“…we know that the people who were in the land of Jerusalem were a righteous people; for they kept the statutes and judgments of the Lord, and all his commandments, according to the law of Moses; wherefore, we know that they are a righteous people…” 1 Nephi 17:22
After nearly a decade of wandering in the desert, Lehi and his family arrived on the seashore and pitched their tents in the land they called Bountiful. Nephi, according to the word of the Lord, began to fashion tools for the construction of a ship. Laman and Lemuel began, once again, to complain citing the above reference regarding the people of Jerusalem. From their view, their friends back home were on the right path. They bemoaned the fact that they could not enjoy their possessions and be happy.
As we stand here centuries later, we can see the big picture. The house of Israel has fallen into disrepair. The people of God had replaced their love and service of God with the pomp and circumstance derived from wealth and pleasure. Apostasy had set in. But to Laman and Lemuel, their easy lifestyle enjoyed in Jerusalem was the standard by which they measured the ‘rightness’ of their living. No admonition from either Lehi or Nephi could sway their sons and brothers from this viewpoint.
Given the difficulty that Laman had in seeing the real picture, how hard would it be for us in this day to see the threads of apostasy in our normal lives? Have we supplanted what the Lord defined for righteousness with our own comfortable standard?
I believe that this movement away from the truth is apostasy and can occur at two levels, organization and personal. The former dealing with the migration of the goals and objectives promoted by the leadership and the latter expressed in our individual thoughts and actions. Let’s take a look at these two themes.
Today, we can easily see that the church established by the apostles in the meridian of time moved away from the true principles established by Christ. Let’s look a little more closely at what outward characteristics emerged from this change.
As we look at the Holy Roman Church, we find an entity that expressed itself in the form of magnificent edifices. St. Peter’s Basilica, first commissioned by Constantine, was rebuilt in the 15th century with no equal. While churches dominated the landscape of most cities of the time, none compared to the structure finally completed in the early 1600’s. A considerable amount of wealth was spent in the construction of beautiful buildings, meant to send a message of the power and prestige of the Catholic church.
The need of the church to express itself in terms of its physical environment extended to the surrounding areas of its headquarters in Vatican City. Speaking of the popes of the 14th and 15th century, here is a quote from The Restoration by Wil Durant (page 14):
“They labored to redeem Rome from the ugliness and squalor into which it had fallen while the popes were in Avignon. They drained marshes (by comfortable proxy), paved streets, restored bridges and roads, improved the water supply, established the Vatican Library and the Capitoline Museum, enlarged the hospitals, distributed charity, built or repaired churches, embellished the city with palaces and gardens, reorganized the University of Rome, supported the humanists in resurrecting pagan literature, philosophy, and art, and gave employment to painters, sculptors, and architects whose works are now a treasured heritage of all mankind…perhaps they thought of it as transforming scattered crumbs of evanescent wealth into a lasting splendor for the people and their God.”
The true reverence of God is not expressed in magnificent buildings, gardens, and lavish art. Could this extravagant effort to honor God with the works of man be an outward sign to the apostasy within?
At its height, the Holy Roman Church exerted political influence well beyond the confines of the Vatican. Princes and kings sought out the elite of the church hierarchy to solidify alliances and to position themselves. Leaders of the church traveled not only to Germany and France but to China and India to gain favor with the rulers of these foreign lands. At home and abroad, politics played an integral role in the lives of the popes. Does the ability to influence politics domestically and worldwide serve as a marker of the wayward path?
The practice of indulgences, the idea of reducing the time of a loved one in Purgatory through the purchase of the excess grace of the saints, represented one of the primary methods for creating ongoing cash flow. The donations to the church, then as now, were viewed as ‘fire insurance.’ To spin off an old refrain, money corrupts, and a lot of money corrupts greatly. Such was the Catholic Church in the middle ages. Property bequeathed to the church held the giver higher in the eyes of God, or does it generate a false hope?
Four years before Martin Luther tacked his 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Machiavelli penned the following in his Discourses, iii:
“ Had the religion of Christianity been preserved according to the ordinances of the Founder, the state and the commonwealth of Christendom would have been far more united and happy than they are. … And whoever examines the principles which that religion is founded, and sees how widely different from those principles its present practice and application are, will judge that her ruin or chastisement is near at hand.”
This statement foreshadowed the reformation; an effort to return to the basic principles that were contained in the founding words of apostles. Have we of the LDS church diverged from the original principles upon which the religion was founded? Has the money and power afforded the LDS church over these last decades succeeded in moving us away from the principles contained in the fulness of the gospel? I have found nothing in the scriptures that suggests this generation is immune from apostasy. Are we so blind, as Laman and Lemuel were, to not see what is happening to the corporate church?
In Third Nephi, chapter 27, Christ outlines the criteria for the church to be His. In addition to being called by His Name and tuned to His gospel, He requires that the church ‘show forth the works of the Father’.’ He also warns us that ( verse 11):
If the church “is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return.”
Assuming what I described above, are we taking joy in the works of men? Is the season coming to a close?
Just as there could be markers of apostasy for the corporate entity, there are also similar markers for us as individuals. Apostasy comes from the Greek meaning ‘to stand away,’ and means today that one departs from one’s religion or principles. Subtle apostasy would have us focus our time, talents, and energy on items at ‘appear’ to be important but are really only invalid substitutes for the real thing.
In Matthew 23, we read:
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
Is it possible that we, today, can do many wonderful works, yet be rejected by Christ? I submit that this substitution of works instead of seeking to be known by Christ represents the type of apostasy that threatens us today. Can we assume that attending the temple, doing our home teaching, fulfilling our callings and all the other various and sundry activities we are called upon to do in the church today can substitute for having a relationship with Christ sufficient to be ‘known’ by Him?
In the times of the Middle Ages, the tradition of visiting relics and defined sacred sites became very important. Martin Luther, himself, tells of his effort to climb the 200+ steps of a holy site on his knees, reciting a prayer on each step in hopes of currying favor with God. Do we exert such an outward effort in hopes that God will recognize our sacrifice? At the same time, do we ignore the fundamental gospel steps of repentance, faith, baptism by water followed by baptism by fire and the Holy Ghost?
As I sat in fast and testimony meeting last week, I was struck by the ‘testimony’ of an older gentleman who talked of his challenges in keeping his business solvent. He described a discussion with his brother where he was told: “I pay my tithing; I have no reason to worry.” Has tithing become simply a modern day equivalent of the Holy Roman Church’s indulgences? Is there an implied promise that if we pay our money to the church we will receive some level of protection? I am not proposing that anyone who pays tithing is in apostasy. My intent is to raise the concern that substituting tithing for the true meaning of the gospel, to bring us to Christ, will not bring us to our intended goal – His kingdom.
Can the LDS Church fail? Yes, if it allows money, politics and power to supplant the ministry of the gospel. Can we as individuals fail? Yes, if we allow the works of men to replace a relationship with Christ.
These are the questions we must answer for ourselves:
Have I received a remission of my sins? See 2 Nephi 31:17-18,
Have I been sanctified? See 3 Nephi 27:20-21
Have I been cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost that I may be numbered among the people of the Church of Christ? See Moroni 6:1-4
Once we have prepared our hearts then we turn our effort toward our neighbors. Have we accomplished our personal preparation such that we can assist our brothers and sisters with a pure heart? See Mosiah 4:11-30
Are we, as Laman, defining our own criteria for righteousness?
What think ye?