Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Jesus Alone - No Need for a Church?

Many people do not understand why a Church of Jesus Christ is needed - isn't Jesus along all we need? Why do we need leaders like apostles and prophets? Why do we need an organization at all? All fair questions.

Our family had this discussion on Monday night in the context of studying part of the book of Ephesians in the New Testament, and I'd like to share what we discussed. Let's start with Ephesians 2:18-22 (KJV):
18 For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;

20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;

21 In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:

22 In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.
After stating that we have access to the Father through Christ, note that Paul immediately turns to the theme of the community that is found within the Church. In following Christ, we are not meant to be alone, not meant to be strangers, but are part of the saints, fellow citizens with other people seeking the holy things of God, members of the household of God.

A household is like a family. Family members need each other for strength, for support, for nourishment, for healing, for teaching, and for protection. Just as loving parents don't throw newborns into the wild and wish them luck but expect to spend years nourishing and teaching them, so also our new converts, those who are newly born again, still need much nourishment and gentle teaching and support to become grounded and strong on their own. And all of us need the strength and support of others, or the opportunity to serve others. Whether serving or being served, this interaction in the household of God is how we grow, how we develop charity, and how we better fulfill our divine destiny as children of God. We can't do it alone. We can't fully be who we are meant to be by living as hermits.

After introducing the theme of community and the household of God, Paul then tells us that we are built upon a foundation with Jesus Christ as the chief corner stone - but not the only stone. The foundation on which we must build, on which the Church of Jesus Christ is built, also includes His authorized servants who receive revelation from Him. Thus, the foundation of the Church includes apostles and prophets, who provide leadership and teachings from Jesus Christ. This foundation helps create the setting where we can have the fellowship needed and participate in the household of God.

As we work together in this household, being based on foundation of Christ, His Atonement and His revelations and ongoing guidance through apostles and prophets, we experience growth and progress in the Gospel. We find that the Spirit can be more fully in our lives and in our community, and that what we are building becomes like the temple - a holy place where we can prepare for fellowship with God. Our eternal destiny is not about being immortal hermits, but part of a glorious community with God as our Heavenly Father. We need the Church in our lives to prepare for that now and enjoy the blessings of guidance, mutual service, self-sacrifice, and fellowship that the Church gives us.

These themes are continued when Paul discusses some of the specific offices in the Church and their reason for being (Ephesians 4:11-14, New KJV):
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Paul teaches that we need these different offices, including leaders such as apostles and prophets, to guide the Church until there is a unity of faith, something most definitely absent in the world. These offices are needed more than ever! He also discusses the need for us to grow up through the influence of the Church and become the perfected person the Lord wants us to be. This growth process requires the kind of cooperation of parts that we see in the human body, again signifying the harmony and cooperation that we should strive for in the household of God. It's something we can't do alone. We need each other, and we need the various offices the Lord put into his Church anciently, and has restored in modern times. How greateful I am for the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ. In spite of our warts and weaknesses, the Church provides a wonderful tool to bless our lives in some many ways, and a tool for us to learn to bless the lives of others as well. It's a divine instrument that we all need, no matter how much we flatter ourselves thinking that we can do it alone, that all we need is Jesus - but do we really accept Jesus if we reject the organization He brought and the leaders He has sent to teach and guide the household of faith?

To say that one doesn't need the Church of Jesus Christ, with its apostles and prophets, because all one needs is Jesus, is like a saying that one doesn't need the Bible and the teachings of its prophets and apostles for the same reason. It completely misses the point of what the Lord is trying to help us do and who He is trying to help us become, if we'll let Him. The scriptures and the Church are there to bless us. May we not think we are self-sufficient and reject what the Lord offers us.

24 comments:

Clean Cut said...

Great post Jeff. Important points. Great questions. Another one of my favorites...

360 Mormon said...

Very good post, Jeff, as usual.

This post reminded me of one of my favorite essays, entitled "Why The Church is As True As The Gospel," by Eugene England. Very highly recommended.

BruceC said...

Great stuff. Thanks. We all need to accept that the Lord works in his way (usually through one of us mortals) and not as we expect him to.

I recall a fable about a man who rejected help from a boat and later a helicopter when his home was flooded. He insisted Jesus would help him. When he eventually drowned and went to heaven, he asked Jesus why he didn't help him. To which Jesus replied "I sent a boat and a helicopter. What were you expecting?"

quandmeme said...

I agree, of course with everything you said about leadership of a church. I'm also still pondering about the church itself. In our individualistic world, we emphasize how God with save _us_ individually--which surely he may. But the scriptures more often talk about saving his "people"--often _as_ a people.

I continue to ponder the difference in the quality of communal worship. Not just the practicality of efficiency--it's not just a factory where testimonies and salvation are mass produced-- but the whether there is an efficacy about worshiping as couples, as families, as a congregation. Seems like that has always been the plan, but that as an American, I haven't manage to buy into it very well. Any help out there?

mssaint said...

quandmeme (interesting handle, by the way) said: ...whether there is an efficacy about worshiping as couples, as families, as a congregation.
-------------------------
My mother-in-law is fond of the saying "The Church is true, but the people are crazy." At times, I am sure she is right. One of the biggest challenges in communal worship stems from the fact that everyone possesses a unique personality. When you bring enough unique personalities together, it is inevitable that friction and conflict will take place. This friction and conflict may lead to contention between the members. This contention, when present, will offend some and drive some away.
But being that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is one of love, we must turn to love as a way to eliminate any contention and cope with the frustration caused by friction and conflict. I have found that the bets way to develop love for someone is to serve them. Many returned missionaries testify of the great love they have for the people they served among. Where does this love of a people, once strange and foreign to the individual, come from? I believe it is because of the service rendered to them. As we develop this love for those we serve, we catch a glimpse of the 2nd great commandment, “to love thy neighbor as thyself.”
So why does the Savior direct that we should worship as a member of a congregation? So we can develop the love that he possesses – an unconditional love of each individual. A tall order? Yes. But so is the commandment to “be ye therefore perfect.”
This principle may be closely linked to the Spirit of Elijah. Why do we seek after our dead and do work for them in the Holy Temples? Why do I feel a real connection to and love of my ancestors, whom I have never met except through genealogical research. I submit that we develop a love for those we serve.
So we come to this earth as part of families (that we didn’t choose, as far as I know) and serve in the church as part of congregations that are defined by geographical boundaries and not by our choice. Why? In order to learn to love each other as our Father in Heaven and Jesus Christ love us – without condition. “…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Then we will be saved, both individually AND as a people.
But that’s just my opinion.
-MS Saint

quandmeme said...

Thanks MS Saint. I agree that we grow through group interaction and that transcending the difficulties is beneficial to the individuals.

In addition maybe I should just come out and say it, hoping not offend if I'm being tactless: is it possible that a prayer may be "truer" when it is offered by a group (in unity, by a group that has transcending any ill-will) than when it is offered _as_ an individual? How so?
Of course part of the discussion must remain my personal meditation, but any appropriate thoughts would be read with interest.

trevor said...

keep posting stuff like this, jeff!

Bookslinger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bookslinger said...

Another commonly heard statement:

"I'm spiritual, but not religious."

And I think, "Ummm, ok, whatever."


And on a billboard sign in town advertising a nearby church:

"No religion, just Jesus."

Seriously, they claim to be a christian church, and that's what their billboard said.

Tim said...

"I'm spiritual, but not religious."

"Ummm, ok, whatever."


Well, you're addressing those outside the choir here, too. I personally identify as spiritual, but not religious.

Spiritual is a slippery word, like many we use when talking about these things. There are plenty of people who feel moved by the expansiveness of the Universe, the bright spots of humanity coming together to help each other and the way evil can be overcome.

We can still be awed by our world and the people and things in it, feeling a sense of wonder or insignificance when confronting them. We can still feel connected to people beyond purely physical interactions. I'm not trying to be all weird and New Age-y here, but just trying to point out that deeper, unexplainable significance can be felt by the non-religious and it most certainly can be, what we would like to call, spiritual.

And we don't need an official organization to tell us what spirituality is.

I also find Jesus' teachings to be brilliant and sound moral philosophy. I just don't think he was divine. "No religion, just Jesus" could work just fine for some of us.

So yeah, ummm...whatever.

erelis said...

I also find Jesus' teachings to be brilliant and sound moral philosophy. I just don't think he was divine. "No religion, just Jesus" could work just fine for some of us.

So yeah, ummm...whatever.


With respect, Tim, I don't think that your choir is being preached to, either. I don't see any problem with someone who doesn't believe in the divinity of Christ drawing up a distinction between the religious and the spiritual.

On the other hand, in light of the role of organized religion throughout the Christian tradition, it's a bit strange for a self-labeled Christian to emphasize a drastic distinction between being "spiritual" and being "religious". While I understand where the urge to be "spiritual" comes from (I get that way, too, likely because of the Mormon emphasis on "searching, pondering and praying" as part of personal introspection and growth), it's more complicated to make the distinction -- and practically boast of it -- within the Christian tradition.

Tony said...

Thank you so much for this post Jef. As a recent convert, I have grown to love the and fellowship I have with my fellow Saints in the church, and it has been a guiding power in my growth in the church. I will be forever thankful of the wonderful blessings that come as a result of the restored Church and its organization. It is inspired priesthood leaders like you whom I have looked up to as I have just started in this church. God Bless, and have a great week.

mssaint said...

Tim said: "I also find Jesus' teachings to be brilliant and sound moral philosophy. I just don't think he was divine."

I don't feel that Jesus Christ left that position as one that can be substantiated. To quote C.S. Lewis “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: [that is,] ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

Tim, I understand the difference between not believing in the divinity of Christ as opposed to not believing His claim of divinity (which Lewis is attacking in the referenced quote from his work Mere Christianity). But I would say that Christ has made it necessary to come to a conclusion that He is either divine or deluded.

Personally, if I had to pick between spirituality and "being religious," I would opt for spirituality for that would seem to indicate that one is open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As we seek to increase our spirituality we must act on these promptings and these actions will lead us to a testimony of the divinity of Christ and his role as Savior.

In the end, I do not believe what I believe or do what I do because I am forced to by some religious dogma, but rather because I have a testimony wrought by experiences with the divine through the Holy Spirit. And in the end, this testimony has led me to remain a member of the religion I was raised in. Maybe spirituality and religion are not that far apart.

-MS Saint

Bookslinger said...

Tim ( @ At 12:36 PM, August 14, 2008 ):

Have you ever sat through some official LDS missionary presentations, or read the LDS beginners Sunday School manual "Gospel Principles" ?

Bookslinger said...

Tim,

If your cup is currently full, and your present level of spirituality is fulfilling all your needs, then you're right, there's nothing any organized religion could add for you.

But if your cup/vessel grows bigger over time, or you notice the spirituality level going down, I hope you'll consider seriously investigating the LDS teachings in order to get a refill, or to aid in expanding your cup.

No religion can add to a vessel that's already 100% full.

I mean that as friendly and diplomatic analogy.

jayleenb said...

It is not possible for us to become unified as Saints without the organized Church. And it's the Lord working through His living Prophets and GAs that keep us from being led about by every wind of doctrine.

It's also the proof that the Lord would have only one true Church led by a Prophet called of Him.

And may I politely say that anyone who thinks they are 'full' from Christ alone is thinking 'selfish' and not of Christ's body as a whole.

Bookslinger said...

jayleenb:

I'd like to modify my analogy. I thought about it, and realized it may give the impression that some people might have bigger cups or bigger capacity than others.

A better analogy may be about needs. I'm a needy person, with lots of spiritual needs. I find that the restored gospel, and the standard works scriptures (Bible, BoM, Doctrine and Covenanta, Pearl of Great Price), meet a lot of my needs.

I think I've met a number of people in my life like Tim. They don't have as great needs as I do. They're more self-sufficient. Their needs are met with what they already have, whether it be some other religion, a less formal religion, or no organized religion at all; and whether it be with revealed scriptures, or just the Bible, or even just a part of the Bible.

I think the restored gospel is like a banquet or feast. We shouldn't or can't force this food on anyone. Everyone has the right to say "No thanks. I'm not hungry."

I agree with mssaint's point taken from CS Lewis, that when you take everything Jesus said in the 4 gospels as a whole, one can't logically say he was a "good teacher" and at the same time discount Jesus' claim to divinity.

However, no one is forced to accept the 4 gospels as a whole. I suppose one could believe that some parts were incorrectly added after the fact. One might want to suppose that Jesus was just a good teacher, and not divine, but those parts were added later by zealous followers.

LDS already believe that parts of the Bible have been changed. That part in 1st Corinthians that Paul allegedly wrote about how women should be silent in church, and if they can learn anything at all, let them ask their husbands at home, was probably added later. LDS certain don't believe or practice that part. Well, maybe come LDS secretly believe it, who knows?

Tim said...

I appreciate the comments. I still think C.S. Lewis' position is a weak one. To say that Jesus was either divine or crazy is too narrow and merely an appeal to faith rather than reason. Why couldn't he have been simply a great moral teacher who either got it wrong about his supposed divinity or had followers who got it wrong?

If LDS already believe that some parts of the Bible are different or have changed, why not other parts? How do we really know that these extraordinary claims are true? And if a Church fell into apostasy before, how do you know it hasn't again? It's a human construct prone to human error and it's completely arbitrary to state that one of them is true and the others have it wrong.

Bookslinger said...

Tim, you raise a good point about if an apostasy happened before, could it happen again. Several groups actually do make that claim. Even in the days of Joseph Smith Jr, some of his followers turned away from him saying he was a "fallen prophet".

After Joseph's death, some did not accept Brigham Young (who was the president of the Apostles or "Quorum of the 12") as the successor to Joseph.

The RLDS claimed Joseph Smith III was the successor, but he was only 11-1/2 when his father was murdered in 1844. At some point JS III was asked to be president of the RLDS movement, but he did not accept the position until 1860, at age 27.

So technically, one could say there's a 16 year gap in prophetic leadership of the RLDS church. Whereas the LDS (SLC-based) say that the prophetic authority to lead the church devolved upon Brigham Young and the Quorum of the 12 as soon as Jospeh Smith Jr died.

The RLDS church, now called Community of Christ, is the largest "spin off" of the LDS (Utah) church. Well, actually the split occurred in Nauvoo IL in 1844-1847. There were some other minor spin-off groups too, and at least two others (besides CoC) still survive today.

The RLDS/CoC church has also had splits and spin-offs. As I understand it, the latest occurred when they started ordaining women. That caused a big rift among them.

Collectively, the churches who believe in the Book of Mormon, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet (whether fallen or not) are called the "Restoration Movement". Though my understanding is that the LDS church (SLC-based) doesn't embrace that label.

Okay, so here's the point of all the above, when you asked:

"How do we really know that these extraordinary claims are true?"

That's the question I was hoping you'd ask. And the answer is what we call "Moroni's promise" found in Moroni chapter 10, verses 3 through 5. Basically, you pray about it, and you can get an answer from God through the Holy Ghost. Moroni lists some of the conditions of how to qualify for the answer. It's not automatic.

If God tells you that the Book of Mormon is true, then logically one of the "Restoration Movement" churches must be true. And then you can use the same process to pray about which of those churches, or pray to know whether the current LDS president, Thomas S. Monson, is really a prophet.

Anonymous said...

Good analysis. However, these are the teachings of Paul and not Jesus. You need to show explicit endorsement of Paul teachings by Jesus. The road to Damascus does not count. Jesus formed a group of twelve, groups of seventy, and made Peter (not Paul) the rock. What Paul preached may have been his opinion, not official doctrine.

Darion Alexander said...

Hmmm...we could say then that Peter was also teaching his opinion since Christ was gone. Paul was given apostleship via Peter. That's almost like saying that President Monson or the Pope are just preaching their opinions, because as you know, it was Peter who was the Rock....not them. And while we're at it, we might as well get rid of the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, because...it's just his opinion. That whole resurrection thing in Corinthians...opinion. Fruits of the Spirit...opinion. Heck we might as well get rid of the Book of Revelation from John, because, it was afterall...Peter who is the Rock...that would help me out since most of it is figurative...

Bookslinger said...

"What Paul preached may have been his opinion, not official doctrine."

I hope the following passage from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 was only opinion, or erroneously added in later on:

34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law.

35 And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

-------

But seriously, Paul's letters in the Bible are considered "canonized scripture" by LDS and most other Christian churches.

Brigham Young's statements on Adam-God were never canonized. And as McConkie pointed out, even Brigham Young contradicted himself on the Adam-God thing.

If someone is going to beat Mormons over the head for not accepting BY's inconsistent ideas of his "Adam-God Theory", then you also have to beat Mormons over the head for not following Paul's admonition in 1 Cor 14:34-35 that women shouldn't speak in church.

That's one of the nice things of having living prophets and ongoing revelation: we can have clarifications as time goes on, or, as the scriptures say, either "further light and knowledge", or "line upon line, precept upon precept."

So any other church that allows women to speak in church today, is in the same boat we are, and doing what the LDS church has done: saying "Well, that doesn't apply, at least not anymore."

Anonymous said...

Darion Alexander,

That is correct, you could. Your sarcasm would be valid if you were discussing the subject on the assumption that the words of Paul and Jesus were one in the same. However, you will notice that the title of the blog is “Jesus Alone - No Need for a Church?” The very first words of the blog are “Many people” not “Many Mormons” so the assumption is not valid.

Jeff is refuting an interpretation of Christianity that renders of the words of Paul and Peter has nice, but not essential. “isn't Jesus along all we need?” is the premise being refuted. Therefore to properly refute the premise would require the words and acts of Jesus not Paul. I am not saying I agree with the premise and I am not saying that it is not possible to refute.

Anonymous said...

balance . . .

I can remember a time when the church filled me so completely I could NOT understand how anyone could live without it.

Then things changed; life happened, including serious chronic illness, aging and . . . --
people coming into my life whom I could scarcely recognize as "saints"--

I haven't "left the fold" at all, but I am surely grateful that I have a "personal" relationship with Jesus Christ.

I have memories of when it was more--

but do be cautious--

yes, these experiences refine us, but being "one big happy family" isn't always possible, even if it is the ideal--