The pharisees are known throughout the Bible and even in Latter-Day Saint tradition as men who were, "a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel". One of the things they were most known for were a monstrous amount of ideas and practices that had to be observed by people of religion in order to be seen as good and holy. I have long saw uncomfortable pharisaical practices in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (of which I am a member). The recent release of an article on Sabbath Day observance has led me to begin to vocalize my long, uncomfortable belief of the pharisees likeness of the LDS church.
"Pharisees – A religious party among the Jews. The name denotes separatists. They prided themselves on their strict observance of the law and on the care with which they avoided contact with things gentile... The tendency of their teaching was to reduce religion to the observance of a multiplicity of ceremonial rules and to encourage self-sufficiency and spiritual pride. They were a major obstacle to the reception of Christ and the gospel by the Jewish people."
A few months ago, the Stake President of my YSA stake came to speak to my ward. He prefaced his comments with his experience at leadership training coming from the Brethren. He said the empahsis on Sabbath Day observance is a coming focus of the church. Stemming from a belief that the Sabbath Day is losing its power and the members are not keeping it as holy as they should, he wanted to speak to us about our own day of worship.
In the following months, I began to hear many church talks and lessons on keeping the Sabbath Day holy. This didn't bother, as it would be a normal LDS topic for Sacrament meeting. I heard conference talks regarding the observance of the Sabbath which felt spiritual in nature and did not pique any particular interest. This focus did not bother me and seemed quite normal.
But then, the church released an article titled, "Five Ways to Celebrate the Sabbath as a Family". I read the article out of curiosity and because of there was an accompanying visual advertisement from the church (marketing always interests me). As I read the article, the dusty old thought of the church paralleling the Pharisees, became very clean and clear to me once again.
Some of the articles, "ideas and practices" include: going to bed early on Saturday, wearing nice clothes all day long, listening to quiet CD's with religious music, special Sunday toys (toys that are not played with on other days of the week), not playing with friends (though that is contradicted if a neighbor family of another faith can be involved and maybe invited to church), eating meals at a leisurely pace, and even taking a couples nap (seriously, that was an actual suggestion).
There is nothing wrong with any of these suggestions. Some of them seem very odd to me and I would never endorse them or the message they convey. Other seem very prudent and conducive to how I would want to spend my Sabbath Day. However, by the church endorsing and publishing the article on their website, the ideas and practice now become semi doctrine. Members will repeat and teach these ideas and practices in church and soon, they will become one with abstinence from caffeinated pop or dating before the age of 16.
It's not that the church is teaching the members to keep the Sabbath Day holy that bothers me. It is not that they are doing so as a church wide focus. It is not even the advertising campaign. It is the list. It is setting out specific dos and don'ts. But more than that, it is a pattern I have seen over the past few years; a pattern coming from the church leadership to the members, of things they should and shouldn't do.
“I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” – John Taylor quoting Joseph Smith, “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, Nov. 15, 1851, p. 339.
"I have taught [principles] to the people and they are trying to live according to them, and they control themselves." – Brigham Young, Deseret News: Semi-Weekly, June 7, 1870, p. 3.
When did we change to become a church and a people who are governed and controlled? What happened to individual inspiration and acting according to principles as we see fit. Why do we need to be commanded in all things? Are we now slothful and not wise servants?
"For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward." – Doctrine and Covenants 58:26
It was the Pharisees who commanded their flock to follow the strict ideas and practices of their day. Instead of following the spirit and letting each choose their own way to follow God, the Pharisees set out to prescribe the way things were to be done. Why then is it, that I see the church doing this today? Why do I see sacrament topics, Sunday School lessons and conference talks focused less and less on the life and teaching of Christ and more on the life and teachings of latter-day prophets and apostles? Today, I sadly see the church becoming more like the Pharisees of old.