In 3rd Nephi, the scriptures record the visits of Christ among the Nephites. He selected twelve disciples, taught them the message of the gospel and gave them the authority to baptize, give the Holy Ghost and to administer the sacrament. In 3rd Nephi, chapter 26, we find this recorded:
17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.
18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.
19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.
20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.
21 And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.
This passage strongly suggests that those who were baptized, first with water then with fire and the Holy Ghost, were privileged to live the law of consecration – they were a Zion community. These people had ‘all things common;’ a phrase, I believe, notes the participation in the type of community we are to be living in as members of the church of Christ.
Given the presence of this sanctified community, it is interesting to note that the following verses opening chapter 27 find the disciples ‘gathered together…united in mighty prayer and fasting.’ They were apparently praying for an answer to a question when Christ appeared before them:
2 And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
3 And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
I am somewhat comforted and discomforted by this question. The people who were living as a Zion community apparently were arguing about the name of their group. I am comforted because there are, even in Zion, disputes. These disagreements, I assume, can be resolved without anger and malice. At the same time, I am discomforted, perhaps by the facts that we are all human. We already read in the last verse that these people called themselves the church of Christ, yet there are apparently disputes about what the disciples were doing relative to this important topic.
In His response, Christ lays out what I would consider the markers by which we are to know that the organization is His church – In his name, built upon His Gospel, and showing forth the works of the Father.
In My Name
In verse 7, Christ reaffirms that ‘ye shall call the church in my name.’ The church of Christ is to be the name we are to be known by. It carries with it the implicit assumption that we have chosen to take upon us the ‘name of Christ’ individually and collectively.
6 And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
I have often wondered where the spiritual ‘church of Christ’ and the corporate church of Christ overlap. Being known as the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints seems to fit with the requirement to be called in His name. There is, however, this nagging concern regarding the comment Christ made in verse 8:
“…if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man;”
Does this remain simply a ‘spiritual’ name or should it be extended to the real or corporate aspects of this organization? As an example, the copyright of the scriptures that I read are held, not by the church, but by the ‘Corporation of The President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.’ The local stake center is not ‘owned’ by the church of Christ, but by the ‘Corporation of the Presiding Bishop..’ These real assets of the church are carried ‘in the name of a man.’
To most of you who read this post, this may not be an issue. To me it begs the question of the rationale of putting the assets of the church in the name of a man. Is this a type to show that there is a significant difference between the spiritual and corporate church? Is it a demonstration of just how entwined with Babylon we have become?
Built Upon My Gospel
The Lord continues His answer to the disciples’ question with this statement found in verse 8: “…but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.” In other words, it is not sufficient that the church bear His name, it must also be based on the gospel as He taught it. There are four places in the scriptures where the Lord puts forth His gospel; each time stating for clarity ‘this is my gospel.’ Certainly, the most appropriate is found here in the same chapter of 3rd Nephi in verses 13 through 21. For brevity I will not quote the entire reference but I do think that the summary found in verses 19 through 21 are crucial:
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;
As we read here in verse 20, sanctification should be our primary goal in preparation for our last day of judgment – according to His gospel. This sanctification is further clarified by reading one of the other definitions of the gospel found in D&C 33:
11 Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.
12 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and remember that they shall have faith in me or they can in nowise be saved;
We are sanctified through having our sins remitted – made clean through the blood of Jesus Christ. This is accomplished by the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. Christ taught this principle to the Nephites in 3 Nephi 12:
2 … Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins.
This is the same message as found in the doctrine of Christ delivered by Nephi in 2 Nephi 31:
17 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.
18 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.
We are to receive a remission of our sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost BEFORE we are on the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life. This is the same message we find in Moroni, chapter 6:
4 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,
It was not until AFTER the people experienced this sanctification that they were numbered with the church of Christ. As I see it, the message between these scriptures is consistent. It is necessary for us to receive the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost before we are on the strait and narrow path and before we can truly be a member of the Church of Christ. This is the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as defined in the scriptures. This is the gospel upon which the church must be built that it may be His church.
I bring this up because it is critical that we are in alignment with the gospel as defined in the scriptures. As I listen to the leaders of the church on the topic, there have been consistent comments from general conference in recent years on the topic of the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. By example, here is one of the recent comments by Elder Christofferson from April 2008:
“You may ask, Why doesn’t this mighty change happen more quickly with me? You should remember that the remarkable examples of King Benjamin’s people, Alma, and some others in scripture are just that—remarkable and not typical. For most of us, the changes are more gradual and occur over time. Being born again, unlike our physical birth, is more a process than an event. And engaging in that process is the central purpose of mortality.”
Can the process of the mighty change, being born again, as Alma described it, something that can happen gradually over a long period of time for ‘most of us?’ How can this be the gate to the strait and narrow path to eternal live when it is being presented as a long process? A gate is an entry point, not a long process. How can the cleansing of the Holy Ghost – through the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost – be a gradual, imperceptible change over time if it is a prerequisite to membership in the church of Christ as presented in Moroni 6?
In October, 2007, Elder Packer spoke of his calling as an Assistant to the Twelve:
“It puzzled me for a long time until finally I could see that I already had what was required: an abiding testimony in my heart of the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith, that we have a Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer. I may not have known all about it, but I did have a testimony, and I was willing to learn.
I was perhaps no different from those spoken of in the Book of Mormon: “And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not” (3 Nephi 9:20; emphasis added).
Elder Packer’s emphasis on ‘they knew it not’ suggests that the baptism with fire is something that can simply evolve from a testimony. As I have indicated above, this does not agree with the scriptural representation of the baptism of fire nor does it agree with the idea presented above that this baptism is a gate to the strait and narrow path to eternal life.
Contrast this statement with the comment by Alma after his born again experience from Mosiah 27:
24 For, said he, I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.
25 And 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;
Alma states here that the experience of being born again; having our sins remitted by the power of the Holy Ghost is a requirement of all mankind. Alma was born of the Spirit – all mankind must be born again in the same way. The way to the strait and narrow path to eternal life is through the gate of baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost.
Let’s look at the context of this scripture found in 3 Nephi 9:20. There is a strong suggestion that this conversion of the Lamanites is referencing an event in the Book of Mormon. Prior to the edition released in 1981, there was a footnote on this scriptural verse pointing back to Helaman 5:45. (A footnote on Helaman 5:45 still points to 3 Nephi 9:20) This passage chronicles the miraculous rescue of Lehi and Nephi from prison and the conversion of 300 Lamanites. These Lamanites were apparently unfamiliar with things spiritual and needed one Aminadab to explain what was happening to them and what they needed to do to have the darkness lifted from them. It is very reasonable to me to accept that these Lamanites did not understand what was happening to them but were fully overwhelmed. Yes, I would suggest they didn’t know it was the Holy Ghost that was bringing them this baptism of fire. That is what was meant by ‘they know it not.” That situation is completely different from them not knowing that something had gradually changed them over time.
What does it say about the prevalence of the baptism of fire in the church when the person next in line to be prophet and president has determined that it is an imperceptible process over time? Even if the event were rare among LDS circles, doesn’t the man who leads the quorum of twelve apostles have the implicit requirement to have greater access to spiritual matters than those in the rank and file of the church? Does this fact teach the common member that they don’t need to strive for the baptism of fire if the man in line to be the next prophet hasn’t received it? Or alternatively, does it speak to the lack of sanctification demonstrated by those who profess to be apostles and prophets?
Let me now return to the question of this section. Is the latter-day church built upon the gospel of Christ? The fundamental question is whether the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is a point event or a process over a long period of time. Based on the definition of the gospel found in 3 Nephi and D&C 33; based on the description in this second baptism in the scriptures, the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost is a critical component of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is a singular experience that should be sought by all members. It is the gate to the strait and narrow path and the final entry point for church membership. Any effort to redefine this essential element of the gospel from a life changing event to a gradual culmination of a Christ-like life changes the gospel as taught by Christ. If the church is not built upon the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is not His church.
The Works of God
The last marker of the church of Christ is found in the following verses:
10 And if it so be that the church is built upon my gospel then will the Father show forth his own works in it.
11 But if it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.
12 For their works do follow them, for it is because of their works that they are hewn down; therefore remember the things that I have told you.
In order to qualify as the church of Christ, the organization is to demonstrate the works of the Father as opposed to the works of men. To help us understand what the works of the Father are, Christ included this description later in the same chapter:
21 … 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;
Here Christ teaches us that the works that He did among the Nephites are the works of the Father. We find a good summary of these works in chapter 26:
15 And it came to pass that after he had ascended into heaven—the second time that he showed himself unto them, and had gone unto the Father, after having healed all their sick, and their lame, and opened the eyes of their blind and unstopped the ears of the deaf, and even had done all manner of cures among them, and raised a man from the dead, and had shown forth his power unto them, and had ascended unto the Father—
I would submit that the works of the Father are demonstrated by the miracles that Christ performed while he was among the people. He healed their sick, gave sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. He also raised the dead. These are the works that can be used to identify the church of Christ.
It is notable that this admonition to do the works of Christ was given, not the general membership, but to the twelve disciples. We find that these men did follow through in demonstrating the works of God in 4 Nephi:
5 And there were great and marvelous works wrought by the disciples of Jesus, insomuch that they did heal the sick, and raise the dead, and cause the lame to walk, and the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear; and all manner of miracles did they work among the children of men; and in nothing did they work miracles save it were in the name of Jesus.
While we may, based on our faith, be party to miracles in our lives, the marker of the church can be found in the performance of these works of God by the leadership as demonstrated in these passages. The twelve that were called to lead the church among the Nephites were able to perform the works of the Father. Even after the people had turned against them, they still continued to do mighty miracles among the people as we read in 4 Nephi:
30 Therefore they did exercise power and authority over the disciples of Jesus who did tarry with them, and they did cast them into prison; but by the power of the word of God, which was in them, the prisons were rent in twain, and they went forth doing mighty miracles among them.
I think this is a significant aspect that these men continued to follow through with the charge given them by Christ even though they were threatened by the people and cast into prison. It does not appear that the faithfulness of the general population was needed to conduct miracles. Just as Peter healed the lame in Acts 2 to the wonder of all around, these men continued to perform miracles among the people. Are these miracles among us today? If the disciples of the Nephites, as commanded by Christ, performed miracles, should we not see these same miracles performed by the twelve that are called to lead us in this day?
Given a clear understanding of the works of God, let us now consider the works of men. I would suggest that the works of men are the things that we can do with our own hands and by our own strength. The building of great buildings is a good, but easy, example of the works of men. I would even include that acts of fellowship and the rituals of activity such as home teaching and temple attendance. Are these not the works of our own hands in contrast to the works wrought by the power of God? In the absence of these works of God, the works of men will bring us joy for a season but in the end we will be hewn down.
To be the church of Christ, the body of members must bear His name, they must abide by His gospel and the works of the Father must be demonstrated among them. I believe that all three of the markers must be present in order to be called the Church of Christ. Do we truly carry the name of Christ in all we do? Do we strictly adhere to the gospel Christ presented in the Book of Mormon? Do we have the works of God demonstrated by our leaders? These are the markers defined by Christ to identify His church.
What think ye?