Why I love the church

220px-salt_lake_temple2c_utah_-_sept_2004-2I have been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for nearly 40 years. I remember many of the things that led me to join the church and have written about my conversion here. But today, I decided I should prepare something that could be delivered as a talk in some future Sacrament meeting or other occasion.

Probably the main reason I felt prompted to do this is because of my current calling on the Stake High Council. One of my assignments is to speak during Sacrament meetings in all the units of the Stake on a rotating basis. These assignments typically fall on the 3rd Sunday each month. On some months I don’t have a specific assignment, but I may be called upon to speak on short notice if another high councilman us unable to fulfill his assignment.

Rather than worry about having to give a talk on short notice on those months that I don’t have an assignment, I knew it would be wise to prepare a talk that I could give on a moment’s notice. This could come in handy for other callings as well.

Today happened to be one of those days — 3rd Sunday of the month — I didn’t have an assignment, but have been worrying quite a bit that I might be asked to speak at the last moment. I had a rough idea of what I might talk about, but hadn’t thought it all the way through.

Luckily, I didn’t get the call, but during Sacrament meeting today, the idea came to me that I should prepare a talk about all the reasons I love the church. It’s not something I’ve ever spoken about before — at least not all in place — but seems like a good idea.

So here goes…

Why I love the church

My Catholic upbringing gave me an appreciation of the importance of having religion in your life, Despite that, as a teenager I began questioning many of the things I’d been taught. I certainly felt a need for God and a belief in an afterlife, but I had many questions and doubts about everything else. I had many discussions with my mom, in particular. I was very close to her and she was a very devout convert to the Catholic faith.

Despite her best efforts, however, I was semi-active in the church in my early 20’s, and had a lot of concerns. At age 23, I decided to essentially drop out of life and go on a “journey of discovery”.

I was in the middle of that 6-month journey when things really began to change for me.

Salt Lake City was on my original list of places to see as I travelled the United States. I can still remember exiting the I-80 freeway at South State St., and heading north to the center of town. The street was unusually wide and straight. In the distance, I could see an impressive structure that was precisely lined up with the street, but considerably higher. It was the Utah State Capitol Building.

As I got closer to the Capitol Building, the city became more and more impressive. The buildings got taller and taller, and the cross streets seemed to get wider and wider. Everything seemed so orderly and well-maintained.

Unlike other cities I’d visited, the downtown area was beautiful and extremely well maintained. Then I saw it — the Temple. Though dwarfed by some of the buildings around it, and seemingly out of place, it was an impressive structure, nevertheless, and I was drawn to it.

After finding a parking place, I walked toward the Temple and found myself inside Temple Square. Surrounded by high block walls, Temple Square, with it’s beautiful buildings, attractive walkway, manicured lawns, and beautiful trees, flowers, and shrubs, it seemed like a quiet — even reverent — oasis in the middle of the busy city. I could feel the spirit.

I soon discovered that I wasn’t allowed to enter the Temple. That was reserved for faithful members of the church. But I discovered a visitor’s center where I was obviously welcome. I went inside, and the first thing I noticed was a very large statue of Jesus Christ. “Good”, I thought, “at least these people believe in him”.

After looking around a bit, a “host” came up to me and asked if I was interested in a tour. I gladly accepted and joined a small group of fellow-visitors as we were lead by the tour guide.

We watched a movie called “Man’s Search For Happiness” which depicted a man who was searching for answers to life’s biggest questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? Why was I here? Where was I going?

I found the film interesting, though maybe a bit too serious. Most of what it taught was not unfamiliar to me. It seemed to mostly fit with what I’d been taught as a Catholic, except it added some important concepts — namely that of a pre-earth existence, and an afterlife where family relationships are maintained.

The only other thing I remember of the tour was watching a diorama depicting Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Now that, I had to admit, was going a bit too far. Nevertheless, I was intrigued.

At some point, I’m sure we learned about the Book of Mormon, although I don’t remember it. After the tour, I met privately with a “host” who offered me a copy of the book and asked if I had any questions. He seemed like a genuinely sincere man and showed some real interest in me — even giving me a photo of his family and his contact information. He even offered to show me other things around the city the following day.

I politely declined his invitation, but held onto the Book of Mormon and his contact information. (Note: Years later, while serving on my mission in Japan, I decided to write him, thanking him for his kindness, and letting him know that I had eventually joined the church.)

The following morning, I left Salt Lake City behind and continued on my way to more adventure in Yellowstone Park, Seattle WA, Carmel CA, and Los Angeles. But I left with a warm feeling in my heart about the city, the LDS Church, and it’s members.

Three months later, after running out to places to visit, and with Winter settling in, I was drawn back — this time to stay.

Almost immediately, I became involved in the church and began meeting regularly with the missionaries. Although I loved everything about the church, I stubbornly refused to be baptized, waiting until I received a sure witness that everything they were teaching me was true.

I won’t go into everything that happened over the next 3 years, but I was fortunate enough to become friends with some remarkable members of the church, and eventually, with their help and encouragement, I came to the realization that I had a testimony of the truthfulness of the church all along — I had received it on my very first visit.

I was baptized by a good friend in October 1979. Though I can’t say I have zero doubts about the all of the church’s teachings, I can say I have zero regrets about my decision to join. The church has provided a constant source of comfort and direction in my life. I have never gone through a period of inactivity. As I told our Stake President a few months ago, my involvement in the church is the only thing that I’ve done consistently these past 40 years. Employment, business ownership, friendships, even marriage have come and gone.

Why do I love the church? There are so many reasons. It’s difficult to know where to begin. I will start with the fundamental doctrines of the church and then move on other aspects of the church which make it so appealing.

Restoration of the Gospel

Everyone knows that Christ had apostles while he was on the earth, but why were there none on at the time that Joseph Smith was born? This is just one example of things that were lost over the ages during the period we refer to as the “Great Apostasy”.

Frankly, it had never occurred to me that the absence of apostles was a problem, but when I learned that they were once again on the earth, as in ancient times, it was an easy thing for me to accept because it suddenly made so much sense.

This made it easier to then accept the the fact there was truly a need for a complete restoration of the Gospel to take place, and that it required the formation of a new church.

Continuing Revelation

This also lead naturally to the conclusion that there was a need for continuing revelation through a modern-day prophet. At the time, Spencer W Kimball was the Prophet. He was short and had a raspy voice, but I watched as he spoke with power and conviction in General Conference.

Speaking of General Conference, this was another thing I loved about the church. I listened and watched several times before I joined the church. The idea of meeting together as one body every 6 months, through the power of technology, seemed like such a great idea, I didn’t understand why all churches didn’t do it. The words brought comfort. I could feel the spirit as the prophet and others spoke. I instinctively felt that these were good people, humble and sincere in their desire to do the Lord’s will.

I had the same feeling as I met with the missionaries as an investigator, and attended ward meetings, firesides, and even young single adult activities. These were good, happy, and wholesome people that I loved being around. They had something that I needed and wanted.

But I digress.

Book of Mormon

Once you understand the need for Continuing Revelation, it become easier to accept the Book of Mormon and the other books of scripture that have been added to the Bible by our modern-day prophets.

I love to read the Book of Mormon because it explains things in such a clear and plain manner that is easy to understand. The pages are full of choice insights and principles.

A few of my favorite:

1 Nephi 3:7 – “… the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.” (comforting words when we feel overwhelmed with life)

2 Nephi 2:25 – “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy.” (a simple and concise way to explain why it was necessary that Adam and Eve fell — and was a necessary part of the Plan of Salvation)

2 Nephi 25:23 “… it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (really love this verse. It explains so well the relationship between grace and works)

Mosiah 2:17 – “…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” (an way of describing the importance of service)

Alma 32:21 – “…faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.” (a simple explanation of faith and one which gives comfort to those who feel their faith is inadequate)

Alma 37:6-7 – “… by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.” (we don’t have to do big things to make a difference)

Alma 48:17 “…if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Captain Moroni is such an example to us!)

3 Nephi 11:29 – “…he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil…” (a reminder that anger and hatred are unbecoming of a child of God)

Ether 12:27 – “…if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (comforting assurance that weakness need not stop you from doing great things)

Moroni 8:11 – “little children need no repentance, neither baptism.”

The Book of Mormon, along with the Doctrine & Covenants and Pearl of Great Price teach us important doctrines that had become lost or corrupted, including that of the nature of God.

The nature of God

Rather than trying to believe in a God without “body, parts, or passion” and in a Trinity of three gods in one, which defied reason and was contrary to scriptural evidence, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that the Godhead consisted of three individual persons, two of whom do indeed have physical bodies like ours.

Eternal Progression

This leads to another doctrine that makes far more sense than believing in a God who came from nowhere, and of a Heaven where good men exist, but without purpose. That is the doctrine of Eternal Progression. President Lorenzo Snow summed it up quite well in this quote: “As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become”.

Of course, both of these doctrines – a Godhead consisting of three persons, two of whom have bodies, and the notion that we have the potential to become like God, are controversial because many Christians consider the ideas an insult to God.

We, of course, intend no disrespect. We give God the Father full credit as “the Supreme Being in whom we believe and whom we worship. He is the ultimate Creator, Ruler, and Preserver of all things. He is perfect, has all power, and knows all things.” (lds.org)

The fact that we also ascribe god-like powers to Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost hardly diminishes the role that God the Father has in our lives. Nor does the possibility of other beings with god-like powers.

Now let’s consider a doctrine that we share with other Christians, but have a greater understanding of.

Agency

The idea that men have the power to make choices is hardly unique to our church, but most other churches don’t teach or understand the scope and ultimate potential that this power gives us. They teach, for example, that it is necessary to choose Christ in order to be saved, but give no thought to the importance of other choices that we make or the ultimate result of those choices. They don’t understand that choice, or agency as we call it, is not only an essential element of our salvation, but by using this power wisely, we can ultimately become like God himself.

Indeed, there would be no purpose to our existence without agency. “Agency Is a Necessary Part of the Plan of Salvation” (Gospel Principle)

All these doctrines – the Nature of God, Eternal Progression, and Agency, all work together perfectly. They cannot be separated. This brings me to another doctrine that is unique to our church yet makes perfect sense.

Eternal Family Relationships

We are not alone in calling God our father, nor are we alone in the value we place on family relationships, but it seems we are alone in our understanding of how truly important those family relationships are, and of how they existed before we came to earth and will continue after we leave and into eternity.

This is another doctrine that just felt right to me the first time I heard it. If you believe there is a purpose for our existence here on the earth, you have to also believe that the relationships, which we value so much while here, are part of that purpose – part of the grand plan of salvation.

Furthermore, if you also believe in the doctrine of Eternal Progression, you must conclude from all of this that family relationships are eternal as well. When you truly catch the vision of this concept, it is truly breath-taking, and leads to another of our unique doctrines — Salvation for the Dead.

Salvation for the Dead

There are few references to this doctrine in the Bible, and they are not well-understood by most of the Christian world. Consequently, they are ignored or avoided. Worse yet, by not understanding this concept, most Christian churches are forced to conclude that the dead cannot, and will never be, saved, which also leads to the logical conclusion that Heavenly Father is an unjust God because He provides no way for those who have died without the opportunity to receive the Gospel to be saved.

We, on the other hand, embrace the concept of salvation for the dead because it fits so well with all the other doctrines that have been revealed to us through our Prophets.

The dead, who are our ancestors, and part of our eternal family, do indeed have an opportunity to be saved. And it’s through an ordinance that is mentioned only briefly in the scriptures — that of baptism for the dead.

Baptism after the age of accountability

Once you understand that everyone — both alive and dead — can be baptized, there’s no longer the urgency that you see in other churches for newborn children to be baptized immediately after birth to avoid the possibility of them dying too soon, and losing their chance for salvation. Children who died before baptism were said to be consigned to a state of “Limbo” (literally the “edge of Hell”) where they still had a chance of being saved eventually, and certainly not an enviable position to be in.

When I learned that the Mormon Church taught that infant baptism was an “abomination” and a denial of the “pure mercies of God”, I understood completely. In the church, children are not baptized until the age of accountability (set at 8 yrs of age) when they are able to comprehend the meaning of baptism and make a choice for themselves. This fits so well with the principle of Agency.

Premortal Life

Although there is ample evidence in the scriptures of a premortal life, this was a brand new concept for me as an investigator. Once again, however, it made perfect sense given our eternal nature and the scriptural evidence.

Our knowledge of a premortal life and what went on there, greatly helps us to understand the purpose of our life here, and what happens after this life.

Salvation by grace and works

There has long been a debate about the role of grace and works in our individual salvation.

The Apostle Paul says “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

James, on the other hand says “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only… faith without works is dead” (James 2:24-26).

Paul is saying that it is by faith in Christ, not works, that we are saved. James says that works are also required. This apparent contradiction has proven to be a stumbling block for many people, and a source of contention between various Christian churches.

Here’s what the prophet Nephi had to say on the subject: “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Nephi 25:23)

In this simple and elegant way, Nephi explains the role that faith and works have in our salvation. He says that faith is absolutely necessary, and good works are also required, but regardless of the number of good works we perform, we will never qualify for salvation. It still requires the grace of God which is freely given to those who believe.

Nephi does not say which works are required or how many. That will vary from person to person according to their situation and ability: “For of him unto much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3)

This is the only way, in my opinion, to reconcile the counsel of Paul and James, and do it in a way that makes logical sense.

Tithing

The Law of Tithing has been in existence since ancient times and can be found mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

The prophet Malachi taught of the great blessings in store for those who obey this law: “Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:10)

In modern times, the Law of Tithing has largely been ignored by Christian churches. This unfortunate. It is an indication to me that they have lost their way.

I am proud to belong to a church that still teaches the Law of Tithing, and whose members practice it.

I am reminded of something Joseph Smith taught: “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation.”

I consider the payment of tithing a small sacrifice in return for the countless blessing we receive for our obedience. It has never been a burden for me.

It is because of obedience to this law that the church was able to get out debt in it’s years and is able to do so much good in the world today.

See also Susan’s experiences with tithing.

Word of Wisdom

I appreciate the Word of Wisdom in a similar way that I appreciate the Law of Tithing. Both require sacrifice, and both promise great blessings.

The Word of Wisdom is the Lord’s law of health found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Chapter 89. In this chapter, the Lord revealed which foods are good for us to eat and which substances are not good for the human body. He also promised health, protection, knowledge, and wisdom to those who obey.

I am fortunate that I have never struggled with obedience to the Word of Wisdom. Some aren’t so lucky. I may not be any healthier than I would be if I had never heard of the Word of Wisdom, but I do know of many who would be healthier if they had.

House of Order

I have always been impressed by the orderly manner in which everything seems to done in the church. Here are few examples:

Succession to the Presidency — No one ever casts a vote for the president of the church (although we do raise our hands to sustain (support) him after he’s been ordained to the office). There are no delegate conventions, no nominations, no speeches, and most importantly — no contention. The progression to the presidency of the church is a peaceful and orderly one, and a process that’s entirely in the hands of the Lord.

Organization — Some have said the church has a perfect organization. I won’t go quite that far because it is subject to change as the needs of the church change, but I have always been impressed with how well it runs. From the President on down to the those who hold ward callings, there is a clear line of authority. Policies and procedures are clearly spelled out and communications flow very well.

As a result, there is much harmony in the church. Yes, there will always be those who complain or criticise the leaders of the church, and they are free to do so, but it’s comforting to know that by and large, the church runs very smoothly as result of the way it is organized.

Lay Ministry — Local units of the church are completely run by members who volunteer their time and talents. This is also known as a lay ministry. It is not a commandment or part of a doctrine of the church, but simply a very smart way to run a church.

An obvious benefit is reduced operating costs, but a greater benefit is the opportunity given to all members to serve in various capacities. Through these experiences, we are able to grow spiritually as well as temporally.

It enables members to develop talents that can help them in their everyday lives — everything from learning how to speak in public to learning how to lead. The blessings we receive through our service in the church are too many to count.

Furthermore, this system avoids popularity contests and competition, which can cause contention. No one lobbies to become a Bishop or Stake President. Everyone who serves in a calling is selected by the appropriate leader, and then called, sustained, and set apart in a very orderly fashion.

Uniform and Unified — Regardless of where you are in the world, LDS chapels look about the same, the meetings are structured the same, and members hold the same callings.

Every member has a record number and information about you is kept in a central database at church headquarters rather than by the individual unit you attend.

Stake, ward, and branch boundaries are very precise (as a rule). Members are assigned to a specific ward or branch rather than allowing them to select the one they like (as is done in other churches).

The subject matter taught in Sunday School, Primary, Priesthood, Relief Society, and Youth classes is correlated so that all members learn together despite being in separate classes and learning at different levels of comprehension and understanding.

All of these things enable the church to run very smoothly.  There are no popularity contests between the units of the church.

When someone moves from one unit of the church to another, they don’t have to decide which ward to attend, and they can expect to have exactly the same experience they had in their previous ward or branch. Because of the careful way records are kept, information about these members becomes available to local leaders almost instantly, allowing them to assign ministering brothers and sisters and extend callings. In this way, the new member can be quickly assimilated into the new unit.

With this system in place, there is little chance of someone becoming a “lost sheep”. Of course this also requires that the member do their part in making their presence known.

Political Neutrality — The church seems to stand alone among churches in its insistence on political neutrality. A quick Google search demonstrates that fact. At the same time, members are encouraged to become actively engaged in the political process (outside of church).

Thus, political neutrality clearly applies to the church as a whole and not to the individual members.

One could claim that that a policy of political neutrality makes us weak or hypocritical because we’re not standing up for our principles, but let’s consider what Joseph Smith said – “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves”.

I’ve always loved this quote. It goes along with the principle of individual agency and accountability. But it also demonstrates the proper role of the church — namely to teach correct principles and then let members apply those principles on their own.

Of course, there are times when the leadership of the church rightly should take a stand on a moral issue, but most political issues do not involve clear moral choices. In these cases I am wholeheartedly in agreement with the church’s position. This helps avoid contention between the church and the outside world — and also between members.

Of course, some of the principles taught by the church do naturally clash with the “wisdom” of the world. That can’t be helped. I’m proud of the fact that leaders have been strong and consistent in their moral stands, but still allow members to exercise their own agency.

By their fruits ye shall know them

The last thing I want to mention is the love, devotion, and dedication of the members of the church. I know that they are not perfect, but many of them lead truly exemplary lives. Those that have caught the true vision of the Gospel, as taught by the leaders of the church, become very successful — spiritually as well as temporally.

The Savior said “by their fruits ye shall know them”. This is so fitting when describing the good works done by members of the church. From serving in canneries or on church farms to providing aid to members of all faiths after natural disaster.

Church members are well known for having high moral standards and exhibiting exemplary behavior. Some have ridiculed us for this, but most respect and admire us for this.

While I know that occasionally a leader in the church will do something inappropriate and unbecoming of a person in their role, that’s is a rarity. In my 40 years as a member of the church, I have never felt uncomfortable in supporting the Prophet 100%. The same holds true of the Quorum of the Twelve and other General Authorities. The Holy Ghost has witnessed to me the sincerity of these men and their true desire to do the will of the Lord.

Conclusion

I think it’s safe to say that my opinion of the church has not changed from the time I was first introduced to it (42+ years ago) to now, despite the fact that my knowledge about the church has dramatically improved. Are there some things about the church that I have trouble accepting? Yes, but on the whole, I have found the members to be outstanding, the policies, practices, and organization of the church superior, and most of all, I have found the doctrines taught to be not only sensible, but they demonstrate the power, wisdom, and mercy of God in a way that I can completely accept and believe in. The Spirit has borne witness to me that these things are right and true.

 

 

 

 

 

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