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How We Taught the New Testament in the Past: Lesson 33: “Ye Are the Temple of God”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 21, 2011

As with so many lessons in the current manual, this lesson cannot settle on a topic. It has the stated purpose “To inspire class members to seek the blessings that come from being unified in Christ, following the Spirit, and being morally clean,” generally unrelated ideas based on scattered verses from the first chapters of 1 Corinthians. Because I teach a class largely composed of members in their 70s and 80s and even 90s, and because we have so very many lessons on chastity (including one in Priesthood/Relief Society only a month ago), I’m dropping that element and going straight to the first one “being unified in Christ,” which of course requires following the Spirit. The lesson below from Lowell C. Bennion, Teachings of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1956) draws on 1 Corinthians and other sources for a much broader discussion of church unity to reinforce this focus of the current manual.

UNITY IN THE CHURCH

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Rom. 12:18)

Christ Prayed for Oneness

The Savior’s birth was heralded with these beautiful words: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14) But in his own relations with men during his ministry, he knew little peace. His message of love was not understood. He was a controversial figure, both hated and loved by his contemporaries. His ideas clashed with the thinking of important classes in society, threatening their status; and finally they did away with him.

Christ had not brought peace and good will among men at large. There was one more chance. Some few people believed in him. Could they be one in love and thereby continue his work among all men? This was the great desire of the master and the subject of his pleading and praying. In a prayer uttered shortly before his crucifixion, he asked his Father,

I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine …

And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are …

That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. (John 17:9, 11, 21-23)

And in the same eleventh hour of his ministry, Jesus said to the Twelve:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another, as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another. (John 13:34-35; see also John 15:12-17)

Paul Pleads for Unity

Under the impact of the resurrection of Christ, the marked influence of the Holy Ghost upon Peter and his associates, and the enthusiasm always present in the launching of a new and great movement, the church of Jesus Christ began its history with great unity. “The multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul.” (Acts 4:32) Their oneness extended even to economic matters. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:33)

We learn from the epistles of Paul and others that this unity in the Church did not last long and was not everywhere present. besides the Jewish-Gentile controversy described in Acts 15 and in Galatians 2, difficulties arose within the several branches of the Church. Much of Paul’s writing is a plea for unity, oneness, and peaceable living among the saints. By the time Paul wrote his Epistle to the Romans, his plea for unity was tempered with a bit of realism. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Rom. 12:18) In Ephesians we find a powerful plea for oneness:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;

Endeavouring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all …

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets, and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. (Eph. 4:1-6, 11-13)

To the Galatians Paul wrote:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

Achieving Unity in the Church Today

It is no wonder that saints in Ephesus, Corinth, and Galatia had contention. Converted from the Gentile world, with little or no experience in democracy, they were brought together into one fold, highly conscious of itself, and set apart from non-believers. The history of Christianity and of every other major religious faith is in part a story of division, of reformation and counter-reformation. Christendom is not unified; Judaism is not unified. No world religion has remained unified.

Within our own Latter-day Saint faith we are not one as we might be. from the beginning the Prophet Joseph had enemies within as well as without the fold. Upon his death, the people were divided in loyalty. Various sects arose out of the restoration movement. Today there is much unity in the Church, but there remain factions which have left the Church even in recent years. And within the church we sometimes irritate one another and indulge in backbiting. The ideal, which Jesus prayed for, has not been realized. We, his disciples, have far to go to achieve the oneness he sought for us.

Let us consider some New Testament writings to see if we can find wisdom and guidance in this matter. Perhaps we may learn of some principles which will help us to increase our unity.

Unity does not mean uniformity. It permits individual differences and diversity of function and talent. Paul points out that there are “diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” (I Cor. 12:4) In great detail, Paul likens the Church to the body:

For as the body is one, and hath many members and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? (I Cor. 12:12-15)

In this manner he illustrates our interdependence and the value of our diversified gifts and talents, offices and callings.

It is unthinkable that we should be alike in all things. Each of us is unique in his heredity; each of us is unique in nurture, even among members of the same family; each of us has free agency and the need to develop and express it; each of us needs original, self-expression. no man can be a human being and a child of a creative Heavenly father and satisfy his soul by being a rubber stamp.

Diversity of talent enriches life. Diversity of thought stimulates the mind. There is wisdom in counsel. “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (Prov. 11;14) One of the wisest provisions of government in the restored Church is the practice of every leader having counselors – each quorum, each organization, and each subdivision of Church organization. And what is the value of counsel if it is all of one kind? We need men and women of different background, education, and capacity to work for a common cause in all human efforts in and out of the Church.

Unity in diversity may be illustrated by analogy. Which is more beautiful, more adapted to the talents of men, a chorus all singing the same part, or the same chorus singing four parts in harmony? Consider the richness and brilliance of a symphony orchestra when playing in unison under an excellent maestro. No single group of the same instrument can compare with its fulness. In the Church we need to appreciate the talents and strength of our individuality and the importance of each person in his own calling.

Differences are resolved when men are laboring for a higher purpose. It is common experience among men that differences are not resolved by talking about differences. Problems have to be seen in the light of larger issues and purposes if they are to be met and overcome. This may be illustrated in marriage. Husband and wife are quite different in background, in nature, and interest. Were each to seek and maintain his or her own selfish interest, the whole relationship would be one of turmoil and strife, and would be beyond reconciliation. Common goals and loyalties – such as building a house, establishing a home, bringing up children, serving the Church, loving God, delighting in good things – unite a husband and wife in marriage.

Paul sought to lift the early Christians above quarreling, controversy, and sin by teaching them to love Christ. A supreme loyalty to him, particularly in faith and love, would make them one. Just as repentance is not simply a piecemeal change of habits, but the outgrowth of conversion to Christ, so unity comes when all men forget themselves in their love of the Savior. This is stated forcefully in the following passages:

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:26-28)

And he gave some, apostles; and some prophets, and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers:

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive,

But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:

From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind.

Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:

Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But ye have not so learned Christ;

If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus.

That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;

And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. (Eph. 4:11-23)

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than ourselves.

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. (Phi. 2:1-5)

Today, even as in the pristine Church, we need to forget issues which “lead not to edification.” We need to rise above petty jealousies, envy, and backbiting, which grow out of self-concern. A deep faith in Christ and a love for his work and teaching would help us rise above selfish interests. Because of our faith in Christ, in what do we have faith? Because of our faith in Christ, what should we be doing (a) in the home? (b) in the Church? (c) in the community? (d) in the world? These are questions which invite positive, constructive living. They allow for individual differences, but they also suggest unity and high purpose.

True Christian love for one another is the most powerful unifying force in the world. this, according to the Savior, is the final work of our discipleship. If we truly love one another we are his; we are one. Differences could either be reconciled or tolerated. We maintain that if our Christian living were sufficient we would draw many people to us. and even those not of our faith would share in a bond of brotherhood with us.

Young people, in particular, while they are seeking to establish a faith for themselves, need to feel the cohesive power of brotherly love. They need also to participate in service to God, to Jesus, and to fellow men. In short, they need to feel the power of gospel living in their lives. this will hold them to the faith more than all manner of argument, debate, and regimentation.

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord,

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. (Col. 3:15-17)

The word of God to Latter-day Saints today is this:

And let every man esteem his brother as himself, and practice virtue and holiness before me.

And again I say unto you, let every man esteem his brother as himself.

For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they serve him obediently, and he saith unto the one, Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there – and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?

Behold, this I have given unto you as a parable, and it is even as I am. I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine. (D. & C. 38:24-27)



3 Comments »

  1. If “Ye are the temple of God”, why is Utah leading the other 49 states in online porn subscriptions? (http://motherjones.com/riff/2009/03/red-states-love-porn)

    Consider this a symptom of a deeper problem, the problem of not being unified in Christ. If the prevailing philosophy is “What can Christ do for me?”, that’s the natural result. The world programs us to think that way. The dog can return to his vomit and the atonement will take care of the hangover.

    Of course, the realistic approach (from a spiritual standpoint) is to ask “What can I do for Christ?”. Since we are all one in God through Christ, this translates to “What can I do for us?” as King Benjamin so eloquently pointed out.

    We ignore the elephant in the room at our own peril. We are immersed in a culture and economy of “Me First”, so fighting its hold on our members must be our first priority as a Church.

    Comment by Bradley — August 21, 2011 @ 11:53 am

  2. Well, okay, Bradley, we’ll take your general point.

    However, your (and Mother Jones’) evaluation of reported internet statistics is unproven and unjustified and rank with unsubstantiated assertions. The stat as reported by most responsible sites is that Utah ranks high in *searches* for words that are related to porn, including the word “porn,” not in porn subscriptions. Searching for words related to porn does not equate to using porn, any more than my use of it in this comment is a use of porn. Second, even if the stat did reflect genuine porn subscription and use, nobody has provided a single datum that supports a claim that high usage is by members of the LDS Church. Utah is far from being uniformly Mormon, or even majority Mormon is some places.

    Your comment has been posted, and I have responded — courteously, I hope, although this tired canard makes my blood boil. You’ve had your say on this point. Do not comment further in this vein, even in response to my own comment — no further such accusations or disputations, even in support of a valid gospel point, will appear publicly. You’re more than welcome to comment in ways that are more in keeping with the general tone of Keepa, of course.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 21, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

  3. What a beautiful, ‘unified,’ look at unity. This approach could lead to a good discussion of ‘being morally clean’ in many aspects (honesty, kindness, service, chastity, etc.) as a process to becoming ‘one in Christ.’

    Your summary paragraphs are topics worthy of three months of lessons.

    Comment by charlene — August 22, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

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