Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sunday School Lesson Recap: The Meaning and Purpose of the First Principles & Ordiances as Commandments

The lesson yesterday focused on the meaning and purpose of the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel when viewed as commandments: faith (in the Lord, Jesus Christ); repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.

As we have done each week this month, we defined each commandment, talked more in-depth about what each commandment means beyond just a simple definition, and ended with a discussion of the purpose of each one - the "why" of each commandment.

1) Faith

Definition: From Hebrews 11:1 - "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen"

Meaning: "Substance" means "the actual matter of a thing, as opposed to the appearance or shadow; reality" - or, in the footnote to Hebrews 11:1 from the Greek, "assurance, basis, foundation". "Evidence" means "indication; manifestation; proof". Thus, "faith" means the details of that for which someone hopes but can't see and the indications or proof they see that supports those hopes.

Purpose: We talked about scientific experiments and how they are built on the pattern recorded in Alma 32 and described in Hebrews 11 - how faith is hoping something enough to conduct some kind of experiment in order to gain evidence of some kind that supports the hope. We talked about how diverse such hopes can be, as well as how diverse such evidence can be, but I emphasized that faith disappears when knowledge is found - and how that is much easier in the realm of scientific experiment than spiritual experiment, since spiritual "evidence" can be so subjective and non-reliable in terms of replicability. That's why spiritual faith must be gained individually - and why individual faith differences need to be accepted, respected and honored.

We talked about Alma 32 and the statement that there are two groups of blessed people: those who are compelled to be humble and those who humble themselves without being compelled. We talked about how that applies to faith, as well. I used Mother Teresa as an example, especially since she said shortly before her death that she had prayed fervently for a special witness from God that he existed and approved of her life and never received it. She said she saw God's love all around her (seeing evidence for her hope) had not seen the actual object of her hope. I told the students that I don't know of a better example of faith than Mother Teresa, including those within our own Mormon heritage who I see as equal to her in that regard.

We then discussed how lack of faith (in any area, scientific, spiritual, emotional, inter-personal, etc.) closes minds and stops progress - because such lack stops us from seeking understanding we don't possess currently or naturally. We talked about faith in the context of statements like, "Study it out in your mind and in your heart," and, "Seek ye out of the best books . . ." and Joseph Smith's statement that Mormonism embraces all truth, no matter the source. The purpose of faith isn't to believe any particular thing; it is to keep our minds and hearts open to learn every true thing. We need to be open to changing understanding / further light and knowledge by always hoping to continue to see evidence for things we can't see currently.

2) Repentance

Definition: "change"

Meaning: openness to change, in any way that leads us closer to being more Christ-like / godly - We talked about (my own terms) "reactive repentance" - making mistakes and trying to stop doing them - and "proactive repentance" - seeking to develop godly characteristics to become more Christ-like / godly. We talked about the difference between extremely serious and/or habitual sins that require a "steps of repentance" process and, in some cases ("thorns of the flesh"), suppression and regular, run-of-the-mill sins that can be eliminated best by becoming someone who simply doesn't commit them anymore. I told them that God isn't God because of His ability to suppress bad or inappropriate "natural" inclinations; he is God because he is someone who doesn't have those inclinations. We talked about the danger of attempts to suppress and equating Godhood with nothing more than extreme self-control - that becoming like God is less of a "battle" or "victory" and more of a process of change - a "repenting", in the purest sense of the word.

Purpose: to move from an animalistic nature to a divine nature - One of the students said something that I thought was profound. She said that repentance is an attempt to "find and become my best self". (It's moments like that when I have faith that what I'm teaching is making a difference.)

I asked the students why faith is a pre-condition to repentance, and they got it - that we won't try to change unless we have hope that our efforts will allow us to change. We can't see future changes in ourselves for which we hope, but we can see others who have changed - or feel assurance that we can change.

3) Baptism

Definition: originally, "immersion".

Meaning: symbolic cleansing - a statement of intent to be purified

Purpose: I asked why we teach the need for baptism in this life when people can be exalted without having been baptized in this life. In other words, if it's not necessary for anyone who has died without it, what is its purpose? We talked about that for a while, and we settled eventually on the need to have a communal expression of our commitment to repent - to change. In other words, baptism is our way of testifying openly to each other and to God that we have faith and are willing to repent. I told them that I believe in the power of such expressions when they involved the whole soul in some real, tangible way.

4) The Gift of the Holy Ghost

Definition: a bestowal or present of the Holy Ghost

Meaning: ideally, being in tune with God in such a way that communication is possible, in whatever form that takes

Purpose: We talked extensively about this, and the conclusion was that completely open communication channels with God are intended to allow us to get to know God well enough to be helped in our efforts to become like God. In the context of faith, repentance and baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost is what allows us to see the evidence we desire to validate our hope, make the changes necessary to become whom we hope to become and make our baptismal covenant active and powerful in a real way. It's God's part of the contract, if you will - God's baptismal gift to us to help us succeed and become whom we want to become.

5) Enduring to the End

Definition: never stopping until the end; finishing

Meaning: Becoming perfect ("complete, whole, fully developed") - We talked about "the end" not being death, given the nature of our belief in eternal progression, but rather the point at which we are complete, whole and fully developed - whenever that occurs. It means becoming gods - the ultimate goal of faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

I told them about the temple wording of "one eternal round" - and I told them that I personally see enduring to the end as the eternal round that happens when faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost work together as one process - when something previously unseen finally is seen and moved from faith to knowledge only to be replaced by new faith in something yet unseen - repeated ad infinitum until, throughout all eternity, everything is seen.

I ended by telling them about my father's death the previous day and how grateful I am that I was raised to be able to say:

"Forever's in my heart and in my blood."

No comments: