In a regional multi-stake conference beamed in from Salt Lake City this month, Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke about his experience on board a cruise ship. He talked about the fine accommodations, food and entertainment available to the participants. However, one of the nightly shows was deemed to be too risqué, so he and his wife left the performance. He noted that this episode had relevance in the church experience. Just because one of the events on board the ship didn’t meet with their satisfaction, they didn’t jump off the boat. In a similar vein, he stated that just because something doesn’t go the way we expect in our church experience, we should not abandon the Mormon mother ship. His message to the listeners in this conference was repeated several times: Don’t get off the ship; it will take you to many venues and complete its journey.
I assume that message was prompted by the number of members who are leaving the church. Is this true for the 64 stakes involved in this regional conference or is this message going out to the broader church?
As I pondered his comments, I decided that the analogy of the ship and a cruise is relevant but I don’t think he took the idea far enough. A cruise will take you and its passengers to many destinations but will not be able to carry you to past the port. In other words, a cruise ship to Rome won’t get you to the Coliseum. To accomplish that objective, one must get off the ship and proceed on their own to the chosen venue.
In a similar manner, the church can only take you so far before you have to put on your walking shoes and move under your own power. Elder Eyring, later in the same conference, noted that no apostle, stake president, or bishop can save a person; this must be accomplished by the individual.
While the church can get us close to the destination and provide instructions on how to complete the journey, it does not have the power to carry each of us to the final objective. The fundamental purpose of the church is to teach us how to come unto Christ. It is not the end but a means to an end. We must each learn to ‘walk by faith’ and apply the gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives. No leader from the president of the church down to the local bishop can carry us to that final destination – our personal sanctification. We must accomplish this under our own power.
In the definition of the gospel given by Christ to the Nephites found in Third Nephi, chapter 27, we read:
18 And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
19 And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
20 Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
21 Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do;
If our ultimate goal is to ‘stand spotless’ before Christ, we are instructed to apply this gospel in our lives. We are told we must repent and come unto Christ. We are to be baptized and receive a remission of our sins through the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, which sanctifies us in preparation for the presence of our Redeemer.
The purpose of those who guide this church, I believe is found in D&C 19:
31 And 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.
32 Behold, this is a great and the last commandment which I shall give unto you concerning this matter; for this shall suffice for thy daily walk, even unto the end of thy life.
The more the leadership of the church tries to go beyond this simple admonition, the less effective they will be. Instead of telling us ‘Don’t get off the ship,’ the message should be ‘here are the things you need to know so that you can be prepared to leave the ship and finish your journey under your own power.’
Both Paul (Philippians 2:12) and Mormon (Mormon 9:27) told us that we must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, or as I would suggest, a broken heart and a contrite spirit. The more that church correlation and programs detract from this objective, the less relevant the church becomes.
So… my message is simple. Use the church as a vehicle to bring you closer to your ultimate destination, but at the same time, prepare to leave the ship and move forward on your own.
What think ye?