A few years ago we lived in a ward that had an awesome Gospel Principles class. The manual for this class focused on the core doctrines of the gospel and was intended to be a support to new members and investigating visitors. It’s typically a smaller class and the missionaries and ward mission leader attended. Our teacher was a humble disciple who loved to open the lesson up to discussion, and those of us who came every Sunday loved both the structure of the class and the sincere seekers who chose to come.
Now, wards are strongly encouraged and directed to have only Gospel Doctrine class, with no other classes offered at the same time. The class is large, and follows the Come, Follow Me lessons. There is nothing inherent in the structure or topic of the class which would preclude deeper conversion and personal connection. Yet, often something lacks.
Perhaps it is the chronological method of reading the scriptures which lends itself to a verse-by-verse checklist of topics to cover. Perhaps it is the larger size of the class which makes the teacher feel like he or she needs to lecture more than lead a discussion. Perhaps it is the basic nature of the manual, which relies on the personal experiences of the members to give meat to it. Perhaps it’s because we meet in the chapel and are so spread out in the room. Whatever the reason, I’ve often left Sunday School class feeling less than inspired and a little relieved that it’s over.
I know this is not everyone’s experience, and like I said, there isn’t anything inherent in the structure or topic of the class which necessitates shallow learning. But I also know that I’m not the only one who feels Sunday School leaves something wanting. I’ve seen what members drawing together to really dig deep into the gospel and lift one another looks like. I long for it, and miss it. I also know I have a say in the way it goes, for myself and for others.
I’ve written on the church experience before, and that our expectations often are the only thing keeping us from the love of God. Disappointed by what Sunday School currently looks like we sometimes just complain about it. Okay, I sometimes just complain about it. But I’m getting better. I’m learning to see church in a new way . And I’m also trying to discover new ways that I can help make the experience better for everyone. Can I be a cause in everyone walking away having felt the love of God? Can I minister in Sunday School in a way that brings my brothers and sisters to Christ?
When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28)
Guilty as charged. I’m much better now, but I’ve spent a good bit my life searching the scriptures to find proof for some currently held belief, or thing I think I know of myself. It really doesn’t matter what you’re thinking, you can find a scripture to support it if you want. Seriously. It’s all in there. You think it’s okay to lie to someone who has some perceived authority over you to get out of trouble? No problem, so did Abraham. You think it’s totally fine to take a break after a long trial and get super casual in your discipleship? No problem, so did Noah. You think you’ve attained some level of knowledge about God that you can bend things a little and justify yourself? No problem, so did David. You think it’s okay to kill people so long as it serves some greater purpose? Harsh, but no problem, so did Nephi.
You can find anything if you just take a few scriptures out of context. Sometimes that context needs chapters or even books of support and it’s difficult to nail down. As a historical text, the scriptures are a bit of a mess. Most of the stories aren’t written until well after the fact, and the historicity can easily be called into question. Most of the people in the scriptures are spoken of as if they were perfect people to emulate, when they are really just good people, making mistakes, and seeking the face of God when and where they can.
There is only one person we should emulate, and that is our perfectly loving Savior. Only One whom we should follow. There is only one story which we should bet our lives on, and that is our own. Our own walk with God. Read, study, learn, but know that all of our records, all of our manuals, all of our lessons and classes, have but one purpose. That is to bring us to Christ. Then, Christ walks with us back to the council of heaven where we can find our seat at the right hand of God.
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith…. (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118 & 109:7)
…That they may grow up in thee, and receive a fulness of the Holy Ghost. (Doctrine and Covenants 109:15)
To be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God. (2 Nephi 9:29)
Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. (John 5:39)
I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (John 14:6)
You think you can find all the answers in the scriptures. You think in them you can find eternal life. But take a closer look. Search them. They don’t have all of the answers to all of life’s unique challenges, but they do have one answer. Jesus the Christ, our Savior and Friend. And he has all of the answers. He knows the way to eternal life. Faith is clearly the beginning and end of everything we learn. We start with our faith in Christ, and we learn and experiment to get closer to him. He’ll guide us on our personal journey. So far as the scriptures, prophets, and church bring us to our Savior they are good. Anything more or less than that is just a distraction.
I read a book which embraces this view a while back that I just adore. It’s called Cross Vision, by Gregory Boyd. While not written from a Latter-Day Saint perspective, it testifies so purely of a loving God. He takes a look at some of the most popular, and difficult, scripture stories in the Old Testament through the lens of our Savior’s life. He says that as we read by looking through the looking-glass, or in Saint-speak, the Urim and Thummim, of Christ’s life and death we will better understand him and our relationship to him, and we’ll better understand the scriptures. That this is literally the entire purpose of the scriptures, to bring us to Christ.
So, I guess when I have that feeling that I’m missing the deeper doctrines I’m just looking beyond the mark a bit. The real question shouldn’t be, “Am I learning something new?” The real question should be “Am I drawing nearer to God?” And if I’m not, what can I do to change that? How can I support the teacher in creating an atmosphere of testimony and Christ-centered ministry? How can I contribute to the discussion in a way that will bring myself and those around me closer to God? Am I living my life in between classes in such a way that I’ll have personal experiences with the Lord that will bring me closer to God, and which I can share and testify of to enrich the lives of those around me? Do the deeper doctrines I am studying bring me directly to Christ, and will bringing them to class do that for others? This is the spirit of our weekly meetings, to be unified in Christ, and to edify and minister to one another on our paths.
Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. (Romans 14:19)
Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5–6)