User:Seanmcox/Why Seek Ye the Living among the Dead
In the First Presidency Message in the April 2005 issue of the Ensign, President Gordon B. Hinckley talked about an experience he had while leading ministers of other faiths through the Mesa, Arizona Temple following its rededication. He was questioned as to why the building lacked any representation of the cross if we profess to be Christians.
Gordon B. Hinckley’s answer at once mirrors standard rote for responding to this question and adds a little more, offering deep insight to the incisive reader.
Of course, all active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints know that we do not use representations of the cross because they are symbols of his death, while we prefer to focus on Christ’s resurrection. We know and worship a Living Christ who is active in guiding his church today. What is not emphasized so much is the fact that we are supposed to be carrying with us always, a symbol of our faith. According to Gordon B. Hinckley, that symbol is to be our very lives which will demonstrate by the example we set before others that we are in very word and deed disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This idea struck me as odd as it is in stark contrast with the easily distinguishable cross which one can buy, sell, hold, mount, or print on a T-shirt. One might even think that it isn’t really much of a symbol. However, for Christians, the symbol of our lives is not without scriptural precedent. Christ did not say, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye display a cross prominently.” Instead he said this: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” John 13:35
This idea is also echoed in Christ’s warning of false prophets in Matthew 7:15-20. In order to tell a false prophet Christ says “by their fruits ye shall know them.”
No physical object is deemed sufficient to tell the good from the evil, but only the actions of the individuals are sufficient to discern whether or not they are, in truth, followers of Christ.
What then is the value of the symbolic objects of religion?
Does the cross have any merit?
In the ten commandments we read, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Ex 20:4 While obviously painting and sculpture are widely used in Christianity and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we can still see the spirit of this law active today; the spirit of the law being that we should avoid images or representations that might become idols or shift our focus from the the real, living Christ. For example, one of the lesser known church policies is that we're not to use pictures of Christ in our chapels (the main meeting halls). It is easy to see that, while pictures of Christ might be useful to get people's attention, the intent of the policy is to prevent idolatry and to keep members focused on the living Christ and his spirit which, optimally, would actually be present at the meetings.
It is more important to create an atmosphere where the spirit can actually abide and testify of Christ to our hearts and minds, than it is to bring in a potential idol that might cause us to listen more to what the speaker has to say of Christ.
To this extent we may conclude that much of what we see of crosses in Christianity today is beyond what is healthy inasmuch as some people hold the cross to be worthy of great reverence almost on its own.
In the Book of Mormon it states that at a time when the Nephites had become particularly righteous, they lived the law of Moses even though it had become dead unto them. That is to say, they lived the law of Moses, but they understood clearly that the law of Moses did not in and of itself bring life and salvation; that it was merely a symbol of the Christ they were to look forward to. 2 Nephi 25:24-25
This is in stark contrast to the scene in Jerusalem with the Pharisees and the Saducees whom Jacob refers to as looking beyond the mark. Jacob 4:14 Here the Lord denounced the manner in which they make use of the symbols of their religion.
The intended purpose of the symbols and rites of the Law of Moses was, as the Nephites understood, to remind them and teach them of Christ. The symbols were for their personal benefit for instruction and a reminder, much like the CTR rings of today. What many of them did instead was focus on the symbols and rites as the actions which brought salvation. It can be compared to a husband who cherishes his wedding band above his wife or the bride-to-be who cherishes the engagement ring more than the impending engagement.
So the symbols and objects used religiously must be understood as serving as reminders to point us towards the God we worship. Furthermore, the symbols are for personal use to remind us personally of what it is we should be doing. The CTR ring should stand as a reminder to ourselves to “Choose the Right.” It should not be worn for the purpose of advertising to others that we’re Mormons.
The symbol that we set before the world, should be a reflection of the natural process of coming to Christ and a natural eagerness to share simple truths which have blessed our lives.
Such simple truths include the truth of the resurrection, which we hold dear. It fills us with hope and awe.
When three women came to the tomb looking for Jesus, the became the first to hear of the resurrection of the Lord. It was declared unto them by angels who asked simply: “Why seek ye the living among the dead?” Luke 24:5
There is a striking parallel between Christ and his church, and in the light of this parallel, the angel’s pronouncement is revealed to have a remarkable depth that can be applied even today.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we are taught, is the only true and living church on the face of the earth. This is not a light pronouncement, and for many, it is not an easy one to understand either. Very simply, we say that our church is the only true church because of the priesthood and the only living church because of revelation.
The priesthood is the actual authority to act in God’s name. It is authority granted by God and as God’s scope, existence, and authority spans the eternities, so does the priesthood. Thus, by this authority, “whatsoever [shall be sealed] on earth shall be sealed in heaven,” Hel 10:7 the Lord has organized his church, eternal truths are revealed, and the will of the Lord is declared. This is in contrast to what might be termed “false” churches where man declares himself to be a doctrinal authority because he has spent a number of years studying among other men with no divine authority, or even by himself. They baptize and bless, but in actuality, authority has never been given to them to act God’s part in making covenants with his children. Thus all their performances in God’s name are performed falsely.
The life of the church is a similar matter. The fact that the church is guided by revelation makes it unique. This facet is especially unique in comparison with many of the churches today which not only, aren’t guided by revelation, but vehemently deny that God even speaks to his children today. They proclaim “God lives, but does not speak.” In comparison with the only living church, we might refer to these institutions, bearing the symbol of a dead Christ, as “dead” churches.
At the time of Joseph Smith, there were many who recognized the deadness of the extent churches and awaited a time when the true and living church would be restored. There were many more, after the church was restored, who searched and still do search the scriptures and seek personal communion with their father. By personal revelation they are able to know that God’s church has been restored and that a living Christ actively guides and directs his true church today. There are still more however, that deny that Christ can communicate with man and deny that he leads anyone except through what was written long ago.
To these the words of the angel still inquire, from off the pages of that book written long ago, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
Still to even most members the angel asks, “Why are you not praying and seeking personal revelation?”, and “Why are you not avidly reading and studying the words of your living prophet?” If we’re seeking Christ, our starting point ought to be with getting to know the living Christ and seeking for his personal direction in our modern troubled world. We will be directed to read the scriptures and maybe even to study the archeological evidence. No amount of archeological evidence, however, will convince us of Christ’s existence and love for us like a one on one conversation with our Father in heaven can.