In this Series I'm hoping to introduce some ideas that can turn our hearts and move the needle toward Zion, and do it in a gentle manner ― since "gentleness" is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22).
Q: In Church we're told to "come unto Christ," but what does that mean?
Following Christ is not as simple as it sounds (as evidenced by 2000+ years of our failure to live the Sermon on the Mount).
We've got to start somehwere, so we might as well begin with the Savior's most important and fundamental commandment, the one He gave His disciples at the Last Supper, to "love one another."
With "love" being the Prime Directive of Christianity, why has the Church failed to achieve true brotherhood and sisterhood among its members?
I think it's safe to say our inability to love (like Christ) is the reason Zion is still an ideal rather than a reality.
After so long, we may begin to wonder if it is even possible to meet our Lord's expectations.
Be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.
That verse sobers me up like a splash of ice water; I cringe when I think of the Lord calling us "not mine."
Clearly what we've tried hasn't worked; how do we become "one"?
In all honesty, I don't think the current policies and practices of the Church are destined to succeed.
So we need a new gameplan.
Not a new Church― oh no, good heavens; there are already too many of those! There's no need to rush off to your lawyer's office to incorporate a new religious organization or trademark a spiritual-sounding name. The world doesn't need more leaders looking for a following. We already have a leader, who is our King.
And like our King, the Kingdom of God is among us; just not in the way we think.
If it Ain't Broke
Since God isn't the author of confusion or contention, and is actively working to bring His children into a unity of the faith, why hasn't it worked? Why do we struggle to genuinely love one another?
We've seen Christianity split apart into a thousand churches and sects; even the Restored Church has fractured into dozens of movements and branches. None have achieved Zion.
I'll tell you one of the main reasons: everybody wants to argue over authority; who is right? Who is wrong? When we should be asking: Who is loving?
Love was the sign the Savior gave us to spot His true disciples (John 13:35), so love is the only authority that ultimately matters to the Sons and Daughters of God (despite what people pointing to keys might say).
Let's look at the following verse, which is the one we usually quote about Zion:
The Lord called his people Zion, because they were of (1) one heart and (2) one mind, and (3) dwelt in righteousness; and (4) there was no poor among them.
I want to suggest that this verse is sequential; it describes an order of things like one of grandma's recipes.
(1) First, the Lord's people become of "one heart." Nothing else really matters until we take this first step.
(2)Second, and only after we've learned to genuinely love one another, can there be any hope of becoming "one mind." We receive the mind of Christ as a consequence of being filled with His heart.
This step describes sharing a common vision and faith; teaching one another the doctrines of the kingdom and being taught by the Spirit so the whole body is edified with light and revelations pour down not a few.
But this doesn't mean we will all think alike; we aren't the same; there won't be pews stacked with Stepford Wives of the Lehi East Stake.
We'll have different opinions and different ways of doing things, and that's okay. We'll take time to talk, persuade, party, study, sleep, vote, ponder and pray; and we won't mind giving each other ample space to exercise the unique gifts of the Spirit we've each been given.
(3)Third, once we are united in heart and in mind, and only then, can we dwell together in peace (think: Melchizedek) and be considered "righteous" (meaning, the Lord's people).
Righteousness here is not an individual trait; we're talking about a divine power, or endowment, that emerges among a people who are united in the service of their King; it is held collectively by all. Imagine it! Imagine what kind of world we could create if we had pure love, united faith, and exercised real intent.
(4) Finally, we observe the first thing that happens among a righteous people is the complete eradication of poverty ― not because of programs, welfare, or legislation. Where did the poor go?
Why are there "no poor" in Zion? Is it a gated community that keeps out the riff-raff?
Someone might object, "But Tim, didn't the Lord say we'll always have the poor with us (Mark 14:7)?"
Well, yes. In Babylon, or among the wicked, we create systems that cause and reinforce poverty.
But in Zion?
Where's the Love? Which step (1 thru 4) do you think we are on?
I would wager we're still at No. 1, learning to love as our Master loves; learning to become like "little children" (Mosiah 3:18).
There are several reasons I think we are love-blocked and have structured the church like high schoolers arranging the lunch tables by popularity.
The first thing I want to make clear is this: divine love is a fruit of the Spirit (that's obvious, I know). But that simple fact explains a lot.
Once we realize there's a relationship between love and the Spirit, we'll start seeing that love thrives and grows in an environment where the Spirit dwells; but it shrinks as the Spirit of God ceases to strive with us.
So the question we should start asking (before we ask how we can be more loving) is, "What is the best environment for the Spirit?"
Surprise! The Spirit cares deeply about power dynamics; it seeks temples filled with humility; the Lord resisteth the proud (who usually think they know best and should be in charge). So the Spirit spreads its wings where liberty is found, among the meek.
We can follow the breadcrumbs to the Lord by tracing prinicples of agency, consent, equality and mutual agreement.
My soul standeth fast in that liberty in the which God hath made us free. . . according to the Spirit of God, which is also the spirit of freedom.
(Alma 61:9, 15)
On the other hand, love withers in a controlling and authoritarian environment, which ravages the Spirit. Watch for those employing the principles of fear and guilt to secure our obedience. The scriptures describe this environment as "captivity" or spiritual "bondage," which grieves the Spirit.
This is why Paul warned us to "quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19) ― or what Joseph Smith described as exercising "unrighteous dominion" (D&C 121).
When we're around someone who waves their authority around and wants us to obey them because of their status ("I'm the president, so it's my final decision") or office ("I hold the keys, so what I say is more important"), then "the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man" (D&C 121:37).
Why is unrighteous dominion fatal to divine love? Well, Jacob tells us we "quench the Spirit" by preventing others from exercising their spiritual gifts and stopping them from following the Holy Ghost (the greatest gift of all), which he equates with mocking God ― because, I guess, God is the one who gave us the gifts!
[Will ye] deny the good word of Christ, and the power of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and quench the Holy Spirit, and make a mock of the great plan of redemption?
The "Great Plan of Redemption" we see here is very different from the one we're taught in Church; we're not describing kingdoms of glory, no siree. In this Plan, it isn't about authority or defending truth-claims or obedience to priesthood keys.
No, the Great Plan is about following God by receiving:
a. the "good word of Christ" b. the "power of God"; and c. the "gift of the Holy Ghost" Now, wouldn't it be a big tease for the Lord to grant every man a gift of the Spirit, and give His Church the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then to turn around and tell us to just obey our leaders and the Handbook? I mean, why do we need the Holy Ghost at all if we're to be led by a Prophet?
This is why I've said before that the gifts of the Spirit are the "keys" the Lord has given the Church to be organized according to His will, and not priesthood authority.
This is a problem we have created ourselves; the irony is the Lord sent prophets to invite us to come unto Christ and receive Him ― (a) thru (c) ― but instead we took the prophets and built up churches around them!
a. listen to our precept b. obey our power; and c. follow us
(2 Nephi 28:4-6)
Notice that Nephi framed the latter-day apostasy around "denying the Holy Ghost, which giveth utterance; and they deny the power of God" (2 Nephi 28:4-5). Isn't this just another way of saying we "quench" or grieve the Spirit by replacing the gifts and power of God with a Handbook full of rules and regulations?
Thus we see we've adopted keys in lieu of love; offices over freedom; captivity over conscience. Is it any wonder love waxes cold when we seek shelter in man-made hierarchies?
What's the Solution?
What's the answer? Well, we just saw it given by Jacob: receive the words of Christ and His power through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Aflame with the Spirit's fire, love will flood our congregations as we honor each other's spiritual identity and gifts. In other words, as we let the Spirit breathe.
But don't think we're going to accomplish this by "becoming more loving." I love that phrase, implying we can increase our ability to love as if it were as simple as making bigger deposits into our bank account when we're living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The kind of love we're discussing (the pure love of Christ) is not within human reach; it is not something our leaders can confer upon us; we have to "come unto Christ" to receive it.
That's why I've spent so much time discussing the gifts of the Spirit and the Holy Ghost: because Divine Love is a fruit or gift of the Spirit. As Moroni said at the end of his record, "These gifts come by the Spirit of Christ" (Moroni 10:17).
So the gift of love is not something that comes packaged in a person's priesthood office or authority; it's the opposite: divine authority is packaged with pure love.
In other words, love can't be passed around by the laying-on-of-hands; it is conferred by God and not our home teacher.
Mormon and Paul wrote my favorite passages on love in all of scripture; they taught the way to obtain charity from the Father as follows:
Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.
Because of meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love.
Hmmm. Why does Mormon connect charity with purification? What is the relationship between love and sanctification?
The Dove is Love
Remember: the Dove is Love. We receive the gift of love from God by the power of the Holy Ghost, as Paul taught in Romans:
The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Did you notice Paul's use of the term "shed?" Did it remind you of Nephi's vision, when the angel showed him the Tree of Life, which was a representation of the love of God?
Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?
And I answered him, saying: Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.
(1 Nephi 11:21-22)
So we're seeing the same phrase repeated, which probably means it's important. What does it mean for love to be "shed abroad in our hearts?"
This might sound weird, but think of a snake "shedding" its skin. While we usually associate "snakes" with the devil, remember that Satan took the form of a serpent in imitation of our Lord.
The snake, in the beginning, was a symbol of Christ (think: Moses raising the brazen serpent), who shed His exalted, glorified skin to condescend to earth, taking upon Himself flesh.
In an amazing sleight of hand, Babylon built churches that convinced us authority comes from being in charge ("keys") instead of being the least of all.
Christ's authority arose from His love, which was demonstrated by His condescension.
Yet we are fixated on the chief seats, taking our cues from those that sit in them, whilst Christ serves on the wait staff, dressed simply as the kitchen-help.
The dictionary defines the verb "to shed" as 'to eject, slough off, or lose as part of the normal processes of life.'
Picture the sun and the way it burns, shedding its heat. The sun's heat radiates outwards (abroad) and can be felt millions of miles away. When we stand in our backyard barbequing steaks, we can feel its warmth on our skin.
So it is with God's love. God "sheds" His love abroad; and I want to make the point that this love is Spirit, even His Spirit, which (like light) is a part of His being. It's real, not metaphysical.
I'm not taking us down a side-trip; I want to suggest that this is the very essence of the gospel. I mean, we're talking about God's love!
Let's tweak the following passage of scripture to make the point:
Which truth [love] shineth ["sheddeth"]. This is the light [love] of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made.
And the light [love] which shineth [sheddeth], which giveth you light [love], is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light [love] that quickeneth your understandings [hearts];
Which light [love] proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space--
The light [love] which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God.
(D&C 88:7, 11-13)
Haven't we read that God dwells in everlasting burnings? That doesn't sound pleasant, does it? I mean, can't He afford an air conditioner for heaven?
Well love, like light, produces heat. We risk getting burned. But the heat is very real: it "is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
So we shouldn't be surprised when Mormon tells us that the pure love of Christ is what purifies His sons like fire, purging our impurity and uncleanness.
The Lord's love is sanctifying, as Nephi learned from personal experience: He hath filled me with his love, even unto the consuming of my flesh.
(2 Nephi 4:21)
To love is to lose one's life, i.e., our attachment to status, authority, riches and control.
So we see the reason that the Church produces a people of sterile heart; why we ingest artificial sweetners instead of Christ's organic honey; because the Church is terribly attached to its authority, its riches, and its control.