The beginning of the twenty-first century may be considered a time of religious transition. Throughout much of human history, people have traditionally worshipped together and have affiliated with a church or other religious organization. Today, in contrast, many consider religion to be a private matter and do not feel the need for organized religion or for any religious authority. Thus people commonly say that they are “spiritual” rather than religious.
Interestingly, in the Doctrine and Covenants the Lord warns us about a “calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth” when “every man walketh … after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:17, 16). The Lord then tells us how to avoid confusion by teaching us how to recognize His true Church:
We recognize that the Lord’s Church on the earth today is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But does it really make a difference whether we belong to the Church and participate in its programs?
Blessings of Church Membership
Whenever the Lord’s Church has existed on the earth, it has been the organization to help believers bond together spiritually and socially and, by the authority of the priesthood, participate in the ordinances of salvation. The Church, which the Lord declared should bear His name (see 3 Ne. 27:7), is led by Him through the priesthood leaders He has called.
The Church blesses our lives in at least three ways. At church we develop caring relationships with others—relationships that can help sustain us during times of crisis. As we serve in callings, participate in sacred ordinances, and sacrifice, we feel needed and of worth, and we grow in charity. And as we gain knowledge about sacred things essential for our salvation, we learn what and how to worship, and we are able to have hope in the Resurrection and in the Atonement.
Do you recognize in these reasons the teachings of our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley? How clear are his admonitions when he states that every new member needs three things: a friend (relationships), a responsibility (feeling needed), and spiritual nourishment (knowledge). 1
My own life has been greatly blessed since my family and I entered the waters of baptism in the early 1950s. We became acquainted with the missionaries when they came knocking on our door on a sunny afternoon in Belgium. We were curious to know what these young Americans were doing in our neighborhood. It was not difficult to become friends; it was more challenging to understand their message when they showed us the metal plates they had made to represent the Book of Mormon!
I was used to attending church services in a large building only a few minutes’ walk from our home. The bells would peal each Sunday to remind us that it was time to go to church. Many of my neighbors were in the congregation, but we didn’t say a word to each other during the services, and the priest did everything. My church involvement was less than an hour only once each week.
Our family soon discovered that this new church was a 40-minute walk from our home. The meetings were held in a rented house, where the dining room had been transformed into a meeting hall. Before the meeting, the adults chatted amiably and seemed to enjoy being together. The attendance at our first meeting was about 12 to 15, including the five members of our family!
The church services were so different from anything we had experienced. We easily could have decided never to come back, but instead, we decided to return. What was the motivation? We were immediately and warmly welcomed by the few members there; we observed true worship as we saw the members partake of the emblems of the sacrament in such a simple but true way; we watched as they participated in teaching, singing, praying, and administering the sacrament; and we felt the Spirit of the Lord. These things convinced us that we were among a community of true believers.
We needed to have this understanding of the Church before considering baptism. We needed to feel the support of the members, to learn from their teachings, to have the spiritual experience of living our new faith in the company of our brothers and sisters. It was not always easy after our baptism, and not everything went perfectly in every meeting we attended, but we learned to be patient and to forgive when necessary. Church was at times irreverent, edifying, humorous, enlightening, and uncomfortable. But it helped strengthen our resolution to resist the temptations of the world, to come unto Christ, and to help others do the same. Attending church became an essential part of our lives. In our branch we were able to testify together, worship together, and serve together. We were now part of the community of Saints. We felt like the Saints of ancient times, to whom the Lord said, “And ye see that I have commanded … that ye should come unto me, that ye might feel and see; even so shall ye do unto the world” (3 Ne. 18:25).
We resonated to the words of Moroni, who said of those who were baptized:
“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 their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done” (Moro. 6:4–6, 9).
United in the Faith
It is not possible to be truly spiritual without being religious. The Church, the community of Saints, was established to help us become one, united in faith and in our commitment to build up the kingdom of God on earth through our personal involvement, participation, cooperation, and testimony.
As I learned and served in our tiny branch, my testimony grew, and I saw the value of each member helping a newcomer, a forgotten soul, or a repenting soul to feel welcomed, loved, and appreciated. This is, after all, the mark of the true church: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).