I was cleaning up my blogroll yesterday and came across this post at Intelligent Life that prominently displays the threefold mission of the Church: preach the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the Saints. It occurs to me I rarely hear this once-prevalent formulation in current LDS discourse. Where did it go?
Just to start at the beginning, the threefold mission concept seems to come from a 1986 talk by President Benson, “A Sacred Responsibility.” Here is the key passage:
We have a sacred responsibility to fulfill the threefold mission of the Church—first, to teach the gospel to the world; second, to strengthen the membership of the Church wherever they may be; third, to move forward the work of salvation for the dead.
It’s possible that the term and concept are still being used but I just don’t notice. I do nod off in sacrament meeting from time to time. But a search on “threefold mission” at LDS.org brings up mostly references from the 80s and 90s. I think the term has indeed fallen out of use.
I can think of a few possible explanations. One is that the “perfect the Saints” language implies perfection by good works and one’s own effort, whereas the Church has been trying to emphasize grace much more over the last ten years or so. So maybe the threefold formulation was dropped because “perfecting the Saints” was no longer on message. (It is also worth nothing that in President Benson’s talk he used the phrase “strengthen the membership of the Church” rather than the short and pithy “perfect the Saints” that has become the standard gloss.)
I recall hearing the threefold concept linked to the three quorums of the priesthood once upon a time. Redeeming the dead refers to temple work, a specialty of the high priests. Preaching the gospel was a duty of the seventies. Perfecting the Saints was kind of dropped on the elders (not quite a perfect match, I know). When the local seventies quorums went away in 1986, this useful way of using the threefold mission (at least in priesthood meeting) suddenly became confusing and was therefore dropped.
A third possibility is that the threefold mission formulation is too focused on the LDS Church and its membership, whereas the Church has been placing an increasing focus on interfaith outreach and community service over the last ten years. Again, on this view the threefold formulation was dropped because it was no longer on message.
These explanations might sound plausible, but they are pure speculation. I don’t recall hearing any comment from LDS sources about a downgrade or revision of the threefold mission. Any ideas?