To be up front and honest, there is a talk given by Elder Boyd K. Packer titled “the Unwritten Order of Things”. It was given at a BYU devotional in October of 1996. In this talk he discussed how there are things, norms if you will, that are, or should be, just common knowledge in the Church that are not in manuals or scripture (i.e. not doctrine), but ‘suggestions’ from an apostle as to how things ought to operate. The clearest example he gives of this in his talk is that one who presides at a meeting should sit on the stand, and that the Bishopric should always sit with the Bishop in the middle with the first councilor on the right and the second councilor on the left. He discusses a few other things and suggests that if we wish to be in line with this ‘Unwritten Order’ that we watch and learn from the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 and mimic their actions, dress, attitudes and behaviors.
That’s all great and I agree…mostly.
I agree with the premise of his talk that if we want to be sure that we are behaving and acting our best, we should literally ‘FOLLOW THE PROPHET’ and we can’t go wrong. Where I take issue with the notion of the unwritten order is when people start to attribute other things with this ‘order’ and then equate it with the level of faith an individual has. They insinuate that if a person is more righteous, he will live a ‘higher law’ that is not written down…but still shows his greater faith.
With all due respect to President Packer, I can sum up my feelings about ‘unwritten’ doctrine in one easy sentence: “If it isn’t written down, then there is probably a good reason why it isn’t written down.” Following some kind of ‘secret’ or ‘unwritten’ law is, I believe, the pathway to apostasy.
2 Nephi 26:23 “For behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you that the Lord God worketh not in darkness.”
The way the Lord works isn’t via secret signs and combinations, but rather in light and full disclosure. There is little in Church doctrine to support that there is some ‘higher-unwritten law’ that falls to the extremely righteous to uphold and sustain.
In fact, I’d contend that if Pres. Packer gave this same talk today, many aspects of it would be altered to accommodate changing culture and norms and the new handbook of instructions. In fact if you read the actual talk you will see that it has more to do with how we behave at Church than with how we live our daily lives.
Here are just a few examples of things that are commonly attributed to the ‘unwritten order’:
1) White shirt and tie = the Uniform of the Priesthood
2) The right had being the ‘covenant hand’
3) Ban on facial hair on men serving in leadership positions.
4) The addition of anything containing caffeine to the Word of Wisdom.
5) Ban on viewing R rated films
These are just a few of the most common things that are used to judge the faith of another and often become an ‘understood requirement’ for worthiness and devotion…even though it is not official Church doctrine…leading, I believe, to levels of apostasy.
I’ll address these one by one.
1) The White shirt and Tie = the “Uniform of the Priesthood”.
This is a widespread and common belief, with many attributing this concept to the apostles and prophet. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, the apostles have on many occasions decried the notion that our YM should be wearing any kind of ‘uniform’ in the performance of their priesthood duty. There is no such thing as a ‘uniform of the priesthood’. This is a false notion.
“That simple suggestion is not intended to be pharisaic or formalistic. We do not want deacons or priests in uniforms or unduly concerned about anything but the purity of their lives.” (Jeffrey R. Holland – Gen. Conf. Oct. 1995 – following his oft quoted message about wearing white shirts while passing the sacrament)
“let us consider the ordinance of the Sacrament. It became the custom in many wards throughout the church to have the young men who passed the Sacrament all dressed alike with dark coats, white shirts and uniform ties. This could in time lead to the established custom of dressing them in uniform… if we are not careful, (we) will find ourselves traveling the road that brought the Church of Jesus Christ in the first centuries into disrepute and paved the way for the apostasy.” Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church, 1946-1949), 1:103.
The General Handbook of Instruction (Book 2) clearly states that a boy should be neat and clean in appearance and that white shirts are encouraged but not mandatory, nor should a young man be excused from using his priesthood if he is not wearing a white shirt.
I often have people say to me that it is terribly distracting to them to see a YM passing the sacrament in a shirt that isn’t white. I always feel like saying “Really? You have such little control over your own thoughts when you are supposed to be focusing on your own weakness’ and repentance that the color of a boys shirt has thrown you off your worship? Can you hear yourself?” I don’t say that…but I can’t help but wonder where the heart is that thinks a persons attire has ruined their ability to worship. (Think Zoramites on the Rameumptum casting out the poor from their synagogues because of the ‘coarseness of their apparel’.)
I firmly believe that when you focus on the heart, and properly teach a YM to take the gospel into his heart, his appearance will not be an issue.
2) The Right hand is the ‘covenant hand’.
This one is another one that has no basis in doctrine. That our right hand is often used in the making of covenants is true, but if you think about it…so is our left hand (think temple ordinances) our feet, head and other body parts.
I once witnessed a baptism where the man performing the ordinance mistakenly lifted his left arm to the square. Nobody caught it at the time and it was only mentioned afterward. I consulted the General Handbook of Instructions…and it does not specify which arm is to be used in the ordinance and neither does the D&C. So did that invalidate the ordinance? NO. (as a point of interest…you really don’t even need to be dressed in white to perform baptisms…)
Nowhere does it say that you can’t take the sacrament with your left hand. This is a falsehood.
3) Facial Hair on men serving in leadership positions.
Last summer I spent a great deal of my summer camping with young men and my family. After a few months I had a pretty good beard. This seemed to disturb many who questioned how I could have a beard and serve in the bishopric? Many asked how the Stake Pres. felt about that and I answered with "Well, the last time I home taught him, it didn't bother him". It is odd to me that so many feel that this is part of the ‘unwritten order’ of things. And that to have facial hair on a church leader is ‘inappropriate’.
That word ‘inappropriate’ always makes me laugh because it is entirely meaningless and is a catch all that really means “I personally don’t like what you do and so to make you feel bad I’m going to use a big, meaningless, official sounding word to drive my point home.”
Personally I believe to force a leader to shave is in the vein of exercising unrighteous dominion by using compulsion to make a man bend to his will for no real reason.
There is no ban on facial hair nor does having a beard or moustache limit your ability to serve in the church or diminish your testimony of the gospel. To judge otherwise is to be pharisaic on our parts.
4) The addition of anything containing caffeine to the Word of Wisdom.
Somewhere, at some point, some church leader suggested that Coke wasn’t a good thing to drink. That statement was later re-canted but the ‘unwritten’ law continued to grow to include any caffeinated beverage. To have a Pepsi in your hand is nearly as bad as a Bud Light!
While the Word of Wisdom has never specifically been explained by revelation (we don’t know the specifics as to why Heavenly Father has told us to not partake of those particular substances) many well meaning members of the church have scoured medical information for possible explanations as to why these substances might be banned. Good information to be sure…but not revelation.
What the Word of Wisdom does teach us is that it is given to us “In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days…” this is the WHY for the revelation. Simply put: people want your $ and they don’t care if what they produce is harmful to your body, so long as you pay them for it. If a side consequence is that you become addicted to their product, so much the better because then you will continue paying them for it. By that definition, I could argue that Facebook, texting and video games are contrary to the word of wisdom more so than a soda pop.
By the way, if you are truly concerned about the health benefits, soda pop is about the worst thing you can drink (actually these so called Energy Drinks are far more dangerous, but pop is a close second). See my comments here on the negative effects of sodas. BUT…those sodas are not prohibited by the Word of Wisdom.
5) Ban on R-rated films
This was once a statement from leaders in the 1970’s I believe. At the time an R-rating was synonymous with a virtually pornographic film.
Since that time the film industry has altered/added ratings and subtly injected objectionable material into films of many ratings. At the same time the Church has grown world-wide into many countries that do not use the same rating system that is common in the USA. So this statement, I believe, isn’t very applicable any more.
Does that open the door for us to rush out and see R-rated films? NO. What I suggest instead is this: that there is a TON of trash out there in all forms of media and just because a film does not carry the R-rating, or a show is on regular TV doesn’t mean that it is OK to see either…especially for kids. I am constantly ASTONISHED at the garbage that otherwise intelligent people unleash into their homes.
While I’m on the topic…I’d like someone to explain to me why some members are fanatic about the “R” rating on films but don’t seem to be bothered by the “M” rating on video games?
This list could go on and on with many examples of these supposed ‘unwritten’ laws of the gospel. The bottom line is that our Church is not one of secrets and undisclosed doctrines. I once heard a quote that “the Gospel of Jesus Christ is simply beautiful and beautifully simple.” We each are doing the best we can to come unto Christ and allow others this same opportunity…with each progressing at the best rate that they can. (another great quote I’ve heard is that “If we were really doing our jobs as representatives of Christ, our chapels would be filled with many different colors of shirts and it would smell of cigarettes…because ALL would feel like they were in the right place to repent and seek Christ”)
Our job as priesthood holders/leaders/ministers/WARRIORS is to do what we can to assist them along the way with the genuine love, encouragement and example that the Savior would offer if he were there, not through pharisaic adherence to false principles. We each need to look inward at our own shortcomings and faults and seek to correct and perfect them the best way we can. Then as WARRIORS, we seek to help our brothers.
“What is the common warrior trait? Even in great pain, faced with the test of their lives, they (SEAL’s in training) had the ability to step outside of their pain, put aside their own fear and ask: ‘How can I help the guy next to me?’ They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a ‘heart’ large enough to think about others, to dedicate themselves to a higher purpose” (The Heart and the Fist – by Eric Greitens – US Navy SEAL)
NO FEAR – NO WHINING – NO REGRETS