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I read, “This morning, I went to church. The church’s name was pond. A small pond, so insignificant it doesn’t even have a name. I entered for exercise, a morning walk before the heat of the day. I stayed for the transcendence, the joy…. Dripping with sacred pond water, I bless myself and know that I have learned more about who God is in pond church, than I have anywhere else in a very long time.”[i]
Whether it is a pond, a meadow, or a mountain trail, the potential for communion is real and edifying. The physiology includes the secretion of those pleasure brain chemicals; serotonin and dopamine. During times of either no or routine physical movement the brain can enter the alpha and theta brainwave states common to meditation, highway-hypnosis, intuition, imagination, mind-body connection, accelerated learning, etc. It is no wonder that a person can come away feeling refreshed and happy. It is completely reasonable that the sense of “communion” felt while feasting on the beauties of nature and the peace of seclusion can exceed what one might experience while absorbed in the beta brain waves of normal waking while engaged in critical thought, musing, problem solving, judgement, etc.[ii] that may characterize our experiences at church; listening, teaching, or in social interaction.
In a day of increasing DIY, mixed with news of greed-driven financial and moral failures of the world’s clergy[iii], it is becoming increasingly common to hear, “I am spiritual but not very religious.” If religion is seen only as an expensive, professionally packaged divine messenger service, many will opt for what they are discovering is readily and reliably available in the solitude of nature; transcendent serenity — characteristic of the gamma brain wave frequency which also gives one a sense of increased mental and spiritual capacity.[iv]
It would be easy to be seduced into substituting divine communication with music, nature, or organized religious practices that aid in producing a gamma brain wave state. Because we are dual beings[v] with both a spirit body and a mortal body created in the image of the spirit, we have two brains. Part of a successful mortal experience is to unite our spiritual and physical desires disciplined so that we are spirit led. Hence our spirit brains inform our mortal brain which then produce chemicals and brain wave frequencies resulting in physical and mental sensation. These sensations may be coincident with spiritual experience but are not the source. One author who spent years struggling over whether God really answered prayers concluded:
“When answers or miracles finally come, how will I know they’re from God, rather than from my own self-deception, hypnosis, or positive thinking? I’ll know, partly, because I’ve tried really hard to produce them, with no success. Trust me, if I could hypnotize myself into receiving heavenly answers, I’m pretty sure I would have done it dozens of times by now. It doesn’t work. Much to my chagrin, my prayers, fasting, and temple trips are often met with silence. I’ve learned I really have little control over when and how heaven answers my prayers. I simply can’t conjure up that amazing peace whenever I want it. Self-talk during my prayers just doesn’t feel like those answers that have come on special occasions. No matter how hard I try.
Because we have repeatedly met silence, when the eventual answer comes, it feels clearly different. We recognize those special messages from the Lord precisely because they are rare and unusual and come at unexpected intervals. They feel so very different from the anguished or circular thought patterns that we create ourselves.”[vi]
Without having experienced divine communication for oneself[vii], it is easy to assume that mountaintop serenity is divine, in and of itself. It is like an oxytocin rush (the bonding brain chemical) with no partner or baby with whom to bond; one bonds with the sensation and context that produces it. Divine communication is always purposeful, not just entertaining. It may be compensatory for suffering; comforting.[viii] Or, it may be informational, directional, or enlightening.[ix] So if serenity is so desirable and available in nature and, for some, illusive in church/ organized religion what ideally should be the expected role of church? That is an important question that could lead us to add church rather than replace it with time in nature. First could I suggest a paradigm shift and then try to understand why God, through scripture, has directed us to regular church participation? The whole struggle may result from inaccurate or misinformed expectations. Is church a subset of spirituality or is spirituality a subset of church?
If church is the big circle then one expects to come to church and there find spirituality from the sermons, lessons, and interactions. But if spirituality is the big circle then one brings their spirituality to church where opportunities to actually BE spiritual present themselves. It is easy to act spiritual and assume that one is such. For example, one can act charitably by giving to causes but doing so for selfish reasons; self-image enhancement, recognition, fame, etc. President McKay said it simply: “Spirituality, our true aim, is the consciousness of victory over self and of communion with the Infinite.”[x] Correcting the paradigm will help in correcting the expectation of coming to church expecting spirituality (serenity) only to be disappointed, distracted, offended, enlisted, etc.
Since any one of those can indeed be the result of church attendance on any given day, what is the divinely designed purpose of church? This is not meant to be a comprehensive list but should give appropriate motivation context for skill acquisition that will encourage devoted attendance so as to enhance one’s spirituality.
- Belonging to a Kingdom
“The word kingdom is often used in the scriptures to mean the church, since the church is literally the kingdom of God on the earth.”[xi] Because The Church is God’s kingdom on earth, as members of that kingdom we are under covenant to protect and build it.[xii] In fact, God has told us that since His purpose is to help us become kings and queens[xiii], He has given us the kingdom.[xiv] As such we are often left, as a church, to make decisions and experience the consequences in order to learn to govern a kingdom together. God is as active in the process as we elect to include Him, but He often leaves us to test and try things. If we were to ever put the kingdom in jeopardy, then He would directly intervene.[xv] Our part in the kingdom comes through this personal covenant with the King.
“Alma knew the covenant was not like a business deal—“you do this for God, and God will do this for you”—but it was an opportunity for them to become his, to become God’s people.
Every covenant with God is an opportunity to draw closer to him. To anyone who reflects for a moment on what they have already felt of the love of God, to have that bond made stronger and that relationship closer is an irresistible offer.” Henry B. Eyring; Making Covenants with God; September 08, 1996 BYU Fireside
- UNITY: at-one-ment
In order for the Savior to complete His Atonement[xvi] He organized a church. It began with His disciples to whom He gave priesthood.[xvii] In preparing to leave them alone He made clear what He hoped for them; at-one-ment.[xviii] Paul elaborated on the means of that unity through organized religion/church.[xix]
- Teach Each Other The Doctrines of Christ
- As Alma was converted and then found himself as the presiding priesthood authority over all those that flocked to him and accepted the ordinances of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. What to do? Divine guidance dictated that they organize a church with ordained but no paid clergy whereby they could both teach each other the doctrines of God and care for each other as they worked towards unity, meeting each Sabbath to learn and worship.[xx]
- Knowing that one learns more directly through divine revelation when teaching by the Spirit, God re-emphasized this instruction in our day. “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly…”[xxi] It is the instructor that is instructed more perfectly by the grace of the Spirit, than his preparation and study could ever provide.
- To Experience Frequent and regular protection from moral pollution
It has been said that one can’t wallow with the swine without getting muddy. So logically getting out of the sty[xxii] seems advisable. Media influences can be subtly polluting. But in light of our divine mission to influence the course of the world and serve all of God’s children He instructs us to be in the world but not of it.[xxiii] Knowing the fallen condition we of necessity must endure to both manifest and change our true nature, our loving Father gives us this powerful solution He calls, “My church and kingdom”[xxiv] and a Sabbath day, and then directs us to use it weekly.[xxv]
- To Experience the Synergy of Mutual Spiritual Nourishment and Support
- The Bible Dictionary defines church, “The church is a means by which the saints (or members) become edified and progress toward the full measure of the stature of Christ.”[xxvi]
- As Moroni prepared to bury the gold plates and end his message to the saints of the last days, he was clear about the necessity and function of the church.
- Remember each person who entered the covenant with Christ[xxvii]
- Nourish each covenant member[xxviii]
- To foster mutual concern[xxix]
- To aid in using the transformational power of memory through authorized priesthood ordinances[xxx]
- To learn by Experience How to be Governed
Abraham learned that we were sent to earth to learn to be governed by those “governing ones” to see if we would do all that we were commanded.[xxxi] Moroni details the church function wherein “governing ones” are rotated into delegated positions so that we learn to both govern and follow.[xxxii]
- To Learn by Experience in A Laboratory for Personal Progression
Church is meant to provide opportunities to progress in our becoming like Christ- an under-shepherd who finds joy in ministering to His sheep. As such, church offers opportunities to serve others who may challenge our weaknesses. Becoming charitable cannot be learned by reading the scriptures. Elder Maxwell said, “Quickly forgotten by those who are offended is the fact that the Church is “for the perfecting of the saints” (Eph. 4:12); it is not a well-provisioned rest home for the already perfected.
Likewise, unremembered by some is the reality that in the kingdom we are each other’s clinical material; the Lord allows us to practice on each other, even in our imperfections. And each of us knows what it is like to be worked on by a “student” rather than a senior surgeon. Each of us, however unintentionally, has also inflicted some pain.” This mutual service can become capacitating as we experience the Atonement of Christ as per the next purpose.
- Personal progress comes through true worship:
The Redemptive power of the Atonement of Christ washes over us as we repent[xxxiii] but the Enabling power of the Atonement of Christ capacitates us as we instrumentally capacitate others; we “receive grace FOR grace” as we then grow from “grace to grace.”[xxxiv] This is what is meant by the word “worship.”[xxxv] Our worship or love and adoration of God is fully communicated as we work to emulate Him in being His instruments. Otherwise our offerings are as burnt offering:.
“For I desired mercy (Heb: checed=intimate relationship/love), and not sacrifice; and the knowledge (Heb: dah’ath from yada = knowledge only through experience) of God more than burnt offerings.” Hosea 6:6
It is through such yoking with Christ that He is able to change our hearts so that we become more, rather than just doing more. Service then becomes instrumentality so that He can perfect us by working through us.[xxxvi]
Transcendent serenity is wonderfully desirable, especially when it accompanies divine communication; revelation directing you in how to influence those He puts in your circle of influence. The mountains and ponds offer great environments wherein the inner peace can prepare us for that sacred flow of divine wisdom and direction. Church doesn’t replace that communion time, but the mountains and ponds don’t replace church either. The communion time during the ordinance of the sacrament continues to be as sacred as temple time for me as Father instructs, corrects, and directs our lives. But it is the continual opportunities both resulting from various callings as well as from our interaction with fellow saints who do their best both from the pulpit and in their callings.
When I thought church was a place to go to be taught and served, I was often critical of less than stellar service. But now that I see church as my lab time where I can do now what we are promised to be able to do in eternity; partner in bringing to pass the eternal life of all around me. Eternity is now and church is a powerfully designed training laboratory. Some have said, “it is too bad that the church is not as perfect as the gospel.” But the imperfections of the church make it the perfect laboratory to become. Our weaknesses, especially during conflict, are manifest in service but, experiencing them humbles us and opens our hearts to the further direction[xxxvii] from Father and His beloved son who we can come to know and love. I am so thankful for both the mountains and the church!
[i] “I Went to Church at a Pond” Patheos, July 25, 1018 By Sarah Babbs https://www.patheos.com/blogs/fumblingtowardgrace/2018/07/25/i-went-to-church-at-a-pond/
[iii] Two recent examples: https://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/televangelist-wants-his-followers-to-pay-for-a-54-million-private-jet-its-his-fourth-plane/ Televangelist wants his followers to buy him a $54 million jet — his 4th plane
Preacher to Curia: Christians wounded by clerical greed, pedophilia https://visitor.stcdio.org/preacher-curia-christians-wounded-clerical-greed-pedophilia/
[iv] Gamma was dismissed as ‘spare brain noise’ until researchers discovered it was highly active when in states of universal love, altruism, and the ‘higher virtues’. Gamma is also above the frequency of neuronal firing, so how it is generated remains a mystery. It is speculated that gamma rhythms modulate perception and consciousness, and that a greater presence of gamma relates to expanded consciousness and spiritual emergence.
[v] Man’s earthly existence is but a test as to whether he will concentrate his efforts, his mind, his soul, upon things which contribute to the comfort and gratification of his physical nature, or whether he will make as his life’s pursuit the acquisition of spiritual qualities.
“Every noble impulse, every unselfish expression of love; every brave suffering for the right; every surrender of self to something higher than self; every loyalty to an ideal; every unselfish devotion to principle; every helpfulness to humanity; every act of self-control; every fine courage of the soul, undefeated by pretense or policy, but by being, doing, and living of good for the very good’s sake—that is spirituality.” TEACHINGS OF PRESIDENTS OF THE CHURCH: DAVID O. MCKAY; CHAPTER 2: THE DUAL NATURE OF MAN
[vi] LDS Living 7/27/18 “Why Not Receiving an Answer to Your Prayers Is Actually a Proof of
Miracles,” by Shalissa Lindsay, excerpted from “Answers Will Come”
[vii] The tast of salt, Boyd K. Packer
[viii] John 14:16; Moroni 8:26
[ix] John 14:26; DC 24:5; 31:11; 36:2
[x] ibid David O. McKay
[xi] DC 27:4 …in this my Father’s kingdom which shall be built up on the earth; See also TG Kingdom of God on earth
[xii] Laws of sacrifice and consecration
[xiii] Revelation 5:10 And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.
[xiv] Beginning here, DC 29:5 “…it is his good will to give you the kingdom”; God continues to repeat this many time in the Doctrine and Covenants. (35:27; 38:9; 45:1; 50:35; 62:9; 64:4; 72:1; 78:15; 101:61; etc)
[xv] DC 3:1 The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.
[xvi] 2 Nephi 29:9 My work is not yet finished.
John 14:12 He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
Boyd K. Packer, Oct Conf. 1995; “‘Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time except the Sons of Perdition”
[xvii] John 15:16 “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you”
[xviii] John 17:20-21 “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
[xix] Ephesians 4:11-16
“11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
[xx] Mosiah 18:17-29
17“And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.
18 And it came to pass that Alma, having authority from God, ordained priests; even one priest to every fifty of their number did he ordain to preach unto them, and to teach them concerning the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
19 And he commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets.
20 Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.
21 And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.
22 And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God.
23 And he commanded them that they should observe the sabbath day, and keep it holy, and also every day they should give thanks to the Lord their God.
24 And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support.
25 And there was one day in every week that was set apart that they should gather themselves together to teach the people, and to worship the Lord their God, and also, as often as it was in their power, to assemble themselves together.
26 And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God.
27 And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
28 And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.
29 And this he said unto them, having been commanded of God; and they did walk uprightly before God, imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.
[xxi] DC 88:78-79
[xxii] Mosiah 4:5 your worthless and fallen state
Ether 3:2 …we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually
[xxiii] John 17:11, 16 I am no more in the world, but these (disciples) are in the world… They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
Romans 12:2 And be not conformed to this world.
Matthew 5:13-14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? …it is thenceforth good for nothing…
[xxiv] DC 104:59 For the purpose of building up my church and kingdom on the earth, and to prepare my people for the time when I shall dwell with them, which is nigh at hand.
[xxv] DC 59:9 And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day
[xxvi] Ibid Ephesians 4
[xxvii] Moroni 6:4 “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and”
[xxviii] Moroni 6:4 “nourished by the good word of God,”
- to keep them in the right way,
- to keep them continually watchful unto prayer,
- relyingalone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
[xxix] Moroni 6:5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.
[xxx] Moroni 6:6 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.
[xxxi] Abraham 3:3, 8, 19, 25
3 “And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest.
8 And where these two facts exist, there shall be another fact above them, that is, there shall be another planet whose reckoning of time shall be longer still
19 These two facts do exist, that there are two spirits, one being more intelligent than the other; there shall be another more intelligent than they; I am the Lord thy God, I am more intelligent than they all.
25 And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them”
[xxxii] Moroni 6:7-9 “And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ. But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.”
[xxxiii] Alma 42:13 Therefore, according to justice, the plan of redemption could not be brought about, only on conditions of repentance of men in this probationary state, yea, this preparatory state
[xxxiv] DC 93:12-13 “And I, John, saw that Christ received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness”
[xxxv] DC 93:19-20 “I give unto you these sayings that you may understand and know how to worship, and know what you worship, that you may come unto the Father in my name, and in due time receive of his fulness. For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.”
[xxxvi] Moroni 10:32 “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”
[xxxvii] Ether 12:26-27, 37 “…my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them….because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father.”