And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. -- Luke 12: 29-31
Every church meeting is influenced by three things:
- The gospel of Jesus Christ
- The organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- The culture of church members.
The organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the manifestation of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the earth in our dispensation. Although the gospel has not changed, the organization of the church has had slight differences through the dispensations. For example: the law of Moses was a very different church organization than the way our church currently looks, however the gospel and purpose behind remains the same. The organization is divinely inspired and lead by the mouthpiece of the Lord, the prophet, and is put into practice by us, the wonderful but imperfect members of the church. Although the organization is perfect, the execution is not always perfect.
The culture of the church consists of the habits and traditions of the members of the church. Some of those cultural traditions are harmless, like putting carrots in your green jello, or the never discussed but fierce competition to see how many folding chairs you can carry at a time after the meeting is over so you can finally go home and eat dinner (that is if Mom will ever stop talking). However, the danger of the culture is that some of it begins to be taught as doctrine, which can lead to giant misunderstandings and misconceptions. (Click here for an example regarding the phrase "moderation in all things".) When we, as members of the church, are not diligent in our personal gospel study direct from the source -- the scriptures and the words of the prophets -- and having our study confirmed by prayer and personal revelation through the Holy Ghost, we are in essence learning the possibly unfounded culture of the church and not the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Alma chapter 1 there was a man who "had gone among the people, preaching to them that which he termed to be the word of God." (Alma 1:3, emphasis added) We aren't actually told what his intent was, it could have begun well meaning, maybe he was even the Sunday School Teacher, but in the end he was teaching what HE termed to be the word of God, not the "pure testimony", meaning the doctrine, as Alma suggests to us in Alma 4:19. His teachings were not correct. They were not doctrine. In fact, because it was unfounded in the doctrine, what he was teaching was priestcraft. (Alma 1:12) But "he did teach these things so much that many did believe on his words." (Alma 1:5, emphasis added)
I guarantee you the many that did believe on his words were not the ones that were sincerely and regularly studying their scriptures (more than just reading, but also studying with the intent to learn). They were the ones who were familiar with the doctrine, but not so familiar that the subtle but significant inconsistencies or errors were apparent to them. And those same people, who again may have been well meaning, would repeat that priestcraft to their respective classes and families. And just like that, a church "culture" had begun to be taught like doctrine.
Learning the gospel from the culture of the church will not be enough to reach exaltation. We cannot let ourselves be satisfied with it. Personal and sincere study of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to become like our Heavenly Father.
Guest post by Amy R. Nelson find more of her writings on her blog They May Be Light by clicking here.