The Unifying Spirit of the Lord

At the conclusion of the April 1976 conference President (then Elder) Howard B. Hunter shared a powerful message about the vital importance of unity – in society but especially in the Church. Strikingly, he connected the future growth of the Church to the degree that members would be able to maintain unity.

As we think of the great growth of the Church, the diversities of tongues and cultures, and the monumental tasks that yet lie before us, we wonder if there is any more important objective before us than to so live that we may enjoy the unifying spirit of the Lord. As Jesus prayed, we must be united if the world is ever to be convinced that he was sent by God his Father to redeem us from our sins.

It is unity and oneness that has thus far enabled us to bear our testimony around the globe, bringing forward tens of thousands of missionaries to do their part. More must be done. It is unity that has thus far enabled the Church, its wards and stakes, branches and districts, and members, to construct temples and chapels, undertake welfare projects, seek after the dead, watch over the Church, and build faith. More must be done. These great purposes of the Lord could not have been achieved with dissension or jealousy or selfishness. Our ideas may not always be quite like those who preside in authority over us, but this is the Lord’s church and he will bless each of us as we cast off pride, pray for strength, and contribute to the good of the whole.

I wonder if some of the slowing growth we see in recent years is as a result of growing disunity in the Church. We are divided over a myriad of political, social, and cultural issues. We are encompassed by a large number of “ites” such as Snufferites (or more controversially, followers of groups such as Ordain Women). Therefore, we appear to the world as a church in conflict rather than a united one.

One thing that I truly value about my membership in the Church is the degree to which there is doctrinal unity in the Church. I love having a source of authority to look to for definitive answers from the Lord about perplexing moral and spiritual problems. I love that we need not be children tossed to and fro by the deceptions of the world. There’s a reason why primary children across the world sing “follow the prophet.” Doing so is the key to a united membership and to the spiritual power that comes as a result.

It brings me great sorrow to see so much division and disunity. If we could simply, as President Hunter suggested, “cast off pride” and put on the mantle of love and charity, we would see conditions improve I the Church and in the world.

Elder George P. Lee in the same session echoed similar thoughts about unity:

To me you’re all equal in the sense that you are all Latter-day Saints and that you are all rich spiritually. What I see in the audience today are people from all walks of life. I see doctors and lawyers sitting next to common men. I see a farmer next to a professional person. I see professional people, educators, and teachers side by side. I see composers, musicians, and artists–all kinds of people from all walks of life, sitting together side by side. And this is as it should be, because if you want to know what the celestial kingdom looks like, you are witnessing today a glimpse of the celestial kingdom and heaven.

One of the miracles of the church is how it brings people of diverse backgrounds together to serve together as one. That is the celestial kingdom in action. We need to put off our differences and put our shoulders to the wheel in valiant service.


The Mighty Prophet

Elder Bruce R. McConkie is particularly known for his forceful testimony of Jesus Christ. However, his witness of the prophet Joseph Smith was also especially powerful.

In April 1976, he put the question of whether Joseph truly was a prophet into stark relief:

All men may well ask themselves where they stand with reference to Joseph Smith and his divine mission. Do they inquire after his name and seek that salvation found only in the gospel of Christ as revealed to his latter-day prophet, or do they deride and despise the Lord’s living oracles and say that God no longer speaks to men in the way he did anciently? The great question which all men in our day must answer–and that at the peril of their own salvation–is: Was Joseph Smith called of God?

Ultimately, all seekers of Christ must decide for themselves whether Joseph was a prophet of God. For our day, Joseph Smith was the prophet of the restoration and restored fundamental truth necessary to help us truly know Christ. Even though salvation only comes through Christ, without his servants we would not truly be able to understand Christ. This is truly the great question, because if answered in the affirmative, everything else follows.

Or at least it did for me. My testimony of Joseph Smith was a foundational building block in developing faith in the modern prophets and in the Church. I’m grateful for the powerful witness I received that Joseph was a prophet and for the countless reassurances I have experienced since then.

Not an Amateur

In the April 1976 conference, Elder Eldred G. Smith talked about the savior and his character and capability.  He quoted Elder J. Reuben Clark when describing the creation of the world:

“And worlds without number have I created; and I also created them for mine own purpose; and by the Son I created them, which is mine Only Begotten.” (Moses 1:32–33.)

To get some idea of the magnitude of these creations: President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., said, “Astronomers now yield what they did not formerly yield, that there may have been many, and probably were, many worlds like ours. Some say there were in this galaxy perhaps from its beginning, one million worlds like unto this one.

“‘Worlds without number have I created,’ through ‘mine Only Begotten Son.’ I repeat, our Lord is not a novice, he is not an amateur; he has been over this course time and time and time again.

“And if you think of this galaxy of ours having within it from the beginning perhaps until now, one million worlds, and multiply that by the number of millions of galaxies, one hundred million galaxies, that surround us, you will then get some view of who this Man we worship is.” (J. Reuben Clark, Jr., Behold the Lamb of God, Deseret Book Company, 1962, pp. 16–17.)

I love the idea that “our Lord is not a novice.” It is comforting to know that Christ and Heavenly Father know exactly what they are doing. They are ultimately in control. Christ has won the victory over death and sin. We are in good hands so long as we follow him.  And if we do so, our eternal happiness and exaltation is assured.

An Examination in Honesty

I’m running a week behind on my general conference odyssey posts, so I’m going to be posting two posts this week.

In the Sunday Morning session, there was a strong focus on the importance of honesty and integrity that really stuck out to me.

Elder Perry told of a professor who gave his students very special instructions before a difficult exam:

In giving an examination one day, a trigonometry teacher said, “Today I am going to give you two examinations: one in trigonometry and one in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. But if you must fail one, let it be trigonometry. For there are many good men in the world today who cannot pass an examination in trigonometry but there are no good men in the world today who cannot pass an examination in honesty.”

Honesty is a virtue that is unfortunately underrated in today’s society. It has become far more acceptable for politicians and media personalities to lie with abandon. Unfortunately, this has led to the fatal undermining of trust.

If these words were true in the shadow of Watergate, they are even more true today:

Every healthy society needs a common core of values based on the divine law of the Lord. This core of values should be a fundamental upon which all laws governing human conduct are based. Societies which have governed themselves by this fundamental set of values have found peace, prosperity, joy, beauty, morality and fulfillment. Societies which have thought themselves beyond these basic principles have literally destroyed themselves.

Are we not now seeing in our society today the lack of a responsiveness to teach these basic values? Are we not seeing a growing harvest of public and private crime, irresponsibility, vandalism, shoddy work, immorality and the lack of personal discipline? Because of our unwillingness to get involved in the preservation of these values, small, radical, Godless groups are literally stealing from us our rights to enjoy the freedom to choose our own value system.

Elder/President Gordon B. Hinckley also spoke on a similar theme:

In our childhood we were told the stories of George Washington’s confessing to chopping down the cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln’s walking a great distance to return a small coin to its rightful owner. But clever debunkers in their unrighteous zeal have destroyed faith in such honesty; the media in all too many cases have paraded before us a veritable procession of deception in its many ugly forms.

What was once controlled by the moral and ethical standards of the people, we now seek to handle by public law. And so the statutes multiply, enforcement agencies consume ever-increasing billions, prison facilities are constantly expanded, but the torrent of dishonesty pours on and grows in volume.

In a society where trust is corroded, there is no common source for information, values, and guidance. The dissonance that results tends to destroy the social fabric and lead to conflict. 

In the Church, we are blessed to have a single source of moral and spiritual authority. Great efforts are taken to shake confidence in our leaders because a loss of trust in our leaders fatally undermines the Church. We need to resist that temptation.

We also have an obligation to be an example of honest, rectitude and trust to those around us. We must be people of unquestionable integrity in order to stand against the increasing loss of integrity in society.

Liberty Shall Prevail

At times it is easy to feel fearful about the state and direction of our nation. It is easy to fear that the liberties and freedoms that we have enjoyed are slipping away. It is easy to fear that a continual coarsening of our culture will destroy what has made America special.

In its bicentennial year, an Apostle of Christ spoke about the destiny of America. His words give me great comfort and optimism that the things that have always made America great will endure despite a multitude of trials and challenges:

He echoed the words of Elder Anthony W. Ivan’s, spoken in 1917 about the destiny of the nation

“Let me reiterate the message left with the Saints nearly sixty years ago at the general conference in April 1917 when Elder Anthony W. Ivins, after discussing religious liberty and the Constitution, said, “I feel authorized to say, here this afternoon, that these liberties which have come to men, both religious and civil, have not been established by the Lord to be destroyed, but that they are here to remain until liberty shall prevail from the rivers to the ends of the earth, until God’s kingdom shall be established among men, and his will done upon earth as it is done in heaven. Until the universal Fatherhood of God, and brotherhood of man shall be recognized, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of Christ, who shall reign as Prince of Peace.” (Conference Reports, April 1917, pp. 54–55.)”

That promise should reassure every patriot. We may have to defend our liberties vigorously. However, overall it will be a victorious battle. The core protections of religious freedom and other civil liberties will not be lost. In darkening times, that promise means the world to me.

Weaving our Spiritual Tapestry 

Elder Hales wove a beautiful portrait of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ:

What does it mean to be a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ? A disciple is one who has been baptized and is willing to take upon him or her the name of the Savior and follow Him. A disciple strives to become as He is by keeping His commandments in mortality, much the same as an apprentice seeks to become like his or her master.

Many people hear the word disciple and think it means only “follower.” But genuine discipleship is a state of being. This suggests more than studying and applying a list of individual attributes. Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry.

Discipleship is so much more than being a follower. Instead, discipleship is a process of transformation whereby we strive to emulate and become more like the savior. We learn of him, apply his teachings in our life, and in time are elevated and changed.

That process is a gradual refining fire. Because of that gradualness, it can be difficult to know when we are making progress. At times, we may feel that we are moving backwards. We may feel our hold on the Rod of Iron slipping. Yet, as long as we keep moving forward with steadfast faith in Christ, we can have confidence that we will make it back to our father in Heaven.

That process is an integrated one where our efforts to develop more Christlike character build off each other:

The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways. In other words, we cannot obtain one Christlike characteristic without also obtaining and influencing others. As one characteristic becomes strong, so do many more.

Hence, Paul’s description of the pathway of the disciple relies on interwoven Christlike traits that grow together:

“Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

“And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

“And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”

I’m grateful for Christ’s example and for the ability to follow him. I fall so short and yet I am grateful for a savior who believes in second and third and seventy times seven chances.

Seeing the Light in Others

Elder Bragg’s message of hope in the face of darkness was a well needed antidote to the evil we see in the world:

“Even in the most difficult and darkest of times, there is light and goodness all around us. Last October, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf reminded us, ‘We are surrounded by such an astonishing wealth of light and truth that I wonder if we truly appreciate what we have.’”

Satan hopes that we dwell on evil and become despondent. He wants us to feel overwhelmed and unable to do good. He triumphs when good people feel like good has no point or purposes.

“However, the adversary would rather have us focus on ‘mists of darkness … which blindeth the eyes, … hardeneth … hear … , and … leadeth … away.'”

As Elder Bragg suggests, one of Satan’s chief deceptions for members of the Church is to get us to focus obsessively on the negative aspects of the Church and lose sight of the good that it does in the world and in our lives.

“Look, the Church will always have its critics. It has been that way from the beginning and will continue to the end. But we cannot allow such criticism to dull our sensitivity to the light that is available to us. Recognizing the light and seeking after it will qualify us for even more light.”

On the other hand, Satan also wants us to feel like we are the only Church and people that has any light and truth. That is another deep deception. The light of Christ is operative in the world in great force. Interestingly, Elder Bragg notes that “In a darkening world, the Light of Christ will shine brighter and brighter until the perfect day!”

People will feel drawn to be good and do good. The worldly distort morality, but the light of Christ will still pierce through the darkness. Our goal is to help others be drawn to that light: “May we see the Light of Christ in others constantly and help them see it in themselves.”