This week marked a historic occasion for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on several fronts, as it comes to the city of Rome. You may even be suffering from Rome overload on your news feed, like our illustrious editor-in-chief, Geoff. Or you could be pining for more. So bear with me while I take a different approach to the events that occurred in Rome. (If you want to hear about some Rome overload, stream this week’s podcast below.)
History in the making
How cool is it to have a modern temple being dedicated in an area of the world where the apostles of the New Testament actually set foot and preached? There was a historic meeting (a word we throw around liberally every General Conference, but this truly was historic) between President Nelson and Pope Francis, the heads of two global faiths. And if that wasn’t enough, there was the entire Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency being outside of the United States together at the same time. But as awesome as these things are, I can’t help but reflect on my own personal faith history.
Let me back up a little.
It should come as no surprise by now to know that I’m a convert to the Church. This column is called “The Convert Files” for a reason. You’re shocked! Now that you’ve gotten over that shock, let me tell you what my faith was like prior to joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, when I was a Presbyterian.
I was heavily involved with my previous church. I did my best to follow the truths taught to me. I loved and still love the family and friends I worshiped with. Trying to live a Christian lifestyle was promoted, but there was rarely ever discussions of core doctrine. I didn’t even know what it meant to be a Presbyterian until later in life.
What is your doctrine, sir?
You see in the Presbyterian faith, there are some core doctrines revolving around the sacraments of the Lord. There is even doctrine on the eternal destiny of man, namely predestination. We worshiped God, and believed in salvation through Christ. Any given Sunday you might hear a sermon from a minister about some aspect of the bible from their perspective. All were good and worthy teachings, and essential building blocks in my faith journey.
Beyond that, the things taught within a church could change should a pastor or minister move on, which ours did more than once. For lack of a better term, while I learned about Christ, what I witnessed was a lot of philosophy of men mingled with scripture. Some in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints bemoan the top-down approach of messaging and lessons — correlation — but that keeps us all on message and doesn’t let well-intentioned lay clergy muddy the waters.
I saw several pastors and ministers come through my own church, each with their own unique brand of Christianity. One was a lay pastor, a person chosen from within out congregation to teach us. Another was an ordained minister who had gone through seminary and brought a more educational approach. These were good people, doing their best to teach the truths they knew. Heck I even had an opportunity, albeit later in life, to be preacher for a day for a Church.
But all of this left me lacking. I saw huge schisms developing within my faith, schisms that many faiths face today, over doctrine and teachings. Who truly had the authority to speak on behalf of the Church, I wondered? The governing bodies couldn’t even agree.
I went searching for truth and found a girl
If you don’t think our youth are the best missionary tool in the Church, you are plain wrong. In my search for answers, I was distracted by a beautiful young woman, whom I was determined to date. The only problem – she was a “Mormon.” Gasp! Okay, I could look past that, I thought. Little did I know what was in store for me.
As we started dating, we had a lot of discussion on religion and faith. Trinity vs. Godhead, faith and works, baptism, etc. You name it, we talked about it. She even invited me to watch General Conference with her family. I politely declined; I wasn’t about to be sucked in that easily.
But that wasn’t the end. Oh, no, those “Mormon” girls are sneaky!
What I witnessed was a daughter of God, fiercely proclaiming what she knew to be true. I remember a particular discussion we had, when she told me she would only marry someone in the temple. We had been dating for a short period, but we both could see long-term relationship potential. Her testimony of eternal marriage was so bold, I couldn’t deny it. I knew if she was so solid on this issue, there had to be something more to what she was saying.
At some point in our courtship both of us felt prompted that I needed to take the missionary discussions, and 19 years and four kids later, the rest is history.
My first General Conference
I was baptized on September 29th 2001, and shortly thereafter I watched my first General Conference. It was the first time I heard a prophet speak. When I heard President Hinckley bear his testimony, there was no doubt in my mind that a prophet of God was on the earth again, and that only reaffirmed my choice to join the Church.
I don’t remember his words, but the feelings are imprinted forever. Through the tender promptings of the Spirit, I knew Christ’s Church was established again. I didn’t have to worry about changing doctrine or the foibles of man. If you’ve had the opportunity to sit in a stake conference with an apostle, you may recall that some of them encourage members not to scribble down the words shared by the leader on their notepads, as we are prone to do, but to focus on the feelings of the spirit and note what we experience.
I could claim the privilege of being in a church where doctrine was taught frequently and consistently. The Sacrament, once something I partook of every six months or so, was now an every week thing. Everything started to fall into place.
It’s what I had been missing from my life. My testimony, then in its infancy, grew by leaps and bounds as the Spirit whispered truth to my heart. It didn’t matter what trials I was facing, and there were many when I chose to join the Church, I knew I had done the right thing.
When in Rome
While many might have seen the historical significance of the prophet and apostles being in Rome together, for me it brought a moment of solemn reflection. I remembered how I felt when I learned that a prophet of God exists today. My spirit soared as the truth of a restored Church and apostolic leadership flooded my mind once again.
It’s unfortunate, but I think after some time in the Church, I began to take those things for granted. I forgot what my faith experience was like before joining the Church. A mistake I hope to not make again. So my challenge to you, try to remember the first time you knew, I mean really knew, a prophet of God existed, and reflect on that and share it with your family and friends.
How amazing it was to see all 15 of those prophets, seers, and revelators together in the Eternal City, in front of not just the single statue of Christ that appears in a few temple visitors centers, but also surrounded by statues of the Lord’s original twelve apostles, all of them modeled after the same original statues that appear in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, Denmark. We see the the current prophets supported by their original spiritual forebears – a continuity that was restored through Joseph Smith.
General Conference is coming up again in a few weeks and we’ll all have the chance to hear from prophets. We don’t need to be in Rome! You can be anywhere and stream it.
While living the gospel can sometimes be hard, never forget that we have prophets, and never forget that you have a Savior. None of us is alone.