Author: Chad Nielsen

Chad’s three great intellectual passions in life are science, history/religious studies, and music. He has pursued a career in biotechnology, but maintains an active interest in both of his other passions on the side. Chad is a four-time winning contestant in the Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University for his essays on Mormon history and has presented at the Logan Institute of Religion scholar’s forum and the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is a faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in a variety of music, teaching, and clerical callings at his church as well as in the music ministry of a Presbyterian church. Currently he is serving as a music missionary as a member of the Bells on Temple Square.

A New First Vision Podcast

We are now in the year 2020, which is 200 years after the date that Joseph Smith said that he was first visited by God the Father and Jesus the Christ.  At the most recent general conference, President Russell M. Nelson noted this anniversary and invited us to “prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.”[1]  On New Year’s Day, he reiterated this, stating that: “I designated 2020 as a bicentennial period commemorating 200 years since God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith in a vision.”[2]  In addition to a special general conference, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has begun releasing other resources to commemorate and celebrate the beginning of the Restoration, including a new six-episode podcast, “The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast.”[3]  Kurt Manwaring recently visited with the host of The First Vision podcast, Spencer W. McBride, to discuss the series.  What follows here is a summary of their discussion with some commentary, but I recommend reading the full text, available here. The podcast is a set of six episodes discussing different aspects of the First Vision with historians.  Each episode is fairly short (only one runs longer than 30 minutes).  Topics include the culture of the United States of American that contributed to the First Vision, what question Joseph Smith was really asking, what the location the vision took place…

Reflections on the Tree of Life, Part 1: Immortality and Eternal Life

Between reflecting on Mack Wilberg’s choral piece “The Tree of Life,” preparing for the Book of Mormon Come Follow Me curriculum, and studying the Revelation of John the Divine these past few weeks, the tree of life has been on my mind. I thought I might share some reflections on the subject by highlighting possible meanings of the tree of life and its fruit in a series of posts, including immortality and eternal life, the presence of God, and Jesus the Christ. Immortality and eternal life are two of the possible meanings of the tree of life.  In the Hebrew Bible, the tree of life is one of the two most notable trees in the Garden of Eden—alongside the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (see Genesis 2:9).[1]  When Adam and Eve transgressed, the Lord God noted that if they happened to “take also from the tree of life, and eat” that they would “live forever” (Genesis 3:22).  This ties the tree of life explicitly to immortality.[2]  We see a similar meaning in the Book of Alma, where Alma preaches about the resurrection of the dead and is challenged to explain the resurrection in light of the tree of life being protected by cherubim and a flaming sword, which his opponent interprets to mean that “there was no possible chance that they should live forever” (Alma 12:21).  Alma responds that “if it were possible for Adam to have…

Women, Priesthood, and Power

There are several hot topics that come up on a regular basis in the Church.  One of those is women’s relationship with the priesthood in the Church.  Concerns over equality in policy making, involvement in the life of the Church, and quite a few other things factor into this issue.  Given that women comprise half (or more) of the membership of the Church, it is of huge importance to all members. One notable voice speaking about women and the priesthood is Wendy Ulrich, who recently published a book on the subject entitled Live Up to Our Privileges: Women, Power and Priesthood (Deseret Book, 2019).  Ulrich is president of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists, a visiting professor at Brigham Young University, and an author of several books for Latter-day Saint audiences.  She recently shared some of her insights into the topic of women and the priesthood in a 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring.  What follows here is a summary of her remarks with some commentary, and I encourage you to read the full text of the interview here. In the interview, Wendy Ulrich begins by discussing how there are several different perspectives among women in the Church about the priesthood. On one end of the spectrum, “some women in the Church assume priesthood is something men have that they aren’t especially interested in” for various reasons. On the other hand, “some women are convinced that women will never…

Latter-day Saints in Law

Latter-day Saints in the United States of America have had an impact in the field of law. Attorney Brian Craig highlighted some of the most important Latter-day Saint Lawyers in a recent 10 questions interview with Kurt Manwaring, after publishing a book called Latter Day Lawyers. What follows here is a short summary of the 10 questions post, but the full interview can be read here. The basis of Brian Craig’s book is the idea that “a select group of lawyers and judges of a particular religion have influenced the constitutional and legal rights of all Americans under the backdrop of landmark and intriguing cases.” He compared his work to another book, As Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan by David G. Dalin and noted that: “As a lawyer, I wanted to explore more the intersection of law and religion.” His book focuses on “people who have left an impact on the American legal system” and “includes profiles of both conservative lawyers, like Rex Lee, and more left-leaning individuals, such as James E. Faust.” By doing so, Craig has brought the efforts of Latter-day Saint lawyers in the U.S.A. into greater focus. Among the most important figures that Brian Craig highlights is Rex Lee. Perhaps most familiar to many in Utah as the father of Mike Lee or a former president of Brigham Young University, Rex Lee is an important figure in his own right. As…

Church Interfaith Outreach in 2019

One of the most common topics featured on the Church’s news sites this year has been interfaith outreach by Church leaders and members. A list of articles includes: January 17: “How BYU Is Creating an Environment of Respect and Understanding for Students of All Faiths” February 19: “Tennessee Young Women Build Interfaith Bonds with Muslim Friends by Holding a Ward ‘Hijab Drive’” March 3: “Latter-day Saints Join Other Faiths to Change Women’s Lives” March 9: “Prophet Meets Pope Francis at the Vatican” March 16: “Statement of Support for Muslim Communities and All Others Impacted by Christchurch Shootings” March 18: “Church Hosts Interfaith Musical Tribute in Tabernacle” April 18: “President Nelson Pens Personal Note of Sympathy to Pope Francis after Notre Dame Fire” April 30: “Florida Latter-day Saint Youth Host Jewish Friends during Chapel Tour and Get-to-Know-You Night” May 21: “President Nelson Announces Donation to Rebuild Mosques Damaged in Deadly New Zealand Attacks” May 23: “1879 Mass Held in St. George Tabernacle Commemorated by Latter-day Saints and Catholic Leaders” May 28: “Muslim and Christian faiths join effort in promoting interfaith harmony and unity” June 5: “Muslims and Christians in Singapore Collaborate in Historic Iftar” June 6: “In Jerusalem, Apostle Encourages Interfaith Listening and Learning” June 7: “Elder Cook Addresses Commonalities of Latter-day Saints and Jews in Jerusalem” June 30: “Apostle and Catholic Cardinal Speak at Freedom Festival” July 2: “Cardinal Dolan Speaks on Religious Freedom, Meets with Church Leaders during Visit…

Putting the Book of Mormon Front and Center

Elder B.H. Roberts of the Seventy once wrote that: So long as the truth respecting it is unbelieved {the Book of Mormon} will remain to the world an enigma, a veritable literary sphinx, challenging the inquiry and speculation of the learned. But to those who in simple faith will accept it for what it is, a revelation from God, it will minister spiritual consolation, and by its plainness and truth draw men into closer communion with God.[1] It can be difficult to pin down the Book of Mormon due to the many different things that can be used as evidence for or evidence against a divine origin for the book. In a recent 10 Questions interview with Kurt Manwaring, Tad Callister talked about his newest publication, A Case for the Book of Mormon, which discusses some of these evidences. What follows here is a short summary with commentary, but for those who are interested, the original discussion can be found by clicking here. Tad R. Callister is relatively well known at this point. He served as a general authority in the Seventies and might be remembered for giving short but pointed talks in general conference like “The Book of Mormon—a Book from God” and “Joseph Smith—Prophet of the Restoration”. He later served in the General President of Sunday School in the Church, where he was involved with bringing the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum to all age groups. He has also…

Documents and Dialogic Revelations

Joseph Smith began his ministry with a wealth of visions and revelations. Many among these were what have been called dialogic revelations–answers given by God to Joseph Smith in response to questions or specific situations. Written documents phrased as God speaking through Joseph Smith have been treated with particular weight, both by early Latter Day Saints and their spiritual heirs today. For those of us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, most of his successors to the presidency of the Church have not used the same method of giving voice to the will of God. With John Taylor being the major exception, most Church leaders since the death of Joseph Smith have expressed what they believed that God wants to be done through sermons, instructions and policy making, or through group decisions made in the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency. As the second president of the Church, Brigham Young set this trend: he very rarely dictated revelations, with what is now Section 136 in the Doctrine and Covenants being the main exception.  In a recent BYU Studies publication, Christopher Blythe (a Research Associate at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and a former historian/documentary editor for the Joseph Smith Papers project) shared a document that records a revelation given by Brigham Young much later in his ministry (see here). Brigham Young shared this revelation during a discourse given in St. George during…

Temples, Sacrifices, and Revelations

Temples hold a central place in Latter-day Saint history. The narrative of building the Kirtland and Nauvoo Temples and the impact it had on our theology is a dominant theme of the early Church. Even going beyond that, however, much of the history that followed has temples looming in the background, even though it would be decades before another temple was completed in Utah Territory. In one of the recent Kurt Manwaring 10 questions interviews, Richard Bennett discusses some of his thoughts on the subject and his recent publication Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. This is only a summary with some commentary here, but I suggest reading the full interview. Richard E. Bennett is a professor of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University. He has been deeply involved with Mormon studies journals as a former president of the Mormon History Association, a former Associate Editor of the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies and a current member of the editorial board for BYU Studies. Bennett is the author of several historical works, including The Nauvoo Legion in Illinois: A History of the Mormon Militia, 1841–1846, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846-1848, Mormons at the Missouri: 1846-1852, and Temples Rising: A Heritage of Sacrifice. Bennett’s attention was turned to temples by his studies of the Latter-day Saint exodus: While researching and writing my two books on the exodus … I learned that temples and temple covenants played…

Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith, a Review

Cover of Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith

Back in June, Clark Goble mentioned that he was going to write a review of Thomas G. Alexander’s new biography Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith. It’s one of many misfortunes among the great losses of Clark passing away that we never had the opportunity to read the review he was planning on writing about the book. As a direct result of Clark’s discussion of the biography, I read the book and thought I might share some thoughts. Thomas G. Alexander was the Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University. Along with an illustrious career in teaching, he has published several works that are important to Latter-day Saint history, including the groundbreaking Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints 1890-1830 as well as Things in Heaven and Earth: The Life and Times of Wilford Woodruff and Utah, the Right Place: The Official Centennial History. Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith was written by Alexander as a part of the Oklahoma Western Biographies series—a collection of short biographies written from published sources. The biography is a fast-paced overview of Brigham Young’s life, covering key events from his childhood, his conversion to the early Latter Day Saint movement, and onward through his time as the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The heaviest emphasis is on his time in Utah Territory, both during his tenure as territorial governor and…

First Vision Resources

We were left with a bit of a cliff hanger at the end of general conference this year—the promise of a unique general conference next April celebrating the 200th anniversary of the year Joseph Smith said he experienced the First Vision. President Russell M. Nelson spoke briefly of various events in Church history, including the First Vision, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the Priesthood, and the foundation of various Church organizations. He then encouraged us to: “prepare for a unique conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel.” Among that preparation was the suggestion to: “begin your preparation by reading afresh Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in the Pearl of Great Price” as well as the Book of Mormon resources that the Church is currently releasing. From that launching point, he encouraged us to: “Select your own questions. Design your own plan. Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration. As you do, general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.”[1]   With this challenge to study in mind, I thought I’d put together a list of resources that focus on the First Vision that I have found insightful or interesting. In compiling this list, I have mostly focused on resources that are available online. The list is not comprehensive and I’m sure that there are plenty of valuable and interesting…

A Word of Wisdom or a Commandment?

The revelation that forms the basis of the Latter-day Saint dietary code refers to its contents as “a word of wisdom for the benefit of the Saints in these last days” (D&C 89:1). The Word of Wisdom was treated like its name implies during much of the nineteenth century—wide advise from God, but not a commandment. Today, however, parts of it are treated as a commandment—one that can result in being barred from the temple and Church callings if not followed. How did the Word of Wisdom become a commandment? It is surprisingly difficult to nail down a specific point in time in which this occurred. Three main options do emerge from my study of the issue, however: it was either always considered a commandment, the Latter-day Saints voted on and accepted it as a commandment, or it became a commandment when it began to be enforced. The first option is that the revelation was always considered a commandment. Many of the earliest Saints to receive it treated it as such—recollections of Kirtland and the eastern United States during the 1830s include many accounts where people threw their tobacco pipes in the fire or gave up coffee, tea and liquor for life like John Tanner did.  At a meeting of the Kirtland High Council on 20 February 1834, Joseph Smith declared “that no official member in this church is worthy to hold an office after haveing the words of wisdom…

Hot Drinks and Cold Soda

One aspect of the Word of Wisdom that has long been debated is whether or not all caffeinated drinks should be included under its umbrella. The original revelation specified that hot drinks should not be consumed, which was interpreted to mean coffee and tea. Throughout the twentieth century, the most common explanation for why was that the drinks contained an addictive substance—caffeine. Yet, other caffeinated beverages (i.e. soda drinks like Coca-Cola) were not added to the banned list, most likely because they aren’t too dangerous. This creates a bit of tension—with caffeine being the most compelling reason for banning coffee and tea, it could be argued that either there is no strong logical reasons known for banning them (other than obedience to the prophets) or the ban should be applied to all caffeinated beverages. Dr. Lester E. Bush provided insight into why the earliest Latter-day Saints may have believed that coffee and tea were unhealthy. Medical knowledge in the early and mid-nineteenth century was rudimentary, and it was often believed that diseases were manifestations of one underlying condition—an imbalance in vital nervous energy. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but too much energy was thought to lead to symptoms like fevers, inflammation, or indigestion while too little led to debility. Strong alcoholic beverages were acknowledged as the most dangerous stimulant in common use, but foods and drinks like coffee, tea, meat, and spices were also thought to contribute to…

Cores and Corollaries of the Word of Wisdom

The Church recently published some clarifications on issues related to our health code in the New Era magazine and gave them official status in a statement a few weeks later.[1] Essentially, vaping or e-cigarettes, marijuana and opioids, green and iced tea, and coffee-based products are officially prohibited. While we look to the 1833 revelation of Joseph Smith as the basis of that health code, the Church has been selective in enforcing it. In general, prohibition of alcohol, coffee, tea, and tobacco has been treated as the consistent core of the Word of Wisdom while other parts or potential additions have usually been treated as peripheral issues. Other additions are usually connected to this core in one way or another. The original revelation known as “A Word of Wisdom” was recorded on 27 February 1833. It contains both proscriptions and recommendations for consumption and use, as shown in Table 1. During the remainder of Joseph Smith’s lifetime, the proscriptions were discussed most often as alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea.[2] Very little else seems to have been discussed with any frequency, including the recommendations. On rare occasions, restricting meat consumption came up. For example, during one sermon in the 1840s, Hyrum Smith suggested that that Saints should “be sparing of the life of animals” (adding that they could be used “in times … of famine” because they would die anyway “and may as well be made use of by man, as not”).[3]…

Handcarts and History

In many ways, handcarts have come to symbolize the Mormon pioneer experience. There are a few reasons for this. With the tragic experiences of the Willie and Martin handcart companies of 1856, the handcart companies are among the easiest group of pioneers to dramatize. As a result, popular Latter-day Saint historical fiction books and movies frequently focus on handcarts and the stories of handcart companies seem to come up almost as often as the rest of the pioneer companies combined in our Church meetings. And, of course, the handcart experience is the least expensive (and least complicated) pioneer experience to reproduce and therefore the most common way for Latter-day Saint youth to reenact Mormon pioneer treks, both in the western United States and elsewhere.[1] We even have movies dramatizing the trek reenactment experience now. While retelling and experiencing these things can be good, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to historical accuracy while discussing the handcart pioneers. First, not all Mormon pioneers were handcart pioneers. Overland immigration in wagon trains to the Utah Territory occurred between the years 1847 and 1869 (when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad rendered wagon trains obsolete). The handcart companies made up a small subset of this group, consisting of 10 companies during the years 1856 to 1860, and only accounting for approximately 4-10% of all Latter-day Saint pioneers.[2] By the time the first handcart pioneers entered the…

Water Alone

In my last post, I discussed an argument in favor of needing to partake of both the bread and water during a sacrament service as opposed to it being permissible to only partake of the water. This post is essentially a continuation of that same discussion (this time in favor of partaking only the water) and potentially provides a deeper discussion of the nature of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. To understand the main argument I’m presenting that it’s okay to just partake of the water during the sacrament, it is beneficial to look back to discussions that took place during the Protestant Reformation. The Roman Catholic church had come to believe in a doctrine known as transubstantiation, wherein the emblems of the Eucharist miraculously transformed into the actual body and blood of Christ. Catholics also taught that the Eucharist was a sacrifice—the same sacrifice Christ offered on the cross—and was offered for the sins of the living and the dead. Thus, their celebration of the Mass had become an encounter with Christ through a repetition of the sacrifice offered on the cross. Martin Luther took a somewhat different approach, rejecting the idea that Mass was a sacrifice and also rejecting the doctrine of transubstantiation. At the same time, he still taught that the Eucharistic bread and wine did have the presence of the Lord’s body and blood (though in a more of a spiritual sense than the tokens…

Bread and Water

In my previous two posts, I discussed questions relating to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Another question my friend asked was: “If you miss the bread do you take the water? … Obviously the best answer for the first is to make sure to take both but what is proper procedure?” I think many of us have been in this situation before, for one reason or another. When you are, do you just take the water? Do you ask that they bring the bread out to you before you take the water? Or do you just let it pass and try again next time? The short answer, after doing a bit of research, is that there are no unambiguous answers to the question available from the Church. Ultimately, it depends on how your view the ordinance and can be argued either way (to take only the water or that both bread and water must be taken). Both sides of the argument can summon scriptures and the words of prophets in support of their point of view. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the arguments in favor of needing both the bread and water every time. Next time, I’ll discuss the idea of only partaking of the water. The New Testament accounts of the sacrament being instituted have the bread and wine being served in short succession, with similar statements attending each. For example, the earliest account has Jesus breaking…

Frequency of the Sacrament

I mentioned in my previous post that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has been on my mind lately. One reason is that I recently had a friend ask me a couple of questions he was having trouble finding answers to. One of these questions was: “If you go to two wards do you take sacrament twice?” It brought to mind one Sunday as a teenager where I was in a group of young men who performed a music number in three different sacrament meetings and then went and helped with a sacrament meeting in an assisted living home. Some of us partook of the sacrament four times that day. Some only took it only once. Which is right? After spending considerable time searching, I found no unambiguous answer to the question, but the evidence does lead me to think that it is fine to take the sacrament multiple times on a Sunday if you put the full effort into it each time. The scriptures are somewhat vague on how often we can or should take the sacrament. In speaking of frequency, the New Testament only has phrase like “this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he comes” (1 Cor. 11:25-26). The focus seems to be more on the purpose of the sacrament rather than…

Why the Sacrament?

For Christians, the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was and is, in the words of one historian, “the central Christian ritual act.”[1] As Latter-day Saints, we participate in the breaking of bread and drinking of water on an almost weekly basis. Due to a few different reasons, I have been thinking about the sacrament a lot lately. So, I took the time to study the ordinance in greater depth, trying to understand why it’s so important and why we do it so often. During my study, I found several purposes for the sacrament and thought it might be worthwhile to share, since there were a few surprises (at least for me). First and foremost among those reasons is to remember Jesus Christ, but there is also looking forward to the Second Coming, focusing on how Christians can become one with God and with each other through Christ, and making or renewing covenants. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper exists to help us remember. Paul’s account of the Last Supper (the earliest record we have) recalls that when Jesus took bread, he blessed and broke it, then said: “Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye…

Updates on the New Hymnbook

It’s been nearly a year since the new core hymnbook was announced. While there have been a few rumors about the book (like a smaller size and getting rid of hymns with problematic copyrights), very little actual news has come up. Recently, however, the Church published an updated set of guidelines for the hymns and children’s songs that are being submitted. The timing is opportune, with less than two months to the submissions deadline left. Accompanying this publication are a few articles on the Church’s newsroom and on lds.org. What do these reveal about the forthcoming hymnbook? First is the announcement of the committees that are going to guide the creation of the hymnbook and children’s songbook. Two committees (one for each book) have been organized. Each has members with expertise in areas relating to the hymnbook and songbook (music, various cultures, doctrine, etc.). Members of the hymnbook committee include Steve Schank (a music manager for the Church), Ryan Murphy (the associate music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square), Cherilyn Worthen (Utah Valley University professor of Choral Music Education and the director of the Tabernacle Choir’s training school), Stephen Jones (BYU professor of music composition), Sonja Poulter (a German alto in the Tabernacle Choir), Carolyn Klopfer (author of the words to “Home Can Be a Heaven on Earth”), Herbert Kopfer (a long-standing member of the Church Music Department and composer of the hymn tune for “Home Can Be…

Grace and Cooperative Salvation

Since at least the time of Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius, western Christianity has been embroiled in a debate about salvation and grace. The two extremes have been represented as salvation by grace alone and earning salvation by our own works. Theologians and Church leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have generally followed a middle way. On the one hand, we believe in the free will of humans and that actions like baptism, temple ordinances, good works, etc. are necessary for salvation. On the other hand, however, we read in the Book of Mormon that we must “remember, after ye are reconciled unto God, that it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Nephi 10:24). Thus, it seems that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we hold both extremes in tension but try to find a way of balancing the two extremes. Recently, I was reading a book by the Eastern Orthodox bishop and theologian Kallistos (Thomas) Ware where he described an Orthodox approach to the subject that I felt resonates well with Latter-day Saint theology. Ware wrote that human beings “possess free will,” since “God wanted sons and daughters, not slaves.” As such, “the Orthodox Church rejects any doctrine of grace which might seem to infringe upon human freedom.” He goes on to explain how this is balanced with grace in their beliefs: To describe…

Spanish Hymns and the Future Hymnbook

Recently, Walter van Beek wrote an interesting post on this blog about Global Mormonism. Globalization and decentralization are important topics in the Church right now. Even within the past few weeks, the gathering of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in Rome has been portrayed as a hugely symbolic moment for the Church’s broadening its focus beyond Utah and the USA. When the new hymnbook was announced last year, Elder Erich W. Kopischke stated that one goal of the new edition was to “include some of the best hymns and songs originating in other languages that will then be translated into English and the other languages around the world.”[1] So far, the only hymn in the English hymnal to be written by a Latter-day Saint that had translated from another language is the stirring Restoration hymn “Sehet ihr Völker, Licht bricht heran!”, written in German but known in English as “Hark All Ye Nations!” The hymn was included in the English hymnal for the first time in 1985.[2] From there, it has spread around the world. As far as I can tell, the non-English hymn that stands the best chance of making its way into the new hymnal is the Spanish missionary hymn, “Placentero nos es trabajar.” One thing that must be faced to achieve the goal described by Elder Kopischke is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has historically prioritized the hymns of English-speaking…

“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Throughout the Restoration

I remember seeing a survey several years ago that claimed that the two most popular hymns among Latter-day Saints were “I Stand All Amazed” and “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I have not been able to find that survey online in recent years, but the latter hymn would be an interesting case, since it is not included in the current English hymnbook published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am pondering on hymns that may find their way into the new hymnbook, however, and there seems to be a lot of interest in the hymn and requests for its return. This made me wonder—what is the history of this hymn in our hymnbooks? Why is it not in the current English one? What is the status of the hymn in other Latter-day Saint hymnbooks? The hymn was written by Robert Robinson and was first published in the United States of America in 1759. It is uncertain what tunes it was sung to originally, but the hymn tunes NETTLETON and NORMANDY became standard in the USA and the UK, respectively. For Latter-day Saints, the hymn text was first included in A Collection of Sacred Hymns, for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, published in Nauvoo during 1841 as an updated edition of Emma Smith’s 1835 Kirtland hymnbook. The hymnbook competed with a different one published by the Quorum of the Twelve in Manchester,…

A Restored Gospel Christian Calendar

We sometimes speak of the idea of a holy envy—meaning something that we admire in another a religion. For years, while remaining active in my ward, I spent a considerable amount of time at a Presbyterian Church ringing English handbells. Over time, one feature of their worship that I developed a bit of a holy envy for is their use of a liturgical calendar. The liturgical calendar is an approach to remembering Christ’s life throughout the year. In Christian traditions that follow a calendar, the year is divided into a series of seasons with specific moods, theological emphases, and modes of prayer. Important holidays like Christmas and Easter are proceeded by periods of penitence, reflection, and preparation (Advent and Lent, respectively) and followed by several weeks of talking about the stories of Christ and Christianity that happened because of the events that the holidays focus on. Scripture readings and sermon subjects used in church are often based on the calendar, making the calendar the foundation of their worship services. The reason I have holy envy for the calendar is because it helps people focus on Christ throughout the year—particularly around Christmas and Easter. I wanted to try it out in my personal life, so I have been developing my own version of the calendar that incorporates readings from all of our scriptural cannon to use in Sunday evening scripture study or family home evenings. Strictly speaking, of course, it’s not…

Sing a Christmas Carol: Christmas Music in the Latter-day Saint Hymnbooks

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather today around the world for their Christmas Sunday meetings, Christmas hymns and songs will be sung and performed as an important part of those meetings. One thing that not everyone may realize, however, is that the options for that music varies around the world. As a teenager, I had a strange obsession with collecting Church materials in different languages. When I picked up a few hymnbooks, I was surprised to find that they were not only much smaller than the English hymnbook I was used to, but that there were some different hymns in them. This was most noticeable in the Christmas section, where I was able to spot a few carols that I knew but that weren’t in the hymnbook as I knew it. I have been curious since then what Christmas songs have received approval from the Correlation Department to become part of the corpus of Latter-day Saint Christmas music that aren’t in the English hymnbook or children’s songbook. Finally, I sat down this weekend to spend a few hours browsing SingPraises.net in order to find out. My first area of interest was in the hymnbooks. Do you agree with the Living Scriptures blog that “He is Born” (“Il est Né, le Divin Enfant”) is one of the most gorgeous Christmas hymns not in our hymnbook?[1] It actually turns out that it is in the Latter-day…

Saints, Volume 1: A Review

About a week ago, the first volume of the new official history of the Church was published. I finished reading through it this weekend, and I have to say that it is fantastic. The style of prose reads like a novel (many creative authors were employed as the writers or consultants for the book), but it is very much rooted in some of our best understandings of the events and people who lived in the early period of the Church. The combination of the two results in a very readable, but accurate history. The time frame that this volume covers is the early 1800s through 1846—the year the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo to move west. There are a lot of controversial issues related to that period, but the book tackled most of them head on. Polygamy (including Joseph Smith’s relationship with Fanny Alger and a small amount about polyandry), seer stones, treasure seeking, Book of Mormon translation, Latter-day Saint pillaging and fighting during the Missouri Mormon War, Danites, the Council of Fifty, Joseph Smith defending himself with a gun in Carthage Jail, and teachings of theosis and a Mother in Heaven are all addressed. Joseph Smith’s character was shown in a more three-dimensional way than most official Church representations of him—his temper and his sense of humor are both shown, as are some of his struggles and missteps. Yet, the history is not one that focuses entirely on the men…

The New LDS Hymnbook: Changes and Possibilities

Recently, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that they were going to prepare a new hymnbook and children’s songbook for use in the worldwide Church. Specifically, the goal is to create unity in hymn numbers and selections that reflect the needs of a global organization. This is the first time in over thirty years that the official hymnbook for the Church has changed, and it is a matter of no small excitement for Mormon musicians and general membership. The current hymnbook is wonderful, but change can always bring new opportunities and improvements. Part of the excitement is that there is an unprecedented amount of involvement of general membership being made possible through online surveys and song submission opportunities. Based on trends within the Church, the history of hymnbooks in Mormonism, and the statements that have been made about the forthcoming books, what might the new hymn and song books look like? There are a number of faucets to examine in considering this question, including continuity with past hymnals, new LDS music available for use, what might be removed and changed, and the hymnbook and songbook’s relationships to the general Christian tradition of music, and the tunes being used. Let’s look at each of these in turn. Continuity During the latter half of the twentieth century, hymnbooks in the LDS tradition have been kept around the same physical size. The major consideration has been the size of hymnbook…