Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Church is a Vessel

Are you worried that the LDS Church is too "rigid?" I wouldn't blame you if you were: the Church today seems authoritarian, bureaucratic, and patriarchal, and it reeks of everything called "the man." Unsurprisingly, I was worried about this too for a long time. And I only stopped worrying when I realized that this rigidity is what the Church is for. For the Church isn't about the Church. What the Church is about is what it contains. And like any container, it can only contain its contents by being rigid.

A Digression on Christ's Sword

I'll explain what I mean, but first, a digression. Christ didn't come to earth to establish a literal kingdom of peace. Quite the opposite, actually: in the Book of Matthew, he says this iconoclastic line:

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. (Matthew 10:34)
Think of that! While most of us conceive of Jesus as a peace-bringing, lovable guy, he actually came here to bring conflict. And of course, that's what happened: from the era of persecuted Christians through Constantine, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and the wars between Protestants and Catholics, Christ's message did indeed bring the sword. But He brought more than just the wars of religion. Christ said that He had fulfilled the Law and that there was no longer a need to keep it; love was enough. So it's therefore not surprising that after the Catholic Church got established, worldly power began dissolving in gradual steps. First with the Protestant Reformation and then with the Enlightenment, the American and French Revolutions, the Communist and Feminist movements, and even modern-day gender anarchy, the Christian doctrine that "all you need is love" also brought "the sword."

When you abolish the Law, people are indeed free to love, but they're also free to follow their selfish and materialistic cravings. The French Revolution, for instance, led as much if not more to disaster as it did to freedom. And more topically, with sexual liberation also came the freedom to destroy one's spirituality with debauchery and indulgence of all kinds. This is necessary, of course: evil can only be removed if it is first expressed, so Christ's long-term purpose in abolishing the Law was, from my perspective, a way to coax hidden evil out of its hole so we today could recognize and remove it. But this can only happen if you have enough of a divine perspective to have that recognition.

The Church's Purpose

That, I think, is the Church's purpose. The Church is a vessel for goodness and truth, one rigid enough that, as evil and falsity gradually overflow the containers that kept them in check before Christ's coming, goodness is kept intact and not entirely snuffed out by evil. In other words, the Church's scripture, ordinances, and doctrines are rigid and against the times not because they make up "the only truth," but because that rigidity is the only way the divine goodness it expresses can stay safe in the influx of evil we see today. The scriptures, ordinances, and doctrines of the Church correspond (in a Swedenborgian sense) to divine goodness and truth, and it's their rigidity that lets that correspondence stay intact. Once the evil in the world peters out (as it's bound to do), then the Church can become less rigid. For then the vessel will be unnecessary and the goodness can go out into the world at large.

This principle may seem vague and abstract. If you think so, you're in luck, since there are two stories that symbolically illustrate this process in scripture: the story of Noah's Ark and the beginning of the Book of Mormon.

Noah's Ark

The "Noah's Ark" story symbolically corresponds to the way goodness and truth are preserved in the transition from one age to another. Swedenborg explains this point well in his Secrets of Heaven, where he recites the symbolic meaning of verse 23 of Genesis 7:

Genesis 7:23. And all substance that was on the face of the ground was obliterated, from human to animal to creeping thing to the bird of the heavens, and they were obliterated from the earth. And Noah alone was left, and what was with him in the ark.
All substance was obliterated symbolizes cravings, which are a product of self-love. That was on the face of the ground symbolizes the descendants of the earliest church. From human to animal to creeping thing to the bird of the heavens symbolizes the nature of their evil. The human is the actual nature, the animal is cravings, the creeping thing sensual pleasure, and the bird of the heavens the falsity that grows out of these. And they were obliterated from the earth sums it up by saying that the earliest church passed away. Noah alone was left, and what was with him in the ark, means that those who made up the new church were kept alive, what was with him in the ark being everything that belonged to the new church. (Secrets of Heaven 807)
In summary, the ark is the vessel that holds the goodness and truth still there in the "old church" or whatever earthly institutions were there before. As evil and falsity consume those earthly institutions and destroys them like a flood, the ark with its goodness and truth stays intact. And when the flood dissipates, the goodness and truth in the ark can come forth to "inherit the earth" in a "new church."

In my opinion, the LDS Church isn't the New Church that will inhabit the world after evil dissipates, in the Millennial Kingdom. Instead, it's the ark that keeps the goodness and truth, which will build that New Church, intact during this dark time.

Voyage to the Promised Land

The other scriptural story that explains this principle is the beginning of the Book of Mormon, namely 1 Nephi. We can read it in much the same way as the "Noah's Ark" story, only with details more relevant to today.

When Lehi leaves Jerusalem with his family, you can think of it as a symbolic representation of the way God "points" His will away from the "Old Church" (the churches of the Apostasy) and toward the "New Church" (what will exist in the Millennium). When Nephi goes back to get the brass plates, he's trying to reclaim the goodness and truth still left in the Old Church. When Nephi kills Laban to get the brass plates and puts on his clothes, this symbolically represents the way the New Church begins to form by first separating the goodness and truth of the Old Church from the "letter" (killing Laban) and then by re-embodying that goodness and truth (putting on Laban's clothes). This re-embodiment is a vessel that helps contain it for the journey ahead (as a side note, this is a parallel to the Book of Mormon itself : the Book of Mormon is to the Bible what Nephi in Laban's clothes is to Laban). Finally, the voyage to the promised land is the way the goodness and truth in the Old Church re-embodied in the LDS Church can get to the Promised Land: the paradise where the New Church can exist in freedom.


There you go: the LDS Church isn't what matters, but the container or vessel for what matters. It's important not because of what it is, but because of what it holds, what it "points to." So don't diss it for not being what it's not meant to be.

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