The Church of Jesus Christ

go-ye-therefore-and-teach-all-nations-39610-wallpaperSpeaking of an occasionally overlooked aspect of Jesus’ mortal ministry, Elder Tad R. Callister said, “Christ built a home to best accommodate the spiritual needs of His children. It was called His Church.” In addition to healing the sick, teaching the multitudes, and performing other mighty miracles, the Savior established a Church—an authorized organization—in order to provide a spiritual home for His followers, a place where they could receive the word of God through His authorized representatives, worship and serve together, and partake in the sacred rites and ordinances of the faith.

Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians outlines the basic organization and purpose of the Church as Christ organized it:

And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and from, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. (Ephesians 4:11-14)

Christ’s Church was organized in order to preserve the purity of His doctrine. In His wisdom, Christ knew that differences of opinion or interpretation, human fallibility, or diabolical liars would corrupt or otherwise confuse the truth as He taught it (and the often-corrective nature of Paul’s epistles is evidence to the same). A single, centralized Church operated by authorized apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors ensured that there would be a place where Christ’s pure doctrine could be found, a place where Christ’s followers could find refuge from faith-destroying philosophies and influences.

Additionally, the Church existed, as Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “to create a community of Saints that [would] sustain one another in the ‘strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.’” That community of Saints (or followers of Christ) was essential to preserving them united in the faith to strengthen and support one another on the path of discipleship. Describing the same Church, which Christ organized among the people of the ancient Americas, the Book of Mormon explains the value of that community of believers this way:

And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and finisher of the faith. (Moroni 6:4)

Finally, an organized Church was essential as a means of providing and safeguarding sacred ordinances and covenants. In the Gospel of John, the Savior declares, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In Christ’s view, baptism is an essential ordinance for salvation: a man (or woman) cannot see the kingdom of God without it. Further, the New Testament teaches that there is a valid authority and mode for performing baptism:

And [Paul] said unto [certain disciples], Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied. (Acts 19:3-5).

The disciples Paul addressed had been baptized, but not by the authority of Christ’s newly organized Church. Exercising his apostolic authority, Paul administered the ordinance of baptism and the Gift of the Holy Ghost to them.

Ultimately, followers of Christ “strive for conversion…Christ and His gospel, a conversion that is facilitated by the Church,” in Elder Christofferson’s words. By organizing a Church, Jesus Christ essentially fenced off His fold, creating a place of refuge and resort for His flock. Led by Him through authorized representatives who carried His gospel to the nations of the earth (see Ephesians 2:20; Mark 16:15), His Church stood as a gathering place for His Saints, a beacon for all His children.

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Becoming a Covenant People

miracle-loaves-fishes-james-tissot-82990-wallpaperSpeaking to a gathered multitude in the ancient Americas, the resurrected Christ declared, “I will gather my people as a man gathereth his sheaves into the floor” (3 Nephi 20:18). Like in this statement, much of scriptural history is marked by God’s purpose to gather and redeem His chosen people. However, the idea that God might have a chosen people, a group uniquely privileged to enjoy His care and attention seems to cut against the idea that “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34). If we understand God’s relationship with and definition of His chosen people, though, we may begin to see that His purpose really is to gather and save all of His children—not just a select few.

The basis of God’s relationship with His people comes, at least in part, from the covenant that He made with Abraham, as recorded in Genesis: “And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly…. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and they seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:2, 7). Covenants are mutual promises wherein two or more parties accept certain conditions. Here, God promised Abraham that He would bless and prosper him and his posterity if Abraham fulfilled his end of the covenant by obedience to God’s commandments.

But, while God made His covenant with Abraham and His posterity, it is clear that God did not mean to restrict His richest blessings to a single family. We see this truth dramatized vividly in the New Testament: “But when he [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matthew 3:7-9). John makes it clear that the true focus is not on lineage but on character, obedience, and “fruits meet for repentance.”

For us, then, this means that we have access to God’s richest blessings—not because of our family history or national identify, but because of our faithfulness and willingness to make and keep covenants with God. The covenant of baptism for example, an ordinance available to any one of God’s children, entitles us to be “redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that [we] may have eternal life” on the conditions that we be “willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and all places” (Mosiah 18:9).

Salvation and its attendant blessings are not reserved for a select few, chosen at the whim of a capricious God. Our status as part of God’s covenant people depends much more on us than on Him, for He is ready to welcome all who will come into His fold. Only we can exclude ourselves from His blessings by refusing them, by rejecting Him and His covenants and deciding instead to walk in our own ways. But, even if we have rejected Him once before, we can turn anew to God, accept the conditions of obedience and return to full fellowship in our covenant relationship with Him, for “he inviteth [us] all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Nephi 26:33).

Easter’s Reality

christus-hand-lds-454936-wallpaper“He is not here,” the angel declared to Mary Magdalene and “the other” Mary: “for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (Matthew 28:6). In his declaration, the angel articulated the great Christian hope—that Christ lives and that, through Him, we may also conquer death. But, in pointing the women’s attention to “the place where the Lord lay,” the angel also taught a valuable truth. Jesus Christ had lived and had died, being buried in a borrowed tomb, and the physical spot where He had lain was empty! He had been there, physically, and, just as physically, He had risen, conquering death and fulfilling every jot and tittle of the law (Matthew 5:18). Christ, His gospel, and His saving mission were not and are not merely ideas or abstract ideals—they are reality, physical, particular, and comprehensible. One of the great truths of this Easter season is that the God we worship is not an abstraction, not an esoteric intellectual concept: no, He is a living, physical Being who sent His Son to teach us by actual, physical example.

I think there’s a simple significance to Jesus’ repeated invitation to follow Him. He isn’t asking us to follow an idea or to pursue a philosophy. We’re meant to follow Him—an individual who walked on this earth and did marvelous things for the love of God that was in Him. When He says, “Follow me,” He’s effectively saying, “the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do” (3 Nephi 27:21). Christ went about doing good: healing the sick, teaching the ignorant, comforting the distressed, defending the truth, and easing burdens wherever He found them. If we are to be His disciples and truly follow Him, we only need to do the same. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to follow Christ if He had only given us abstractions, concepts, or philosophies: how could we ever know that what we were doing was the true expression of His gospel? But, because Christ taught by the strength of His personal example, we have a clear, accessible model to follow. There is no ambiguity. We, as disciples, are meant to do what He did as He did it.

The testimony of the women, apostles, and others who witnessed the resurrected Christ is a testimony that Christianity is more than just another idea among ideas. Christians do not follow some abstract truth: they follow the One who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus Christ lived nearly two thousand years ago and left a specific, indelible example of how we ought to enact our love for God and for our neighbors. Beyond that, though, He died and rose again on that first Easter morning, showing Himself to be far more than a good and wise man: He is the prophesied Messiah, the Son of God, who holds power over death and sin. And He yet lives, our perfect example and supporter.

This Easter, I am, of course, grateful for the message of hope in the resurrection and redemption that Christ wrought in rising from the tomb. Additionally, however, I am grateful for the security and clarity that come from being able to place my faith in Him, a perfect, unchanging, singular being rather than in a shifting, shapeless abstraction. There is power in following the living Christ, in emulating the practical reality of His example. He lives. Today is the day on which we commemorate that fact. And because He lives, He can teach us, lift us, and invite us unto Him, saying, “Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world” (3 Nephi 11:14).

Gospel Manhood

boy-riding-fathers-shoulders-1156154-wallpaperLatter-day Saints understand the priesthood to be the power and authority of God, delegated to men for the purposes of doing His will and accomplishing His work on the earth. Ordination to the priesthood is available to any one of God’s sons who is living a life in harmony with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and, while the priesthood comes with the authority to govern in the affairs of the church, the power to bless others, and the commission to teach eternal truths, it also comes with a charge to conduct oneself according to God’s standard of manhood. Indeed, if priesthood holders are to represent the Lord, they must also emulate the Lord, modeling their lives after His.

Teaching the prophet Joseph Smith about recently restored priesthood authority, the Lord explained, “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned” (D&C 121:41). In this statement, I can’t help but see a gentle repudiation of the world’s expectations for manhood: God’s standards for His sons is not that they be brawny, aggressive, or loud—but that they be gentle, loving, and persuasive. Indeed, God’s standards of manhood, the gospel model for masculinity, is much more about strength of character than handiness with a wrench.

The world recognizes men by their rugged individualism, by their ability to build fires in the woods without matches, by their aptitude for identifying and repairing any automotive mishap, by their willingness to play rugby in the mud without any protective gear. However, by the Lord’s standard, these “hallmarks” of masculinity are, at best, peripheral to the true measures of a man. In the same revelation to Joseph Smith regarding priesthood leadership, the Lord went on to instruct him—and all priesthood men—saying, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly” (D&C 121:45). And if a true man is full of charity, then it must be true that he “suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not [his] own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things” (Moroni 7:45)—all traits that he can possess and demonstrate whether he’s replacing a fan belt or filling macarons with ganache.

In speaking to His disciples in the ancient Americas, Jesus Christ asked, “[W]hat manner of men ought ye to be?” going on to answer: “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). Ultimately, the true measure of a man is in his efforts to follow the example of Jesus Christ, to develop a character that, like Christ’s, is above reproach, and to exert an influence that, like Christ’s, builds and improves everyone and everything he encounters.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson declared:

As men of the priesthood, we have an essential role to play in society, at home, and in the Church. But we must be men that women can trust, that children can trust, and that God can trust. In the Church and kingdom of God in these latter days, we cannot afford to have boys and men who are drifting. We cannot afford young men who lack self-discipline and live only to be entertained. We cannot afford young adult men who are going nowhere in life, who are not serious about forming families and making a real contribution in this world. We cannot afford husbands and fathers who fail to provide spiritual leadership in the home.

Thus, a man is not failing in manhood if he happens to know more about pliés than about pliers. To suppose so would be to look only towards superficial and culturally driven criteria for manhood. Instead, we should look to the eternal and fundamental criteria of manhood, the character traits set forth by God in charging His sons with priesthood service. When he is striving to emulate the example of Jesus Christ and to embody God’s vision of righteous manhood by showing himself to be trustworthy, loving, purposeful, spiritually sensitive, and capable of righteous leadership, then we may say that a man truly is a man.