“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).
If you’re like me, the part of that verse that seems to be most repeated and emphasized is the “built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets” part. In Sunday school, and on my mission, I have presented these verses as biblical evidence of the foundational importance of apostles and prophets, and consequently of the Restoration. That is an important concept, but Paul’s main idea is not just the foundation, but what is built upon it: a living temple—a community of saints supporting each other in unity and love.
The Restoration of the foundation was not an end unto itself, but the means to an end, which I believe is the creation of that living temple Paul spoke of. Thus, the Gospel of Jesus of Christ was restored not simply to restitute correct doctrine, re-establish an ecclesiastical structure, or reinstate the Priesthood. Nor was it simply intended to provide the means for individual salvation. Rather, all of these elements converge to allow families, wards, communities, and ultimately, the whole world, to live in the same kind of loving unity that God enjoys. In the post-mortal world, this is called the Celestial Kingdom. When we have that kind of relationship and build that kind of community here, we call it Zion. This idea gives new meaning to these words from D&C 130:2: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” That makes me think that the extent to which I am establishing Zion is the extent to which I am prepared for the Celestial Kingdom.
Our knowledge of the gospel and the covenants we have made invite us to establish Zion—and that is a high and holy calling, and one that must be tied to our missionary efforts. To explain the first connection I see between Zion and missionary work, I paraphrase a line from the movie Field of Dreams: “If we build it, they will come.” As we establish Zion, our efforts to share the gospel will come more naturally, and will be more effective. Clayton Christensen discusses this concept in his book The Power of Everyday Missionaries. In his studies of how to effectively share the gospel, he came to know three particular wards in which twenty to thirty new converts were routinely baptized each year, even while the work in the surrounding areas was tepid. He concluded that the only thing that made these three wards different from the surrounding wards was that God trusted those wards to welcome and care for newcomers. In an interview, a missionary at one of these wards said, “I don’t know what it is. But if you can just get your investigators into the chapel up there, the members just wrap them into their arms and make them feel so welcome. It’s funny. Even door-to-door finding works better in that ward than any other place in the mission” (138). When a ward creates Zion by welcoming and loving newcomers and investigators, God will guide His children there.
Another aspect of Zion that impacts missionary work is the lack of contention. Our bishop recently taught us about this, and encouraged us to be like the people described in 4 Nephi 1:15-18: “there was no contention…because of the love of God which did dwell in [their] hearts.” And in a society previously divided and segregated into Nephites, Lamanites, Zoramites, etc., there were no “-ites” among them, “but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.” If we will heed our Bishop’s counsel, our efforts to share the gospel will be blessed. This principle is evident throughout the Book of Mormon. Alma 4:5 tells of a time when 3500 souls joined the Nephite church in one year. Just a few verses earlier, we learn that there were no contentions in the land at that time (Alma 4:1). Similarly, in Helaman 3:24, 26, it says that tens of thousands joined the church. The preceding verse talks about how they had established “continual peace.” Again and again, I have found that pattern: As the people of the church establish Zion by eliminating contention and cultivating a loving, welcoming community, missionary work flourishes at a miraculous rate.
This is, I think, an intuitive idea. After all, Zion is a shelter, a place of safety and warmth, and people seek refuge in times of storm. Not always, but often, this means that they will come, still dampened by the rain of poverty or still shivering from cold winds of social rejection. We can and must provide the warm welcome and supportive community these people need. That is certainly what God would have us do for His children, especially when they are not easy to embrace. But let us not think ourselves heroic for doing it, because the help does not flow in one direction from us to them; it is bidirectional. And we need their help. As we learn from Nephi, all is not well in Zion (2 Nephi 28:24-25).
If Zion is a living temple, it is still under construction, and even missing significant elements. This is not always an easy perspective to have because there are many wonderful things in the Church, and in this ward. As a newcomer myself, I have been the recipient of warm welcomes and fellowship, so I know Zion is being built, and I thank you for what you have done for my wife and me. However, we must be aware that Satan will try to pacify member of the Church, “and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well—and thus [he] cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell” (2 Nephi 28: 21). Even as we prosper and enjoy our community, we must not be complacent. The temple is not yet complete. As God leads individuals to the Church, through our invitations, or through other means, they will enrich our wards and stakes with diversity and strength. A new convert may be like stained glass in the temple, or like a wall beam, adding color or stability to our community, and bringing us one step closer to to temple God intends us to be.
I see this idea in the story of the stripling warriors. Alma 53:10 provides some background to this story: “The people of Ammon…were Lamanites; but…they had been converted unto the Lord; and they had been brought down into the land of Zarahemla, and had ever since been protected by the Nephites.” They were defenseless, and utterly dependent on the Nephites. However, one generation later, this people was instrumental in defending and saving many Nephite cities, proving themselves to be even stronger in some ways than veteran Nephites. During one battle, Helaman recounts, “My little band of two thousand and sixty fought most desperately; yea, they were firm before the Lamanites…and as the remainder of our army were about to give way…behold, those two thousand and sixty were firm and undaunted” (Alma 57:19-20). Although the Nephites may not have known it at first, they needed the people of Ammon, and so it is with us.
While it’s true that we should share the gospel because others need it, it’s also true that we should share the gospel because we need others. As we do our best to establish Zion, we will need to embrace those that come into the community, and reach out to those outside. That is how we will “grow unto an holy temple in the Lord.”