Once upon a time there were two groups of people within a religion, the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were the elite, they had the money. They used their money to buy their way into the higher offices of the church. They put their allegiance to Rome before their allegiance to God. They did not believe in aspects of their faith, they often twisted the scriptures to support their views. The Pharisees were not wealthy like the Sadducees. They were strict observers of the Law of Moses. They were extremely pious. They not only followed the written law, but took the oral traditions in deep observance as well. They valued the traditions and culture; it was equal to the gospel and would judge others for not following the same practices.
When we read the bible, especially the New Testament, we scoff at these people. “How can they see Christ, see His works and yet still revile and plot against Him?” Looking closer, we can learn important lessons from both people and maybe even see things that are occurring within our own religious culture. I want to focus more on the Pharisees.
You may be thinking, yes, yes, I know all this already, but let’s look at it this way: Is there anything that has become a part of the religious culture to the point of acceptance of doctrine that is not been written or spoken by an apostle or prophet? Maybe five things came to mind, maybe none. Now think, are these new traditions good? Sure, many of these are great ways and things to add to a provident life. However, it is important to remember that there is no danger in living this way; it is when we cross the line and judge others for not living that way.
If you couldn’t think of one, here is an example: How many times have you had the conversation with someone about religious beliefs and the soda discussion comes up? There are many members of our Faith that will state that caffeine is against our religion, some will say only Coke products, others will say that caffeine has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom. We can look at the doctrine. What have the leaders of the church said? What do the scriptures say? More importantly, have you asked Heavenly Father what He says? To be honest (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), but I have never heard nor read anyone in General Conference say “No Caffeine” or “No Coke products” or even “Caffeine has nothing to do with the Word of Wisdom” (granted I have not been on this earth very long and could have missed the memo).
Many times the anti-caffeine members (or Caffeine Mormons as I affectionately call them) have additional codes as well. To be more accurate, any member can fall into this category when they take cultural things and place them out as doctrine. These traditions may not seem inherently bad. In fact, drinking soda is bad for you, and avoiding it is probably a wise choice in general, but when we hold it up as doctrine, we become like the Pharisees. The Pharisees loved to tell others what the oral traditions were, how many steps to take, not being in the same room as your work, and so on. We are not far from that point.
I hear many members talk about watching sports on Sunday. I also have heard many talks against playing sports on Sunday. I know watching sports on Sunday adds to the demand of playing on Sunday, but set that aside for a second.
I have always hated sports. I cannot stand watching them, I have been persuaded to play them on occasion, but I am not a sports girl. My husband is Mr. Sport. He loves to play sports, he coaches sports, he watches sports. Sports are a significant part of his life.
One (week)day, he turned on a game to check the score. I rolled my eyes and pulled out my phone because I wanted nothing to do with it. He called me out on my attitude. He wanted to compare my shows that I liked to watch to his sports. He asked if there was any murder, horrible acts, or explicit content in sports? In my crime drama? I realized at that moment that even though many viewers of sports get emotionally charged and sometimes contentious while watching the game, while many of the athletes live lifestyles contrary to our beliefs, the games themselves are clean (except maybe hockey). The games showcase appreciation for our physical bodies that Heavenly Father created for us and many times watching sports bring family members together. Can I say the same about the last episode of Law and Order? Not even a little bit at all. I would never watch that show with my daughter in the room, however, my husband can watch the Nuggets and our daughter gets so excited and wants to throw balls around the room.
Christ taught that we should follow the spirit of the law, not just the written law. We need to be closer observers of what Heavenly Father wants us to do, what choices we should make. That is a very personal decision. We need to strive to not be Caffeine Mormons. We can express our own views on following the commandments, but if it is not a blunt statement from the brethren, we have no place to call others out (we generally have no place to call others out, but you get what I’m saying).
Before the big game starts, I want to remind others of a few things that Elder Cook recently said in a church training meeting. Sabbath day observance should be focused on three key things: 1) making the Sabbath a delight 2) Showing our devotion to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ 3) Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. Elder Cook mentioned that the majority of the members of the church are good observers of the Sabbath, but we need to use the Good, Better, Best model. He then laid out best practices: Focus on the Sabbath day observance to strengthen individuals and family and effective use of meetings (including family meetings) to enrich Sabbath day observance at church and home.
Elder Cook cautions against using a specific conduct and activity of any kind. Honoring the Sabbath is a form of righteousness that will bless our lives by strengthening our families, connecting us with our Heavenly Father, separate us from the immoral and frivolous things, and helps us to live in the world, but not of the world.
Using these guidelines, I encourage everyone to find their own personal as well as family way to observe the Sabbath day. You can share that idea with others (great missionary tool). You can even encourage others in the church, but avoid being a Caffeine Mormon.
I suppose the key to this understanding righteous judgment versus unrighteous judgment. In the August 1999 Ensign, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explains this principle so eloquently, that I will just put his long quote here, rather than butcher it.
“The key is to understand that there are two kinds of judging: final judgments, which we are forbidden to make, and intermediate judgments, which we are directed to make, but upon righteous principles. I will speak about gospel judging.
“First, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.
“Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest. …
“Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities. …
“Fourth, we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts….
“A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations… We can set and act upon high standards for ourselves or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise.
“Sixth, forgiveness is a companion principle to [this] commandment … In modern revelation the Lord has declared, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).
“Seventh, a final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards.” (“ ‘Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 9-12).
Remember the Pharisees, listen to the things the leaders of the church have taught us, and most importantly ask Heavenly Father.
How do you feel is the best way to feel the spirit on Sunday? What do you think about religious culture?