate His character by becoming a person of peace, a person who seeks to create harmony, and a person who shows forth love with patience, longsuffering, meekness, and gentleness.
In our day the Lord has commanded us to "cease to contend one with another, cease to speak evil one of another" (D&C136:23). When we learn to do this then we are loving our neighbor as ourselves and are drawing closer to becoming one with God.
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