Whose Church is This Anyway?!

I recently purchased a book called, ‘The Vitality of Mormonism’ by James E. Talmage. The book is a collection of essays that explore the key principles and doctrines of the church. It will likely be a source of posts for me over the next few weeks.

One essay that caught my eye was, ‘Divine Command and Human Agency’, where Elder Talmage discusses the compound character of the church as evidenced by the name of the church. He broke the name into it’s obvious parts as:

The Church of Jesus Christ.

And

The Church of Latter-Day Saints.

I found it interesting that he would do this. He then posed the question – Is this the Church of Jesus Christ, or is it the Church of Latter-Day Saints? ‘Yes’ was the answer he gave.

To many Latter-Day Saints the reasons that this is the Lord’s Church is well understood. He is the one who gives the direction through revelation, the one who calls the prophets, the one who ultimately teaches the principles and ordinances of the gospel, etc.

Talmage eventually addresses how this is the church of Latter-Day Saints, but leaves things quite vague in my view. His concluding paragraph begins,

The same principle [agency] applies to persons and to the Church as a whole today. God has not established His Church to make of its members irresponsible automatons, nor to exact from them blind obedience. (p. 30)

But Talmage immediately (in the same paragraph) gives the example of Adam offering sacrifices, and not knowing why, just knowing that he had been commanded to do it.

There is the familiar passages of 3 Nephi 27 that talk about the importance of the name of a church. Yet the revealed name of the church includes Latter-Day Saints in the title right along with Jesus Christ. So it is our church too.

So tell me. In what meaningful way is this not only the Lord’s church, but also the Latter-Day Saints’ church?

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15 Responses to “Whose Church is This Anyway?!”


  1. 1 Wade September 5, 2006 at 5:30 pm

    Eric:

    It’s a great question; one I haven’t really thought about before. But it makes a lot of sense to think about why the Church exists and whose it really is. At first blush, I thought of the purpose of the Church and how that may direct us to understand whose it is. Ephesians 4:11-16 came to mind right away. I think it does a good job of showing that Christ established the Church not for himself; rather he established the Church (anciently, as well as modernly) for the benefit of mankind (the members of the Church). Hence, Paul says the Lord “gave” the Church.

    And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
    For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
    Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
    That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
    But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
    From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

  2. 2 Michelle September 5, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    A few thoughts:
    The Church’s success depends largely on how the Saints exercise their agency in following the Lord’s commands. This is true at an individual level as well as a collective level. Zion will not come about solely because the Lord will be leading those people, but because those people will be following Him and striving to be like Him. Only through the exercise of agency expressed in obedience can that happen. The Shepherd and His sheep work together for Father’s glory.

  3. 3 the narrator September 5, 2006 at 7:21 pm

    I think I have left a link to this before. In the October 1984 general conferece, Elder Ronald Poelman gave an excellent talk called “The Gospel and the Church” where he discussed what the differences between the perfect eternal Gospel and its implementation in the imperfect earthly church. I think it has much to do with the same distinction Elder Talmage was trying to discuss. While Poelman’s talk was cleared for general conference, certain unnamed brethren later made Poelman rewrite (and retape) his talk for print, storage, and distribution. The original and revised versions can be read together here.

  4. 4 BrianJ September 5, 2006 at 8:52 pm

    I thought of a scripture that makes a similar point as the one quoted by Wade:

    “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27)

    It’s meaningful because to me for two reasons: it tells me that the Lord is not in the church-building business for his own sake, and that he is willing to condescend to putting his name on something that is–in some respects–in someone else’s hands.

    Unfortunately, there are times when it is too much the LDS’ church and not the Lord’s, such as: whenever I have used my church to promote myself over my neighbors, whenever I have judged others unrighteously on account of “my own good works”, etc. Those times are meaningful, but in a bad way.

  5. 5 Ron September 5, 2006 at 9:38 pm

    Perhaps he was just trying to make sense out of the grammatical mess that is TCOJCOLDS.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson September 6, 2006 at 6:40 am

    Wade:

    Excellent points. The church is for our benefit, and part of that benefit is what we learn through participation.

    Michelle:

    You hit on something as well, there is the dual relationship of God as commandment giver, and Saints as having agency to follow or not. Those that follow are then called Saints and become part of what the church functionally is – as long as they follow.

    Narrator:

    That sounds like an interesting talk. I’ll read it when I have time. Thanks for the link.

    BrianJ:

    I like what you have said about the Lord providing the church for our benefit. Unfortunately the trust given to us is at times abused.

    Ron:

    That should be ‘revealed grammatical mess’. It certainly is a mouthfull :). There must be some reason for the wording other than convenience!

  7. 7 Michelle September 6, 2006 at 7:18 pm

    I just realized something.
    Elder Talmage’s use of the name of the Church is actually against guidelines given by the Church to the press. The style guide specifically says that the Church should not be referred to as “Mormon Church,” “LDS Church” or “the Church of the Latter-day Saints.” So, that might give some guidance to our thoughts here. The Church is Christ’s. We are simply members of Christ’s church. (From the style guide: “When referring to Church members, the term ‘Latter-day Saints’ is preferred….”) Don’t know if that is helpful.

    As a sidenote, when I was a missionary, we often explained that the reason “of the Latter-day Saints” was part of the name is to distinguish the Church (and its members) from the early NT one. (Actually, I think that was in the discussions now that I think about it.)

  8. 8 Eric Nielson September 7, 2006 at 6:32 am

    Narrator:

    I read the talk. It is a very interestig one – even with the editing. My impression is that similar editing probably goes into conference talks today, but before the fact.

    Michelle:

    Nice call. I imagine Talmage wrote this essay before the guidelines were written. I have wondered about the standard explanation we give about the Latter-Day Saints part of the name. Do we really need such a distinction between us and the NT church? Are people confusing us with each other so much? It seems like a strange explanation to me.

  9. 9 Michelle September 7, 2006 at 9:18 am

    Eric,
    Maybe it’s not so strange if we think about how it ties us to the early church. What we are boldly saying is that we are the same church — led by the Savior — as existed in the NT. I think it’s also a testimony that this is the last dispensation before the Second Coming. You know, watch and be ready and all of that. 🙂 Since the name was received by revelation, I think it’s interesting to try to consider why the Savior wanted us to have such a name. I think it’s a sermon in and of itself.

  10. 10 Eric Nielson September 7, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Right Michelle. My thoughts on this the last day or two had mostly to do with an intended level of participation and responsibility for those who participate. We have a responsibility to be a meaningful part of the church. It seems the church is more than a batch of revealed truth and principles. It is also a social organization that is administered and participated in by it’s members. In a real way we (the collective members) ARE the church. For better or worse.

  11. 11 the narrator September 7, 2006 at 10:37 am

    In a real way we (the collective members) ARE the church.

    The greek word translated into ‘church’ in the New Testament is ecclesia which literally means an assembly or community. In the NT, it always references the people and never a building or organizational structure.

  12. 12 Connor Boyack September 7, 2006 at 10:45 am

    I loved teaching the gospel in spanish – the “romance” languages are still so close to latin that drawing the comparisons were always easy. ‘Iglesia’ (spanish for ‘church’) and ‘ecclesia’ are so similar that it’s hard to deny the derivation. Much easier than trying to associate ‘church’ with ‘ecclesia’.

    Another fun experience (sorry for the thread hijack) was teaching a deaf girl in Spanish Sign Language – she loaned me her book which I studied for a couple days, and then was able to (with the gift of tongues, err.. gift of hands) communicate everything I needed to in the discussions. When we got the subject of baptism, she said she had been baptized as a child by the sprinkling of water on her forehead. When she signed the word baptism, it was by making two fists, the thumbs sticking up, and then moving both hands 90 degrees (so the thumbs pointed to the right), and then back up.

    I had her repeat the sign, watch her hands as she did it, and then the light bulb turned on. She realized that baptism implied immersion.

    It’s amazing how much symbolism there is in language…

  13. 13 Wade September 7, 2006 at 11:17 am

    In a real way we (the collective members) ARE the church.

    I would say the Church could not exist without its members. Paul likened the church to a physical body, the individual parts being the “members” of the church. It’s quite easy to see that without any “members”, a body (i.e. the church) would/could not exist.

  14. 14 Michelle September 7, 2006 at 1:31 pm

    Ah, Eric, I understand more what you are driving at. I agree we have a huge responsibility – -to make the Church so that it feels and seems like Jesus’ Church, eh?

  15. 15 Eric Nielson September 7, 2006 at 3:08 pm

    One of the reasons I think about this sometimes is because where I live we are in a bit of isolation. We are a small ward, and you can drive 30 miles in any direction and still be in the ward. When you are this isolated, it becomes even more clear that we – the members – are very much the church. Again for better or worse. If some of the local members have strong feelings about certain doctrines or practices, and are bold and assertive about them, that is what the church becomes. We can be very influencial at times. People will judge the church at many times byit’s members. ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’. The members are in a partnership with the Lord in this endeavor.


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