"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 26, 2012
The Church and the Gospel
by Marian Stoddard

How often have we heard the statement, or made it ourselves, “The Church and the Gospel are two different things?”

It’s true, that the gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect, and that the Church is made up of people who are imperfect. This is our sage response to someone who is chafing or rebelling at a situation where a leader or member or teacher is making a mistake, taking the wrong attitude, or giving us grief. You have to cut that member or leader some slack because, after all, no one is perfect. Thus we wisely separate the plan of salvation, the offering of perfect love and possibility from our Heavenly Father, from the less perfect efforts and service of his supposed followers. (Sometimes “supposed” is all the credit that we are willing to give them!)

However, Lucile Johnson, an LDS therapist, author, and frequent speaker, gave a talk where she quoted this sentiment and then declared, “The Church is as true as the gospel.”

Our Father in Heaven is perfect, and human beings are not, she acknowledged, but the Church is the organization which he, the perfect Director, has set up, to serve the purpose of giving us experience and giving us the opportunities to grow and to serve. It is a perfect plan, just as perfect as the Plan of Salvation outlined before we came to this earth—even though we don’t implement it perfectly.

It’s part of our earth life experience and trial, that earthly things are not perfect. We agreed to that before we came, and we shouted for joy at the thought that we could, indeed, come and gain this experience. The only trouble is, we don’t remember that celebration, and we couldn’t fully comprehend the reality of this existence until we were in the thick of it.

One of my friends says that when asked the difference between our church and other churches, he answers in the keys and authority of the priesthood of God, the gift of the Holy Ghost and its powers (okay, we’re on solid, Prophet-Joseph ground here), and the fact that we operate by set geographic boundaries for our congregations, just like school districts.

What? someone might blink—? Yes, they tell us where we have to attend. It would not occur to us to shop for another place of worship in another denomination because we don’t like the minister, as I have seen some friends do who are not LDS. We stay in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because we know it truly matters, that it is the only place where we will find the blessings under the true authority of God. But it’s not enough to go to a Mormon church on Sundays, we have to go to the one where we are supposed to go, determined by where we live. You can show up where you wish, of course, and no one will send you away, but you can’t ‘belong’ there and have your records there. You can’t ‘pick’ your ward off a list of choices.

Now, there are the rare exceptions made by the local leadership, when there is a compelling reason. Once I knew a sister whose father’s health was failing, and she asked for her records to be moved to his ward so that she could take him to church; otherwise he would not be able to go anymore. Since she was going to do that for him, she wanted to make it official. The stake president granted her request, and she came back to her home ward after he passed away. A brother who is painfully shy was granted a permanent transfer to stay in a ward where he had been serving and slowly become comfortable, because he couldn’t function otherwise. These cases are very infrequent.

Why does it matter? As long as you come and fellowship, and take the sacrament, what does it matter if you prefer this time schedule or that bishop?

The Church functions on the service of all its members. We don’t just show up and go home, we get to work. The aim is for every member to have something they can contribute, and to be asked to do so. For the sake of order in the Church, there has to be a system of consistency. If you don’t care for this bishop, or if you adore this particular bishop, he won’t be in the calling forever. Whether you find him easy or difficult, he’s not the criterion.

There is a larger principle at stake, though, besides just the point of order for a bishop to issue callings and organize his ward, to know who will be there. The principle is that we are called to love all people, not just in the abstract, overall, but in the very concrete, literal reality as individuals with all their troubles and idiosyncrasies.

That’s no problem, we can doubtless name many individuals whose companionship we enjoy and who so wisely see eye-to-eye with us. But wait—it also includes lots of individuals who are less familiar and even less compatible with us. It means people whose politics are at odds with ours, people whose backgrounds are nothing like our own, people who have found the gospel from an entirely different path, and people who are struggling. People we might be inclined to judge and avoid, left to ourselves. We’re asked to love and serve them all.

There’s one other obvious group, where you get who you get, and you love them. It’s called a family. When we talk about our “ward family,” there’s a concrete parallel.

In our Heavenly Father’s love for us, in the perfect doctrines of the gospel, the Church, filled with all those not-perfect people, is the true means of teaching us to become more like Christ, our perfect example.

It’s a perfect part of the plan.


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About Marian Stoddard

Marian J. Stoddard was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in its Maryland suburbs. Her father grew up in Carson City, Nevada, and her mother in Salt Lake City, so she was always partly a Westerner at heart, and she ended up raising her family in Washington State. Her family took road trips all over the United States and Canada, so there were lots of adventures.

The adventures of music, literature, and art were also valued and pursued. Playing tourist always included the local museums as well as historical sites and places of natural beauty. Discussions at home, around the dinner table or working in the kitchen, could cover politics, philosophy, or poetry, with the perspective of the gospel underlying all. Words and ideas, and testimony and service, were the family currency.

Marian graduated from Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland, and attended the University of Utah as the recipient of the Ralph Hardy Memorial Scholarship, where she was graduated with honors, receiving a B.A. in English. She also met the love of her life, a law student, three weeks after her arrival; she jokes that she had to marry him because her mother always wanted a tenor in the family. (She sings second soprano.) They were married two years later and have six children and six grandchildren (so far). She treasures her family, her friends, and her opportunities to serve.

Visit Marian at her blog, greaterthansparrows.  You can contact her at bloggermarian@gmail.com. 

Marian and her husband live in Tacoma, Washington. Together they teach those who are preparing to go to the temple for the first time, and she also teaches a Stake Relief Society Institute class.

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