Thursday, September 29, 2016

Which church do you belong to?

I've always thought of "church" in the context of "going to church." It's a place, an organization.  It's an institution with its own teachings and doctrines, buildings and rites, etc.  There's the Catholic church, the LDS church, the Baptist church, the Episcopalian church, the Church of Christ, etc.  Each is distinct and unique and, most likely, if you're a member of one, you are not a member of another. 

In the Book of Mormon, there is a broader definition of what a “church” is:

1 Nephi 14:10: “And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.”

So how do we gain membership into the church of the Lamb of God?

In D&C 10:67, it says:
“Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.”

This seems much too simple.  The Lord can't mean what He says, can He?  Doesn't membership in His church require a particular membership in an earthly institution?  Isn't it critical that we are members of the one true church on the earth?

In January 1988, Stephen Robinson (then a professor at BYU), made a rather profound statement:

"In either the apocalyptic sense or the historical sense, individual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there [are] Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records."

So, if Robinson is correct, and if I understand D&C 10:67 correctly, then it is possible to individually become a member of the church of the Lamb of God?  But is it also possible for an earthly church, with all of its members, to be a part of the church of the Lamb of God?  I believe the answer is yes and we can see several examples of that in the Book of Mormon. 

After Alma had fled the established religious institution of the day, He began baptizing and teaching the people what He had learned from Abinadi:

"And he [Alma] commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.

Alma applied Christ's doctrine by teaching them to repent and come unto Christ.  By instructing that nothing but "repentance and faith on the Lord" should be taught, he pointed His people to the author of their salvation and "thus they became the children of God."  

Several chapters later, in Mosiah 25:21-22, we see again the emphasis Alma places on teaching only repentance and faith:

"Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
 And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God."

Mosiah 25:24 paints a picture of a truly happy people:

 "And they were called the people of God. And the Lord did pour out his Spirit upon them, and they were blessed, and prospered in the land."  

They were His.  They followed His doctrine and He accepted them. 

So just to break this down . . . what did Alma and His people do that qualified them to be the Lord's church?

*  They had faith in Christ
*  They repented
*  They were baptized
*  They preached nothing but faith and repentance
*  They had one eye, one faith, one baptism
*  They had no contention among them 
*  Their hearts were knit together in love and unity 

This encapsulates the doctrine of Christ and was the doctrine Alma and his people lived and followed faithfully. The doctrine of Christ is found throughout the scriptures. I believe following that doctrine is what qualifies us, as individuals, or as churches, to be of the church of the Lamb of God.

In 3 Nephi 11:38 the Lord explains His doctrine:

And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
  Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
  And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.”

This fits with what we learned from Alma and his people.  The one addition, which is important to ponder, is becoming "as a little child."  The message is the same:  repent and be baptized.  And don't declare more or less than this.

In 2 Nephi 31: 17-21, we learn how this doctrine prepares us to receive eternal life:

“Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.
 And then are ye in this strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life; yea, ye have entered in by the gate; ye have done according to the commandments of the Father and the Son; and ye have received the Holy Ghost, which witnesses of the Father and the Son, unto the fulfilling of the promise which he hath made, that if ye entered in by the way ye should receive.
 And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for ye have not come thus far save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.
 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.
  And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”

Again, the same simple requirements, with just a few additions to be studied and pondered - "remission of your sins by fire," "perfect brightness of hope," "love of God and of all men," etc:  Repentance, baptism, faith in Christ.  

Which church on the earth teaches this pure doctrine of Christ?  Is there a church that does not “declare more or less than this?” Which church makes it clear that "this is the way" and "there is none other way" that leads to salvation?

In Preach My Gospel, the manual used by LDS missionaries, the LDS church outlines the questions an investigator needs to answer in order to be baptized:

  1. Do you believe that God is our Eternal Father? Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior and Redeemer of the world?
  2. Do you believe the Church and gospel of Jesus Christ have been restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith? Do you believe that [current Church President] is a prophet of God? What does this mean to you?
  3. What does it mean to you to repent? Do you feel that you have repented of your past transgressions?
  4. Have you ever committed a serious crime? If so, are you now on probation or parole? Have you ever participated in an abortion? a homosexual relationship?
  5. You have been taught that membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints includes living gospel standards.  What do you understand of the following standards?  Are you willing to obey them?
    1. The law of chastity, which prohibits any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a legal marriage between a man and a woman?
    2. The law of tithing.
    3. The Word of Wisdom.
    4. The Sabbath day, including partaking of the sacrament weekly and rendering service to fellow members.
  6. When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life.  Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?
Does the LDS church declare more than the doctrine of Christ?  Does it declare less?  If a woman repented, had faith in Christ, became as a little child, and desired to follow Jesus Christ by obeying His commands and being baptized, could she be baptized into the LDS church?  What if she couldn’t answer affirmatively to  the second part of question #2 or had a problem with #5c?  Would the doctrine of Christ teach that she ought to be denied baptism? Does the Lord allow for “more or less” to be taught if there is a living prophet on the earth who adds something to it?  Does the Lord mean what He says?

I believe that He does mean what He says, that He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  I believe Brother Robinson is correct and that anyone who lives this doctrine - anyone who has faith, is willing to repent and desires to follow the Savior - will gain membership into His church.  He is merciful and full of love.  He wants to gather us in and keep us safe.  He has given us something so pure and simple that we might not complicate things, that we might be able to find the way:

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)