The question I have been pondering recently has been: What should our relationship be with the world? Perhaps I should define what I mean by ‘world.’ We have around us political, cultural, and religious entities with which we must interact on a daily basis. We have a worldly government that dictates compliance with a set of laws intended to ‘provide for the common good.’ We must deal with worldly cultural pressures that seem to strike at our values of home and family. We encounter, on a daily basis, displays of behavior that are not in line with our values and standards by the media and by people around us. We are confronted by other world religious groups who do not accept our institutional or personal revelation regarding the dictates of the ‘One True God.’ It is this last relationship that is of interest to me this day. How should we deal with other churches?
The Book of Mormon speaks of only two churches in first Nephi, chapter 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.
This scripture tells me that, in God’s view, there are only two groups when it comes to His church. The church of Christ contains all those who have fulfilled the requirements of the gospel and have been admitted into His church. His doctrine as found in Doctrine and Covenants, section 10 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.
The path to membership in the church of Christ is found in repentance and the process of coming unto Christ (see Moroni 6:1-4). By default, all those who have not completed the task of ‘coming unto Christ’ do not belong to His church. I would add that those that have loaded more requirements than what is found here do not qualify either – no more or less is acceptable. Further, I am not convinced that only members of the Mormon church can meet this criteria.
But, we have to deal with two planes in this discussion. I would suggest that there has become a clear distinction between the spiritual church defined above and the corporate church – the entity that presents itself to the world as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The corporate church is supposed to overlap and encompass the spiritual church and administer the ordinances associated with the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the corporate church requires more for membership than repentance and the act of coming unto Christ, does it still meet the criteria of being called the church of Christ? If not, has it found residence in that other church?
With that said, let me move on to the topic of this post. If the corporate church is truly the church of Christ, what should be its relationship to other religions? Here is where the dissonance erupts in my mind. The epistle of James, chapter 4, verse 4, tells us the following relative to the world:
…know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
Is it us and them? Are we to isolate ourselves from the world and not participate in their games and business activities? Brigham Young spent most of the last three decades of his life trying to isolate the saints from the world. His efforts to make the church self-sufficient through the United Order and other activities ended without success.
Today, this desire for isolation has been supplanted with a strong desire to be afforded worldly respect and to unite with others who share a common goal. It seems that in today’s environment, ‘the enemy of our enemy is our friend.’ Catholics and Mormons set aside their differences to unite in defense of their views on the family. They have collaborated on the delivery of medicine, supplies, and food to those devastated by the cruel side of nature. In fact, they have shared the podium; this year, Cardinal Francis George, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke at a BYU devotional.
Recently, Elder Quentin L. Cook blogged about our friendship with those of other faiths. His thoughts are found here at www.pantheos.com. He speaks of the value derived from working together for a common goal:
These relationships are not ecumenical; that is, we are not trying to come to an agreement on principles of doctrinal practice, but instead there is a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs and a desire to collaborate on important issues where we find common ground.
So, we seem to have moved away from the position of the source of restored truth to a ‘mutual respect for each other’s beliefs.’ Herein lays the continual struggle. We are told that we are to be a peculiar people (1 Peter 2:9) yet we have, in today’s world, embraced other’s beliefs with respect and united with them in defense of the social issues of the day.
Elder Cook also notes another example of our Christian service in the wider world:
Similarly, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, members of our Church and other faiths spontaneously rose to the occasion to help relieve the suffering. This was so fittingly illustrated when a United Methodist congregation in Slidell, Louisiana, graciously offered their church as a place to sleep to Mormon volunteers from Houston, Texas. When the congregation arrived for services on Sunday, they found that the Mormons had cleared trees and other debris from their churchyard. As a show of thanks, our members also mounted their hurricane-damaged flag as a keepsake and flew a new banner from the flagpole. During the shared worship service, the pastor voiced a feeling of unity shared by those of both denominations: “The Mormons are now our friends.”
The idea seems to be that we need to show ourselves as good and upright citizens in hopes that we might influence them on the ecumenical side. Isn’t that why the church promotes the worldwide welfare and emergency relief operations it entertains? Do we publicize these examples of giving in order that we may get something in return – the praise of the world and an expectation to be treated as a ‘friend’ rather than be despised? Is it wrong to assume the ends justify the means in our worldwide relief activities?
How do we stay apart from the world and, at the same time, help those in need as found in Luke, chapter 6:
30 Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again.
31 And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
32 For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them.
33 And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same.
34 And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
I read this to mean that we are not to help with some ulterior motive. We are to help without expecting anything in return. Do we expect something when the help is rendered? Do we expect the world to recognize and applaud us for our service? Is this done to open doors for the message of the restored gospel? Do we, by simply publishing our efforts, indicate we desire something in return?
Nephi provides us a definition of priestcraft In second Nephi, chapter 26:
29 He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.
Can the church leadership be guilty of priestcraft when they engage in worldwide relief efforts that are promoted widely and that are not contributing to the welfare of Zion? Or is it just the publicity department of the church that expects a value for the time and goods dispersed?
From my perspective, the true church of Christ cannot be ‘friends’ with the world. As a peculiar people, we cannot expect them to treat us with anything but contempt. If we are indeed the true church of Jesus Christ, what can we expect to gain by participating in these worldly relief efforts if even a minor component of our intent is to gain the praise of the world? At what price is our recognition that we are able to out-Christian the other Christian sects?
What think ye?