This chapter deals with basic church governance and organization. I think the thing that I love most about it is that even now, this counsel is still relevant. The preparation for church membership, the principles of ministering, church discipline, and meeting organization are all spelled out in just 9 verses!
Preparation for Baptism
Now curiously here, Moroni states that it was elders, priests, and teachers who were baptized. The qualifications for baptism are laid out here as follows:
- they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it. (vs. 1)
- they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, (vs. 2)
- [they] witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins. (vs. 2)
- they took upon them the name of Christ, (vs. 3)
- [they had] a determination to serve him to the end. (vs. 3)
I think I forget sometimes that baptism, especially that of converts, requires something of oneself: fruits worthy of it, if one will. I also find it fascinating that an expectation is that one will witness that they have repented of all their sins. That change of heart that causes one to abandon it all is real.
It is an important distinction to understand that one will continue to have need of repentance after baptism, and that new and sometimes returning sins will attempt to discourage us from the path that we have covenanted to following, testing our very determination to serve him to the end. This is why verse 4 strikes me as so significant. In this very brief overview, Moroni take more space to explain the efforts to strengthen new converts, than any other subject. It takes time to learn the patterns of discipleship: “to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.”
Succinct instructions for the Church were also laid out in these verses, as follows.
The church did meet together oft to:
- Fast and pray
- Speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls
- Partake of the bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus
How simple these statements are! How profoundly descriptive such short phrases can be. In reality this is my lived experience with the Church of Christ at present. This is why I go to Church.
On Church Discipline
Now Verse 7 presents me with a bit of a wrestle this morning: “See that there is no iniquity in the church.” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:54) This verse explains that in the Nephite church, leadership took pains to see that there was no iniquity among the membership of the church. Those that were found to commit iniquity, and not repent of said offense, “their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.”(vs. 7)
This is hard doctrine in this verse for me to internalize. It is difficult to understand the challenge of responsibility placed upon the elders of the church to have to condemn anyone of unrepentant sin. I can understand the importance of protecting the membership of the church and verse 8 truly leaves the door wide open for repentance: “But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.” (emphasis added)
I think that thing that is hardest for me to sit with in all of this is a personal reality of the decisions of my own children. And then knowing that their actions would be considered iniquity. But this isn’t a witch hunt. Even though these scriptures use words like “condemn”. I think it is that I have no experience in these matters. I’ve never seen a membership council or been a part of one before. Hence I do not understand the love that can prevail in such a situation. Further, I have near family members that have been impacted by membership councils in the past.
I am also wrestling with the reality that we have a larger percentage of our church membership who do not actively participate in Church services probably because of iniquity in their lives. The default action of most is to step away from the church, but I suppose if there are those who do still come to church these are they that should be disciplined. I need to sort these matters out with the Lord.
The difference between the judge and the judged is the speed at which one is willing to condemn the other. Well did Christ observe of the chief priests and pharisees: “miserable, wicked men.” (see JST, Matthew 21:55) The wicked will hastily condemn others, which leads to their miserable state of being. Meanwhile the righteous, and into whose hands the burden of judgment is placed, are much less likely to condemn the actions of others, giving the benefit of the doubt and hoping for the best, though it may be otherwise.
Oh how helpful this is for me to see this tendency to be a miserable, wicked man because of how hastily I jump to conclusions. What a gift from God this is!
This final verse gives instruction on how church meetings were to be conducted: “after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost;” This point was powerfully illustrated in General Conference this past weekend in the talk by Elder Carl B. Cook in describing a series of interactions he had with President Boyd K. Packer at a Stake Conference. A key take away from his message and why the Lord works (seemingly unpredictably) by the power of the Spirit is that it allows for men to act by faith. These meetings then become part of the growth process in our discipleship. It also keeps the Lord in control of the meeting, instead of the tendency to think that we lead by the wisdom of our own understanding.