Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

The Individuals of Zion

Posted by NathanG on February 17, 2013

I’ve recently heard a few comments regarding how the gospel is so focused on the individual.  I wonder just how much focus is really on the individual, as opposed to a focus beyond the individual, which I’ll loosely refer to as the community.  The community can take many forms such as the people we live around, who we work with, our ward, our family, our culture, or Zion. Why is there such a desire for the gospel to be about the individual?  Is there any potential danger to remaining focused on the individual?  Likewise, is there any advantage to considering the gospel from a community perspective?  What are the dangers of a community model of gospel living?

Is there some way to marry an individual focus with a community model?  When you imagine your salvation, are you alone?  When you are judged, do you stand alone?   Do you have to be alone at judgment if you are an individual?  Is it easier to imagine being set “at one” by focusing on your self or on a community?

First, some scriptures.  You decide if it favors the individual or the community, or both.

Moroni 10:32-33.  Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

3 Nephi 11:14-15.  Arise and come forth unto me, that ye may thrust your hands into my side, and also that ye may feel the prints of the nails in my hands and in my feet, that ye may know that I am the God of Israel, and the God of the whole earth, and have been slain for the sins of the world.

And it came to pass that the multitude went forth, and thrust their hands into his side, and did feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet; and this they did do, going forth one by one until they had all gone forth, and did see with their eyes and did feel with their hands, and did know of a surety and did bear record, that it was he, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come.

D&C 18:10.  Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

Luke 15:4  What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

John 8:33 “We be Abraham’s seed…”  (given in response to Christ teaching that the truth would make them free, but the people could not even see the need because of their community identity).

Moses 7:18  And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

Acts 4:32  And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.

Matthew 16:24-25.  Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.

Ephesians 4:11-13.  And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:

John 17:21.  That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:  that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

Mosiah 18:8-9  …as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life.

Difficulties arise when the individual becomes more important than the community or the community becomes a crutch for the individual.  “I just need a personal relationship with Jesus, I don’t need to go to church.”  “I’m not religious, I’m spiritual.  I like to be out in nature where I can just be with God.”  A potentially dangerous line of reasoning is often expressed in the church, “It’s between me and the Lord.”  This is often stated in context of things such as whether tithing is on gross or net income, whether or not to watch television on Sunday, or whether or not to drink caffeine.  Trivial as some of these questions may become, does the attitude of “It’s between me and the Lord” hinder in any way our ability to establish Zion?  Warning of a similar thought is given in Feb 2013 Ensign “Balancing Truth & Tolerance” where Elder Dallin H Oaks states, “The philosophy of moral relativism, which holds that each person is free to choose for him or herself what is right and wrong, is becoming the unofficial creed for many in the United States and other Western nations.”  We may even come to a point where our personal revelation comes in direct conflict with the guidance of the church.

On the flip side, it is quite easy to see where the Jews were so taken by the importance of being a Jew and missed the opportunity to be set free by Jesus.  It becomes easy to feel at ease in Zion.  If I’m part of the church, if I’m attending my meetings, it doesn’t matter that I hold on to my secret sins, I’m sure God will excuse in committing a little sin, at least I’m trying to be good.  As long as I keep the Word of Wisdom and have 100% home teaching, it doesn’t matter that scriptures describing being spiritually born of God, or being saved by the grace of God do not resonate with any of my experiences.  I’m in the right group, I’ve got it made.

With both a personal and community focus, the risk of judging others is tempting and can be quite damaging to the individual judged and the individual judging.  I can not judge another individual based on my personal interpretation of what the commandments mean (Sabbath observance).  Likewise, an individual should not be rejected because that person is not part of my elite community.  We should be satisfied that judgment is God’s.  We should be satisfied that the our judgment of others may only need to go as far as saying, we all fall short and are in desperate need of our Savior.  This judgment helps us to be on the side of inviting healing, rather than condemning.

My own imperfect paradigm is that we must come unto Christ as an individual.  We need to recognize our individual sins.  We need to repent.  We need to be born again in Christ.  From that time forward, discipleship drops the self-centeredness, and we need to focus on the community. We need to perfect the saints, proclaim the gospel, and redeem the dead.  We need to come into the unity of faith.  We need to establish Zion.

So what do you think?  What scriptures do you look to?  Is there a better way to resolve the tension between the individual and the community?

2 Responses to “The Individuals of Zion”

  1. Brian-A said

    The Book of Mormon has an interesting mix of stories of conversions and judgements of individuals (Enos, Alma, Ether) and of cities and nations (Ammonihah, Anti-Nephi-Lehis, Jaredites). Most of its exhortations were given to large audiences, so there is ambiguity over how collectively even the most personal-sounding questions should be applied. Moroni 10:31, for example, is addressed to “O Jerusalem.” Verse 32 reads like an individual invitation (and uses the singular “mind”), but one could also read the verse with Jerusalem collectively as the addressee.

    In my devotional reading I favor individualist interpretations, mostly because without community influence, that is how the scriptures seem most applicable.

  2. Robert C. said

    Nathan, these are great questions, and very nice post.

    I too am inclined to think that there’s a certain unavoidable sense in which our sphere of influence and agency pertains first and foremost to our own selves, as individuals, but that the Gospel is mostly oriented toward helping us to become community oriented.

    Scripture-wise, I think Joe’s book (An Other Testament) nicely addresses this tension when he analyzes Abinadi’s more individual-oriented interpretation of Isaiah, as opposed to the more community- and covenant-focused approach in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Nephi.

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