What is a church? The best definition I can come up with is this:
A church is a group of people with a unifying characteristic.
What, then, is the unifying characteristic of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints?
As I ponder on that question, it seems to me the answer is this:
A group of people who have been baptized by water and had their membership confirmed by someone who has been authorized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
In other words, it doesn’t tell you much about these people. Because there are all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs that can be included under this enormous umbrella, it is usually not helpful to refer to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) as a homogenous body of people. In fact, it may be more helpful to describe The Church as really being comprosed of three churches in one.
The scriptures describe generally three churches. I believe all of these churches are found in the LDS church and this helps us to understand the variety of experience observable in the church.
1. The first, and largest, is the Great and Abominable Church. These are the defining characteristics of this church.
a. They desire the things of the world (1 Nephi 13:7)
b. Nice clothing (1 Nephi 13: 7,8)
c. Sexual desire outside of sanctified marriage (1 Nephi 13: 8)
d. They desire the praise of the world. They want to be cosmopolitan and in the image of the world. (1 Nephi 13: 9)
e. They oppose the establishment of Zion (through their marriage to the world) (2 Nephi 22: 14; 2 Nephi 26:12)
f. They use their own wisdom to become wealthy (2 Nephi 26:20)
g. They teach their own wisdom and their own learning (2 Nephi 26:20)
h. They marginalize miracles and power of God (2 Nephi 26:20)
i. They enrich themselves on the backs of the poor (2 Nephi 26:20)
j. They set themselves up to get the praise of the world (2 Nephi 26:29)
k. They labor for money (2 Nephi 26:31)
l. They teach that all is well in Zion (2 Nephi 28: 25)
m. They teach to trust in man (2 Nephi 28: 26)
n. They teach that since the church is prospering financially that all is well and the Lord is pleased (2 Nephi 28: 21)
o. They preach false doctrines (2 Nephi 28: 15)
p. They preach whoredoms (2 Nephi 28: 15)
q. Puffed up in pride (2 Nephi 28: 15)
r. They don’t want to receive more of the word of God, they believe they have enough (2 Nephi 28: 29)
It is also interesting, and instructive, to note that Nephi identifies the Great and Abominable Church with the members of the House of Israel.
“And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to against the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (1 Nephi 11: 35).
Even though the people were of the covenant body – they were of the House of Israel, they were also of the Great and Abominable Church.
A defining characteristic of members of the Great and Abominable Church is that they take upon themselves the name of Christ and his gospel but seek to form the church in the image of the world. They seek to dress Babylon up in the clothing of the church so that it becomes justified by religion.
Those that reject Babylon, its structures, and its enticements will always be persecuted by those in the covenant body who seek to conform to the image of the world.
The reality of Zion, the requirements of Zion, and the doctrine of Zion will always offend the membership of the Great and Abominable Church (GAC). Those that are persuaded that they are both of the “true church” and also of the GAC will persecute, marginalize, and do all they can to discourage and preach against the doctrine of Zion.
The GAC will claim that they are Zion. They will teach that they way they live is a state, or stake, of Zion. They will pervert the forms and claim the glory. Nephi uses the term both ironically and condemningly when he prophesies of future Latter-Day Saints who define themselves by the term Zion and at the same time preach that “all is well”.
2. The Second church within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the Church of Christ.
The Church of Christ is defined in Doctrine and Covenants:
“Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth andunto me, the same is my .
Whosoevermore or less than this, the same is not of me, but is me; therefore he is not of my church” (D&C 10: 67-68).
The Church of Christ is that group of people that have repented. This isn’t the type of repentance where you confess and the church tells you you can take the sacrament so you dont feel that you have any thing to repent of. This is the type of repentance that only comes to those that have a broken heart and a contrite spirit.
Those that repent are those that are born again. They are baptized by fire. They have received the mighty change of heart.
Those that are to be received into baptism are first supposed to demonstrate to the church that they’ve already received a remission of their sins.
And again, by way of commandment to the church concerning the manner of baptism—All those whothemselves before God, and desire to be baptized, and come forth with broken hearts and , and witness before the church that they have truly repented of all their sins, and are willing to take upon them the of Jesus Christ, having a to serve him to the end, and truly manifest by their that they have received of the unto the of their sins, shall be received by baptism into his church” (D&C 20:37).
When Nephi gives an interpretation of the Tree of Life dream and teaches the doctrine represented in the account, he identifies the gate through which we enter the path as the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost. We aren’t on the covenant path until we are born again (2 Nephi 31:33).
Water baptism, as Joseph Smith reminds us, is only half a baptism. With out the baptism of spirit – without the mighty change of heart – we are not yet baptized a member of Christ’s actual church.
It is when we are Born again and receive the power and influence of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that we are new creatures in Christ, and thus a member of his Church.
3. The Third church is the Church of the Firstborn. This church is rarely spoken of, because entrance into this church is based on principles rarely taught and discussed in the general Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. To be a member of this church you must be sealed up to eternal life. You must have your calling and election made sure. This is to have your baptism sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise.
The Holy Spirit of Promise is not a temporary seal of the spirit on someone who has become born again. Many in the church confuse the reception of the Holy Ghost when they are born again as the Holy Spirit of Promise. The scriptures and the teachings of Joseph Smith are clear: The Holy Spirit of Promise is the sealing of your baptism into exaltation, and/or it is the sealing of your marriage to an exaltation.
Two things are sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise: Baptism and Marriage. Both are fundamental covenants of the New and Everlasting Covenant. Both bring you into degrees of the Celestial Kingdom. Both are received by both the witness of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God from the heavens, and by physical ordinance by key-holders. For the ordinance to be complete, all three conditions must be eventually realized.
“And whoby faith, and are by the Holy Spirit of , which the Father forth upon all those who are just and true.
They are they who are theof the
“Wherefore, I now send upon you another, even upon you my friends, that it may abide in your hearts, even the Holy Spirit of ; which other Comforter is the same that I promised unto my disciples, as is recorded in the testimony of John.
This Comforter is thewhich I give unto you of , even the of the celestial kingdom;
Which glory is that of the church of the, even of God, the holiest of all, through Jesus Christ his Son” (D&C 88:3-5).
Can someone be sealed up to eternal life before they receive the ordinances? Yes, of course. They can receive the revelation of this blessing through faith and directly from the heavens. Must that person also eventually receive the physical ordinances associated with those blessings? Yes.
In the same way that a person qualifies for physical baptism they must first receive the remission of their sins, a person qualifies for the physical ordinances of calling and election by receiving the witness and revelatory experiences required to be sealed up to eternal life.
It is my view that only in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day saints can a person receive these types of promises, and is this type of knowledge available. It is my view that a person can be of the Church of Christ and not be a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but it is my view at this time to be sealed up to the Church of the Firstborn they must receive it through the priesthood channels established on the earth. I don’t believe the knowledge to do so is available anywhere else.
Can a person be born again without being baptized? I believe so. But they also must receive the physical ordinances of that baptism and laying on of hands when made available to them. It is through the channel of physical ordinances that the power of godliness is made manifest on the earth (this will be the topic of a future post).