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The Dangers of Superficial Church Membership

We live in a day when, “you cannot live off borrowed light.” To have light in your own lamp requires more than superficial church members. In other words, you have to be active in the gospel and not just the church. You must learn to be guided by personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so you will not be deceived. Here’s how and why from the mouths of prophets.

Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) President

Heed the Lord’s counsel to the Saints of this dispensation: “Prepare yourselves for the great day of the Lord” (D&C 133:10).

This preparation must consist of more than just casual membership in the Church. You must learn to be guided by personal revelation and the counsel of the living prophet so you will not be deceived.

Paul’s message is the same as Lehi’s. After portraying the terrible wickedness of future times–future to him, but present to us!–he said this to Timothy: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned. … From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation.” (2 Tim. 3:14-15; italics added.) (“Prepare Yourself for the Great Day of the Lord,” New Era, May 1982, p. 50)

In his dream, Lehi saw an iron rod which led through the mists of darkness. He saw that if people would hold fast to that rod, they could avoid the rivers of filthiness, stay away from the forbidden paths, stop from wandering in the strange roads that lead to destruction. Later his son Nephi clearly explained the symbolism of the iron rod. When Laman and Lemuel asked, “What meaneth the rod of iron?” Nephi answered, “It was the word of God; and [note this promise] whoso would hearken unto the word of God, and would hold fast unto it, they would never perish; neither could the temptations and the fiery darts of the adversary overpower them unto blindness, to lead them away to destruction.” (1 Ne. 15:23-24; italics added.) Not only will the word of God lead us to the fruit which is desirable above all others, but in the word of God and through it we can find the power to resist temptation, the power to thwart the work of Satan and his emissaries. …

My dear brethren, this is an answer to the great challenge of our time. The word of God, as found in [1] the scriptures, in [2] the words of living prophets, and in [3] personal revelation, has the power to fortify the Saints and arm them with the Spirit so they can resist evil, hold fast to the good, and find joy in this life. (“The Power of God,” Ensign, May 1986, pp. 79-82; underlining and numbering added)

Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917-2008) Quorum of the Twelves Apostles

Many years ago, large packs of wolves roamed the countryside in Ukraine, making travel in that part of the world very dangerous. These wolf packs were fearless. They were not intimidated by people nor by any of the weapons available at that time. The only thing that seemed to frighten them was fire. Consequently, travelers who found themselves away from cities developed the common practice of building a large bonfire and keeping it burning through the night. As long as the fire burned brightly, the wolves stayed away. But if it were allowed to burn out and die, the wolves would move in for an attack. Travelers understood that building and maintaining a roaring bonfire was not just a matter of convenience or comfort; it was a matter of survival. (See Mary Pratt Parrish, Ensign, May 1972, p. 25.)

We do not have to protect ourselves from wolf packs as we travel the road of life today, but, in a spiritual sense, we do face the devious wolves of Satan in the forms of temptation, evil, and sin. We live in dangerous times when these ravenous wolves roam the spiritual countryside in search of those who may be weak in faith or feeble in their conviction. In his first epistle, Peter described our “adversary the devil, as a roaring lion [that] walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (1 Pet. 5:8.) The Lord told the Prophet Joseph Smith that “enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb.” (D&C 122:6.) We are all vulnerable to attack. However, we can fortify ourselves with the protection provided by a burning testimony that, like a bonfire, has been built adequately and maintained carefully.
Unfortunately, some in the Church may believe sincerely that their testimony is a raging bonfire when it really is little more than the faint flickering of a candle. Their faithfulness has more to do with habit than holiness, and their pursuit of personal righteousness almost always takes a back seat to their pursuit of personal interests and pleasure. With such a feeble light of testimony for protection, these travelers on life’s highways are easy prey for the wolves of the adversary. (“Spiritual Bonfires of Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1992, p. 34)

Neal A. Maxwell (1926-2004) Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

From Men and Women of Christ:

If we enlist and take the Savior’s yoke upon us we “shall find rest unto [our] souls” (Matthew 11:29). If we are only part-time soldiers, though, partially yoked, we experience quite the opposite: frustration, irritation, and the absence of His full grace and spiritual rest. In that case weaknesses persist and satisfactions are intermittent. . . Actually the partially yoked experience little spiritual satisfaction, because they are burdened by carrying the awful weight of the natural man — without any of the joys that come from progressing toward becoming “the man of Christ.” They have scarcely “[begun] to be enlightened” (Alma 32:34). The meek and fully yoked, on the other hand, find God’s reassuring grace and see their weakness yielding to strength (see Ether 12:27).

Strange as it seems, a few of the partially yoked, undeservedly wearing the colors of the kingdom, are just close enough to the prescribed path and process to be able to observe in others some of the visible costs of discipleship. Sobered by that observation, they want victory without battle and expect campaign ribbons merely for watching; but there is no witness until after the trial of their faith (see Ether 12:6).

These same Church members know just enough about the doctrines to converse superficially on them, but their scant knowledge about the deep doctrines is inadequate for deep discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 2:10). Thus uninformed about the deep doctrines, they make no deep change in their lives. They lack the faith to “give place” (Alma 32:27) consistently for real discipleship. Such members move out a few hundred yards from the entrance to the straight and narrow path and repose on the first little rise, thinking, “Well, this is all there is to it”; and they end up living far below their possibilities. While not as distant as those King Benjamin described “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13) — these people are not drawing closer either. (Men and Women of Christ [1991], pp. 2-3)

From “Overcome … Even As I Also Overcame”:

Events and circumstances in the last days make it imperative for us as members of the Church to become more grounded, rooted, established, and settled (see Col. 1:23; Col. 2:7; 2 Pet. 1:12). Jesus said to His disciples, “settle this in your hearts, that ye will do the things which I shall teach, and command you” (JST Luke 14:28). If not so settled, the turbulence will be severe. If settled, we will not be “tossed to and fro,” whether by rumors, false doctrines, or by the behavioral and intellectual fashions of the world. Nor will we get caught up in the “talk show” mentality, spending our time like ancient Athenians “in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing” (Acts 17:21). Why be concerned with the passing preferences of the world anyway? “For the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor. 7:31). . . .

Some Church members, alas, are neither reconciled to the will of God nor are they sufficiently settled as to their covenants. . . .

Some give of their time yet withhold themselves, being present without giving of their presence and going through the superficial motions of membership instead of the deep emotions of consecrated discipleship.

Some try to get by with knowing only the headlines of the gospel, not really talking much of Christ or rejoicing in Christ and esteeming lightly His books of scripture which contain and explain His covenants (see 2 Ne. 25:26).

Some are so proud they never learn of obedience and spiritual submissiveness. They will have very arthritic knees on the day when every knee shall bend. There will be no gallery then to play to; all will be participants!

Maintaining Church membership on our own terms, therefore, is not true discipleship.

Real disciples absorb the fiery darts of the adversary by holding aloft the quenching shield of faith with one hand, while holding to the iron rod with the other (see Eph. 6:16; 1 Ne. 15:24; D&C 27:17). There should be no mistaking; it will take both hands! (“Overcome … Even As I Also Overcame,” Ensign, May 1987, p. 70)

L. Tom Perry (1922-2015) Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

When I was given the assignment to speak in the priesthood session of general conference, I immediately thought of a wonderful Primary teacher. Her great desire was to prepare us to be worthy of receiving the priesthood. She grilled us on the requirements then in place for graduation from Primary—memorize the names of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Articles of Faith. She also made us a promise—if all of us could recite the thirteen Articles of Faith by memory, we could choose the place and go on an outing for our last class.

We decided on a special spot we liked to hike to on the rocky slopes just above the first dam at the entrance of Logan Canyon, in northern Utah. . . . After we arrived, it took our teacher a little while to catch her breath. By the time we prepared to sit down and eat, she had recovered enough to teach us our final lesson. She told us how she had enjoyed teaching us in Primary for the last two years. She complimented us on how we had mastered the Articles of Faith. She could call out the number of any one of them, and we could quote it back to her. Then she said memorizing the Articles of Faith would mean nothing more than a lot of words unless we understood the doctrines and principles contained in them. She encouraged us to study the gospel doctrine taught in each of the Articles of Faith.

My Primary teacher instilled in me a determination to study the doctrines of the kingdom. She taught me to seek the deep meaning contained in these simple Articles of Faith. She promised me that if I would invest in learning these sacred truths, the knowledge I acquired would change my life for the better, and I testify to you that it has. (“The Doctrines and Principles Contained in the Articles of Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, pp. 46-48)

Joseph Smith (1805-44) President

The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity–thou must commune with God. How much more dignified and noble are the thoughts of God, than the vain imaginations of the human heart! (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], p. 267)

It is not wisdom that we should have all knowledge at once presented before us; but that we should have a little at a time; then we can comprehend it.

When you climb up a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel–you must beging with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation. But it will be a great while after you have passed through the veil before you will have learned them. It is not all to be comprehended in this world; it will be a great work to learn our salvation and exaltation even beyond the grave.

To those who … can assist in this great work, we say, let them come to this place; by so doing they will not only assist in the rolling on of the Kingdom, but be in a situation where they can have the advantages of instruction from the Presidency and other authorities of the Church, and rise higher and higher in the scale of intelligence until they can ‘comprehend with all Saints what is the breadth and length, and depth and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge. (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], pp. 267-268)

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