I went to my grandpa’s funeral last weekend. During the service, I heard a story that I’d heard a time or two before. I didn’t mind – it’s a good one.
My grandpa served in what was then the Southern States mission, right in the heart of the Bible Belt. One day, while tracting, my grandpa got into a discussion about the way the Church practices proxy baptisms for the dead. The man he was speaking with challenged him to defend that belief by going to the Bible, even handing him his own copy of the scriptures.
My grandpa obliged, and turned to the scripture in Corinthians that Latter-day Saints sometimes use as a proof-text. “There it is, right there in your Bible,” he said, handing the man back his Bible.
The man took back the book and spent a moment scrutinizing the page. Then, in a swift motion, he tore the page out.
“It ain’t in my Bible no more,” he replied.
However we respond to the use of proof-texts in gospel discussions, most of us will likely admit that they are at least a good data point to consider. Whether or not you consider the scriptures the final authority when it comes to laying down creeds, they’re a good ‘gut check.’
That’s why I’ve always been hesitant when it comes to discussing the “Four-fold Mission of the Church.” I could never find the “chapter and verse” that laid it out. I’d seen it referenced in news stories like this, but I hadn’t seen as much as a General Conference talk on it.
Well, I found my ‘chapter/verse’ this morning during Elder’s Quorum meeting. As a public service, I’ll fill you all in.
For the newcomers, people have been taking about the “Three-fold Mission of the Church” since the 80s when President Kimball used the term in a talk accounting for his stewardship thus far (though it didn’t necessarily originate with him). The three missions were as follows:
- Proclaim the Gospel
- Perfect the Saints
- Redeem the Dead
We’d even have committees in Elder’s Quorum that corresponded with these missions. In some quorums, on one Sunday a month, we’d gather with our chosen committee and plan out events that helped meet that purpose. The Perfecting the Saints committee, for example, might plan the next Quorum BBQ, and the Redeem the Dead committee might organize a temple night.
(I don’t think the Elder’s Quorum presidency minded having a week off from teaching each month.)
Then, around 2009, I heard rumors that a fourth mission was being added. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. I thought that the whole ‘three-fold mission’ thing fit really well with D&C 110 – adding that fourth mission would invalidate my ‘chapter and verse.’
And then nothing. No conference talk, no letter read in sacrament meeting, no news story follow up. I didn’t really think about it often.
Until today. Turns out I should have just looked a little harder. Handbook 2 to the rescue!
Section 2.2 of Handbook 2, entitled The Purpose of the Church (couldn’t really have made it easier to find, could they?) says,
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized by God to assist in His work to bring to pass the salvation and exaltation of His children. The Church invites all to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him” (Moroni 10:32; see also D&C 20:59). The invitation to come unto Christ pertains to all who have lived, or will ever live, on the earth.
“When individuals receive the ordinances of baptism and confirmation, they become members of the Church. The Church supports them and their families by serving as “a refuge from the storm” of worldly influences and wickedness (D&C 115:6). The Church provides opportunities for service, blessing, and personal growth. The programs and activities of the Church support and strengthen individuals and families.
“In fulfilling its purpose to help individuals and families qualify for exaltation, the Church focuses on divinely appointed responsibilities. These include helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances.”
You can see those four purposes, largely unchanged:
- Helping members live the gospel of Jesus Christ (Perfect the Saints)
- Gathering Israel through missionary work (Proclaim the Gospel)
- Caring for the poor and needy (the new one)
- Enabling the salvation of the dead by building temples and performing vicarious ordinances (Redeem the Dead)
Really, these four specifics really just build on the primary purpose of “bringing to pass the salvation and exaltation of [God’s] children” by inviting them to come unto Christ. Like Jacob, we say,
“Come unto Christ, and partake of the goodness of God, that [you] might enter into his rest” (Jacob 1:7).
There’s your chapter and verse.