Cover image: Peter Whitmer Home, by Al Rounds.
This lesson is about “the rise of the Church of Christ.” What is meant by “the rise of the Church,” and why is a church even necessary?
We learn in section 22 that “it is because of your dead works that I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me, even as in days of old” (22:3). The dead works spoken of are all the religious practices of the world that are not authorized by our Father in Heaven. The great apostasy from true doctrine and authority left a lifeless church in its wake. So, in a sense, the Church had to “rise from the dead” just as the Savior rose from the dead. The “rise” of the Church was a foretaste of the resurrection of all the children of God.
The new Church established on April 6, 1830, was therefore “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30). This sounds like an extravagant claim until we realize that it was organized “by the will and commandments of God,” a claim no other church can make (20:1).
What is meant by “a living church”? How do the works of this church differ from the “dead works” of others? Does it mean that the gospel of Christ is proprietary? That only Latter-day Saints are righteous?
Actually, the gospel belongs to the whole world, and those who live by principles of righteousness and truth are blessed just as much by those principles as those who belong to the Church of Christ.
So why do we need a “living Church of Christ”?
Many people today question the need for organized religion. According to the Gallup poll, two thirds of Americans had a lot of confidence in organized religion in 1975. Today, that number has dropped to a little more than a third—36 percent (“Why Are Americans Losing Confidence in Organized Religion?” Gallup.com, July 16, 2019). Lots of reasons are advanced for this lapse of interest, but I think the chief reason is that traditional religions, for all the good they do, lack a sense of life and power—and people sense that lack more and more.
By contrast the “living Church” is full of life and power. It is the Church of the living Christ, restored under the hands of the “only living and true God” and real heavenly beings “whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness” (20:6, 19).
It is also a church of power. To the Prophet Joseph, the angelic ministrants “gave power from on high” (20:8). By this means, Christ transmitted His authority and power to His Church. The ordinances of baptism, confirmation, and the sacrament, as well as the ordinances of the temple, can only be done with authorization from “power on high.”
Each ordinance symbolizes a stage in our growth toward eternal life. Members rise from a state of spiritual death to a state of spiritual life when baptized by “the person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize.” They go down into the water, which symbolizes death, with the authorized servant. “Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water,” which symbolizes resurrection (20:73-74). Not only does the Church of Christ rise to new life from dead works, but each individual member rises to new life.
Still, why a Church of Christ? What purpose does it serve to organize? Many people can’t see a reason for a church because so many churches have little to offer in the way of life and power or meaning and purpose. Some churches encourage people to “find your own meaning,” providing few answers to life’s questions. Others deny that we are literal offspring of God and condemn us either to eternal suffering or to a pointless, passionless eternity where personal growth loses all meaning.
By contrast, the Lord says, “I have caused this last covenant and this church to be built up unto me” (22:3). The purpose of the Church is to enable the children of God to take upon themselves the sacred covenant by which they can “receive a crown of eternal life” (20:14). The crown sets a person apart as a king or queen, endowed with dominion, exaltation, and eternal life (see D&C 132:19).
To qualify for this promise, we each have duties to perform in the Church. A covenant is a contract that defines the responsibilities of each party to the contract. Much of section 20 is devoted to identifying those duties we must fulfill in order to keep our side of the covenant.
The purpose of all these duties, or callings, is to help others to come unto Christ by taking upon themselves His sacred covenant. Although we may grow personally from doing our duty, we carry out our callings primarily to help gather our brothers and sisters into the everlasting covenant. The organization of the Church empowers each member according to his or her “gifts and callings of God” (20:60) to contribute to the gathering in an orderly way (“that all things may be done in order,” 20:68).
Section 20 lays out in some detail the duties of priesthood officers. Each has unique responsibilities, but in the end they all serve one purpose: “to invite all to come unto Christ” (20:59). They are to carry out these duties in various ways—for example, to “to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church” (20:42). Additionally, the “duty of the members” is to “manifest before the church, and also before the elders, by a godly walk and conversation, that they are worthy of it [the ordinance of the sacrament], that there may be works and faith agreeable to the holy scriptures—walking in holiness before the Lord” (20:69).
We should always ask ourselves, “Am I carrying out my part of the covenant? What is my duty as an officer or member of the Church? Am I doing my duty?”
If we do our duty, no matter how small or simple our contribution may be, we are helping to gather the family of God into a covenant relationship with Him, which President Nelson has said is the most important work we can be doing (see “Hope of Israel,” Worldwide Youth Devotional, June 3, 2018).
If we make the effort to do our duty, the Lord will bless that effort and we will gather Israel. This story from President Thomas S. Monson illustrates how carrying out the simple calling to minister to others can contribute to the gathering:
I was visiting, along with one of my counselors, a widow and her daughter. As we left their apartment, a lady from the apartment across the hall was standing outside her door and stopped us. She spoke with a foreign accent and asked if I were a bishop; I replied that I was. She told me that she noticed I often visited with others. Then she said, “No one visits me or my bedfast husband. Do you have time to come in and visit with us, even though we are not members of your church?”
As we entered her apartment, we noticed that she and her husband were listening to the Tabernacle Choir on the radio. We talked with the couple for a while, then provided a blessing to the husband.
Following that initial visit, I stopped by as often as I could. The couple eventually met with the missionaries, and the wife, Angela Anastor, was baptized. Sometime later, her husband passed away, and I had the privilege of conducting and speaking at his funeral services. Sister Anastor, with her knowledge of the Greek language, later was to translate the widely used pamphlet Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story into the Greek language. (Thomas S. Monson, “Do Your Duty—That is Best,” General Conference, October 2005.)
When I visited Athens a few years ago, I worshiped with a congregation of Greek saints who had read that pamphlet and been touched by the efforts of Sister Anastor, which in turn were motivated by the effort of a minister doing his simple duty.
Finally, we need the living Church of Christ in order to receive constant direction on how to carry out the work of the covenant. One reason the Church of Christ is “living” is that the connection between heaven and the Church is alive.
That connection might be likened to the nervous system of the body. As long as the nerves are connected to the control center—the brain—the body carries out its proper functions. But if the nerves are dead, the various parts of the body go out of control and die. Likewise, we have a living connection to God in the person of his authorized Prophet—the President of the Church.
Wherefore, meaning the church, thou shalt give heed unto all his words and commandments which he shall give unto you as he receiveth them, walking in all holiness before me; For his word ye shall receive, as if from mine own mouth, in all patience and faith. For by doing these things the gates of hell shall not prevail against you; yea, and the Lord God will disperse the powers of darkness from before you, and cause the heavens to shake for your good, and his name’s glory (21:4-6).
If we cut ourselves from the counsel of the Prophet, it’s like cutting the nerves to a body part. The result is death. But if we keep our connection alive by “giving heed unto all his words and commandments,” we will stay alive spiritually (“the gates of hell shall not prevail against us”). We will not be “’in the dark.” The very heavens will “shake for our good.”
We should ask ourselves, “Am I ‘giving heed’ to the Prophet? What does it mean to ‘heed’? Do I study his words and observe to do them? Am I following his counsel ‘in all patience and faith’?”
I am grateful for the “rise of the Church of Christ,” for the “last covenant,” and for the blessing of being able to do my small part in gathering to Christ my brothers and sisters. I am grateful for a living connection to the Lord through the Prophet. Consider what your life would be like without these blessings, and then thank the Lord for them.