Simplicity of the Gospel

These reflections are based on a talk given by the current Presiding Bishop, Bishop Gerald Causse, in October 2008 General Conference. He spoke of how simple the Gospel is – even so that a child could understand.

Some people have the idea that “they have to look for [God] in intellectually complicated concepts,” – just look at the Nicene Creed! However, Bishop Causse makes the very valid point: “God would indeed be unjust if the gospel were only accessible to an intellectual elite.” He quoted President John Taylor as saying it takes true intelligence to take a complicated subject and make it so simple that a child could understand.

Christ was a great example of this as His statements to the logic of the Pharisees were always simple and crystal clear. I love a scripture he quoted in Jacob 4:14  that explains how this “blindness…by looking beyond the mark…” meant the Jews were given complicated concepts – as that was what they were searching for.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is indeed such an amazing thing as the plainness of it means anyone can know that Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour and Redeemer of the World – without being an “intellectual elite”.

Need for a Redeemer

‘Jesus the Christ’ is a marvellous book written by the late Elder James E. Talmage. On pages 27-28, Talmage explains the essential need of a Redeemer if we are to return to God’s presence. Because of “the inability of man to raise himself from the temporal to the spiritual plane…” due to our weak resistance to Satan’s evil influences (see 2 Nephi 4:17-18) and also the fact we do not have the power over death on our own, we need some higher power to help us or else we would “forever remain in a fallen state.”

James E. Talmage describes this principle using an effective (if not complicated) analogy. He speaks of minerals and plants. The minerals, whilst able to change and move through influential forces (such as light and heat), they cannot become a living organism. However, the plant “which is of a higher plane…” sends roots and leaves forth to absorb these lifeless minerals and they then weave “the tissue of it’s wondrous structure.” Talmage makes the concluding statement – “no dead chemical substance has ever been made a consituent (part of a whole) of organic tissue except through the agency of life.” Basically, in order for something to move to the higher plane, it needs input and assistance from something that is on the higher plane to become so.

“So, for the advancement of man from his present fallen state to the higher conditions of spiritual life, a power above his own must cooperate.” Therefore, the need for a Redeemer is paramount for God to “bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39) We need the higher power of Jesus Christ to be able to reach the potential our Heavenly Father wants for us to become a reality. We can be influenced by many forces (good and bad) but no one can achieve the higher plane without Christ!

Choose your Foundation

A foundation is used many times as an example of what we should build on. For example, Ephesians 2:20 states how the Church of Christ is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” illustrating how without apostles and prophets the Church would collapse.

However, we need to decide what foundation we need to be built on – Helaman 5:12 and Mormon 5:18 give us our two options (for, ultimately, there are only two options)…

Helaman 5:12

This verse speaks of the “rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ” so that “when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds…” as long as we are firmly built on this foundation of Christ, we shall not be moved! Helaman is speaking to his sons Nephi and Lehi and he assures them that if they build on Christ, they will have “a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”

Mormon 5:18

On the other hand, Mormon tells us what happens if we are not built on the foundation of Christ. He is speaking of the wicked Nephites who are on the verge of extinction because of their iniquities. This is because “they are led about by Satan even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor…” Without the foundation or anchor of Christ, they are easily led to misery by Satan. And so, as it says in verse 19, the Lord reserves their blessings.

We can see the result of these two groups: Nephi and Lehi did teach “with such great power and authority,” (Helaman 5:18) because of where their foundations lay and, in contrast, the Nephite’s in Mormon’s time were utterly destroyed by the Lamanites.

It reminds me of Christ’s parable of the wise and the foolish man (see Matthew 7:24-27). Whoever follows the teachings of Christ is like the wise man who “built his house upon a rock,” and when the rain came “it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.” However, the foolish man built his house on the sand…the rains came “and great was the fall of [the house].”

Spiritual Fortifications

In the book of Alma, located in the Book of Mormon, a significant portion is a record of the wars and strives between the Nephite nation and the Lamanite nation. The Nephites were, generally, a God-fearing population whose industry and overall integrity had made them to be a strong nation in the midst of their enemies. On the other hand, the Lamanites despised their once-brethren the Nephites due to teachings of their forefathers which stated the Nephites had cheated them of their birthright and they were determined to consume the Nephites for their own gain.

The Leaders

Amalickiah – When we reach Alma 46, it could be said that the leaders that each of these nations had reflected the feelings of these two nations. The leader of the Lamanite armies, Amalickiah, gained his power through deceit and wickedness. had left the Nephite nation he orignally was part of and went to the Lamanites as he was rejected as a potential king over the Nephites. Before leaving to the Lamanites, Amalickiah ensured he made an impact – we read “Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake.” (Alma 46:10). This ability to lead away souls and to seek to destroy man’s ability to choose for themselves can only be associated with one being; Satan. As such, the Nephite people rallied against this wicked man (led by Captain Moroni who will be discussed) and Amalickiah fled…

He was not finished yet though. Amalickiah retreated to the arms of the Lamanites and vowed his service to them. He was given a place of leadership in the armies of the Lamanites…however, this was not enough for the cold-hearted dissident and he used wicked and crafty ways to eventually become king of the Lamanites (see Alma 47 for the entire account). 

Captain Moroni – On the side of the Nephites, the leader of the Nephite armies was a man called Moroni. Whilst Amalickiah’s methods are synonymous with the tactics and desires of Lucifer in the pre-mortal existance, of Captain Moroni it was said “And Moroni was a strong and a mighty man; he was a man of a perfect understanding; yea, a man that did not delight in bloodshed; a man whose soul did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery; Yea, a man whose heart did swell with thanksgiving to his God, for the many privileges and blessings which he bestowed upon his people; a man who did labor exceedingly for the welfare and safety of his people. Yea, and he was a man who was firm in the faith of Christ, and he had sworn with an oath to defend his people, his rights, and his country, and his religion, even to the loss of his blood…Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.” (Alma 48:11-13, 17) He was a leader that led in love and under the guidance of the Lord. 

Whilst Amalickiah had been deceitfully gaining power, Captain Moroni made preparations to defend against the building threat of the Lamanites. We see of Captain Moroni’s foresight and vision in Alma 48:7 “Now it came to pass that while Amalickiah had thus been obtaining power by fraud and deceit, Moroni, on the other hand, had been preparing the minds of the people to be faithful unto the Lord their God.” This foreknowledge may well have come from his knowledge of the land and reports he received from the Lamanites, for he was also a diligent leader, but also from promptings of the Spirit. In any case, he strengthened his armies, erected forts, built banks of earth and stone walls and placed more men at the weakest parts of his dominion.

Battle of the Latter-days

As I pondered over these events in the Book of Mormon, it struck me how much this relates to the battles we are waging today. I speak not of physical wars, although they are raging, but of the individual, spiritual war-fares we are engaged in.

The opposition have a leader, even more deceitful and cunning than Amalickiah. He does everything within his power (for he does have power) to lead the children of God astray and take away their agency through the bad choices they make – and he is making progress.

We, who are on the Lord’s side, have a Leader, a Commander and a Friend. He is aware of His soldiers and their needs. He is aware of the weaknesses in His followers. He has provided corporals who can support and lead smaller platoons of His army (prophets, local Church leaders). He has provided the weaponry and arsenal to fend off the constant barrages of Satan (scriptures, prayer, Sabbath Day Observance, the Temple). Most importantly, He has a plan – a plan which He has put into motion Himself (the Plan of Salvation, made possible through His Atonement). If we weaken our structural faults by heeding our Commander and strengthening where we need to, then we will succeed with Him. If not, we will fall whilst the battle continues on. He will succeed still (He already has), but we will not be there to enjoy the victory with those who stay close to him. As we build our faith and testimony through the ways mentioned above we will foil the plans of Satan and stand with our Leader at the end…

Learning Little by Little

I’m currently studying (amongst other things) a book by Gerald N. Lund entitled ‘In Tune: The Role of the Spirit in Teaching and Learning’. I’ve only just been getting into it but it taught a parable which I quite liked and I felt was a good learning opportunity.

The Parable

Lund likens the process of learning and change in the Gospel like a family who agrees a contract to build a house. He says how the family are very excited and gather to watch the progress on this new development in their life. He describes as follows:

“In a matter of hours, a place is made for the new building…In the first weeks, almost day by day, some dramatic changes take place. The flooring goes on. Walls seem to spring up, and soon the house is framed. Rafters and trusses appear overnight, and soon the house has a roof and windows.

But there comes the day when the outer construction is done and the house is what contractors call “dried in”. Now comes the plumbing and the electrical work. This is a very different stage of construction. These are not highly visible efforts. Often what happens goes unseen by the casual observer. In this phase, it is not uncommon to hear comments such as “Nothing is happening,” or “The work has stopped.” Of course, that is not true. The wires and plugs and switches and pipes are just as essential to the home as are the walls and floor…”

Reflections

Lund then makes the comment:

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a child or student or a Church member were to exclaim “Wow! You totally changed my life today.””

I often think that if a talk or lesson I have delivered is taught by the Spirit then that means it will change the life of all those who have listened. They will stop and ponder over the things I have said and they have been made to feel and change something in their life. In some cases, this has happened. When I was serving as an Elders Quorum President I once led a discussion on effective scripture study., covering aspects on why it is important, what looks like effective study and some practical tools to help our study be more effective (some techniques, tools etc). One of my Home Teachers was a member of that Quorum. In discussions in our home, he twice mentioned this lesson in our Quorum meeting, stating that he remembered this topic taught in our Quorum meeting even though weeks had turned to months. What was really encouraging though was both times he mentioned that specific lesson in our discussions he would always not remember who physically taught the lesson until after a couple of minutes until he’d say “Oh, it was you who taught it,” showing me that (fortunately) I hadn’t really taught the lesson, the Spirit had. The lesson he learnt was more valuable and memorable than who had taught it. This is an example of when we might experience a learning opportunity where dramatic changes happen in our learning journey. The scriptures do also have examples where children of God learnt a principle in a dramatic fashion – Paul, Enos, Alma the Younger and King Lamoni are a few to name. However, as with the building of the house, these are fewer than we might expect.

We are taught in the scriptures that we are to learn “line upon line, precept upon precept; here a little and there a little…” (D&C  128:21) and, in the similar fashion to a house, we have to expect that those who we teach may not change instantly – but change will happen as long as the teacher continues to invite the Spirit and the learner is willing to receive the tutelage of the Spirit.