“Do I Know My Neighbor?” Ensign, Mar. 1991, 25
Our decision as a family to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was an immense step, yet in many ways it was simply our next step in following the Lord.
For me, it meant leaving the Presbyterian ministry. For my family, it meant abandoning the church we had loved and through which we had long sought to serve the Lord. Joining the Church, however, was the only choice we could make, for the Holy Ghost had been leading us to a deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ for several years.
During this time of seeking, the Lord tailored for us special experiences to answer our questions, while pouring out his Spirit upon me, my wife, Flo Beth, and our three children, Marta, Evan, and Kirsten. Eventually, we gained a testimony that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s church and prepared to enter the waters of baptism, expecting fully that the Spirit which had sustained us for so long would be present in even greater power.
I was baptized first and then ordained to the Aaronic priesthood so that I could baptize the rest of the family. Throughout my baptism, confirmation, and ordination, we all felt the presence of the Holy Ghost. It was the high spiritual experience that Flo Beth, particularly, had expected it to be. Then, in an instant, it all changed for her. As she went down into the water, the Spirit vanished, and she felt utterly alone during her and the children’s baptisms. Not until hands were laid upon her head and she was confirmed a member of the Church did the Spirit return.
The Spirit was like light—stronger and clearer than it had ever been before. But it was the same Spirit that Flo Beth had known previously: an old friend who had dropped in on many occasions, but who had now come home to stay. In a similar way, the Spirit bore powerful testimony to the children of our decision to join the Church. They were amazed by the words of the blessings given them, and they commented that the priesthood holder who administered to them “knew us so well, even though this was the first time we ever met him!”
There is “more” in the message of the restored gospel than in the messages of the traditional Christian churches. Yet the arrogance displayed by some Latter-day Saints in reference to our conversion surprised us. Some few believed that we were now better than those of our neighbors and relatives who belonged to other faiths.
From Flo Beth’s experience, we learned two basic truths. First, a holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood can offer, to the person who is ready to receive it, the gift of the Holy Ghost in a manner that no other person on earth can. Second, to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we did not have to give up or deny the experiences we had already had with the Lord, nor did we need to give up the truths about God that were already a part of our lives. Instead, we were simply asked to build on those truths and experiences.
We had been clearly shown a continuity between the Holy Ghost we knew as Presbyterians and the Holy Ghost we experienced as Latter-day Saints. Thus, we have never questioned whether we walked with God in our previous vocation of ministry or whether the Lord had led us to that ministry on our path to the fulness of the gospel. We had been shown clearly that there was definitely more to the Christian faith than we had previously known.
It was, and still is, offensive to us that these sacred post-baptism experiences are construed by some as proving our superiority over family and friends who did not wish to join us in our decision. In order to avoid this doctrinally unfounded approach and better understand our relationship as Latter-day Saints to our other-denominational friends and neighbors, we need to be aware of their role in the Restoration. Above all, we need to acknowledge the invaluable contributions our Christian neighbors have made, and continue to make, in furthering the Lord’s work on the earth.
Jesus accomplished three principal objectives in his lifetime. First, he accomplished the Atonement, which had been his major mission from eternity. Second, he restored priesthood keys that had been taken from the earth. And third, he established his church, with its divinely instituted form of government.
Christ’s form of government was not, however, destined to continue. Limitations in communication and travel made it impossible to reestablish the quorums as Apostles died. In a generation the priesthood keys Jesus had delivered were no longer present among mortals.
Did Christ suffer all that he did merely to see his mission ultimately fail? Did he not know that the priesthood would be lost? Of course he did. Even Paul knew that the loss of priesthood authority was necessary: “Let no man deceive you by any means,” he wrote, “for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thes. 2:3.)
The meridian of time was principally the dispensation of the Atonement. Yet, at that time, Christ did establish the Church’s correct order. He knew full well that the Church would disappear, but the many truths that remained would prepare the way for the gospel’s restoration. Those truths would enable men and women to recognize the true Church when its time came in the last days.
I believe that our Catholic and Protestant brothers and sisters were, and still are, an integral part of the Lord’s plan to prepare people to receive the fulness of the gospel. They preserved essential gospel truths that made it possible for the Restoration to take place in an environment of light, rather than in one of total darkness with no understanding of Jesus Christ or his mission. They preserved a basic understanding of Jesus Christ, the crucified Lord who died for the sins of the world, as well as the many other teachings about God and his work that are found in the Bible.
However, in the latter days the Church was restored with all that was lost—and more. Most particularly, priesthood keys were returned. And with the development of superior communications, the Church can truly be a worldwide church, bound together with a common message and a single prophetic head. What Jesus established on the earth almost two millennia ago now exists once again, replete with prophets, Apostles, and Seventies.
Just as they have done for years, deeply faithful Catholic and Protestant Christians continue to preach that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the world today among many peoples, both near and far. They enrich the moral and spiritual climate of the communities in which we all live, overcoming much of the moral and spiritual poverty that would exist in the world were they not proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
True, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, there is yet more to say than other Christians can say. Yet they speak as much of God’s word as they have received, just as we speak the truths we have received. Often, the fundamentals given to people through Christian missionaries are essential to their ability to understand and accept the restored gospel when they have that opportunity.
Dale LeBaron, assistant professor of Church history at Brigham Young University, went to Africa in the summer of 1988 to interview black Latter-day Saints who had joined the Church shortly after the 1978 revelation on the priesthood. He interviewed 400 members and found that, of that number, 398 were already Christians, while 2 had been Muslims, before joining the Church. Not one member of the group came directly from a native religion. Virtually all were prepared for the message of the fulness of the gospel by previous Christian training. One has to wonder how many would have joined the Church if the Catholic and Protestant missionaries had not been in Africa ahead of the Latter-day Saints, making it a fertile field in which the fulness of the gospel could take root.
It is also no accident that the Latter-day Saint community is growing so quickly in Korea. Some 30 percent of the Korean population is Christian—more in number than those who adhere to Buddhism. By contrast, missionaries have a much more difficult time proclaiming the fulness of the gospel in Asian countries with minimal Christian populations.
No, we are not better than our religiously diverse neighbors. Many times, we are not as good! But Latter-day Saints have been given a special calling to preach the gospel in its fulness to all who seek for a deeper understanding of God.
The Lord is willing to use imperfect vessels like us to carry out his mission. But we are merely tools in the hands of the Holy Ghost, who is the only one who ever converts anybody. We are elect of God, but elected to serve—never to a status of superiority.
Humility, not arrogance, is the path the Lord has shown us. Joseph Smith once said, “Wherein do you differ from others in your religious views? In reality and essence we do not differ so far in our religious views but that we could drink into one principle of love. If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No! I will lift them up and [each] in his own way if I cannot persuade him my way is better!” (The Words of Joseph Smith, ed. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, 1980, p. 229; spelling modernized.)
I testify that Latter-day Saints have “more” than persons of other religious traditions. But that testimony creates in me a greater obligation to love my brothers and sisters, even as Christ loves them. A prayer by St. Francis of Assisi has always had great meaning to me. It was on the front of the worship bulletin used at the time of my ordination to the Presbyterian ministry, and I still firmly believe the philosophy articulated there:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred—let me sow love.
Where there is injury—pardon.
Where there is doubt—faith.
Where there is despair—hope.
Where there is darkness—light.
Where there is sadness—joy.