Friday, May 2, 2014

The Church Is Not The Church

I've said before that one of my all-time favorite quotes is from Rush Limbaugh.  He often says "Words mean things."  How true this.  Many words have certain connotations and evoke images and associations in our minds.  For example, when I speak of a "company," you probably imagine Ford, Wal-Mart, General Electric, or some similar corporation.  You might also imagine the company you work for.  In any event, you most likely think of an institution, because that is the most common way we think of companies in our enlightened, Western culture.

But consider that the word company is also used to describe a group of people.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines company as "a group of persons or things."  It is a correct definition, but probably not what you normally think of when that word is used.

In the world of Mormonism, the CHURCH seems to be central in our lives.  For many of us, particularly those of us who live in Utah and have been surrounded by the Church and Church culture for our entire lives, everything we do is probably influenced in one way or another by the Church.  Our friends and family relationships are also defined in terms of the Church.  Because of our association with the Church, we also have a unique vocabulary.  Elder, Brother, Activity Days, Young Men, Young Women, Relief Society, Bishop, President, ward council meeting, ward, stake, GA, Gs (for you oldsters out there), fetch, dang, green jell-o with carrots.  All of these words should evoke certain images and associations in your mind.

Well, that presents a problem.  There is a tendency to take words that have certain associations and meanings to them, and assume that those same meanings and associations are universal.  But consider the idea that the meanings and mental associations from certain words are not static in time or space, or from culture to culture.  I dare you to go to England or Australia and ask someone where you can buy a fanny pack.

It should come as no surprise that some words used in Joseph Smith's time carry a different meaning than they do today.  For example, the word "interest" meant something different than it does today.  (Which might prompt me to do a tithing post some time.)  Likewise, the first definition listed in the 1828 dictionary for the word "beetle" is a heavy wooden mallet.

The Book of Mormon is a book about a culture and civilization that is long dead. They descended from Jews, although the second generation had little understanding of the ways of the Jews.  There were also elements of Egyptian culture, and certainly the peoples already living on the American continents had their own cultures.  I think it is dangerous to assume that all the words we see mean exactly the same thing as they do today.

Well, finally I'm getting around to the subject of this post.  Church.  Church surrounds us in this modern culture, but I would like to suggest that when you read about the "Church" in the scriptures, that you should STOP thinking about the institution.  Like the word company, the word church ought to be viewed as a group of people.

Let's take a look at the scriptures that help us understand this:

D&C 10:67  "Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church."

Moroni 4:2  "And they did kneel down with the church, and pray to the Father in the name of Christ..."

1st Nephi 14:10  "And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth."

Clearly these are all examples of the word "church" being used to describe a group of people rather than an institution.  I would submit that EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE of the word "church" in the Book of Mormon should be viewed this way.  What an astounding difference it makes.  It personalizes the commandments of the Savior.  It personalizes the love of the Father, the Son, and the various prophets in the Book of Mormon for the children of men.

God does not love institutions.  God loves people.  God loves YOU.  I bring this up because we as Mormons have this unfortunate tendency to define our relationship with God in terms of our relationship with the Church.  To echo the words of Dieter Uchtdorf, I urge you to "Stop it."  Your relationship with the Lord is independent of the Church.  The Lord's relationships with every man, woman, and child is independent of the Church.

Taking this stand can help us to have empathy and compassion for those who do not belong to our Church, or those who have left for one reason or another.  For some, the Church becomes a source of pride.  How often do we think we "the chosen people?"

This concept can also help us to unwittingly put the Church or its leaders between us and God.  You must have your own relationship with Jesus Christ in order to be saved.  Your relationship with the Church is not your relationship with God.  The fact that you have participated in ritual ordinances in the "true Church" does not get you any closer to Him who is your King.

Next time you go to "Church", consider that you are participating in fellowship with people, not receiving blessings from an impersonal institution.  Consider that you are gathering with your fellow men to build them up, to encourage them in their journeys to gain salvation, to help them.  You need not be part of a "Church" to do that, but you do need serve in the church.

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