“[The Council of Fifty] shall endeavor to… assist in the Works of the Lord as the Saints and those that would call themselves Saints, move from the creed of the Church to the Kingdom of God, where all that desire shall find a home and a place to dwell to find rest for their souls.” -Doctrines of the Saints 50a:5-6
In the Fellowship of Christ we talk a lot about moving from the Church to the Kingdom. In fact, this is the theme of Conference 2023! But what does this mean? Is there a difference between the Church and the Kingdom?
Churches of Man or Church of Christ?
The first thing we must ask ourselves is, what is a church? Is it a building, an orginazation, a belief system, dogma, creeds, or theologies? or Is it the body of Christ that leaves behind theological backgrounds and accepts all believers? When we use the term “church” today many think of the building they go to, “let’s go to church!” The denomination they belong to, “our church…” Or the theologies of their organizations, “the church teaches…”
In the scriptures the Church is more than this. These ideas of church as the doctrines of man that the Lord told Joseph Smith Jr. were an “abomination.”
“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; He said: They draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” -Avahr 5:27-30
To move from the church to the Kingdom means moving away from the teachings of mankind and being one in Christ, regardless of church, sect, or denomination. It means seeking common ground and building bridges. When we can do this then WE are the Church as members of the Kingdom. The difference then is one of perspective and understanding. These churches of man aren’t necessarily evil as members of these churches may be members of the Church and the Kingdom of God.
Another way to look at this is how we identify ourselves and our God. Do we see ourselves as a member of an organization, “the church,” or as a people of God? We can see ourselves as both, and if we do, which comes first? If God tells us to do something but the church we belong to tells us to do something else, who do we listen to, that church or God? Do we accept one another in Christ, or only those that attend the same organization as ourselves?
“Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” -1 Peter 2:9-10
As the people of God we are the Church (Zion) and it is our duty as citizens of the Kingdom (Israel) to love and obey our King, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We need to understand that our membership in the Kingdom is predicated on our relationship with God, not a membership in a church.
Another thing to look at is, where is our faith? Do we put our faith and our trust in a church or its leaders, or in the Lord? When a church is led by prophets and apostles they are not called to make choices for the betterment of their organizations, they are called to teach, preach, and prophecy of Christ.
“And we talk of Christ; we rejoice in Christ; we preach of Christ; we prophesy of Christ; and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins.” -2 Nephi 11:48 RAV, 25:2 OPV
While leaders of a church can speak for God and their church they cannot speak for you. They can receive a revelation about or for you, yet as a prophetic people it is our duty to seek divine guidance as to what that revelation means for you in your life. There are many examples of Joseph Smith Jr. receiving revelations for people that did not come true or where the name originally given in the revelation is changed because of our free agency as human beings. When a prophet or prophetess speaks we much decern for ourselves because the only person standing between us and God is ourselves. Our faith then must be in Jesus Christ and not any mortal being or anything (angels, etc.) else.
One of the things we can see looking at the churches of man are the many rules they create and demand their people follow. In Jesus day there were people that had added to the Law of Moses and these became upset when people broke their rules. We see this today when people are cast out for not following the rules of an organization. These churches will pretend that their rules are God’s rules, yet all of God’s rules are given to help us love one another and grow closer to the Lord. In this God has gave us free agency, and through the grace of Jesus we are saved, not condemned.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” -John 3:17
Yes, we will be accountable for our sins and our actions if we do not repent. But Jesus didn’t come here to shame us or condemn us, but to offer us the opportunity to know Him. The churches of man may condemn us, and rejection from those that would oppress us and keep us away from God allows us the option and opportunity of freedom in Jesus Christ.
When we make covenants we should ask, are we covenanting with a church or with the Lord? This is an important question if we are to be Zion, if we are to Israel. Why? Because while a church can offer priesthood keys to do works in their name, it is God who gives us priesthood authority and gifts of the spirit. I will say that again, no church offers spiritual gifts. In the Kingdom the Lord gives us these gifts, and we use them to glorify and serve God.
“And all these gifts come by the Spirit of Christ; and they come unto every man severally according as he will: And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.” -Moroni 10:12-13 RAV, 10:17-18 OPV
Whatever God needs of us; our time, talents, financial gains, or anything else, He would ask for it and we will hear Him through the Holy Spirit. We have covenanted to serve Him, and what He asks us to do as His people is to serve others, to give as He has given. Like the widow and her mite, we can give the little that is all that we have to offer and not to be seen, yet still help others in need (Mark 12:41–44, Luke 21:1–4). This is the covenant we make with God as a part of His kingdom.
The last on our list is the most important of all, our salvation; does it come from man, a church, or from God? Does the church we attend save us, or the relationship we have and we build with God? The churches of man will tell us it is both, claiming that it have a proper relationship with God we must attend their church. Yet the Lord told Joseph Smith Jr.:
“Behold this is my doctrine: Whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me the same is my Church; whosoever declareth more or less than this is not of me, but is against me; therefore, he is not of my Church.” -Avahr 17:39-40
It should be understood that this revelation was received in April of 1829, a full year before the Church of Jesus Christ was established. At no point could this have been telling us that we need to joi any of the Latter Day Saint restorational churches to be saved. Our salvation then comes from God. We can better understand this looking at Jesus words:
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” -Matthew 18:20
Similar to the revelation Joseph Smith received, as that time there was no Christian church, in fact Christianity didn’t even exist yet! We can fellowship with others in the Kingdom and be the Church without joining any of these churches of man or other religious bodies. We should understand that God as asked us to gather in His name, yet the need to create or join a church for salvation is something created by mankind to further their own ideas. As we know, Jesus told Joseph Smith Jr. that it is this separating the Kingdom through contention and opposing creeds and theologies that God Himself sees as and abomination. Why? Because “they teach for doctrines the commandments of men” (Avahr 5:30). Therefore, let us be one in Christ, the Church, and members of the Kingdom of God and put away all that divides us and no longer “deny the power thereof.” I can promise you that in this there is safety and there is peace.
Churches of Man and the Church of Christ
With all of this said, we must ask how the churches of man can still be the Church of God, as we in the Fellowship are called to love these churches and not to condemn them. As an ecumenical movement it is important to see how we can work with all churches, sects, and denominations as a part of the Kingdom and the restoration of all things. In January of 2019, while looking out at the vastness of the Pacific ocean in California, I was given the following revelation as I watched the water hit the massive rocks I was sitting on near the shore:
“And behold, the Kingdom of God is as a man that builds a house; and behold the house hath four pillars, and the pillars work as one to hold up the roof. Yea, and when the first pillar says: Behold my strength, that I might uphold this wall alone. And a second pillar says: Nay, but behold my strength that I uphold the walls and the roof also. And the third and fourth pillar bragging too of their own strength until, divided these part ways and house doeth fall, and the man is left cold. And the man whips the pillars, and they bear the strikes, and do they learn to love the man? I say thee, nay; but they learn to hate the man; and as one they shun him and protect him not from the winds and rains: and thus the man is destroyed. But the Lord of Hosts comes unto the pillars, and these He loves, and these He commands to be as one; yea and they love the Lord and stand as one, no more divided, and no more boasting of their own strength, for each has their place in the House of the Lord. And the man is the church of men, or the church of the devil; and he builds with discord and pride; but the Lord of Hosts may use the same and build with patience and peace; therefore, ye too shall build with patience and peace. I say unto thee, what is past is past, what is now is now; therefore, go ye and build up my Kingdom, not of pride but with love, and this ye shall do in my name; and if ye do so in my name ye shall not fail.” -Doctrines of the Saints 6b:26-40
Here we see that the churches of man are called the church of the devil, yet the Lord is able to transform these churches into His Church. How? By loving them and teaching them to be one in His name. Why? Because all things done in the name of Christ and in the love of Jesus will always succeed. Having Christ’s name on our lips is not enough without having His love in our hearts. But loving one another as God loved us as declared in John 3:16-17 is enough to transform these churches of man into the Kingdom of God. It starts by setting aside our creeds and theologies to accept one another and work together in the light and love of Jesus Christ. God has faith in us, that we can do this. Therefore, let us move now from the church to the Kingdom as we reject that which divides us and become united in Christ, our King.