One of my favorite scriptures in the entire standard works is found in the Book of Mormon, Helaman 3:35:
Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.
This scripture has been an anchor for me. It has shown me how I can gain answers to prayer and find remission of my sins; it has helped me to focus on the things that bring true happiness; it has guided my decisions and helped me to realize whether I was yielding my heart to God, or setting my heart on the vain things of the world; it has helped me to know how I was doing, a ‘standard’ of conversion and devotion to God.
I’m sure that these individuals still sinned. I’m sure they still screwed up all the time. But I am also certain that they frequently applied repentance. I’m certain they studied their scriptures. I’m certain that when they fasted and prayed, it wasn’t focused on what they wanted but instead sought to know the will of God and how they could fulfill it. That line about “yielding their hearts unto God” is the entire crux of the verse - by directing our hearts and wills to God, our actions follow. It is that yielding which makes our humility wax stronger and our faith wax firmer. In short, conversion.
This verse serves as a beautiful, yet stark contrast to the preceding two verses, in which the author laments:
33 And in the fifty and first year of the reign of the judges there was peace also, save it were the pride which began to enter into the church—not into the church of God, but into the hearts of the people who professed to belong to the church of God— 34 And they were lifted up in pride, even to the persecution of many of their brethren. Now this was a great evil, which did cause the more humble part of the people to suffer great persecutions, and to wade through much affliction.
This scripture refers to individuals who fit into a unique category: those who might be listed on the records of the church and even attend church meetings and fulfil callings, yet are not part of the body of Christ. There is something about them which caused them to dissent from the church - not a physical dissension (yet), but a spiritual dissension. Perhaps they became enveloped in the darkness of sin; perhaps their pride began to cloud their vision. Their testimony didn’t hold, and, slowly, imperceptibly, they lost their conversion. However, instead of outright leaving the church, they continued to go through the motions, performing duties, speaking in church, saying prayers, etc. They, possibly, draw near to the Savior with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him.
Perhaps there were things about church policy which they didn’t agree with. Perhaps they were disappointed with a decision made by the leadership of the church. Or, on the other side of the coin, perhaps they themselves persecuted those who had honest questions about they church. Perhaps they judged others to be sinners, when all those ‘sinners’ wanted were honest answers and a desire to learn the truth.
Or perhaps it was none of those things, and I just made them up. Actually, I bring those things up because they seem to be a common theme in the church nowadays, on both ends of the spectrum: both those who raise concerns about the church, and many of those who react to those raising concerns. Those who speak out against the church today do so for many reasons. Some of the groups are incredibly civil and kind about their disaffection; some are sharp and cruel, openly opposing or demeaning the leaders of this church who they oppose.
The same thing can be said for “active members” who are defamatory against those who publicly raise questions about the church. In the heat of defending the church, the Saviors injunction to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” is forgotten.
It would be a poor move on my part to discuss these ‘dissenting’ members in any detail on this blog. Their concerns are broad and diverse and contain a multitude of layers. I am probably poorly informed and ill-equipped to provide any constructive addition to the discussions which have already been happening on the internet.
One thing that I will say, and that I hope has been apparent in this blog post, is that constructive discussion is healthy. If someone perceives a problem, bringing it up through the proper channels is the right thing to do. Asking questions is not a sin in this church. (On the contrary, asking questions is what brought about this church in the first place!)
With the release of several essays by the Church regarding more controversial topics of doctrine and history, many members have had more questions than ever. And that’s okay. The church has always provided avenues for members to have these questions addressed. (Namely, Priesthood and auxiliary leaders, culminating with the Bishop and Stake President). The one caveat is that the member realize that this church is not changeable by popular vote. Policy won’t be altered just because it’s the ‘in’ thing to do. It might be disappointing to some, but often, in many cases, the answer will be a firm ‘No’, or ‘The Lord has not revealed anything on the matter (implying the leader has no intention of speculating)’, or ‘I can see why you feel that way, but there is nothing I can do.’
It can be difficult to have something which you strongly believe challenged by someone placed in authority over you. It takes a lot of humility to not take it personally. Then again, that’s the whole point of this post, isn’t it? Pride is the defining influence which in turn leads to dissension. If one is not already humble, then avenues like the Bishop and Stake President won’t really make much difference.
Of course, those avenues are Church-sponsored. When I say that, I mean that there is an avenue which is completely outside of church jurisdiction and available to anyone.
They did fast and pray oft and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility…
There were many times on my mission when I had questions. There were times when the opposition was incredibly convincing. There were times when all I had to hold on to was prayer.
I can remember one specific occasion when I felt like everything I was doing was a waste. I wasn’t sure about anything. The only thing I knew was real was God. So I talked to him. “God,” I said, “Here I am. I’m a missionary. and I want to be a great missionary. But I can’t do that without knowing that the Book of Mormon is true.” Boom. As soon as that thought escaped my mind and went to the heavens, I felt the most incredible peace. It was a peace I had felt before, a peace with a strange certainty of meaning and direction. This time, that peace told me “It’s true. You know it’s true. You’ve always known it’s true.”
That experience held me through my whole mission. It reminded me of a story of a young Asian, returning home to his family after finding the Church. He would be exiled, scorned, and persecuted. But his faithful response was “It’s true, isn’t it? Then what else matters?”
This time that we live in has been prophesied about by ancient and modern prophets. Good and evil are polarizing, but it’s not just happening in the world; it’s happening in the Church too. “They shall deceive the very elect.”
That being said, we have to be careful, not only of those who teach against the leaders and teachings of the church, but also those who overzealously defend the church. Yes, we need to unwaveringly stand for the right, but we don’t need to be proverbially chopping off ears like Peter did.
A reminder: sanctification comes through yielding your heart unto God, not men, no matter what their opinion, position, or calling is. Fasting and prayer can lead to greater humility and greater faith.