I had a thought a few weeks back I meant to type up and post.
Sometimes we start to accuse ourselves or others of becoming to much like the Pharisees. But what exactly would that mean?
I think it’s more than just “too many rules.” I think the Nephites, in several places, give us a clue. Remember how several times they (and they describe the Jews this way too) forget about Christ as the center? Whether it be Sherem coming to Jacob or the priests of Noah talking with Abiniadi, this was an on-going problem for the Nephites. But, as Nephi points out, they still keep the Law of Moses. Having rules wasn’t the problem, or even having lots of rules: the problem came whenever they forgot that Christ saved them, not those rules. God can require anything he wants of us; King Benjamin, others, point out that “all he asks” is that we keep the commandments, and God can give us as many or few of those as He wants to! But the problem – the only problem – comes when those commandments are taken as the road to salvation, rather than the road we trod in being faithful to salvation, to grace.
So, with that in mind…
I try not to think about opinions that create divisions in the church, but I think this might be a way to think about some things I see going on. I know that there are many who think that the rules about modesty, for example, are Pharisaic. And after writing this post, I can see what they are saying. But only in this way: if we teach modesty without first teaching about the love and grace of Christ that actually saves us, then we’ve missed it. (And I totally agree this goes on all the time.) If we can talk about modesty in the context of consecrating all we have to God, then modesty becomes a commandment we keep in fidelity to our covenant with God – that covenant which pronounced our trust that God saves us, and we will follow Him and give our all to Him.
However, I know many who feel like our members are not involved enough in giving to the poor. I can see how their concerns are justified. They feel like too many members assume that if they’ve earned their money, then the poor could have too. I can see the concerns about how the poor are talked about, at least locally. It would be a good thing, in many ways, if we become quite concerned that we as a people aren’t keeping that commandment and try to help others see that they need to be more free with their substance. But, even if we teach this important principle without first converting to Christ, we have missed it. It would be easy to become obsessed with this problem in among members, but I think there is no way to actually teach them to change without first starting with the common denominator, and real heart of things anyway: Christ, the atonement, and our relation to Him.
Or, in other words, it’s like that quotation I used to hear a lot growing up – “Christ takes the slums out of the people and they take themselves out of the slums.” Whether we are concerned about bad language the youth are using, about marriages falling apart, about lack of respect during baptism temple trips, about chastity, about the way women are treated in certain circumstances or cultures – all of this can be best tackled, it seems to me, by teaching and teaching and teaching about Christ, and really helping others convert to Christ. If grace and the scriptures mean something real to us, then the rest will follow in due course. And if it doesn’t? What if we really want to see change in our ward but even when this is taught and people seem to get it they don’t change? Well – guess what? Christ can still save them, and this church, and us, even if we don’t see the change we want. And that’s important to remember too.
So is modesty important? If God commanded it, it is! Is scripture study important? If God commanded it, it is! Is treating people of different races and genders with kindness and respect important? If God commanded it, it is! Is taking care of the poor important? If God commanded it, it is! Is motherhood important? If God commanded it, it is. Are the Priesthood ordinances, including the endowment and temple sealing important? If God commanded it, it is. All of this is important and YES we need to teach about these things. I’m just hoping to always teach them, when I have a chance to teach, in a way that first points, completely and without compromise, to Christ. Then to teach whatever we do know about the commandment after that. But only after that!
Well, anyway, as usual, at least there’s a few thoughts there to start with. 🙂