“The Peaceable Followers of Christ,” Ensign, Apr. 1998, 62
“The Peaceable Followers of Christ”
An address given at the Church Educational System fireside at BYU on 1 February 1998
Because of the nature of the message that I have to present, I would deeply appreciate your faith and prayers as we move forward in the meeting.
In his closing sermon, the prophet Moroni said, “I … speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ,” and he spoke further of our “peaceable walk with the children of men.”1
My preparation for this assignment has been challenging. I have determined to do something I have seldom done before—to present a message intended for someone not present with us.
My message is for those who teach and write and produce films which claim that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian church and that we, the members, are not Christians.
When faced with that question, I find myself disadvantaged—cornered, challenged. I think you young people could do a better job of answering that question than I. I find it difficult to respond without saying that such individuals are uninformed and unfair and not consistent with the spirit of Christian brotherhood. But confrontation is not the way to reason through a challenge such as this. The much better approach is to teach, to remain “peaceable followers of Christ.”
If they claimed that we do not fit the Christian mold they have designed for themselves or that we do not conform to their definition of Christian, it would be easier to reason together.
We need not justify what we believe, only to teach and to explain. Others can accept or reject as they please. They have their agency.
There is more to it than simply writing a definition of what a Christian is and then rejecting anyone who does not conform to it.
If we really are not Christians, there are some things that are left for them to explain.
For example: Suppose someone who had never heard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came upon one of our hymnbooks and asked himself, “Who published this? What do they believe? What kind of people are they?”
He would find it filled with hymns and anthems which testify of Christ, many which are revered by Christians throughout the world: “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” “Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee,” “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and more than 30 others.
He would find more than a hundred hymns written by Latter-day Saints which teach of Christ. In the spirit of worship, these hymns teach of the ministry of our Lord, our Redeemer. We sing reverently of His Crucifixion, His sacrifice for our sins, His Resurrection, His Atonement, His Ascension.
These hymns certainly are not the voice of non-Christians. Instead they reveal a people of devotion and faith who love, indeed worship, our Savior and Redeemer. Listen to a few verses selected from a few of them.
The first one, “Jesus, Once of Humble Birth,” written by Elder Parley P. Pratt, who was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, will be sung by Mark Hall, accompanied by Herbert Klopfer:
Jesus, once of humble birth,
Now in glory comes to earth.
Once he suffered grief and pain;
Now he comes on earth to reign.
Once a meek and lowly Lamb,
Now the Lord, the great I Am.
Once upon the cross he bowed;
Now his chariot is the cloud.
Once he groaned in blood and tears;
Now in glory he appears.
Once rejected by his own,
Now their King he shall be known.2
The next verses from “Behold the Great Redeemer Die,” written by Eliza R. Snow, an early president of the Relief Society, will be sung by Kimberly Hall:
Behold the great Redeemer die,
A broken law to satisfy.
He dies a sacrifice for sin,
That man may live and glory win. …
He died, and at the awful sight
The sun in shame withdrew its light!
Earth trembled, and all nature sighed
In dread response, “A God has died!”
He lives—he lives. We humbly now
Around these sacred symbols bow,
And seek, as Saints of latter days,
To do his will and live his praise.3
Finally verses from “How Great the Wisdom and the Love,” also written by Eliza R. Snow, will be sung by Brother and Sister Hall:
How great the wisdom and the love
That filled the courts on high
And sent the Savior from above
To suffer, bleed, and die!
His precious blood he freely spilt;
His life he freely gave,
A sinless sacrifice for guilt,
A dying world to save.
By strict obedience Jesus won
The prize with glory rife:
“Thy will, O God, not mine be done,”
Adorned his mortal life.
He marked the path and led the way,
And ev’ry point defines
To light and life and endless day
Where God’s full presence shines.4
Is that the voice of non-Christians?
More than 50 hymns of transcendent beauty and devotion speak in pure testimony of the Lord. They invite a spirit of reverence and worship of the Lord into the meetings of the Latter-day Saints.
How could words or music like that be written by non-Christians? Was it not the Master who asked, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”5
How do they account for such reverent tributes to the Lord? Well, that is their problem, not ours.
One reason for my feeling challenged by this claim that we are not Christians is that I do not know how to answer it without quoting from revelations, from scriptures which they reject.
Unless these critics at least understand why we accept such revelations, we will never come to agree.
Consider the name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On this subject, the Lord Himself has spoken more than once. Listen to this account from the Book of Mormon:
“And it came to pass that as the disciples of Jesus were journeying and were preaching the things which they had both heard and seen, and were baptizing in the name of Jesus, it came to pass that the disciples were gathered together and were united in mighty prayer and fasting.
“And Jesus again showed himself unto them, for they were praying unto the Father in his name; and Jesus came and stood in the midst of them, and said unto them: What will ye that I shall give unto you?
“And they said unto him: Lord, we will that thou wouldst tell us the name whereby we shall call this church; for there are disputations among the people concerning this matter.
“And the Lord said unto them: Verily, verily, I say unto you, why is it that the people should murmur and dispute because of this thing?
“Have they not read the scriptures, which say ye must take upon you the name of Christ, which is my name? For by this name shall ye be called at the last day;
“And whoso taketh upon him my name, and endureth to the end, the same shall be saved at the last day.
“Therefore, whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name; therefore ye shall call the church in my name; and ye shall call upon the Father in my name that he will bless the church for my sake.
“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel.
“Verily I say unto you, that ye are built upon my gospel; therefore ye shall call whatsoever things ye do call, in my name; therefore if ye call upon the Father, for the church, if it be in my name the Father will hear you.”6
In a revelation given in 1838, the Lord spoke to “the elders and people of my Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, scattered abroad in all the world,” saying, “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”7
Others refer to us as Mormons. I do not mind if they use that title. However, sometimes we are prone ourselves to say “Mormon Church.” I do not think it best for us to do so.
The First Presidency has told us to “keep in mind that this is the Church of Jesus Christ; please emphasize that fact in making contacts with others. … We feel that some may be misled by the too frequent use of the term ‘Mormon Church.’”8
We obey the commandment “Whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name.”9 Every prayer we offer is in His name. Every ordinance performed is in His name. Every baptism, confirmation, blessing, ordination, every sermon, every testimony is concluded with the invocation of His sacred name. It is in His name that we heal the sick and perform other miracles of which we do not, cannot, speak.
In the sacrament we take upon ourselves the name of Christ. We covenant to remember Him and keep His commandments. He is present in all that we believe.
Several years ago Sister Packer and I went to Oxford University. We were looking for the records of my seventh great-grandfather John Packer. Dr. Poppelwell, the head of Christ’s College at Oxford, was kind enough to have the archivist of Christ’s College bring the records. There in the year 1583, we found my ancestor’s name, John Packer.
The following year we returned to Oxford to present a beautifully bound set of the standard works for the library at Christ’s College. It seemed a bit awkward for the head of Christ’s College, Dr. Poppelwell. Perhaps he thought we were not really Christians. So he called for the college chaplain to receive the books.
Before handing them to the chaplain, I opened the Topical Guide and showed him references to one subject: 18 pages, very fine print, single-spaced, listing references to the one subject of Jesus Christ. It is the most comprehensive compilation of scriptural references on the subject of Jesus Christ that has ever been assembled in the history of the world—a testimony from the Old and New Testaments, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
However you follow these references, I told him, side to side, up and down, book to book, subject after subject, you will find that they are a consistent harmonious witness to the divinity of the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ—His birth, His life, His teachings, His Crucifixion, His Resurrection, and His Atonement.
The atmosphere changed and we were cordially given a tour, including an excavation revealing recently discovered murals which dated to Roman days.
Among those references listed in the Topical Guide is the one from the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ:
“We preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.”10
Christ dominates that testament page by page. He is referred to in 3,925 verses, more than half of the 6,607 verses in the book. Beginning with the title page, where the purpose of the book is given as “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God,” he is referred to as the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world, the Only Begotten of the Father, and nearly a hundred other titles. In the last phrase of the last sentence of the last verse, verse 6,607, the Savior is referred to as “the great Jehovah, the Eternal Judge.”11
It is one thing to say that we are not their kind of Christian. It is another entirely to characterize us as not being Christian at all.
There are doctrinal beliefs that will continue to be misunderstood and disturb our critics. A few of them are these:
The statement in the revelation that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.”12
Scriptures in addition to the Bible—the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price.
Continuing revelation through apostles and prophets.
The doctrine of the Godhead. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct personages, and “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s.”13
We are the literal spirit children of God, and thus have the possibility to eventually become as He is.
Marriages may continue after this life, and families can be forever.
And, of course, we are not saved by grace alone, but saved “after all we can do.”14
One need not have answers to all those questions to receive the witness of the Spirit, join the Church, and remain faithful therein. There is a knowledge that transcends rational explanations, sacred knowledge that leads to conversion.
While we can provide answers, they will not be satisfactory, however, to those who do not accept continuing revelation. To argue or debate over sacred things usually generates much more heat than light.
There is what I call the principle of prerequisites. That principle operates in school. Without the basic prerequisite course in chemistry, we will have a hard time understanding advanced chemistry, if we ever do. Not that we are not intelligent enough to understand, but a proper foundation simply has not been laid.
Paul told the Corinthians that very thing: “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”15
I suppose others are puzzled as to how we attract so many converts, or why members stay in the Church with so many questions we are not able to answer to everyone’s satisfaction.
Our critics’ belief, based on the Bible, holds that man is saved by grace alone. Theirs is by far the easier way.
Our position, also based on the Bible but strengthened by other scriptures, holds that we are saved by grace “after all we can do,”16 and we are responsible by conduct and by covenants to live the standards of the gospel.
We agree with the Apostle James that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone,” and we say to all those who make such an accusation, “Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.”17
Buttressed by covenants and ordinances, Latter-day Saints observe the law of the fast, pay tithes and offerings, send their children on missions, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”18
As converts mature spiritually, they gain “a reason [for] the hope that is in [them].”19 The gospel becomes as satisfying to the mind as it is soothing to the heart. We spend our lives learning the things of God. Those difficult questions one by one become testimonies.
“We claim the [right to worship] Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”20
A caution to those who willfully misrepresent us: They may do well to consider what Gamaliel said to his fellow Pharisees after they had arrested the Apostles:
“Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
“And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
“For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
“After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
“But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
“And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”21
Gamaliel unknowingly agreed with the Lord, who had said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.”22
I will tell you we do not talk of downsizing anything in the Church.
And so, the problem is theirs, not ours. We know whom we worship and what we worship and in whose name. They may say we believe because we were brought up that way from our youth. While true of many of us, it is not true of most. Two-thirds of us are converts who come by the waters of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Each one in the Church, born in or converted, must acquire an individual testimony.
While we must act peaceably, we need not submit to unfair accusations and unjustified opposition.
“The Lord had said unto [the Nephites], and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.”23
If our detractors organize to come against us—to disrupt our work (and that has happened before)—there will be those among them who will say, “We ought not to be doing this. This does not feel good. What we are doing is not right.” And as surely as we remain “peaceable followers of Christ,” a division will rise up among them, and they will ultimately disarm and weaken themselves.
They might learn from an old Spanish saying, Les salió el tiro por la culata, which translated means, “The bullet came out the wrong end of the gun.”
While we take the gospel of Christ to all people, we do not oppose other churches. If you meet someone who challenges our right to the title Christian, do not confront them. Teach them peaceably. We have but to remain humble and peaceable followers of Christ, for He has promised, “I will fight your battles.”24
The marvelous thing is that the Lord can manage the Church without a professional clergy. In an early revelation, He commanded “that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world;
“That faith also might increase in the earth;
“That mine everlasting covenant might be established;
“That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”25
Some of us puzzle over why, of all things, we are said to be un-Christian. But that is our lot. The prophets have told us that opposition goes with the territory. It was ever thus.
It is not an easy church to belong to. The gospel requires dedication and sacrifice. It is not an easy church to administer. With the patterns of the priesthood as they are, men and women are called from every walk of life to teach and to lead and to serve. We have members with every level of gospel knowledge, leadership ability, talents, and testimony. We learn to be patient with one another.
Eliza R. Snow wrote “Think Not, When You Gather to Zion”:
Think not when you gather to Zion,
Your troubles and trials are through,
That nothing but comfort and pleasure
Are waiting in Zion for you:
No, no, ’tis designed as a furnace,
All substance, all textures to try,
To burn all the “wood, hay, and stubble,”
The gold from the dross purify.
Think not when you gather to Zion,
That all will be holy and pure;
That fraud and deception are banished,
And confidence wholly secure:
No, no, for the Lord our Redeemer
Has said that the tares with the wheat
Must grow till the great day of burning
Shall render the harvest complete.
Think not when you gather to Zion,
The Saints here have nothing to do
But to look to your personal welfare,
And always be comforting you.
No; those who are faithful are doing
What they find to do with their might;
To gather the scattered of Israel
They labor by day and by night.
Think not when you gather to Zion,
The prize and the victory won.
Think not that the warfare is ended,
The work of salvation is done.
No, no; for the great prince of darkness
A tenfold exertion will make,
When he sees you go to the fountain,
Where freely the truth you may take.26
So, with the encouragement of the Spirit, we do the best we can and go peaceably on.
Some years ago I was invited to speak to a group of faculty and students at Harvard University. I, of course, hoped that the gospel message would be accepted and that our meeting would end in a harmony of views. As I prayed that this might result, there came to me a strong impression that this petition would not be granted.
I determined that, however preposterous the talk about angels and golden plates and restoration might be to my audience, I would teach the truth with quiet confidence, for I have a testimony of the truth. If some must come from the meeting unsettled and disturbed, it would not be me. Let them be disturbed, if they would.
It was as the Spirit foretold. Some in the group shook their heads in amazement that anyone could believe such things. But I was at peace. I had taught the truth, and they could accept it or reject it as they pleased.
There is always the hope, and often it is true, that in any group one person with an open mind and heart may admit one simple thought: “Could it possibly be true?” Combine that thought with sincere prayer, and one more soul enters a private sacred grove to find the answer to the question “Which of all the churches is true, and which should I join?”
As I grow older in age and experience, I grow ever less concerned over whether others agree with us. I grow ever more concerned that they understand us. If they do understand, they have their agency and can accept or reject the gospel as they please.
It is not an easy thing for us to defend the position that bothers so many others. But, brethren and sisters, never be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Never apologize for the sacred doctrines of the gospel. Never feel inadequate and unsettled because you cannot explain them to the satisfaction of all who might enquire of you. Do not be ill at ease or uncomfortable because you can give little more than your conviction.
Be assured that, if you will explain what you know and testify of what you feel, you may plant a seed that will grow and blossom into a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
“Behold I say unto you, that as these things are true, and as the Lord God liveth, there is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved.”27
As one of the Twelve, I bear witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. He lives. He is our Redeemer and is our Savior. He presides over this Church. He is no stranger to His servants here, and as we move into the future with quiet confidence, His spirit will be with us.
I invoke His blessing upon you, our youth, that you will have the courage of your conviction and that testimony, even though it be but a tiny seed, will grow up and bear fruits unto everlasting life. I bear witness of Him in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.