Today’s guest post is from Megan.
Ever since Holy Week, my dad and I have been trying to read the scriptures together whenever we get a chance. Our first goal was to read 3 Nephi. We started in April and it’s now June, so, like I said, trying.
But our slow progress isn’t the point. The point is, a little while ago we had an interesting discussion while we were reading 3 Nephi 11.
This is a revelatory chapter for the descendants of Lehi. They have just survived the tumult that occurred at Christ’s crucifixion. They’ve been the witnesses and survivors of death and destruction on an awesome level and, even before that, they had lived in a world where violence, corruption, and injustice were rampant. And then, with a whispered, piercing introduction, Christ appears in glory, the Atonement completed.
What, you ask, does Christ preach first, before anything else? Why faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, of course.
There’s a reason they’re the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel, after all.
After clearly stating these principles, and repeating three times that this is what they’re supposed to do, so that there isn’t any confusion or contention, Christ says that they (and we) are to “become as a little child.” In fact, in verse 37 He says, “And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name….” Christ places becoming as a little child as a prerequisite to baptism.
It was on that principle, becoming as a little child, where our discussion began.
My father flat-out said that it meant obedience, full stop. I wasn’t so sure, in fact, I outright disagreed with him. No, don’t get me wrong, obedience is absolutely a part of becoming like a little child, but I don’t think that’s the whole of the doctrine.
There are so many other aspects of becoming like a little child that I think are as, or even more, important than obedience. Little children are loving, they are kind, they are believing. Little children trust, they are helpless, in many ways, and have to rely on the adults around them. Obedience only scratches the surface of what the doctrine means, just like believing is only the first part of faith.
We absolutely do need to have clear, simple principles—Christ demonstrated that pretty clearly right there in 3 Nephi 11. His gospel is for everyone and, not only should everyone be able to understand it, they should know how to practice it. Not only are clear principles necessary to avoid contention, overcomplicating things is a tactic that people have used to take control of an idea or an institution, to accumulate power and then used to slam the door on anyone else who wants in. Directness and simplicity are two of the best things about Mormonism—we know who we are, we know what we believe, and everyone is welcome to share in all that we have.
But (and there’s always a but) simplicity can be a double-edged sword. If we focus only on that simplicity, on clear lines and strict rules, we run the risk of upholding the principle while forgetting its spirit. I see this in the person who looks down their nose at their spiritual sibling who has a hard time following the Word of Wisdom or the person who dismisses the good works of people of other faiths (or no faith at all). The simple answers, the clear-cut rules, the first principles and ordinances, are merely the beginning of discipleship. And, no, participating in temple ordinances is not the end of it. We’re meant to not only take what we learn and employ it in our lives, we’re also meant to learn more, to grow, to change, to become more like Christ.
There will never be a moment in our lives when we’ve grown enough. We should never look out and think that all is well in Zion. But hold on, I’m not saying that things are hopeless and I’m definitely not saying that we’ll never be good enough. I’ll say it right here, right now, you are good enough, I am good enough, the brother with the drinking problem is good enough, the sister who battles mental illness is good enough. We are all good enough. The center of the gospel, Christ’s atonement, makes us good enough. And the beauty of the restored gospel is that we can grow and become something more, become our best selves. Our gospel is a gospel of love and it’s a gospel of growth.
It’s pretty cool, isn’t it? When I think about all of the things that I don’t know, that us Mormons don’t know, that humanity as a whole doesn’t know, I’m filled with a sense of overwhelming awe. We’ve only taken our first steps, we’ve only scratched the surface of what is in store for us. We really are children, taking our first, unsteady steps. But our Parents are still there, standing above us, ready to offer a helping hand.
We still have so much to learn. We still have so much to do. This is only the beginning. That’s a really encouraging thought.