“What Distinctives Count Today” by Roy A. Cheville

“What Distinctives Count Today” by Roy A. Cheville, Saints’ Herald 115, no. 1 ( January 1, 1968): 8–10, 25


This testimonial is written for 1968. It will have to be rephrased in 1978, for things will be moving on. It could not have been written this way in 1838, for some of the thought patterns and phrases involved did not even exist one hundred and thirty years ago. In a vital, functioning religion conceptions are ever expanding, and phrasing has to keep up.

The language and the thought pattern of 1200 B.C. or A.D. 70 are not adequate for moderns. The phrases and concepts of the universe of the ancients and the medieval will not do today. A modern says that the concept of God as a king sitting on a throne before celestial admirers is no longer meaningful.

This kind of concern applies to movements. Recently a Seventh Day Adventist confided how he was taking a new look at his church. He said that some things do not hold the importance they once did. His study of space and planets have disrupted his once fixed ideas of “the seventh day.” He was seeing the need of pointing up what was to be held as important.

And this applies to the Latter Day Saint movement. A modern asks, “What do you consider the distinctives of your movement today?” Then adds, “I am not talking about 1830 or 1860 – I am talking about 1968.” Another asks, “What distinctives distinguish you Latter Day Saints from other groups? Do you still have some?”

Persons and movements capable of creating and contributing have distinctives. Vital churches stand out, and they stand for something. They are not weakened by the code of conformity. They date to be different for God’s purpose. Such persons and movements have what Dr. William Hocking calls “a kindling capacity.”

Through the centuries God has moved to raise up persons and groups who were to function distinctively. A fresh-spirited large-visioned nucleus is always needed for the human family. Its teachings and practices may be partial, but they offer some opportunity for advance. A major danger is that some persons will see a partial view and then act as if they had seen all. They may put it into creeds and organizations and spend time and energy defending and furthering these partial conceptions. Through the middle ages and the early modern centuries this happened many times. Not infrequently movements would shift from the major distinctives to minor ones.

In time the Restoration movement came. God had been developing foundations for this through many centuries. He prompted the young prophet to see that he was to have a distinctive mission. This would require creative insight, courageous faith, and brotherly concern for persons. It was a daring venture. But some converts never caught the inclusive message and vision of the Restoration. Many picked out distinctives that would be to their own advantage. Some emphasized segments without seeing the whole. Opponents picked up some secondary things that made firebrand materials. These said the Saints believed that they alone were spoken to by God, and that God intended to drive out the “Gentiles” and give the land to his chosen people. They asserted that everything was manifested “by the prophet’s edict.” Members sometimes focused on distinctives of “authority” and “revelation” and “Zion” without functional ideas of what these meant.

A consideration of true distinctives is always needed. This is quite clear in 1968. A movement that has no significant distinctives has no tight, no need to continue. It might as well merge into the general run of society and lose its identity. It probably will. Or it can spend its time continuing as an institution. Every alert church will consider its right to exist. This gets at consideration of mission and of resources for carrying out this mission. This calls for interpretation of distinctives in terms of the world in which it is going to minister. It is not enough to insist that the Restoration movement have distinctives. It is imperative to see worthful distinctives and express them meaningfully today.

The world of 1968 is both stimulating and bewildering by its tempo, its novelties in thigs and thoughts, its complexities, its increase in social contracts. It prompted one man to say “God, you’d better be on the job or you’ll get left behind too.” Another said, “God’s on the job now, making things happen.” We face the need to indicate how God is operating in such a universe. If the Restoration movement is to continue, we must have open eyes and alert minds.

Factors That Call for a New Look

Here are some major factors affecting our theology and our interpretation of our mission today.

  1. The extension of our “space” world and our explorations in space. God has to be in this or be out of everything.
  2. The instigations in the biological-chemical-psychological nature of man. God has to be in on this or he will be left out in matters of God-man relationship.
  3. The contacts between cultures and faiths of all parts of the world. God has to be in these or be left out as a little-man-in-a-corner.
  4. The race-with-race confrontations without a way to retreat. God has to be in this or become a white-man Santa Claus.
  5. The humanistic outlook that considers man the manager of his destiny, that rejects discount of man’s potentials. God has to be seen in an anthropology of God-man relationship or He will be disregarded.
  6. The relative discount of emphases on the hereafter and the concern with good life on the earth now. God has to be involved in a meliorating life here and now or be viewed as a faraway putterer.
  7. The “new ethic” with patterns of rebellion and permissiveness, with discount of rules and regulations. The God of righteousness has to be seen in terms of the “good life” in a creative sense or he will merely sit on a throne with a book of rules in his hand, with men going their own ways.
  8. The questioning of authority in all fields with discount of inherited and entrenched say-so. God and his workers have to be seen in terms of competency and contribution or they will be discounted.
  9. The analysis of scriptures with interpretation in relevance and in expression in the thought-world of their writing. God is going to be seen as scripture-producing as man will permit, or these scriptural materials will be considered as past-tense writings.
  10. The modern reference to the Holy Spirit. Until recent years little has been said about the Holy Spirit. Theologians talked of “grace”. The Holy Spirit needs to be interpreted with cosmic significance and in terms of enlightening ministry in persons, in groups; otherwise a generalized “grace” will be talked about, and God will be shit off from fruitful ministry in persons.
  11. Contemporary reference to revelation and extra sensory perception. The process of revelation needs a theological framework in which it can be considered. This applies to our own church. What we term “revelation” in church administration is seen as a field for the organic directing of the life of the church. God will have to be seen revealing himself through diverse manifestations or he will be left out.
  12. The convictions and the denials of the divinity of Jesus Christ and his consequent role with all mankind. This divinity will need to be seen in cosmic significance and God-in-man living. This is urgent as Christians speak among themselves and with non-Christians. If Jesus Christ is not interpreted and experienced, a historic Jesus may replace an ever living Jesus.

These Are Our Distinctives

No one distinctive can be emphasized to the discount or exclusion of others; it is the combination in organize operation that speaks. I see this combination of distinctives as indispensable today, as inherent in the restoration movement.

1. God, the creating, sustaining, unifying source of all that is enduring.

What is enduring is to be valued, so God is seen as the altogether worthful. The most worthful we see in the universe is personal. God is personal. Counsel in the early days of the Restoration pictures God as ever creating, ever working. This same counsel indicates God’s purpose as that of developing man to be a person of eternal quality. Such a creating involves living relationship.

God suffers from lopsided man-centered interpretations that fence him in and mispicture his nature. We have to picture God in terms of available experience in our day, but we do not need to limit him to out stature and sensitivity. The noteworthy salutation to the Supreme Being in the Restoration movement is “God, the Eternal Father”.

2. The universe of God, a creation ever in process with the material and the spiritual viewed as phases of a single reality.

The Restoration movement advises that “spirit and element” are associated in God’s process. There is no discount of material reality or of spiritual reality. There is a universe. God is working in it. He is not an absentee landlord who looks on from the side.

God’s universe suffers from being split into two parts with the material considered as opposed to the spiritual. It suffers because God is interpreted as whimsical in his operation of it. The universe is describable in terms of reliable operations, which descriptions we call natural law. This applies to “spiritual reality”.

3. Man – a creation designed by God to become a self-managing person who will live the good life as he lines up with God in all fields of living.

Man has potentials for good living, for wise choosing (Doctrine and Covenants 58). He has “power to become” a son of God. He is equipped with needs, with potentials for living in right relations with other persons, with God. He is designed to learn how to use his native equipment to good purpose.

Man suffers from theologies that picture him as depraved and incapable of choosing the good. These use the word “natural” to indicate how evil and helpless he is. Man out of touch with God’s uplifting powers is incapable of goodness, but man is not born forsaken and condemned by God. Divine resources are ever available.

4. Jesus Christ, who came to earth to live on earth with man, to reveal to man the nature of God, the way of the good life.

Man is delivered from lower expression of his impulses and from evil social factors as he lives with Christ. The immediacy of this ministry is expressed in the initial experience of Joseph Smith in the Palmyra grove. The universality of this ministry is expressed in the ministry of Jesus Christ in Ancient America, as narrated in the Book of Mormon. The Restoration movement began with a meeting with the ever living Christ.

Jesus Christ suffers from partial emphases. We need to see his whole personhood, his total living. Focus on some one aspect such as the virgin birth or his crucifixion is not enough. Christ suffers when persons and movements use him magically in some “quickie” in “salvation” rather than to keep on living with him his way.

5. The Holy Spirit, the radiating personal presence of God, affording ministries that encourage in goodness, integrate the person, and enlighten in understanding love.

This is basic in the Restoration movement (Doctrine and Covenants 10). In right communion with the Holy Spirit, men receive spiritual vitality and vision.

The Holy Spirit suffers through men’s wanting overt manifestations that can be observed, that do not call for transformation and development. The Holy Spirit suffers as enthusiasts look for signs and wonders that can be noted without “edification”.

6. The scriptures, the recorded words concerning God’s relationship with man.

God speaks and acts as man permits. Man records as he is able. The Restoration movement saves God from limitation to the Bible. The Book of Mormon attests the universality of Christ and the largeness of God’s purpose and plan. The Doctrine and Covenants affirms the continuing disclosure of God. And there is place for other scripture. Scripture speaks at the level man can comprehend and use.

Scriptures suffer when men consider them final and full. This hems God in and tempts man to use them to legalize rather than to guide. Many religious movements wanting authority interpret the bible as the “last say-so”.

7. Ordination, the consecration at the designation of God, of men who function in various offices of ministry.

There are specializations and endowments in each order to afford competent ministry to persons, to families, to congregations. The basic authority resides in the calling “to be Saints”. Divine endowment is to follow Divine indication. This identification in calling and this continuing communication with God are basic in a God-directed church.

Ordination and authority in ministry suffer when office and protocol are considered above inspired and inspiring ministering. It suffers when communion with God declines and ordination proceeds on the presumed right of a minister by virtue of his office to call men without specific Divine designation. Ordination suffers when considerations are those that can be stated on an ordination card without the spiritual authority in a minister by virtue of his spiritual effectiveness.

8. Revelation, the disclosing of God in multiple manifestations of his total personhood, in his diverse creative expressions.

The core of this revelation is what God himself is. Praying is the reaching process in ma-with-God communicating. Revealing is the God-with-man responding. There are organs in the Restoration for that reception and consideration of what is submitted by the prophetic leader as revealed to the church. Ever person is entitled to revelatory experience in accordance with his spiritual eligibility and his participative role. Revelation is inspired insight about God, his purpose, his plan, his process.

Revelation suffers when ideas of inspiration divorce it from the thinking and feeling process of the person. The Spirit of God functions through the potentials and processes of the person. Revelation suffers when man expects it to come by magical maneuvers or overt signs without the spiritual disciplining of the person. It suffers when it is considered as functioning within ecclesiastical monopoly.

9. Sacraments, the ceremonial ministries instituted by Jesus Christ to develop disciples, covenant them with God, further communion with God.

Sacraments are rites in which God is expressed to a recipient though the ministries of Divinely endowed men. These have lifelong application. The Restoration movement provides for the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, ordination, communion in the Lord’s supper, marriage, blessing of children, administration (to the ill), and benedictory administration as in the patriarchal blessing. So members are to grow and experience foundational integrity.

Sacraments suffer when they are viewed as having automatic operation without involvement of spiritual development in persons, without increasing the recipient’s adjustment to and communion with God. They suffer when they are manipulated for priestly control of persons.

10. Zion, the manifestation of saintly community, of social gospel, here and now.

The Restoration movement affirms an identifiable program of action with a center place as base of operation and satellite communities. This is for the development of Saints and for witnessing in corporate living. Zion provides centers for outreaching evangelistic ministry. Zion functions in a worldwide program. It is a laboratory in saintly living. It looks to a program that includes all phases of balanced, well-rounded living. Men are to live together in mutual support with common allegiance to God.

Zion suffers when proponents become self-centered, making it a program for their well-being alone. It suffers when advocates emphasize one of a few phases and set forth a partial picture of community living. It suffers when fear is stressed as the motivation for gathering to one place. Feat is never adequate motivation for Zionic projects, especially fear of social disasters from which safety is sought by “fleeing to Zion”. Zion suffers when the program is separated from evangelistic mission to all the world. It suffers when its advocates expect a simple, God-given solution brought in by miraculous means, apart from study and exploration and development of members participating therein.

11. Stewardship, man’s accountability to God and to his fellowmen for all resources.

This applies to the discovering, developing, and dedicating of these resources to God’s purpose. The Restoration movement pioneered in teaching the way of stewardship. It is basic in the gospel. The church provides counsel in the several stewardships and includes accountancy in its program. The steward is the creative manager.

Stewardship suffers when its members or administrators think of it as entailing control by administrators and compliance by members. It is weakened when members think of it as affording easy security and assurance of Divine supply on basis of good intent or administrative compliance. It is ineffective when some phase of stewardship is accented to the disregard of other phases of the inclusive business of living.

12. Theology of history that looks to God’s continuing functions to express his purpose with periods and conditions of decline in achieving this purpose contingent upon man’s response to God.

Early counsel in the Restoration movement stated that God keeps going on and does not surrender. History is viewed as an ongoing complex with many factors working in the total story. History discloses times of spiritual advance and spiritual adjustment which at a moment give the impression of retardation and darkness, but which in the long run fir into the God-visioned intent. There are occasions of more apparent revelation and contribution such as the initiation of the Restoration movement. This is prefaced and foundationed by centuries of happenings.

Theology of history suffers when interpreters attempt to set a time schedule for God. It weakens when advocates disregard process and camp on specific dates and events. It falls short of God’s viewpoint when the time span is shortened to fir into some human notions of God’s schedule. It shunts from the great overview when proponents look to “finishing” God’s operations by a stated time or situation with history coming to a close and the universe taking a quiescent condition of finished ends. Rather is the Restoration movement an event, a continuing event in the ongoing historical process in which God expresses in contemporary communication and revelation his mission for persons and his service though his inspired church.

13. Eschatology in which “last things” refer to a closing of a period or condition, rather than a closing out of God’s creative operation.

The Restoration movement has had much to say on the hereafter, but the emphasis has been on depicting the fairness and reliability of God. Consideration of “the glories” in the hereafter was essential to setting forth the equity of God and the eternity of God’s creative expression. It was never intended to provide bait for speculation and an easy road to celestial glory. And man’s continuing existence is set forth as functional and contributive, not as heavenly quiescence.

Eschatology suffers when man’s motivation runs to concern for easy provision of celestial comfort. It gets off track when men get concerned with how much they are going to get rather then with how much they will be able to give. It is obstructive when speculative persons look to the ushering in of some event such as “the last days” or “the coming of Christ” rather than to bringing to pass the conditions meriting an advent of Christ.

14. Worth of all persons with God and his people.

This implies fellowship and cooperative working together for the good of every person. This applies to sex, age-groups, race, and cultures. There is no place for plural marriage with involvement of secondary place for women. Men may be ordained to priesthood; women may be consecrated to stewardships. All age-groups are to participate in church living. There is no priority of any one race. The mission of the church reaches out to every person in the world “that there may be one fold and one shepherd.”

This worth of persons suffers when we confuse potential for development with achieved state of development. Some persons and some peoples have had retarding ways of living. This suffers, too, when the notion develops that persons are identicals in equipment and in possible development. The Restoration movement affirms that “all are called according to the gifts unto them.”

15. Evangelism, the outreaching concern of disciples of Christ for the spiritual welfare of others.

The disciple has come to experience the good news of God’s loving concern for all persons and of God’s providing that all may come to love him and live with him. Every disciple, as an evangelist, has to do this for his own good as well as for the good of others. The evangelist brings his friends into the fellowship of the church that he may find the gospel in action and grow therein. Such evangelism has a tone of joy and confidence and concern. It looks to evangelism as a lifelong process. Members of the church are to live evangelistically together, that is, in sharing good news. And the world of good news is comprehensive of God’s total operation in all phases of his universe.

Evangelism suffers when it is looked upon as a one-time happening of “getting saved”. It weakens when it is looked upon as being talked out rather than lived out. It is partial when it is viewed as a sole experience; there is social salvation, too. It is ineffective whenever any condescension is involved.

Living Distinctively

The foregoing distinctives taken together provide a distinctive church. They have to be lived out – together. Memorizing alone will not do. Dialogue in “wording” will not clarify their content. They may be found only through participating. The work of the Church of Jesus Christ “cometh not by observation” but by participation. A person knows love only by loving, and faith only by “faithing”.

It is the complex of the several distinctives that afford healthy distinctiveness. Selecting one or two of these and pulling them out of proportion can distort the picture. The movement is a social organism with every part affecting every other part. The wholeness of the process matters.

It is out calling to interpret and express these distinctives meaningfully and functionally in 1968, the go on to loftier insights in the years ahead.