Several things have occurred lately to have me thinking on issues of unity versus contention. I thought I’d share these thoughts as I’m beginning to put things together.
In 3 Nephi 27, we find the Nephites disputing over the name of the Church. Jesus has to come down, chastise them, and then tell them what to name the Church. We often think that the name is uber-important, but perhaps it is less important than Jesus’ statement that a church bearing his name is acceptable, but only if it is following his teachings.
At the Kirtland Sunstone Symposium, John Hamer discussed that when the Church fragmented into various factions, one reason was over the Church name. The name began as the Church of Jesus Christ. Around that time, a bunch of churches began naming themselves by that name. So the church changed its name to the Latter Day Saint Church. This caused some to leave, believing that the Church must have Jesus’ name in its title. Because of such disputations, the Lord again had to reveal the name of his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We assume that it is named as such to distinguish us from the ancient saints, but perhaps it was just to distinguish us from other churches called the Church of Christ.
The point is, there is a pattern here. Something as small and silly as the name of the church caused a serious contention. People left the Church over it.
Are we so caught up in the little things, processes, procedures, or even doctrine, that we are willing to contend or quit?
Years ago, in another stake down south, I was with the stake president during a stake activity. I was stake clerk. While we were talking, a member from an outlying branch came up and handed his temple recommend to the stake president. He told the president he could no longer sustain him, because the president had given the chapel cleaning job to another person. The president asked him to meet with him in his office after the activity. Then the president turned to me and said, “Gary, you know I don’t do any of the hiring. The Facility Management Group does all that.”
Imagine, a member willing to give up his temple recommend over a job!
There are instance in LDS history where a man left the church, because Joseph Smith misspelled his name in the revelation! Others contended over so many other things just as silly.
Today, we live in a time of much contention. We anger over church policy and doctrine that we disagree with. We anger over a decision the bishop made that we know we could have done better. We often seek to establish our own view and will, regardless of the consequences.
I recall hearing the story of a man, who in his younger years of marriage, lived in a ward where the bishop literally hated him. Anytime there was an assignment to clean the toilets in the chapel, he was given the assignment. After a few years of quietly taking all of this, the bishop came up with a new one: building assessment. Years ago, when new buildings were built, the members would be assessed by their bishops to help pay for them. Normally, this was done according to a person’s income. However, in this instance, this man of modest means was assessed more than even the richest people in the ward. He went home and talked to his wife about it. They knew it was wrong, but prayerfully decided to follow their leader anyway. They sold the television and other items to pay the assessment.
A few weeks passed. The bishop was released. Then this man was called in. Vaughn J. Featherstone was called as a member of the First Quorum of Seventy. In his setting apart, he was told that he was accepted because of his actions in regards to the unrighteousness of the bishop. He had proven through this trial that he would be faithful and serve the Lord, regardless of whether he agreed or not.
I wonder how many of us miss out on great blessings and trust from the Lord, simply because we choose to stand up, be counted, and dispute the events.
Does this mean we shouldn’t occasionally speak our minds? Of course not. It means we need to seek unity first, and afterward seek to improve things. There is a time to discuss, and then there is a time to quietly and humbly step in line.
I’m thankful the Church leadership is giving more leeway for people to discuss hard things, such as women and homosexual issues. That said, it is indeed sad when those things become more important than the true purposes of the gospel. In such events, contentions arise and unity dismantled.
As I’ve written before on the Doctrine of Christ (2 Ne 31, 3 Ne 11), we learn that the Godhead is “one God”, and we are to be one so that someday we may also be one with the Godhead. The process does not include political action. Instead, it focuses on Faith, Repentance, Baptism/Ordinances, Gift of the Holy Ghost, and Enduring to the End. This is a continual process of growing. As we grow in faith and repent more, we make/renew covenants and receive more of an infusion of the Holy Ghost. We are ready to grow more in faith and repeat the steps. This cycle of growing is where the “enduring to the end” comes in. We must keep up the cycle of spiritual growth, or forever be on a plateau.
Our personal preferences, power grabs, and political beliefs, as important as they can be on a mortal level, can be distracting and even destructive when it comes to the greatest thing: unity of the Saints with the Godhead.
As I said. There is a time to speak out. But we need to also be humble enough to know when to humbly follow, in order to build unity among the saints. For me, I hate the divisions between conservative and liberal saints. Some claim the other group cannot be saintly because of differing stances. I believe that the contentions and disputations we maintain are what become perilous. In the eternal scheme, many of our favorite issues will be found to be as minor as the name of the Church, and that the disputations may lead to schisms and perhaps even its destruction.