Unity and Service

The Book of Mormon teaches “The Father and I (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Ghost are one” (3 Nephi 11:36 cf 1 John 5:7). While recognising their separate nature it is important in understanding who God is to maintain a unity within the Godhead. This oneness is “a oneness of mind, of knowledge, of purpose, of will” (Roberts, 1903: 29). It is possible to extend this understanding of the unity of the Godhead and describe it as “so complete that each of the distinct divine persons has the same mind in the sense that what one divine person knows, all know as one; what one divine person wills, all will as one” (Ostler, 2001: 463-464). There is a unique oneness among the three members of the Godhead, which according to Jesus all people must work towards: “That they all may be one; as thou, Fatherart in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17: 21). James E. Talmage taught that “the mind of any one member of the [Godhead] is the mind of the others, seeing as each of them does with the eye of perfection, they see and understand alike. Under any given conditions each would act in the same way… their unity of purpose and operation is such as to make their edicts one” (Talmage, 1988: 41). They are thus “one God, meaning one Godhead” (McConkie B, 1979: 511): “This unity is so profound that there is only one power governing the universe instead of three, for what one divine person does, all do as one” (Ostler, 2001: 464).

The unity of the Godhead expands the definition of exaltation to mean a unity of individuals with the Godhead: “That they all may be one; as thou, Fatherart in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17: 21). Exaltation must be understood as a completion of the unity with the Father, Son (and Holy Spirit).

Exaltation as a unity with the Godhead is therefore possible, as exemplified through the life of Christ. Christ became one with the Father through obedience to his commandments and the aligning of his thoughts and goals to the Father. As joint heirs with Christ to receive the same inheritance of Christ (salvation), we  must strive to develop this unity throughout our lives. Prayer is an example of how this unity is important for the development of our relationship with Christ:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7: 7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationshi: Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other (BD: Prayer).

The example Christ set, in terms of his eternal destiny and the way he achieved the unity with the Father is crucial. If we hope to receive exaltation we must develop a relationship with Christ during mortality to hope for a continuation of that relationship beyond the grave. To receive exaltation we must know what, and behave as, Christ taught.

The Church (including the ward and the stake) plays a crucial role in Latter-day Saint belief and theology in the development of this relationship. The structure of the has  been established by God as a means for the achievement of salvation: “Ultimate salvation, in Mormon terms, is a corporate venture; it depends on relationships to other people” (Nuckolls, 2004: 315).  The structure of the Church is crucial. Our relationships to other people are formalised within the Church; as Church members are given the opportunity to serve one another. Through these service opportunities we are able to “work out [our] salvation” (Philippians 2:12):

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by labouring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day (Jacob 1:19).[1]

The service that is given by all members of the Church is a prelude to the service and unity that can be found within exaltation (unity with the Godhead):

In the [Godhead] the three are one God, yet each is fully personal; in the Church a multitude of human persons is united in one, yet each preserves her or his personal diversity unimpaired. The mutual indwelling of the persons of the [Godhead] is paralleled by the coinherence [or cooperation] of the members of the Church (Ware, 1993: 240).

Thus, a participation in the work of the Church is a necessary preparation for exaltation. In the novel, The Shack, an explanation of what the Church is, by Jesus, could have been written to describe the Latter-day Saint ideal: “It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now− just doing this− and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships” (Young, 2008: 178).The unity with the Godhead and others in this life and in the next is the nature of exaltation. The Church functions as a place where an individual’s relationship with the Godhead can be similarly worked out and centred. The Church’s most important function is as a channel for the blessings of the atonement of Christ and the reception of the Holy Spirit.[2]

If we hope for exaltation we must spend life developing relationships. The most important is with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But one important way that we do that is in relationship to other people. The Church (including the ward and the Stake) is organised to help us develop unified relationships that prepare us for exaltation. Each of us is an integral part of the Ward and we should each make evry effort to develop this service and unity, without which we cannot hope for exaltation. This may be a bold claim to make: that our exaltation depends on how we contribute to the Ward and relate to those people around us. It is nonetheless true, as each of these are indicative of the grace we have received in our lives.

Having established the doctrinal basis of the importance of service in the Ward let me now offer some practical ways that we can prepare for exaltation. 

  • View each person as a child of God.  How is this possible, and why is this beneficial. In every aspect of our lives we stand as a witness of Christ.  We stand in is stead; do what he would do, say what he would say and place him at the front and centre of everything we do. We place him, and our relationship with him, before everyone and everything else. This may seem a bold statement to make, but it echoes President Joseph Fielding Smith:

Who should we love above everything else in the world? … The Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Love him more than we do our own lives, or our own fathers and mothers or children; … because without his blessings we would have nothing (Take Heed to Yourselves, compiled by Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1971, page 296).

How is that possible? Surely it is impossible to love anybody more than we love our spouse and children. I remember pondering on the quote, and praying that I could have an understanding of such an instruction. I then heard wonderful instruction, that as we love the Saviour our capacity to love other people so much more. Loving Jesus enables me to have a deeper and more abiding love for all those people around me. At a very basic level, I am able to love my family longer (for eternity) as I place the Saviour in the forefront on my life. However, the quality and expression of my love becomes so much more sincere and deeper as I focus on the Saviour. This love is not just limited to our families, our ability to love others and show that love is enhanced.

Using our family as a template is very useful, as we understand a person’s motivations, and look beyond their faults, we give them the benefit of the doubt, we do not hold grudges. We build a relationship which is built on a mutual relationship with the Saviour. This would make our relationships here, and beyond, more pleasant, more forgiving and enriching.

  • If we feel on the periphery it is because we have moved. When we do not feel the Holy Spirit it is usually because we have moved ourselves away through our actions (whether we recognise them or not). The best way to get the Spirit back is to do things that move ourselves back towards him. This can be replicated on a ward or stake level. If we do not feel a part of things, then we may have imperceptibly moved away in thought or deed. What is our responsibility- to do things that involve us and move us back towards the centre. If we do not feel a part of Relief Society- we attend Relief Society meetings. If we do not feel close to certain people, we make the effort to get to know them. If we do not feel as though others are serving us- we serve them. The list could go on- at certain times, I have felt like a visitor at the ward, and out of the loop- what can I do- well, I could sit and moan, or I could offer to help organise the Christmas Eve social.
  • We pray for and sustain our leaders. We kneel down as families and pray for our Bishop and other leaders to be strengthened, and have the inspiration necessary. I think it is impossible to have unkind feelings for someone who we pray for. We fulfil our responsibilities, covenants and callings to the very best of our ability. We never criticise our leaders- if we disagree with the way something is being done, rather than muttering to others who share our discontent, we speak to the leader involved in a spirit of love, and share our concern. If they still feel the need to go ahead in the same direction, we do our very best to help the initiative succeed.

Through these small acts, our relationships with the Godhead will be improved and we will qualify, through Christ’s grace, to receive exaltation. If we cannot make the best of that sociality here, then we will not be prepared for it in the Celestial Kingdom.

[1] The fulfilment of a calling is not the only criteria for salvation; and the tension between a work and grace salvation will be explored further in chapter 4.

[2] Lossky’s exploration of the two facets of ecclesiology can be borrowed by Latter-day Saints to more fully explore what the dual foundation actually means: “Thus, man is at one and the same time a part, a member of the body of Christ by his nature, but also (considered as a person) a being who contains all within himself. The holy Spirit who rests like a royal unction upon the humanity of the Son, Head of the Church, communicating Hinself to each member of his body…” (Lossky, 1976: 174).