Mormon describes the unity the Nephites and Lamanites enjoyed following Christ's visit as follows:
And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them. . . . And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:2-3)
In this joyous state, they lived without contention:
And it came to pass that there was no contention among all the people, in all the land; but there were mighty miracles wrought among the disciples of Jesus. And it came to pass that the seventy and first year passed away. . . yea, even an hundred years had passed away. . . . And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land. . . . And how blessed were they! For the Lord did bless them in all their doings; yea, even they were blessed and prospered until an hundred and ten years had passed away; and the first generation from Christ had passed away, and there was no contention in all the land. (4 Nephi 1:13-15, 18; emphasis added)
This unity, characterized by lack of contention and the sharing of all things, lasted until about AD 200, long after the generation who stood in Christ's presence had all died. How did Christ's personal ministry have such a remarkable impact on those people? Can we tap that same power?
Many sources contributed to this unity. The people who stood in Christ's presence touched him and he taught them and ministered unto them. But the key, unifying factor that Mormon emphasizes in 4 Nephi is love: they had no contention in their lives "because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people" (4 Nephi 1:15).
The love the Nephites felt in Christ's presence continued not only with them, but also with their descendants. The degree of unity they reached comes only to those possessed of this pure love of Christ or charity. A major purpose of the Book of Mormon is to instill in its readers this same feeling of love for Christ and for one another. Early in his visit to the Nephites, Christ declared his doctrine, the first principle of which was the elimination of contention and anger:
And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been. . . . For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. . . . Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away. (3 Nephi 11:28-30)
Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve. . . . After that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost. . . . Yea, blessed are they who shall believe in your words, and come down into the depths of humility and be baptized, for they shall be visited with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and shall receive a remission of their sins. (3 Nephi 12:1-2)
The 3 Nephi beatitudes encourage unity through following church leaders, receiving the Holy Ghost, and sharing the gospel with others that they might come into the fold of Christ.
After his instructions on the first day, Jesus announces he is going to the Father, but the multitude implore him with their tears to "tarry a little longer with them" (3 Nephi 17:5). Moved by this silent plea, he stays with them, heals their sick, weeps with a fulness of joy over their faith, and calls down angels to minister to their children. Then, under these very special circumstances, he asks for bread and wine and institutes the sacrament. How fitting that in their apogee of feelings of oneness with the resurrected Jesus, he shows them how they can celebrate those feelings and re-create them with the sacrament: "And this shall ye always do to those who repent and are baptized in my name. . . . And if ye do always remember me ye shall have my Spirit to be with you" (18:11).
When Jesus finally does leave at the end of that unforgettable first day of his visit, he pronounces a concluding "blessed," in which he emphasizes that all of his instructions have pointed to unity: "And I give you these commandments because of the disputations which have been among you. And blessed are ye if ye have no disputations among you" (3 Nephi 18:34).
The unity Jesus spoke of is not reserved just for the Nephites in their golden age or for the future dwellers in the celestial kingdom. It is extended as a goal for the Saints in any age. In Mosiah 18, Alma taught his people the importance of unity and love, which he associated with repentance and faith: "And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another" (v 21).
In our own time, Jesus has also expressed an expectation of unity for his followers: "I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world, even as many as will believe on my name, that they may become the sons of God, even one in me as I am one in the Father, as the Father is one in me, that we may be one" (D&C 35:2). The present day instruction to become one is more than a recommendation. The Lord has said, "Be one, even as I have commanded you" (51:9) and, in even stronger language, "If ye are not one ye are not mine" (38:27).
Joseph Smith made some incisive comments about the unifying power of charity:
It is a time-honored adage that love begets love. Let us pour forth love--show forth our kindness unto all mankind and the Lord will reward us with everlasting increase; cast our bread upon the waters and we shall receive it after many days, increased to a hundredfold. Friendship is like Brother Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence. I do not dwell upon your faults, and you shall not upon mine. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 315-16)
How then do we achieve unity? What we must work on is repentance, which removes all barriers between us and Christ. In his second prayer in 3 Nephi chapter 19, Jesus asked that the people might be purified so that they might be one with Christ. Hence, purification through repentance and forgiveness is the key to unity with him. This feeling of unity then extends to our families, our associates, and all who surround us. Seeking first to achieve unity with Christ is a better plan than to start by working on unity with others and hope for eventual unity with Him. Only after attaining unity with Jesus are we given power to truly achieve unity with others.
After King Benjamin delivered the words the angel gave him to his people in his celebrated sermon, they repented and were born again (Mosiah 3:2-4; 5:7). He then gave them further instructions about how they could remain close to the Lord:
As ye have come to the knowledge of the glory of God . . . and have tasted of his love, and have received a remission of your sins, . . . I would that ye should remember, and always retain in remembrance, the greatness of God, . . . and humble yourselves even in the depths of humility, calling on the name of the Lord daily, and standing steadfastly in the faith of that which is to come, which was spoken by the mouth of the angel. (Mosiah 4:11)
Benjamin followed this counsel with the promise, "If ye do this ye shall always rejoice, and be filled with the love of God, and always retain a remission of your sins" (v 12). If we can meet the conditions and retain a remission of our sins, we, too, will be filled with the love of God and preserve a feeling of unity for others. Otherwise, we will lack the power to do it.
The building of unity is associated with enduring to the end. Enduring to the end is more than hanging on to a minimal level of performance and avoiding major transgression. It is a time of significant progress and preparation for the celestial kingdom. It is a time during which we become the kind of people who can dwell in the presence of God, the kind of people who can live in total unity with each other. To do this, we must eliminate the last vestige of pride, criticism, anger, etc. We can accomplish this refining process with the aid of the Holy Ghost.
2. WE MUST AVOID ATTITUDES AND ACTIONS THAT LEAD TO DISUNITY."Elder Theodore M. Burton," in Conference Report, October 1969
What causes disunity and friction? There are many reasons for disunity, but one of the principal reasons is the ego of man himself. I define this ego as the desire to be acknowledged as a person different from others. This desire is not evil in itself. In fact, properly directed, it can be a great virtue. There is a certain amount of faith or pride in one's self that every successful and happy person must have. Only when the ego develops into egotism must we beware.
I suppose disunity in the Church begins when each of us becomes so wrapped up in our own interests and assignments that we lose the full perspective of the gospel of Jesus Christ as a united whole. We become so involved with our own particular interests that we forget that the gospel involves the whole of life. Sunday School, missionary work, priesthood, genealogy, temple work, welfare, home teaching, education, or whatever interest we have or church position we occupy at present is only part of the gospel whole. It is true that we are expected to push our own particular assignment, but not at the expense of others. It is most unwise to try to advance the field in which we are presently interested by downgrading the activities of others. We should never push one organization at the expense of another. An appreciation of diversification is the basis of unity. Though I strive to push priesthood, genealogy, and temple work with all my power, I should never resent any other gospel organization or principle within the Church structure, or sow discord among my brethren.
Unity can come when I learn to appreciate each person in the Church and the value of every aspect of church organization. This is true of a deacons quorum, and it is true of the highest quorum of the Church, that of the First Presidency. Loyalty among the men of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is no more necessary for them than loyalty within a teachers or an elders quorum. When discussions arise among strong-minded men and women, anger must never be evident. Men and women should be free to state their opinions without fear, but they should do so without rancor or envy or belittling the character or abilities of other persons who hold differing opinions from their own. Only when we understand one another and appreciate one another can the Spirit of God enter our hearts, draw us one to another, and bring about unity.
We live in a world full of discord and disunity. We need not and must not become a party to that worldly way of living. Our role is that of peacemakers. When we hear our voices rise in speaking with one another, when we feel our faces getting flushed and red, when our muscles tense and we get warm under the collar, these are danger signals. It is time to repent and change whatever we are saying or doing. I plead for unity and consideration among us who claim to be sons and daughters of God. I pray for that love and affection which characterizes the true disciples of Jesus Christ. May God bless us all to know with such a surety of heart that this is the true church and kingdom of Jesus Christ, that we will have character enough to practice those principles which we espouse.
3. FAMILY UNITY MAKES THE HOME A PLACE OF REFUGE AND PROTECTION."Elder Richard L. Evans," in Conference Report, April 1955
Not many days ago my lovely wife, the mother of our four sons, and I, with our sons, were all together-the six of us-in a car going to the same place with a common purpose and a common destination in mind; and sharply the thought came to me, how much less it would mean if we were not together, and if we were divided in our objectives; if their mother were trying to tell them to go one place or to believe one thing, and I were trying to tell them to go another place or to believe another thing; if she were setting before them a certain set of ideals or objectives, and I were setting before hem a different set of ideals and objectives.
One of the greatest elements of joy and peace and effectiveness in life is the unity of parents in a home. No marriage at its making, has the right to impose the penalty upon a home of pulling children two ways at once. It is not fair to the children. It is not fair to the community. It is not fair to the future. It is difficult enough to teach children when both parents are pulling in the same direction, but when the two people that children have the most right to look to for guidance are each telling them something basically different, and are each persuading them on a different course in a different way, it has in it the seeds of trouble and discontent and frustration and unhappiness and ineffectiveness in life.
I would leave this with you as one of the greatest elements, one of the indispensable elements of happiness: unity in the home.
May I plead with you to be patient, to search the scriptures, to keep your lives balanced, and to reserve judgment, to keep faith, to keep clean, to go forth and rise to the high destiny that is yours, and to live your lives and make your homes with unity of purpose with your companions so that you may realize that joy and undivided purpose in life which will lead to limitless possibilities here and hereafter.
4. UNITY IN THE CHURCH LEADS TO PROGRESS AND SPIRITUALITY.Victor L. Ludlow, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel
Next to physical survival, the need to identify and belong to a loving, supportive group is one of the strongest human needs. The gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that all mankind is bound together in two most fundamental ways--common spiritual parentage from God and our shared physical lineage from Adam and Eve. Since the days of Adam, the Lord has invited us as brothers and sisters to join together with him in several unions--families, church, kingdom, and sometimes even cities and nations. He requires a full gospel commitment of every individual follower. Like a shepherd watching over his flock, he recognizes the strengths of bringing his disciples together as a community of believers. He expects unity among his followers, and in return he promises them great personal and eternal rewards.
The LDS community is both large enough to provide wide cultural and human diversity and localized enough to provide ample opportunities for social bonding. As people become involved in an LDS ward, they soon recognize that Latter-day Saints have different personalities and varying levels of testimony, Church activity, and religious behavior. Each member is at different stages of spiritual progression, spiritual understanding, and religious devotion. Members find too that evaluating their own spiritual barometers of faith, obedience, and righteousness is difficult, much less being able to measure them in the lives of others.
Although diversity in the Church may disillusion some and frustrate others, it is actually beneficial. As we observe ourselves and others on the paths of spiritual struggle and progress, we learn the nature of mortality and come to appreciate the helps that a loving Heavenly Father has given us. The diverse gifts of the membership furthermore edify the whole: some may have the gift of faith, others the gift of teaching, others the gift of discernment, others the gift of wisdom, and so on. "To some is given one [gift], and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby." (D&C 46:12; see vv. 9-27.) In addition, devout and spiritually mature members can help strengthen the spiritual convictions of those who are struggling. We look to this type of faithful, active, and wholesome disciple and say, "If God's celestial kingdom is made up of people like this, I want to be there in such good company."
In our efforts to be perfect even as Christ is perfect, we will find ourselves strong in some areas of discipleship but weak or struggling in others. We may have a solid gospel understanding and doctrinal foundation but still experience times of questioning and concern. We may be active in our Church callings, willing to fulfill their religious obligations but struggling with some particular commitment or commandment. We may be loving, genuine, and helpful while working to overcome some personal weaknesses or character flaws. Comprised of many members, the spiritually maturing group of Saints in LDS wards and branches provide a solid core. Assisting others while receiving strength themselves, the Saints work together to build the human soul.
The Church is a God-given vehicle for perfecting the imperfect Saints through instruction, fellowship, support, and love. It will not fail us. Rather we will fail ourselves if we do not become fully involved in God's kingdom on earth. When we strive to lift others, we all become unified and strengthened in Christ's work. As Paul told the Hebrews, "Both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one." (Heb. 2:11.) This "unity is the hallmark of the true Church of Christ. It is felt among our people throughout the world. As we are one, we are his." Thus, we must overcome diversity and weakness and help our fellow Saints to grow if we wish to be true members of Christ's fold.
To help build one another, we are commanded to magnify our callings and responsibilities in the Church, giving of our time, talents, and financial resources to build the kingdom of God. The responsibilities of discipleship are great and require considerable sacrifice, but the rewards of fellowship with the Saints are greater. In the Church, members find a true sense of belonging to an extended family of many brothers and sisters as they prepare for a similar, though far more perfect society in the world to come. Such fellowship brings us together until we indeed become "spiritually begotten" sons and daughters of Christ in his eternal family. (See Mosiah 5:7.) Of course, we should not help and fellowship only those in the Church; Christ reached out to anyone he could. Genuine fellowship with the Saints provides purpose and confidence in building a relationship of trust and friendship with others in the world.
Starting with six men in 1830, the Church grew to six hundred and seventy thousand by 1930. By 1990, over six hundred and fifty thousand names a year were being added to the Church rolls annually. Of course, a number of names were taken off the Church rolls each year as people died or left the Church, but the rate of those coming in was so much greater than those leaving that the Church grew by five hundred and eighty thousand in 1988 alone.
Even more important than the count of babies and baptisms is the establishment of LDS stakes, which is a sign of genuine Church growth because it indicates Melchizedek priesthood strength, membership stability, and leadership maturity in any given area. For example, enough members come into the Church every two-and-a-half days to fill a stake of three thousand eight hundred members, but the spiritual maturity rate is slower, with a new stake being organized every four days or so.
In first century following the Restoration, the first one hundred stakes were organized over a period of ninety-eight years. After World War I and during the Great Depression, the rate of growth quickened to about one new stake every six to eight months. For example, in the decade surrounding the one hundredth birthday of the Church (from 1926 to 1935), a total of twenty-two new stakes were organized. All of these stakes were formed in the Rocky Mountains alongside the Mormon pioneer colonies from Alberta, Canada, and northern Mexico. After 1950, the rate increased to almost one new stake monthly, with the two hundredth stake being organized in 1952. In the 1960s, usually two new stakes were created each month, with the three hundredth stake being established in 1960, the four hundredth in 1964, and the five hundredth in 1970.
By the late 1980s, however, the Church was growing at a phenomenal pace--up to 126 stakes in a year (1980). For example, in the decade from 1976 to 1985, eight hundred and fifty stakes throughout the world were established. Whereas fifty years earlier, General Authorities were organizing a new stake every six months, they are now creating one every few days. In other words, the restored Church now grows each year as fast as it did in its first century of existence. Furthermore, new stakes are being formed in numerous non-English-speaking countries, with the greatest number of these in Central and South America and a smaller number in the Pacific islands, Asia, Europe, and Africa.
If the rate of growth continues at the same pace, neither accelerating nor decelerating, by the time the Church reaches its two hundredth birthday, over sixty new stakes will be organized each week, or one every few hours. Every country of the world open to missionaries could feasibly add at least one or two new stakes every month. To perform this work, hundreds of General Authorities, including many quorums of Seventies, would be required to organize and set apart the new stake presidencies and to reorganize the increasing numbers of older stake presidencies. In short, what took almost 130 years for the Church to accomplish at the outset of this dispensation would be achieved every few weeks, as over two hundred and seventy new stakes would be created each month.
The stone foreseen by Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel is the restored church of Jesus Christ. (See D&C 65:2.) It is literally rolling forth--gaining mass and momentum--to fill the whole earth in preparation for the second coming of Christ, whose kingdom or Church will replace the kingdoms and nations of men when he governs during the millennial era. (See Dan. 2:44-45).
In addition to the feelings of kinship and joy in belonging to a strong, growing international church, three of the most obvious blessings in following Christ are an ever-increasing testimony, fellowship with the saints, and progress toward eternal life.
These efforts strengthen us all and solidify the whole Church community. Eventually, our service flows back to us and our families as we are appreciated, loved, taught, and served. As followers of Christ, we need to recognize and heed the voice of the Good Shepherd so we can remain in his flock and join our efforts with his until all people on earth become "one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16.)
5. COMMITMENT TO GOSPEL IDEALS IS THE SUREST WAY TO UNITY."17 Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake," in LDS Hymns.
Text: Eliza R. Snow
Music: Evan Stephens
Scriptures: Rom. 13:11-14; D&C 38:27
With constant faith and fervent prayer,
With deep humility of soul,
With steadfast mind and heart, prepare
To see th' eternal purpose roll,
To see th' eternal purpose roll.
Awake to righteousness; be one,
Or, saith the Lord, "Ye are not mine!"
Yea, like the Father and the Son,
Let all the Saints in union join.
Let all the Saints in union join.