Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why an organized religion? (part 2) On Gathering

In the previous entry, I pointed out the principle that God is a God of order and not confusion. In this entry I want to explore the principle of gathering together for worship at church.
But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance; (3 Nephi 21:22)
This is an interesting scripture, because it suggests that the establishment of God’s church is a reward for our repentance and listening to His word and keeping a soft heart. To enter in and become a member of the Lord’s kingdom, after repenting of our sins, we make a covenant (a two-way promise) with God by being baptized. We promise to obey Him and keep His commandments. Certainly if we are part of His kingdom we must keep His rules. He promises us eternal life.

In the Book of Mormon there was a people who were anxious to be part of the Lord’s church.
7 And it came to pass after many days there were a goodly number gathered together at the place of Mormon, to hear the words of Alma. Yea, all were gathered together that believed on his word, to hear him. And he did teach them, and did preach unto them repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord.
8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts. (Mosiah 18:7-11)
This scripture points out a blessing of being part of the Lord’s church: those who come into the fold of God (the church) to be called His people and are willing to do those things listed are promised they will receive redemption, be numbered with those of the first resurrection, and receive eternal life.

The boldness of this promise is simply astounding! It is amazing that membership in the Lord’s church can qualify a person for redemption from their sins, being resurrected with the very first round of people, and eternal life, but it happens because the requirements of baptism and repentance have been met first. This is perfectly in line with the amazing grace and mercy of God, who gives us blessings that seem far greater than the things we do to qualify for them. I know it is just like Him to do something like that for us. Certainly then He can ask whatever He wants of us as a requirement to enter His fold, and as a requirement to continue in His fold. We can be sure that what He asks will be right, because of His holiness.

In the meantime while we wait for those promises to be fulfilled, He promises to pour out His Spirit more abundantly upon us. That spiritual abundance is how we know that we are in the right place and doing the right thing and that it is really true. I have felt that abundance myself and that Spirit stays with me as sort of a down payment of eternal life. It stays as I keep myself worthy of it. I wish everyone could have this gift confirmed on them.

God wants to give us more of His word, and the church is a vehicle through which it is given, as part of that abundance of the Spirit that is promised. The word of God is poured out freely like water at church.
65 For, behold, I will gather them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if they will not harden their hearts;
66 Yea, if they will come, they may, and partake of the waters of life freely.
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (Doctrine & Covenants 10:65-69)
This scripture shows us several things. First, it tells us that by gathering together as a church, we gain more free access to “waters of life”, which is the doctrine of Christ, teachings that edify and help us to understand. It is knowledge that doesn’t just feed the mind, but the soul as well. This happens when we hear lessons and sermons and the comments of those around us.

My church meetings on Sunday last for three hours. Many things happen there that feed my soul.
  • First, there is singing of hymns. Everyone sings together and we all feel the Spirit of the Lord through the music and we feel united with one another in praising the Lord.
  • Then there is the administration of the sacrament, the bread and water, symbolizing Christ’s death for us. This time is very quiet, so that we all have a chance to think and ponder what Christ’s sacrifice means to us and pray silently for forgiveness of our sins and promise to keep His commandments.
  • Then, between three to four people speak to us on various topics relating to the gospel.
  • We have more hymns, and sometimes a musical performance of sacred music.
  • Then we separate into various age groups and have Sunday School lessons in which a teacher guides us through a number of chapters from the scriptures and we discuss the material and how it relates to our lives. In this way everyone gets to contribute their thoughts and interpretations and perspectives, so everyone gets to learn from everyone else.
  • Then we have another lesson on teachings of modern prophets.
  • The teachers are all people from among the congregation. They don’t have any special training except for the preparations they make for their lessons. They don’t get paid any money for what they do.
I gain a lot of strength from being with so many people at once that believe in the principles that I believe. It helps me feel that I am not alone in the world in trying to do what is right. Rather than feeling like I have to carry my burdens alone, I have a support system in the church when things get too difficult for me. I give my support to other people too when they need it and we all strengthen each other.

Second, the scripture above tells us that the church is a fortification against the devil, so that we can prevail. “whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them” (Doctrine &Covenants 10:69) United, we can stand against the temptations we face as we learn principles that help us resist. Divided, we might succumb.

I suspect that this is what God intended His church to be—for instruction and strength.

So there you have it; it’s not just belonging to a church, it is belonging to God’s kingdom. It’s not just about worshipping, it’s also being instructed and doing some instructing, it’s also being strengthened and strengthening others.

(Image credit - amymac, www.panoramio.com/photo/5094202)