The Gospel and the Church
Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the Seventy

Posted on 7/22/2002 at 11:42:18 AM

[Editors Foreword:

The thousands of LDS Church members who attended the October 1984 General Conference, who watched it live on their televisions, or listened to it being broadcast on the radio, had the opportunity of hearing Elder Ronald Poelman give what some considered to be the best talk of the conference. What a surprise it indeed was for some of them to discover a heavily revised version of his remarks in the Ensign the following month, which differed substantially from the sermon they had originally heard and from the excerpts given in the Church News.

Of course, most members of the Church – living outside of America - wouldn’t have had the opportunity to watch the conference live, and therefore would of relied on video tapes shown at their Stake Centres. Those who watched such tapes, however, would remain unaware that a change had been made in Elder Poelman’s talk, due to the fact that following conference he was re-filmed giving the altered version of his speech in the tabernacle, and it was presented in such a way on the video that it would seem to viewers as if he was speaking live.

It has been the good fortune of the editor to have obtained a copy of the original address, so that our readers can decide for themselves what Elder Poelman’s superiors found so offensive in his sermon. We have also numbered the paragraphs to allow easy reference to a list of changes given at the end of this talk.]

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the two and to [not] comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme cases, disaffection.

2 As I attempt to describe and comment upon the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church, it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our individual lives.

3 The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.

4 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a divine institution, administered by the priesthood of God. The Church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.

5 The gospel is the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is the delivery system that provides the means and resources to implement [God’s] plan in each individual’s life.

6 Procedures, programs, and policies are developed within the Church to help us realise gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures do change from time to time as necessary to fulfil gospel purposes.

7 Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles contained in the scriptures. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we become less dependent on Church programs. Our lives become gospel centred.

8 Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity.

9 The conformity we require should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual. It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

10 The source of this perspective is found in the scriptures and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganised and untidy format. The Lord could have presented the gospel to us in a manual, systematically organised by subject, perhaps using examples and illustrations. However, the eternal principles and divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions.

11 In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures, regulations, and ceremonies were utilised - all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not.

12 Through scripture study we may learn eternal principles and how to relate them to institutional resources. As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we can better utilise the restored Church to learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

13 A favourite scriptural source for me is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals, and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us. It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone.

14 It is interesting and enlightening to read the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices.

15 In the first two verses we read, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel.” (Lev. 19:1-2.) Here is the principle of revelation. God speaks to his children through prophets. He does so today.

16 Continuing, the Lord said to Moses, “Say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2.) Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Here is an eternal gospel principle.

17 There follow other eternal principles, some from the Ten Commandments. Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances.

18 For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, namely, providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (See Lev. 19:9-10.) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern: those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity.

19 In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught, accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day. Generally, today that rule is not necessary. The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices.

20 Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming. It is clearly not applicable to us. However, we also have standards of dress and grooming. Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and share gospel principles.

21 The principle of forgiveness is set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great Commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” with the added divine imprimatur, “I am the Lord.”

22 Every Church member has not only the opportunity right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church.

23 Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to study, prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilising the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment.

24 Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we understand the difference between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. institutional discipline is replaced by self-discipline. Supervision is replaced by a righteous initiate and a sense of divine accountability.

25 The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values, principles, and Interpretations, but to learn and live the eternal truths of the gospel. Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God.

26 My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training, and experience most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason. I continue to do so. However, that which I know most surely and which has most significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.

27 By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and that he is the Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us. Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance, and sacred covenants.

28 May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel utilising fully and appropriately the resources of the divine, restored Church.

29 In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran “May [we] rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.” (Alma 61:14.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

An Overview of the Alterations made to Elder
Poelman’s Sermon

Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine. However, there is a distinction between them which is significant and it is very important that this distinction be understood. Of equal importance is understanding the essential relationship between the two and to [not] comprehend their proper relationship may lead to confusion and misplaced priorities with unrealistic and therefore failed expectations. This in turn may result in diminished benefits and blessings and, in extreme cases, disaffection. Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ are true and divine, and there is an [essential relationship] between them that is significant and very important. Understanding the proper relationship between the gospel and the Church will prevent confusion, misplaced priorities, and failed expectations [and will lead to the realisation of gospel goals through happy, fulfilling participation in the Church. Such understanding will avoid possible] disaffection [and will result in great personal blessings].

4 "The Church … is a divine institution" was changed to "is the kingdom of God on earth"

5 "The Church is the delivery system" was changed to "is divinely commissioned to provide"

6 "procedures do change" was changed to "procedures may be changed"

7 "we become less dependent on Church programs" was changed to "we can more effectively utilise the Church to makes our lives increasingly gospel centred"

8Sometimes traditions, customs, social practices and personal preferences of individual Church members may, through repeated or common usage be misconstrued as Church procedures or policies. Occasionally, such traditions, customs and practices may even be regarded by some as eternal gospel principles. Under such circumstances those who do not conform to these cultural standards may mistakenly be regarded as unorthodox or even unworthy. In fact, the eternal principles of the gospel and the divinely inspired Church do accommodate a broad spectrum of individual uniqueness and cultural diversity. [The eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures. Therefore, as we live the gospel and participate in the Church,]
9The conformity we require should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles and eternal law, including free agency and the divine uniqueness of the individual.

It is important therefore to know the difference between eternal gospel principles which are unchanging, universally applicable and cultural norms which may vary with time and circumstance.

… the conformity we require [of ourselves and of others] should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles, eternal law, [and direction given by those authorised in the Church].
10The source of this perspective is found in the scriptures and may appear to be presented in a rather unorganised and untidy format.

The Lord could have presented the gospel to us in a manual, systematically organised by subject, perhaps using examples and illustrations. However, the eternal principles and divine laws of God are revealed to us through accounts of individual lives in a variety of circumstances and conditions.

[A necessary] perspective is [gained by studying and pondering] the scriptures. [Reading the scriptures, we learn the gospel as it is taught by various prophets in a] variety of circumstances, [times, and places. We see the consequences as the gospel is accepted or rejected by individuals and as its principles are applied or not].

11-21 regarding the Biblical book of Leviticus remain essentially the same.

22Every Church member has not only the opportunity right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices, but has the need and obligation to obtain such assurance, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church. Every Church member has the opportunity right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices. [Without such a witness] one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church.
23Indeed, it is not enough that we obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders. In response to study, prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we may seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilising the Church through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment. We [should] obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders, [but also through] study, prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit we [should] seek and obtain an individual and personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilising the Church [as a means] through which to give allegiance, time, talent and other resources without reluctance or resentment.
24Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we understand the difference between the gospel and the church and the appropriate function of each in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. Institutional discipline is replaced by self-discipline.Supervision is replaced by a righteous initiative and a sense of divine accountability. Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we [see the harmony] between the gospel and the church in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. [We will exercise] self-discipline, and righteous [initiative guided by Church leaders] and a sense of divine accountability.

25-29 remain essentially the same.

Elder Poelman is not alone in having had such significant changes made to his conference talk, Elder Hartman Rector Jr.’s anti-birth control speech of April 1981 was edited into an address on the importance of keeping a journal! One can only imagine the extent to which the talks of General Authorities are edited by others before they are given in General Conference.

Posted on Monday, July 22nd, 2002 at 11:42 am In Classics | Comments RSS

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