Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Zion: What it is and isn't

Before I wrote this article last year, I was under the assumption that the saints were to establish Zion, and hence, I could in my own way establish a little piece of Zion myself in my family and home. Figuratively, yes, I can do this. In specific actuality, I cannot. Zion is not a strip mall that I can invest in and put up on my own accord. After reading in Approaching Zion, by brother Hugh Nibley, it becomes obvious that it is not our directive to build Zion, but to prepare for it.
“We'd better say a few things about Zion here. Zion is a code word denoting a very real thing. Zion is any community in which the celestial order prevails. Zion is "the pure in heart" (D&C 97:21), but Zion is also a real city or any number of real cities. It is a constant; it is unchanging. There are Zions among all the worlds, and there are Zions that come and go. Zion is a constant in time and place—it belongs to the order of the eternities. We're not making Zion here, but we're preparing the ground to receive it. As the Lord says, "My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom" (D&C 136:31). We must be prepared to receive this glory; we don't produce it ourselves. We must be ready, so that we won't die of shock when we get it.”1
The word Zion has many different meanings and interpretations. In Hebrew it is ציון, which is a mountain of Jerusalem. It also means a desert or dry place. The more symbolic meaning, which suits the point and purpose of this work, is a monumental or guiding pillar, sign, title, or waymark.2
Now my question is this: How do we go about establishing (or preparing) for Zion? What models do we have to emulate? I believe we have many examples to draw from, but I will place my focus on the people we are most familiar with who were refined to such a point that they were called Zion and were taken from the earth. In order to do this, I want to proceed with a small study of this people and their leader, Enoch.
Enoch at a young age was called upon to declare repentance to a Carnal, Sensual, and Devilish people. When he asked the Lord why he, who believed all the people hated him and he was slow of speech, was called to this work, the Lord basically told him that He was going to do as he pleased, and He would take care of the details. Though the Lord did not directly state why he called upon Enoch, I feel safe assuming that he acted similar to Seth, in that “God revealed himself unto Seth, and he rebelled not, but offered an acceptable sacrifice, like unto his brother Abel.”3 We also know that “Every man who has a calling to minister to the inhabitants of the world was ordained to that very purpose in the Grand Council of heaven before this world was. I suppose that I was ordained to this very office in that Grand Council.”4 We know that Enoch was worthy to and was foreordained to head a dispensation of the gospel and was successful in establishing a righteous people.
Enoch served an honorable full-time mission and did his part in declaring the gospel and teaching repentance. Many that he taught were not so happy with his diligence though. “And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him.”5 Any good active member who knows about Covey and how to be effective knows that these people chose to be offended. Why did they? It destroyed their craft!6 They reveled in their sin like pigs in mud. The Lord’s commands to repent and be righteous shook their societal structure and pierced them to the heart, yea “it cutteth them to the very center.”7
Now what I would like to suggest is that we don’t to do this. The blessings of heaven are promised to us if we but obey the voice of his servants and live in accordance to the spirit.8 It’s not that difficult of a concept. I think I hear a touch of frustration in the voice of King Benjamin when he pleaded with his people: “all that he requires of you is to keep his commandments; and he has promised you that if ye would keep his commandments ye should prosper in the land; and he never doth vary from that which he hath said; therefore, if ye do keep his commandments he doth bless you and prosper you.”9
Ok, ok! So, I need to keep the commandments. But how obedient do I need to be?
Wrong question! We as saints need to get past the idea of obedience being an inconvenience and something that hampers our “fun.” Once we can do that, the Lord’s blessings and protection flow readily. To further the point, President Benson is quoted as saying “When obedience ceases to be an irritant and becomes our quest, in that moment God will endow us with power.”10
I cannot picture the people of the Lord, or “Enochites,” (I’ll take credit for that one) griping to Enoch about having to read the scriptures every day or go to three hours of meetings on Sunday, or Saturday in the Enochites case. It is interesting that youth, and many adults that are still youths spiritually, think it is so hard to keep commandments and that the church requires so much have not considered what their pioneer ancestors had to go through, let alone the people of Enoch. They are not called upon everyday to lay down their life in the cause of the truth; they would probably flinch at the very thought of it. They do not realize, or want to realize, that obedience to the laws of God do not hinder but exalt men and free them from the traps of this world.
Dr. Victor Ludlow addressed this topic: “The people of Enoch practiced the law of consecration, having all spiritual and temporal things in common, which is the highest law of the gospel and the culminating covenant of the holy temple.” “Because the people of Zion lived the order of heaven on earth, they were literally "too good for this world" and were taken from it…”11
“I don’t know if I could live the Law of Consecration!” moans the natural man in most of us. That’s when we need to tell ourselves “That’s too bad carnal, sensual, and devilish natural man because I made solemn covenants to do so! If I really want eternal life, which I am so quick to claim that I do, then I know I must be willing to sacrifice all that I have because I know that ‘a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation; for, from the first existence of man, the faith necessary unto the enjoyment of life and salvation never could be obtained without the sacrifice of all earthly things.’12”
I find it interesting that the very people that are called upon to sacrifice so much are the ones who are not only happy to do it, but are grateful to the Lord for the opportunity. I can see how those in the first century A.C.E. (AD) thought the Christians were loons when after Peter and the apostles were beaten they went away “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his [Christ’s] name.”13 This is the example we need to follow. We need to figure out how to get to the point where we are happy to do the Lord’s will.
How can we help ourselves and other people get the faith to keep the commandments and desire to be like the Enochites? Well, we can’t keep the commandments if we don’t know what they are,14 and they can’t have faith in the Lord unless they know about him and his commandments.15 It’s kind of a cycle…thingy. Paul probably had this in mind when stating that “faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”16 We see then that learning to believe and follow the commandments already given and the living oracles we have today provide a foundation on which we may establish, or prepare, ourselves to receive Zion.
So now we come to the point where we enjoy being obedient and seek to keep the commandments of God, making it “our quest.” We are another step closer to becoming like unto the Enochites. Once they were progressing in righteousness, what did they begin to do? Well, we read that they were to teach their children things of righteousness of course! Specifically, they were commanded to teach them that “all men, everywhere, must repent, or they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God, for no unclean thing can dwell there, or dwell in his presence.”17 This command is followed up with an amendment to “teach these things freely unto your children.”18
After we strengthen our own ranks, it is then time to take the message to others. The Lord promises his blessings and protection to his servants as they forget themselves (cast off their CSD natural men) and build his kingdom.
So great was the faith of Enoch, and I have to assume that of his people, that “he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course; and the roar of the lions was heard out of the wilderness; and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.”19
We may not be separating into physically separate communities in our day, but we definitely should be a separate people in terms of our beliefs, lives, and habits compared to the rest of the world. We must be like unto the people of God (Enochites) of whom their reputation was that of a completely different nature than the so-called “great men of the world.” In short, we must be examples. President Joseph Fielding Smith advised the saints: “Our duty is to teach, to guide and direct the members of the Church in the path of righteousness. Our duty is to set examples before the world, that they seeing our good works may glorify our Father in heaven, and have faith and confidence in us. It is our duty to warn all men and endeavor to teach them the truth, so that those who will not hearken may be left without excuse.”20
I catch the same theme in President Smith’s command here as that of Enoch and every other righteous scriptural. First, we must strengthen our own members. Second, we must set a righteous example for those around us. Third, we must actively proclaim the gospel and it’s saving truths to the world. I do not necessarily claim that these are chronological steps always, but sometimes a perpetual process…thing, that we will carry on in this last dispensation until the Lord comes again with Zion.
What is our duty then? How then do we prepare for Zion? To put it simply, we must obey the commandments! “All that he requires of you is to keep his commandments [!]”21 This entails each of us individually becoming the best people we can be, and helping others become the best they can be. President Gordon B. Hinckley says it best: “We can improve, and when all is said and done that's what this is all about: improvement, changing our lives so that we can help people change their lives and be better. And let's build Zion in the earth. That's what it is all about.”22
That is what it is all about. I find great inspiration in the stories of the righteous patriarchs and how they went about establishing righteous peoples. It is my personal goal to establish a righteous family and posterity founded upon the true doctrines of Jesus Christ. –So much so that I have already determined our family motto to be the “Curtis Kingdom-Builders.” I know that these truths in their entirety are only to be found in the kingdom of God (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I know that the atonement is real and that our Heavenly Father desires us who he has blessed with the gospel to share with his other children. I love the commandments of God and how my willing obedience to them brings me “peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.”23 I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen

1. Nibley, Hugh., Approaching Zion, pg. 4
2. Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1996. Pg. 120:6724-6726
3. Mos. 6:3
4. Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols.
5. Moses 6:37
6. See Alma 35:3 and Acts 19:27
7. 1 Nephi 16:2
8. D&C 130:20-21
9. Mosiah 2:22
10. As quoted by Elder Donald L. Staheli, GC Apr 1998
11. Ludlow, Victor, Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel, pg. 505
12. Smith Jr., Joseph, Lectures on Faith, Lecture 6 verse 7
13. Acts 5:41
14. See Mosiah 1:5
15. Smith, Jr., Joseph, Lectures on Faith, Lecture 3 verse 1. Also Romans 10:14
16. Romans 10:17
17. Moses 6:57, See also 2 Nephi 2:8
18. Moses 6:58
19. Moses 7:13
20. Smith, Joseph Fielding, Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, pg. 310
21. See above
22. Hinckley, Gordon B., Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, pg. 726
23. D&C 59:23

Nibley, Hugh. Approaching Zion. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1989.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville,
Tenn.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996.
Smith, Joseph. History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 Vols.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1948.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. General Conference. Apr 1998
Ludlow, Victor. Principles and Practices of the Restored Gospel. Salt Lake City, Utah:
Deseret Book, 1992
Smith, Joseph. Lectures on Faith. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1985
Smith, Joseph Fielding. Doctrines of Salvation. 3 Vols. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret
Book, 1954
Hinckley, Gordon B. Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret
Book, 1997

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