The One True Church of God’s Love

June 17, 2008 | 20 comments
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In Fuchuu, Japan, I taught a young woman who had attended a Christian school and church for some years, but had become a bit turned off. She asked us why we were out trying to teach the gospel. I said (in Japanese), “Well, even if you go to heaven, if you go alone, it would be kind of sad, wouldn’t it?” I had no way of knowing, but that was exactly the right thing to say to her. She had started to notice how many of the people attending her church seemed to be going as a way of patting themselves on the back for being more righteous than someone else. She had noticed that they were not motivated by love, but by pride. That is not what Christianity is about, and she had had enough of it.

At the time, since I was a full-time missionary, I had had a lot of time to think about why we Latter-day Saints claim to represent the one true church, why it is important for people to hear and accept that claim, and why God wants one church. There are a lot of reasons perhaps, but the one that stood out for me was that God loves us all, and he doesn’t just want us to love him; he wants us to love one another. God’s goal is to reunite the human family, his family. The Church is not a place where we go to show we are orthodox or perfect. If we are, fine, but that is not the point. The Church is a place where we go to serve one another and help each other to find our way back to God. Equally, or even more importantly, it is a place where we learn from God, bit by bit, how to be united with each other in pure love.

God so loved the world that he sent his Only Begotten Son. Christ showed us the way to be true friends, even to the point of laying down his life for us. He is the Good Shepherd, who would leave the 99 and go after the one sheep. Are we willing to leave some sheep out of the fold? John 13-17 record Christ’s last sustained lesson delivered to his disciples before his trial and crucifixion. He starts by washing their feet. He gives them the “new commandment” that they be known as his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:34). He compares himself to a vine and his disciples to the branches (another symbol of unity). He ends with the intercessory prayer, whose central request seems to draw together the lessons of the previous four chapters (and indeed, of his whole ministry): “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou has given me, that they may be one, as we are . . . [and I pray also] for them also which shall believe on my through their word; That they all may be . . . made perfect in one . . . that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:11-26).

God intends that there be one church, and calls everyone to it, because he wants to unite his family in love.

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20 Responses to The One True Church of God’s Love

  1. Adam Greenwood on June 17, 2008 at 8:26 am

    Very true.

  2. Gary on June 17, 2008 at 9:24 am

    I agree with you that this is what God wants. I agree that we learn these things in church. But we also learn to love and serve in important ways through other organizations and experiences that have nothing to do with the Church. For many people, these organizations are at least as effective as the church at teaching these lessons. Why does there need to be only one church in order for God to unite his family in love? I can’t see any reason why I can’t be united in love with my brothers and sisters of other faiths, just because we attend different churches.

  3. Adam Greenwood on June 17, 2008 at 9:48 am

    Ben Huff is talking about ultimate things, Gary, and you’re talking about the here and now. The truth is that in this life we really can’t be united in love with anyone, not wholly, whether they are under the yoke or not.

    Why does there need to be only one church in order for God to unite his family in love?

    This sounds to me like you’re asking why God needs us to be one to be one.

  4. Doc on June 17, 2008 at 10:18 am

    Ben,
    Thank you, thank you, thank you. Your point is so simple and yet completely escapes so many of us with a universalist bent. The fractiousness, the infighting, the offense we take at truth claims are clearly not the way God would have it. From where I stand in mortality, complete unity and Zion seems impossible. I cling to the faith that the petty divisions that offend us now will seem silly in the next life, but the unity in desire to know God and love each other will be very real.
    One way I’ve found to try to check the pride that an exclusive claim to truth can bring is to realize that the restoration is a work in progress. All of us have cultural traditions of our fathers that may distort things as they really are and keep us from really understanding, Mormon or not. We also have an eternity to work through them.

  5. Ugly Mahana on June 17, 2008 at 10:24 am

    I’ll second the idea that we should be united in love with those of other faiths. In fact, I think this principle is fundamental to Christ’s doctrine, even if sometimes hard to practice. I don’t think that love for all mankind, and binding mankind together in love, is antithetical to the doctrine that God has established only one church in its fullness. Indeed, the two principles must not be antithetical since the same God has revealed both.

  6. Frank McIntyre on June 17, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Thanks, Ben.

  7. ed42 on June 17, 2008 at 10:54 am

    “The Church is a place where we go to serve one another and help each other to find our way back to God.”

    Church is where we go to get bored out of our skin, listening to the same topics given hundreds (no thousands) of times before. How I wish priesthood meeting was conducted like this: “Who needs help in the ward? “Who can provide this help?” “Thank you Brothers”

    I see no service when the topics, questions, and discussions are held at the primary children level.

  8. StillConfused on June 17, 2008 at 10:59 am

    This is very powerful. Thank you.

  9. Neal Davis on June 17, 2008 at 12:09 pm

    The true purpose of the atonement, ultimately, is just that: at-one-ment. Remember how Christ reached out to others, and how he first revealed himself to the Samaritan woman at the well. Remember the last words of the fifth chapter of Matthew.

    @#7: I mean this with all respect, but then start living your life that way. That’s what I’m trying to do, though I’m oh-so-far from accomplishing it. We often forget what Christ did in his mortal ministry because of our focus on who he was and what he said, and that’s the problem you hit on right there.

    Thanks, Ben, for a thoughtful post that will help me remember the unity (ecumenical or celestial) for which we strive, ultimately, as we slosh through these waypoints on our path.

  10. Neal Davis on June 17, 2008 at 12:11 pm

    @#7: I should clarify: start or continue living your life that way, as I don’t know anything about you or your life. Like I said, I struggle with the same frustration you have.

  11. Ben H on June 17, 2008 at 3:34 pm

    Gary, of course there are other ways we can and should love and serve. Adam’s response is mine: the goal is unity, eventually, completely. The parable of the wild and “natural” branches in Jacob 5 is a good illustration of the time scale God is willing to work on. I think the pattern applies at many levels, but includes work God does on the scale of centuries or even millennia.

    Ed, perhaps the content of the meetings doesn’t seem to match what you need. Are there people present who have different needs from your own? When you are bored with the lesson, are you looking around, thinking, “What does person Y need?” For many of us, of course, we need to hear and ponder and discuss the word, in order to keep our work on track. If we are serving all week long, it doesn’t seem unbalanced to take a few hours each week to think about the overall orientation of our work and the standards and goals we are working toward. The point of church is not for us to go and serve for three hours on a Sunday. The point of church is to refresh and deepen our sense of direction and purpose for a life of service, though this process involves service too.

  12. Gary on June 17, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    Fair enough Ben, but in that case, I don’t think you are talking about one church any more. The church, as I understand it, and as I think you were describing it in this post, is very much a temporal institution. I think you are now talking about something much more than that.

  13. Bob on June 17, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    “God intends that there be one church…: The problem is most people don’t want one church, they don’t want to be ‘righteous’, they don’t want to be ‘ worthy’. They want to be accepted as they are: sinners. They want a feel forgiven for their short comings, they want to do better. but not at the cost of living their normal lives. They don’t want to be prefect, or a god, just have a good life. Therefore, Mormonism will never have an apply for them.

  14. Ben H on June 18, 2008 at 4:57 am

    Gary, as you inferred, I am talking about something that endures for a very long time. The organization will surely change substantially, but that doesn’t mean the Church goes away. What exactly is it that endures for that very long time? Call it Zion, the communion of the saints, the family of God . . .

    Bob, you’re right that some people don’t find God’s ways appealing. So? God’s way is the right way for us to live, and departures are wrong.

  15. Bob on June 18, 2008 at 11:41 am

    #14: I said most people don’t find Mormonism appealing. If they follow another path to God or a betterment to their Spiritual lives, I don’t call them wrong.

  16. Adam Greenwood on June 18, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    What I or my neighbors or most people find appealing is not the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong.

  17. Thomas Parkin on June 18, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant;
    They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god

    From the philosopher / novelist Iris Murdoch (a quote I’m going to be using a lot in the coming days)

    “We need to be able to think in terms of degrees of freedom, and to picture … the transcendence of reality. A simple-minded ,,, assumption that we are all rational and totally free, engenders a dangerous lack of curiosity about the real world, and a failure to appreciate the difficulties of knowing it. _We need a return from the self-centered concept of sincerity to the other-centered concept of truth._ We are not isolated free choosers, monarchs of all we survey, but benighted creatures sunk in a reality whose nature we are constantly and overwhelmingly tempted to deform by fantasy. Our current picture of freedom encourages a dream-like facility; whereas what we require is a renewed sense of the difficulty … of the moral life and the opacity of persons.”

    It seems to me that what she is describing is a beginning point to effective spiritual seeking. We must begin with the assumption that we don’t understand, including that we don’t understand ourselves beyond the fact that we have urges and wishes, and that many or most or all of our views have not been derived from seeking ‘with real intent’ but in satisfying our own temperments. In other words, seeking without over arching and thouroughly penetrated humility is vain. In the end, all we will have is a mirror.

    ~

  18. Bob on June 18, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    #16: I do not place myself as an arbiter, but Ben did, (“and departures are wrong. “). You are right. I don’t know the ‘ultimate’ answers. I must therefore live by what my Spirit feels or by that which appeals to it.

  19. Ben H on June 20, 2008 at 2:26 am

    Wow, Thomas, thank you! I need to read Iris Murdoch.

  20. Thomas Parkin on June 20, 2008 at 4:27 am

    Ben,

    Yes. You might like her. She’s been a hero of mine for many years. I cried when I heard that she had passed.

    Philosophically, she was a commited admirer of Plato – a rare enough creature now-a-days. She was also an atheist. Not at all of the Chris Hitchins variety. She simply assumed that with modernism the idea of God had been lost as a possibility to a serious philosopher. She very much saw that loss as a loss. I read most of her thinking, both in philosophy and fiction, as an attempt to reestablish the “sovereignty of the good” (her words), in the absence of God. While I don’t believe that is ultimately possible, her attempt is heroic and leads to page after page of exceptional insight into human nature. She was also taken with, but not enchanted by, Buddhism.

    I’ve read several of her novels. A couple others proved impenetrable, to me.

    The Sea, The Sea is as telling as any – and is also a fun read. It is about a retired playwright, who has been famous. In a village near the seaside home where he has retired, he encounters a woman he loved as a youth, who spurned his youthful marriage proposal, and about whom he has quietly obsessed all his life. He contacts her and mounts an increasingly aggresive campaign to get her to leave her husband and come fulfill their, as he sees it, interrupted life together. This eventually leads to him kidnapping her. He is completely blind to the fact that she is, basically, a rather ordinary old woman who has lived and been happy living an ordinary life. Kind of dark stuff, but not without some great wincing humor, and genuine insight.

    By the way, thanks for the post. :)

    ~

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