Monday, June 30, 2014

Epistemological humility about "the same organization that existed in the primitive church"

Armand Mauss on a humbling mission experience (from "Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journey's of a Mormon Academic", pages 8-9):

Among my most important [missionary] experiences in that town [Torrington, Connecticut] was an encounter with a Protestant minister. (Episcopal vicar, as I recall, though he might have been congregational – my memory is not clear on this). Over the resistance of my senior companion, we called at the parsonage or rectory, as the residence was usually called, and we were greeted by a dignified clergyman who reluctantly invited us in. What followed, at least from my viewpoint, was a debacle that had a profound impact on my faith, to say nothing of my ego. The vicar dealt with us kindly. He recognized and seemed to value our sincerity and intellectual naïveté as he listened patiently to my recitation of the conventional Latter-day Saint understanding of the organization of the primitive Christian church, complete with proof-text verses from the New Testament. 
When I had finished, he said he had a few questions, which raised my hopes until I realized that his "questions" all had to do with such matters as the historical sources on which I had based my presentation, my understanding of the various functions of ecclesiastical roles within the primitive church, and my grasp of the meaning of certain terms in ancient Greek (starting with ecclesia.) Then came a thirty-minute tutorial on the historical and linguistic difficulties of figuring out how closely the organization and functions of the primitive Christian church resembled any modern model, LDS or otherwise. I was stunned and humbled. I had had no idea that so much knowledge was available outside of LDS literature on subjects of such great importance to the LDS religion itself. That entire experience left me with two resolutions that have guided my intellectual explorations ever since: I would never again enter controversy so ill-equipped to defend my own convictions, and I would never again consider one interpretation of the scriptures – by my religion or any other – as the only authoritative word on anything. The first resolution meant that I would spend as much of my free time as possible in local libraries during my mission, and with the second resolution, I was fated, from that point on, to live in a certain intellectual tension with the conventional understandings of some of my fellow Mormons and our leaders.


Tom and Tara Lyman said...

Are you the same spencer that served as my bishop in Philadelphia?

Clean Cut said...

No, thankfully I've never served as a bishop. :) I have loved my visits to Philadelphia but I have not lived there.

Shane said...

As an occasional reader of your blog, I'd like to say that I admire your intellectual honesty and commitment to follow Christ. Commiserations on the intellectual tension.

Clean Cut said...

I appreciate that Shane! Cheers.