The following article by Kristine Frederickson appeared in today’s issue of the Mormon Times. It describes one of the numerous subtle but significant ways the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints differs from other Christian denominations – the geographic system of organizing its local congregations.
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When a member of the LDS Church moves, records are transferred and they are to attend a specific congregation based on their new address.
At their new ward, with minor variations, the lessons taught in their Sunday School will reinforce the same gospel principles as the lesson taught in Indonesia, in Argentina and in Utah. The worshiper will find a bishopric on the stand, a common hymnbook, an identical sacrament prayer and a similar meeting format with priesthood, Young Women, Sunday School, Relief Society and Primary organizations. Ecclesiastical leaders and priesthood holders will strive to see that what is taught is in concord with church doctrine.
In most of the Christian world this is not the model followed.
The predominant practice among those outside the LDS faith is for the individual to visit various congregations and pick one with which their beliefs, ideas and religious views accord. An individual might attend several religious services before she finds a clergyman whose teachings she likes; education, sports and social programs she likes; a worship format she likes; and people with whom she feels comfort and commonality
Visualize what I call the "vending machine" approach to religious worship. You keep hitting the button and the choices keep rotating until you finally find the product you want to purchase. If the product doesn’t please you, don’t go back for more.
From a practical point of view, and in a consumer-driven economy, it is an eminently logical system. However, this is not the model in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church is not driven by the demands of consumers in the marketplace because it offers truth in its purest form, truth eternal and unchanging.
This appears odd in an increasingly secular world. The Lord acknowledged as much, and explained why it is so, "That I may proceed to bring to pass my act, my strange act, and perform my work, my strange work, that men may discern between the righteous and the wicked, saith your God."
While cultures and societies may "reel to and fro," the Lord would have us understand that in his church the doctrine that is taught is to be his doctrine, not the whimsical, changing doctrine of men.
The more I study the gospel the more I recognize that which the Lord would have us understand: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts."
The Lord’s ways are not only infrequently man’s ways but, I would argue, rarely man’s ways. Practices and doctrine in the church testify to our ignorance in comparison to God and our need to trust and obey his eternal, unchanging doctrine.
Scripture and modern prophets reinforce the need to do this by distancing ourselves from false teachings in the world. We read, "go out from Babylon," for, "the Lord will not spare any that remain in Babylon." We are soberly cautioned, "For after today cometh the burning — this is speaking after the manner of the Lord — for verily I say tomorrow all the proud and they that do wickedly shall be as stubble; … and I will not spare any that remain in Babylon."
Many in the world subscribe to what I call a "pick-and-choose gospel." We hear, "I’m uncomfortable with my clergyman because he says shopping on Sunday is violating the Sabbath. Who is he to say I can’t shop and enjoy myself?"
"My old pastor was so out of touch. Everybody lives together before they get married. I understand adultery is wrong but he makes such a big deal of fornication. He needs a reality check."
The list goes on and on. The congregant moves to another pastor who soothes his conscience without discomforting his sins.
The gospel of Jesus Christ never has been and never will be a "pick-and-choose gospel." Members are not free to pick and choose, to decide which principles are right and which are wrong. It is a complete and unified body of eternal doctrine.
When upon the earth, the Savior sternly rebuked those who ignored his teachings. He makes eminently clear in our dispensation that truth is eternal and, although structure and practices may change, his doctrines do not and will not change, regardless of the whims and proclivities of men: "What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same."
While individuals in the world go on crafting religious identities based upon the precepts of men, faithful members of the church will ever understand that to be called true disciples is to accept and live — in their entirety — the principles of the gospel as taught by the Savior and as taught in his church by prophets and apostles today.