Feast upon the Word Blog

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RS/MP Lesson 15: “Advancing the Work of the Lord” (George Albert Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on August 10, 2012

I am most struck in this lesson by the idea of what I will refer to as decentralized building (of the Kingdom). Pres. Smith writes:

The responsibility for the conduct of this work does not devolve alone upon [the President of the Church], nor upon his counselors, nor upon the quorum of the Apostles; but it devolves also upon every man and woman who has been baptized by the servants of God and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. … We cannot shift the responsibility if we would; our Father has placed it upon our shoulders, and we must round them up and help to carry it off triumphant.

Democracy can itself be understood as a decentralized system, and I believe its successes can be attributed to the fact that individuals are surprisingly capable and they thrive when given more responsibility. This democratic ideal is something rather modern compared, say, to ancient ideas that there is a natural order and hierarchy to things (an idea that goes all the way back to Plato’s Republic, where the workers, guards, and thinkers represented three distinct classes — an idea that might be fruitfully compared and contrasted to the 3 Kingdoms vision in D&C 76…). In this sense, the restored gospel is fantastically modern.

Pres. Smith also writes,

I believe in you, my brethren and sisters. I have confidence in your faith and in your integrity. … Each of you also [is] responsible to [the Lord] for the promotion of this work, as are those who preside over you. I cannot say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I cannot shift the responsibility … , but standing in the ranks of the children of our Father I must bear my portion, I must carry that part of the load that the Lord places upon me, and if I shirk, then I realize that I forfeit the blessing that would come to me by obedience to the commandments of our Father.

I have talked about this in a lesson a few weeks ago, but I really worry that we have a tendency to think that contemplating the doctrines of the gospel is a task that is more about reminding than discovering, since discovery and preaching of gospel doctrines is often thought to be the job of the General Authorities. This idea has become an easy excuse undermining our motivation to study, learn, contemplate, and engage in serious discussion about the doctrines of the gospel.

More from Pres. Smith:

How anxious we should be to go about doing good. It is a slothful servant who waits until he is commanded in all things. [See D&C 58:26–27.] Our Heavenly Father expects us to magnify our calling, no matter where it may be, no matter how humble our lot in life may be.

It is not necessary that a man should be a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, or the Presidency of the Church, in order to obtain the greatest blessings in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father. These are but offices required in the Church, and there are many faithful and devoted men worthy to fill these offices whose time and talents are needed throughout the Church. … Remember that in the ranks and throughout the Church there is ample opportunity for every man and for every woman to do something for the blessing of their fellows and for the advancement of the work of the Lord.

What things do we wait to be commanded in? What examples of unsolicited service have we — or could we better — engage in? What would your idealized vision of a ward look like, and what role would “nonslothfulness” play in it? How does this kind of slothfulness manifest itself in our families, our wards, our communities, our nations, and our world?

(“Moral hazard” is a common excuse economists give for this kind of slothfulness, a concept which might help think about these questions. As I see it, there’s an increasing tendency in culture to complain about structural incentives and circumstances as a way to avoid doing the work that is possible to be done. And one version of this kind of excuse is the “I’m not worthy” excuse, or the “I’m not capable” excuse. Of course we’re not worthy or capable, that’s what the atonement is for! But because of the atonement, we are asked to chip in and focus on doing what we can to build the kingdom, without worrying about our own lives, or our worth, or the value of our contribution, etc.; rather, we can forget ourselves, and to a certain extent forget the specifics of our formal callings, and pitch in wherever and however we see fit….)



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