In the Church News of December 22, 1985, the First Presidency of the Church issued a special invitation for all who are inactive or who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated to return to the fold of activity in the Church. This invitation is intended to bring greater happiness and joy to all members of the Church. It is a fact that we are all seeking for joy and happiness. That is as it should be. “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). It is also a fact that the only way a member of the Church can be truly happy is to keep the commandments. “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them” (John 13:17). The Lord expects all of us to become involved in reaching out to those who are away from Church fellowship for whatever reason. Activation, or perhaps reactivation would be a more correct descriptive term, is one of the most significant problems facing the Church in this dispensation and in every other dispensation, judging from the scriptural record.
It seems there has ever been a “falling away” from the eternal truths which are provided by the Lord to govern the lives of his children and assure them of eternal happiness. No doubt this is true because mortals are so impatient, and they want good things to happen right away. It appears that patience is a virtue that must be learned and can only be learned by suffering. It is very, very difficult to hold on to a vision of the distant future when we feel urgent drives such as hunger, passion, and desire at this very moment.
Then, of course, there is our common enemy, Lucifer, who is always on the job. He never sleeps, rests, or vacations and has a great ability to make good look evil and evil look good. He invites us to “be good to yourself. Smoke this kind of cigarette because it gives more pure pleasure and, besides, it is absolutely the lowest in tars and nicotine. Drink this kind of beer because it tastes great and is ‘less filling’ and thus provides the greatest enjoyment for your relaxation.” He cheats us by trying to limit or destroy our alternatives. We decide to go to the movies, so we look in the movie section of the newspaper and find that they are all X- or R-rated. So must we now choose between the lesser of evils? No! We do not even have to go to the movies. There are other alternatives. There always are. We never have to be limited to undesirable alternatives because Lucifer says so. It is a fact that if we do go for Lucifer’s enticements, we will lose the Spirit of the Lord and when we lose the Spirit we do not feel at home in church or engaging in Church activities. We then find ourselves associating with the wrong group of people, which leads us further and further away from the path of happiness.
Of course there are some instances where we allow ourselves to be offended by others who may deliberately or unthinkingly say or do something that insults or offends our sense of propriety. Sometimes we let this offense keep us away from church or association with Church members.
Then there are instances when we erroneously believe that sin is fun, and we decide to have “fun” irrespective of whom our fun may hurt or offend. After all, we rationalize, it is our own life and it is nobody’s business but our own what we do with it. This attitude too, if turned into wrong actions, can lead us into the paths of nonparticipation in the Lord’s programs for happiness.
Such things can and do happen to every one of us; no one is immune to hurt feelings or taking offense, either real or imagined. The three witnesses to the Book of Mormon actually were shown the plates by an angel of God, and they heard the voice of God speaking to them commanding them to bear record of what they had seen and heard; yet even after these testimony-building experiences each one became offended, disaffected, and they apostatized from the Church. Two later came back. Of the original twelve members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, seven apostatized and were excommunicated and became candidates for activation. Three came back into the Church through the waters of baptism and resumed activity in the Church. Four did not.
It appears that Jesus was concerned with this same problem at the very beginning of his ministry. In Luke 15 he describes three different ways that inactivity or nonparticipation comes about and suggests at least three different ways to bring about reactivation. This is the theme of three parables: (1) the lost sheep (Luke 15:4–7), (2) the lost coin (Luke 15:8–10), and (3) the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32).
In the parable of the lost sheep it appears that the sheep got lost because he wandered away. He probably didn’t intend to get lost but became distracted and did not pay attention to where he was going. How do you get a lost sheep back into the fold? You go out and find him, turn him around, and bring him back into the fold. Usually the sheep is so glad to be back safe in the fold that he runs and jumps for joy.
In the parable of the lost coin, the coin was lost because of the neglect of the owner, and it is almost the total responsibility of the owner when he recognizes what he has done to “light a candle” (go right away) and search diligently until he finds that which was lost. I know of an instance where a young Latter-day Saint father, after the birth of his first child, bought a box of cigars to announce the happy event. Surely he was following the traditions of the world. Naively and with some innocence he offered a cigar to the bishop. The bishop accepted the cigar, and then realizing what it was, crumbled it up and threw it into the trash in front of the once happy father. This thoughtless act so offended the new father that he never came back to church. In fact, he has raised his entire family of children and grandchildren outside the Church.
In my opinion the bishop was partially responsible for the loss of this soul and had the responsibility to search until he had found this “coin” and returned it. It probably would not have been difficult if the bishop had done it right away. If he had “lighted a candle” (went immediately) and apologized for his thoughtless act, explaining what his feelings were when handed a cigar by a member of the Church, the new father probably would have returned and could have even been made stronger than before. From this parable we get the message that those who offend have the responsibility to make it right or search until they find that which was lost.
In the third parable of activation, the parable of the prodigal son, the young son got lost because he wanted to get lost. He didn’t wander away nor was he lost because of the neglect of his father. He planned his departure. In this circumstance, he probably would not be easily convinced to return. Such people may not come back until they bring upon themselves great suffering as the result of their transgressions. The parable states that the son decided to return “when he came to himself,” meaning that through his suffering he was brought to the realization of what he had done.
In this turning around, we really have very little for which we can take credit, but we do still have a part to play in this reactivation drama. Our responsibility is to be there, ever ready to accept them back into the fold and make their return as easy as possible and not stand as one devoid of charity, insisting that every last farthing be exacted as payment for the privilege of repenting. When the father in the parable saw his young son coming while “yet a great way off,” he could have suspected that the boy was coming back for more money. Yet the father ran to his son and fell on his neck and kissed him. The absence of judgment is so completely manifest in this simple act. We desperately need to display charity for each other. This our eternal Father so vividly demonstrates to us in his eternal forgiveness, where his arm is stretched out to us all the day long and “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18).
There are those who have assumed that the older, faithful son was much better off than the younger prodigal because the father said to him “all that I have is thine.” However, without changing his attitude he would not be a candidate for the kingdom of God because he had no charity and without charity we “are nothing” (see Moro. 7:46). King Benjamin indicates that the kind of attitude displayed by the older son would cause a person to perish forever and would indicate that “except he repenteth he hath no interest in the kingdom of God” (see Mosiah 4:16–18). I do not believe this parable was given by the Master to show the relative merits of these two sons. They both leave much to be desired. I believe this parable was given primarily to show the goodness of the Father, without which we are all lost.
I hope the account in Luke is not the full story. I would hope the older son would say to his father something like, “Father, let’s divide your possessions again and give my younger brother a share once more.” The father then might say, “My son, let’s kill another calf—this time for you, because now you also are alive again.”
Yes, charity, “the pure love of Christ,” is the greatest of all and it “never faileth” but “endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him” (see Moro. 7:46–47).
I presume the greatest charity we can give is to withhold judgment of our brothers and sisters, for surely if we do we can reach out with love and bring them back into activity in the Church.
In the words of James, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:19–20).
Part of the multitude of sins that are hidden will be our own. I wonder if anyone of us could not benefit from that blessing at the last day.