Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Do all roads lead to God? Why does there have to be one true church?
This is part of a question that I received from a friend of mine. I have edited my answer both for the sake of clarity, and also to remove any personal references that might infringe on the privacy of my friend.
Q: What’s with the one true church thing? Sometimes it just feels like they (the LDS church) want me to join some elitist club or something. Is the whole “one true” thing really necessary? Like I said, I believe in logic, and the LDS seem to make the most sense, but what does it matter if I’m a card carrying member if I believe?
A: Concerning the question of whether there is one true faith that is correct above all others, C.S. Lewis pointed out that “As in arithmetic-there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.”
The most common misconception that I came across while I was serving a proselyting mission was this one: “All churches are good, as long as they lead you to God. There is no such thing as one true church.” I was also repeatedly informed “I don’t need to go to a church, as long as I worship him in my heart. I’m my own church-that way no matter where I go I can still worship God.” I also heard this one occasionally: “It doesn’t matter which church I attend, since they’re all a little bit wrong.” Many of the people that told me these things also maintained that they did not “believe in organized religion.”
The notion that all roads lead to God is a false one that will only serve to confuse and distract a humble seeker of truth from obtaining that which he truly seeks.
“There are so many different religious systems in the world, each claiming not only to be right but to be divine, that a rational mind, unwarped by sect or creed, is likely to become bewildered and disgusted in efforts to reach and embrace religious truth. The claim frequently put forth that all the Christian sects are right is a palpable absurdity. Truth is always consistent with itself. It is error that causes confusion. Two opposing systems cannot both be correct. They may both be wrong, but it is impossible for both to be right. There may be some truth in every religion that has been foisted upon the world. Indeed, without that no system could have continued existence. It is that portion of each religion which is true that keeps it alive and makes its errors plausible.
To say that God is the author of the conflicting religions which distract mankind, is to charge him with inconsistency and folly. That which comes from God must of necessity be true. This needs no argument; it is so self-evident that many thinking people, beholding the contention and strife of ages over religious affairs, have formed the opinion that all religions are human, conceived in the minds of men and promulgated for selfish purposes. Yet, admitting that there is a Supreme Being, the Creator of all things, who is the embodiment of truth, justice, mercy, wisdom, and love, it seems unreasonable to think that He would leave His intelligent creatures without a guide on the road to the eternal future.
One of the great errors into which people have fallen in reference to religion is that God must accept any mode of worship, any sort of ordinances, and any kind of church that men may establish, so long as they are sincere in their intentions and devout in their desires. God must be worshiped not only in spirit, but in truth [see John 4:23-24]. His word is truth. His spirit is the spirit of truth. God's religion, then, will be the truth, and nothing but the truth, and he will accept of nothing short of this. The inventions of men, whatever may be their motives, are not of God, and therefore, are vain.” (Charles W. Penrose, Rays of Living Light. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1904)
Despite what many in the world might tell you, all roads do not lead to God, as convenient as that might seem. To the end that we might understand this, Christ warns us (in Matthew 7:13-14): “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
As Paul stated unequivocally in Ephesians 4:5-There is "One Lord, One Faith, one Baptism". Later in the chapter he explains that Christ himself established an organized church that consisted of prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors (bishops), and teachers. Paul goes on to state in 4:12-16 the Lord's purpose in creating such an organization:
"For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (note the singular -body-): Till we all come in the UNITY of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love."
So to review:
The church organization was established by Christ for:
1) The perfecting of the saints
2) The work of the ministry
3) For the edifying (or building up) of the body of Christ
4) To the end of establishing UNITY of faith and of the knowledge of Christ
5) That we might become "a perfect man" and so measure up to the full stature of Christ himself.
6) In doing so we will no longer be children, and we will "grow up into him in all things"
Paul also points out that Christ is the head of the body that is the church, and that body is indeed one body, "fitly joined together...according to the effectual working in the measure of every part". Emphasizing that Christ's church is not a collection of loosely held sects that vary in doctrine and practice, but rather is one uniform body under Christ's direction through the organization of "Apostles...Prophets...evangelists...pastors...and teachers" which he himself established.
Paul echoes and elaborates on this when he says in 1 Corinthians 12:13:
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit."
He then reiterates the need for, and importance of the apostles and prophets, and the rest of the organization of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
The Church that Jesus Christ established was never intended to be divided-in fact, according to Paul, strife and division in the church is a sure sign of heresy:
“But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God. Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that ye come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” (1 Corinthians 11:16-19)
“For God is not [the author] of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
Ours is a Message of Peace, Love, and Respect
Whenever the notion that there might be just one true church comes up, I have noticed that people's hackles immediately start to go up. This is almost as true in the church as it is among those who are not members. It has become inconsiderate and incredibly rude to insist that there must be one true church, and one only. I suppose that, by default, these people interpret such statements to mean that we consider all other churches must be lies, and that those who follow them are doomed to hell.
I understand the confusion. After all, I have been told countless times that my membership in my church means that I will be going to hell, by people of other faiths who acted like they were doing me a favor by telling me so. Naturally, I understand how perplexing it is to be told point-blank that my church is more than just wrong, but that it is actually the work of the devil. Fortunately, this is not even remotely what we are trying to say about other churches by insisting, along with the Apostle Paul, that there must be one true church.
In response to sensitivity over this subject, I wish to stress that declaring the one true faith is not a matter of one-upsmanship, as if we are promoting the virtues of our sports team over that of all others. Nor are we attempting to attack the religion or faith of others. In fact, we recognize the value and the virtue in faiths of all kinds:
"Let me say first that we respect all other churches. We do not stand out in opposition to other churches. We respect all men for the good that they do and we say to those of all churches, we honor the good that you do and we invite you to come and see what further good we can do for you" (Gordon B. Hinckley, in Palmer; Keller; Choi; Toronto (1997). Religions of the World: A Latter-day Saint View. Brigham Young University).
However, the fact remains that we have been given the fulness of the Gospel, and that with such knowledge we have a responsibility to share it with the world. However, we have no interest in forcing or compelling others to hear our message, and harmony with other faiths is one of our own principle articles of faith:
Articles of Faith 1:11 We claim the privilege of worshiping 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.
In view of our own history, in which Latter-day Saints have suffered from religious intolerance and even persecution, religious freedom is one of our most dearly held precepts, as declared by Joseph Smith himself:
"The same principle that would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination…. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon I am bold to declare before heaven that I am just as ready to die for a presbyterian, a baptist or any other denomination. It is a love of liberty which inspires my soul, civil and religious liberty…. If I esteem mankind to be in error shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up and in their own way, too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better" (Joseph Smith, in Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 313).
We do not condemn the beliefs of others, nor do we discriminate against other faiths, yet we have an obligation to teach the truth in love. Fortunately, there is much truth in other faiths which complements what we have to offer:
"We don't ask any people to throw away any good they have got; we only ask them to come and get more" (Joseph Smith, in Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979), 275).
"God be thanked for His marvelous bestowal of testimony, authority, and doctrine associated with this, the restored Church of Jesus Christ.
This must be our great and singular message to the world. We do not offer it with boasting. We testify in humility but with gravity and absolute sincerity. We invite all, the whole earth, to listen to this account and take measure of its truth. God bless us as those who believe in His divine manifestations and help us to extend knowledge of these great and marvelous occurrences to all who will listen. To these we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it. This invitation I extend to men and women everywhere with my solemn testimony that this work is true, for I know the truth of it by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith," Ensign, November 2002, 78).
Truth is truth, and all humble seekers of truth ought to be interested in finding the most truth that they can, regardless of where it is to be found. In contrast to the insistence of many others that we are going to hell for belonging to the wrong religion, Mormons do not believe that those of other faiths are damned, and we see ourselves as having much in common with all who genuinely seek to serve God. We do our best to preach Christ's gospel in its fulness out of a genuine love for our fellow man, and out of a desire to share those blessings which have brought us such great happiness.
For more on this subject, please see my article: What happens to people of other faiths after they die?
The Search for God's Church is a Personal Journey
The quest for one true church is not about becoming a card-carrying member of any elitist club. While we do not recognize the baptisms performed by other churches, being a member of God’s church does not make a person superior to (or even necessarily more righteous than) another who is not a member. It does make you "peculiar", and it does afford you special blessings conditioned upon your righteousness, as Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:9-10:
"But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy."
Simply being numbered among the "people of God" is not an automatic guarantee of salvation however, as Christ declares in Matthew 22:14: "For many are called, but few are chosen." The only thing that gives people in the church a leg up on salvation compared to the people outside of it is that the people in the church are fully aware of just how far they have left to go, and also that they have access (through the priesthood of God) to the necessary infrastructure (namely the principles and ordinances of the gospel) with which they can do something about it. It then falls to each individual to choose whether or not to follow Christ by living the gospel. In this sense those within the church do have an advantage over those who are without, and yet they also have a greater responsibility to the Lord, as He states in D&C 82:3 (see also Luke 12:48):
“For of him unto whom much is given much is required; and he who sins against the greater light shall receive the greater condemnation.”
The church is designed to help all of God's children GRADUALLY learn and grow into eventual perfection. As the old saying goes, "The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints". As Christ himself put it in Luke 5:29-32 when asked why he ate with publicans and sinners--"They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
The quest for God’s church is about your personal salvation irrespective of the status of ANYONE else in this or any other world. On judgment day, can you honestly look into God's eyes and tell him that you are his, if you will not take his name upon you now? If you have not already been baptized, there is no vast conspiracy to assimilate you into some sort of collective by the faceless "Mormon Mafia". What I am talking about is your personal salvation. The reason there is only one true church is because there is only one way to come to God, namely through Christ, and the church is the apparatus that Christ has established to help us to do that. You have the chance to cast off the chains of sin that the devil has laid upon you, and to lay them at the Savior's feet. His arms stand open to receive you in warm and understanding and loving embrace. Do not turn away from Him for the sake of some kind of misguided "independence".
This is between you and God. If you want to know if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed the “one true church”, then take it to Him. Get down on your knees and ask him for help and instruction and guidance and FAITH. It is not enough to merely accept Christ and His gospel based purely on logic and intellect. You must also invest your heart and your soul, and take the risk of belief, or in other words, make a leap of faith. (That is why the great commandment in the law, as explained by Christ in Matthew 22:36-40 instructs us to love God with ALL our heart, soul, AND mind.) Faith is a gift that can only come from God, so stop looking elsewhere. Choose to embrace the Savior, and you will naturally come to value and treasure His church, and the blessings that come through the organization which Christ himself created and established for your benefit and for the good of all of his children.