Several weeks ago, a Gospel Doctrine teacher stated that “The Church is true, but the members are not.” Judging by the nods of assent, I’d say those sitting with me agreed with her. My natural inclination, as a language person, is to pick apart the word “true” until there’s no meat left on its bone. But I’ll spare you that. I do, however, want to to focus on the underlying assumption of the statement, namely the inference that the Church, as an institution, is better than its people. I’m not sure we really mean that.
It’s easy to see that the church institution could do nothing noble without the individual members. It is the members who have donated the money the church invests and disperses to individuals and families in need, to worthy local causes, and as foreign aid. Yet, when the church develops a wheelchair program, or funds education in under-developed areas of the world, or provides relief when catastrophe strikes, members are quick to praise the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its generosity and Christian service. And they should. But I hope, as we praise the institution, we recognize that, without individual members first demonstrating their generosity and devotion, the Church could do nothing. In fact, without the individual members (including those who comprise Church leadership at all levels) making decisions and initiating plans of action, the Church could do nothing. Just as faith without works is dead, so the Church without its individuals is dead.
The Church is as Christlike as it is because its members are like Christ, donating their time, talent, and yes, a portion of their income to the church. But also their minds and hearts, their insight and wisdom, their creativity and their powers of reason. Indeed, our individual determination to do good in the world is inexhaustible. Yes, the Church has the gospel of Christ, and yes, that gospel contains truth. But it is the individuals in this Church that make the Church true to that gospel.
I can hear some saying, “But the doctrine doesn’t exist because of the members, and the doctrine is the true part. Members often blow it.” But I ask, are you sure the doctrine isn’t in place because of the goodness–the desires–of the individual members? LDS doctrine teaches that, after the death of Christ, the full gospel he preached faded out of existence and the apostasy ensued. Why? Because those individuals who were willing to hear and teach the gospel died. If members are not willing to hear, teach, and live the doctrine, we should anticipate that the doctrine will disappear. Individuals keep it alive, Individuals give it place in our hearts and, because of its place in our hearts, the truth of the gospel exists on earth today.
I love that, in the English language, one of the meanings of the word “true” is “loyal.” Imperfect as we are, we strive to be true to Christ. Imperfect as our bishop or Relief Society president is, each strives to be true to Christ. As imperfect as an individual General Authority or a general auxiliary leader is, each strives to be true to Christ. Each of us, as an individual, is what makes the church true to Christ. Each of us practices love on a daily basis through the outreach available to us. Each of us implements the greatest generosity of all—forgiveness—as we see the fallibility and imperfection of our peers and leaders surface. It is the individual who hugs, who delivers the meal, who talks us down from the ledge when we want to jump, or talks us up when we fall into a pit of despair; it is these individuals who are the best part of the Church, the best representation of truth and of the gospel. And it is the individual who keeps Christ alive among us. The day-to-day miracles are the very members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Without its members, the Church would be a shell. Because of its members, the Church is a refuge.
And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t count myself lucky—blessed—to be among you.
Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (D&C 18:10).
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