Sunday, August 10, 1997

Missionary Work

Good morning, brothers and sisters...

In preparing for a talk, I usually ask myself a few questions such as, "What am I going to speak about about?" and "Who should I quote?" etc.

But today I decided in stead of asking questions I would listen to a few questions. I've had the opportunity to hear a lot of interesting questions from non-members but I don't always get the chance to answer them.

I decided (at first) to take the opportunity afforded me with this talk to answer a few questions that some friends of mine have asked me about the church and the gospel. Then I realized that approaching the talk this way falls directly in line with another aspect of the gospel that I have been giving some very serious thought about this year... I have decided to speak, today, on missionary work.

Why are we, as members of the church, so anxious to talk about our religion, even with people who seem to be perfectly happy in their own faith and with their own way of life?

This is essentially the question I was asked by a friend of mine not too long ago. My answer was that, "Well, not everyone is happy with what they have and they are looking for answers to their questions." I posed this question to a group of Latter-day Saints on the internet and received among others, this interesting response:

"We have a responsibility as members of the Church to bring the gospel to ALL of the world... we covenant to do so in many ways... It is true that many other religions contain bits of light and that some are happy with what they have. However, to have a FULLNESS of joy, you need the fullness of the gospel. Essentially, when we serve as missionaries, we are bringing our brothers and sisters to Christ to enable them to reap ALL of the blessings our Heavenly Father has for them... not just some of them."

["Little Miss Sunshine :)" ]

We're all familiar with the saying, "Every member a missionary." But what does this calling of "Member Missionary" require of us? I guess keeping our eyes and ears open. Finding prospective investigators and Fellowshiping them.

When I think of member missionary work, though, three basic things come to mind.

One of them is inviting non-member friends to church meetings and activities.

Another is explaining basic principles of the gospel. The key word in this item is "basic." We needn't go into a detailed history of the origins of different baptismal practices through the centuries to explain why we baptize by immersion. Give a simple answer to a simple question. Our full time missionaries are in a much better position to offer more detailed explanations of gospel principles.

One other contribution to the missionary program that we as members can make is the most important. It is simply this, making our lives a daily example of the gospel in action so that nonmembers will recognize something different and want to have it in themselves.

This year marks some very interesting events in Church history which I guess is the reason for a recent cover story in "TIME Magazine" which describes Mormonism as "America's Most Prosperous Religion." One item that caught my attention the most was that membership of the church has reached approximately 9.7 Million members worldwide and as of February of this year, the majority of Latter-day Saints live outside of the United States.

This year also marks the 150th Anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers' settlement in the Salt Lake Valley. Following years of torment and persecution the early Mormons were driven from numerous locations in the eastern United States until they finally settled in what is now Utah under the leadership of the prophet Brigham Young.

Most people who know me are aware of my interest in computers. I have a web page on the internet where I have shortcuts or links to numerous church related resources. I also publish, if you will, an electronic news letter of sorts for the dissemination of inspirational and edifying stories over the internet. This year, I couldn't wait for July 24 to roll around because I had a really great story to share. And I'd like to share it with you now.

Prophecy of a Catholic Priest*

Since these stories are sent out via e-mail, my subscribers, about half of which are complete strangers to me, are free to respond directly to me about any of them. I got the following response from a friend of mine in Ohio. We've known each other through e-mail and internet chat for about a year and a half. He's originally from India and works at the NASA Lewis Research Center in Cleveland. His comment reads:

"As prophecies go, this one was pretty much on the mark, wasn't it? :-]

"In reference to 'speedy messengers,' I have always been fascinated and intrigued by the emphasis on 'spreading the word' in Christianity -particularly since, from where I come from (the land of hindu-ism), there is absolutely no emphasis on this aspect.

"I have always wondered about it - if one believes that 'the truth shall prevail' and that 'the truth can stand alone,' why does it need the help of us mere mortals to be 'spread'?

"Anyway - this is not to question anyone's beliefs - rather to spawn some 'thought and consideration.'



And "spawn some thought and consideration" it did. My earlier comments of members' responsibility for bringing the gospel to all the world addresses this question to a certain degree. However, in trying to look at this issue from my friend's perspective, I realized that it isn't just the LDS practice of missionary work that was being taken into consideration but the missionary or Evangelical practices of pretty much all Christian religions.

As Latter-day Saints, we are not in the habit of using the term "Evangelism" in reference to missionary work. In my studies, I've found that an evangelist has a very distinct role apart from that of a missionary. Though it took a while before I came to this understanding.

If you look through modern dictionary definitions of Evangelist and Evangelism, you find its modern usage is very similar to that of the word missionary. However, more detailed definitions describe evangelism with such terms as fanatical and even militant. Terms that, quite frankly, leave a bed taste in my mouth.

I could find only three references to the word Evangelist in the Bible and as the word is described in the Greek and Hebrew lexicon in my CD-ROM study aids, an evangelist is "a bringer of good tidings... This name is given in the New Testament to those heralds of salvation through Christ who are not apostles."

That an evangelist is a bringer of good tidings makes sense from the Greek root of the word, euaggelion {yoo-ang-ghel'-ee-on}, which means good tidings. However, the name Evangelist is "given... to those... who are not apostles." And apostles, as well as seventies, are charged by Christ with spreading the gospel. The references to Evangelists in the New Testament refer to specific persons and to a specific office in the priesthood.

In the January '95 issue of the Ensign, there is a fascinating article by John W. Welch titled "Word Studies from the New Testament" in which specific words from the original Greek gospels are examined so that we might have a better understanding of how they were used during new testament times. Here, in part, is what the article has to say about Evangelists.

"In 1839, the Prophet Joseph Smith explained that 'an Evangelist is a Patriarch.... Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a Patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints, as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons.'

"With this in mind, the earliest known use of the word euangelistes ('you-ON-gell-is-TAYS') outside the Bible is of considerable interest to Latter-day Saints. It was found in a Greek inscription on the island of Rhodes; it appears to be a burial inscription of a high priest who functioned in a temple of Apollo. Most scholars who have studied this fragmentary text have concluded that this priest was called a euangelistes because he was 'the deliverer of oracular sayings' to individuals who typically came seeking prophetic information from Apollo about their personal lives.

"Today we cannot be certain of the origins of the New Testament term euangelistes. But of all the meanings attributed to the word evangelist over the years, the Prophet Joseph Smith's identification of this office as that of a patriarch who gives spiritual and prophetic blessings to individuals still comes closest to the meaning of this term in its earliest known occurrence."

(Ensign January 1995 pp. 29)

I have a friend who has a gift for being blunt and she said to me once, "Come on, you guys pretty much want to convert everybody to your religion don't you?" I answered her question as best I could, then dropped it into the laps of my LDS friends on the internet.

Where are the missionaries? Or "My Guys in Ties," as I like to call them.

Now, it is not the role of the missionary to knock on someone's door and say, "Hi there. We're Mormons and we're here to convert you." (To the missionaries) You don't, do you? Good.

Instead, they tell the people whom they seek out, "We have a message that we would like to share with you." That message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

As far as converting everybody is concerned... as much as that would be a nice thing to see, we, as Latter-day Saints, do not fool ourselves into thinking that all will come unto Christ. That everyone who hears this message will actually take the time to listen . We all have our free agency. Or, as it was put to me in a recent e-mail message which also offers insight into an earlier question:

"This is part of the mission of the Church... to proclaim the gospel. The reason behind missionary work is not to defend the gospel... in other words, it isn't a question of letting the truth stand alone. The truth will do that by itself and the issue is unrelated to why we spread the gospel. We spread the gospel to BRING people TO the truth (to expose them to it)...

"Spreading the gospel fulfills the promise Heavenly Father gave us that we would all have the opportunity to accept or reject the Savior and His plan. If we didn't spread the gospel (here or later in the spirit world) this aspect of the plan would not be fulfilled, nor would the kingdom of heaven be built on the earth."

["Little Miss Sunshine :)" ]

Brothers and sisters, conversion to the gospel is a very personal thing. We do not go out as member missionaries or full time missionaries to convert people. We go to spread the word. To show people where the truth in its fullness can be found. We may or may not find converts along the way, that isn't necessarily the point of being there.

I have come to a point in my life where I have made a decision regarding my future. I haven't very much time left here with you in this branch. I will be moving on toward other opportunities. To be with other members and hopefully to find some new ones. There are a lot of Latter-day Saints out there who are waiting... waiting to be shown the way.

When my family was first introduced to the Church 14 years ago, two young men called Elders Gunther and Johnson came into our home to share with us a message. Before either of them got a word in edgewise, my mother stated to them quite clearly, "Alright, listen. As a family, we believe in this and this and this and this..." and she rattled off a number of points of doctrine that we knew for sure were true.

In response to this, one of these missionaries turned to the other and said, "Elder... These people are Mormons. It's just that, until now, no one has bothered to tell them."

My brothers and sisters, I am looking forward to the day when I will be that young man knocking on a door.** And when it opens, I will look into the eyes of my brother or sister and say, "Hello. My name is Elder Puente and this is my companion. We are ministers of Jesus Christ and we have a message that we would like to share with you."

*This document this linked to has been deleted. Like a lot of naive young and new members, I accepted at face value a story that had no basis in fact.

**Hey, plans change.