This is my final entry in a short series on our relationship to God and His truths. The other two are here and here.
This is really a trick question, as I'm sure you can tell. God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Nephi taught this truth to his brothers (see 1 Nephi 10:18), and the Lord Himself taught it repeatedly elsewhere in the scriptures as well.
We know that application of the gospel has changed through the ages, but God has not changed. For instance:
• The Old Testament offered the Law of Moses; the New Testament offers a higher law, and yet the Savior taught that the two great commandments – to love God and to love our neighbor, we consistent with "the law and the prophets" (see Matt 22:40).
• From the time of Moses, only the tribe of Levi administered ordinances around sacrifices. Today all worthly male members of the church may hold the priesthood, either Aaronic or Melchizedek.
• In the Savior's time, the gospel was preached only to the Jews, not to the Gentiles. And to Peter, after the death of the Savior, came the instruction to go to the Gentiles.
Did God change? Did the gospel change? I think not. But the application of the gospel changed.
The Book of Mormon makes clear that the plan of salvation or the plan of happiness – that plan that sent the Savior to atone for our sins – was in place before the foundation of the world, that it was always Father in Heaven's intent to send a Savior. The Good News of the Gospel, namely the Lord's atoning sacrifice and our ability to repent, has been around since the beginning. Again, the Book of Mormon makes clear to us that even in the days of the Law of Moses, people looked forward to the coming of Christ.
Some of my friends make a big deal about changes in the church in our day. Polygamy. The extension of the priesthood to all worthy male members. The organization of the leading bodies of the church. Yes, even a cursory study of church history reveals that ours has been a dynamic church. The Lord did not deliver to the prophet Joseph the administration of today's church fully formed. (It would have seemed a little top-heavy to have a First Presidency, a Quorum of the Twelve and all those quorums of Seventy with only six members in 1830).
It is little surprise to me that the church has changed over time as the needs of the saints have changed. When the Lord revealed the principle of baptism for the dead, members rushed out and performed baptisms for their dead relatives without recording names, without the order we now associate with those ordinances. Only later did the Lord clarify that the saints needed to perform those baptisms in a temple (when one was available) and with a recorder to witness the ordinances. Does that mean the saints were wrong to baptize as they did at first? No. But it does mean that over time the Lord introduced more order to the process.
I trust in the prophets, seers and revelators that I sustain. I trust that they take inspired action in leading the Lord's church. I do not understand everything they have done through the years. But I trust that they seek and receive the Lord's will.
In recent years we've received interesting insight into the workings of the senior councils of the church through biographies of some of the brethren. We've learned (and subsequent reviews of history have confirmed) that the brethren do not always agree, that there is sometimes vigorous discussion among those councils. I am grateful that such discussion exists. The Lord counsels us to study questions out in our minds before presenting our proposal to him. I'm glad the brethren follow that pattern, too.
Whether the brethren's impetus for such discussion is driven by inspiration, their own agenda or by outside forces is of little consequence to me. The Word of Wisdom came from a question that Emma asked Joseph. The first manifesto in 1880 was at least prompted by political realities facing the church. But in the end, the instructions, directions and counsel that followed those questions came from the Lord on His timetable and according to His will.