I recently had a conversation with the bishop of our ward when we crossed paths at a community event. He was elated that the recent troop surge, sorry, missionary expansion, had increased the elders and sisters from a historical two pairs to five pairs of missionaries in the ward. He warned me that I, as a lost sheep, may be seeing more visits by these young men and women, as their efforts would include re-activation in addition to finding those who can be taught the gospel.
When I am visited by the missionaries, I usually have several simple questions that I ask them. They are questions that I would hope each one of us have answered, in the context of the latter-day scriptures.
Who are the Gentiles?
What is the definition of the gospel?
What is the definition of the doctrine of Christ?
What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?
What does it mean to be ‘born again?’
Unfortunately, I have not met a single missionary that could answer these questions with specific scriptural references. One would think that those who are called to preach the gospel would be able to clearly define these answers, but to such end I have been disappointed. To me, these questions form the core of my spiritual worldview. They represent the crucial information for which the restoration occurred. Let me attempt to concisely answer these questions, based on my study of the scriptures.
Who are the Gentiles?
According to the title page of the Book of Mormon, the book was written to three specific groups – “Written to the Lamanites, who are a remnant of the house of Israel; and also to Jew and Gentile” To which group do most of the current members of the Church belong? I would suggest the church today is made up of mainly Gentiles, as characterized in the Book of Mormon.
The house of Israel lost the truth because of their unbelief. The Gentiles will receive a testimony through the Holy Ghost (3 Nephi 16:6-7)
The Gentiles are the ones that receive the ‘fulness of the gospel’ in the latter days (1 Nephi 15:13)
They are also the ones who sin against the gospel and have it taken from them. (3 Nephi 16:10-13)
What is the definition of the gospel?
I believe that operating under the correct definition of the gospel of Jesus Christ is critical to one’s stature with God. Paul told the Galatians that “If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” It was the contamination of the gospel that prompted the restoration. Should we not make sure that we are, indeed, preaching the gospel that we have received?
Christ defined the gospel during His visit to the Nephites. (3 Nephi 27:13-21)
There are also three instances where the gospel is defined in the Doctrine and Covenants. (D&C 33:11-13, D&C 39:6, D&C 76:40-42) The essence of the gospel as I gleaned from these references is the we are to repent and be sanctified by baptism, first with water, then with fire and the Holy Ghost. These steps are necessary for us to enter His kingdom.
What is the definition of the doctrine of Christ?
Paul told the Ephesians that we should not be ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men.’ (Eph 4:14) We should be equally diligent with respect to the restored doctrine of Christ.
Nephi brings us the first specific reference to this doctrine of Christ. ( 2 Nephi 31:2 – 32:6) He also tells us that ‘there will be no more doctrine given’ until Christ is manifest in the flesh.
When Christ appeared to the Nephites, he added to His doctrine. (3 Nephi 11:31-41) In this treatise, Christ states that anyone who declares ‘more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil.’
I have often pondered what the impact is of this comment. Are we today awash with the doctrines of men rather than holding to the specific aspects of the doctrine of Christ found in the scriptures? What are the potential consequences of expanding the doctrine of Christ to include things that don’t belong?
Both the twelve selected from among the Nephites to be disciples as well as those of the current restoration were told to speak only the words that they received from Christ. “…of tenets thou shalt not talk, but thou shalt declare repentance and faith on the Savior, and remission of sins by baptism and by fire, yea, even the Holy Ghost.” (D&C 19:31)
In the tenth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord states:
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
Again we are told that we must not add to or take away from the doctrine of Christ. I believe the warnings are very clear. If we do not adhere strictly to the doctrine of Christ in our teachings we are built on the sandy foundation and risk being washed away. I wonder if this is not why we are seeing such an outflow from the church. We are to be firmly grounded on the doctrine of Christ if we are to maintain our ability to attract those who seek the truth.
What is the definition of the church of Christ and how does one become a member?
The above quotation from D&C, section 10, represents the specific definition of the church directly from the Savior. In light of the current ‘church,’ is there both a corporate and a spiritual church? What would our organization look like if the church consisted of only those who repented and came unto Christ?
I would suggest that Moroni, in the sixth chapter of the book that carries his name, gave us clarity on what it means to come unto Christ and the criteria for membership in his church. We must bring forth fruit as a demonstration that we are worthy to receive baptism. We must come forward ‘with a broken heart and a contrite spirit,’ and witness unto the church that we have repented of all our sins. We must take upon us the name of Christ, determined to serve him to the end. What does it mean to take upon us the name of Christ before we are baptized? There must be this level of commitment in order to be a candidate for baptism.
After one is baptized, they are to be ‘wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost’ before they are considered a member of the church of Christ. How should this apply to us today? The scriptures tell us that the gospel of Christ outlines the principle of a remission of sins through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost. This gate, as defined by the doctrine of Christ, is how we are to gain access to the ‘strait and narrow path that leads to eternal life.’ How many of us have entered the gate, being cleansed of our sins – having them remitted by the second baptism? This is what is required of us to be considered members of His spiritual church.
What does it mean to be born again?
Nicodemus was told by Christ that we all must be born again and have been privileged to have more witnesses given us relative to this critical element of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Alma stated that “… the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (Mosiah 27:25) We have the examples given us in the scriptures of the people of Benjamin, of Enos, of the three hundred Lamanites, of our father Adam. All of these stand as beacons of the gate to the strait and narrow path.
Among many of the Christian denominations, one is expected to become a new creature in order to be received into His fellowship. Many have used the opportunity at revival meetings to come forward with their commitment to Christ. Is this a legitimate baptism of fire? I will let God be the judge.
I regret that, for much of my life, I looked at those who claimed to be a ‘born again Christian.’ with pity. Oh, how sad it is that they have missed the mark. I now know that, for many years, the pride of my heart blinded me to the fact that the latter-day scriptures bear witness to the necessity of this second baptism – the one that cleanses of our sins and grants us access to the strait and narrow path and membership in His church.
Those are the five simple questions that set me on the path I am now treading. When I had my crisis of faith back in 2000, I had to rebuild my spiritual worldview. I had to sift out of my many life experiences those events which were ’emotional’ and those that were incontrovertible expressions of the spirit. When I was done, I had only two that I was determined to build upon. I had received a strong witness that the Book of Mormon contained the word of God as a young man and I had my amazing experience at the age of 19 when I was lifted out of deep and dark despair and infused with indescribable joy and peace.
These two experiences confirmed to me that there was something outside this mortality. I could not deny the existence of some spiritual world even though I could not see, touch, or hear it within the context of my physical senses. I began a quest to understand what I was supposed to do. I purchased and devoured hundreds of books containing the words of men. I sought the Lord in prayer and fasting for answers. These answers did not come quickly and easily. I came to realize that I was looking in the wrong place. I would not find my Lord through any other man, nor the words that are written by man. I would only find Him by reading the scriptures and applying them in my life. I could only find Christ by coming unto Him.
I still struggle in my quest for eternal life, which is at the end of the strait and narrow path. I take solace in the words of Nephi when he said
O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me.
And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins; nevertheless, I know in whom I have trusted.
My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
He hath confounded mine enemies, unto the causing of them to quake before me.
Behold, he hath heard my cry by day, and he hath given me knowledge by visions in the night-time. (2 Nephi 4:17-23)
In spite of my sins and weaknesses, I have a full heart because of the bits of knowledge I have received. I do not yet know where my journey will take me. I am grateful for the opportunity to express the thoughts of my heart here and hope that I may have some sliver of influence on those who have walked a similar path.
To those who seek the truth, I can only offer my feeble example as a proposed course. Shed the words and works of man. Do not trust in the arm of flesh. Seek God with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Ask the simple questions.
What think ye?
I had the opportunity recently to hear Leigh Anne Touhy speak at a function recently. Her effort to rescue a young black man from the streets of Memphis was immortalized in the Michael Lewis book “The Blind Side” and a movie by the same name.
Leigh Anne saw a person walking down the street in shorts and no coat on a cold day in November. She turned the vehicle around and asked the young man if they could do anything to help him. He only wanted to be dropped off at the closest express bus stop. Later, Leigh Anne, not willing to be satisfied, went to the school where this young man, Michael Oher, had recently transferred. She was told repeatedly to drop her interest in the young boy as he was a lost cause.
You probably know the story – this lost cause, adopted by the Touhy family, played football at the University of Mississippi and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens.
In her presentation, Leigh Anne also told the story of the father and son walking down the beach after a storm. The boy was busy throwing starfish that had been washed ashore back into the water. When his father asked the boy why he thought he could make a difference, the boy replied, tossing the starfish back into the water, “I made a difference to that starfish.”
She also talked of her faith in God, relaying that we are not to be the judge of those in need. God will judge those who receive our help, and God will judge us for our help or non-help of others.
As she talked of this topic, I was reminded of the scripture in the sermon by King Benjamin regarding retaining a remission of one’s sins found in Mosiah, chapter 4:
16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.
In this day, can we rightly assume that ‘the government’ will step in to help those who are in need of succor? With the great safety net provided to all who reside in our country’s borders, are there any truly needy?
17 Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—
Did the person in need not try hard enough in school? Did they choose to be lazy? Were they not given the appropriate role models to understand how to be successful?
18 But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
No place in the kingdom of God if one does not help the needy? How much background information do we need before we should be willing to help?
19 For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
What is really ours? We are born, we live, we pass away. We are not able to take any of our substance, our gold and silver and riches, with us when we move on.
20 And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
Does receiving a remission of our sins not bring joy into our lives? Does it ‘rewire’ our view of others? Being born again does fill our hearts with joy. It does change our view of our place in the world.
21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
Does becoming a son or daughter of God place us in a position of responsibility to help those around us who are in need?
22 And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
Does the beggar need to be in danger of perishing before we are obligated to help? How do we know when this is the case?
23 I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world.
Who, reading this, could not be considered ‘rich’ today when those considered poor have access to food stamps and free cell phones?
24 And again, I say unto the poor, ye who have not and yet have sufficient, that ye remain from day to day; I mean all you who deny the beggar, because ye have not; I would that ye say in your hearts that: I give not because I have not, but if I had I would give.
25 And now, if ye say this in your hearts ye remain guiltless, otherwise ye are condemned; and your condemnation is just for ye covet that which ye have not received.
If one is poor relative to the things of the world and hates his neighbor who has more, they are equally condemned?
26 And now, for the sake of these things which I have spoken unto you—that is, for the sake of retaining a remission of your sins from day to day, that ye may walk guiltless before God—I would that ye should impart of your substance to the poor, every man according to that which he hath, such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and administering to their relief, both spiritually and temporally, according to their wants.
27 And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
We are told in these verses that we are all beggars, that we are to share of our substance with those that are less fortunate without judgment. We cannot know what is in the heart of those people we see who are in need. As I pondered these things, my mind went back to those occasions when I was too busy to stop for a moment and provide financial help to those who are less fortunate. I asked myself if I would have taken the same steps as Leigh Anne Touhy and turned around to help a black youth on the streets of Memphis. I doubt I would have had the courage.
Rock Waterman, in his June post, http://puremormonism.blogspot.com/2013/06/of-alms-and-offerings.html, hit the nail on the head. It is easy for many of us to make the assumption that we are covered because of our donations to the church. We give our tithing, fast offerings and other items by check each month and are absolved of any need to help? I believe that is not the case. We are, as instructed, in the passage above, to help those people in need that we encounter on a daily basis. We are to give of our substance to those people who are less fortunate. We are to do it without judgment
Leigh Anne told a story of her son at a gas station. The electronics at the pump were not working so all customers had to go inside to prepay. As her son, Collin, waited to pay, the man ahead of him gave the clerk a $5 bill. Questioning, in his mind, why someone would only ask for five dollars worth of gas, Collin reached forward and added a $20 bill to the man’s request.
Outside, the man came to Collin with tears in his eyes. He didn’t have enough money to pay for gas to get to work that week. Both the man and Collin went away from the event with joy in their hearts.
We are told in the scriptures that it is our obligation to help those in need. We cannot know the true circumstances of another person, only God does. I recall, years ago, going to catch a flight at O’Hare airport in Chicago. I came across a nicely dressed man who asked me for some change to make a telephone call (this is before the era of cell phones). I gave him several coins and went on my way. The next week, I saw the same man who made the same request. I challenged him on being there a week earlier and refused to give him any assistance.
I look back now on that experience. The man was not enhungered, he did not appear to be destitute, he was wearing nice clothes. I judged him as being deceitful and did not give him of my substance. Is there an obligation on the part of the ‘poor’ to be honest? Was it judgmental of me to not give the man more money?
There is a lot of deceit in the world today. We see scams and viruses, derivatives and pyramid schemes. We see reports of the activity of greed swirling about us. There is a natural reaction to question the motives and real circumstances of anyone who approaches us. I can only hope to rely on the Spirit to guide me in these circumstances.
If we are to ‘retain a remission of our sins’ as promised by King Benjamin, we are required to give of our substance without questioning the motive of the poor. We are to feed the hungry, provide clothing to the naked and provide spiritual nourishment to those in need. A giver and a receiver.
In the end, all my questions are moot. There is little room for self analysis. If we are to be about God’s work, we should be looking for ways, after the poor are clothed and fed, to seek to uplift them spiritually. To expand our vision beyond our little spot on earth is very challenging. There is much hunger and nakedness in the world at large, how are we to make a difference in this vast ocean of pain, misery, hunger, disease, malnutrition, and filth?
The physician we have chosen to use locally spends much of his time in places where people are in great need. He uses the income from his practice to participate in Doctors without Borders. He collects computers and has volunteers who help him prepare them for use in areas where he visits. He has adopted a school in Haiti that takes much of his time and energy. There are others that give of their time and talents to help those unfortunate enough to be born in the ‘wrong’ place.
Is doing good healthy? In a recent study conducted by scientists at UCLA and the University of North Carolina found that there were positive immune system affects from living a ‘purposeful’ life, while a hedonistic life style had an adverse affect at the genetic level. Here is a quote from BioscienceTechnology.com:
People who have high levels of what is known as eudaimonic well-being— the kind of happiness that comes from having a deep sense of purpose and meaning in life (think Mother Teresa)— showed very favorable gene-expression profiles in their immune cells. They had low levels of inflammatory gene expression and strong expression of antiviral and antibody genes.
However, people who had relatively high levels of hedonic well-being— the type of happiness that comes from consummatory self-gratification (think most celebrities)— actually showed just the opposite. They had an adverse expression profile involving high inflammation and low antiviral and antibody gene expression.
Favorable gene expression equates to a positive health environment. So, charity is good for the immune system, as well as the soul.
What think ye?