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Welcome to our party! We are on an expedition to slay the dragon of church culture. We are so glad you’ve joined us. If you want to see the beginning of our journey, please feel free to take the trek through Part I: The Dragon of Church Culture, or Part II: Of Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, Men, and Wizards. These casts will give you the important groundwork for the metaphors and allegory upon which this blog series is leaning upon. And now, on with the quest!
In the beginning of Bilbo’s adventure with the dwarves of Erabor, they stop for the night to rest. The head of the dwarves, our modern pharisee, Thorin Oakenshield, has just caused the wizard, Gandalf, to leave in a huff. The wizard is frustrated with Thorin’s unwillingness to forgive the sins of past elves even though the quest is in dire need of the elves’ wisdom and knowledge of magical map reading. Thorin refuses to go to them for help.
Everyone is eating an evening meal when suddenly, two of the dwarves notice that the ponies have begun to go missing. It was their job to watch them. Bilbo shows up to bring them food—a very hobbit-thing to do, of course. The dwarves, who are still a bit skeptical about Bilbo’s value in their company, decide this is a fun way to test the hobbit’s burglar skills. The two dwarves send him on an errand to save the ponies without attracting the notice of two mountain trolls. Gandalf said he could be sneaky. Well, they want to see it. Thus, they send him into peril rather than risking their own dwarvish skins.
The ponies being in danger is a big problem. The mission is on a timeline. Without ponies, which are the primary transportation, the quest may fail from the very beginning. The trolls, though not counted particularly smart or cunning, are nonetheless exceedingly dangerous. Bilbo is quiet and sneaky, but he gets caught trying to free the ponies. The trolls are about to eat him when the characteristic loyalty of the dwarves is fired up. They come to save him because they promised Gandalf that they would take care of him. They keep their promises, even if grumbling while doing it. But the trolls best them because the dwarves are unwilling to sacrifice Bilbo’s life in order to win. While dim in intellect, the trolls are extremely formidable. Bilbo, being particularly “in tune” and intelligent, realizes from the troll’s conversation that if he can stall them from eating them all, at least until the sun comes up (when the light shines its morning rays), the trolls will turn to stone. His plan works, stalling long enough for Gandalf to return. Gandalf, our spiritual leader of a wizard, hastens the sunrise by creating a large crack in a large bolder that is blocking the sunlight (this is what prophets often do). The “light” (or truth) then bursts through and turns the trolls to stone, saving the party. Thanks to Bilbo’s inspiration to stall and the wizard’s show of power, the light removes the power and strength the trolls have, and stops them from further endangering the quest.
In the gospel of Jesus Christ, light is synonymous with truth. “The glory of God is intelligence, or in other words, light and truth. Light and truth forsake that evil one” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36-37). Often, in church culture, the “evil one” dulls, or masks, light and truth with troll-ish words. “He cometh and taketh away light and truth…from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:39, italics added for emphasis). In this case, we might say, because of the “jargon” of their fathers.
Church jargon and labels are a development of the dragon of church culture, and of the groups within that culture, as we talked about in Part II. We develop jargon with good intentions, as a short and quick way to say something true, especially among others who should understand what we mean without lots of extra explanation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jargon). It’s, more or less, verbal shorthand. Yet, for those outside of the church culture, or those who enter after the jargon is developed, or even those born into it after it is developed, Well, they are not privy to the full truth, or the full meaning of the jargon. Thus, the jargon emerges as a terrible hindrance, a mountain troll which bars the path to covenant progression for all both inside and outside the culture.
Like mountain trolls, jargon words are not intelligent in and of themselves. They are not smart enough to convey the whole truth of a label by themselves. But these jargon words gain power when used by beings who do have power. With everyone using the jargon words with a shallow understanding of the original truths that were being shortened, it is difficult to understand what anyone really means. The jargon words then become perpetuators of false doctrine. They become troll-ish behemoths that swallow well-meaning Christians who simply want to follow Jesus Christ.
Troll Jargon I – Active and Inactive
I suspect, once, long ago, the words “active” and “inactive” simply meant: people we see at church all the time and people we haven’t seen at church in a while, or who are only able to come intermittently because of their work, and who we might want to check on. It was a quick, easy way of communicating these initially caring observations. At this high level of meaning, they are fairly accurate. However, showing up at church to avoid being labeled “inactive” eventually became a golden coin, that we all began feeding to the expectations of the dragon of church culture. We began coming to church to be labeled “active”, to show others our devotion, or even to make sure they didn’t worry about us and our children. We likely felt a bit guilty when they called us the week before and said, “Hey, missed you at church. Everything okay?” We might have even used this jargon on ourselves to measure our own righteousness, telling ourselves that if we never miss a day of church, we’re probably spiritually okay. Then, the dragon of church culture perpetuated this vile troll of a word to mean that anyone who misses church, except for life and death issues, is in serious sinful peril. It sounds funny when said like that. But when people miss, and they haven’t notified us of a vacation or shown us a doctor’s receipt, we panic, because we fear for their souls being lost.
The cultural misconception is that people who are sometimes unable to come to church (for whatever reason it may be), who are, as we say “inactive”, are in sinful peril. Thus, we often contact them out of the fear we have of them committing sin, or falling away, not necessarily out of a true concern for their actual wellbeing. We say things to them like, “Hey, haven’t seen you at church in a while, everything okay?” The missing variable here is us! Why have we only seen them at church? Why is it only when they’re not at church that contact them? Why wasn’t our question, “Hey, haven’t seen you at our normal lunch date, or at the monthly PTA meeting, everything okay?” Have we not ministered to them recently? Are we spiritually lazy so that we believe that seeing them at church fulfills our responsibility to care about them? Have we found ways to interact with them outside of church or what we consider our official ministering visits? This is something the words “inactive” or “active” don’t remind us to think about—us. They put the focus on us judging others.
This may never have occurred to you. It certainly didn’t for me, for a very long time. It wasn’t until the prophet chided us about home and visiting teaching and leveled it up to ministering, that I began to jump up off my couch, determined to think a bit differently about what God wanted me to do with regard to my fellow men. This is what the dragon of church culture does to us. We seem to feel that seeing people at church is how we minister, how we get to know them, and how we attend to their needs. Getting them to attend church meetings is how the dragon has trained us to minister. We want them to come to us. Then, we are shocked when the prophet says, “Hey, we’re going to raise the stakes on home and visiting teachers, because we are not actually ministering.” It’s called ministering now because we need to figure out that we have to care on other days besides Sunday, the most recent ward activity, and besides on just one token visit a month, or quarter. We need to actually get to know people and be a part of their lives outside of Sabbath worship and checklist visits. We need to care about them as a whole person, not just about what they do on Sundays. This is ministering. It isn’t something we can check off a list. Why? Because it is a Christlike characteristic we develop, not a golden coin that we can simply add to our sack and say—look how rich we are, we’re safe. Ministering need not baffle us. It isn’t the same as before because it’s about really caring and not just going through the golden motions.
In the New Testament, Matthew 5, many were confused and baffled when Christ was preaching to them about His higher law. He taught them that their thoughts and intent mattered as much as their outward actions. It wasn’t enough to not lust after a woman in their actions, outwardly. They had to learn not to lust after a woman in their thoughts. It wasn’t enough just to be nice to their enemies in an outward way. They were to pray for and learn to love their enemies in their hearts. It wasn’t enough to simply do back to others what had been done to them. He now expected them to treat others as they themselves wanted to be treated. This was difficult doctrine then. It is difficult doctrine now. God expects us to reach out to others because of a genuine concern for them as human beings, a true Christlike love; not just because He’s commanded us to and we want to toss a golden coin into our sack that we can hold up and say, “Look God, we did what you asked. See, I have proof.” The proof is in who we are becoming, not only in the actions performed.
One of the downfalls of the ancient pharisees was that they expected people to come to them in their holy and clean synagogues. They expected people to rise to their traditionally created standards of righteousness. They rarely instructed or preached outside the synagogue, or visited people in their homes, because they didn’t want to sully themselves with other people’s wickedness. They were great at following rules. But they were terrible at Christlike love and compassion because they were entirely disconnected, and separate, from their fellow Jews. They didn’t seem to care about their fellow Jews as people, only in how righteous their fellow Jews appeared to be—in how much like them their fellow Jews were. No wonder they easily condemned Jesus who spurned the majority of their oral law and ridiculous perceptions of righteousness, who supped with sinners in their homes and gathered with them on normal streets and accepted their humble gifts (Luke 7:36-48). The pharisees couldn’t recognize the Savior because they weren’t Christlike themselves. In 1 John 3:1-2 we learn: that we are called the people of God because “…when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is”. If we are like Him, we will be able to recognize Him. Thus, if we imagine Him to look like us—our version of cultural righteousness, rather than us trying to become like Him—his version of righteousness, we’re going to be woefully blind, just like the pharisees. That’s a sobering thought.
Is it a command to go to church and worship God on the Sabbath day? Yes. I pointed this out in Part I in more detail. There is no argument there. Does it mean that we can measure someone else’s relationship with God solely by this data point? No. First of all, someone else’s relationship with God is between them and Him. We don’t get to measure, label, or micromanage it. God doesn’t tell us “any story but our own” (credit to Aslan, the lion, in The Horse and His Boy, C.S. Lewis, Chronicles of Narnia, 1954). But perhaps most important, is that our relationship with God suffers when we spend time measuring other people’s righteousness, or comparing it with our own by the outward things we can see. Troll-ish words like “active” and “inactive” weaken our relationship with God, personally, because we may also begin to measure our success with Him by counting our actions—and offering those golden coins to the dragon—more than focusing on our internal intent.
In the scriptures we read: “Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name 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” (3 Nephi 14:21-27). Notice the often-overlooked doctrine here. We keep the commandments to get to know God, not to rack up good grades or a stack of golden coins (Matthew 25:12). We go to church to develop our relationship with Him and to keep the commandments to love God and our fellow men. We don’t do it to count ourselves righteous. We do what is right to develop a deep, personal relationship with Him so that we can truly become like Him. We don’t keep the commandments just to be obedient, though arguably, that is not a bad start. But we cannot forever be satisfied to simply be obedient, and to count our golden coins. This life isn’t a test of how many coins we can accumulate. God’s plan for us is not about racking up points of outward righteousness, nor is it where we turn in a stack of golden coins as proof of our godliness. We cannot buy our way into heaven. We can only become heavenly, through the grace of Jesus Christ, so that we won’t be comfortable anywhere else except in His presence.
We often use the word “test” to describe the purpose of this mortal life. But we carry the school-meaning of this word too far. We are not being tested for the number of our good works, or even whether we got an A or a C for effort. We are being proved to see if by doing good works we will actually learn about God and in the process become godlier. It isn’t what we do that is measured. It is who we become that matters—our relationship with the Almighty (JST, Matthew 25:12). In John 17:3 we read: “And this is life eternal that they might know thee the only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent”.
When the five foolish virgins showed up at the Bridegroom’s feast, he didn’t say, “Sorry, you don’t have enough golden coins”. No, he said, “I know you not”, meaning, “we don’t have a great relationship because you haven’t gotten to know me very well through all of your outward actions, and thus you haven’t actually become like me. Sorry, you won’t be comfortable attending this feast. You won’t be comfortable in my presence” (Ibid). The oil in their lamps was a relationship with God. That is not something we can borrow from others. Dale G. Renlund (Choose You This Day, October 2018 General Conference) has recently taught:
Our Heavenly Father’s goal in parenting is not to have His children do what is right; it is to have His children choose to do what is right and ultimately become like Him. If He simply wanted us to be obedient, He would use immediate rewards and punishments to influence our behaviors.
But God is not interested in His children just becoming trained and obedient “pets” who will not chew on His slippers in the celestial living room. No, God wants His children to grow up spiritually and join Him in the family business.
It turns out that it is possible to do lots of good works for the sake of counting up our golden coins (especially in comparison to others) and never get to know God any better, or become more like Him. This is because we will be sidetracked from our relationship with Him by our focus on others, rather than Him. This is, of course, what the dragon encourages us to do, so that we may say, as the Zoramites did, “Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren…we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children…and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee…that we may not be led away after the foolish tradition of our brethren… And again, we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen” (Alma 31:16-18). The Zoramites went through “the motions” of religious observance once a week. The Zoramites who weren’t allowed in the synagogues by the other Zoramites considered themselves unacceptable, as well, because they couldn’t worship inside the synagogue. The measuring, as we see, went both ways. It was Alma who said to them, “If ye suppose that ye cannot worship God [only in your synagogues], ye do greatly err, and ye ought to search the scriptures; if ye suppose that they have taught you this, ye do not understand them” (Alma 33:2). Alma goes on to teach them that they can worship God in the wilderness, amidst their enemies, in their fields, in their homes, in their closets, and also in the midst of their congregations (Alma 33:10). We can be active in the gospel in all of our lives, not only, or solely, on the Sabbath.
Doctrine and Covenants 137:10 we tend to hear incorrectly when it is read. We tend to hear, or read: “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works and the desires of their hearts”. But that is not what it says. What it actually says is: “For I, the Lord, will judge all men according to their works, according to the desires of their hearts”. In other words, the works are judged by the desires that motivated them. Think of the security features of your paycheck or paper money. They have features built in to them so that they can be validated as worth something. Otherwise, we could all just take monopoly money into the bank and spend it at stores. But we can’t, because real money, real checks have characteristics that prove their validity. Our internal intent is a lot like these validating security features on money. We can do works, but if the desires of our hearts and the intent of our heart isn’t good, those works don’t have the same value, or worth, to God as we might think they do. On the positive side, if our works aren’t so great, but we do them with sincerely good desires and intent, those works have increased value, or worth, in our judgment. What is in our heart matters, and if what is in our heart is true, it powers genuinely the actions we do take. The same goes for others. Remember our allegorical hobbits from Part II? Hobbits help us see that all motions, done with the right intent, help us become godly, not just to look godly. Thus, the jargon the culture espouses doesn’t serve those who wish to follow the Savior at all. It is only a troll-ish hindrance.
Should we be concerned if people haven’t shown up to church in a while, or if they ask to be released from their calling? Absolutely! But what we are concerned about, in regard to them, really matters. Our motivation and intent matters. By calling someone “inactive” we are saying, culturally, that we have fear, and are worried about their righteousness and relationship with God—which is, as the fictional Aslan taught, not our business. Do we know what is happening in the rest of their lives? Are they inactive in everything? No. thus, what we should be worried about are their emotional feelings, their health, their financial burdens, and their mental state. We shouldn’t be overly concerned with the fact that they missed church. That’s between them and God and He gets to work that out with them. That’s only one aspect of their testimony. We should be ministering angels who are deeply concerned about how someone who we know is so good, and who clearly loves God so much, is in need of a break from what we know they normally embrace. What life struggle could possibly have the strength to keep them away? That’s how good they are! That’s how active they are in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus, we should feel deep love and concern, not deep fear and judgment. True, caring, heartfelt, spirit-led ministering is the solution to slaying this draconic jargon.
Troll Jargon II – Convert
The word “convert” actually means to cause change in form, character, or function. It is not altogether an incorrect term when speaking of someone who has chosen to begin the conversion process toward godliness within the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Yet, it is not an altogether correct term either. Therein lies the tiny little troll-ish problem that has grown into an unfriendly, dim-witted monster. None of us are ever completely “converted” in this life to total godliness, whether born into a family who are members or not. We are all converts all of the time. We are all in the process of conversion. Whether we are baptized at 8 or 82, we are all still being converted to different aspects of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Christlike characteristics, and so forth.
The troll-ish problem of the jargon-word “convert” blocks ours and other’s progression, when we refer to only those baptized after the age of 8 as converts. We are not, in fact, using it as a statement of what is happening in them, or in us, but as a label of “they joined after the age of 8”. Whether we mean it or not, we are using the word “convert” as a qualifier to distinguish between members, separating people into groups. We are implying by the use of this troll-ish label that, “If you were not born into the church, you can’t be grouped with those who were”. We often imply by the use of this term that, “You’re not as good, or you can’t ever know as much as we know, who were born into the church”. Or, we imply, “Because you weren’t born into the church, and got baptized older, that’s why you struggle with some of this stuff that the rest of us don’t struggle with. That’s why you struggle keeping up with the culture”. It’s sounds a little funny when we bring it out like that, but despite our good intentions of summarizing who these people are, it teaches a little, tiny false doctrine encouraging unChristlike, prideful behavior.
The truth is that no matter when you join the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and begin the journey on the covenant path you can become as good as you want and can know as much as you want to know. As mentioned in Part II of this blog series, men often think that they can’t become as great as elves or dwarves because of their short lifespan, and non-magical ancestry. But this is a false doctrine. God has said, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in god, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24). He also has said, “It is given to many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless, they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant until the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him… And he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full” (Alma 12:9-11, italics added). Nothing in these verses says, “Only if you were baptized at the age of 8”. Or, only if you are an elf, dwarf, or wizard. Thus, the influx of godliness and light and truth in our lives is between us and God, not us and our baptism date. We can no more blame our baptism date for a lack of spiritual knowledge than we can believe that we are safe from spiritual harm because of our baptism date. The baptism date matters not at all. The desire, heed, and diligence we give to the light and knowledge we have, that is what matters. It is that to which all of us—be it elf, dwarf, hobbit, man, or wizard—should give our cares to.
Elves would sometimes like us to believe that unless we are an elf, and descended from the high elves of Gondolin (or a long lineage of Latter-day Saint pioneers), we cannot know what they know nor do what they do. And yet, Bilbo Baggins becomes extremely learned in the history of Middle Earth, magical lore, and is able to dwell among the elves quite happily. The elves also came to love him dearly not only because he learned some elvish ways, but because he did so without losing his meek “hobbit-ness”. He took in that which makes him spiritually stronger (like the sword of Gryffindor) without adopting the pride of the elves. [Sorry, couldn’t help stepping outside into the realm of Harry Potter for just a moment. Now, back to Middle Earth.]
Many a person who gets baptized after the age of 8 pays no heed to the troll-word “convert”. Yet, often others are often made to feel forever inferior for being “late” to the process of conversion—for allegorically having a shorter lifespan. I’ve even heard people say in their talks, “I was late in receiving the gospel…” or “I was late to the gospel”. The trollish term convert implies that there is an early and a late. But this is not the gospel, or the doctrine of Christ. We are all the same in that the gospel is offered to us and we either choose to accept it or reject it, and then to keep submitting to the enticings of the Holy Spirit for the rest of our lives (Mosiah 3:19; 2 Nephi 32:3-9) in the pursuit of eternal life. We are the same, not separate, not different. We are not in different groups. Amulek said of himself, “I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore, I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know…” (Alma 10:6). Yet, when the angel appeared to him and asked him to shelter and listen to Alma, the prophet, Amulek “obeyed the voice of the angel” (Alma 10:8) and then eventually became Alma’s missionary companion. Amulek was not late. He simply made the choice to stop rejecting the path to godly conversion. After accepting the gospel, he was not lesser or late. He simply joined the ranks.
Interestingly, the genuine conversion process toward godliness, sometimes, begins much later for those born into families who are members, and who are baptized at the age of 8. Because the culture is their way of life, it isn’t until years after their actual baptism that they begin to come to themselves and actually truly dive into the conversion process. Some have crises of faith years down the road, and must truly self-evaluate and through study and faith at last begin. There is no group of people given precedence in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Any thought of that comes from the cultural dragon, not Jesus Christ. The important thing to remember is that conversion starts at different ages and on different gospel principles and doctrines with every person who comes into the fold of Christ’s church. When we are baptized should not lead us to believe that we are lesser, or impeded, in our covenant progression. Men, in Tolkien’s Hobbit story—and later in The Lord of the Rings—achieved great renown, when they stopped worrying about what they were and simply became who they were born to be.
Wait, a few elves are whispering some of their spiritual knowledge. Oh, yes. I was just getting to that. What did they say? They asked, “Doesn’t God command parents to teach their children the gospel and have them baptized at the age of 8? So, being baptized at 8 really matters. Right?” Why, yes. He does say that. However, that commandment is given to parents who are already members of the church who are already on the covenant path themselves. Because they have the gospel in their lives, their accountability for teaching their children that gospel is greater (Doctrine and Covenants 68:25). In Doctrine and Covenants 82:3 we learn: “For of whom much is given, much is required, and he who sins against the greater light receives the greater condemnation”. But baptism at age 8 doesn’t make them more converted, or better, than those who are baptized later.
The enemy of our souls wants us to categorize and group ourselves in ways which will de-unify us. He wants us to feel superior or inferior. He wants us to take pride in long, pioneer lineages, or lineages we can trace back even further, because of who it means we must be in comparison to others. He wants us to exhibit elvish pride. He wants us to have human inferiority complexes because we don’t have pioneer ancestors or years of time in the gospel. He doesn’t want us to notice that we are pioneers ourselves. He doesn’t want it to occur to us that the same spiritual strength some credit to their ancestors is the same strength each of us exhibits when we accept the gospel and courageously step on the covenant path. He doesn’t want us to acknowledge the strength we have to stay on the covenant path. The enemy, and his ally the dragon of church culture, don’t want us to unify and to become of “one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:19). A Zion culture is a celestial culture that can destroy not only the dragon, but the enemy himself, binding him and preventing him from having any power. Unity in Christ banishes Satan. Thus, he doesn’t want us to hasten his defeat. He wants more time to make as many people as miserable as he is. He knows he’s going to lose and he wants to take as many of us down with him as he can (2 Nephi 2:27).
I should like to hope that we could simply call each other Christians, or fellow Latter-day Saints, no matter if we are new or if we have a few more months or years under our belt. We are the same. Those new to the covenant path know what we know! They have the same heart! A heart that loves God and His plan of salvation. God has spoken to them as He has spoken to us. We are unified by that powerful commonality. We are unified in our devotion to Christ.
If we give a talk or a lesson, we should avoid qualifying our testimony based upon when we accepted the gospel; and even then, it should only be shared if it is relevant to our testimony. If it is relevant, rather than saying, “I’m a convert,” we can say, “I joined the church when…” or “I joined the church because…” and then explain why that is relevant to the doctrine or principle of the gospel of which we are testifying. As well, we should avoid touting that we were born in the gospel covenant or that we’re lifetime members, unless it is relevant to our testimony. For example, I was raised in the gospel, but as you can see, even though I was baptized at the age of 8, I’m still in the process of godly conversion. I have so much to learn and a whole lot more to become. Every day, the Lord teaches me new ways to humble myself and to submit to the Holy Spirit and to adjust my desires so that I can become more like Him. I’m still being converted.
Rather than using the troll-ish word covert, it would be better for us to talk in longer truths and relevant testimonies rather than trying to sum up people, or their spiritual journeys, with one word in a way that labels, de-unifies, encourages pride and enmity, and separates us into groups.
Troll Jargon III – Mission Field
In the Book of Mormon, it was often the largest city where the center of the gospel was preached and organized, where the High Priest of the church dwelled along with the King, or Chief Judge, and other perceived political notables. It seems that it was usually a city called Zarahemla. It is likely that the highest number of Christians lived in Zarahemla, though many were scattered throughout the land of Nephi and its environs. Zarahemla, however, because of its density of church members, affluency, and power was often the biggest missionary problem. It was hard, really hard to share the gospel there. People were proud and used to having abundance. People there had been exposed to the gospel and its members for a long time—for better or worse. The Church of Christ was not a novelty in Zarahemla. That the church was centered there was a source of pride for some. Many who lived there, because of their close encounters with some elves and dwarves, and perhaps even a few struggling men, had also gotten offended. So, there was persecution of the church and its members by outsiders. However, there was also persecution of outsiders by church members—or those that professed to be members (Helaman 4:11).
According to Alma, he suffered a lot of tribulation in bringing the saints in Zarahemla back to a state of righteousness. He said to the members in a city called Gideon, “And I trust, that I shall also have joy over you; nevertheless, I do not desire that my joy over you should come by the cause of so much afflictions and sorrow which I have had for the brethren at Zarahemla, for behold, my joy cometh over them after wading through much affliction and sorrow. But behold, I trust that ye are not in a state of so much unbelief as were your brethren; I trust that ye are not lifted up in the pride of your hearts; yea, I trust that ye have not set your hearts upon riches [or golden coins] and the vain things of the world; yea, I trust that you do not worship idols [or dragons], but that ye do worship the true and living God, and that ye look forward for the remission of your sins, with an everlasting faith, which is to come” (Alma 7:5-6, brackets added).
Sadly, Zarahemla’s “getting back down to the gospel,” often, didn’t last long. They struggled with tradition and wealth, status, and the like. They thought that since they lived “in Zarahemla” they were more enlightened than other smaller cities and churches. They were shocked when Alma called them wicked and said their city would be destroyed if they didn’t repent. “We are good and our cities great!” they exclaimed (Helaman 8:6). Might they have also said (and I speculate here for the purpose of this blog), “Why don’t you go out into the ‘mission field’ and help the people who really need it?”.
Though I was born into a place that has a high concentration of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was raised, for the majority of my life outside that place. I grew up going to school in places where Latter-day Saints were extremely few in number, a novelty, and often teased or persecuted for our peculiar beliefs. Yet, the church ran beautifully in our “salt of the earth” ward. In many ways, we were all a mess. We were a smattering of elves, dwarves, men, hobbits, and wizards. Yet, we functioned as well as any ward in a place with a high density of Latter-day Saints.
I still remember, a new set of missionaries was put into our ward. One in particular, who hailed from a place that had a dense population of Latter-day Saints, said to my mother, “I’m just so surprised that the gospel actually works out here [in Missouri].” He seemed to have been raised with the impression that if you lived in the “mission field”, our outside member-dense locations, that you didn’t understand how the organization of the church should function. He was used to culture and traditions. Thus, when he saw it working just fine, he was surprised. I don’t know what else he might have felt. I was very young. But through other experiences I have had, personally, it is clear that the dragon of church culture encourages the “mission field” jargon to subtly reinforce culture and to introduce pride into our hearts.
Well, I remember the look on my mom’s face. Then, she set him straight. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I remember the look on his face and how it changed as she gave him a good dose of doctrine. And, I suspect he went home with his tail between his legs—metaphorically of course. What did she teach him? That everywhere is the “mission field”. Places with a high density of members—like Zarahemla—are as much the “mission field” as all other places in the world.
Using the phrase “mission field” to describe places that aren’t densely populated with members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a divisive strategy of the dragon, that can teach a very false doctrine. It can communicate the idea that there is gospel superiority in member-dense locations, states, regions, even nations. My personal experience has been (since I now live in a member-dense area) that hobbits and valorous men are everywhere. Humble elves and forgiving dwarves are everywhere. I have found true Christians in member-sparse areas, member-dense areas, non-member areas, and everywhere in between. Their location has mattered not at all. The only difference is that these individuals have chosen to be “of the gospel” and not “of the culture”.
Have you noticed that all of these troll-ish jargon words have a similar flaw? They communicate spiritual superiority and encourage spiritual pride in outward actions. They diminish others, imply inferiority, and judge others, rejecting grace, through the atonement of Jesus Christ. In fact, we cannot believe in or encourage the precepts these troll words put upon us while also trying to build a Zion culture.
Christ has taught, “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man” (Matthew 15:11). Gratefully, God has grace for all of us. We are all going to accidentally use these trollish terms accidentally, hopefully for only a little bit longer now that we are aware of their troll-ish nature. However, as we let the light of truth shine upon them, we can turn them to stone and leave them behind, for good. But we must begin to try and stop using words that hinder us and discourage others away from the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. We must also stop using them for our own sake. For we defile our relationship with the Lord anytime we, in any small way, diminish our fellow men because their path to Christ looks a little different than ours.
This is the end of Part III: Of Turning Mountain Trolls of Jargon to Stone. Join us next time, for Part IV: Of the Calling of Wizard, where we will dig into the culture surrounding church callings and separate truth from tradition. I hope to see you on the trail!
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