We made it! This is Part 13 and the conclusion of the series Teach Us Thy Statutes, Thy Law. (Thirteen is a lucky number, right?)
If you haven't read the first 12 entries in this series yet, it might help you get your bearings to read those first. Good luck!
Before we get to it, I wish to invoke the following prayer, which is where the title of this series came from.
O Lord, teach us Thy statutes, Thy law, and Thy commandments.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end.
Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.
Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein I delight.
Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.
Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.
Only True and Living Church
We need to figure out the relationship between all these things:
"The" Church Church of God Kingdom of God Kingdom of Heaven Zion
Let's start with "The" Church by putting the following famous verse into context:
Those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.
What makes a church "true and living"?
Section 1 was given on November 1, 1831 when "this church" was known as the "Church of Christ." The previous year, in April 1829, the Lord said:
If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.
Behold, this is my doctrine-- whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
(D&C 10:53, 67-68)
Is it possible the Lord is referring to different churches in Section 1 and in Section 10?
Just How many churches does the Lord Have?
1. The Church of the Lamb.
I beheld the Church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few.
(1 Nephi 14:12)
2. The Church of the Firstborn.
All those who are begotten through me are partakers of the glory of the same, and are the church of the Firstborn.
3. The New Testament Church.
Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.
4. The Pre-Meridian Nephite Church.
And blessed art thou [Alma] because thou has established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people.
5. The Post-Meridian Nephite Church.
Behold there shall be one ordained among you, and to him will I give power that he shall break bread and bless it and give it unto the people of my church, unto all those who shall believe and be baptized in my name.
(3 Nephi 18:5)
6. The Church of Christ (1829-1838)
I prophesied concerning the rise of this Church, and many other things connected with the Church, and this generation of the children of men.
(Joseph Smith History 1:72)
7. Church in Zion (? - ?)
And also unto my faithful servants who are of the high council of my church in Zion, for thus it shall be called . . .
8. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1838 - ?)
. . . and unto the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world; For thus shall my church be called in the last days.
Huh. Am I misreading D&C 115:3, or is the Lord naming two different things?
Then There Is the Kingdom of God
On top of all these churches, we need to mention the Kingdom of God, which is a whole different enchilada. Joseph Smith taught:
There is a distinction between the Church of God and kingdom of God. The laws of the kingdom are not designed to effect our salvation hereafter. It is an entire, distinct and separate government. The church is a spiritual matter and a spiritual kingdom . . . .
The literal kingdom of God and the church of God are two distinct things.
(Joseph Smith, Administrative Records, The Joseph Smith Papers, Church Historian Press, 2016, p. 128)
Well, there we have it. There is a wall of separation between Church and Kingdom.
Council of Fifty
The Kingdom and the church serve very different functions.
The Kingdom of God is a righteous government that protects the rights and privileges of all people. It was intended to be the government through which Christ reigns a thousand years on earth. But its jurisdiction relates to men here, on earth.
If this is your first time learning about the Council of Fifty, just know for now that it was an attempt to launch the Kingdom of God on the earth, which is why they tried (unsuccessfully) to draft a new constitution.
The formal name of the Council of Fifty was revealed to Joseph Smith by revelation as "The Kingdom of God and His Laws with the Keys and Power thereof, and Judgment in the Hands of His Servants, Ahman Christ."
Joseph had tried to "resign" as President of the Church and appointed his brother Hyrum to lead the church so Joseph could turn his attention to some new projects involving kings, priests and the Kingdom of God. But despite Joseph's efforts to get the members of the church to accept Hyrum as his replacement, they never really got on board.
The "Last Charge" meeting in the spring of 1844 where Joseph "passed" his priesthood keys was at a meeting of the Council of Fifty (which no longer exists).
Then There is the Kingdom of Heaven
Jesus said his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). So where is it?
We see that whosoever will may lay hold upon the word of God . . . and land their souls, yea, their immortal souls, at the right hand of God in the kingdom of heaven, to sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and with Jacob, and with all our holy fathers, to go no more out.
Jesus tried very hard to teach us something about this kingdom:
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed a seed . . . the kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field . . . the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net . . .
Then There is Zion
Zion is "The Pure in Heart" (D&C 97:21). Or those who possess "one heart and one mind" (Moses 7:18). Or Enoch's city.
What does the Lord promise to the pure in heart?
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
AnywhereChrist dwells with his people is Zion. To me, that would be heaven.
And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion.
What does "True and Living" Mean?
Okay, now let's get into our Time Machine and go back to 1831 and take a snapshot of the Church of Christ. How was it structured in 1831 when the Lord called it "true and living"?
Structure of Church of Christ (1831)
First Elder and apostle: Joseph Smith (D&C 20:2) Second Elder and apostle: Oliver Cowdery (D&C 20:3) Presiding Bishop: Edward Partridge. Other offices: elders, priests, teachers and deacons (D&C 20:38)
That's it. That's all. Really.
In 1831 there were:
1. No high priests (those didn't exist until 1831, and D&C 20:66-67 were subsequently added). 2. No First Presidency (didn't exist until 1833; see Section 90) 3. No Quorum of Twelve Apostles (didn't exist until 1835) 4. No Presiding Patriarch (1833) 5. No Quorum of Seventy (1835)
What if the thing that makes a church "true and living" is not the organization, the hierarchy, the offices, the priesthood?
The priesthood is always being reorganized and changing, anyway (I mean, maybe someday we'll figure out what is up with the Seventies).
We knew this already intuitively, didn't we, because haven't we all thought it odd that an "organization" could be characterized as 'true' or 'living'?
So What is True and Living?
What else could the Lord have been referring to? Well, he already told us back in 1829. When he said his church is those who "repenteth and cometh unto me" (D&C 10:67). That's His church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is our church. It is literally in the name!
The reason this is all so confusing is because there are members of His church who also belong to our church. And there are people who are not members of our church who are members of His church. And there are members of our church who are not members of His church.
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name cast out devils? and in they name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
Bruce R. McConkie said, "The purpose of the church on earth is to prepare us for an inheritance in the church in heaven" (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, p.337).
I take Elder McConkie's statement to mean that our earthly churches are preparatory; pass-throughs or stepping stones towards something greater.
What is the "true and living church"?
The true and living church would be the church that exists in heaven, right? The one that is eternal?
Surprise! It is not an institution or organization but the body of Christ (whose body is indeed full of truth and life). Paul said:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
Now ye are the body of Christ.
(1 Corinthians 12:12, 27)
Who belongs to the "body of Christ"?
Those who have been begotten in His blood, His children, the family of God,
who are the living sons and daughters and true followers of the Son of God,
who breathe His truth,
His way, His Spirit, His law, His word, His light, His life, His love,
even those who belong to the Church of the Firstborn.
I love the church and the fellowship of my brothers and sisters. I also find it helpful to maintain an eternal perspective:
The church is not Zion; Zion is the pure in heart.
The church is not the kingdom of God; the Kingdom of God as envisioned by Joseph Smith awaits restoration.
The church organization is not "living and true"; the Lord's people, or Body of Christ, is.
Here is our hope:
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, prepare ye the supper of the Lamb, make ready for the Bridegroom.
Call upon the Lord, that his kingdom may go forth upon the earth,
that the inhabitants thereof may receive it, and be prepared for the days to come, in the which the Son of Man shall come down in heaven, clothed in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth.
Wherefore, may the kingdom of God go forth, that the kingdom of heaven may come.