President's Pen 5-8-17 (Increase Faith)

As missionaries in the Texas Houston South Mission, we know our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end. We do this through our constant efforts to find, teach, invite, retain, and activate God’s children; we love it, we live it, and we do it! “We begin with the End in Mind”, and see God’s children as he does. We are Disciples of Jesus Christ that teach repentance and baptize converts and the best missionaries in the world!

Dear Elders & Sisters,

We love ya!  We are looking forward to zone conferences this week and we are so grateful for your faith in the Savior and His work!

In the world wide missionary broadcast in January of this year, Elder Bednar stated, “I think too often we, as members of the Church, have a cookbook, checklist mentality about living the gospel. So faith is this little separate thing, and then repentance is a separate thing, and then there’s the ordinance of baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. All things are gathered together in one in Christ. So faith is in the Savior—in Him as the Son of God, in His nature, and in His attributes. Repentance is a dependence upon Him. Faith in Him and depending upon Him is repentance. Following Him is baptism. Pressing forward with Him is enduring to the end, with the companionship of the Holy Ghost. It’s all gathered together in Him. So as we are proclaiming our continuing dependence upon Christ, that is repentance, which leads to the mighty change of heart.”  Elder Anderson of the Twelve described it this way in the 2016 world wide missionary broadcast, “Your first responsibility is to help lift the faith of a man, woman, or child from wherever they are to a greater faith in Jesus Christ and in His Atonement.”

I love this teaching as we come to recognize that all things we do are centered in and dependent upon our faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement.  As missionaries, it can be easy to adopt the mentality that investigators need to complete a list of steps, or the checklist as Elder Bednar describes, to be ready to enter the waters of baptism.  We often set goals and make plans to help an investigator read, pray, come to church, and keep the commandments. These commitments are important and good, but if we’re not careful, these commitments may become the end instead of the means of increasing faith and building upon the rock of the Redeemer.  We read to come to know Christ, we pray in Christs’ name to align our will and access the blessing of the Father, we attend church to remember Christ and renew our covenants with Him.  We are establishing the kind of faith that will help them follow the Savior and His teachings through the remainder of their lives.  The question we often need to ask ourselves is, “Am I focused on helping them do, or am I helping them become converted to the Savior?”

If we understand our purpose well, and truly want to invite and help people come unto Christ, our priority will be to increase their faith in the Savior.  As we teach in lesson three, “faith is a strong belief that motivates a person to act.”  Men and women will naturally come to act when we help them understand that the Savior has Atoned for them and that they can receive all blessings through Him.  If we as missionaries don’t help increase their faith in the Savior and His gospel, we’ll often find that they won’t keep commitments or progress.  On the other hand, we might find that we are able to invite and persuade people to read, pray, or come to church, but if they do so only to meet our desired requirements, we will have done little to increase their faith in the Savior.  They must act, but let’s always point back to the reason of why they are acting!

Elder Holland spoke about how we can lose sight of this important principle at times as he shared the following… “Probably there are very few missionaries, if any, who do not know the centrality of this doctrine (the Savior & His Atonement). But I have been surprised to regularly be with the missionaries and discover that this is not something that readily comes forward in a discussion of missionary work.

For example, in zone conferences, which are some of the greatest teaching moments we as General Authorities have with these young elders and sisters, I have asked missionaries what it is they want investigators to do as a result of their discussions with them. “Be baptized!” is shouted forward in an absolute chorus.  “Yes,” I say, “we do want them to be baptized, but what has to precede that?”

Now they are a little leery. Aha, they think. This is a test. It is a test on the first discussion. “Read the Book of Mormon!” someone shouts. “Pray!” an elder roars from the back of the room. “Attend church!” one of the sisters on the front row declares. “Receive all of the discussions!” someone else offers. “Well, you have pretty much covered the commitments in the first discussion,” I say, “but what else do you want your investigators to do?” “Be baptized!” The chorus comes a second time. “Elders,” I plead, “you have already told me about baptism, and I am still asking!” Well, now they are stumped. It must be commitments from the other discussions, they think. “Live the Word of Wisdom!” someone says. “Pay tithing!” another shouts. And so it goes.

I don’t always run through this little exercise in a zone conference, but sometimes I do. And I have to say that almost never do the missionaries get around to identifying the two most fundamental things we want investigators to do prior to baptism: have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repent of their sins. Yet “we believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; [then] third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.” 6

A convert’s new life is to be built upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His redeeming sacrifice—a conviction that He really is the Son of God, that He lives this very moment, that He really is the door of the sheepfold, that He alone holds the key to our salvation and exaltation. That belief is to be followed by true repentance, repentance which shows our desire to be clean and renewed and whole, repentance that allows us to lay claim to the full blessings of the Atonement.

Then comes baptism for the remission of sins. Yes, baptism is also for membership in the Church, but that isn’t what the Prophet Joseph Smith chose to stress in that article of faith. He stressed that it was baptism for the remission of sins—focusing you and me, the missionary and the investigator again on the Atonement, on salvation, on the gift Christ gives us. This points that new convert toward the blessings of the “good news.”

Elders & Sisters, today’s President’s Pen is simply a reminder to keep in mind that we’re not here to check off the boxes on the teaching record, to have an investigator pray, read, or come to church a few times.  Our goal, our objective, and our purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ, and help them become converted to Him as we teach them the restored gospel.  Our teaching, which can only be done by the Spirit, should focus on increasing their faith in the Savior and His Atonement.  This will lead them to have a desire to change and repent, and then want to receive a remission of their sins through baptism and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.  Our purpose and our message is founded on the Savior and His Atonement, everything else we teach points back to Him!

My invitation to you today is to consider if you are focused on helping your investigators do things (read, pray, come to church – all good and wonderful) or if you are truly planning and helping them increase their faith in the Savior.  Second invitation, your personal testimony of the Savior and His Atonement will stir the remembrance of truths they were once taught and it will build their sure foundation so they can stand on their own. Testify often and powerfully of the Savior and why His Atonement matters to you!  We teach repentance and baptize converts when we focus on the first principle of the gospel, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I testify in the Savior’s name that it is only through our faith in Him that we are truly converted.  As missionaries, we must always have the Savior’s name on our lips and remember that it is only through Him we can be saved!  Love ya!

President Hall