March 3, 2008

A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity

Parley P. Pratt
June 29, 1856

Without the aid of satellite and radio, Church leaders would travel through the settlements of the Great Basin to meet with the scattered Saints. Upon returning from his three week tour of the southern settlements in June, 1856, Elder Parley Pratt took up the theme of unity. Perhaps there was something about his trip that inspired in him a gratitude for unity among many of the Mormon communities. Pratt tied the concept of the Spirit with the prevalence of unity:

I would also mention that a good spirit, the spirit of union and peace, seems generally to prevail so far as I could tell; and as to myself, I have enjoyed myself well and felt a good portion of the Spirit during my ministry in the south, and feel to thank my Heavenly Father for all these things. I have been led to reflect in viewing the unanimity of the people, and the extent to which they can endure and suffer for the sake of their religion. I have been led to reflect upon the power of the Gospel, the ordinances ministered for this people, and the spirit received in connection therewith.
The gospel is calculated, even in its ordinances, to unite. While Joseph Smith taught that we will be eternally ourselves, in order to fully progress there must be a welding link, a unity, in order for us to be exalted with God. One way this link is forged is through ordinances, as Parley mentioned. If the power of godliness is made manifest in ordinances (D&C 84:20-21), that power depends on people working together. We can't baptize ourselves, and endowments are given in "companies", for example. The highest exaltation is said to be reserved for sealed families (see D&C 132). As Alma commanded his church in the wilderness, faith and ordinance play a part in knitting hearts together:
And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another. And thus he commanded them to preach. And thus they became the children of God (Mosiah 18:21-22).
Parley saw the unity (though I'm sure there were imperfections therein) as a divine miracle:
Some people inquire after miracles, and signs, and wonders; I will mention one sign, and wonder, and miracle, that I have reflected upon of late; it is very public, and before the eyes of this people, and hence I have pleasure in referring to it.
It is this: here are a people congregated in the capacity of civil and religious governments in the valleys of Utah, made up of almost all nations and languages, comparatively speaking, or of many nations, having brought with them a variety of manners and customs, as well as many peculiar opinions and nationalities. And besides these, religiously speaking, they have been gathered out from almost every sect and creed under heaven or at least from many of them. A miracle, a sign, and a wonder, is this!
How came this? When found among all nations and languages, and religions, I say how came they to be made one, not that all are perfect in one, but so far as they are? And if anybody doubts this being a miracle, a sign or wonder, what we ask of them is, to produce the same, if they can. If anybody needs a miracle, this is one for them...
If the union which exists in Utah cannot be effected by others, and elsewhere, with similar materials, then all must acknowledge a miraculous power existing and operating in these valleys.

Parley explained how this "mystery" is accomplished for the sake of any "learned men" who wished to know; priesthood, ordinance, covenant and the Holy Ghost each play a part, with the caveat of "real intent" as the motivation1:
Then, in the first place, we say that it is by the power and keys of the holy Priesthood, and the ordinances and spirit thereof.
This people, composed of diverse nations, tongues, habits and religions, have all been baptized by one Spirit into one body. So far as they have, in all honesty repented, and been baptized, they have all received a portion of the Holy Spirit of promise by the laying on of the hands of the Priesthood, in the name of Jesus, and they have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one Holy Spirit, and one God and Father of all. This is as it was said by the ancient writer in relation to the ancient Saints.

Parley asked, is there power in the priesthood as there was anciently? He answered himself:
If not, how came this people to be concentrated and united, after being gathered out of many jarring elements, from the United States and from Europe?
Although they are very far from being perfect in this union, yet we say that by the power of the ordinances and by the power of the Spirit that accompanies the ordinances, this great miracle has been done in the name of Jesus Christ.
In becoming a member of Christ's church, a baptismal covenant with God includes other people as well; a unique aspect of the restored gospel is the forging of a divine community.
We take, for instance, a Presbyterian Methodist, a Quaker, a Baptist, and an Infidel, as they are called, or whatever name, community, or creed they belong to, and on their profession of reformation and faith in Jesus Christ, we bury them in the water, in the name of Jesus, for the remission of sins; they rise again out of the water in newness of life, that is, with a fixed purpose of leading a new life; and after receiving instruction at the hands of the authorized Priesthood, we lay our hands upon them, accompanied with prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, for the gift of the Holy Ghost; and if they do not receive that Spirit, you may know that they have not obeyed this Gospel from the heart.
After baptism, individuals are confirmed as members of the Church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. Note that the gift of the Holy Ghost is not a guarantee; one is commanded "receive the Holy Ghost." Parley saw the gift of the Holy Ghost leading to unity as more evidence of a miracle.2 The forging of a community of Christians is one of the most important aspects of the gospel: learning to be one. Christ plead with the Father that his disciples be one, as He is with the Father (see John 17), and through Joseph Smith said "if ye are not one, ye are not mine" (D&C 38:27). This community was described again in the Book of Mormon:
And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ. But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven (Moroni 6:3-8; see also Acts 2:41-47).
While some might say "I'm religious, but I don't need to go to Church", the restored gospel argues that going to Church, belonging to a community, is an important part of being religious.3 The Church is "the only true and living Church" (D&C 1:30) in that it lives and provides the opportunities where we can learn to apply the atonement, not just to our own sins and weaknesses, but to our relationship with others. Eugene England emphasized the point in his essay "Why the Church is as True as the Gospel." He compared the Church to marriage, and explained:
In the life of the true Church, as in a good marriage, there are constant opportunities for all to serve, especially to learn to serve people we would not normally choose to serve-or possibly even associate with-and thus opportunities to learn to love unconditionally. There is constant encouragement, even pressure, to be "active": to have a "calling" and thus to have to grapple with relationships and management, with other people's ideas and wishes, their feelings and failures; to attend classes and meetings and to have to listen other people's sometimes misinformed or prejudiced notions and to have to make some constructive response; to have leaders and occasionally to be hurt by their weakness and blindness, even unrighteous dominion; and then to be made a leader and find that you, too, with all the best intentions, can be weak and blind and unrighteous.
Church involvement teaches us compassion and patience as well as courage and discipline. It makes us responsible for the personal and marital, physical and spiritual welfare of people we may not already love (or may even heartily dislike), and thus we learn to love them.
Parley said this miracle of unity could exist only as we live to create it.
And what is further to increase in them this oneness? Being careful to live to our righteous religion, and to do right continually so that we become one in heart and mind. We are required to overcome our faults, and be careful to increase in and learn the truth, and put in practice, and to pray for the Holy Spirit of promise, and to be careful to keep the commandments of God, careful to do nothing to our neighbors, but what I would have them do under the like circumstances and be perfectly willing for them to do to me.4
England said even the basic structure of the Church, the Branch or Ward, is calculated to provide opportunities to perfect the Saints:
...the basic Church experience of almost all Mormons brings them directly and constantly into powerful relationships with a range of people and problems in their assigned congregation that are not primarily of their own choosing but are profoundly Redemptive in potential, in part because they are not consciously chosen.... [The Church] is the instrument provided by a loving God to help us become like him. It gives us schooling and experiences with each other that can bind us together in an honest but loving community, which is the essential nurturing place for salvation.
Many years ago a blunt bishop countered one of my earnest complaints with a statement I have never forgotten: "The Church is a good place to practice the Christian virtues of forgiveness, mercy, and love unfeigned." That was a revelation to me. The Church was not a place that exemplified Christian virtues so much as a place that required them. I suppose I had always thought of it as a nice cushion, a source of warmth and comfort if ever things got tough (which they seldom had in my life). It hadn't occurred to me that the Church could make things tough.5

As Joseph Smith taught, this Christian community comprises heaven; it stretches through eternity, where "that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy" (D&C 130:2).

Parley said the fluctuating unity of the Saints was a part of the ongoing restoration of the gospel. The unity will increase, he concluded, but it won't be achieved by our own merits. With the tools provided by the atonement of Christ, all of God's children can work to accomplish unity here and beyond:
We have never said that we would do it alone; but rather that the powers of the heavens that have gone before us and been perfected in the same Gospel, were engaged in it, and wish to help to do it. Nothing short of this fond union of the Saints who have gone before us with the living Latter-day Saints, will ever bring about and complete that great restoration that we have all been looking for, and believing in, that all the Prophets have prophesied of since the world began; nothing short of these united powers can possibly attain to that which is designed, hence they in the other world will attend to their part of it; they are doing it now. But by and by they will have to be ministers on the earth, and to the Latter-day Saints, and we have to be prepared to have the veil rent, and to be united more perfectly in our cooperations with them, and they with us; and we should endeavor to do our part of the work, to prepare for that which is to come, progressively, and be ready to enter into the kingdom of righteousness and truth, act so that we can be worthy and ready to be wrought upon by the Spirit of God (JD 4:9-15).

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FOOTNOTES:

[1]
Motive matters. Moroni taught that our actions, with improper motives, lack profit (see Moroni 7:6-10). For more on motives, see The First Great Principle: Improvement.


[2]
Parley explained:
Well, was there power in the ordinances of the kingdom, when administered by Joseph Smith? We say there was power in all that he did. Well, he ordained men to be Apostles, and Prophets, and Elders, and they went forth to administer in the sacred ordinances of the house of God; and I ask, is there power in their administration? ...You do not hear a man say that he is a Dane, or an Englishman, or of any peculiar nation, but losing his nationality, and all blending into one mass, with a united heart to build up the kingdom of our God, and to become one great nation, Americans to be sure, if you wish to call it so, as it is in that country. How came this to be, if there is no power in the modern Priesthood and in the modern ordinances? As I said before, if anybody disputes this power being with us, will they set us a similar example?
Certainly during the gathering period the Church became somewhat provincial; a great basin Church. As time has gone on, the Church is expressing a desire to separate the gospel from culture. This will be discussed in a forthcoming post.  

[3]
"Just in terms of allocation of time resources, religion is not very efficient. There's a lot more I could be doing on a Sunday morning" (Bill Gates, Time Magazine, January 13, 1996). During a conversion experience, Enos's desires turn from himself, to his loved ones, to his enemies. (See Enos 1). In Lehi's and Nephi's vision if the Tree of Life, an immediate result of partaking of the fruit, representing the love of God, is the desire to share that fruit. (See 1 Nephi 8). This isn't to say the Mr. Gates does not think of others, (that isn't the purpose of the quote) but to indicate an attitude about specific Church attendance.

[4]
See the post "Weed Your Own Garden" wherein Brigham Young emphasizes personal responsibility and discourages hypocrisy.  

[5]
Eugene England, Why the Church is as True as the Gospel, 1-16. 
 
[6]
The painting is "A Dangerous Greeting" by Brian Kershisnik, 1996.

3 comments:

Kristen said...

This is a great post, first of all, with a great Brian Kershisnik painting.

I also find it interesting, the role placed on community and others, even though we generally think of salvation as individual. We are needed to each other. I had never really thought of church attendance as necessary not only to learn and participate in the ordinance of sacrament, but because there we are "forced" to encounter and deal with others. We learn from them, from working with them, and they from us.

That sounds like a great talk by England. Good find.

I am Chree-uz said...

I agree, a GREAT post. So completely true!
England's metaphor of the church organization similar to a marriage bond is perfect. One reason a marriage or any relationship fails is because the parties involved can not (or WILL not) learn to compromise and interact with inevitable differences, and learn from them. Pride takes over, relatioships cease, growth and learning stop.

If you look for reasons to get out of something, you will find them. Its the same in church. People are unwilling to interact with other human beings, good or bad. The key is using opposition to grow and learn, and in the process assisting others to do the same.

Well said, well quoted, Blairseph. I love those England and Pratt quotes.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Thanks, brother Chris. The England talk is excellent; recommended to all.

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