How does the “World” teach me to be a Christian?
by Nick Galieti
When I consider the cultures described in the scope of New Testament geography, I find myself wondering what role these individuals played in the development, or rather the presentation of the precepts of Christianity. In what ways were the messages made relevant to that audience based on certain cultural cues, messages that we may misinterpret today without knowing the lexicon or key to understanding the dialogue of those cultures?
Much of what we have today in the New Testament gospels was originally written years after the original sermons were given, and then filtered through various translations and editing processes over time. For this and many other reasons I am grateful for and see the need for the Book of Mormon to stand as a second witness of who Jesus Christ was, how he was towards others, and what he taught. That second witness helps explain certain doctrines with less of a cultural crutch.
I also realize that Jesus Christ was a master teacher and that a good portion of what he taught was catered to the audience in front of him at the moment. Some were apostles, others disciples of a different calling. Others were sinners, Scribes, and Pharisees. Depending on the audience’s point of view they would draw a different message from those teachings.
To the faithful, Jesus Christ’s teachings were empowering and liberating in achieving a greater degree of happiness and peace, both in this life and in the life to come. For those who disagreed with his teachings, they saw Jesus’s gospel as a threat to their power and way of life. The gospel didn’t change, but the people changed based on the way they interpreted its message. Some decided to improve their lives, others became more bitter and sought to take the life of the Gospel’s central figure. It is the diversity of the audiences and the dichotomous responses that interest me significantly.
If Jesus had no encounters with those who challenged His teachings, many of the intricacies of Christianity might have been lost. This worldly influence brought out teachings that were clarified as a result of some dissent from those questioning Jesus Christ, or those that doubted his message’s worth. An example of this is found in Mark 12:13-17 and teaches about where we should place our loyalties and how we are able to deal honestly with our fellow man and our government without compromising our commitment to God. This scripture which reads:
13 ¶And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.
14 And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Cæsar, or not?
15 Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
16 And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Cæsar’s.
17 And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.
The carefully crafted, but ultimately manipulative interrogation was still no match for Him who is the creator and Master of this world. While many in the world seek to craft arguments of “equality” or “love” designed to correlate with Christian ideals, those arguments are a manipulation the gospel. Their perceived goals appear not to be equality but perversion of God’s revealed plan, or a version of love that echos the end goals of Lucifer’s propaganda to eat, drink, and be merry.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is filled with what-to-do’s and what not-to-do’s. Both teachings are relevant, even though many in the world wish all they heard were the things that we can do or what we can get away with (few seem to like to be told the what-not-to-do’s). It is seeing both sides of the opposition in life that paints the entire picture. The same can be said of the challenges to discipleship we face today.
Looking back at the changes that we have seen in the world today as a result of social media, and very vocal movements for a sort of immoral acceptance or redefinition of popular opinion on long held moral positions, there actually has been some good to come of such a movement. Such examples of this can be found with homosexuality, extreme feminism, and other perversions of the revealed gospel. Let me explain.
While homosexuality is still something of an immoral practice when indulged in clear defiance of gospel standard, because of this loud social push, many LDS individuals, perhaps including myself to some degree, have learned to be more loving (not more condoning, there is a difference) to those who are dealing with same sex attraction. The same could be true for the way LDS individuals view issues of race, gender, or those of other religions. One could easily make the case that the way many LDS individuals placed a strong wall up on these issues made for collective transgressions of condemnation, an area where the church needed change; and it was social pressure that helped foster the urgency for improvement in those areas.
While the world has helped us in some ways to learn to be more Christlike, at some point there needs to be a kick back to this influence. There is a point at which a disciple of Christ must stop their education from the world and remember that God is our master, and Jesus Christ is our exemplar and teacher. With some in the LDS Church, or at least in the opinions of people who claim to be church members and who find themselves engaged in online discussions of blogging and social media, there seems to be a rise in criticizing the church at an alarming rate. This criticism seems to be an effort not to simply disagree with the faith, but sometimes is an effort to correlate the church to the teachings and philosophies of the world. Many of these critiques are calls to the leadership of the church to more fully embrace change that is clearly opposed to revealed truths and moral standards and becomes more inline with the world’s accepted precepts. Rather than take cues from the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by prophets and apostles, some chose a different source for guidance. Some seek to match popular opinion with revealed truth and seek to change revealed truth where there is conflict to the mainstream.
Several arguments have been presented by individuals claiming to be members of the Church that sound like plagiarism of some rant heard on Real Time with Bill Maher. These individuals fail to consider the real implications that such a position has with respect to the higher laws of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For example, rather than focus on women wanting to wear pants to church, and claim that such is a noble pursuit worthy of a portion of efforts, perhaps individuals should be worried about individuals who don’t have pants at all. (Remember the teaching on clothing the naked?) Rather than expend efforts being Christlike, some choose to criticize or detract from more noble pursuits by using protest as a method to bring attention to a cause of lesser value. To me there is no cause greater than the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To pursue something that is not inline with its doctrines and teachings is by default a lesser cause. To fight against it is certainly of no great appraisal.
There is no commandment that reads, “Thou shalt protest and complain” yet there are those who follow that commandment with greater reverence than living the commandments that are under our control.
I assume that individuals who make changing the LDS Church their crusade are like the people who were all set to stone the woman caught in adultery; people who were perfectly within their legal and civic rights to do so under the law of their time. If an individual thinks they are more Christ-like than Christ and his Church, then perhaps you have room to cast a stone at the way it operates. If making a stink over wearing pants in church is a most noble effort, then let us all make that our focus, not just a couple hundred women. However, there are people starving, there are children who need good parents, and neighbors who need the saving ordinances of the gospel and the light of Christ more fully in their life. Perhaps when every individual in our ward boundaries is a member of the church and doing their home and visiting teaching, reading their scriptures daily, and praying regularly (not to mention regularly attending the temple), then we can talk about female attire for Sunday meetings. My feeling is that if we were all so focused on keeping the revealed commandments, we wouldn’t be so worried about changing church operation; instead we would be appreciating the church’s divine commission and doing our part to see it succeed.
This social pressure model also concerns me because it seems as if many are starting to be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ.” What ever happened to being proud of being a member of God’s true church? What ever happened to finding ways to conform our life to God’s standards as opposed to confirming God to the world’s standards? Did Christianity change and I just didn’t get the memo?
I believe this social bullying begins as individuals forget that Jesus Christ went to minister to others to bring out the best in them. Jesus did not minister to the sinners because they were good where they were at, or because it was important for the Son of God to change to match their lifestyle choice. He didn’t come to earth to learn from humankind, he came to teach a better way. Christianity is not a branch of democracy; exaltation does not require a vote of the majority and is not a pursuit for popularity. The only thing that was put to a vote in Jesus’s life was the one that got him killed. Clearly, the world continues to find a way to discredit Him and vote Jesus out of his place as Savior, or at least hinder the Church that bears his name.
Jesus Christ ministered to others because he wanted them to find peace and happiness and he knew that was not accomplished by pandering to our lowest levels, but to achieve our greatest potential. He did not condone sin, but understood that sin would happen and provided a way to over come it. He also knew that the only way some people can be reached is when we bring the message to them and to their level of understanding; not necessarily alter the message or change its doctrines to conform to what an individual already knows and believes.
While I am grateful that we have learned some valuable lessons from the world about the importance of loving others, and being more patient in afflictions of all kinds, we must not forget that loving others also means helping them to improve their lives as well, and to be on the path to self-improvement.
If turnabout is fair play, then it stands to reason that if the world wants us to learn about love and equality, etc, then there needs to be a time of willingness to also learn from the revealed gospel of Christ. When is it time for the world to learn from the Church? According to D&C 4, that time is now while the field is white, already to harvest. While some may think that the path to a better life is to let people break commandments, or even to change the commandments to match their views on life, Jesus Christ was the example of something far greater. Jesus Christ taught that to love one another is to keep commandments and to help others keep them as well. He also taught that we should expect to experience the divinity within ourselves and not relinquish our promised blessings in an effort to appease a broken world.