I have lately been following a blog written by a man who is Messianic/Torah Observant Christian. I find this new strain of Christianity a bit fascinating, probably because it is new(Although they say they have been around since Christ's time. It's new to me!)
Anyway, this guy tends to ask questions and I can't help but offer an LDS perspective. I made a few comments on one such question and then Blogger started being dumb and I haven't been able to add to the conversation since then. (I suspect it has to do with my security settings but I haven't taken the time to investigate.) So the points of this conversation have been percolating in my head for a few weeks. I finally decided that I would make a general explanation here instead of trying to figure out the finer points of the blogging tech. Please feel free to comment or add your own thoughts.
Very brief recap: The initial question asked by the author had to do with whether or not the oral traditions should be followed, specifically those forbidding the teaching of Gentiles. I first commented about the Abrahamic covenant and the LDS perspective of a spiritual gathering of Israel. Later I gave the example of Peter receiving the revelation to teach the Gentiles. He responded that the Sanhedrin were in charge of ruling on the Law and that Peter was subject to them. This is where the conversation ended.
My first reaction was to go into a dry, technical explanation of the separation of church and state, emphasizing that Peter would only have been subject to the civil aspects of the Law. As I had more time to consider, I realized that there was a deeper issue here. It has to do with understanding the order of the Priesthood.
Let's say the Sanhedrin were a divinely appointed counsel (according the Bible Dictionary there is no proof of this.) Under the true church, this group would have been made up of worthy priesthood leaders, ordained by proper authority to act in this capacity. These men would have the rights, granted by God, to receive inspiration from the Holy Ghost in making decisions. In theory, these men would agree on each case because they would not be acting out of personal opinion or relying on their own knowledge. They would all be inspired to reach the same conclusion. In functioning this way, they would be able to make exceptions in certain cases as the Spirit directed.
If these men became more concerned with worldy affairs, such as personal prestige, or disagreed widely on basic points of doctrine, they would become unworthy of the guidance of the Holy Ghost. They would no longer be acting on inspiration from God. If such is the case, how can their rulings be counted as valid? How can they be trusted to declare God's will?
This is not a new concept to Latter-Day Saints. ( at least I hope it isn't!) For example: If a bishop is in some way unworthy he might suggest that the members under his stewardship drink coffee to give them extra energy to do a service project. Maybe he gives many examples from doctors that support the belief that coffee isn't really bad for you, especially in small doses. Some might follow his counsel, others would not. Those who were lead astray by this Bishop's misguidance would still need to repent and may suffer personal consequences such as addiction or withdrawals. But, as I understand it, the bishop would be in serious trouble and responsible for what he had caused them to do while the people who followed him would be less responsible. After all, they were following the counsel of their priesthood leader.
This parallels the scenario of the Jews at the time of Christ and those who were charged with leading them. So in Matthew 23 when Jesus says that they "sit in Moses' seat" he means that they hold the position, though are not worthy of the inspiration that goes with it.
To me, the very fact that there was such disputations among this group proves that they were not in tune with the Spirit. That doesn't mean they were evil (at least not all of them) nor does it mean that their civil authority was suddenly void when Jesus established His church. What it does mean is that their spiritual authority was void. Peter and the other Apostles are called and set apart as the official counsel of the Lord. They are authorized to interpret scripture and receive revelation, make changes and judgements as necessary, and, most importantly, testify of Jesus Christ.
One point I would like to make about "changing the Law". I find it somewhat disturbing that so many people believe that a change in commandments means a change in God. It does not. It means that the time has come for mankind to learn something new, to reach for a higher level of understanding and spiritual growth. It doesn't diminish what has come before, it builds on it. I suppose this leads one to ask if the blessings are different also. In many ways, yes. That doesn't mean that those who lived under a different law will be deprived of the blessings of God in the next life.
Let me try this a different way. We live in the Last Days, when Satan is working harder than ever to lead people astray. We also have a very high world population. There are many dangerous influences surrounding us on every side. While I am sure the same kinds of wickedness have always been, I doubt the average person had to face them in such an unavoidable way. God's laws are to protect us. So are the blessings such as the priesthood and the temple ordinances. Perhaps it was less necessary for the average person to have such fortifications 3000 years ago. That doesn't mean there was no need of commandments or obedience or faith. Only that we need it more now than ever in the history of the world.
God has not changed. He does not change. But he can and does alter his protection and guidance for his children. He does this out of love and concern for our well being. He does this for our good. He has provided a way for us to withstand all the temptations in our path. Commandments are not for God, they are for us. They are to help us become who we need to be to return to Him.