|Independent thought||Behind the Mask||Spirituality||Worship||Temples|
It is possible to be a lifelong church
member, and still not
|Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? - John 14:9|
Perhaps you know a large number of Mormons, and they all seem (to you) to behave in the same way. Does that mean you know what the church is all about? Some people are not really happy with the church. Some members leave. And some non-members encourage members to leave. They assume that they know what the church is really all about. But do they?
See also: The Mask of
looking below the surface:
of the April 2000 General Conference
Things to remember when reading this pages
1. I am not saying 'I'm a convert, you're not'
If you want to learn from someone who really understands the gospel, read what Jesus Christ has said. If you really want to understand what it is like to be converted to his gospel, follow what he has said. And ask for help in gaining a personal understanding. As for me and this web site, I am just exploring some issues.
2. Let us distinguish between the gospel and the church.
The gospel is what we (claim to) believe in. The church is just the organization that exists to promote the gospel. The church exists in the real world, with real (fallible) people. Our loyalty is to the gospel first, and to the church only as the practical way to promote the gospel.
3. Church members are (on balance) IMO still the best.
This may seem harsh on Church members. But in general, they still know more about the gospel than anyone else. Why? Because, as Elder Holland points out, even though the average Mormon cannot tell you much about what is in Matthew Mark, Luke, or John, the average American in general cannot even name any of those books! In my dealings with non-Mormon Christians, I have noticed that the same applies. Some know their scriptures very well, but most do not. Many (the majority?) do not even open their Bible from one Sunday to the next. I will always remember the time when I was ten years old and discovered that my best friend - a good Protestant - only had one Bible in the whole house!
This principle applies throughout life. For example, if you only read one book a year, you are an above average reader. If you only spend five minutes a day in quality time with your children, you spend more time than the average. If you only get twenty minutes' exercise a day, you do far more than the average person in the western world. The sad fact is that in any important area, the threshold of behavior is pretty low. But we need not see this as a depressing thing. It can be a motivator. You only need to put in a small amount of effort in order to be in the top ten percent of anything!
See also: Are you saved?
|Many church members (often the majority?) are not converted|
Most people are content in the church. They get good feelings, and in general it is a positive experience. They may spend their whole life i this state. And if they tend to choose the right, they will still get to heaven. But they miss out some of the real joys of the gospel. Being content is no the same as being converted.
now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have
ye spiritually been born of God?
Have ye received his image in your countenances?
Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?"
Many church members get baptized and go through life without being converted
"It is my judgment that there are many members of this Church who have been baptized for the remission of their sins, who have had hands laid upon their heads for the gift of the Holy Ghost, who have never received that gift, that is, the manifestations of it. Why? Because they have never put themselves in order to receive these manifestations. They have never humbled themselves. They have never taken the steps that would prepare them for the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Therefore they go through life without that knowledge, and they have not the understanding."
- Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, October 1958, p.21-22
Too few church members are genuinely converted
"Too few of us, as Church members, are genuinely and seriously involved in the process of becoming fully converted. Full conversion includes but is much more than Church activity and attendance. ... Without such full conversion, outwardly, one may be merely going through the motions, superficially participating in Church programs but being, nevertheless, comparatively untouched, unconverted, and unchanged inwardly. ... As in baptism, so in Church activity there can be immersion without conversion!"
- Neal A. Maxwell, We Talk of Christ, p.138
It is possible to attend many church meetings without tasting what the gospel is about.
"How vain and trifling have been our spirits, our conferences, our councils, our meetings, our private as well as public conversations -- too low, too mean, too vulgar, too condescending for the dignified characters of the called and chosen of God, according to the purposes of His will, from before the foundation of the world!"
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.137-8
The gospel is not the same as the church programs
"Programs and activities are useful and provide much -- needed and important scaffolding, but they are not the emerging structure itself."
- Neal A. Maxwell, We Talk of Christ, p.138
|Many church members do not understand the gospel|
Note that being converted means to be truly free. We make our own discoveries, develop our own understanding, and make our own decisions. The church just offers greater resources. The church was never designed to be a crutch, and if we use it as a cruth it may fail us.
Merely hearing does not mean understanding
"The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity -- thou must commune with God."
- Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.137
We cannot understand it just by being at church
"Now let us come to the conclusion of this whole matter, a conclusion that will have an important bearing on our salvation. It is that each person must learn the doctrines of the gospel for himself. No one else can do it for him... each must pay the same price."
- Bruce R. McConkie, "To Honest Seekers," (undated open letter) p.7
Many church members do not think for themselves, even though the gospel says they should.
(The same is also true for people outside the church - probably more so)
"There are too many in the church who seem to be totally dependent, emotionally and spiritually, upon others. They subsist on some kind of spiritual welfare. They are unwilling to sustain themselves. They become so dependent that they endlessly need to be shored up, lifted up, endlessly need encouragement, and they contribute little of their own.
...Do you go to the Lord with a problem and ask him to make your decision for you? Or do you work, read the revelations and meditate and pray and then make the decision yourself? Measure the problem against what you know to be right and wrong, and then make the decision. Then ask him if the decision is right or wrong. Remember that he said to Oliver Cowdery about working it out in your own mind.
Listen to this sentence if you don't hear anything else: If we foolishly ask our Bishop or Branch President or the Lord to make a decision for us, there's precious little self-reliance in that."
- Boyd K. Packer, "Self Reliance," BYU address, May 2nd 1975
Not all members are the same
Do not assume that Mormons are all the same. Members of the church all have different feelings and reasons for membership. the common factor is their acceptance of similar covenants (baptism, the temple, etc.), but inside they come in many forms. Some are new, some are old. Some like to study, some like to just experience. Sometimes people divide members into "iron rod" members (who stress fixed rules) and "liahona" members (who stress the unpredictable Holy Spirit). One very funny article must be mentioned, from Sunstone Sep 91. It divided Mormons into five groups: 'Liberal Mormons' (with unorthodox views), 'Genuine Mormons' (there are less than 20 in the whole world), 'Conservative Mormons' (born in the church, vote Republican), 'orthodox Mormons' (big on money and sales techniques), and 'Nazi Mormons' (who believe that God works for BYU). This is skewed to a certain type of American ward, but anyone could create their own subdivisions, but the point is that Mormons are just like any other group - diverse. This diversity is even greater when we take into account cultural differences.
If members seem to be the same, it is only because people tend to only talk about things that they have in common. We believe in unity. But do not confuse a common language with private feelings, understandings, and experiences.
For more on freedom and individuality, see the quotations regarding obedience.
|Most church members do not even know the scriptures|
[I include myself in this group, but I am trying to learn as fast as I can]
Most of us do not even know the basics about the scriptures!
[The following is a transcript of a live speech, hence the unusual grammar.]
"'Truth is knowledge of things as they really are, and as they were, and as they are to come.' [Doctrine and Covenants 93:23-25] Got that? That's almost worth memorizing: you could do it in two or three days. 'Truth is knowledge of things as they really are, and as they were, and as they are to come.' Would you read it very, very slowly and very carefully, at least the first phrase. What is truth? What is it? TRUTH IS KNOWLEDGE.
...Now, question: do you have the truth: Oh Yes Yes! I'm a Latter-day Saint - here's my certificate - I've got a bandelo stretching from shoulder to hip. Of course I have the truth! Question: do you have the truth? What am I asking - what am I asking you? Do you have the KNOWLEDGE? U-uh, some, a little, I went to primary, I can sing "I am a child of God." That's significant, but are you like the Gods? Are you in any realistic, exciting, dynamic sense, are you on your way to Godhood, to truth with a capital 'T'? [Referring to a recent Gallup Poll] can you name me any one of the first four books of the New Testament? 54% of the people in this country could not name Matthew, Mark, Luke or Cecil - er - Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Now you could do it, because you've been to Seminary and Institute, and you went to Primary and you've been to Sunday School, but do you know anything about Matthew, Mark, Luke or John? Could we find some basic scriptures in there somewhere? What if your friend had committed a serious, devastating, terrible sin, and felt,truly and honestly that life was over and there was no chance, and could I ever get back and why don;t I take my life because I've destroyed everything I ever wanted, and God doesn't love me and I don't love myself. Why not end it all. Could you, at a moment's notice, because you can't go check with your institute teacher, could you turn on the spot - would you have a Bible around to turn to, buy the way - could you turn to the story of the prodigal son? ... Do you know where to find the story? Now remember, we're Latter-day Saints, we've got the truth. We're going all over the world telling people we know it. Could you find the story of the prodigal son? [Elder Holland goes on to suggest other very basic topics that we should be extremely familiar with, such as where the scriptures say that if we repent, God forgets our sins, or 'speak for five minutes on the theme of the book of Hebrews'.] Should that be so hard for a Latter-day Saint?"
- Jeffrey R. Holland, From "Light, Truth
and Knowledge," unpublished address.
(Quoted in Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Symposium
- Church Education System, British Isles, 1989, p.74.)
Do we even know the Book of Mormon?
"In 1829, the Lord warned the Saints that they are not to "trifle with sacred things" (D&C 6:12). Surely the Book of Mormon is a sacred thing, and yet many trifle with it, or in other words, take it lightly, treat it as though it is of little importance. In 1832, as some early missionaries returned from their fields of labor, the Lord reproved them for treating the Book of Mormon lightly. As a result of that attitude, He said their minds had been darkened. Not only had treating this sacred book lightly brought a loss of light to themselves, it had also brought the whole Church under condemnation, even all the children of Zion. And then the Lord said, "And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon" (D&C 84:54-57)."
"President Joseph Fielding Smith said: "It seems to me that any member of this Church would never be satisfied until he or she had read the Book of Mormon time and time again, and thoroughly considered it so that he or she could bear witness that it is in very deed a record with the inspiration of the Almighty upon it, and that its history is true. . . . No member of this Church can stand approved in the presence of God who has not seriously and carefully read the Book of Mormon."
"If we really do our homework and approached the Book of Mormon doctrinally, we can expose the errors and find the truths to combat many of the current false theories and philosophies of men. I have noted within the Church a difference in discernment, insight, conviction, and spirit between those who know and love the Book of Mormon and those who do not. That book is a great sifter. "
"The Lord declares that the whole Church and all the children of Zion are under condemnation because of the way we have treated the Book of Mormon. This condemnation has not been lifted, nor will it be until we repent. (See D&C 84:51-81.)"
- Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p.52-64
|So, who is converted?|
Converts are those who want to follow Christ.
A person who is converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ is one who genuinely wants to follow Jesus Christ. They are happy to pursue that goal. Of course, they may be happy to go along with the church without analyzing everything. Or they may want to examine every option at every stage. Both approaches can work, and who am I to judge?
Isn't it more then just following Christ? What about all the Mormon commandments?
Mormonism is just a natural extension of wanting to follow Christ:
- Followers want to be united (see John 17), which (since we are human and tend to disagree) requires organization.
- Having a single organization requires a prophet at the head, or else the whole belief in the Holy Ghost is meaningless.
- All the practices and commandments (and the need to be humble and just accept some things) flow naturally from the need to be united.
- All the doctrines flow naturally from having one prophet (to receive new guidance and to prayerfully decide doctrinal questions) and from being united with previous generations and dispensations.
The commandments are not hard once we get used to them, but sometimes that takes a generation or two. The main thing is, mankind needs to be united.
How do you un-convert from following Christ?
I have never yet found someone who left the church because following Christ did not work. Few people even give it a chance, and those who do always end up with a deeper respect for who he is and what he has done. Whenever people leave the church it is due to something that they could have understood in a different way and stayed in the church.
This is why I conclude that I almost never see a valid reason for leaving the church. When someone says "I had a testimony but I moved on," I ask a few more questions and it soon becomes apparent that they never really got the point of the church in the first place.
The genius of Mormonism
In my opinion, all this discussion of teachings and practices, while important, are secondary to the real "genius of Mormonism" - especially as seen from a temporal (e.g. this life) point of view. The first law of heaven is obedience, so and the real genius of Mormonism is in its organization.
If we accept Jesus as our example, the key ideas of...
- a prophetic leader (separate from the head of state),
- individual freedom and testimony
- lay priesthood based on humility
...can solve all the world's social problems.
This is the only way to overcome the problems with politics, and build a better world (e.g. the kingdom of God). And it allows far more freedom than we tend to think. This is a large topic on its own, so I will not expand on it here.
The bottom line:
We cannot understand The Church of Jesus Christ by looking at the church.
We can only understand The Church of Jesus Christ by looking at Jesus Christ.