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In Our Ward: Lesson 46: “Zion — The Pure in Heart”

By: Ardis E. Parshall - December 15, 2013

Lesson 46: “Zion – The Pure in Heart”

Doctrine and Covenants 57:1-3; 64:33-43; 82:14-15; 97:8-28; 105:1-12
Moses 7:12-19, 61-63, 68-69
Articles of Faith 10

Purpose: To help class members understand what the scriptures teach about Zion and to inspire them in their efforts to establish Zion.

Lesson Discussion and Application

[1. The word Zion has several meanings.
2. Zion has existed in previous dispensations.
3. The Saints of our dispensation have been commanded to establish Zion.
4. The scriptures include glorious promises about the future of Zion.]

In 1842, at the request of a Chicago newspaper editor, Joseph Smith wrote what he called a “sketch of the rise, progress, persecution, and faith of the Latter-day Saints.” We know that document as the Wentworth Letter, and are most familiar with the part that spells out some of our key beliefs, what we know as the Articles of Faith.

You’re familiar with another paragraph in this document, which records Joseph’s vision of the future of the Church and the gospel message, a future that included today, December 15, 2013:

[T]he Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear; till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.

Has the Great Jehovah said, “The work is done”?

What are “the purposes of God [that] shall be accomplished” before he will say the work is done? [Initial answers will probably concern missionary work; lead discussion toward the conclusion that simply preaching the gospel everywhere is not enough; but men and women must let that gospel guide their conduct through life.]

What purposes, what end results, come from living the gospel?

Most of these ideas have to do with individual salvation, and the salvation of families. The gospel is not purely a private matter, though, is it? What responsibilities does the gospel place on us that should have a public effect? What public, or social, effects can we expect to see when people live the principles of the gospel?

[Someone is certain to point out that everyone is responsible for his own salvation – spiritual and temporal – or that any social effect of the gospel must be limited because so few will accept and practice it. A key point of this lesson is that “Zion” is necessarily a social rather than a private condition. Don’t argue with anyone who wants to emphasize personal responsibility, but don’t acquiesce, either. Recast comments to acknowledge that Zion can only progress as fast as individuals are willing to implement it, and continue to emphasize interpersonal aspects of gospel living.]

The interpersonal, or social, effects of living the gospel as the Lord intends us to live are called “Zion” in the scriptures. Zion is “the pure in heart” (D&C 97:21), we read; Zion is the Church and its stakes (D&C 82:14); Zion is the dwelling place of those who are exalted (Hebrews 12:22-23). Zion is both a spiritual attitude, and a specific place.

Zion has existed among the people of God in past dispensations. Let’s look at some of those examples:

The first “Zion” we learn about in the scriptures existed under the prophet leadership of Enoch, in the patriarchal times of the Old Testament era. The Book of Moses tells us that Enoch and his people lived in violent times, but that the people of Enoch were blessed for their righteousness. As we read these verses from Moses 7, consider in what ways Enoch’s time was like our own:

Moses 7:13-19

13 And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.

14 There also came up a land out of the depth of the sea, and so great was the fear of the enemies of the people of God, that they fled and stood afar off and went upon the land which came up out of the depth of the sea.

15 And the giants of the land, also, stood afar off; and there went forth a curse upon all people that fought against God;

16 And from that time forth there were wars and bloodshed among them; but the Lord came and dwelt with his people, and they dwelt in righteousness.

17 The fear of the Lord was upon all nations, so great was the glory of the Lord, which was upon his people. And the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish.

18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

19 And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.

How were the times of Enoch like our own?

We read in later verses that God removed the City of Enoch from the world – completely separated it from the wickedness of the earth. Before that time, though, it was as much a part of this earth as any other city or society was. How do you suppose they managed to create and preserve a righteous city in the midst of wars and evil?

In what sense do you think “the Lord came and dwelt with his people”?

To what extent is that true of our day?

What specific steps could be taken by someone in the Church today – someone like you or me – to make our lives closer to the Zion of Enoch’s day? [Allow enough time for this discussion. This is really the point of today’s lesson, to identify practical steps and motivate class members to take them, rather than to discuss Zion in theory.]

After Christ visited the people in the Western Hemisphere and organized his Church among them, Zion existed for a time. As we read from 3 Nephi, watch for specific elements that define what Zion meant at that time.

3 Nephi 26:17-21

17 And it came to pass that the disciples whom Jesus had chosen began from that time forth to baptize and to teach as many as did come unto them; and as many as were baptized in the name of Jesus were filled with the Holy Ghost.

18 And many of them saw and heard unspeakable things, which are not lawful to be written.

19 And they taught, and did minister one to another; and they had all things common among them, every man dealing justly, one with another.

20 And it came to pass that they did do all things even as Jesus had commanded them.

21 And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ.

What specific details in these verses define Zion in the New World after Christ’s visit? [Briefly list on board as suggestions are made.]

Which of these elements exist among us today? Are there any elements that are not fully a part of our lives today? What should we – individually, as families, as a Church – be working on to be more like Nephite Zion? [Again, someone is bound to object to “all things in common.”

*** I understand the reluctance to accept this idea without qualification, when we have lived with the political example of communism all our lives. If, however, Zion were implemented by gospel teaching, under the priesthood of God, what would it look like, economically? What Zion-like economic principles are we commanded to live by, even under the not-yet-perfected Zion-like system of the Church today? What more can or should we be doing?]

Again, what practical steps could any of us take this year to make our society a little more Zion-like?

The Lord does not intend that Zion be merely a theoretical discussion of something that happened in past dispensations, or something that will only happen in the rosy future of the Millennium when we have all somehow become more perfect than we are today. He has given specific instruction that we are to work toward establishing Zion now, in our own dispensation.

The Doctrine and Covenants contains more than 200 references to Zion, meaning Zion in our own dispensation. Many of them have to do with building a specific community, the city of Zion that Joseph Smith tried to build in Independence, Missouri. Those efforts failed, and in 1834 the Lord released the Saints from the immediate obligation to build that city: “It is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion.” (D&C 105:9)

He did not release the Saints, though, from our obligation to build Zion in another sense. In 1829, even before the publication of the Book of Mormon and the organization of the Church, the Lord gave this instruction to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery:

Doctrine and Covenants 6:6

6 Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.

What would you say is “the cause of Zion”? [Discuss; again, try to reach the conclusion that Zion is a communal, social, cooperative ideal, not something that can be lived entirely within one’s individual, private life.]

Another revelation of 1829 was directed toward Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother:

Doctrine and Covenants 11:6

6 Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.

Oo, does that sound familiar?

Joseph Knight, Sr., one of the Prophet’s close associates, was the subject of another revelation.

Doctrine and Covenants 12:6

6 Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.

Are you beginning to sense a pattern here? Let’s look also at Doctrine and Covenants 14:6, directed to David Whitmer:

Doctrine and Covenants 14:6

6 Seek to bring forth and establish my Zion. Keep my commandments in all things.

What can you infer from the repetition of this commandment? Was it a special assignment, directed only to one or two or three individuals?

When the Lord temporarily released the Saints from the obligation to build Zion in Independence, Missouri, he spelled out some of the reasons why they had failed to keep that commandment. Their failure may be our opportunity, because we can learn from the Lord’s words what is required for us to build Zion. Let’s look through the first verses of Doctrine and Covenants 105 and identify some of those requirements.

Doctrine and Covenants 105:1-6

1 Verily I say unto you who have assembled yourselves together that you may learn my will concerning the redemption of mine afflicted people—

2 Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

3 But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

4 And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

5 And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.

6 And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.

Which of these requirements do you think we have taken seriously, and are doing pretty well at? Which requirements have we not yet fully embraced? What can we do to help create Zion?

When Robert D. Hales was the Presiding Bishop, he gave a Conference talk that included this paragraph on creating Zion:

Zion is characterized in scripture as a city in which the people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18.) Zion is “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:19.) This promised Zion always seems to be a little beyond our reach. We need to understand that as much virtue can be gained in progressing toward Zion as in dwelling there. It is a process as well as a destination. We approach or withdraw from Zion through the manner in which we conduct our daily dealings, how we live within our families, whether we pay an honest tithe and generous fast offering, how we seize opportunities to serve and do so diligently. Many are perfected upon the road to Zion who will never see the city in mortality. (Robert D. Hales, as Presiding Bishop, “Welfare Principles to Guide Our Lives: An Eternal Plan for the Welfare of Men’s Souls,” April 1986.)

What benefit is there to working toward Zion, even if we never see it fully achieved in our lifetimes?

When David O. McKay was an Apostle in 1935 [emphasize the 1935 by writing the date on the board], he gave a talk on the theme “Zion shall flourish and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her.” He talked about the physical appearance of Zion. He said the Saints could help to bring about Zion by making crop land more productive, by digging minerals from the earth, by furnishing employment for everyone, by strengthening economic institutions to create and distribute wealth, by improving highways, by developing energy to “furnish light, heat and power to every family.”

Then he said something which, to me, rings with prophecy: “[We must] improve the means of communication until with radio in our pockets we may communicate with friends and loved ones from any point at any given moment.”

Has that day arrived?

Elder McKay concluded his talk by looking forward to a

… Great Society in which all individuals will have a fair chance for the joy of living, and personal satisfactions will blend with social responsibility and creative power.

In the Church of Jesus Christ I see just such a Great Society.

O Zion! bright region of plenty and peace,
Where the homeless find refuge, the burdened release,
Where manhood is king, and the stars as they roll
Whisper courage and hope to the lowliest soul.

[Bear testimony that just as the time for building Zion has arrived in this detail, the day for doing all we can – mention some of the points brought out in class discussion – to build Zion in every other detail.]



10 Comments »

  1. I’ve spent a great deal of time studying Zion over the past 35 years. Sitting in today’s Sunday School lesson convinced me that very few members seem to have any idea what Zion is (or what it is not). Yet Moses 7:62 indicates that at least one Zion society (ie. the New Jerusalem) will have to be built >Before< Jesus comes again. It's as if we're all waiting around for someone else to take up the responsibility build Zion for us.

    Brigham Young seem to suggest that it is our responsibility. He stated, "Do we realize that if we enjoy a Zion in time or in eternity we must make it for ourselves? That all, who have a Zion in the eternities of the Gods, organized, framed, consolidated, and perfected it themselves, and consequently are entitled to enjoy it?" (DBY, 118).

    In the same talk he indicated that we already have everything we need except one thing. He said, "There is not one thing wanting [lacking] in all the works of God’s hands to make a Zion upon the earth when the people conclude [decide] to make it." (DBY, 118). He seems to be saying that all that is lacking is our decision to do it.

    Comment by Jesse @ Building Zion.org — December 15, 2013 @ 5:45 pm

  2. Jesse, that’s certainly one definition of Zion — the lesson manual did specifically list the New Jerusalem among the different ways “Zion” is used in the scriptures.

    I don’t know that we’re waiting for anybody else to build the New Jerusalem. There are a lot of things forecast for the future that we know we’ll need to do, but the time hasn’t necessarily come. We’re not prepared yet to take the gospel everywhere in the world, for instance, although we know that will need to be done. We’re making progress, we could perhaps pick up the pace, but we may not yet have the capacity to completely fill that assignment quite yet.

    I tend to think the same is true regarding the building of the New Jerusalem. We’ve been buying land for a generation. There may be progress on other parts of the assignment that are not public knowledge. But the time may not yet be right for the building of that city — the New Jerusalem is more than just a physical city; if we built it today, what would its purpose be? do we have a people prepared for it? In the meantime, Brigham Young’s words are at least as applicable to Zion in the sense of a Zion-like people as they are to a physical city.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 15, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

  3. I appreciate your emphasis on the social aspect of Zion. So often we, as Church members, seem to want to focus on the individual responsibility–and there is that–but the “cause of Zion” is more than just a group of individuals living good lives. It appears to me that Enoch’s Zion was a community of like-minded people working together toward a common goal. What good is it for me to focus on attempting to become a Zion person if I leave my family members behind? If the focus of the gospel is the family, and we, through temple work, are striving to link the family together (which, is going to touch many individuals over the course of generations), how can we then state that Zion is only an individual concern?

    There are many definitions of Zion, but if we somehow refuse to think about the social or communal aspect of it–how we are to help each other become a people prepared for the Second Coming of the Savior–the physical or individual definitions become, in my opinion, pointless.

    God wants a Zion people; not a group of disconnected Zion persons. As we grow to become the people God knows we can become, we can then build the physical place where we will dwell. I really think the people must come first before the place can truly be realized.

    Comment by Chris M. — December 15, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

  4. So can I make comments now? If so Akismet spam filters were keeping me out. Something about IP address being a suspected spam source. Other worpressers that have the same problem need to contact Akismet.

    Comment by Eric Nielson — December 16, 2013 @ 5:37 am

  5. It looks like all three of those who told me they were having trouble commenting can do do now. Two I had to fish out of the spam filter and tell Akismet were NOT spam, but somehow your, Eric, fixed itself. My fingers are crossed that the problem is over. But if anyone else has commenting trouble without having previously been, you know, a jerk warranting exclusion, please email me (contact address linked in sidebar).

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 16, 2013 @ 6:07 am

  6. I feel the Savior also emphasized the spirit of “Zion” as recorded in Matthew 22 that the law hung on the first two commandments – love God with all your heart and love thy neighbor as thyself. The 2nd one is even harder than first in our “fallen” state (and in some wards if you want to be wry or honest about it!) But this is what we must learn to achieve this lofty goal.

    Thank you again, Ardis, for a great lesson!

    Comment by Allison in Atlanta — December 16, 2013 @ 8:51 am

  7. Ardis, one of the ways we could prepare to build the “official” Zion society (the New Jerusalem) is by building practice ones first. It seems unlikely to me that we church members could just leap up from our long-term participation in Babylon’s economy into Zion’s with no running start. Think how that went for the Saints in Joseph Smith’s time. Getting in some practice runs would give us the opportunity to learn and grow, both individually and as a group.

    Do you think doing so would qualify under the banner “many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness?”

    Comment by Jesse @ Building Zion.org — December 16, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  8. Who do you envision building and occupying such a trial city, Jesse? Do you see the Church somehow involved in calling occupants, and building it, or do you see it as some kind of free enterprise gathering of Saints acting on their own?

    I do think we all need to practice Zion-like living — unselfishness, industry, cooperation aren’t going to spring spontaneously out of current systems — but I don’t immediately see the need for a formal, set-apart city in which to practice those traits.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 16, 2013 @ 9:13 am

  9. There are people who live in Zion already. We moved into one modestly humble ward on the Wasatch Front some decades ago and the Bishop told us in tithing settlement not to worry about paying ward budget as there was a couple in the ward who gave all their excess to the church and the budget was more than covered. We finally figured who they were, an elderly couple in a modest home who had a successful small business. And in retirement, they lived simply and gave all the fruits of their success beyond simple wants and needs to the church. They were kind-hearted and loving. They lived in Zion. We keep trying to be like that. Their example helped spread love and unity in a ward where many others of us failed. (Still failing, but some progress).

    Comment by Grant — December 16, 2013 @ 9:53 am

  10. Allison, I’m 100% in agreement with you that keeping the First Great Commandments is crucial. A Zion person is someone who lives by those two laws. A Zion society is one that incorporates those two laws into all its social institutions so that they are reinforced in the daily lives of the people.

    Ardis, I agree completely that “we all need to practice Zion-like living” and that “unselfishness, industry, cooperation aren’t going to spring spontaneously out of current systems”. I’m with you that there is not an immediate need “for a formal, set-apart city”. We’re simply not ready.

    What I’m trying to help people see is that it is our “modern” society that has incorporated the >violation< of the Two Great Commandments into every nook and cranny of our society, from education to government, from business to banking. Any society that does that qualifies for the biblical descriptor, "Babylon". If we want to build Zion in our homes, neighborhoods and communities, we must come to see that we are literally living in modern Babylon – "the antithesis and antagonist of Zion". Unless we admit that to ourselves, we'll never see clearly to step over the line dividing the two polar opposite types of societies.

    Comment by Jesse @ Building Zion.org — December 16, 2013 @ 11:03 am

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