I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

I Have a Question

In Matthew 5:25 Christ instructs us to agree quickly with our adversary and seems to teach avoidance of the legal system. Does this mean we are to avoid litigation under all circumstances and not bring someone to justice if the situation merits it?

Allan T. Brinkerhoff, attorney and president of the Salt Lake Millcreek Stake. Clearly not. Ideally, court systems and the laws of the land are established for the regulation and protection of all citizens. These should not be considered beyond the reach of a member of Christ’s church.

In the October 1987 general conference, Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve condemned litigation when it is used by individuals to try to cure guilt with self-justification or to transfer blame. But he made it plain that “there is no dishonor in appealing to a court of law for either justice or protection.” (Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 16.)

In directing his disciples to avoid the judicial system and to “agree with thine adversary quickly,” the Savior might have been trying to steer the disciples clear of the complicated Jewish judicial system, which was made unpredictable and cumbersome by Roman law being superimposed upon it.

More likely, Jesus was probably trying to teach his disciples to become a certain kind of people. His injunction to agree quickly was given in context with other moral mandates that form the very basis of true Christianity:

—forgiving debtors.

—turning the other cheek to one who smites you.

—giving your cloak to one who sues you at the law and takes your coat.

—going the second mile.

—giving to the borrower and to one who asks.

—loving your enemies.

—blessing those that curse you.

—doing good to them that hate you.

—praying for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.

The list, revolutionary then and equally difficult to practice today, was given in connection with the Savior’s denunciation of the then-honored law of retaliation—an “eye for an eye.”

By measuring his actions against these standards, a true disciple of Christ would be an infrequent litigant.

Agreeing quickly with an adversary has much to do with avoiding contentiousness. There were those in Christ’s day, as there are in our own, whose self-appointed calling is to draw a line and then spend their lives seeing that no one steps over it. Such individuals keep their lawyer’s telephone number handy and consult with him or her on issues that should be left to their heart to resolve. They want to know how far they can go, how much they can get away with, how little they can pay, how much responsibility they can avoid, when the tolerable limits of the law will be reached, or when a prosecutor will care. Such individuals seem anxious to substitute legal opinions for listening, communication, common sense, compromise, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Their emotions and motives are frequently fueled by pride or desire for vengeance, yet they often justify the spending of their reputation and resources with the claim that they are teaching someone a lesson or stopping someone from “getting away with something.”

There are others, however, who can be equally assertive when issues of principle are involved but who deal with opponents in a spirit of conciliation and peacemaking. When calling an attorney, they are cautious and apologetic. They seek clarification of a legal point instead of trying to manipulate the system. They pause to consider the personal pain that pursuing a course of action may cause. An inner restraint guides their personal relationships, even in an adversarial setting. They often have tried peacefully and persistently to persuade their opponents to no avail, and seeking legal redress is an alternative that they weigh and measure along with other methods of resolving the dispute. Even when such individuals invoke the legal process, which is sometimes necessary to get an opponent’s attention, they are quick to make a reasonable settlement before litigation escalates and destroys themselves or their opponents.

Litigation is always a prolonged adversarial ordeal that offers unpredictable results. Those who have experienced it almost universally comment that it is emotionally, physically, and spiritually unsettling. It requires one, over a long period of time, to remember, repeat, and replay the injury or hurt that is the subject of the suit. The Savior’s statement to agree quickly with an adversary is as much a psychological prescription for inner peace as anything else. Yet it also translates into exceedingly sound economic advice. It is a formula for forgiveness. It is plain and direct encouragement to “move on.” Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve has observed:

“The Spirit—the Holy Ghost—will help us work out our insecurities. For instance, it can help us learn to forgive. There comes a time when people must move on, seeking greater things rather than being consumed by the memory of some hurt or injustice. Dwelling constantly on past injuries is, by its nature, limiting to the Spirit. It does not promote peace.” (Ensign, p. 33.)

How much do we know about baptism before Christ’s time?

Robert J. Woodford, institute instructor and administrative assistant to the area director at the University LDS Institute of Religion in Salt Lake City, and bishop of the Winder Thirteenth Ward, Salt Lake Winder West Stake. At the time the Church was organized in April 1830, a group of people who belonged to the Baptist church said they believed the Book of Mormon and wished to become members of the Church. Since they had already been baptized in the Baptist church, they wanted to know if they would now have to be rebaptized.

The Prophet Joseph Smith inquired of the Lord and received the revelation that is section 22 of the Doctrine and Covenants. 1 We learn from this revelation that all people must be baptized to enter the Church. The Lord also revealed at that time that baptism is part of the “new and everlasting covenant, even that which was from the beginning.” (D&C 22:1; italics added.) Hence, the requirements Saints in this dispensation must fulfill are the same as those Adam and Eve were instructed to fulfill at the time of the Fall.

Through additional modern revelation we learn that Adam and Eve were taught about baptism and the covenants associated with it, and that they were baptized. (See Moses 6:52–68.) We also learn that Enoch was commanded to baptize followers of the Lord, and that Noah taught the people that they should be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, even as their fathers had been. (See Moses 7:11; Moses 8:24.)

There are more than fifty references to baptism in the portion of the Book of Mormon that records events prior to the advent of the Savior. Probably the best reference to the covenants entered into at the time of baptism is found in Mosiah 18.

These are all references to which we have access as members of the Church; and they support our understanding that the gospel, including the ordinance of baptism, was given to Adam. But are there other sources that substantiate the same teachings? The answer is a qualified yes.

Baptism is derived from a Greek word, so we will not find exactly equivalent words in the Semitic languages of the Old Testament world. Such phrases as cleansing pools and washing may refer to baptism. Those who have commented on the practices of the ancients sometimes refer to some of their rituals by using the word baptism even though the scriptural passages refer to cleansing by water in the vaguest of terms. In the Jewish Encyclopedia, we read:

“The real significance of the rite of Baptism can not be derived from the Levitical law; but it appears to have had its origin in Babylonian or ancient Semitic practise. As it was the special service administered by Elisha, as prophetic disciple to Elijah his master, to “pour out water upon his hands” (2 Kgs. 3:11), so did Elisha tell Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan, in order to recover from his leprosy (2 Kgs. 5). … This idea underlies the prophetic hope of the fountain of purity, which is to cleanse Israel from the spirit of impurity. (See Zech. 13:1; Ezek. 36:25; compare Isa. 4:4.) Thus it is expressed in unmistakable terms in the Mandean writings and teachings … that the living water in which man bathes is to cause his regeneration. For this reason does the writer of the fourth Sibylline Oracles, lines 160–66, … [write,] ‘Ye miserable mortals, repent; wash in living streams your entire frame with its burden of sin; lift to heaven your hands in prayer for forgiveness and cure yourselves of impiety by fear of God!’ This is what John the Baptist preached to the sinners that gathered around him on the Jordan; and herein lies the significance of the bath of every proselyte.” 2

M. M. Noah, a noted nineteenth-century specialist on the ancient practices of the Jews, wrote: “Maimonides—great authority always among Jews and Christians, as a wise interpreter of the law—says, ‘Israel was admitted into the covenant by three things: by circumcision, by baptism, and by sacrifice. … Baptism was in the wilderness, before the giving of the law, as it is said, ‘Thou shalt sanctify to day and to morrow, and let them wash their garments.’ [Compare Ex. 19:10.” 3

Mr. Noah also wrote: “You will thus perceive that the rite of baptism dates from the time of Jacob, and by the wisest interpreters of the law, was pronounced a Jewish rite and followed circumcision.” 4

Even before John the Baptist’s ministry, gentile converts to Judaism were baptized. 5 The Jewish Encyclopedia teaches that “according to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple, Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism.” 6

The Dead Sea Scrolls indicate that baptism was practiced at that time. G. Vermes wrote: “Ritual bathing was practised in the Community. The Damascus Rule devotes a section to purification by water. … The Community Rule refers also to a purificatory rite in connexion with entry into the Covenant. This seems to have been a peculiar and solemn act similar to Christian baptism, and to have symbolized purification by the ‘spirit … and [sanctification] by cleansing water.’” 7

Thus, baptism was not a new ordinance among the Jews when John the Baptist came among them. As others have said, people who came to hear John did not ask him what was this new thing he was doing. They only asked who he was. 8

    Notes

  1.   1.

    Orson Pratt, in Journal of Discourses, 16:293–94.

  2.   2.

    The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1902), 2:5500.

  3.   3.

    Times and Seasons, 1 Jan. 1846, p. 1082.

  4.   4.

    Ibid., p. 1083.

  5.   5.

    See Madeline S. and J. Lane Miller, Harper’s Bible Dictionary (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), p. 60.

  6.   6.

    The Jewish Encyclopedia, p. 500.

  7.   7.

    G. Vermes, The Dead Sea Scrolls in English, 2d ed. (New York: Penguin Books, 1962), p. 45.

  8.   8.

    Ensign, Sept. 1974, p. 16.

With only a one-page outline for Gospel Doctrine classes, how can the teacher prepare enough material for each Sunday?

Tom G. Rose, manager of Church Curriculum Planning and Development. Shortly after the Church was organized, the Lord gave the Saints a commandment to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.” (D&C 88:77.) He also explained how we are to teach one another. He told the Saints to “appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time, and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege.” (D&C 88:122.)

As an international church, we need to more closely follow the teaching model provided in the eighty-eighth section of the Doctrine and Covenants. In order to ensure that “every man may have an equal privilege,” for example, the teacher should not plan to take most of the class time with a pre-planned lesson. Class members should be encouraged to participate; many will likely have had experiences related to the scriptures being discussed: the teacher can prepare not to do most of the talking by prayerfully studying the assigned scripture references, writing down discussion questions, and noting key references that might be discussed. In striving to meet the needs of the class members, the teacher may also want to forgo usual approaches like spending all of the time reviewing historical events in the scriptures or supplying interesting background information. More of our class time should focus on modern-day applications of scriptural teachings and principles and on helping members of the class feel the impact of direction from the Spirit.

Class members, too, must alter their expectations and participation level if the renewed emphasis on teaching and learning by the Spirit is to succeed. Instead of expecting the teacher, often acknowledged to be one of the more knowledgeable members of the ward, to inform and inspire them, class members need to study the assigned scripture references and come to class prepared to share feelings, insights, experiences, and testimonies, so that “all may be edified of all.”

Finally, the teacher and class members should feel an equal responsibility to invite the Spirit into the discussion. Both should pray for the Spirit to be present during the discussion.

The emphasis of the Sunday School Gospel Doctrine outline is on following the Spirit, not on preparing a forty-minute lesson. As we “seek … diligently and teach one another words of wisdom,” we can anticipate an increase in the outpouring of the Spirit in our classes. (D&C 88:118.)