The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism, Part 1: Friendship

In all the recorded sermons and writings of Joseph Smith, Jr. available to us today, only two principles were ever given the lofty title of being a “grand, fundamental principle of Mormonism.” If taken as the pillars of Mormonism, these principles could be considered the definitive essence of Mormonism, comparable to the “Five Pillars” of Islam or the “Four Noble Truths” and “Eightfold Path” of Buddhism. Yet, while most Mormons would be familiar with, for example, the 12 Articles of Faith or the threefold purpose of the Church, they probably could not list the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism enumerated by Joseph Smith within the final year of his life.

Depiction of Joseph Smith, Jr.

Depiction of Joseph Smith, Jr.

What, then, are these pillars of Mormonism? In the summer of 1843, Joseph declared that, “the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may,”[1] and that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.”[2] In addition to these two principles, Don Bradley makes a compelling argument that the principle of relief probably also stood among these grand fundamental principles in Joseph’s mind.[3] While each of these deserves a good look, I would like to dwell on the principle of friendship for the remainder of this essay.

In August of 1842, the Prophet wrote that, “How good and glorious it has seemed unto me, to find pure and holy friends, who are faithful, just, and true, and whose hearts fail not.”[4] On another occasion, he wrote that, “There are many souls whom I have loved stronger than death. To them I have proved faithful—to them I am determined to prove faithful, until God calls me to resign up my breath.”[5] Amidst all the trials and betrayals he had experienced, and perhaps because of those things, Joseph put great value on true friendship. He also felt that friendship could create a heaven wherever it was held: “Animation, virtue, love, contentment, philanthropy, benevolence, compassion, humanity and friendship push life into bliss.”[6] “Let me be resurrected with the saints whether to heaven or hell or any other good place—[where they are is] good society. what do we care if the society is good?”[7]

Beyond the friendships that played important roles in his life, friendship with its consequent brotherhood and sisterhood played an important role in the Prophet’s religious thought. In the Book of Mormon, the foundational document of Mormonism, the Nephite people are visited by the resurrected Christ, who (among other things) declared that, “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.) Contention—the opposite of friendship and unity—was of the devil. Building on the teachings of a series of visits from the Christ, the people of the Book of Mormon built a utopian society where “there were no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people…. And surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (4 Nephi 1:15-16.) Tribal divisions that had formerly existed among the people faded away during this time, being replaced by unity in Christianity: “There were no… Lamanites, nor any manner of ites’ but they were in one, the Children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” (4 Nephi 1:17.) After hundreds of years, this utopian society collapsed, but this was not the last time such a society would appear in Joseph Smith’s restoration scriptures. In his inspired translation of Genesis, Joseph spoke of the people of Enoch, who were called “Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them” (Moses 7:18). These people built a city that was called “City of Holiness, even Zion” which was so righteous, that God took it up into heaven. (Moses 7:19-21.)

Enoch and the City of Holiness, even Zion

Enoch and the City of Holiness, even Zion Image courtesy LDS.org

Together, this dynamic duo of societies demonstrated the ideal that Joseph tried to have the Saints in his day live as they sought to build their own Zion on earth—a people, united in love and friendship. Among the commands given in the voice of the Lord to prepare the Saints to go to the land that Joseph designated as Zion are imperatives such as, “let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me…. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.” (D&C 38:24, 27.) When Zion failed and the Saints were driven out of the land, it was declared to be at least partly because, “there were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances.” (D&C 101:6.) Although the Saints had lost their chance to build the city called Zion for the time being, they still strove to build stakes or outposts of Zion wherever they ended up—a process that, though spiritualized in many way, still continues today.[8]

In addition to the idea of building a physical kingdom of believers united in bonds of love, friendship manifests itself in other core aspects of Mormonism. Salvation, in Joseph Smith’s view, was obtained through covenants and related ordinances, and these covenants of salvation were not only to be made between humans and God, but also between human beings. Most explicit of all covenants of friendship revealed by Joseph Smith, perhaps, was the covenant members of the School of the Prophets made, in which participants greeted each other and declared that, “I receive you to fellowship, in a determination that is fixed, immovable, and unchangeable, to be your friend and brother through the grace of God in the bonds of love, to walk in all commandments of God blameless, in thanksgiving, forever and ever.” (D&C 88:133.) Baptism, for another example, not only involved taking the name of Christ upon an individual but also the covenant to “bear one another’s burdens… mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort hose that stand in need of comfort.” (Mosiah 18:8-9.) In addition, the crowning ordinance to be performed for most Mormons in mortality was and is the sealing, or marriage, ordinance performed in the temple, which not only involves covenants with God, but binds a man and wife as well any children they have or may have together eternally by priesthood authority as well as with covenants to each other.

Fellowship among the Saints was also prerequisite to gain power and reconciliation with God. Joseph told the Relief Society that, “it grieves me that there is no fuller fellowship—if one member suffer all feel it[.] by union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God”[9]  and that, “If you would have God have mercy on you, have mercy on one another.”[10] Likewise, in the version of the Sermon on the Mount preached by the risen Christ in the Book of Mormon, the Christ states that, “Therefore, if ye shall come unto me, or shall desire to come unto me, and rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee—go thy way unto thy brother, and first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I will receive you.” (3 Nephi 12:23-24.) To reconcile with Christ, the Saints must reconcile with each other.

Joseph Smith organizing the Relief Society

Joseph Smith organizing the Relief Society Image courtesy LDS.org

In the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, love and fellowship continue to be central points of belief and practice, though not always couched in the terminology of friendship. Recently, President Thomas S. Monson declared that, “love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar.”[11] In 1999, Elder Marlin K. Jensen of the Seventy declared that, “if the consummate Christian attribute of charity has a first cousin, it is friendship.”[12] In 2006, President Gordon B. Hinckley observed that,

I have wondered why there is so much hatred in the world. We are involved in terrible wars with lives lost and many crippling wounds. Coming closer to home, there is so much of jealousy, pride, arrogance, and carping criticism; fathers who rise in anger over small, inconsequential things and make wives weep and children fear.

Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be….

Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity.

Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.

Later in this same address, President Hinckley plead, “Why can’t all of us reach out in friendship to everyone about us? Why is there so much bitterness and animosity? It is not a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[13] Once again, contention and division are not of God, while friendship and love are.

Gordon B. Hinckley

Gordon B. Hinckley

Looking more specifically, how have Church leaders counselled Mormons to live the principle of friendship in the family, in their faith community, and in interdenominational interactions?

Family

The home is one of the most obvious places to practice the principle of friendship. Elder Marlin K. Jensen offered the following insight:

Like so much of what is worthwhile in life, our needs for friendship are often best met in the home. If our children feel friendship within the family, with each other, and with parents, they will not be desperate for acceptance outside the family. I think one of life’s most satisfying accomplishments for my wife and me is to have lived long enough to see our children become good friends. It’s definitely a miracle that those in our family who in younger years occasionally threatened one another with serious bodily harm now seek out and genuinely enjoy each other’s friendship. Similarly, I think no finer compliment can be paid to parents than to have children say that their parents are among their best friends.

Friendship is also a vital and wonderful part of courtship and marriage. A relationship between a man and a woman that begins with friendship and then ripens into romance and eventually marriage will usually become an enduring, eternal friendship. Nothing is more inspiring in today’s world of easily dissolved marriages than to observe a husband and wife quietly appreciating and enjoying each other’s friendship year in and year out as they experience together the blessings and trials of mortality. A recently published report on 25 years of landmark marital research finds that “the linchpin of a lasting marriage … is a simple concept with a profound impact: friendship.”  In a poignant letter written by the Prophet Joseph Smith to his wife, Emma, during the separations and tribulations of Missouri, he comforted her by saying, “Oh my affectionate Emma, I want you to remember that I am a true and faithful friend, to you and the children, forever.”

Church

Moving on to the church community, Elder Jensen continues:

The inspired organization of the Church also fosters friendships. From our youngest to our oldest years we are in settings where friendship and sociality can flourish. In interviews, meetings, classes, quorums, councils, activities, and a variety of other opportunities for association, we can make friends and find understanding. … 

All of our interactions in the Church are made more enjoyable and productive when they are accompanied by genuine feelings of friendship. A teacher of the gospel, for instance, who doesn’t befriend his or her students will seldom teach with lasting influence and effect. [14]

Mormon Sunday School Image courtesy LDS.org

Mormon Sunday School
Image courtesy LDS.org

In the Church, quorum and class members are encouraged to seek out and build fellowship with other members. The primary ecclesiastical unit, the ward, is often referred to as the “ward family,” indicative of the level of fellowship that can exist therein. After all, it was to the Relief Society in Nauvoo that Joseph grieved that there was “no fuller fellowship” and declared that “by union of feeling we obtain pow’r with God.” Also, in view of the idea of Zion taught by Joseph Smith, the Church can be a great community for friendships to blossom, with brotherhood and sisterhood uniting all in bonds of love.

This can become difficult, however, as diversity of opinion grows. If we are supposed to “be one” or we are not of Christ, how can there be room made for multiple views and discussions within the Church? Ultimately, I believe, that it is in methods and approach to dialogue. Respect, hearing each other out, and kindness are paramount in the process. Many of my thoughts on the subject are summarized here, however, one further comment is that the way that the Quorum of the Twelve functions may be taken as an example of how Church councils should achieve unity. President Lorenzo Snow once taught that, “There is a perfect union in the quorum of the Twelve,” but added a hint as to how that unity had been reached: “there is a way to accomplish that union…. If I were a president of a Stake, I would not rest day or night until I had union with my counselors.”[15] In other words, work and discussion are a part of reaching unity. President Hugh B. Brown recalled that when he was called as an apostle, he was told “to exercise the freedom to speak his mind but always be willing to subjugate his own thoughts and accept the majority opinion—not only to vote for it but to act as though it were his own original opinion after it has been approved by the majority of the Council of the Twelve and the First Presidency.”[16] Any extended survey of minutes from meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency will reveal that there are times of very heated discussion and disagreement, yet friendship and unity may still be seen among the Quorum of Twelve in the end.

The Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency Image courtesy LDS.org

The Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency
Image courtesy LDS.org

Community

At times, it may be difficult to bridge ecclesiastical differences and build friendships with people who believe differently than one’s self. Yet, this was part of Joseph Smith’s vision for this grand principle of Mormonism. In 1842, the Prophet wrote that:

The Mussulman condemns the heathen, the Jew, and the Christian, and the whole world of mankind that reject his Koran, as infidels, and consigns the whole of them to perdition. The Jew believes that the whole world that rejects his faith and are not circumcised, are Gentile dogs, and will be damned. The heathen is equally as tenacious about his principles, and the Christian consigns all to perdition who cannot bow to his creed, and submit to his ipse dixit.

But while one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard; He views them as His offspring, and without any of those contracted feelings that influence the children of men, causes “His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”[17]

Like the God Joseph portrayed here, Joseph taught that Mormons were to reach out, care for, and befriend men and women of other faiths. He declared that, “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die for a presbyterian. a baptist or any other denomination.”[18] Further, in July of 1843—a time when Mormonism was becoming more distant from mainstream Christianity and its teachings—Joseph offered this interesting statement in a sermon that was noted as “a conciliatory address to Strangers & all”:

“Wherein do you differ from other in your religious views?” In reality & essence we do not differ so far in our religious views but that we could all drink into one principle of love One the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may.—we belive in the great Eloheim. who sits enthroned in yonder heavens.—so do the presbyterians. If as a skillful mechanic In taking a welding heat I use a borax & allum &c. an succeed in welding you all together shall I not have attained a good object.

if I esteem mankind to be in error shall I bear them down? No! I will will lift them up. & in his own way if I cannot persuade him my way is better! & I will ask no man to believe as I do. Do you believe in Jesus Chrst &c? So do I. Christians should cultivate the friendship with others & will do it.[19]

“But how truly magnanimous this declaration is,” observes writer Don Bradley, “cannot be appreciated without knowing the origin within scripture of the phrase ‘drink into one.’” Bradley continues:

Outside of the 9 July 1843 sermon, the phrase appears in LDS literature only in 1 Corinthians 12:13, where Paul uses the expression to explain the mystical or metaphorical “body of Christ”:

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13)

Invoking this passage, Joseph Smith conveyed the radical idea that the Latter-day Saints and those of other traditions jointly comprise the body of Christ….

Joseph envisioned a Christendom united by faith in God and Jesus Christ and by mutual love, a contemplated unity which might best be understood on the model offered by Freemasonry. Freemasons have long sought cross-denominational unity, without ecclesiastical integration, based on belief in God, brotherhood, and a commitment to truth and to relieving the needs of the poor.

While advocating Christian unity, however, Joseph clearly did not envision the institutional unification of Christendom, the merging of all church structures into one. He continued to maintain Mormonism’s exclusive claims to authority to perform ordinances or sacraments. Sandwiched between his ecumenical 9 July and 23 July sermons, for instance, Joseph dictated and taught a revelatory text declaring that the sacrament of marriage was eternally binding only if performed by the priesthood of Elijah and that Joseph himself was the one man on earth holding the keys of this priesthood.[20]

In a sermon preached later in the month, Joseph continued the thought of welding all religions together in bonds of friendship by teaching that:

Friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism, [it is designed] to revolution[ize and] civilize the world.—pour forth love. Friendship [is] like Bro Turley [in his] Blacksmith Shop [welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence]…. [If the] Presbyterians [have] any truth. embrace that. [Same for the] Baptist. Methodist &c. get all the good in the world. [and you will] come out a pure Mormon.[21]

Blacksmith shop Image courtesy Wikipediea

Blacksmith shop
Image courtesy Wikipediea

Conclusion

Friendship is on the of grand fundamental principles of Mormonism and ought to be a defining force in all interactions that Mormons have with those inside their families and faith communities as well as with those of other faiths. If applied more fully, as Joseph Smith taught it should be, it would not only revolutionize and civilize the world, but would turn Mormonism into a veritable heaven on earth.

 

[1] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4598-4604). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[2] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[3] See Don Bradley, “‘The Grand Fundamental Principles of Mormonism,’ Joseph Smith’s Unfinished Reformation,” Sunstone April 2006, 32-41.

[4] Joseph Smith, Jr., Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), 461.

[5] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 463

[6] Smith, Teachings of the Presidents, 342

[7] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[8] For further reading on the idea of Zion in Mormonism, I have a four-part series of blog posts starting here.

[9] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 2607-2608). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[10] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Location 2621). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[11] Thomas S. Monson, “Love-the Essence of the Gospel,” General Conference, April 2014

[12] Marlin K. Jensen, “Friendship: A Gospel Principle,” General Conference, April 1999

[13] Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Need for Greater Kindness,” General Conference, April 2006

[14] Marlin K. Jensen, “Friendship: A Gospel Principle,” General Conference, April 1999

[15] Lorenzo Snow, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow (Salt Lake City: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), 197-198.

[16] Hugh B. Brown, Edwin B. Firmage (ed.), An Abundant Life, 2nd ed (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1999), 126-127

[17] Times and Seasons, 15 April 1842, 758

[18] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4592-4596). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[19] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4598-4604). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition

[20] Bradley, “Grand Fundamental Principles,” 37

[21] Cook, Lyndon W. (2009-09-03). The Words of Joseph Smith (Kindle Locations 4714-4719). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition. The brackets are added from clarity, and the longer sections added are taken from the History of the Church rendition of the sermon.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: