Above All Other Things

Summary: In explaining how the church of Christ operated in his day, Moroni began by saying: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.” He then went on to provide further information, especially about our role as members of Christ’s Church. In four verses Moroni gave us a wealth of information that are important for us to be aware of that helps us better understand the covenant we make with Christ at the time of our baptism and the importance of belonging to the Church of Christ. This article takes an in-depth look at what Moroni taught us in these few verses.

In explaining how the church of Christ operated in his day, Moroni wrote: “And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end. And after they had been received unto baptism and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

“And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus. And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ” (Moroni 6:3-7).

In just these few short verses. Moroni gives us a wealth of information about the meaning of baptism, the covenant we make with Christ, and the importance of what it means to belong to the church of Jesus Christ.

The first thing Moroni says is that “none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end.”

There are Christians who believe that being baptized is important to our salvation because it is the means through which our sins are remitted or washed away, which then makes us worthy to live in heaven with God. In nearly all Christian churches who practice this ordinance, all a person has to do to be baptized is to openly make a public profession of belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior, but Moroni points out that in his day no one was allowed to be baptized unless they made a solemn commitment or a sacred promise before God that they were willing to do two things. The first was to take upon themselves the name of Christ, and the second was that they had a firm determination to serve God “to the end.”

According to Moroni, the purpose of baptism wasn’t just for the remission of a person’s sins. It also involved making a commitment to first of all take upon themselves the name of Christ, but what does this mean?

It is easy for someone to go around calling themselves a Christian but Jesus said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things I say?” (Luke 6:46). “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). When someone calls themselves a Christian what they are saying is that they are a follower of Christ, therefore, the word Christian isn’t a title or a label we wear. It is a statement that we are someone who follows the teachings of Christ. But if someone doesn’t want to do what Christ asks of them, then they are merely a Christian in name only but not one in reality. As such they are an imposter.

But Moroni tells us that there is a second promise we make at the time of our baptism which is that we will have a determination to serve God “to the end.” The word “forever” implies that there is no end and clearly if we live on after death and make it into heaven, we certainly don’t stop serving God once we get there. Therefore, the implied commitment someone makes at the time of their baptism is that they solemnly promise to serve God forever.

But Moroni explained that the promise we make is more than merely saying we will serve God. It’s that we will have a “determination” to serve him. Synonyms for the word determination are “steadfastness, tenacity, unwavering, firmness of resolve, full-purpose of heart, strength of mind and will.”

When we are determined to do something, nothing can sway us away from doing that which we have set our mind to accomplish., When we are determined to do something, no matter how many times we might fail, no matter how many obstacles we might face, or no matter how hard the task may be, we never give up trying.

The scriptures tell us that he that endures to the end shall be saved (Matthew 24:19; 1 Nephi 22:31), and this is generally understood to mean that in order to be saved we must continue to keep the commandment of God up until the time we die. In D&C 76:79 we learn that those who are not valiant in the testimony of Christ will not go to the celestial kingdom, but there have been debates on what constitutes being valiant in the testimony of Christ. If we say that the word “valiant” refers to how well we keep the commandment, then how valiant must we be in order to get into the celestial kingdom? Can we get there with being just a little valiant, somewhat valiant, or is only a whole-hearted effort acceptable?

The answer to this question is further complicated when we realize that no matter how hard we try, we cannot keep all the commandments all the time, at least in this life. However, if we are determined to keep God’s commandments then no matter how many times we fail, we will keep striving, and never give up trying to live them, to the best of our ability, and that is the promise we make when we are baptized.

But the word “serve” is equally as important to understand. God has commanded us not to steal or lie, to pay our tithing, read the scriptures, pray daily, etc. and this is what we usually think of when we talk about keeping the commandments, but to serve God involves doing more than merely keeping a list of dos and don’ts.

Christ’s mission is to bring to pass the eternal life of man and to do that requires a lot of work, therefore he needs people who are willing to be his hands, feet, eyes, ears, and voice to help him accomplish his mission.  At the time when we are baptized we make a commitment to help God in saving souls, and it’s because of our promise to God that he calls each baptized person to help him in this work, and he does this by calling them to perform certain tasks.

Some of those tasks are given to us as a formal calling, such as to be a Sunday School teacher, or a librarian, Relief Society or Elder’s Quorum president, bishop, or to fulfill any number of tasks within one of the many church organizations. But there are non-formal duties that God asks us to perform that all members of his church are expected to fulfil, such as doing missionary work, genealogy work, temple ordinances for the dead, caring for the poor and needy, doing good unto others, etc.

Although these are also commandments from God, what they all have in common is that they require a willingness on our part to help Christ fulfill his responsibility to save mankind. It is when we are determined to serve Christ as an active participant in his cause, no matter what assignment we are given, is what enables us to endure to the end in being valiant in the gospel of Christ.

Moroni then said that after a person was baptized “they were [then] numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken.” What this means is that no one was permitted to belong to the church of Christ unless they had first been baptized. What we see then is that baptism was the ceremony that admitted someone to become a member of Christ’s church, and the reason why is that only those who were willing to pledge their loyalty and commitment to serving Christ and to keeping his commandments were worthy of belonging to his church. This is only reasonable, because it doesn’t make sense to admit someone into any kind of an organization who doesn’t want to abide by its rules or who doesn’t have the best interests of the organization at heart.

But there is a greater significance to being part of Christ’s church than first meets the eye.

The apostle Paul explained that once a person was baptized and became a member of Christ’s church, “Now, therefore, ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). When someone becomes a member of Christ’s church, they are not merely joining a social club of like-minded believers but are becoming a citizen of heaven. As Paul explained, they become fellow citizens with such saints such as Moses, Abraham, and the prophets.

Jesus taught this concept in the parable of the beggar, Lazarus, and the rich man. When both men died Lazarus “was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22,23). In this parable we see that when Lazarus died his dwelling place was with Abraham, who is perhaps one of the greatest saints in heaven. This illustrates what Paul said that as members of Christ’s church we have become a citizen of God’s kingdom and therefore become fellow citizens with all the other saints who have gone to heaven.

As a citizen in the United States of America, one of the privileges we have is the right to vote, however, in order to take advantage of that privilege, a person must do two things. The first is that they have to register to vote, and the second is that they must actually show up at their designated polling place to cast their vote.

When a person shows up to vote, a poll worker asks for their name and then consults a list of all registered voters in that district. If the person’s name isn’t on that list they are not allowed to vote. At the same time, if a person’s name is on the list but they don’t show up, then they too don’t vote.

Moroni explained that in his day after someone had been baptized “they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken.” In other words, the church kept a list of the names of those who had joined Christ’s church and that list plays an important role in confirming or verifying that a person has not only officially had their sins washed away through the recognized ordinance of baptism, but that they had indeed made a promise to Christ that they would take upon themselves his name and serve him forever. It also confirms that, as a member of Christ’s church, they are a citizen of heaven.

There is an old Protestant hymn that says: “Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun, Let us talk of all His wonderous love and care; Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done, And the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there.”

That roll from which people will be called into heaven is from the membership rolls of Christ’s church, and only those whose names are found on it will be called. Those who have chosen not to have their sins washed away and who were not willing to commit to “labor for the Master from dawn till the setting sun” will not hear their name when the roll is called up yonder.

But what about those who have joined Christ’s church who were not valiant in keeping the promise they made at the time of their baptism? We can liken them to those whose names were registered to vote but who never showed up to perform their civic duty.

King Benjamin explained to the people of his day: “And it shall come to pass that whosever doeth this shall be found at the right hand of God, for he shall know the name by which he is called; for he shall be called by the name of Christ… I say unto you, I would that ye should remember to retain the name written always in your hearts, that ye are not found on the left hand of God, but that ye hear and know the voice by which ye shall be called, and also the name by which he shall call you. 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 5:9,11-13).

Jesus taught that when a shepherd “putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5).

Someone who calls themselves a Christian is someone who proclaims that Jesus is their Master. To be a follower of Christ requires obedience to him and his way, but those who don’t even strive to do as Christ commands demonstrate a lack of faith. The prophet Mormon taught, “for if ye have not faith in him (Jesus) then ye are not fit to be numbered among the people of his church” (Moroni 7:39).

If a person “has not served (God), and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart” then they are not truly a Christian. In our day. Jesus explained: “Wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day; Wherefore, if they know not the name by which they are called, they cannot have [a] place in the kingdom of my Father” (D&C 18:24,25)

The significance of becoming a faithful member of Christ’s church is that we can’t get into heaven if we have not become citizens of his kingdom here on earth, or if we haven’t learned to recognize the voice of the Master or have ignored his voice when he calls us to serve him.  This is why it’s so important for us to understand what it truly means to take upon ourselves the name of Christ because that is the name we will be called by in the last day. If we have not obeyed his voice here on earth, we will not heed it when he calls his followers to heaven on the last day.

Moroni went on to explain that the church was “strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.”

One of the purposes of baptism is to wash away our prior sins, but as we continue to sin, as long as we repent of our transgressions the Lord will continue to forgive us because of the atonement of Christ.  But since not all sins are equal in severity, therefore the depth of repentance must vary according to the seriousness of the sin.  Those who have committed serious offenses who refuse to properly repent can no longer remain a part of Christ’s church, and the way that happens is that their name is removed from the membership rolls When that happens, they are no longer numbered among the citizens of heaven and it’s as though they had never been baptized.

The word most commonly used to describe this kind of action is excommunication, and in some churches when this happens, the remaining members are not allowed to have anything more to do with those who have been removed from their church. What that means is that the person who has been excommunicated is shunned and ostracized by those whom they once associated with.

However, this is not the way the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treats those who have been removed from their membership rolls. These former saints can still come to church if they wish and be fellowshipped with love and kindness, but the difference is that unless they repent and are rebaptized, their name won’t be on the list of those called to enter into heaven at the time of the resurrection.

For those who have committed serious sins but have not been discovered, and who have not properly repented, even though their names may still be on the rolls of the church, they have neither sought to follow the commandments as God has given them nor have they been valiant in their testimony of Christ.

In cases such as these, instead of joyfully anticipating being called up to heaven on the last day, “our words will condemn us, yea, all our works will condemn us, we shall not be found spotless, and our thoughts will also condemn us, and in this awful state we shall not dare to look up to our God, and we would fain be glad if we could command the rocks and the mountains to fall  upon us to hide us from his presence” (Alma 12:14).

What Moroni has shown us is that being baptized and belonging to Christ’s church is something we should take seriously and be grateful for. To be made spotless through baptism and having the privilege of committing ourselves to serving Christ, so that we can be numbered among the saints of God, are blessing that we should prize above all other things.

 

Related articles can be found at The Nature of Covenants and Teachings from the Book of Mormon

 

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