Friday, April 20, 2012

How to Overcome Temptation and Trials: Why the Sunday School Answers are not Enough

There is a misconception about the so-called Sunday school answers (prayer and scripture study and church attendance) that I wish to dispel:

The acts of prayer and scripture study and even church attendance, while vital components in our personal efforts to become more like Christ, do not of themselves confer upon anyone any kind of talismanic protection, be that from temptation, trial, or depredation.

Case in point:  it is common to hear people who are presented with a grievous spiritual challenge such as same gender attraction, or an addiction of some kind, etc.  who declare that they feel that if only they could pray even harder and be even more diligent in studying their scriptures then they might be able to "fix" themselves.  Their hope is that by being "more righteous than righteous" they can somehow demonstrate to God the sincerity of their desire to be rid of the "thorn in the flesh" which plagues them.  They are inevitably disappointed in this effort, which often leads to disillusionment and frustration on their part, and more often than not this leads them to give up on themselves and/or the church, or even God.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Is it a sin if I don’t go to church? Am I a bad person if I do not attend church regularly?

We have been commanded to attend church and to worship God on the Lord’s day in many places throughout the scriptures. One of the Big Ten is to keep the Sabbath day holy. The author of Hebrews (v. Hebrews 10:23-25) enjoins us as Christians to:

...Hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Paul goes on to exhort us to: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3:16)

A more specific set of instructions is contained in Doctrine and Covenants section 59:7-12 where the Lord commands:

Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things. Thou shalt offer a sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in righteousness, even that of a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day; For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High; Nevertheless thy vows shall be offered up in righteousness on all days and at all times; But remember that on this, the Lord’s day, thou shalt offer thine oblations and thy sacraments unto the Most High, confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord.

Just because we have been commanded to attend church doesn’t mean that you should attend church just because you are afraid that you will be punished for skipping church. Compulsory church attendance defeats the purpose of going to church in the first place. I have found that there is a tendency among members of the LDS church to equate regular attendance with righteousness. This is often accompanied by the implicit conclusion that those who do not attend church regularly must therefore be wicked in some way. While it is assuredly true that those who are truly converted (and who therefore are striving to be as righteous as a flawed mortal can be) tend to attend church as regularly as is within their power (out of a sincere love and devotion to God), it does not necessarily follow that those who attend church regularly are, by default association, righteous by virtue of their regular attendance alone.

"Some have come to think of activity in the Church as the ultimate goal. Therein lies a danger. It is possible to be active in the Church and less active in the gospel. Let me stress: activity in the Church is a highly desirable goal; however, it is insufficient. Activity in the Church is an outward indication of our spiritual desire. If we attend our meetings, hold and fulfill Church responsibilities, and serve others, it is publicly observed. By contrast, the things of the gospel are usually less visible and more difficult to measure, but they are of greater eternal importance. For example, how much faith do we really have? How repentant are we? How meaningful are the ordinances in our lives? How focused are we on our covenants?" (Donald L. Hallstrom, "Converted to His Gospel through His Church", Ensign May 2012)
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