As members of the LDS Church, we recognize that the Gospel was “restored” to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith and that he founded the Church on April 6, 1830. A question we might ask ourselves is: what is the actual purpose of the Church? Why does it exist? How does it help us? And, do we need it to exist to in order to achieve exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom, living with Heavenly Father and Jesus for all eternity?
What is the Purpose of the Church? This answer varies depending on the audience of the answer. A scan of LDS literature, conference talks, the web, etc yields a variety of answers.
“The great mission of the Church must always be to bring all men into a knowledge and acceptance of the truth. This is the cementing purpose of the Church.” John A. Widtsoe, Rational Theology, pg 122
“The whole purpose of the Church is to qualify individuals to return to the presence of God. ” Howard W. Hunter, Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, pg 218
“…the purpose of the Church is to do something for people, to bring them happiness in this life and salvation and glory in the life to come. We might state it this way: The purpose of the Church is the purpose of the Gospel; the purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to help men achieve the very purpose of life. The purpose of life is joy through self-realization of our full nature as a child of God.” Lowell L. Bennion, Introduction to the Gospel, pg 209
“When all is said and done, there is one purpose for this Church, and that is to assist our Father in Heaven in bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of His sons and daughters. The only reason for its being is to build faith in things that are eternal. So many times we get lost in the details of administration that we forget the spirit of the work. Gordon B. Hinckley, Berlin Germany Regional Conference, priesthood leadership session, June 15, 1996 as quoted in Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley,” pg 117
“Longtime Mormons sense that although the central purpose of the Church is to help one another, they need to reach out and share the gospel through missionary work and exemplary service, and they also have a responsibility to establish eternal family ties. Through reviewing this threefold mission of the Church (Proclaim the Gospel, Perfect the Saints, Redeem the dead) we come to appreciate how united and loving dedication helps Christ’s kingdom on earth fulfill its special destiny.” Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel, pg 58
“This gospel in its purity, now restored to the earth, is intended to reach all of our Father’s children, and what a glorious thing it is to be permitted to participate in it! ‘This is my work and my glory-to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man’ (Moses 1:39). That is the whole purpose of the Church, the whole purpose of the program, the whole purpose of missionary service, and we are called to help carry that out.” Ezra Taft Benson, God, Family, Country, pp. 58-59 as quoted in Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, page 177
Some would say the overarching purpose of the Church is to: “invite all to come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.”(Moroni 10:32)
But what does the church do for us in this day and age? Many of those who grew up in the Church remember a day when it seemed that the Church was the center of your life, taking up every waking moment that wasn’t work, school, meals or sleep.
Prior to the three hour block, there was Church on Sundays, of course, but also during the week, Primary, Mutual, and Relief Society. And then there was speech contests, sports tournaments, dramas and musical productions, road shows, dance festivals, cultural events, Temple trips, firesides, Know Your Religion, and so on. Some of those things still exist, but many do not or are held sparingly.
The main reason was to give back more time to the family and recognition that the family was the place where the most “gospel success” would be achieved and not by having the church monopolize its member’s time.
So, as we’ve seen the Church cut back on the many activities, what role does it play in our lives? A few years ago, our Stake President received instruction from several of the Quorum of the Twelve on this point which was shared with the members of the Stake through the High Council. Here are the main points which give a view:
1. The Church provides the saving ordinances and makes them available to us.
The Church, thorough the Prophet, holding all the keys of the Kingdom, provides the Priesthood to worthy men to act in God’s name to perform the ordinances and other saving works. It is through the Church and the restoration of all the keys of the Priesthood that we are able to receive these ordinances. There is no other way except as members of the LDS Church.
2. The Church provides opportunities to serve others.
Through our callings, missionary work and other community activities, we serve others. This is an important prescriptive to following the Savior’s example and becoming like Him. Service should be an active component of to testimony. While there are ways to serve others outside of the Church, this is also something that the Church provides us.
3. The Church provides a family-like atmosphere for those who lack an ideal family arrangement.
While the Church teaches us that the ideal family arrangement is a mother and father, married in the Temple for time and all eternity, and raising their children in the Gospel, this is not always possible for one reason or another. So, the Church tries to provide something that can, in a small way, substitute for the ideal. For example, The Church organizes singles wards for young people who are away from home going to school. Home Teachers are assigned for families without Melchizedek Priesthood in their homes to provide Priesthood assistance where needed. Other Ward or Branch organizations should encourage, assist and watch over those without the ideal family situation like members of a family would.
4. The Church provides a learning atmosphere for all ages, not as a substitute, but a supplement to the learning done in the home.
That’s why most of our manuals, like those in Priesthood/Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine are personal study guides. We benefit the most when we study on our own and bring what we have learned to class each week rather than come expecting to be taught. Primary and Mutual instruction are an aid in re-enforcing that which should be taught in the home.
In summary, the Church provides the saving ordinances which we must have to achieve our eternal goals. It also provides us opportunities to learn and to serve others. It is the vehicle to provide the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth. As we embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ and strive to live its principles, the Church is our helper here on this earth to achieve the end goal–return to live with Our Father in Heaven and His Son.
Great post Jeff
I’ve been thinking a great deal about the gift of the Holy Ghost which comes to us because of the ordinances you referred too. I just wrote about those things I have experienced relating to this wondrous gift.
A couple of responses: I think some of those quotations mixed up “church” and “gospel.” Secondly, I have to say that I have sometimes wondered what would happen if I still lived all the commandments but if I holed up in a cabin somewhere and became a hermit. 🙂 I like what a neighbor said to me about attending Relief Society activities that I didn’t think were necessary for me to attend. She told me that she had also thought it wasn’t worth it to go, but then she thought, “Who can I help by going?” So now she always goes. Same thing with visiting teaching and everything else. We can let people serve us and we can serve.
now I feel like I should just grab the first person I see on the street and home teach them!
Well, John, it is the last weekend of the month, so you’d be right on time!
#3 – That might work in much of Utah.
Since any religious organization can and should meet #2-#4, the only unique aspect of “the Church” is tied up in #1, imho – with one slight twist. The keys of the Priesthood that distinguish our modern iteration of administration all point uniquely to one thing – and perhaps one thing only: reinstating the understanding and ordinances of exaltation – or, iow, opening the gate to the Celestial Kingdom once more.
Why is this necessary at an organizational (church) level, since theoretically God easily could exalt without any formal church structure? I have my own ideas, but I’d really like to hear what others think.
Basically it all comes down to the principle the Lord summarized with the words “mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (D&C 132:8). The Church is the embodiment of this order on the earth. Of course, we should never underestimate the importance of the ordinances administered through the priesthood, and you rightly place this at the top of your list of the Church’s roles in our lives. One of the purposes of various priesthood officers, like that of the functionaries in a strong central government, is to “regulate all of the affairs” of the Church (see D&C 107:33–34). Part of this regulation includes teachings and practices in church meetings and in the home.
Let me say it a bit differently. Even with prophets and apostles, we are no different than any other Christian religion out there without the ordinances of the temple. The Book of Mormon is the “keystone”, imo, because it leads to the gift of the Holy Ghost – which leads to the ability to read the Bible and understand that our view of eternity is Biblical. It is that view of eternity that truly makes us unique. Even according to our own theology, “good” Mormons who choose to refrain from the effects of dedication to the covenants of temple ordinances will be saved in the exact same way and kingdom and immortal condition as any other person who ultimately does the same.
Iow, the only thing that makes Mormons different than anyone else in the end are the sealing ordinances of the temple – and those ordinances are not restricted to “Mormons”. The real purpose of the Church, imho, is to provide both the theology and practice that abolish all of the artificial classifications we naturally impose on each other and prove God’s love for all His children. Too bad we misunderstand and butcher that purpose so often and in so many ways.