Responding Appropriately to Change

Paul V. Johnson

Of the Seventy

Paul V. Johnson

Many of you have likely become aware of the announcement made last week that a Church high school in Mexico—Benemérito de las Américas—will transition to an MTC this summer. This was an exciting announcement in the context of the increasing numbers of missionaries and the ability to train large numbers of them in Mexico on that beautiful campus. However, for those who have been closely tied to the school over its nearly 50-year history, there is also a measure of sadness as the function of the campus changes. I was able to be there on-site when the announcement was made and was very touched by the response of the students and the employees. Despite their tears, there was support, love, and an understanding that this was the right thing to do. I was so impressed by the spirit in which they responded to this announcement that I would like to make a few comments about handling change in the Church and in CES.

Our willingness to accept change in the kingdom helps the Lord hasten His work (see D&C 88:73). Resistance to inspired change hinders progress of the kingdom. For example, in the last half of the New Testament a major challenge the Church faced was the issue of gentile converts being assimilated as Christians. This issue surfaces in the book of Acts and is a theme in many of Paul’s epistles. The problem stemmed from the fact that many Jewish Christians felt that gentile converts should be required to adhere to the ceremonial law of Moses. Even Peter’s dramatic revelation in the case of Cornelius, that the gospel should be taught to the Gentiles (see Acts 10–11), did not wipe the slate clean. And even after a special council in Jerusalem decided that the gentile converts need not be subject to the law and an epistle was written explaining this decision, the issue remained a source of contention and division (see Acts 15). This was a major change for the Church, and many members struggled with it.

The problem was, at least in part, a result of a faulty understanding of the doctrine. Christ had fulfilled the law of Moses. In fact, He fulfilled every jot and tittle, and members of the Church, whether Jew or Gentile, were not obligated to live the ceremonial law any longer. Many Jews, and even Jewish Christians, could not fathom this because they had lost sight of the intent and proper position of the law. One reason for this was the unauthorized addition of requirements and traditions around the law that helped obscure its real intent. These additions and traditions were no longer a “schoolmaster … unto Christ” (Galatians 3:24), “pointing our souls to him” (Jacob 4:5), but rather were so burdensome and consuming that many Jews looked “beyond the mark” (Jacob 4:14) and put the perverted law in place of the Lawgiver Himself. Even Jewish Christians who had accepted the Savior had a very difficult time letting go of the law that had been fulfilled.

Their misunderstanding, confusion, and hesitancy to accept and make needed change slowed the work and diverted tremendous amounts of effort from Church leaders to deal with this issue. We are better servants and better disciples when we respond appropriately to change. When we don’t respond properly to change, we hinder the Lord’s work.

Adapting to change can be challenging. But Paul, who had been a strict Pharisee, was able to make the change and help the Church with this challenge. Why was he able to adapt while others struggled so much? We see from his writings that he had a crystal clear understanding of the proper place and purpose of the law of Moses. The people in the Book of Mormon never lost sight of the true meaning of the law and, so, kept it in its proper position:

“Notwithstanding we believe in Christ, we keep the law of Moses, and look forward with steadfastness unto Christ, until the law shall be fulfilled.

"For, for this end was the law given” (2 Nephi 25:24–25).

After the law was fulfilled, they did not cling to it as did many of the members in the New Testament Church.

One of the reasons we struggle with change is that we, over time, can get things out of proper perspective or put a policy or practice in a more central position than it deserves. We can confuse means with ends. I hope when we face change in the kingdom we can be like Paul and help foster that change rather than reacting like those who fought the change and hindered the progress of the work.

Sometimes we see the need for change but don’t realize it takes effort to actually do things differently. My father remembered riding in his grandfather’s new automobile as they went to work on the farm. As they approached the closed gates leading to the fields, his grandfather would yell, “Whoa!” but would not use the brakes. They ran into several gates and damaged both the gates and the car. He was so used to using horses that he had trouble getting used to the differences with the automobile.

We can respond appropriately to change by being prayerful, humble, and teachable; by accepting new opportunities or assignments with a positive attitude; and by being willing to try new approaches or methods with a sincere desire to improve.

It is also critical to listen carefully as we receive counsel from our leaders. Think of the grounding and shaping we in CES have received over the years from the prophets and seers who have spoken directly to us. From “The Charted Course of the Church in Education,” and including the many, many messages since then, we have been blessed with important direction, inspiration, and, sometimes, needed change.

When I first began teaching over 35 years ago, I was assigned to a one-person released-time seminary in Arizona. As I was rummaging through my office to see what was there, I found some treasures. I found a few cassette tapes of talks that had been given by General Authorities to Church Educational System teachers. I even found a record with a talk by a General Authority who addressed us. (For you younger teachers, a record was a large black disc which contained recorded audio. They were like big black CDs. For you really young teachers, a CD is an actual physical disc that contains something similar to MP3 files.) I listened to these talks many times, and they influenced how I view our task as gospel teachers and the role the gospel needs to play in the lives of young people.

Tonight we have the opportunity to hear another message specifically meant for us. We are very grateful to have Elder Dallin H. Oaks as our speaker tonight.

Elder Oaks has served as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles since May of 1984.

He is a native of Provo, Utah. He and his late wife, June Dixon Oaks, are the parents of six children. She died in July of 1998. And in August of 2000, he married Kristen M. McMain in the Salt Lake Temple.

Elder Oaks is a graduate of Brigham Young University and of the University of Chicago Law School. He practiced law in Chicago and was a professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School for 10 years. He was president of Brigham Young University from 1971 to 1980 and a justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1980 until his resignation in 1984 to accept his calling to the apostleship.

He has been an officer or member of the board of many business, educational, and charitable organizations, including five years as chairman of the board of directors of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). He is the author or coauthor of many books and articles on religious and legal subjects.

He currently serves on the Church Board of Education and the Boards of Trustees of the higher education institutions of CES and as the vice chairman of the Executive Committee of those boards. We are very grateful for his experience, interest, and his contributions to CES and are anxious to hear from him.

May our minds and hearts be open to his message, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

© 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/13. Translation approval: 1/13. Translation of Responding Appropriately to Change. Language. PD50046558 xxx