As I pondered the messages of the October 2016 general conference, one talk that stood out to me given my current spiritual worldview was that given by M. Russell Ballard. I found that it spoke to a number of the issues with which believers struggle today. To start, I heartily agree with his plea to those whose faith is ‘faltering.’
Never abandon the great truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the Book of Mormon.
Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”
Not only should one study the ‘truths revealed through the Prophet Joseph Smith,’ but should also seek to understand how those truths are held today by the church and the general administration. Are those truths prominent today in the discourse of the church or are they, as the doctrine of the Doctrine and Covenants (also known as the Lectures on Faith) been excised from the focus of the church and replaced by the traditions of men?
Is the doctrine of Christ as contained in the Book of Mormon truly central to the message of the modern day church? Is the necessity of the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost as prominent in church teachings today as it is in the ‘doctrine of Christ’ found in Second and Third Nephi? The doctrine of Christ presented by the Savior as He taught the Nephites after His resurrection included this warning:
…whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.
Does the doctrine of Christ stand in clarity as the doctrine of the church of Jesus Christ or does it have elements of the traditions of men injected into it or the core components of salvation removed from it? One must study this out and seek the direction of the Spirit or answers.
Elder Ballard then proceeded to ask some important questions that each of us must answer, my response follows:
Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?
Are there others outside the Church, (some by their own choice and some who had no choice) who share a belief in a Father and Mother God? Are there those who literally believe that the doctrine of Christ and other important information found in the scriptures teach us explicitly how to return to their presence? I would offer an emphatic yes. While the church offers a socially supportive environment, it does not place personal salvation in the forefront. Rather, one is called upon to support the brethren, attend the temple, pay tithing and, is time is left, do your home teaching. None of these activities are specifically mentioned in the doctrine of Christ from the scriptures.
Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?
The scriptures speak of our opportunity to know Christ at a personal level. The promise found in D&C 93 encourages us to enter His presence and receive of His comfort. Is the church placing itself as the gate for this privilege? The role of His church should be to help members to establish this relationship on their own efforts and not rely on an intermediary for any communion with Heaven.
Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.
Go to the scriptures, go to your Father in Heaven, seek to fulfill the promise of the doctrine of Christ found in chapter 32 of Second Nephi that after we have ‘entered in by the way,’ we have the ability to speak with the tongues of angels and be guided in all we do. No apostles or general conferences are necessary. The authority to baptize historically given to the church does not extend to all communications with God.
Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?
Where is the inspiration recorded that authorizes this Church organizational structure in the first place? Where does the Lord establish a salaried bureaucracy under His name? Which aspect of the three-fold mission of the church supports the billion plus dollar expenditure of sacred funds for the construction of an upscale mall? Where are we told to only seek instruction from these leaders? Where are we told allegiance to this organizational structure is a pre-requisite to other benefits, such as temple attendance? The traditions of men have taken precedence over the doctrine of Christ. His organization, as characterized in Third Nephi, is made up those who acted as ministers and servants, not as rock stars deserving of the highest of obeisance.
Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?
Recorded in the Old Testament is a story of a gardener who was called as a prophet to preach repentance to the established religious organization. I am sure you recall his famous saying: ‘Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ Is it any different today? Should we expect prophets to appear preaching repentance to those who have erred. The secret that Amos carried was that nothing short of sincere repentance would suffice for those to whom he was sent; otherwise the Lord would withdraw His protection. Are there prophets, outside the establishment, among us today who are brought before us by the Lord to preach repentance? I would offer an emphatic YES!
Where will you go to find people who live by a prescribed set of values and standards that you share and want to pass along to your children and grandchildren?
What are these prescribed values and standards that we are encouraged to live by? Do you speak of the Word of Wisdom? Do you speak of white shirts and ties required to meet the community standard? Do these values and standards bring anything other than a feeling of exclusivity to the proponents? While the church may pride itself on teaching values, it is simply not pertinent to the doctrine of Christ. There are good people outside the church who have similar values and standards without the baggage.
And where will you go to experience the joy that comes through the saving ordinances and covenants of the temple?
Which covenants and ordinances of the temple are you referring to – the Joseph Smith version, the Brigham Young version, the pre-1990’s version or today’s version? Each carries with it differences in covenants. True joy comes from the same source as Alma received it. It comes from being born again. It comes from having our sins purged and our hearts changed. No temple is necessary for that profound and life changing experience.
Brothers and sisters, accepting and living the gospel of Christ can be challenging. It has always been thus, and it ever will be. Life can be like hikers ascending a steep and arduous trail. It is a natural and normal thing to occasionally pause on the path to catch our breath, to recalculate our bearings, and to reconsider our pace. Not everyone needs to pause on the path, but there is nothing wrong with doing so when your circumstances require. In fact, it can be a positive thing for those who take full advantage of the opportunity to refresh themselves with the living water of the gospel of Christ.
I would suggest that the church can be likened to a bus that will carry you part of the way on your journey. To climb that steep and arduous trail, one must put on their own shoes (faith) and tread the trail. No bus will take you up the steep incline. I would encourage all to pause on the path they are on. Seek the Lord in humble prayer and receive of His Spirit. There is no value in relying on an organization to save you. There is no value in completing the checklist. The Lord calls upon your heart to be changed. He invites you belong to His church by repenting and coming unto Him. No more, no less.
I join Elder Ballard in this component of his testimony:
I testify that there is “no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ… I further testify that the Lord “inviteth them 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 all are alike unto God.”
What think ye?