Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » I Have a Question, 1894

I Have a Question, 1894

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 25, 2009

Remember when the Ensign, and before that the Improvement Era, had a regular feature where readers could write in and ask gospel questions that were puzzling them? I always wondered if those were genuine questions, or whether the feature was only a sneaky way for the editor to preach a sermon on a topic of his own choosing.

Questions sent to the Juvenile Instructor in 1894 and answered by, or with answers at least approved by, George Q. Cannon suggest what was on the minds of Latter-day Saints that long ago. Would these same questions be asked today? Would the answers be the same?

A young lady in one of our Sunday schools informs her teacher that an Elder had rebuked her for using consecrated oil to rub her own throat with. His reason for doing so, as he said, was that she had no right to use oil in that way; it must be used only in the hands of the Priesthood.

It seems incredible that any Elder should utter such a rebuke, and we think there must be some mistake about this statement; for such a rebuke would be nothing less than bigotry. A man must be densely ignorant who would make any such remarks – that is, if this were all that the young lady had done.

Is it proper for young people to congregate in neighbors’ houses on the Sabbath and indulge in games of play?

The Sabbath is ordained as a day of rest and a day on which the Saints should specially devote their attention and turn their thoughts to spiritual matters. It is expected that the Saints will refrain from seeking amusement, as well as to avoid work at this time, and it is not right for young people to spend their time in games of any kind on the Lord’s Day, though meeting together and engaging in elevating, interesting and instructive conversation is not at all improper. The Saints should not put on a sanctimonious air and long face, which at one time were thought to be necessary to the proper worship of God, nor should they be more anxious on the Sabbath to serve God than they are upon any other day. But there is an appropriateness of conduct and of action which all Latter-day Saints should adopt on Sunday which will cause them to refrain from light-mindedness and folly, and prompt them to make it indeed a day of worship and of rest.

It would be quite proper, indeed advisable, where Sunday evening ward meetings are not held, that the Mutual Improvement Associations should hold their meetings. The result would doubtless be gratifying in the increase of attendance of the young men and women.

Have Bishops’ Courts the authority to hear and render judgment upon the official acts of a president of an Elders’ quorum?

Elders’ quorums are Stake organizations and directly under the control and direction of the Presidency of the Stake; consequently the official acts of a president of an Elders’ quorum should be considered, when investigation is necessary, by the Presidency and High Council of the Stake. The ward Teachers, as such, have not the authority to investigate the official actions of the president or officers of any quorum of the Priesthood.

Should not a man who has been appointed by the Bishop of the ward to preside at the Teachers’ meetings have counselors ordained or set apart to assist him?

The person so asking evidently holds the erroneous idea that the ward Teachers form a quorum of the Priesthood, to be presided over by three of their number. We are of the opinion that, in the present state of the organization of the wards, the appointment of a president of the ward Teachers is undesirable. There may possibly be a few wards where perhaps it is necessary, but as a general rule the duties performed by that officer can be better done by the Bishop himself than when delegated to another. Indeed we have heard of one case in which a conflict of authority arose, the presiding Teacher having assumed the position that rightly belonged to the bishop, and ignored the latter in dealing with the standing of members of the ward.

A friend makes the inquiry whether the earth is to be cleansed by fire before or after the Millennium.  There are a great many passages of both ancient and modern scripture which go to show that the purification and change in the condition of our planet is to occur after the thousand years of peace, and when Satan has made his final and determined effort to conquer the hosts of heaven. The most pointed scripture, however, on this subject and a conclusive statement is that found in section twenty-nine of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 22, 25:

And again, verily, verily, I say unto you, that when the thousand years are ended, and men again begin to deny their God, then will I spare the earth but for a little Season; and the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth, for all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; and not one hair, neither mote shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of my hand.

We have been asked by several different persons whether in ordaining a brother, it is right to confer the Priesthood first and then ordain him to the particular office to which he is called, or to directly ordain him to that office in the Priesthood. That is, in ordaining a man an elder, should the one officiating say: I confer upon you the Melchisedek Priesthood and ordain you an Elder, or, I ordain you an Elder in the Melchisedek Priesthood, or whatever the office conferred may be?

So far as we know, the Lord has revealed no particular form, or words to be used in the ceremony of ordination to the Priesthood, as He has done in the rite of baptism, neither has He given any direct instructions on the point presented by the enquirers. Certain it is that both forms have been and are being used by those officiating, and it is equally certain that the Lord recognizes and honors those ordained in either way. consequently, we are of the opinion that both are acceptable to Him, and will be until it pleases Him to give the Church further light on the subject, either by direct revelation or by inspiring His servants of the First Presidency of the Church to direct exactly what shall be said.

We are requested to give information as to how many members there are in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It is difficult to answer this with entire accuracy; but from the best information, there are two hundred and fifty thousand who are in full fellowship in the Church in these mountains.

But this is scarcely a fair way of estimating the number of people who are believers in the doctrines of the Church, and who pass as Mormons and hold themselves as such. As we have said, there are probably a quarter of a million communicants – that is, members who can meet and, being in fellowship, can partake of the sacrament; but there are very many thousands who are what would be called non-communicants, who remain in the various lands where the gospel has been preached, and are scattered all over the Pacific slope and in the Mississippi valley and elsewhere, who have lost their standing through carelessness or indifference, or other causes, yet who believe the doctrines of the Church, and if asked, would say that they were Mormons. such are to be met with in surprising numbers. How numerous they are it is difficult to estimate.

[A] correspondent … asks if the negro race formed the third, or neutral, party in heaven at the time of the great rebellion.

There is nothing written as the word of the Lord upon this subject; but many of the Elders have indulged in the supposition that this was the case.

[Note: This false notion has, of course, been repudiated in terms far stronger than this; I include it here as an indication of how long this speculation has muddied the waters of our culture, and of the less-than-valiant efforts to stamp out a supposition that was and is not “the word of the Lord.”]

If an aged man is brought up before the Bishop and his council to be tried, and he is a man that is not fully capable of explaining his own position, is there anything in the laws of the Church to prevent his having a man belonging to the Church act as his spokesman at the trial?

There is nothing in the laws of the church against one of the brethren acting as spokesman for another in a case of this kind. but, of course, there would have to be great care taken in granting permission of this character, for the reason that there are so many would-be lawyers who would like to get an opportunity to argue cases before the Bishops’ Courts, and make themselves disagreeable and perhaps offensive. But for one man to speak for another in the spirit of the Gospel and in a way to explain fully to the Bishop’s Court the position of the other man who is up for trial, there can be no objection to it – that is, if the accused is a man not fully capable of explaining his own case.

In consecrating oil, which hand should we hold the oil in, and which should we hold up and connect with our brother by the elbow?

The oil is generally held in the right hand and the left connects with the person standing next; but we may ask, in reply, would the holding the oil in the left hand by those holding the priesthood invalidate the consecration? Certainly not.



  1. The first question was awesome. Some things never change – the Elders Quorum continues to torment the poor sisters! On the other hand, it’s a great illustration of how profoundly the culture has transformed.

    Comment by Easton — February 25, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  2. I liked that one, too, Easton (that’s why it’s at the head of the list) — can’t imagine an official response today, though, that would be quite as frank about the man’s bigotry!

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 25, 2009 @ 8:36 am

  3. Fascinating stuff, Ardis. I’m especially intrigued by the two questions dealing with consecrated oil, and want more information about the last line of answer number one: that is, if this were all that the young lady had done.

    Also the answer concerning total church membership is fascinating in that the respondent (Cannon?) seems to be equating full and faithful membership with not only believing in Mormonism but living “in these mountains,” while not granting that there might be Latter-day Saints in “full fellowship in the Church … who remain in the various lands where the gospel has been preached.”

    Comment by Christopher — February 25, 2009 @ 8:40 am

  4. That membership question is intriguing, isn’t it? Besides the question of where Cannon would classify the faithful meeting-attending, tithe-paying, missionary-supporting members in, say, England who had not yet gathered (his remarks seem more pointed toward those who had melted away into the American background), Cannon seems to come down on the side of today’s membership-counters who would distinguish between names on the rolls and bodies in the pews.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — February 25, 2009 @ 9:02 am

  5. I was also intrigued with some of the questions. I noticed the member-count, too, and the questions it raised. In 1894 would people who hadn’t migrated west be considered not keeping the commandments? (Yet, as Ardis has repetedly shown in numerous examples, there were very faithful members in the mission fields at the time who laid the foundations for future Church growth in those areas.)

    I also liked the consecrated oil questions. We discussed consecrating oil just this past week in priesthood.

    I’m also glad that Ardis included the question about “Negros” forming a “neutral party” in the pre-existance (and her note along with the answer).

    Comment by Steve C. — February 25, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  6. This is, of course, stuff that I absolutely love. The last one has to do with the fact that since Nauvoo, most of the consecrated oil was so consecrated at prayer circle meetings. Though not as common in the 20th century it did persist up to the 1920’s.

    The first is classic too. It is interesting, because the self administration of oil we common into the 20th century as well. This is one of the first comments describing it with disapprobation, as well as an early criticism of female participation in healing ritual.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 9:44 am

  7. In part due to the depression of 1894, this is just about the time of the first encouragement of members to stay home and build Zion there, rather than emigrate to Utah where they could easily have remained unemployed and a burden on the wards. I think those faithful members elsewhere must have completely escaped GQC’s thoughts for the moment.

    I can’t type a thing about oil or blessings without wondering how long J. has already known that quotation or what he will say about it! I remember in the ’60s that consecrating oil in Fast and Testimony meeting was as much a routine part of the business of that day as blessing a baby or confirming an 8-year-old. I can’t remember ever seeing it since. Is that done now in priesthood meetings, or when?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2009 @ 9:51 am

  8. Ardis, you were blessed to live in a ward that kept to old traditions! The latest account of consecrating oil in fast meeting was my mom’s recollection as a child. Would you mind shooting me over an email recollection for my files? In the last quarter of the nineteenth century you see accounts of blessing the oil in prayer circles, fast meetings and/or at the temple (they used to sell oil at the temple gate).

    I have only seen it done a couple of times in priesthood meeting, and then as a teaching moment. Generally it is now down privately. Every once and a while, I have heard of a ward consecrating a big bottle and diving up the oil, but I have not seen that first hand. Wonderful!

    Also, I have been hoping that this was GQC, I’m glad to see that you think it might be him.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 10:00 am

  9. Yes, I love this sort of thing, too. Thanks. I would love to see more (and more and more and more) of these question-and-answer articles, Ardis, if you find them.

    I liked how there were concrete questions and answers (even if the answer was simply, “The Lord doesn’t seem to have answered that”). It beats the more recent “sermon-like” Q & A articles you allude to, Ardis:

    Question: I have a question. I have been wondering about the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I have sinned in my life. Does the Atonement apply to me?

    Answer: [insert two-page blather]

    Comment by Hunter — February 25, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  10. I thought of J. as well when I read the questions about oil, and was hoping he would weigh in. Fascinating stuff.

    Comment by Christopher — February 25, 2009 @ 10:09 am

  11. J.–When my husband was EQP 2-3 years ago, and teaching a lesson on priesthood in the home, he bought a largish bottle of oil and they blessed it as a quorum then divided it up into little bottles he’d bought for the class (forget if he just paid for them as gifts or if he had each member pitch in to cover costs). IIRC one of them had a hand grabbing the vial and it said “hold to the rod” on it. Classy.

    Ardis–I had to re-read and re-read again your intro to this post and still didn’t quite believe that the word “bigotry” was used back then to describe the way that Elder was acting towards that woman. I thought I was misunderstanding your typesetting conventions or something. The only place you’d hear something like that today is FMH. Amazing!

    Comment by Cynthia L. — February 25, 2009 @ 10:12 am

  12. We have been asked by several different persons whether in ordaining a brother, it is right to confer the Priesthood first and then ordain him to the particular office to which he is called, or to directly ordain him to that office in the Priesthood.

    When did this become a distinction with a difference?

    Comment by Justin — February 25, 2009 @ 10:28 am

  13. Justin, doesn’t it sound exactly like Joseph Fielding Smith? Only, of course, this predates his finicky precision on such things.

    Cynthia, the ladies at FMH might be surprised to know how long some of the same arguments have been going on, and that some men of the past were every bit the champions of women that some feminist men are today.

    Hunter, you’ve exactly pegged the kind of artificial question I was thinking of … only I don’t have the guts to call it “blather” in public! :)

    J., I’ve dredged every detail out of my memory that I trust, and have emailed it. Someday I expect to show up as “informant A.” in one of your articles.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 25, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  14. Count on it!

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 11:15 am

  15. R: consecration of oil. We just did this in HP Group Mtg a few months back, that is, consecrate a bottle (smallish) of olive oil, then fill up a number of the small consecrated oil squeeze bottles for members of the group.

    The mention of consecrating oil on Fast Sunday brings up faint memories from my teenage years (67-71), though it may have actually been done in Priesthood opening exercises rather than in Sacrament meeting. ..bruce..

    Comment by bfwebster — February 25, 2009 @ 11:27 am

  16. I vaguely remember seeing oil consecrated in Fast Meeting, but nothing concrete. Several years ago our Priesthood Quorum consecrated oil and made it available in small bottles for the families who wanted it. We got one for our home, one for the car, and one for each of my children.

    Comment by Maurine — February 25, 2009 @ 12:11 pm

  17. Myron Abbott and his wife Lovica Leavitt lived in Bunkerville, Nevada during the late 1890s and early 1900s. According to their histories, their medicine shelf held two important cures, a bottle of brandy and a large bottle of consecrated oil. Not only was the oil used for blessings, but it was also give by tablespoon orally to a sick child.

    Comment by Maurine — February 25, 2009 @ 12:26 pm

  18. When I did an internship at the New Era for six months, we really got and really published questions and answers. So I guess that answers at least one question inspired by this post. As for the oil, I had no idea they used to consecrate it at church. So it has to be consecrated and set apart before a blessing can be given. Is that right?

    Comment by Michelle Glauser — February 25, 2009 @ 12:52 pm

  19. Maurine, this is great stuff. The first account of administering consecrated oil orally dates to 1838. It enjoyed a long tradition in the Church. Starting in the early twentieth century (We may have one example from the 19th as well), you see people starting to debate the propriety of anointing the area of affliction and drinking the oil. We call this the “therapeutic” use of oil. The 1942 Melchizedek Priesthood curriculum mentions not drinking oil. But when Answers to Gospel Questions compiled JFS II’s column from the Improvement Era in the 1950’s, the following was included:

    “Is it permissible to administer the oil internally?”

    No. Taking the oil internally is not part of the administration. If persons who are ill wish to take oil internally, they are not forbidden, but many sicknesses will not be improved by oil in the stomach. (1:148)

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

  20. Michelle, it is typically “consecrated for anointing the sick” though the verbiage isn’t set.

    Comment by J. Stapley — February 25, 2009 @ 1:00 pm

  21. This discussion about consecrated oil is wonderful. I really have been enjoying reading the comments. Thanks J.

    I remember how usually once a year we’d have a priesthood lesson on consecrating oil. They would consecrate the oil and divide it out. I think many people are confused about how we can do this. I have always put a little in my vial and consecrated that myself or, in cases where my HT companion and I were going to give a blessing, have him help.

    I found the discussion about taking the oil internally interesting as well. A couple of weeks ago a friend and I administered to my daughter. He used his oil. It was old. It looked like motor oil. I don’t think it would have been a good idea to take it internally. :-)

    Comment by Steve C. — February 25, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

  22. Fascinating, Ardis – and the thread discussion is wonderful.

    I’ve participated in a Priesthood lesson on blessings that included consecrating oil and sharing it probably five or six times in my life. I have a larger bottle in my house that I would be happy to share with others who run out. That practice (consecrating the original bottle and using it for refills) has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.

    Comment by Ray — February 25, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

  23. Oh, and I also appreciated the question and answer about “the negro race” – and your additional link.

    Comment by Ray — February 25, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

  24. Re. No. 18: Michelle Glauser’s comment about receiving “real” questions from readers over at The New Era:

    Just because The New Era may have received real questions from real readers doesn’t necessarily mean that The New Era should have published them in a question/answer format. For example, over at under “We Want to Hear from You,” it specifically indicates that they don’t want “sermons.” So, too, it seems the Ensign editors have control to re-print a reader’s general inquiry in the form of an article, rather than in a true question/answer format.

    If the editors of the Church publications are leery of pinning themselves down to actually answering real questions, it just seems to make more sense to completely omit this feature, rather than to pretend. And I think that’s exactly what’s happened; if my memory is correct, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the “I Have a [Fluffy] Question” section in the Ensign.

    Comment by Hunter — February 25, 2009 @ 3:00 pm

  25. I recently read a manuscript written in 1895 by a missionary returning from Tennessee. On his return he visited areas of Tennessee which had not seen missionaries or even had church services for over ten years. Yet he found many families who believed in the gospel and in the Church even though they lived very far away from any branch of the Church.

    In an oral interview recently I heard a story that would have happened around the turn of the century. A small group of members were out of contact with the church for so long no one could recall any of the “hymns of the restoration.” Only after many years, were they able to obtain a hymn book and enlist someone who could read music to teach them to sing the hymns again.

    Comment by BruceCrow — February 25, 2009 @ 9:22 pm

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