I led the discussion this past Sunday for this chapter in Teaching of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith. This chapter is FULL of wonderful information about our church organization.
From the Life of Joseph Fielding Smith
The thing that impressed me most from this section was that President Smith grew up with an excellent example of righteous living and dedication to God. His grandfather, whom he never met, was martyred for his testimony of the Gospel. His father was dedicated to the church and eventually became a prophet.
I really appreciated the story in this section about President Smith's dedication to church service.
A simple and unassuming man, Joseph Fielding Smith never sought these positions. But when the Lord called him to serve, he willingly and enthusiastically obeyed. He quietly exhibited this dedication one day when, at age 89, he went to a meeting. Walking from his home, he slipped and fell down a flight of steps. Although he hurt his leg, he walked about a quarter of a mile—“limping like an old man,” he said—so he could fulfill his responsibilities. After the meeting, he walked back home, where he finally allowed a doctor to examine him. The doctor found that President Smith’s leg was fractured in multiple places. President Smith later commented on the experience. “The meeting got a little long,” he said. “But then, most meetings do.
What a great example! I sometimes complain that I can't go to meetings when I have a headache or my stomach hurts. This servant of God went with what I am sure was a very painful broken leg.
I love this sentence:
Through these service opportunities, Joseph Fielding Smith came to appreciate the Church’s inspired organization and its role in leading individuals and families to eternal life.
Do we allow our service in the church to lead and teach us to appreciate the Church's organization? Or do we question leadership decisions because we don't understand and agree? Do we allow our service to teach us how the church leads individuals and families to eternal life? Or do we grumble about the time and energy it takes to complete our church responsibilities?
On to section 1: After centuries of spiritual darkness and apostasy, the Lord has restored His gospel and organized His Church on the earth.
In D&C 1:30, we are told that the church would be brought "forth out of obscurity and out of darkness".
The Lord [has] restored the gospel and organized again his Church upon the earth. The reason for such organization and restoration is the fact that for centuries the world had been in spiritual darkness, without the authority, and without the understanding; they knew not how to worship the living God. …
Without organization comes chaos. Without authority and understanding there can be no ordinances performed and no progression.
The everlasting covenant had been broken; the correct understanding of gospel principles had disappeared through apostasy; the right to officiate in the ordinances of the gospel had ceased among men. It became necessary that all this might be restored, and that faith might increase among the people through an opening of the heavens and a restoration of the gospel.
[correct understanding] - during the apostasy, part of the information (knowledge)was on the earth, but it had been corrupted and polluted by the philosophies and teaching of men. The teachings were not understood correctly and the authority of God to act on that knowledge was not present.
[right to officiate] - there was no priesthood authority and no priesthood keys. There was no prophet to direct the work.
No authority. No understanding. No organization = Apostasy.
So the Lord sent his messengers from his presence, with the fulness of the gospel, and with power, and the authority of the priesthood to bestow upon men, and gave them commandments … because the Lord knew the calamities which were to come upon the world, and it was his will that a proper warning, and the opportunity to receive the gospel be given unto men...
In order for a complete restoration to take place, we needed 3 things.
- The fulness of the gospel brought back. We needed to have a knowledge of Jesus Christ, his atonement and resurrection, and we needed to know and understand how that applies to us individually.
- We needed the priesthood power restored to the earth.
- We also need authority and priesthood keys to perform saving ordinances.
We announce that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on earth, the only place where men may come to learn the true doctrines of salvation and find the authority of the holy priesthood.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth! This means that in this church we are taught not only what we need to know, but also what we need to do to gain eternal life and exaltation.
Section 2: The Lord Himself directs the work of the Church, and it is our privilege to have membership in it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is in literal reality the kingdom of God on earth.
I desire to say that no man of himself can lead this church. It is the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ; he is at the head. The church bears his name, has his priesthood, administers his gospel, preaches his doctrine, and does his work.
If this were the work of man, it would fail, but it is the work of the Lord, and he does not fail... It is the Lord’s work, and do not forget that it is the Almighty who is going to do this work, and not man.
So many times I think we as church members need to remember this. The service and work that we perform in our wards and stakes is not our work. It is not up to us. It is not for our glory.
A few years ago, I was called as the Camp Director for our ward. I had two camp assistants and one food assistant. About six weeks before camp, one of my assistant's stopped returning my calls, quit fulfilling assignments I had given her, and then abruptly moved out of the ward. About the same time, my other assistant was called to be the Young Women's president. Two weeks before camp, a new camp assistant was called, but she told me up front that she would help out where she could, but she wasn't planning to attend camp.
I struggled, a lot! First, I didn't want to judge these sisters, but it was hard. Second, I worried. I worried that camp was going to be bad. I worried that the girls were not going to have fun. I worried that the girls wouldn't feel the spirit. I worried that things wouldn't go perfectly. I did the best I could, I prayed to my Heavenly Father, and went to work.
You know what I learned? I learned that it wasn't up to me! The girls had the experience that their Heavenly Father wanted them to have. He loves them. He knows what is best for them. I just needed to do my part and leave the rest up to him. If we are trying our best, striving to listen to the spirit, and working towards a worthy goal, Heavenly Father will do the rest.
...this church has a divinely appointed mission to perform under the direction and leadership of Jesus Christ, our Savior, and that nothing will stop his plans pertaining to it. It will fulfill the designs of our Father in heaven.
This church, under Christ's direction will fulfill its divinely appointed mission, which is to fulfill the designs of our Heavenly Father. Reminds me of Moses 1:39.
Section 3: The Church is organized to help members find joy and happiness in this life and eternal life i n the life to come.
The Lord has established all things in order and has given us a perfect system. Men cannot improve upon it. If we would carry out that which the Lord has revealed, as he has revealed it, then all things would be perfect, for the organization is a perfect organization; the theory of it—the plan of it—is without flaw.
There is a big "if" in that paragraph. "IF" we would carry out that which the Lord has revealed, the Church organization would run perfectly. All too often we let ego, agenda, judgement, self-promotion, weaknesses, anger, the list goes on.... get in the way of us carrying out that which the Lord has revealed in a perfect way.
In every gospel dispensation there are special needs to be met, problems to be solved, and help that must be given to assist and aid the members of the Church in working out their salvation.. Hence we have auxiliary organizations [Relief Society, Young Men, Young Women, Primary, and Sunday School] to aid and assist the priesthood. They are so organized as to meet the needs of the people in whatever social conditions may exist. They are part of the government of God and are set up to help members of the Church perfect their lives and do those things which assure them of joy and happiness in this life and eternal life in the life to come. …
What social conditions exist where you are that are met by the auxiliary organizations of the Church? What social conditions exist in our world today that are met and corrected by these auxiliary organizations?
The Church and its agencies constitute in effect a service organization to help the family and the individual. Home teachers, priesthood leaders, and bishops are appointed to lead those with whom they labor to eternal life in our Father’s kingdom, and the auxiliary organizations are appointed to aid and assist in this great work of salvation.
The priesthood leads and provide structure, the auxiliary organizations aid and assist. This is the way the Lord has set up this perfect system. What would happen if we were all trying to lead?
We cannot stress too strongly the great need to utilize all of these programs for the benefit and blessing of all our Father’s children. …
If all of us do all of the things we should in carrying forward the programs of the Church, the Lord will bless and prosper us so fully that success shall attend our labors, and out of it all peace and joy will be our lot here and eternal glory hereafter
Now to section 4: Our service in the Church expresses love for others and appreciation for the Lord's infinite service.
Normally when we talk about service in Relief Society we are talking about individual service to individual members. Not so with this section. We are talking about individual service within the Church.
The man who does only those things in the Church which concern himself alone will never reach exaltation. For instance, the man who is willing to pray, to pay his tithes and offerings, and to attend to the ordinary duties which concern his own personal life, and nothing more, will never reach the goal of perfection.
Never refuse to serve. When a presiding officer asks your help, be glad to accept and give the best you have to that labor. The Lord expects this of us, and we are under covenant to do so. This course brings joy and peace, and at the same time those who serve receive the greatest blessing. The teacher gains more than the one taught; the blessing returned to us when we accept a call to work in the Church is far greater than the blessing we can impart to others. He who refuses to perform any labor or shirks responsibility when it is given him in the Church is in grave danger of losing the guidance of the Spirit. Eventually he becomes lukewarm and indifferent to all duties, and, like the plant that is not cultivated and watered, he shrivels up and dies a spiritual death.
Your able service does not go unnoticed by that God whom you serve and in whose work you are engaged.
And finally, section 5: In this dispensation, the kingdom of God and the work of the Lord will spread throughout the world.
The gospel itself has been the same in all dispensations; the plan of salvation is the same for all our Father’s children in every age. From time to time it has been lost by apostasy, but whenever the Lord has had a people on earth, they have been offered the same laws and truths of salvation that he has revealed to us.
But there is one great added thing we have received in this age that has never been had before. In this dispensation the Lord has decreed that the Church shall never again be led astray; this time the gospel is here to stay. This time the revealed truth is destined to prepare a people for the second coming of the Son of Man, and the Church will be established in all parts of the earth when the Lord comes to usher in the millennial era of peace and righteousness.
We don't have to worry about the Lord taking the church from the earth. What we do have to worry about is our own personal apostasy. In most cases, personal apostasy comes from one of two things:
- apathy towards our personal duty/testimony
- criticizing/judgement of church leaders, members and/or doctrines
How do we protect ourselves from personal apostasy?
Closing with the testimony of President Joseph Fielding Smith:
I know and testify that the Lord’s purposes on earth shall prevail. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is here to stay. The Lord’s work shall triumph. No power on earth can prevent the spread of truth and the preaching of the gospel in every nation.
I leave my blessing with you and my assurance that God is with his people, and that the work in which we are engaged shall triumph and roll forth until the eternal purposes of the Lord are fulfilled.