Friday, March 30, 2007

Separate From the World

For the past few years President Hinkley has tried to make people of the world, particularly the United States, more familiar with Mormons. He has gone on television many times and talked about his faith and the Church in general. It is hard to say how successful that has been in changing perceptions. His main message has been that Latter-day Saints are different, but not weird. Although "weird" is a matter of opinion, the gospel demands that we be different from the world. Those who wish to "be in the world, but not of it," often are not sure where to draw the line.

What can be known, for those striving to follow the Savior as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is that we must be spiritually seperate from anyone else. That means a difference in how we act, talk, and think. Becoming too much like others goes against our mandate:
We live in the world. We work in the world. But we must rise above the world as we pursue the work of the Lord and seek to build His kingdom in the earth.
- Gordon B. Hinckley, “The State of the Church,” Ensign, Nov 2003, 4

The reason for this is clear. Members of the Church have been called out of the world and given huge responsibilities and promises. We are something special:
9 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:

10 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.
- 1 Peter 2: 9-10

Sadly, because so many are caught up in the world, we don't measure up to the standards set by Jesus Christ. The reason for this is often members want to be just like everyone else. Even those who are members in good standing still continue to live in a way not becoming someone who is asked to be an example to those without the gospel. Probably those most at risk of losing sight of God are the rich or materialistic:
53 And now my beloved brethren, I say unto you, can ye withstand these sayings; yea, can ye lay aside these things, and trample the Holy One under your feet; yea, can ye be puffed up in the pride of your hearts; yea, will ye still persist in the wearing of costly apparel and setting your hearts upon the vain things of the world, upon your riches?

54 Yea, will ye persist in supposing that ye are better one than another; yea, will ye persist in the persecution of your brethren, who humble themselves and do walk after the holy order of God, wherewith they have been brought into this church, having been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, and they do bring forth works which are meet for repentance—

55 Yea, and will you persist in turning your backs upon the poor, and the needy, and in withholding your substance from them?

56 And finally, all ye that will persist in your wickedness, I say unto you that these are they who shall be hewn down and cast into the fire except they speedily repent.

57 And now I say unto you, all you that are desirous to follow the voice of the good shepherd, come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things; and behold, their names shall be blotted out, that the names of the wicked shall not be numbered among the names of the righteous, that the word of God may be fulfilled, which saith: The names of the wicked shall not be mingled with the names of my people.
- Alma 5: 53-57

Many will point the finger at the rich as if that is a sign of unrighteousness after reading Scripture like this. They would be mistaken, because what we do with or how much money we have is not the only sign of following after the world. A person can sin and lead a worldly existance with no money.

The reason riches are talked so much against is because it becomes so much easier to get away with other sins. The more access someone has to money, power, and fame, the more tempting to forget God. That is why people in the Book of Mormon continued to fall from Grace. They wanted it all, and would do anything to get it:
4 And seeing the people in a state of such awful wickedness, and those Gadianton robbers filling the judgment-seats—having usurped the power and authority of the land; laying aside the commandments of God, and not in the least aright before him; doing no justice unto the children of men;

5 Condemning the righteous because of their righteousness; letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills . . .
-Helaman 7: 4-5

Another problem is our attitude about accepting the world's version of truth. It is true that we are asked to gain an education. However, that doesn't mean we must start thinking like the world just because we often use their methods. Too many become confused or skeptical because they learn something that doesn't conform with doctrine or the Church's standards. Some start combining what the world says with Scriptures and end up without a spiritual foundation.

This isn't because secular knowledge doesn't have anything to offer in understanding spiritual knowledge. Rather, it is because often the secular learning determines the spiritual point of view. At the least it should be the other way around if we are truely to seperate ourselves from the world. More importantly, it is because the gospel cannot be understood by the methods of the world because it is not part of it. In fact, it often goes against it. The Apostle Paul had a good amount of worldly knowledge. He sometimes used it to his advantage. What he didn't believe was any of his learning had anything to do with the gospel. For example, he said:
17 For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect.

18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.

20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.

22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.
- 1 Corinthians 1: 17- 29

What should we do with worldly learning if we are not to use it to better our gospel understanding? That is a hard question to answer and one I have not completely been able to come to a conclusion. What I do know is that strong anti-intellectualism is not the answer. Gaining knowledge, of the world and the spirit, is a primary responsibility to personal growth.

The gospel should help us better understand worldly learning. This is not an easy task, but one that is demanded of us as followers of Jesus Christ and people of faith. Obviously, as Paul points out, such a position will be looked down upon and mocked by those who do not believe the same. Too many times priorities are reversed from what they should be, and a loss of faith is the outcome. At times an "I don't know" is a better course than choosing sides. Still, there are also times where a choice of what to believe has to be picked.

Even more importantly is that, as 1 Corinthians continues its "crusade" against participating too much in the world, the Saints are ultimately the judges of the world:
1 Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?
2 Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?
4 If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.
5 I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?
6 But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.
7 Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?
8 Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.
- 1 Corinthians 6: 1-8

There are two issues in these paragraphs. The first is that the Saints are defrauding one another when they should be a mutual support. The second, and main argument, is that the Saints are going to the law to settle their differences. For those who are supposed to be apart from the world, they are giving it too much power or influence in their lives.

Before any legal actions should be taken, it would be prudent to find an "in house" solution. Priesthood leadership might not have secular authority. However, they have been given authority to be judges of Israel to help work out differences and problems. Seeking eclasiastical help should be more of a priority.

Deciding how much to participate in the world is an act of judgment that is essential to becoming spiritually mature. It is clear that bounderies must be drawn. what those bounderies are can be difficult, but there is help:
President Lee said on one occasion to the youth of the Church: “We don’t pray that you may be withdrawn into a ‘Shangri-la’ away from the evils of the world, because you are to be a leaven wherever you are, to bring about righteousness, but we are pleading with the Lord with all our might that while you are in the world, you may be kept from evil.” (Harold B. Lee, Decisions for Successful Living [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1973], p. 223.)

There is a great challenge in living in the “world.” The concern is not where we live—but how we live. Obedience to the laws of the Lord will bring happiness and peace. We never need apologize for living the standards of the Church . . .
- James A. Cullimore, “To Be in the World but Not of the World,” Ensign, Jan 1974, 119

Trying to live the standards set by God rather than the world may not be popular, it may not be easy, and it might be costly. Sometimes it becomes necessary to completely cut ourselves off from others. Yet, that is the price we must pay to be full members of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of the World if we are faithful to our beliefs.

Very few Latter-day Saints live up to this as we read the books, watch the shows, talk the language, and participate in the activities that drive us away from the spirit and into sin and doubt. We must be better than this. We can be better than this. We are commanded to be better than this. To be an Ensign to the nations means representing a different set of values.

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