Friday, December 4, 2009

The purpose of Church

I have been thinking about this for a while. I know it really has nothing to do with my "theme" but I think it is something I should share. The comment that started me on this road is "Your church can not save you." I have been told this several times in the past few months. I find it to be one of the most bizarre statements anyone has ever said to me. I really don't know what it means so my response is a blank stare (or the online equivalent). So, I decided to explain what "church" means to me and it's purpose as I understand it.

Most Latter-Day Saints are familiar with the "Three-fold mission of the church", which is 1. to proclaim the gospel, 2. perfect the saint, and 3. redeem the dead. These are not new concepts to most christian religions, redeeming the dead being only possible exception. "Proclaim the gospel" means missionary work. "Redeem the dead" refers to ordinances such as baptism for the dead spoken of in 1 Corinthians 15:29. Basically, church makes it possible to do those things. The statement "your church can not save you" seems to fall under the mission to "perfect the saints". That is what I am going to talk about in this post. Hopefully, I will be able to convey what I have learned in a way that is clear to everyone.

About 20 years ago, I had the opportunity to go with my mother to a regional auxiliary training meeting in Charlotte, NC. A meeting of this kind is to help teach leaders of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations how to better serve in their various responsibilities. For part of the evening we were separated and given instruction specific to the needs and challenges of each organization. My mom was the Primary President so we went to the Primary meetings. Later everyone gathered in the chapel for a few talks that applied to everyone.

During this meeting, (as I remember it) a member of the Quorum of the Seventy spoke. (I know to any non-LDS readers that doesn't really mean anything; just understand that he was "higher up the line") I don't remember his name but what he taught made a powerful impression on me.

He took a woman from the audience and had her stand at the front of the chapel. He explained that she represented a teenage girl who was struggling to attend church and make good decisions. Then he brought up two people to be her parents. He explained that they were the first line of defense in protecting and helping their daughter. Then he brought up some other people to be the girl's siblings. He explained that even though the parents wanted to focus on their daughter, they had other children to worry about and their time and effort was not enough. He explained the emotional and spiritual strain on the entire family. Then he asked 'Who can help them?'

He began bringing up people to represent the Bishop and Young Women President. He explained how the Bishop might help this young woman through counseling her and asking other church leaders for their support. He explained that the Young Women President could help her by making extra efforts to include her in activities and make her feel welcome at church.

He brought up the Elder's Quorum President, Home Teachers, Relief Society President, and Visiting Teachers. He explained how under the Bishop's guidance, they could each support the parents through the challenge of helping their daughter and other children during this trying time. There was also a Primary President for the younger children and a Young Men President for the teenage son. He explained how each of these people might help and then report to the Bishop. The Bishop could then offer more support where it was needed.

By now the front of the chapel was getting crowded. He asked us to look at the group. There was the one "Lost sheep" in the middle, surrounded by her loving family, who were then surrounded by the leaders and members of the ward. 'Look at this.' he said 'Look at all the people willing and able to offer just a little support to this girl and her family. No one has to do it all. We could add others such as other young women, members of the presidencies represented, teachers, family and friends in the ward. If everyone was doing what they are supposed to do, would this young woman fall into temptation? Would she be able to leave the fold of God? Would she be lost forever? NO. She would not. And her family would not suffer spiritually because of the trial they were going through.'

As I looked at this visual representation of a ward and what each part is for, I felt the Spirit testify to me of the divine plan of the Lord for his children through his church. It was as if light poured into my mind and I understood perfectly what He wanted for each of us. I don't think I have ever had such a moment of clear understanding in the years since then.

Yes, church is a place of worship and fellowship, of reverence and learning. But it is also the Lord's means of bring us all back to Him. The beauty and perfection of His organization is humbling for me. He seems to have thought of everything. In the years that followed this experience, I learned that although the church is perfect the people who must make it work are not. None of us escapes the burdens of mortality. None are immune to the frailties of age and the challenges of life. We are all tempted. We all have our "favorite sins" that prevent us from doing everything we should, when we should, how we should. That doesn't mean we stop trying. Nor does it mean we are allowed to criticize those who are falling short of perfection.

That initial statement "your church can't save you" is still as strange and confusing to me as ever. I guess it means that being a member of a certain church doesn't guarantee salvation. On that point I have to agree. But by participating in church, not just an occasional visit on Sunday but really making an effort to be part of it, we can bring about our own salvation and that of others. We can help insure that commandments are kept, hearts are purified, love of God grows, and faith in the Lord becomes strong. These are the things that lead to our salvation.

I hope we can all make a stronger effort to do our duty, to serve as the Lord has asked us to do. I hope that we can bear one another's burdens. I hope that we can become perfect, as we have been commanded and in the process perfect others.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

That is a very good statement, Amy. Thank you for sharing that. I really liked your conclusions. Another illustration someone shared was comparing attending church like coals for a fire, together their heat and energy is sustain and strengthened, but if you remove a coal and leave it on its own, it will lose that heat and energy.
Thank you again!