Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Alma 1:21-24 -- On Softening our Hearts

"Now there was a strict law among the people of the church, that there should not any man, belonging to the church, arise and persecute those that did not belong to the church, and that there should be no persecution among themselves.
Nevertheless, there were many among them who began to be proud, and began to contend warmly with their adversaries, even unto blows; yea, they would smite one another with their fists.
Now this was in the second year of the reign of Alma, and it was a cause of much affliction to the church; yea, it was the cause of much trial with the church.
For the hearts of many were hardened, and their names were blotted out, that they were remembered no more among the people of God. And also many withdrew themselves from among them."
Alma 1:21-24

In the beginning of this chapter, a man named Nehor is preaching false doctrine, and a man named Gideon stands up to him, and Nehor kills Gideon.  A lot of people pick up on Nehor's idea of preaching falsehoods to make money, and it causes a lot of persecution against the church... people outside the church saying, I imagine, things that are similar to what we hear today... that the rules are too strict, or arbitrary, and that God will save everyone, and there are no real behavioral rules because God is all about acceptance and love... that we should be able to do what we want, behave however we like, and that God will still save us.  That the church has become an obsolete fossil and that it should keep up with the times and with the views of society.
So, the church was weathering the storm of criticism, but then, in these verses, some of the church members began to be prideful and contend as well.  Some, I imagine, fighting against the people that were persecuting them from without, but also some of them also fighting with each other within the church about the doctrine and whether it should change.
This was a tragedy in the church... not of course because it shook the gospel or challenged God's word.  Those just are, and us thinking we're wiser than God can't affect the fact that he is *always* wiser, and his truth will always stand.  ... The tragedy was the fact that so many people were lost from the church, either through the action of the church, or because individuals withdrew themselves.
Six verses later, the church has been strengthened, and is rock solid and practically perfect again, taking care of the needy and really exemplifying a Zion attitude.  And the church will always weather storms like this and come out stronger and better, because Christ is at the helm.  But those people that were lost during the time of upheaval, they were still lost.  And I fear that in our day some of us are in danger of being lost as well.
I think that the big red flag in these verses is "there were many among them who began to be proud."  Our pride gets us every time.  Maybe we aren't motivated by money, as Nehor was, but like him, we think that we can tweak the gospel to our own ends.  That it obviously needs to be modified here and there.  That, plainly, the church is behind the times and needs us to speak up for it, or needs us to demand some kind of change.  So that the prophet, or God, can see how many people will support them in some desperately needed modernization. :)  ... Except, wait.  Are we starting to believe Nehor's lies?  Did we forget that it is *God* we're talking about here?  Do we not remember what prophets really are?  Have we completely misinterpreted events from church history as God bowing to popular demand?  Today, let's take a step back and remember that God knows what he is doing.  God and the church are not on trial here... they are not being tested.  We are.  And our affiliation with God is more valuable than *any* cause, more precious than *any* opinion.  Let's never risk that relationship in thinking that we know better than God, or thinking that we have caught the church in a mistake.  It is God's job to correct mistakes, through his prophet... not ours.  We need to hold our membership in his church close.  Recognize it as a valuable part of our salvation, because through it we have access to God's ordinances, to many gifts and many blessings.  It is not something to be lightly released or bargained with.  If we have questions and concerns, that's natural.  Let's go to the Lord.  Let's study those things and learn all we can about them.  Let's pray our hearts out, and ask God to teach us the truth behind our concerns.  He will.  It isn't always immediate, but God always answers our questions, as we are able to understand the answers.  ... And while we're waiting for answers, let's be obedient.  Let's have some faith in God... the answers come as we draw near to God, not as we walk away from him.  He's the source.  Let's not... please, let's not... risk our membership and our souls in claiming that we know better than God does, or in teaching others that any of the guidelines of God's church are false.  Whenever there is a problem between ourselves and God, it's never God that has walked away.  It's always we that have wandered.  Let's not be the casualties in the cycle of pride.  Let's soften our hearts, and turn to God.

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