20977

Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson Lesson 23: "Strengthen Thy Stakes"

As you read this lesson think about the quote by Alexandre Dumas from The Three Musketeers, “All for one and one for all, united we stand divided we fall.” This is the essence of what a Stake is all about. As Satan grows in power, and as the Lord prepares to punish the wicked “without measure,” the only place of safety for the Saints is in the stakes of Zion.

The Stake as a basic unit

When the Lord refers to the members of the Church in the scriptures of the latter days, he always uses the stake as the basic unit of the Church. We tend to see our ward as our Church world, but the ward is just a sub-unit of the stake entity.

If the Church as a whole is a tent, the stakes of Zion are the pegs in the ground that hold up the whole structure. When the Lord talks about gathering the Saints into Zion to weather the storm He will unleash on the wicked in the last days, it is to the stakes that He will gather His people. This paints a picture of the stakes being the functional units to the Lord, not the wards. The wards are the supporting units to the stake as a whole.

Just as the Church is presided over by a presidency, so too is the stake presided over by a presidency. As the Church has a quorum of twelve to help the First Presidency direct the work of the world-wide Church, so each stake has a council of twelve brethren, called a High Council, to assist each Stake Presidency in their efforts to direct the work in the individual stakes around the world.

The four purposes of a stake

1.  The Stake President is like the President of the Church for his geographical area. President Benson says, “each stake, presided over by three high priests, and supported by twelve men known as a high council, becomes a miniature church to the Saints in a specific geographical area.” It is under the direction of these men that the “Church programs, ordinances, and gospel instruction” are extended to the members. The purpose of the stake is to unite and perfect the members in that area of the world.

2.  “Members of stakes are to be models or standards of righteousness.” Not only do we look to those who lead us on the stake level to be “model” saints, and to demonstrate to us how we are supposed to fulfill our callings, but we as members of the Church have that same responsibility to act as models of behavior for those in our neighborhoods.

Each organization in the ward is overseen by stake representatives who are responsible for training, motivating, and assisting those who have been called on the ward level to accomplish their part in the perfecting of the saints. These stake leaders are men and women who have been called and set apart for this purpose by the Stake Presidency.

3.  “Stakes are to be a defense.” We have several layers or levels of challenges to rise to as members of the Church. First, we must learn to work together as a family, quorum, and auxiliary. Second, we must learn to trust each other and learn to work cooperatively as a ward family, supporting each other, forgiving each other, and working for the blessing of those in other people’s families who may need our help, assistance, and support. Third, we must learn to look at our ward as one member of a larger family of wards, and extend our help, cooperation, assistance and support just as selflessly to other wards who may have need of resources and expertise we have that will bless and uplift them if they are lacking.

In order to become a defense against evil in the last days, members of the Church will need to see and use the resources available on a stake level to support each other and to buoy one another up on an individual and a ward basis. Temples are only given where stakes have been established. Temples are a blessing of a stake - faithful stakes. These additional temples being built throughout the world are helping members of the stakes in their areas “to receive the full blessings of the Lord.” The more stakes who fulfill their purpose of unifying and perfecting their saints, the more temples can be built.

4.  “Stakes are a refuge from the storm to be poured out over the earth.” When the Lord refers to the upcoming storm, he is not talking about a gentle rain shower to be poured out upon the people. This kind of storm is one of death, plague, famine, earthquake, tidal waves, hail, economic collapse, and other forms of punishments that will be unleashed upon the wicked.

In order for us to find refuge - shelter - in the upcoming crises we will need to be able to turn to the safety of a larger unit than what can be provided from just a ward family. We will need the larger organizations of the Stakes of Zion.

Stakes are able to share and shift resources from one ward to another. For example, if the Bishop in the first ward is lacking needed funds to help the missionaries in the field, and another Bishop has extra funds from his ward, those funds are transferred to the first ward so that their needs are met. This is the kind of support and system a stake can provide that a ward is not equipped to handle.

In Doctrine and Covenants 115:5 - 6 the Lord says that the light or example of the stakes of Zion are to be a standard to the nations. We often think of a standard as a sign or banner that shows people where to look for something. President Benson specifically states that in this case we are to think of the word “standard” as the measure by which people can govern their lives. We, as members of the Church must show the world how He wants us to live so they know the standard or measure by which others must live to obtain the Lord’s blessings.

This is where the beauty and strength of Zion will come from. It will come from the members of the Church living in peace, one with another, living the commandments, and teaching each other to live Christlike lives. It will come from the homes of the Saints, where scriptures are read and prayers are said, as families, daily. The children will be kept safe from the teachings and dangers of the doctrines of the world in such homes.

This is how the Stakes of Zion will become a defense to us in the last days. Our Stake Presidents are men, called of God, to teach us, direct us, and lead us in what we need to do to keep our homes and neighborhoods safe from the ravages to be poured out upon all nations of the earth. The work of this temporal and spiritual salvation will happen through the organization of the stakes of the Church as defined in Doctrine and Covenants 115:5 - 6. President Benson says:

Today … we see the fulfillment of this prediction where Satan, in undiminished fury, is displaying power over “his own dominion”—the earth. Never has his influence been so great, and only those who have taken the Holy Spirit as their guide—and followed counsel from priesthood leaders—will be spared from the havoc of his evil influence.

Just as Satan will have power over his own dominion, so too will the Lord reign in the midst of Zion. (Doctrine and Covenants 1:36) “These stakes are to be the gathering spots for the Zion of today, and they need to be spiritual sanctuaries and to be self-sufficient in as many ways as is possible.” The stakes and districts of Zion are symbolic of the holy places the Saints are to gather to for refuge in the last days. This will require each of us to learn to look at our membership, our belonging, as being not just as one person in a ward family, but as one family, one unit in a larger Stake family.

The Lord has promised that in the last days when His wrath is poured out upon all nations that “He will preserve the righteous by his power.” (1 Nephi 22:17) This will be done through the individual efforts and collective worthiness of the Stakes of Zion.

Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.

Read more of President Benson's teachings here

Comments and feedback can be sent to feedback@ldsliving.com