What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
I recently received an email from a visitor to my blog who is not a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the email, this person talked a little about the problems his church has been facing in recent years to keep people, especially youth, active in participation. Curious as to how The Church of Jesus Christ has so much success in cultivating the activity of its members, he asked:
How do your ecclesiastic leaders encourage young people, such as yourself, to remain members? Why is the committment in the LDS Church so much harder, yet significantly higher than other denominations?
I would appreciate any of you Latter-day Saints reading this to comment with a paragraph on why you are active. What keeps you going to Church each week? Why do you have the desire to live the gospel each day? My personal response is as follows.
1. Continuing Revelation
Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written. (2 Nephi. 29:10)
God knows that the challenges we face today are quite different from those that the Israelites and early Christians faced. Any time He has been able to establish His church on the earth, He has called witnesses to testify to the people about what they see and hear from Him. So it is today. We are not left to interpret previous scripture in councils and committees, but instead are given prophets and apostles to give us new scripture for our day, guiding us back to God’s presence.
Elder Holland, one of the Apostles, recently said that “it is no trivial matter for this Church to declare to the world prophecy, seership, and revelation, but we do declare it. It is true light shining in a dark world…”
Much like a sitting body of water grows stagnant over time, so does old revelation begin to age. Like a river, revelation must continuously be running and streaming in to wash over us and carry us in its current back to God.
I testify that God has called such men in our day to be His special witnesses. We have a prophet on the earth, like unto Moses, Jacob, Isaiah, and the rest. His name is Gordon B. Hinckley.
2. Priesthood Power
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (Hebrews 5:4)
The priesthood of God is the power and authority to act in His name. Such an authority is not to be obtained by going to school, studying the scriptures, or simply going forth and performing acts in God’s name. In fact, we learn repeatedly in the scriptures how unlearned men were called to lead God’s people. In order to obtain the priesthood we must be called of God, as this scripture indicates.
How, then, does one obtain this calling of God? Our fifth Article of Faith declares:
We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Those who have the authority are the only ones who can bestow it, by the laying on of hands, on another. Joseph Smith, the first prophet in Christ’s latter-day Church, received such authority at the hands of angelic ministers. He received the Aaronic (or lower) priesthood from John the Baptist. Later, he received the Melchizedek (or higher) priesthood from Peter, James, and John. Being so called of God, the Prophet was then able to bestow this power upon others, and it has continued in His church until this day.
The priesthood, as I said earlier, is both the power and authority to act in God’s name. In 1842, the Prophet Joseph said:
It may seem to some to be a very bold doctrine that we talk of—a power which records or binds on earth and binds in heaven. Nevertheless, in all ages of the world, whenever the Lord has given a dispensation of the priesthood to any man by actual revelation, or any set of men, this power has always been given. Hence, whatsoever those men did in authority, in the name of the Lord, and did it truly and faithfully, and kept a proper and faithful record of the same, it became a law on earth and in heaven, and could not be annulled, according to the decrees of the great Jehovah. This is a faithful saying. Who can hear it?
With the power of God, miracles have been performed. Some are too sacred to share. Some easily testify of a God who knows us, cares about us, and wants us to be happy and prosperous.
I testify of the power of the priesthood. Holding the Melchizedek priesthood myself, I have acted in the name of God on several occasions. I have been able to bless several people with varying needs. It is a marvelous thing to act in God’s name and strive to live worthily of such a responsibility. I know that we have his priesthood here on earth today.
We Latter-day Saints are a covenant-making people. In the ordinances of the gospel there exist several promises we make to God, for which He has promised us blessings in return. Such an active, participatory gospel cultivates personal responsibility and accountability in each of its members. We live up to the promises we make. We are assigned callings in our local congregation to help build up the kingdom. None of the leaders in our church are paid; everybody who serves does so voluntarily.
The scriptures are replete with examples of God’s people making covenants with him. These covenants can only be admistered by the priesthood, thus indicating the need for God’s official power to be restored as it has. A covenant is an official promise, and to be binding and official it must be administered by one who has the authority to do so. God has said:
…I will prove you in all things, whether you will abide in my covenant, even unto death, that you may be found worthy.
For if ye will not abide in my covenant ye are not worthy of me. (D&C 98:14-15)
Indeed, to return to God’s presence one must make covenants with Him. Baptism, the sacrament, and other covenants allow us to make promises to our Heavenly Father. One does not renege on a promise to God—hence the desire Latter-day Saints have to be active and live up to such promises.
President Brigham Young taught:
Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell. (Discourses of Brigham Young [Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 416.)
I testify that covenants are a crucial part of the gospel. They facilitate the progression in the gospel that is necessary to gain our eventual exaltation and return to God’s presence. Upon living up to them, we are blessed in abundance.
4. Holy Ghost
The Gift of the Holy Ghost is the promised companion reserved for those who are baptized. When one in authority lays his hands upon the recipients head, the gift of the Holy Ghost is given. Explaining the difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost, the Prophet Joseph Smith said:
There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this . . . ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199)
This special gift—reserved for those who enter Christ’s church by covenant—is the method by which we obtain daily divine help in treading the path back to God’s presence. Having this constant companion (if we live worthy of it) allows us to more easily discern between truth and error and know what we should do to fulfill the covenants we have made.
I testify that the gift of the Holy Ghost is real and powerful. Having received this gift, I have had occasion to use it repeatedly throughout my life. Through it, I feel God’s hand guiding me in my daily life. I feel His love and interest in my life. I treasure this gift immensely.
5. Comforting Doctrine
Our modern prophet has said:
Circumstances change, but our message does not change. We bear testimony to the world that the heavens have been opened, that God, our Eternal Father, and His Son, the risen Lord, have appeared and spoken. We offer our solemn witness that the priesthood has been restored with the keys and authority of eternal blessings.
—President Gordon B. Hinckley, “We Bear Testimony to the World”, October 2006
When the circumstances of the world shift with society’s moral relativism, many people get caught in the rip current. Some of the other churches follow society’s trends and begin to adopt what becomes the “norm” in order to find more acceptance and adherence among their members. Some do it so as not to offend their members.
The message of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints remains constant. God personally visited Joseph Smith, and with the aid of angelic visitors restored the gospel to the earth in all its fulness. Along with this restoration came the priesthood, temples, and all ordinances and covenants necessary to provide the opportunity for exaltaton to all of God’s children.
These doctrines are comforting. They are palatable. I love knowing that my family and I can live together forever in God’s presence. I love knowing that God has a place to “rest his head”. I love that, since God loves all His children, He has provided a way whereby those who have already died may saved as well. I love knowing that God still speaks to man.
I testify that these doctrines are true, and that they are comforting. They attract people all over the world who are hungering and thirsting for them.
6. Letter from Heaven
Further illustrating the reassuring truth that God knows and loves each of us, He has provided patriarchs who, like their predecessors of old, can provide partiarchal blessings to worthy members of the Church.
President Ezra Taft Benson has taught that “a patriarchal blessing is the inspired and prophetic statement of your life’s mission together with blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give.”
In times of uncertainty, tribulation, or indirection, my patriarchal blessing—a veritable letter from heaven—serves as a guide to remind me of my divine potential and foreordained mission. Reading it frequently helps me to make sure my priorities are aligned with what I should be doing in my life.
And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins. (2 Nephi 25:26)
At the core of all these reasons I have listed is a burning testimony of our Savior Jesus Christ. If all these other things I have previously mentioned were not part of the gospel, I still would participate and remain active because I have a knowledge that He directs this work, that He was resurrected and lives, and that He will come again to rule and reign on this earth. I know that He leads and guides the Church in our day through His chosen servants, and that He suffered for our sins, infirmities, and sicknesses.
Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot. (Mormon 10:32-33)
Why am I active in the gospel? Why do I come each week, and strive to obey God’s commandments every minute of every day?
I do it because Christ lives, and through His messengers He has instructed me that it’s what I need to do in order to return to my Father’s presence and inherit eternal glory. And that’s what I’m after. Nothing less will suffice.