Growth is a key part of our mortal experience. This applies to the Church, as well as to us as individuals. Growth happens at different rates for different people. The Lord isn’t so concerned at the rate of our growth, as he is that we are growing. As we sometimes say, it isn’t where we are along the continuum of growth. What is important is the direction we are moving on that continuum. Since we can’t sit still, we are either headed one direction or the other. In this article we will look at both Church growth and personal growth.
(This article was first published in LDSBlogs.com)
Too often we get the feeling we need to be on the verge of being perfect by dinner tonight or all is lost. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. We are impatient with ourselves. Nowhere does the Lord tell us that we are expected to be perfect today. He does tell us we need to become perfect, but that expectation is not for today. The Lord is more concerned about those who are busy rejecting his word. In 2 Nephi 28:29-30 Nephi warns his people saying,
29 Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough!
30 For behold, thus saith the Lord God: I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have.
Following up that last thought of things being taken away, I would add this verse from 2 Nephi 26:11,
11 For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul.
There is a lot to the three verses quoted above. Let’s look at some of what they contain. In these verses the Lord states very clearly at least three truths:
- He expects us to learn slowly, here a little and there a little, line upon line, precept (a teaching or principle of truth) upon precept.
- Those who harken or pay attention, and live by what they have been given, will receive more from the Lord. They will learn wisdom.
- Those who turn away from the further light and knowledge the Lord tries to give them will have taken away from them what they have already received. These people are at risk for a speedy destruction.
I am assuming you are familiar with your own conversion or that of a recent convert to the Church. Think about how the convert felt about doctrines of the Church the first time they were introduced. Often the doctrines are a shock to the soul. What, in real life, is there that would prepare someone in today’s society for the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Tithing, or the covenants we make in the temple? Each one of these commandments and all of the covenants we must make take time to accept and become part of our way of thinking.
Can you imagine what it must have been like back in the early days of the Church? There was no such thing as a “life-time member” of the Church. Everyone was a convert. Everyone was recently a Catholic, Protestant, or an Agnostic. No one in the Church had five or more generations of ancestors who had been members all their lives. Everyone had their “foreign” concepts as to what was supposed to happen in the Church and how it should happen, all based on their upbringing in their prior faith. Is it any wonder that it took great hardships and many trials of their faith to forge them into a unified group of dedicated members who would suffer all for the sake of Christ? Every last member of the Church was going through the emotional and spiritual crises that each new member experiences as they change their life and try to bring their thoughts and habits into line with what the Lord wants them to do. This is the very definition of learning line upon line and precept (teaching) upon precept.
If you remember what it was like to be new in the Church, you should understand intuitively why the Lord teaches us a little at a time. If someone had dumped all the required covenants for exaltation on you the first time you learned about the Church, you would have been overwhelmed and would probably have rejected it all. It is for this reason that the Lord gives us a little bit then waits to see how we respond to it. When we are faithful to what we have received He gives us a little more. He doesn’t ever give us a fire hose in the face when we ask for a sip of water. He honors our agency and our process of learning.
The Church as a living entity
For those of us who have been members of the Church all our lives and possibly are the descendants of many generations of faithful Latter-day Saints, the Church is an established institution with a life and soul all its own. We tend to look at our lives as somehow separate from the life and vitality of the Church as an institution. This is a false view that needs to be changed.
What is the Church, but the sum of its members? What is the strength of the Church but the sum of the strength of its members? It is true that much has changed since the beginning days of the Restoration. Many questions have been answered, many customs have been created, and we are more spiritually mature as a people than were the early members of the Church. But that is the same function of time as the difference between a two-year-old and a twenty-two-year old. Time and experience make all the difference in the world.
Too often we, as members of the Church, live our lives as though the Church will continue to grow and progress somehow independent of our own personal lives. Not true. Look at this great video about sister missionaries the Church released a while back. As you watch it think about the process that led the leaders of the Church to decide that having sisters of the Church as missionaries would be a good thing. They took that idea to the Lord, were told to go with it, and now the Church has more than twenty thousand sisters serving all over the world, and the Church cannot imagine how the work could proceed without these good sisters’ service.
It is important that we understand that the Church of today will not be the same Church 25 years from now. If we are each growing in spirituality and spiritual maturity, the Lord will be revealing better ways of doing things, better practices that will grant us greater blessings as a people. But these won’t come just because the entity we call the Church gets blessed. The blessings on the Church are directly connected to the blessings each of us are worthy to receive.
In the September, 2010 New Era, Elder Bednar said this:
Let me suggest that many of us typically assume we will receive an answer or a prompting to our earnest prayers and pleadings. And we also frequently expect that such an answer or a prompting will come immediately and all at once. Thus, we tend to believe the Lord will give us A BIG ANSWER QUICKLY AND ALL AT ONE TIME. However, the pattern repeatedly described in the scriptures suggests we receive “line upon line, precept upon precept,” or in other words, many small answers over a period of time. Recognizing and understanding this pattern is an important key to obtaining inspiration and help from the Holy Ghost (“Line upon Line, Precept upon Precept” (2 Nephi 28:30), David A. Bednar Of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, From a Brigham Young University–Idaho devotional given on September 11, 2001).
He backs up the idea that it is a pattern the Lord has always followed for His children. He gives them just a little bit at a time. This gives us time to adjust our thinking, learn to be comfortable with His ways, and to practice behaving in new ways without becoming completely overwhelmed by all the demands of being a little more godly.
Patience is a godly virtue, and one which the Lord practices every hour of the day. He gives us time to learn, time to grow, time to adjust. And just as we are learning, growing, and adjusting, so too does the Church, which is the sum of all the members. The Church will never leave the membership behind, because it cannot be separated from its members. It is its members. We need to understand that just as we give ourselves room to change, we must expect the Church to grow and change over time as well. The doctrines are eternal. The principles of righteousness are eternal. But how we, and the Church implement those doctrines and principles are what we are learning line upon line. The closer we come to personal perfection, the closer the Church will come to operating perfectly. We still have so much to look forward to.
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