“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” (Joseph Smith History 1:19 – emphasis mine)
“Can we stop at that little fabric store?” “Sure, sweetie – I just hope I don’t get sick. You know I’m allergic to fabric stores, very much the way you’re allergic to hardware stores!” I received that look that has become so familiar – the look that manages somehow to say, “That’s really stupid, but kind of funny, but you’re not going to get away with it anyway”. So, we stopped at Auntie’s Fabrics just off of Highway 2 way up in the Idaho Panhandle.
I had heard that there was a large Mennonite community in the area – several thousand by a couple of accounts. When we walked in, I could tell by her prayer cap that the owner was Mennonite. After scoping out a few crafty knick-knacks and making sure Diana had found the fabric room, I took the opportunity to ask about their church. I learned that they were very conservative, that they try to avoid being “of the world” and to live by the teachings of the Bible. As we talked, I mentioned the power that I believe is missed by all churches. I talked about Christ’s desire to be one with us; that He desires a personal relationship with us, even an “appearance in the flesh”. I’m learning to speak more boldly in my old age.
As I said these things, I could see a veil come down and walls go up. Her eyes narrowed, and her face took on a flinty countenance. It was clear that she was going to have none of this nonsense. It was counter to what she had been taught all her life. It was counter to her interpretation of the scriptures. It was counter to her culture, and she was not going to listen to anything that contradicted those things. After all, it can’t be true if it’s inconsistent with the teachings of “the church”.
Hours later, I pondered this experience, and reviewed in my mind the look on her face. The thought came to me that there comes a point in every religion, every church, where the culture and dogma sort of take over. They become more important than the Savior; and when that happens, the church becomes destructive. Let me explain:
It wasn’t very long after I was baptized into the LDS church that I came to the conclusion that the purpose of all churches is to help the individual draw closer to Christ. Furthermore, any church that does more or less than this is not fulfilling its mission, and cannot be the Lord’s church. I would even take this idea a step further and say that this is the very definition of the “save two churches only” teaching of 1 Nephi 14:10:
10 And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.
What I learned from talking to my Mennonite friend was that she was imprisoned by the culture and dogma of her church. It gave her comfort, direction, and focus but it also enslaved her. If asked who they worshipped, she would surely say, “Jesus Christ”. Yet when presented with the invitation to truly know Him, she wouldn’t listen or entertain the idea. After all, it hadn’t been taught by the elders in her church, and if she did entertain the idea, she would probably be rejected by that church. She could lose her family, her business, her home, etc.
I personally know a family, who were devout LDS, for whom this exact scenario came about. As they began exploring scripturally-supported concepts that they believed would bring them closer to the Savior, but which were not condoned by the LDS Church, they were excommunicated from the church. Their sin? They held the sacrament in their home and were re-baptized in a personal, private service. As a result, they were literally rejected by their family, they lost their business, and they are in danger of losing their home.
Now, what was it that caused this great evil to befall this family? Do we really think the Savior disapproved of their sacraments or their ceremony of re-dedication to Him? I suggest that it was the fact that they had crossed the cultural dogma that defines the LDS Church. Am I picking on the LDS Church? Oh, no! I don’t need to! Most churches or religions fall into this particular pit of darkness. I’ll name a few…the Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Amish, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Baptists…Jews, even Muslims (especially Muslims), etc. The greater the discipline and conformance required of the members, the more likely excommunications or ostracizing (even “shunning – even death”) will come about if a person ventures publicly outside the lines.
Evangelical churches seem to minimize this phenomenon – at least to a certain extent – because they are loosely organized, and each congregation is pretty much free to develop their own culture. Excommunication is a non-issue, because people aren’t baptized into the church. They’re not officially “members with benefits”. They just show up, participate, support, etc. There are no “rolls” so-to-speak. These churches are not immune, however. If I were to “show up, participate, and support”, and bring my Book of Mormon – you can be sure I would be asked to participate just a little less. Why? Because their dogma includes the idea that scripture is limited to the Bible and “…we have got a Bible” (2 Nephi 29:6)
These churches – all of them – seem to feel the need to protect themselves. They set up walls constructed of their culture, doctrine, scripture….in short – dogma. The less structure and dogma there is, the less there is to protect, but it’s still there, or there wouldn’t be a church.
As I recalled the face of that Mennonite sister it became clear that there comes a point in the evolution of every church when the church becomes more important than the object of its worship. When that happens, the church becomes an idol that stands between the individual and the Lord – the exact opposite of what it should be. When that happens, it has become the church of the devil, because it is no longer the Church of the Lamb. It becomes a tool in the hands of satan to keep us from receiving the fullness of the gospel. Thus, “there are save two churches only”.
I recognize that communities need to define common beliefs and values. If they didn’t do that, they would not be a community. Of course, that brings up the issue of how the community responds to those who rebel against those common values? What does the community do to protect itself, to protect its very definition? I don’t know the answer to this question. Perhaps a more important question is, “How will Zion be bound together?” I believe Zion will be bound together by the Holy Spirit. It alone has the power to teach the values, or the will, of Christ, and to teach it in such a way that each individual receives it clearly.
It is clear to me that all churches I am aware of have fallen prey at least somewhat to the phenomenon that I’ve described. None are immune. The bigger they are, the more profound the impact. If we are to be members of the “Church of the Lamb”, if that church is to thrive and hold influence on the earth, its members must learn to keep sacred that conduit between the individual and the Lord , so the Lord can teach without the individual being bound by the flaxen cord of church dogma. We must further learn to be guided by the spirit, minimize judgment, and eliminate unrighteous dominion. Until we can do this, there shall be “save one church only”, and it will not be the Church of the Lamb.