As a teenager, one of the things we were taught over and over was that the Church had a three-fold mission: Perfect the Saints, Proclaim the Gospel, Redeem the Dead. This is the basis of all of the programs, lessons, ordinances, callings and everythingness of the Church.
As I taught the gospel in Russia, however, I understood better that these weren’t three separate entities that we were supposed to divide our time and attention between. These are all part of the main mission of the church:
Bringing people to Christ. This is the ultimate goal of Christ’s church, and it applies to every person on the face of the earth.
Perfecting the Saints is the broad label given to all of the ordinances and activities of the Church. It comes from Christ’s directive both in Matthew and in the Book of Mormon to “Be ye therefore perfect, [even as I] or your Father in Heaven is perfect.” In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, believers and members of the Church are called “Saints”. Yes, just everyday people in the grocery store are Saints. In this context, Saints are those who are following Christ’s teachings and trying very hard to live as He has asked them to live. Perfecting the Saints is no easy task, and here are some of the ways that Saints cooperate with Christ in perfecting themselves:
- Sincerely praying and studying the word of God.
- Attending the temple to make covenants with God.
- Attending weekly church meetings
- Volunteering to serve in any number of “callings” in their congregation. From the leader of the congregation right down to the person collecting lesson manuals after class, everyone is donating their time, energy and talents to serve the Lord and each other. We don’t have a paid clergy.
- Striving to have strong families through Family Home Evening, family prayer, family vacations, family meals, family reunions, and just generally supporting and loving each other in the family.
- Living the commandments as found here, here and here.
We truly believe that in doing what Christ has asked us to do, we draw nearer to Him and as we are closer to Him, we are more perfect. That’s what this life is all about.
Proclaim the Gospel addresses the next group of people who need to come to Christ–those who aren’t already members of His church. The LDS Church has thousands of missionaries all over the world, teaching Christ’s doctrines to cossacks, Buddhists, ninjas and pygmies, and everyone else in between. Every single person on this earth is invited to come unto Christ and be perfected in Him. This aspect of Church activities is very much tied in with the first mission of perfecting the saints, because when a person is baptized into the church, they are one step closer to Christ.
Redeeming the Dead strikes people as one of the most bizarre of our doctrines. We do temple work for our deceased ancestors so that they can choose to accept the ordinances in the spirit world (if they wish to–our ordinances are not binding on them if they don’t want them). But in the context of bringing every single person to Christ, this practice fits perfectly. The church was restored on the earth in 1830, 1750 years after Christ’s Church and its authority disappeared from the earth. There were a lot of people in those 1750 years, and they are each, individually important to Christ. He atoned for them too, and if they are to benefit from His sacrifice, they need to do what He’s asked them to do to be admitted into His church (baptism by immersion, followed by higher ordinances and covenants). He asks members of His church to reach out to those who have passed on as well as to the living.
So that sums up all of the Church’s activities and programs. Christ wants us all to come unto Him and be perfected in Him. For members of the church, that involves living His commandments and serving others. Some of that service is directed at helping other people join His church also to come unto Him and be perfected in Him–living and dead.