Note: The parenthetical citations reflect the enumeration found in the Kindle eBook version of this volume
Mormonism has never been merely a set of philosophical tenets, alienated from the material world. It is a religion of the here, the now, a religion that collapses the space between man and the cosmos, between the other-worldly and the earthly, and above all, between human beings. “This is my work and my glory,” the Christ of Mormonism declares, “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” The stated purpose of Mormon project is more practical than ideological. Its success, the God of Mormonism declared, depends not on the propagation of tenets but upon the salvation of souls.
In First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple, Samuel M. Brown offers up a doctrinal exegesis of Joseph Smith’s fourth article of faith as stated in his 1842 letter to John Wentworth. Primary children the world over can recite the article by memory: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by Immersion for the Remission of Sins; and fourth, Laying on of hands for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.” Primarily intended as a devotional text, the book could find a comfortable home in a church service, or a family home evening.
Brown’s foundational premise is that these principles and ordinances enable the formation of a web of lateral and vertical social relationships that define the ideological core of Mormonism as a faith system. He chides Latter-day Saints who have narrowly defined these principles in individualized terms, as a part of the “often-lonely way toward God” (208). Brown argues that reading the article as a text of human relationships “transforms a familiar concept” and “point[s] toward the temple and the grand story of connection that the temple contains” (212). Brown does not regard his reading as radical or new but as deeply-rooted in Joseph Smith’s theology: “The revelation of temple ordinances was built line upon line, precept upon precept, from the very simplest of our doctrines” (213).
Brown suggests that faith is not merely the “acknowledgment of certain ideas or doctrines” or the “spontaneous reaction to God’s presence or an overwhelming manifestation of the spirit” (296). In both instances, faith is conceptualized as something that “is acted upon,” that is dependent upon external forces or systems. Latter-day Saints, well-intentioned though they may be, have absorbed these assumptions, particularly the latter. Though Brown has little regard for how “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens handle religious claims, Latter-day Saints “inadvertently accept the basic assumptions behind their claims.” Facts, such a model contends, matter most. And too many believers “have fallen into the trap set by these critics of religion by allowing them to define the language we use to describe our faith” (338).
Brown argues that “deeply committed relationships” between human beings (e.g. marriage) “make it easier to understand what faith means.” Just as he felt a passionate commitment to his bride over the marriage altar, faith is “a kind of marriage of our souls to the community of the saints” (456). Anxiety over this or that doctrine or practice demands that he “acknowledge that tension or conflict or discomfort in my mind and then place it into the balance of my entire relationship” (458). Moreover, faith is essentially a “conscious commitment, often tedious stretched over the course of our lives” (301). Unfortunately, the Saints have come to see faith as the ability to visualize “a prosperous future life and making it happen by sheer application of our will” (676). Methodist minister Norman Vincent Peale shared this vision, noting that he had originally entitled his famed volume The Power of Positive Thinking to be The Power of Faith.
In his section on repentance, Brown situates repentance against the Anselmian strand of repentance that supposes salvation comes “through sheer force of human will,” that through raw commitment and dedication, “the foibles of mortality can and must be eliminated” (819). Brown’s work, of course, enters a centuries-old dialogue between numerous strands of Christianity. Anselm argued that sin came both from “personal will” as well as “the natural deficiency that the nature itself has received from Adam.” Martin Luther agreed, arguing that “we are in truth and totally sinners, with regard to ourselves and our first birth.” But “in so far as Christ has been given for us, we are holy and just totally,” making mankind “just and sinners at one and the same time.”
Brown is a bit more optimistic. For the Saints, man is “not wholly depraved,” Brown argues (766). The human experience is “a mixture of the human and the divine,” and it “seems beyond debate that we human beings believe better than we act” (757). Repentance, Brown submits, is “the bridge between our aspirations and our accomplishments” (773). It helps to create the Zion community, the holy city of righteousness that in fact “serves as the eternal reminder of our interdependence” (894). After all, “our failings become most apparent in communities,” and it is in communities where repentance is most urgent and pressing. And when it comes to our interactions with those who have committed error, we ought to “understand, identify with, and truly love a person whose failings are different from ours” (1026).
However, it is one thing to speak of our treatment of our fellow man; it is quite another to celebrate rituals and expressions of spirituality from beyond the world of the senses. Enlightenment empiricism coupled with Reformation spirituality has produced a modern society deeply skeptical of such things: how can actions “that have no direct, observable association with their hoped-for effects” be anything other than a socially acceptable delusion? (675) “There is no real substitute for physical presence,” Brown proposes. Actually, doing something to worship God creates a kind of collective memory and a connective tissue that “bind[s] together the community of Saints.” In Brown’s section on how Mormonism conceives the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” he argues that “just as a love for wonderful food can shipwreck a life and body, so a passion for the sweetness of the direct presence of the Spirit can distract us from our overall goal.” If the Spirit is only considered present during a “highly charged emotional state,” the Saints will “always find [them]selves hungry, even when we are well fed.” More commonly, the Spirit “work[s] with us for the improvement and recovery of those to whom we are connected by love, faith, and covenant” (675).
How can Latter-day Saints employ Brown’s work? Nimble in its use of citations and presented as practical theology, Brown has successfully cast the foundational principles of the fourth article of faith to be a mini-treatise on the sociality of Mormonism. Novel, compelling, and innovative, Brown’s work has promise to be a powerful prescriptive for Mormons who have allowed their faith to be centered on the self rather than on the web of relationships of which they are a part. For example, that ritual cultivates collective memory is clear, but whose memory does it exclude? When the Saints are bound to each other—and to their dead—through ritual, what does that mean for the ritual of the Shona, the Hmong, the Igbo, or the Balanta, all of whom have their own versions of rituals that reveal their relationships to the ancestors? Such omissions by no means delegitimize the work; rather, they reveal the nature of the parameters of the conversation in which the work is situated.
It should be noted that Brown’s work does not seek to be a textual biography of the fourth article of faith, along the order of Pauline Meier’s American Scripture or Paul Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography. All the same, some context concerning fourth article’s place in the broader Christian conversation would have been illuminative. For example, the fourth article bears a remarkable resemblance to the work of Campbellite minister, Walter Scott, who had popularized the concepts undergirding article four for some time. “Hold up one hand,” he told schoolchildren, and then listed “faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, [and] gift of the Holy Ghost” with each finger. Ronald Osborn has observed, with more than a little hyperbole, that “nothing in history is lodged more deeply in Disciples thought and practice than that formula.” Scott’s didactic device won wide acclaim; within a year of joining the Campbellite ministry in 1830, he had attracted 1,000 new converts. John B. Boles has argued that its “directness,” “simplicity,” and “rejection of the miraculous” offered an “easy, certain, and dependable way to salvation” for adherents throughout Kentucky and the Midwest. Moreover, within the Mormon community, Joseph Smith’s rendition of the fourth article in his 1842 Wentworth letter represented the product of a longstanding conversation within the Mormon community. Orson Hyde, for example, had identified faith and repentance as “ordinances” but not as being “first.” He also lists “The Lord’s Supper” as a fifth ordinance. Joseph Young provided the fourth article’s first articulation, in which he notes that “God requires all men, wherever his gospel is proclaimed. . .to repent of all sins, forsake evil, and follow righteousness: that his word also requires men to be baptized, as well as to repent; and that the direct way pointed out by the Scriptures for baptism, is immersion. After which, the individual has the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. … This gift of the Holy Spirit, was anciently bestowed by the laying on of the apostles’ hands.” Orson Pratt considered the fourth article’s principles as “conditions to be complied with.”
These minor nitpicks aside, Brown presents to us practical theology in top form: accessible, approachable, and profound. Latter-day Saints will find that its message draws on a rich tradition that enjoys fidelity to the mainstream of Latter-day Saint thought while inspiring the Mormon community to explore their faith as a mechanism for the cultivation of eternal relationships rather than merely as an elaborate system for self-improvement. Brown demonstrates that Mormonism is, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie opined, a family affair.
 Norman Vincent Peale, The True Joy of Positive Living: An Autobiography (New York: Ballantine, 1985), 148.
 Walter Brownlow Posey, Frontier Mission: A History of Religion West of the Southern Appalachians to 1861 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1966), 91-92.
 John B. Boles, Religion in Antebellum Kentucky (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1995), 45.
 John W. Welch, and David J. Whittaker, “’We Believe. . .’: Development of the Articles of Faith,” Ensign (September 1979), https://www.lds.org/ensign/1979/09/we-believe-development-of-the-articles-of-faith?lang=eng (accessed June 18, 2015).
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Salvation is a Family Affair,” Conference Report, April 1970, 26