A Disciple, a Friend
The real issue is not how others define us but how the Savior defines us.
Some years ago when I was working in a different organization, our personnel director, a devout Catholic, came into my office with his secretary, Darlene. I could readily see that Darlene was not there of her own free will and would rather be elsewhere. The personnel director’s greeting words to me were, “Will you please tell Darlene that Mormons are Christian. I have been arguing with her for over half an hour, and I cannot convince her of that fact. She needs to hear it from you.”
My first concern was, have I done something in my own life that would cause Darlene to question my faith in and loyalty to the Savior? But then I quickly recognized that her doubts were not directed to me personally.
After inviting them to sit down, I asked Darlene why she thought we were not Christians. Her answer was that her minister had told her so. I asked her if she knew the official name of the Church. She did not. She knew the Church only by the name of Mormon. I explained the name to be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then asked if it did not seem like a rather odd name for a church that supposedly was not Christian. I next asked my Catholic friend if he would explain from our many hours of discussions on airplanes, in hotels, at dinners, and during other private occasions some of the things he had learned about us as they related to Christ, His teachings, and our beliefs. He explained them with perhaps more credibility than I could have done.
Darlene’s response was that her minister had told her that we did not believe in the Bible, which we had replaced with the Book of Mormon. I replied by sharing the eighth article of faith: “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
I then explained that the Book of Mormon was further scripture complementing the Bible and providing another witness of Christ. It expounded and clarified many of Christ’s most sacred and important teachings. Her response was, “My minister says the Book of Mormon cannot contain the teachings of Christ because there could be no more revelations after the death of the Apostles; thus, no more scripture after the Bible.” My query to her was, “At a time of such rapid change in a turbulent and troubled world, with so many perplexing problems, wouldn’t it make you wonder why a loving Father would cease to communicate with His children, whom He loved enough that He sacrificed His Only Begotten Son for them?” The discussion continued for the next 15 to 20 minutes, with my attempting to explain our literal interpretation of the Atonement, the Resurrection, and other important doctrines of the Savior. I ended with the strongest testimony I could give of a loving Father and a willing Son.
At the conclusion of our discussion her response was the same, “My minister has spoken, and that is the way it is.” And that is the way the matter was left, leaving me both disappointed and somewhat bothered by the misunderstanding.
It is interesting how the lack of understanding by a few can innocently or purposely misguide many. Judging another’s heart and conscience is probably best left to the righteous Judge of us all. Surely the final determination as to who is a true disciple of Christ will be left to the Savior, who said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep” (John 10:14).
After being introduced to a few basic doctrines of the Church, the Reverend Charles Taylor, a minister friend of mine, called to tell me of his enlightened understanding of the gospel. With some excitement he stated: “When you take the time to study the teachings and the doctrines of the Mormon Church, it becomes clear that Mormons are truly Christians. In fact, I have never met more Christlike people than the Mormons I have recently become acquainted with.”
I responded that I would be interested in hearing his further feelings and understanding after he had had a chance to read the Book of Mormon and could witness its testimony and teachings of the Savior. His response: “I am already reading the Book of Mormon, and it is wonderful to read. It has expanded my understanding of Christ and His mission. I feel a wonderful spirit as I read it.”
My friend took the time to learn for himself before forming a judgment. He did not try to influence others based on lack of understanding or misconception. This seemed responsible to me—seeking understanding before judging, and certainly before trying to persuade another to one’s own misconceptions.
To my friend Darlene, may I again point out that Jesus Christ is central to every doctrine, every ordinance, and every principle of the Church—as its very name suggests. The Book of Mormon testifies of Jesus Christ, giving emphasis and clarification to His teachings. The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi declared to the world, “And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in 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” (2 Ne. 25:26).
Nephi further stated, “There is none other name given under heaven save it be this Jesus Christ, of which I have spoken, whereby man can be saved” (2 Ne. 25:20).
Over the years I have pondered this experience with my friend Darlene, bothered by its conclusion. However, I have since concluded that viewpoints based on misunderstandings and fallacious teachings should not trouble me, except as I have a responsibility to attempt to clarify such misconceptions. The real issue is not how others define us but how the Savior defines us. So the question is, how does He personally view each and every one of us?
Therefore, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we need to focus our concern with our own relationship to our Heavenly Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the last moments of my father’s righteous and exemplary life, with all of the strength he could muster, he uttered in a hardly audible voice, “I only hope the Savior will find me worthy to call me His friend.” Oh, to be called a friend of the Savior! As my father yearned, I also wondered, would Christ count me as one of His sheep? Would He see me striving to exemplify His teachings and live His divine principles? Would He call me a disciple? Would He call me a friend? This is what really matters.
The Savior gave the criteria for His friendship in the 15th chapter of John, in which He states, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you” (John 15:14). He further gave the acid test when He said, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16; see also Matt. 7:17–18, 20). This is how we will all be judged—by our fruits, good or bad. In the final judgment, if our fruits so warrant, we will be invited to sit on the right hand of God. There I believe will be His friends.
So, if we, even in our weak and stumbling way, are earnestly striving to live a Christlike life, how others choose to characterize us should be of little consequence. The responsibility for our Christianity is ours. Others may characterize us as they will, but the true and righteous Judge will judge us as we are. Our discipleship is for us to determine, not someone else.
When we were baptized we each voluntarily took upon ourselves the name of Christ. The taking of His name upon ourselves results in a covenant to follow His teachings. We have a chance to renew our covenants and take inventory of our daily lives every time we partake of the sacrament.
We can all ask ourselves the standard questions: Are we praying daily, personally and as a family? Are we reading the scriptures? Are we holding our family home evenings and paying our tithing? The list can go on. But the real question is: Are we becoming a disciple? Are we becoming a friend?
Alma queried: “Have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?” (Alma 5:14). The bottom line is the change in our hearts—a change that results in a change in living.
Alma’s subsequent questions went beyond the general to the specific. He queried:
“Have ye walked, keeping yourselves blameless before God?”
“If ye were called to die at this time, … have [ye] been sufficiently humble?”
“Are ye stripped of pride?” (Alma 5:27–28).
Today we might add to these questions:
Do we love our brothers as ourselves?
Are we totally honest in our business dealings and other relationships?
Are we putting our families first—before our own self-interest?
Have we done any good in the world today?
Are we following the admonition and the teachings of the prophet?
Yes, the question is, do our outward devotions translate into a Christlike life? It is not enough that we just talk of Christ, preach of Christ, or even prophesy of Christ (see 2 Ne. 25:26). We must live of Christ, for it is by our own personal, everyday living that the Savior will determine whether we are one of His true disciples, a friend.
To the Darlenes of the world, I would hope that our fruits would merit the term Christian. And to us who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I would hope that our deeds, our actions, our hearts, and our countenances exemplify the teachings of the Savior and display our gratitude for His great sacrifice for all of us.
To those who wonder how Christ fits into our theology and our personal lives, we testify that Christ is the Redeemer of the world. He is our Lord, our Light, and our Savior. He was ordained from on high to descend below all, to suffer above all! He is the focus of all that we teach and all we do. As a Church we are individual Christians, trying to prove our discipleship to the Savior. It is not an institutional matter, it is a personal matter.
It is my testimony that He lived, He died, and He lives. He atoned for our sins. It is my prayer that we will each live our lives and make our devotions in such a way as to be clearly recognizable, by member and nonmember alike, as true disciples of the living Christ. But more important, I pray that we may be so recognized by the true and righteous Judge of us all, even the Lord Jesus Christ. What greater reward can any of us receive than to be acknowledged by Him as a true and faithful servant—a disciple, a friend. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.