Note: A recently returned missionary said something today that reminded me of a post I wrote some years ago. I think it is time to revise it and bring it back because it is a very important concept, and it is something we need to remind ourselves of – often.
What better candy to use for a metaphor than a Reese’s Peanut Buttler Cup? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are delicious. One of the best candies out there. They have such a great ratio of peanut butter to chocolate. Something about the blend between the sweetness of the chocolate outside and the saltiness of the peanut butter middle… I’ll stop, because I don’t have any.
This is my point: To really enjoy all that a Reese’s cup has to offer, you need to eat both the outside and the inside. If you didn’t like chocolate, but only liked the middle, then you would have a ridiculous task of trying to dig the insides out to eat by themselves. It would be equally ridiculous to suck on a Reese’s for the chocolate, only to throw it away when you started tasting peanut butter. (Sure, you could by one of those weird abominations where they make them with all peanut butter or white chocolate, but who wants that?) To enjoy this candy, you had better enjoy both parts – the outside and the inside It is a package deal.
What does this have to do with the Restoration and today’s Church? I’m getting there, I promise.
It begins with the birth of Christ, which lead to the glorious act that we call the Atonement. Without that miraculous event, we would have no hope for salvation, let alone exaltation. We consider the Atonement of Christ the key point of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our definition of the gospel stems from the Savior himself – he described it in the New Testament, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Book of Mormon. “And this is my gospel – repentance and baptism by water and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter.” (D&C 39:6)
Fast forward a couple thousand years and we get to where Christ’s church was restored to the earth. The very church that has the authority from Christ to perform those ordinances necessary to tap into the Atonement He offers us. The Church and Gospel are a package deal. Even more so than the candy, there is no way into the middle of the gospel without going through the church.
You have probably heard the same claims that I have: “I don’t believe in the Church, but I try and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Another version that I have heard is “I have a testimony of the gospel, but not the Church.” Many people who make the decision to leave the church, do so with a false hope that they can fully access the Atonement through their own faith and effort.It doesn’t work that way. Others say, “I can be a good person without belonging to a Church, and God will recognize that.”
All sweet, sincere thoughts, but, the reality is, that is not how the Savior set things up. It is impossible to live the gospel of Jesus Christ from outside of the true, authorized Church of Jesus Christ.
It is a package deal: The ordinances of the gospel are administered within the church. The priesthood exists in the church. Any ordinance that happens without the priesthood, or without the consent of priesthood keys is not valid. So, to get baptized or confirmed outside of the church organization and authority is meaningless.
Now that one was kind of easy – let’s get more profound: Unless you are a baptized member of the church, you can’t attain forgiveness and cleanliness. Yes,I know it sounds a little extreme, but it is true. Without the covenant of baptism, there has been no agreement – no covenant- made with God that you can repent and that He will forgive. You have to make the deal first.
This concept was reinforced by Elder Christofferson when he said: “Without this covenant (baptism) repentance remains incomplete and the remission of sins unattained.” (The Divine Gift of Repentance)
Next, the way we complete the repentance process is through participating in the sacrament – another ordinance that cannot effectively be done without the priesthood, under priesthood keys. —Elder Dallin H. Oaks said it this way: “Not one of you … has lived without sin since your baptism. Without some means of further cleansing after our baptism, each of us is lost to things spiritual. We cannot have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and at the final judgment we would be bound to be “cast off forever” (1 Ne. 10:21). How grateful we are that the Lord has provided a means for each baptized member of His Church to be … cleansed from the soil of sin. The sacrament is a necessary part of that process.” (Ensign, November 1998, page 38.) (Full text here)
(Have you started to understand why I am so fixated on the ordinance of the sacrament?)
So, how does this all apply to us if we claim to live the gospel independent of the church? I would say this: It doesn’t work. It is a package deal.
• We can’t be baptized and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Therefore…
• We can’t repent and be forgiven. This applies to both unbaptized people, AND baptized members who do not come to church and take the sacrament. Both carry around a lifetime of unresolved sins. It is truly sad, and gives a renewed urgency to our reactivation and missionary efforts.
So, if you think, or have heard “I have a testimony of the gospel, but not the church,” please know that it doesn’t work that way. It is a package deal. You gotta get both.
The events of the establishment of the Church, both 191 years ago, and 2,000 years ago work together to permit us to access God’s grace and forgiveness. Those events also give us a chance to reach beyond salvation to exaltation.
Or, more simple put, the existence of Christ’s Atonement gives us the ultimate gift. The Church gives us the means to open it.
(This works quite well as an object lesson, but I’ve found that using a York Peppermint Patty provides a better visual because off the white center.)
I may be wrong about this, but the way I understand the Plan is this: The Celestial Kingdom is for those who love God with all their heart, might, mind, and strength and their neighbor as themselves. The Terrestrial Kingdom is for those who love their neighbor as themselves. The Telestial Kingdom is for those who love themselves. And outer darkness is for those who love no one, not even themselves.
If this is correct, the people you have described as wanting to live good lives, while not feeling a need for the Church, are aiming for the Terrestrial Kingdom. The Terrestrial is quite a good kingdom, to be sure, compared to what we now enjoy in mortality, but it is far below the Celestial. The Celestial requires loving God by keeping His commandments, which means making and keeping covenants with Him. If they are good with less than that, more power to them, but the Terrestrial Kingdom is so much below all of our potential that I think they will be kicking themselves for eternity.
I like the analogy/parable.
But I had to ask myself how it works when there are so many outside the Church that do experience the peace and forgiveness that come from repentance and seeking to follow the Savior. So I pondered it a bit, and this is my speculation:
Those that have not been baptized are covered in the same way that those who lived before Christ’s Atonement – in anticipation and faith. They can experience the forgiveness just like they can feel the Spirit. But it is predicated on their future acceptance of the fullness of the gospel and the ordinances thereof.
I think you nailed it.
This reminds me of something Elder Christofferson said in April conference:
“Some might say, ‘I can make good choices with or without baptism; I don’t need covenants to be an honorable and successful person.’ Indeed, there are many who, while not on the covenant path themselves, act in a way that mirrors the choices and contributions of those who are on the path. You might say they reap the blessings of walking a ‘covenant-consistent’ path. What, then, is the difference of the covenant path?
Actually, the difference is uniquely and eternally significant. It includes the nature of our obedience, the character of God’s commitment to us, the divine help we receive, the blessings tied to gathering as a covenant people, and most importantly, our eternal inheritance.”
I hadn’t ever quite thought of it in the specific ways you mentioned, though. Thanks for a great reminder and a great visual!
Brad- You are like a 3rd sacrament speaker every Sabbath day. Thanks. Yes it goes together like the temple initiatories we perform for our past family ancestors.
I think of the church as a hospital. A place to go when you are spiritually sick. You are sick when you don’t follow the savior. When you are sick with “sin” you go get a vaccine and on occasion a booster every Sunday when you need it. The only reason we have a church with apostles is because humanity cannot get its collective hiney in gear to follow the savior 24/7 once a person can live or direct their life focused on the savior we will no longer need the church.
I disagree. The authority for essential ordinances requires keys and administration. Individually focusing on the Savior does not solve that.
Dallin Oaks’ talk last October about why we need the Church is alsp useful on his topic.