Now we get the explanation of what it means to “follow Christ.” It is not merely the act itself, but the underlying intent of the act. To follow Him requires:
-Full purpose of heart. What does that imply or require?
The only way I can think to touch upon Nephi’s meaning is to get personal about this process. It is by how I have lived that I have come to understand Nephi’s meaning.
I remember as the missionaries were teaching me that I came to the conviction that the restoration of the Gospel had indeed happened. It was not a happy thought. I did NOT want to become a Mormon. It seemed like a terrible change to attempt to make, in what was an otherwise content life at the time. As a lifestyle some of it seemed to have merit. Not drinking, smoking and living a higher moral standard certainly made some sense to me. But the association with Mormons had no appeal to me at the time. I thought them shallow and artificial in many ways, and did not want to become immersed in a society that seemed to be either a pretense, or if not, then living a standard I could never attain.
I reluctantly accepted baptism, not because I wanted to become Mormon, but because I truly believed it was the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. However humiliating it may be to associate with a social group I had practically nothing in common, it was the right thing to do before God. I told God that I was doing this because of Him, and that I doubted I could live these standards, doubted I could be happy among these odd people, that I did not know if they were really sincere, but that I was. I intended to try to leave such sins behind as I understood I was committing, and to attempt to become part of the artificial life-form known as “Mormon.” But I doubted my capacity to continue on to the end. In all this I was absolutely sincere, but completely hopeless about what it would result in over the long run.
I was, in fact, willing to take upon me these obligations as a matter between me and God. However badly it may turn out between me and other Mormons, I expected that as between me and God it would be better than alright. I thought it would please Him.
So I was baptized.
Oddly, upon baptism things changed. A great deal, in fact. What seemed unlikely for me to be able to do under my own capacity, became almost second-nature. These people who I feared I could never fit in with became my brothers and sisters. It took a surprisingly short time and I found that what I feared most was the lightest of burdens to carry. Associating with other Mormons was delightful. I found that I loved the Mormons and I loved being one of them. It ceased to be “them” and “me” but turned into “us” and “we.”
And, by damn, we are a peculiar lot. We’re the oddest people on the planet. Peculiar doesn’t even begin to capture our quirkiness, phobias, longings, hopes, aspirations, misunderstandings, convictions, genius mixed with stupidity, juxtapositions of truth and error, traditions and deep doctrines. We’re a cacophony, really. But underlying it all is a hope that we are on the right track and a conviction that we’re going to please God even if it requires us to offend Him.
I appreciate the faith restored through Joseph at a whole different level than the one which brought me into the fold. It IS true. Abidingly and without any failing, the faith restored through Joseph is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The sad truth is, however, that faith has not been preserved as Joseph brought it back. Even from the time I was baptized in the waning four months of President Lee’s administration until today, the faith has undergone a radical revisionism. Today it isn’t even what President Kimball presided over. It is becoming increasingly altered, bureaucratized, regimented and turning into a religious product managed by an increasingly menacing middle-management which prefers rules and regulations to the Spirit and truth. They manage it as if it is another Fortune 500 company whose product line is religion and religious paraphernalia. The Spirit increasingly withdraws from our councils, our conferences, our private as well as public conversations, because it is grieved, and not many people seem to notice as it does so.
The faith I joined still exists. But it is covered by layers of sediment making it progressively more difficult to breathe life into it. That original faith, the one that attracted me, was always meant to connect the believer to Christ. Directly, and without intermediaries. Each Saint was to be a prophet, because the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, according to John the Beloved.
But I began this process “acting no hypocrisy” and I will finish it remaining so. My “real intent” is before God, and the resistance, opposition and criticism of men will not alter that. Indeed, it cannot. As soon as I respect the opinions of men more than the “full purpose of heart” required of me, I cease to be “willing to take upon me the name of Christ.”
I understand Nephi’s words. I live them. I cannot do otherwise at this point. It is for that reason, therefore, that I have been privileged to receive “the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost;” which has permitted me from time to time to “speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.” It has not been easy. It is certainly not what I wanted when missionaries interrupted a content life, and introduced this inconvenient faith to a reluctant 19-year old. It was not what I expected when the journey began before baptism, nor what I thought would then follow immediately after I was baptized. I find now, as I survey the altered and altering faith practiced by the Church I belong to, there are increasingly more troubles in living and acting with:
-Full purpose of heart
But that will always remain a matter between the Father, the Lord and myself. Nephi lived these things, too. It was for that reason he understood them and was able to set them out with clarity in writing. Light and truth, which is intelligence, only come as a consequence of living it.
I will never stop being Mormon, nor forsake the faith I have accepted. I love associating with the Saints. I’m also glad to not be a part of leadership. I wouldn’t want the condemnation that accompanies leading these people in the course that we are currently set. It is better to practice the faith as I understand it, explain it to those who care to listen, support those who try to keep my ward family at peace with one another, and raise my children to respect the light and truth.
I am content. More than content, I am filled with joy and hope for what lies ahead for myself and all those who have the testimony of Jesus.