Jesus smiled broadly and said, “Welcome back Christopher. I am so happy to have you believe as you once did.”
Christopher smiled and said in a husky voice, “It's great to be back.”
Far in the distance they could see the city gleaming. Christopher could hear even from this great distance, the fountain representing the Living Waters that Christ gives to all who humble themselves before him. His joy was full.
Jesus began walking slowly towards the city, then stopped and motioned for Christopher to follow him. He did enthusiastically.
Christopher was basking in the silence of this beautiful day. He felt the pleasant warmth, not of the sun because there was none, but of Jesus and the beauty of the surroundings. He had attended church as a youth with his parents and had gone through the motions, but never did he have an experience like the one he was having now. He never wanted it to end – this feeling of peace and contentment. But as they continued to walk in silence he remembered that this was not his final destination. Jesus had said he was not dead which meant he needed to go back eventually. The reality and responsibility of earth life once again began to weigh heavy on his shoulders. Yet with the hope he had been given and the Living Waters he had partaken of because of the love of Jesus, he felt as though he could withstand anything and he once again felt lightened.
After a few minutes of pondering and walking in silence, a question surfaced in Christopher's mind and he spoke. “May I ask you some questions?”
“Of course” answered Jesus.
“I know that I must go back to my life soon and I have begun to think about how I might use the knowledge I have gained here.”
Jesus smiled and nodded.
Christopher also smiled as he said, “I have no idea how some of my friends will respond – I'm sure it will be a difficult road trying to convince them that I'm not mad.”
Jesus said nothing – knowing that Christopher must work through this in his own mind.
“As you are well aware, I attended church as a young man but at present I feel no attachment to any church or denomination. I've wondered if there is a preferred church or if they are all good and it's up to the person to find one they are most comfortable in. Or is there is no need to go to church as long as one can commune with you in their own way?”
Jesus remained silent. More time went by in silence as they continued walking toward the city.
Christopher went on. “I have seen that some church organizations provide assistance to the needy – a good thing indeed. There are also many community organizations doing the same thing.”
“Some of my religious friends feel that their churches are the best because their pastor is enthusiastic and makes them feel good. Others feel if you are not a member of their church that hell is your only reward.”
That brought a smile to Jesus' face as he shook his head thinking about those who were so enthusiastic yet could not understand the meaning of his love for all mankind. He was pleased that Christopher was thinking about religion though. It was vital that when he returned to his life that he seek solace with others who had faith and believed in him.
Christopher continued, “There are so many versions of Christianity – it is quite confusing. And though many claim they teach from the Bible, their ideas about how to worship differ greatly. Some worship on Saturday, others will not allow musical instruments in their meetings, others have rock bands play their hymns, while others jump and shout in their meetings. Every church seems to have their own unique attributes that set them apart. I've often wondered as I have viewed these diverse worship methods if it's all acceptable to you anyway – that the differences are simply to cater to each individuals unique personality. As I have seen here in this spirit world, people tend to gravitate to where they feel comfortable. It is the same on earth.” Christopher looked over at Jesus as they continued on their journey. He was hoping that Jesus would give him the answers he was looking for. But Jesus remained silent.
Finally, Christopher came right out and asked the question directly. “Is religion necessary and is there one church that you endorse?”
“You are going back to earth Christopher and must face these questions in faith. I cannot answer them directly at this time, but will give you some things to think about as you ponder these questions in your heart.” Jesus turned to Christopher. “Fair enough?”
Christopher was disappointed that it wasn't going to be as easy as he had hoped – but he nodded his agreement.
“I must first say that there are some methods of worship that I do not accept – they are in vain and only for the pleasure of the worshiper. These are attractive for many because of the carnal and lazy nature of man and because they are easy and convenient. They release the person from any obligations to keep the commandments and of being my followers. On the opposite side, there are some methods of worship that place undo burdens on their followers simply because of tradition but they have nothing to do with bringing the follower closer to me.” Jesus paused for a moment to make sure Christopher was understanding.
“Please understand however that there are various methods of worship that do bring people closer to me. Those that encourage people to pray. That encourage people to read the words I have given to my prophets. That promote peace and understanding. That promote making the effort to become better people and keep the commandments I have given to them. That bring people together in a common cause for good. That promote goodwill and service to others. That help people grow and develop good moral character. There are many who do these and it pleases me.”
Jesus looked over at Christopher who looked at him and nodded. He then turned towards the city and continued.
“As you have seen however, there are great tests that are presented in life. Life is not easy – it is not meant to be easy. It is full of challenges that are very difficult to endure but will bring about the strength necessary to fulfill the purpose of life. People need to be together to work through these difficult trials and help one another. Families are a great source of strength - but sometimes families are not available – which is why it is necessary to congregate as friends, neighbors, and fellow believers where people can encourage one another, can share experiences and their testimonies of me.”
This made sense to Christopher. Even in the professional world there are associations where people share ideas and encourage one another.
Jesus continued. “Yes Christopher, religion is necessary to strengthen people and give them opportunities to serve. It grieves me that religion has been given a bad name because of abuse of power. Some religions promote war and oppress their people. Some factions promote hatred and preach false and misleading doctrine to help promote evil intentions. But all of religion cannot be dismissed because of the misuse of what some leaders suppose is my will, or because of evil intentions such as personal gain in my name.”
Again there was silence as they continued to walk and were fast approaching the city. Christopher felt he understood a little better about how religion can help people in various ways be better people. He had often thought that all religion was simply a waste of time and a way to satisfy the weak human mind that there was more to life than accident or coincidence. But now he saw the value in giving people a vehicle to be together and lift one another. Some religions asked a lot of their people and he had seen that people are often slaves to their religion. They have to eat certain foods, or dress a certain way, or keep their hair just so, or sacrifice a lot of their time in service, or do without certain of life's conveniences. But now he understood that if it helps people be better and closer to God, that it was not a waste of time. People were doing these things willingly and enjoyed doing them. If they didn't then they were free to leave. Any religion that took away ones ability to depart in peace and exercise their free will was guilty of oppression and must be among those that Jesus condemned. Of course leaving a tight organization like a congregation would cause others to want to recover the lost soul and there is nothing wrong in that. But when the departing person is punished with threats, abandonment, or even death, then Jesus has no part of that religion.
Christopher looked over at Jesus, who looked back at him and nodded his agreement. Christopher was starting to get used to Jesus knowing his thoughts. It was much easier to express thoughts and feelings this way.
Jesus then said, “You have understood something that not many truly understand as is demonstrated by the enmity between peoples of different faiths. I hope you can always remember this lesson - it will help you love your fellowman more fully.”
Now it was Christopher who slowly nodded.
“With that as a base - it is time to gain a greater understanding.” said Jesus as they walked into the city.
“When I was on the earth,” Jesus explained, “I organized a church. The pattern established in this church was what my church should be like until I come to the earth again. Although the church was removed from the earth for a time because of persecution, unbelief, and corruption...”
“An apostasy.” finished Christopher.
“Yes,” agreed Jesus. “...the original church set the pattern that my church will always follow. And not just the physical organization, but the doctrines of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Faith – to put their trust in me. To know that I know what is best for them and if they will follow, they will have eternal life. They may not have an easy life, but they will reap eternal rewards. Repentance - so they will recognize sin and imperfection and work hard for change. That through their efforts and using the atonement to provide forgiveness, they will become more like me. Baptism - as a physical token of their belief. Through this they agree to keep the commandments – or at least try their best. And in return they will receive the Holy Ghost to guide them in their lives - to teach them truth, and help them know what I would have them do. This is the purpose of my church – and although there are many churches who bring people closer to me and are good for man, there is only one church that contains all truths and I want all men to seek after it.”
When Christopher heard this his heart leaped. He knew there had to be a single church organization that taught all truths. He had been so confused with Christianity and its diversity. Yes, there were good churches and people were brought closer to Jesus, but how could different doctrines all be true? They couldn't – and Christopher had always been bothered by that. Now that he knew there was a single church that taught all truth, he was motivated to find it. But he knew in his heart that Jesus could not tell him explicitly where that church was – he had to find it for himself. He had to use the tools given him – study, prayer, and rely on the promptings of the Holy Ghost to find it.
Jesus waited as Christopher worked through this in his mind. Then he said, “You understand then. Very well. When you find it, you will see there is so much more to my church than we have discussed. Being a faithful member of my church is not easy. It requires work and sacrifice. There is much work to do – not just for those who are living on earth, but as you have seen there is much work to do for those who are here as spirits.”
Christopher couldn't understand this. How could mortal beings on earth help with the work among the spirits in the spirit world? He was about to ask, but felt clearly that this was another thing he needed to discover for himself. “I must find this church.” he said almost inaudibly.
“Yes you must,” said Jesus, “please find it.”