A parent shared the following experience. Keep in mind that rescuing wayward children is often a function of personal sanctification. That is, to the degree that we sanctify ourselves we gain power to rescue the person for whom we are praying. Beyond our view, heavenly help is summoned and a plan for rescue is made. Now it becomes a matter of timing, persistence, and especially relying on the Holy Ghost to open doors.
A breakthrough question
“I had been preparing a Family Home Evening lesson, and I though I had some pretty good ideas. When I was trying them out on my wife, she stopped me mid-sentence and said, “Maybe you should ask the kids what is on their minds.” My wife was right, of course. Imposing my ideas on my family has not always proven the best option. So I started over by asking each of my children what was on their mind. We would call our Family Home Evening, Ask Dad Hard Questions and See if He Has An Answer.
“One of my daughters has been inactive. She struggles with the question of why there has to be an organized religion, and why good people can’t just live good lives and end up in heaven. When I pondered her question, I threw out all the others. I suddenly realized that the Holy Ghost had just handed me an opportunity to plant a seed. If I had brought up the issue, she would have turned off. But now she was asking me! Here is the text of our Family Home Evening.”
What is the big deal about an organized Church?
The same thing was asked of Jesus, and his answer was one that he was killed for. Joseph Smith answered the question and he was killed too. This is the question of questions, and the answer is the most vital answer you or anyone will ever receive.
The idea of a church is not new, but in the days of Jesus the Jews had apostatized from the true religion and had adopted a system of performances and ordinances. In other words, they went through the motions, but they didn’t know why, and they thought the procedure could save them. They thought that being good and going through the motions were enough. Then Jesus came along and told them that they were in error; nothing that they were doing would land them in the celestial kingdom. The Jews were so incensed by his answer that they crucified him in order to preserve their erroneous ideas.
What did Jesus say about salvation?
Early in Jesus’ ministry, a man named Nicodemus came seeking information about salvation. Salvation means to be placed beyond the power of your enemies. “Enemies” could be yourself, other people, circumstances, health, financial or relationship problems, sins, and especially death. The ultimate meaning of the word salvation means exaltation, which means that a “saved” person can progress along a clearly marked path and eventually become exactly like God.
Jesus taught Nicodemus about the path: “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God…Ye must be born again” (John 3:5, 7). Nicodemus was startled by this new doctrine. Jesus was telling him that only authorized baptism and the Holy Ghost (born again) could set a person on the path to ultimate salvation. Baptism, like all ordinances, is a physical symbol of an important spiritual truth. In this case, baptism is a symbol of burying your former sins and way of life and coming up clean and new-like a birth. Another way to look at the symbol of baptism is death and resurrection. In any case, baptism symbolizes the decision to abandon a sinful life and pursue a new spiritual life.
That means you must have an infusion of Spirit. After you are baptized, according to Jesus, you must be born “of the spirit,” otherwise you cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven. The Holy Ghost is that Spirit. He purifies you so that you can remain as clean as the moment you emerged from the waters of baptism, and he walks you along the path until you achieve ultimate salvation. Clearly, if you believe in Jesus Christ, you must also believe Jesus’ teachings. According to his teaching to Nicodemus, the ordinances of baptism and the Holy Ghost are essential for entering the path that leads to salvation and exaltation.
But will any baptism do?
Evidently not. The apostle Paul was once teaching in the Roman province of Ephesus when he met a group of twelve disciples who said they had been baptized. He was suspicious so he asked them if they had received the Holy Ghost. They had not. Joseph Smith said you might as well baptize a bag of sand as baptize without conferring the Holy Ghost-one without the other is meaningless. Paul asked these people how they had been baptized, and they said they had received baptism in the name of John the Baptist.
Wrong! Paul explained their error–baptisms must be done in the name of Jesus Christ by someone having the authority of Jesus Christ. Because Paul had that authority. He baptized them again the right way, and then he confirmed them with the Holy Ghost. Now they were on the path.
What do we learn from this account?
Being good is not enough to save you. You must be good and do the right thing in the right order to end up in the right place. Keep in mind that these were sincere people who were trying to live good lives, but they had a mistaken idea. When Paul, who was authorized by Jesus Christ, performed the ordinance correctly, these people suddenly received the promised blessings associated with baptism and the Holy Ghost, and miraculous things began to happen (See Acts 19:1-7). Miracles always happen, and these are signs that the ordinances are true.
What does all of this have to do with a church organization?
Good question. Now we know that salvation is only made possible through ordinances, and these ordinances must be performed by someone who has the actual authority of Jesus Christ. They are given so that good people can do the right thing in the right order to end up in the right place.
So where do we find this authority?
During Jesus’ ministry, he chose twelve apostles to be his special witnesses and bear testimony of him. He laid his hands upon their heads and transferred his power to them; that is, he ordained them to the priesthood. On that occasion he said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit” (John 15:16). Now the apostles could baptize and duplicate the works of Jesus with full authority.
What do we do with all the people who are baptized?
To hold together these newly baptized converts, to nurture them, and to help them progress, Jesus formed an organization or church whose leaders were the apostles. The apostles were to safeguard the doctrine of Christ so that it remained pure. As the Church grew, they were to ordain other men to the priesthood and authorize them to baptize and do the works of Jesus Christ.
To understand the necessity of a single organization with clearly authorized ministers of Jesus Christ, we need only observe the world’s 25,000 Christian denominations, which all believe is the necessity of baptism and which all perform it differently and teach diverse doctrines. On church, one faith, one baptism-that is the doctrine of Christ. There are not 25,000 ways; there is only one way, and that way involves apostles.
Where does authority come from?
Jesus chose Peter as the first president of the Church and gave him the “keys” of presidency. You turn a key to open something. Spiritual keys are “turned” to open spiritual powers and the blessings of heaven. (We will discuss these blessings later.) Jesus said to Peter, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
Notice that Jesus said he would build a “church,” so it’s hard to argue that an organized church is not necessary. Jesus also stated that he would build his church in a specific way–upon the “rock” of the priesthood, which opens the channel of revelation from heaven to govern the Church. Upon that sure “rock” of priesthood keys, which Jesus gave to Peter, Jesus would build his Church and reveal truths from heaven. Therefore, the Church of Jesus Christ became the custodian of all blessings, ordinances and powers that are necessary to get people on the path and to follow it to their ultimate salvation.
What to “keys” do?
Jesus made an intriguing statement to Peter about keys. He said, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Keys have the power to lock and unlock-seal and loose-spiritual things. In other words, whatsoever Peter and the apostles did on earth would be recognized in heaven forever.
The power of “keys” is an amazing power, especially considering that everything on this earth and everything that man does comes to an end, including life, marriages and families. Only the power of God could bind or “seal” something so that it would last beyond death. In this scripture, Jesus told Peter, the president of the Church, that he was giving him his sealing power (keys) to put the seal of God on everything that Peter did so that those things could endure eternally. Therefore, on the condition of worthiness, a person, who desired salvation and exaltation, could go to Peter or one of the apostles and receive a baptism that would endure eternally.
Is there any other way?
No. Jesus said, “My house is a house of order” (D&C 132:8). The order of salvation is one of authorized ordinances. To Peter and the apostles, Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (Mark 16:15-16). Damnation means restricting blessings. According to Jesus’ statement, anyone who rejected Jesus’ teachings and baptism at the hands of the apostles would be “damned” or unworthy of further blessings. Without ordinances you are stuck.
Is baptism enough for ultimate salvation?
No. Baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost only gets you on the path. The purposes of Jesus Christ are 1) to bring us back to God and 2) to help us become like our Heavenly Parents. To bring us back requires baptism and the Holy Ghost. To help us become like our Heavenly Parents requires an infusion of heavenly power and knowledge. Now we are talking about more ordinances to give us that power and knowledge.
This process of ordinances seems like nonsense to the world. Remember, the Lord uses sacred symbols and rites to teach us of his world. To access the powers associated with these ordinances, we must make agreements or covenants with the Lord. When we keep our end of the agreement, he keeps his, and we progress blessing upon blessing, power upon power, knowledge upon knowledge until we become like God.
Covenants and ordinances are the markers along the path leading to salvation. As we have learned, the prophets and apostles are the custodians of the keys to these sacred covenants and ordinances. When we make a covenant and receive the associated ordinance by the power of these keys, we are assured that the terms of the covenant will endure eternally. We have God’s personal seal and guarantee.
What is Jesus’ purpose?
1) to bring us back to God and 2) to help us become like our Heavenly Parents. The path that we follow has the following markers (covenants and ordinances):
1. Baptism and the Holy Ghost
2. Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthood ordination for men
3. Temple ordinances
4. Eternal marriage.
Here is how these markers help us become like God.
1. Baptism and the Holy Ghost–To step away from the telestial world and point us toward the celestial world
2. Priesthood-To obtain the authority of God.
3. Temple ordinances–To obtain the knowledge and power of God.
4. Eternal marriage. To obtain the lifestyle and kingdom of God.
What are these four “markers” called?
Collectively, these covenants and ordinances are called the New and Everlasting Covenant. The Covenant is “new” because it is new to every person that receives it; the Covenant is everlasting because it will last forever. This is the covenant of salvation. It is administered by the authority of the prophet and apostles, who have the keys to affix the names of all three members of the Godhead on the Covenant-the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost. Effectively, these three Gods sign their names to this covenant of salvation, guaranteeing that if you remain worthy, everything that has been promised us in the Covenant will be yours forever.
What are the promises?
Here are the words of the Lord:
“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed [the prophet], unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them–Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths–then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them” (D&C 132:19-20).
Can a person obtain these promises any other way?
No. The Lord states, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory. For strait is the gate, and narrow the way that leadeth unto the exaltation and continuation of the lives, and few there be that find it” (D&C 132:22).
Why do only a few find this path?
“Because ye receive me not in the world neither do ye know me” (D&C 132:22).
Does this mean that God condemns these people?
No. It usually means that they have not found him yet, so he will find them. We have to remember that God is our Father and not a condemning judge. No loving parent would withhold the greatest of blessings from his children because of ignorance. He would use all his resources, and he would work for years to get the blessings to his children. Even if the children did not understand at first, he would continue to try until they understood perfectly and could make an informed choice. This is one of the great works of the Church of Jesus Christ and the essence of the gospel. No single issue is more important than this: God loves his children and he never gives up.
What happens when I desire these blessings with all my heart and choose to put forth the effort?
Here is the Lord’s promise: “But if ye receive me in the world, then shall ye know me, and shall receive your exaltation; that where I am ye shall be also” (D&C 132:23).
What happens if I start on the path and mess up?
Simply repent and move forward. Joseph Smith said, “All are within the reach of [God's] pardoning mercy” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 191). And on anther occasion: “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.” Elder Orson F. Whitney said, “Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 257).
Forgiveness is a simple thing: turn back to God and recommit to obey his commandments. Moroni said, “fulfilling the commandments bringeth remission of sins” (Moroni 8:25). God takes no pleasure in punishing us; he is only interested in helping us change so we can enjoy the greater blessings. We make a critical mistake when we judge God as if he had human traits. His love and mercy are described as infinite and perfect. “God is love,” the apostle John said. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:16, 18). You need not fear God or his motives or his judgment any more than you need fear Mom or me. Because we love you, you are safe. Because God loves you, you are safe.
But I still remember my sins and they haunt me.
You should stop listening to that voice. God never works that way. He may remind you to nudge you to repent, but when you do he promises that he will remember your sins no more. Of course, Satan would love to parade your sins before your eyes and tell you that all is hopeless. He would tell you that because you can still remember your sins are not forgiven. But that is not true. Remembering is simply a device to help you avoid repeating the mistake.
After you have repented, painful, condemning memories come from Satan. On the other hand, remembering with peace comes from God. It serves no good purpose to rehash mistakes. Those memories paralyze you and stop you in time. They retard your progress. Satan knows this and uses it as an effective strategy. Stop listening to Satan. Tell Satan that you detect him; he flees when you shine light on him. And forgive yourself! God has.
Where do I start?
The parable of the Prodigal Son gives the answer and it reveals the nature of God. Here was a boy who had lived a reckless and riotous life, only to find himself living with the pigs. At that low point, he “came to himself” and remembered a loving father. He could hardly turn back. Maybe he had gone too far, even for his father’s love. But he tore himself away from the pigs and started home.
The scripture says, “And when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” This scripture suggests that the father had waited every day, looking out at the horizon, praying that his son would come to himself and return home. When at last the father saw his boy, he did not wait for his son to come home. He ran to great him and helped him come home! Then the father put on his son the best robe, a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet and he made his son a great feast. The boy was home at last!