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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Woven Together and Strengthened

            As I studied an Ensign article this morning, I felt impressed to review it for my blog post today. I remember hearing Elder David A. Bednar give this talk – “Gather Together in One All Things in Christ” – in the November 2018 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I could hear his voice in my mind as I read his words. I believe his words, and I also believe that they are worth reviewing. An interesting side note is that I found this talk on the Church website as “The Talk of the Week.”

            Elder Bednar begins his talk by saying that a rope is made of single strands woven together and can be made out of various materials. He says that the “unexceptional” material “can be woven together and become exceptionally strong.” He compares the rope with its “many intertwined individual strands” with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Just as a rope obtains its strength from many intertwined individual strands, so the gospel of Jesus Christ provides the greatest perspective of truth and offers the richest blessings as we heed the admonition of Paul to “gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Ephesians 1:10). Importantly, this vital gathering of truth is centered in and focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ because He is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

            After making the comparison between a rope and the gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder Bednar connects them to the operations of the Church of Jesus Christ. He says that the “historic adjustments” announced that day “have only one overarching purpose: to strengthen faith in Heavenly Father and His plan and in His son, Jesus Christ, and His Atonement.”

            Elder Bednar says that the “Sunday meeting schedule was not simply shortened. Rather, we now have increased opportunities and responsibilities as individuals and families to use our time for enhancing the Sabbath as a delight at home and at church.” He also states that the “organizational of the priesthood quorums was not merely changed. Rather, emphasis and strength were given to a higher and holier way of ministering to our brothers and sisters.”

Much like the braided strands of a rope produce a powerful and durable tool, all of these interrelated actions are part of a unified effort to better align the focus, resources, and work of the Savior’s restored Church with its fundamental mission: to assist God in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children. Please do not focus primarily upon the logistical aspects of what has been announced. We must not allow procedural details to obscure the overarching spiritual reasons these changes now are being made.

Our desire is that faith in the Father’s plan and in the Savior’s redeeming mission might increase in the earth and that God’s everlasting covenant might be established. [See Doctrine and Covenants 1:21-22.] Our only objectives are to facilitate continuing conversion to the Lord and to love more completely and serve more effectively our brothers and sisters.

            Continuing, Elder Bednar counsels us to not create checklists of “topics to study and tasks to accomplish” because that would make us like the Pharisees and potentially “constrain our understanding and vision.”

The purpose and purification, the happiness and joy, and the continuing conversion and protection that come from “yielding [our] hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35) and “[receiving] his image in [our] countenances” (Alma 5:14) cannot be obtained merely by performing and checking off all the spiritual things we are supposed to do.

Rather, the power of the Savior’s gospel to transform and bless us flows from discerning and applying the interrelatedness of its doctrine, principles, and practices. Only as we gather together in one all things in Christ with firm focus upon Him, can gospel truths synergistically enable us to become what God desires us to become (See Matthew 5:48; 3 Nephi 12:48.) and endure valiantly to the end (See Doctrine and Covenants 121:29.).

            Elder Bednar compares the gospel of Jesus Christ to “a magnificent tapestry of truth.” He says that we will be blessed with “precious perspective and increased spiritual capacity” as we “learn and link together revealed gospel truths.” As we follow the principle of gathering together in one – even in Him, Elder Bednar says that we will change from “checklists into a unified, integrated, and complete whole.” He continues his explanation by using both a doctrinal and a Church example.

            The doctrinal example is Article of Faith 1:4: “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.”

            Continuing, Elder Bednar explains, “Exercising faith in Christ is trusting and placing our confidence in Him as our Savior, on His name, and in His promises.” As we trust the Savior, we want to repent and turn away from evil. “Repentance is trusting in and relying upon the Redeemer to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” As we exercise faith and repent, our next step is baptism. “The ordinance of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins requires us to trust in Him, rely upon Him, and follow Him.” After baptism comes the baptism of the Holy Ghost. “The ordinance of laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost requires us to trust in Him, rely upon Him, follow Him, and press forward in Him with the assistance of His Holy Spirit.”

The fourth article of faith does not simply identify the fundamental principles and ordinances of the restored gospel. Rather, this inspired statement of beliefs gathers together in one all things in Christ: trusting in and on Him, relying upon Him, following Him, and pressing forward with Him – even in Him.

            The second example is how all the programs and initiatives of the Church are gathered together in one. He mentions President Spencer W. Kimball’s instructions in 1978 for members to stay in “their native lands and establish strong stakes by gathering the family of God and teaching them the ways of the Lord.” President Kimball also indicated that temples would be built and Saints would be blessed wherever they lived.

            In 1980 President Kimball felt that members of the Church needed to be home more and instituted the three-hour block to “reemphasize personal and family responsibility for learning, living, and teaching the gospel.” In 1995 this emphasis on family and home was affirmed when President Gordon B. Hinckley introduced “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.” President Hinckley announced the building of small temples in 1998 and the Perpetual Education Fund in 2001.

            President Thomas S. Monson emphasized going to the rescue and caring for the poor and the needy as well temporal preparedness. In 2012 the Self-Reliance Services initiative was implemented. For several years the Brethren emphasized the importance of making the Sabbath day a delight. Elder Bednar says that this emphasis prepared us for the announcement of the shortened Sunday meeting schedule. In addition, the “Melchizedek priesthood quorums were strengthened and aligned more effectively with the auxiliaries to accomplish a higher and holier approach to ministering.”

I believe that the sequence and timing of these actions over many decades can help us to see one united and comprehensive work and not just a series of independent and discrete initiatives. “God has revealed a pattern of spiritual progress for individuals and families through ordinances, teaching, programs, and activities that are home centered and Church supported. Church organizations and programs exist to bless individuals and families and are not ends in themselves.”

            Elder Bednar hopes and prays that we will “recognize the Lord’s work as one great worldwide work that is becoming ever more home centered and Church supported.” In closing he goes back to the example of the rope that was “created as individual strands of material are twisted or braided together into a rope.” He then promises that we will have “increased perspective, purpose, and power … evident in our learning and living of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ as we strive to gather together in one all things in Christ – even in Him.”

            I remember listening carefully as Elder Bednar presented his talk, but I almost felt like it was new material as I studied it this morning. Suddenly, I gained a greater understanding of the events that have taken place over the past forty years or so. I can now see that they are not just a series of events and changes but a succession of “adjustments” needed to bring us closer to Christ. I really appreciate having this clearer picture. I also appreciate the timing of the adjustments and how they came about. Clearly, they were planned by an all-knowing God!

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