The Gospel and the ChurchBy Elder Ronald E. Poelman First Quorum of the Seventy General Conference – October, 1984
Both the gospel of Jesus Christ and the church of Jesus Christ are true and divine, and there is an essential relationship between them that is significant and very important. Understanding the proper relationship between the gospel and the Church will prevent confusion, misplaced priorities, and failed expectations and will lead to the realization of gospel goals through happy, fulfilling participation in the Church. Such understanding will avoid possible disaffection and will result in great personal blessings.
As I attempt to describe and comment upon the essential relationship between the gospel and the Church, it is my prayer that a perspective may be developed which will enhance the influence of both the gospel and the Church in our individual lives.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is a divine and perfect plan. It is composed of eternal, unchanging principles, laws, and ordinances which are universally applicable to every individual regardless of time, place, or circumstance. Gospel principles never change.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on earth, administered by the priesthood of God. The Church has authority to teach correctly the principles and doctrines of the gospel and to administer its essential ordinances.
The gospel is the divine plan for personal, individual salvation and exaltation. The Church is divinely commissioned to provide the means and resources that implement this plan in each individual’s life.
Procedures, programs, and policies are developed within the Church to help us realize gospel blessings according to our individual capacity and circumstances. Under divine direction, these policies, programs, and procedures may be changed from time to time as necessary to fulfill gospel purposes.
Underlying every aspect of Church administration and activity are the revealed eternal principles contained in the scriptures. As individually and collectively we increase our knowledge, acceptance, and application of gospel principles, we can more effectively utilize the Church to make our lives increasingly gospel centered.
The eternal principles of the gospel implemented through the divinely inspired Church apply to a wide variety of individuals in diverse cultures. Therefore, as we live the gospel and participate in the Church, the conformity we require of ourselves and of others should be according to God’s standards. The orthodoxy upon which we insist must be founded in fundamental principles, eternal law, and direction given by those authorized in the Church.
A necessary perspective is gained by studying and pondering the scriptures. Reading the scriptures, we learn the gospel as it is taught by various prophets in a variety of circumstances, times, and places. We see the consequences as the gospel is accepted or rejected by individuals and as its principles are applied or not.
In the scriptures we discover that varying institutional forms, procedures, regulations, and ceremonies were utilized—all divinely designed to implement eternal principles. The practices and procedures change; the principles do not.
Through scripture study we may learn eternal principles and how to relate them to institutional resources. As we liken the scriptures unto ourselves, we can better utilize the restored Church to learn, live, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
A favorite scriptural source for me is the Old Testament book of Leviticus. It is basically a handbook for Hebrew priests and contains many rules, regulations, rituals, and ceremonies which seem strange and inapplicable to us. It also contains eternal principles of the gospel which are familiar and very much applicable to everyone.
It is interesting and enlightening to read the nineteenth chapter of Leviticus, noting both the principles and the rules and practices.
In the first two verses we read, “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel.” (Lev. 19:1–2.) Here is the principle of revelation. God speaks to his children through prophets. He does so today.
Continuing, the Lord said to Moses, “Say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2.) Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, said, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48.) Here is an eternal gospel principle.
There follow other eternal principles, some from the Ten Commandments. Also included are rules and programs intended to implement these principles among the ancient Hebrews in their particular circumstances.
For example, the divinely directed responsibility to care for the poor is taught. A program is presented, namely, providing food for the poor by leaving the gleanings of the crops and not reaping the corners of the fields. (See Lev. 19:9–10.) Current programs to care for the poor are much different. The divine law is the same. Yet another principle underlies both programs, ancient and modern: those being assisted are given opportunity to participate in helping themselves to the extent of their capacity.
In verse 13 the principle of honesty is taught, accompanied by a rule requiring employers to pay employees for their work at the end of each day [Lev. 19:13]. Generally, today that rule is not necessary. The eternal principle of honesty is implemented by other rules and practices.
Verse 27 contains a rule about personal grooming [Lev. 19:27]. It is clearly not applicable to us. However, we also have standards of dress and grooming. Neither is an eternal principle; both are intended to help us implement and share gospel principles.
The principle of forgiveness is also set forth in the same chapter of Leviticus, verse 18, concluding with the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,” with the added divine imprimatur, “I am the Lord.” [Lev. 19:18]
Every Church member has the opportunity, right, and privilege to receive a personal witness regarding gospel principles and Church practices. Without such a witness, one may feel confused and perhaps even burdened by what may appear to be simply institutional requirements of the Church.
We should obey the commandments and counsel of Church leaders; but also through study, through prayer, and by the influence of the Holy Spirit, we should seek and obtain an individual, personal witness that the principle or counsel is correct and divinely inspired. Then we can give enlightened, enthusiastic obedience, utilizing the Church as a means through which to give allegiance, time, talent, and other resources without reluctance or resentment.
Happy, fulfilling participation in the Church results when we relate Church goals, programs, and policies to gospel principles and to personal eternal goals. When we see the harmony between the gospel and the Church in our daily lives, we are much more likely to do the right things for the right reasons. We will exercise self-discipline and righteous initiative guided by Church leaders and a sense of divine accountability.
The Church aids us in our effort to use our free agency creatively, not to invent our own values, principles, and interpretations, but to learn and live the eternal truths of the gospel. Gospel living is a process of continuous individual renewal and improvement until the person is prepared and qualified to enter comfortably and with confidence into the presence of God.
My brothers and sisters, by inclination, training, and experience most of my life I have sought understanding by the accumulation of facts and the application of reason. I continue to do so. However, that which I know most surely and which has most significantly and positively affected my life I do not know by facts and reason alone, but rather by the comforting, confirming witness of the Holy Spirit.
By that same Spirit I testify that God is our Father, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh, and that he is the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind and each of us. Through his atoning sacrifice, redemption and exaltation are offered as a free gift to all who will accept by faith, repentance, and sacred covenants.
May each of us continue to learn and apply the eternal principles of the gospel, utilizing fully and appropriately the resources of the divine, restored Church.
In the words of the Nephite leader Pahoran “May [we] rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.” (Alma 61:14.) In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.