Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Righteousness: "Being a Good Example" is Not Enough

Years ago, when I was serving as the Ward Mission Leader, it struck me one day that there are members who say the most important thing they can do to share the Gospel is to be a good example. I believe these people are missing something - a fundamental understanding of the world around them that is absolutely critical to sharing the Gospel.

Of course, it is vital to be living the Gospel to the best of our abilities in order to share it. Of course, living the Gospel is of paramount importance - and, if one thing is to be done, living it is better than talking about it. However, the idea that “just being a good example” is enough to “share the Gospel” and attract others to the Church is fundamentally flawed and actually dangerous, since it misses two critical realities of this life.

1) There are numerous people of all religions and denominations who live their lives in accordance with the basic principles of the Gospel - whose lives are examples of true Christian discipleship in every objective measure, even within non-Christian religions. Many of these people are closer to being truly Christ-like than I am. Joining them is important, but it does NOTHING to distinguish us from them - especially if . . .

2) People generally have no idea what religion someone else is unless there are obvious outward signs or that someone tells them. In my area, for example, if I am a wonderful example of Christian discipleship, most others will assume correctly that I am Christian - but not one of them (OK, maybe one or two) will assume I am Mormon. In fact, the vast majority probably will assume I am not Mormon, due to their misconceptions about the Church. So, in a very real and powerful way, my silent example of Christian discipleship actually will reinforce their negative view of Mormonism and harm the Church.

This is one case where “living the Gospel” cannot be divorced from openly proclaiming our membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is important to be a good example, but that example must include “opening our mouths” and including our allegiance to the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot be just another example of spirituality; we actually must share what we have in order to be righteous ("right with God").


Patty said...

Thanks for the reminder. I'm totally guilty of this. Not because I don't want to share the gospel, or am even afraid to, just that I don't talk much in general, and don't have much contact with nonmembers. Guess I need to keep working on expanding my circle.

adamf said...

I have a lot of contact with people outside the church, and my "mormon-ness" is usually apparent to them, in a good way. I have developed some nice relationships with people who otherwise had a negative or neutral view of the church beforehand, which changed to a more positive view throughout our relationship.

When I meet new people I don't say "Hi I'm Adam, and I'm a Mormon" or anything like that, but it just always seems to come up before long, and I try to nurture those situations carefully so I can share my beliefs with them without bugging them too much.

Papa D said...

It's interesting how many ways there are for it to come up in a conversation. I was raised in Utah; I have family in Utah; my wife attended BYU; I served a mission in Japan; I have six kids; my oldest son is going on a mission this summer; I serve on an area counsel helping congregations in my area; sometimes I attend church for 6-8 hours on Sunday; I don't drink or smoke; I've been married for over 20 years and am in my early 40's; etc. The list is amazingly long when you stop and think about it, so the chances to interject something into a conversation that will lead to a question that will lead to the Church are almost limitless.

Add to that any comment that is religious in nature (or uses common religious words), and it is quite easy to bring up the Church in a very natural way.

sojourner said...

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (NIV, 1 John 1:7). Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (NIV, Colossians 1:24). The church is The Body of Christ. In order to have relationship with him we need to have relationship with his Body. Doesn’t this bring us back to spirit/body questions? (Probably your intent!) The church is how we connect to Christ because we are flesh and blood human bodies. When we come together as the church we are spiritually connected to each other as Christ's body. Then we go out and be Christ's body in the world sharing, caring, and reflecting his light. I need both thank you very much! :0)

Papa D said...

Exactly, Sojourner. We do need both.

I was thinking about Matthew 5:14-16, the famous verses about being an example:

14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

We often use this as proof that we must be good examples, but we usually overlook the fact that people need to know the source of our "good works" in order to "glorify our Father which is in heaven". Iow, if the people who see our light assume we are Buddhist or Muslim or Hindu or Catholic or Baptist or anything else, they will appreciate the light but not glorify the source. We need to tell them the source.

This is particularly critical if they are to glorify "our FATHER which is in heaven", since most Christian denominations now do not distinguish between the Father and the Son as separate beings. "The glory be thine" rings true in these verses, so we must make sure our light leads BOTH to Jesus AND His Father.

That generally won't be an immediate conversation, but our actions and words (together) need to lead people there eventually.

Stephen said...

the list is amazingly long when you stop and think about it, so the chances to interject something into a conversation that will lead to a question that will lead to the Church are almost limitless.

It really is.

Good thoughts here.

Anonymous said...

Letting yourself be known can also lead to some interesting experiences as well. I am the only member of the church here at work but my church affiliation and calling are well known. In fact, I am often called "Bishop" when being called on our radio communication system. The other day, a new employee came up to me and said, "I hear that you are a Bishop." When I responded that I was he said there was a question that he had been thinking about and wanted to ask. I jumped at this, thinking that I was going to be able to share some point of doctrine or talk about the Church in some other way. His question? "Why do you guys only move diagonally?"

It took me a minute to get the joke. :-) I did, however, get to chance to talk a little about the difference between Mormons and chess.

Papa D said...

Hilarious, Darrell. Thanks for sharing that.

When I worked in the Deep South, a co-worker once exorcised the room I had just left from "the spirit of the serpent that is among us" - but that's a slightly different story than yours. *grin*

Mama D said...

I think most people would assume I'm Christian based on my overall example but might not know I'm LDS, unless the question about how many kids we have comes up in conversation. Then it's pretty easy to bring up! lol

Darryl, that's a pretty funny story about being bishop. I expected a Catholic reference. Glad that you commented; it's been a while. You must be busy or something. :)

Anonymous said...

I am a little busy, Mama D. Thanks for noticing my absence. I really wish I had more time for blogging, but with working 60+ hrs. per week at my job, then doing school (I am trying to become a Certified Risk Manager), family and Bishop work I only have a little time for lurking and very short commenting. I do learn a lot, though and am grateful for the insights I have gained from this blog and a few others. Please, you and Ray keep up the good work. Many times, when lurking, I look for Ray's comments and click on them directly, knowing that I will gain valuable insights.

Mama D said...

Darryl, I am exhausted and dizzy just reading about your schedule! I'm amazed you have *any* time to blog. What a compliment that you seek out Ray's comments for insight. FWIW, we both admire you a great deal.

I see numerous instances of those who are good examples *and* are living the gospel among the bloggernacle.