Monday, November 28, 2011

Pure Religion: Does it require a church?

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).

I admit that for most of my adult life, I’d paraphrase the first half of this scripture and leave the second half out. As we discussed it yesterday in Sunday School, however, I realized the problems such an approach causes: One can visit the fatherless and widows and relieve their suffering without a church.

Is that what James really means?

We developed a list of things “religion” is – primarily a system of belief or faith. Our instructor moved on before it occurred to me that religion is also the performance of ordinances.

The key is in the second half of the verse: keeping oneself unspotted from the world. The simple answer is that we should keep the commandments to keep ourselves unspotted. And yet we all sin. We all have need of repentance. And we all have need of the sacrament as part of that process of ritualized cleansing.

Without the church, without the priesthood, there is no sacrament. Nor are there other saving ordinances of the gospel. And without those, we cannot be unspotted from the world. Indeed, having the church and the temple as an occasional place of refuge is a great blessing in the second half of Peter’s description of pure religion. And, if we heed prophetic counsel, it can also be an enabler in the first half.


  1. "Without the church, without the priesthood, there is no sacrament. Nor are there other saving ordinances of the gospel."

    You seem to be conflating the restored gospel with the church. There are very important and defining differences between the two. The priesthood and the saving ordinances are eternal. We have been promised by the Saviour in the Doctrine and Covenants that the priesthood will never be removed from the earth again. However, no such promise has been made concerning the fidelity or life of the church as an organization.

    The church is a vehicle for delivering the gospel but it is not meant to be eternal. It can become corrupted.

  2. Michael, you're right of course that the restored preisthood allows those ordinances, but the Lord in the Doctrine and Covenants makes clear that for our dispensation the church is the vehicle through which those ordinances will be performed.

  3. Paul,

    Could you share with me where that is referenced? I would be interested in learning more. Thanks

  4. Michael, I felt that your question deserved a longer answer, so I invite you to look at today's post on my blog.