Zion is the scriptural name given to the kingdom of Jesus Christ on earth. (D&C 105:32) It is composed of a society of Saints who have covenanted to live in righteousness, and who, through living fully the laws and ordinances of the gospel, are made “the pure in heart.” (D&C 76:54–70)
All that is not of Zion is called Babylon, whose king is Lucifer. Babylon may be described as the opposite of Zion in all things, the evil archetype ruled by the rebellious archrival. Those who follow after her “seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own God, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:16)
Zion embraces many concepts—a place, a people, a quality—and is central to much in the gospel plan. But the thoughts that follow are developed primarily around that quality that so sets Zion apart from Babylon—purity of heart. For only as covenant Israel actually becomes the pure in heart can her promises be fulfilled and a full Zion society be established.
When this society is fully matured in the millennium, it will be the only acceptable society on the earth because it will be governed by Jesus Christ. However, Zion must now develop toward this future splendor, becoming the Holy City and tabernacle of God, inhabited by a pure people. (See Moses 7:62.)
This maturation can come only as the inhabitants of latter-day Zion live certain “principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:5)
From Adam to our present prophet, the Lord’s anointed servants have each sought to establish a Zion society, teaching and exemplifying these principles. We should feel an even greater urgency to live these principles today because of the promise that Zion will—must—be built in our day, the dispensation of the fullness of times, in preparation for the Lord’s second coming.
The principles of the law of the celestial kingdom were beautifully re-enunciated by President Spencer W. Kimball in the welfare session of general conference in October 1977. Naming six “foundational truths” which undergird and govern present-day welfare services activities, he pointed out that “only as we apply these truths can we approach the ideal of Zion,” which is the “highest order of priesthood society.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 78)
“First is love. The measure of our love for our fellowman and, in a large sense, the measure of our love for the Lord, is what we do for one another and for the poor and the distressed.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 77)
Prophets, poets, and thinkers of every age have proclaimed love as the highest of all the virtues. But Zion cannot be established by the lower forms of love (eros) or even brotherly love (philios)—it requires charity (agape), that pure love of Christ “bestowed” as a gift upon all who will submit to the covenants and the powers of the atonement. (Moro. 7:44–48) It was this kind of love that sustained a Zion society for four generations among the Nephites who experienced “no contention … because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.” (4 Ne. 1:15; italics added) So also it produced the city of Enoch, that “City of Holiness, even Zion” whose people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there were no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18–19)
From the familial spirit of the home to the brotherhood of the quorum, and from the fraternity of the welfare farm to the sorority of Relief Society homemaking day, the entire gospel plan and program of the Church is to engender in us this quintessential quality—love. The pure love of Christ is a sanctifying and cleansing power—the only force powerful enough to make us “THE PURE IN HEART.” (D&C 97:21)
“Second is service. To serve is to abase oneself, to succor those in need of succor, and to impart of one’s ‘substance to the poor and the needy, feeding the hungry, and suffering all manner of afflictions, for Christ’s sake.’ (Alma 4:13)” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 77)
One cannot belong to the Church for long without learning that service is central to the entire workings of the kingdom. While my parents taught me through precept and example to serve others, the true vision of service sparked into understanding during a deacons’ quorum lesson. One Sunday morning our advisor tried to penetrate our inattentive minds by putting both hands on his own head and asking: “Would you like to close your eyes so I can give myself a blessing?”
With youthful astonishment I blurted out, “You can’t bless yourself, silly!”
“‘Cause it won’t work unless your hands are on someone else’s head.”
I knew it was true; I didn’t know why. But by the end of the lesson, this skillful teacher, in near Socratic orderliness, convinced us that you can bless yourself only by serving others.
Understanding the concept, however, is much easier than living it. Yet as each of us seeks to approach our daily pursuits with a wholehearted desire to serve, we are unconsciously creating a mini-Zion in our personal realm of influence. Eventually those individual realms will mature and join together, under the Lord’s direction, in the kingdom of God on earth, and for those who have faithfully served, “great shall be their reward and eternal shall be their glory.” (D&C 76:6)
“Third is work. Work brings happiness, self-esteem, and prosperity. It is the means of all accomplishment; it is the opposite of idleness. We are commanded to work. (See Gen. 3:19.) Attempts to obtain our temporal, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being by means of a dole violate the divine mandate that we should work for what we receive. Work should be the ruling principle in the lives of our Church membership. (See D&C 42:42; D&C 75:29; D&C 68:30–32; D&C 56:17.)” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 77)
While work is a ruling principle in the Church, its aim is not the selfish accumulation of wealth, but rather the selfless establishment of the kingdom. The Book of Mormon chronicles the recurring downfall of generations of Nephites who worked hard “for power, and authority, and riches, and the vain things of the world,”—and unwittingly, their own destruction. (3 Ne. 6:15)
In this dispensation, the Lord has warned us: “Thou shalt not covet thine own property,” (D&C 19:26)
Because of materialism’s real power, the Lord, through his servants, must continually remind us of the true nature and purpose of work. In a dramatic article entitled, “The False Gods We Worship,” President Kimball reasons with modern Israel: “I am afraid that many of us have been surfeited with flocks and herds and acres and barns and wealth and have begun to worship them as false gods, and they have power over us. Do we have more of these good things than our faith can stand? Many people spend most of their time working in the service of a self-image that includes sufficient money, stocks, bonds, investment portfolios, property, credit cards, furnishings, automobiles, and the like to guarantee carnal security throughout, it is hoped, a long and happy life. Forgotten is the fact that our assignment is to use these many resources in our families and quorums to build up the kingdom of God—to further the missionary effort and the genealogical and temple work; to raise our children up as fruitful servants unto the Lord; to bless others in every way that they may also be fruitful.” (Ensign, June 1976, pp. 4–5; italics added)
As we seek to understand how President Kimball’s message applies to us individually, a voice from the dust whispers in our conscience:
“And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.” (Jacob 2:19)
A corroborating witness is Nephi’s pointed summary of the true ideal of work in a Zion society: “But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Ne. 26:31).
“Fourth is self-reliance. The Church and its members are commanded by the Lord to be self-reliant and independent. (See D&C 78:13–14.)
“The responsibility for each person’s social, emotional, spiritual, physical, or economic well-being rests first upon himself, second upon his family, and third upon the Church if he is a faithful member thereof. No true Latter-day Saint, while physically or emotionally able, will voluntarily shift the burden of his own or his family’s well-being to someone else. So long as he can, under the inspiration of the Lord and with his own labors, he will supply himself and his family with the spiritual and temporal necessities of life. (See 1 Tim. 5:8)” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, pp. 77–78)
In a day when people have emphasized “rights” and “entitlements” to the near-exclusion of “responsibilities” it is crucial that self-reliance remain a cardinal virtue among Latter-day Saints. This does not imply that we have no need of others. Clearly, many of life’s most satisfying experiences are derived from the support, affection, instruction, and sharing we mutually give to and receive from others. But self-reliance does mean that through exercising our agency, our individual gifts, and our developed abilities, we will do for ourselves what is rightly the responsibility of self. A good test for determining one’s responsibilities for one-self is to ask: “Whom does the Lord hold accountable for such and such—me or someone else?” (For example, who is responsible for getting me out of bed in the morning? Who is responsible when I tell a lie?) To all of competent mind and open heart, the answer is usually quite easy to determine.
In the gospel, however, the moral imperative—our promises to the Lord—moves us past self-sufficiency to being abundantly productive. Thus, we not only meet our own needs, but have surplus to help others in the Lord’s own way.
“Fifth is consecration, which encompasses sacrifice. Consecration is the giving of one’s time, talents, and means to care for those in need—whether spiritually or temporally—and to build the Lord’s kingdom. In Welfare Services, members consecrate as they labor on production projects, donate materials to Deseret Industries, share their professional talents, give a generous fast offering, and respond to ward and quorum service projects. They consecrate their time in their home or visiting teaching. We consecrate when we give of ourselves.” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 78)
When many members use the word consecration, they think only of the temporarily suspended law of consecration—the Lord’s formal and legally binding economic order. They therefore assume that none of the principles of consecration apply today. This is not true. While the formal law of consecration will be reinstated in the Lord’s own time, through his prophets, the Lord has not repealed the covenant of consecration made during the temple endowment. This covenant is in full force and should be actively applied by Latter-day Saints. Only by living it now can we merit the Lord’s future reestablishment of the law of consecration.
Some concrete ways to apply consecration in our daily lives include paying tithes and generous fast offerings, contributing to building and temple funds and to welfare farm and facility acquisition, donating to Deseret Industries, financially supporting full-time missionaries, accepting a foster child on the placement program, and training others to upgrade their employment skills. The Lord establishes a very clear relationship between present practices of consecration and establishing a full Zion society. Using tithing as the example, the Lord warns:
“And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of Zion unto you.” (D&C 119:6; italics added)
Since the Lord has said that “all things unto me are spiritual,” consecrating material goods is simply one way of achieving spiritual sanctification. Consecration and sanctification of the heart is what creates Zion—the pure in heart. (See D&C 29:34.)
Repeatedly in scripture, we see this same cleansing process occur in the lives of the Lord’s faithful Saints. King Benjamin’s people, moved upon by the purifying power of the Spirit, had their “hearts … changed through faith on his name.” (Mosiah 5:7) Helaman tells us of a faithful group who grew “firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ … even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God.” (Hel. 3:35; italics added)
We have been taught that when we can master the principle and covenant obligations of consecration and freely give our hearts and will to Christ, the full Zion society and earthly reign of the Savior can begin. (See Marion G. Romney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1975, pp. 165–66)
“Sixth is stewardship. In the Church a stewardship is a sacred spiritual or temporal trust for which there is accountability. Because all things belong to the Lord, we are stewards over our bodies, minds, families, and properties. (See D&C 104:11–15.) A faithful steward is one who exercises righteous dominion, cares for his own, and looks to the poor and needy. (See D&C 104:15–18.)” (Ensign, Nov. 1977, p. 78)
The assignment of stewardship is usually thought of as growing out of the formal law of consecration. (Since the law of consecration is founded on the truth that all things belong to the Lord, under it we consecrate to the Lord all that we have. The Lord thereafter appoints each man as a steward over a portion of property sufficient for himself and his family. Each steward is accountable to the Lord for how he manages his stewardship. [See D&C 42.]) But the principle of stewardship also applies under our presently binding covenants of baptism and consecration.
Church members recognize that we do not truly “own” even ourselves. Everything we possess is really a stewardship. Our time, our talents, our property, our families, our Church callings and priesthood offices—all of these have been entrusted to us as part of our individual stewardship, for which we are held accountable.
“The responsibility to perform [your] labor came to you from the Son of God. You are his servants. You will be held accountable to him for your stewardship.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Seek Ye Earnestly … , Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1970, pp. 235–36; italics added)
We would do well to master the principles of stewardship in this life, for we must operate by them both here and hereafter: “It is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.” (D&C 72:3; italics added)
Ultimately, how we manage the affairs of our family and priesthood responsibilities determines how happy we are as citizens of the kingdom. It is primarily through these stewardship roles that we will be judged to determine if we have done all things that we were commanded—and have in fact kept our second estate. Latter-day Saints who faithfully practice stewardship principles now will not only be contributing to the eventual creation of a Zion society, but will also be saving themselves: “And whoso is found a faithful, a just, and a wise steward shall enter into the joy of his Lord, and shall inherit eternal life.” (D&C 51:19)
In summary, it is not difficult to see how a people who fully and consistently live these six foundational principles may establish a higher order of earthly life than that generally experienced by mankind. By responding to the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit, such a society may generate a complete new system of human relationships, centered in Christ and the world to come. The power and purity of their example may then become an ensign to the world.
It is staggering to realize that such a society not only may be but shall be. The Lord explains:
“I have sent mine everlasting covenant into the world, to be a light to the world, and to be a standard for my people, and for the Gentiles to seek to it, and to be messenger before my face to prepare the way before me.
“And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy.” (D&C 45:9, 71; italics added)
Subsequently, the Lord promises:
“Zion shall flourish, and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her; …
“And the day shall come when the nations of the earth shall tremble because of her, and shall fear because of her terrible ones.” (D&C 64:41, 43; italics added)
This vision of the glory and brilliance of the fully developed Zion is truly inspiring, even overwhelming. Wisely, however, the Lord refracts the light of this vision, permitting us to see it line upon line. In his wisdom, he helps us go about establishing Zion step by step. Because Zion matures in phases, we may not always recognize its growth, but a survey of recent developments in the Church assures us that the process is proceeding at an ever quickening pace.
President Kimball, the one who is calling us to lengthen our stride in establishing Zion, brings the vision into practical focus:
“As important as it is to have this vision in mind, defining and describing Zion will not bring it about. That can only be done through consistent and concerted daily effort by every single member of the Church. No matter what the cost in toil or sacrifice, we must do it.” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 81)
While every activity in the Church contributes to its development, missionary, temple-genealogy, and welfare services work seem to play unique roles in establishing the Zion society. Through proselyting work the elect of God are gathered in by the gospel net.
Through genealogical work members become saviors on Mount Zion. Of course, the temple is the great type and harbinger of Zion, a holy place removed from the cares that shake Babylon. Its ordinances impart sacred knowledge and power that cannot be comprehended by unregenerated man. Through temple worship and covenant renewal, we prepare and gain strength for the daily, hourly challenge of bringing forth the Zion society.
Welfare services work plays a crucial role by providing ways to live the temple covenant of consecration—through generous fast offerings, welfare services donations, and opportunities to give of one’s time, talents, and means to help the poor, needy, and distressed. As presently practiced, Welfare Services activities are a vital prelude to the law of consecration which must be lived by a portion of the Saints before the Lord can accept Zion—the city of New Jerusalem—unto himself. Moreover, the Lord appears to indicate that the full legal and economic law of consecration is to be reinstated only when the early land of Zion is redeemed and established as the center stake. (D&C 105:34–37)
It is our high calling to love, serve, work, be self-reliant, consecrate, and perform as faithful stewards our missionary, temple-genealogy, and welfare services duties. In the process, we may be sanctified in heart and regenerated in both mind and body. (D&C 84:33) By so doing we are assured that the oath made by the Lord to Enoch shall be fulfilled in our behalf.
“And righteousness and truth will I cause to sweep the earth as with a flood, to gather out mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, unto a place which I shall prepare, an Holy City, … for there shall be my tabernacle, and it shall be called Zion, a New Jerusalem.
“And the Lord said unto Enoch: Then shalt thou and all thy city meet them there, and we will receive them into our bosom, and they shall see us; and we will fall upon their necks, and they shall fall upon our necks, and we will kiss each other;
“And there shall be mine abode, and it shall be Zion, which shall come forth out of all the creations which I have made; and for the space of a thousand years the earth shall rest.” (Moses 7:62–64)
It is with this vision of the future and these aspirations that we must all join President Kimball in his prayer for Zion: “Let us unite and pray with all the energy of heart, that we may be sealed by this bond of charity; that we may build up this latter-day Zion, that the kingdom of God may go forth, so that the kingdom of heaven may come.” (Ensign, May 1978, p. 81)