by Sharon Lindbloom
22 January 2018
On Friday, January 12 (2018) the 16th LDS President, Thomas Monson, was laid to rest. On Sunday, January 14, Russell M. Nelson was set apart as the new President, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the LDS Church. On Tuesday, January 16, the Church’s newly formed First Presidency (Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks, and Henry B. Eyring) appeared before — and spoke to — the world.
In President Nelson’s broadcast message “to each member of the Church” he exhorted,
“Keep on the covenant path. Your commitment to follow the Savior by making covenants with Him, and then keeping those covenants, will open the door for every spiritual privilege and blessing available to men, women, and children everywhere.” (Beginning at approximately 1:03:27 in the linked video)
He explained that the new First Presidency wants to “begin with the end in mind,” noting,
“The end for which each of us strives is to be endowed with power in a house of the Lord. Sealed as families, faithful to covenants made in a temple, that qualify us for the greatest gift of God, that of eternal life.”
Continuing, Mr. Nelson promised,
“The ordinances of the temple and the covenants you made there are key to strengthening your life, your marriage, and family, and your ability to resist the attacks of the adversary. Your worship in the temple, and your service there for your ancestors, will bless you with increased personal revelation and peace, and will fortify your commitment to stay on the covenant path.” (Mr. Nelson emphasized the importance of staying on the covenant path by repeating, nearly word for word, the bulk of these remarks in the news conference that followed.)
The broadcast, “A Message from President Russell M. Nelson,” also included brief remarks from the other two members of the First Presidency. Dallin Oaks praised the faith and commitment of Russell Nelson while pledging loyalty and support to his inspired leadership. Henry Eyring also praised Mr. Nelson and expressed his belief that God is in control of this new development in the Church. Following Russell Nelson’s lead, Mr. Eyring also spoke of renewing, remembering, and keeping sacred covenants made “in the sacrament and in holy temples.”
Later, in the First Presidency News Conference (beginning at approximately 1:54:00), President Nelson was asked how his administration might deal with the rising apostasy in the LDS Church. After admonishing that, “Every member needs to know the difference between what’s doctrine and what’s human”; calling for members to give their imperfect leaders “a little leeway to make mistakes”; and urging, “Don’t be offended by what may have been said, or what may have transpired,” Mr. Nelson counseled,
“Make sure that you’re square with your Heavenly Father, who loves you and wants you to be happy. The way to happiness is to keep His commandments… All of the commandments are made to liberate you from the bondage of sin and error. So the way to joy is to keep the commandments of God. Stay on the covenant path, keep on the covenant path. And if you’ve stepped off, find your way back.”
The First Presidency’s introductory public message greatly stressed commandment- and covenant-keeping. Unlike the kinder, gentler General Conference talks of more recent years where some Church leaders have soothed troubled members by talking about relying on the “gift of grace,” about getting “credit for trying” to keep the commandments, and about relaxing a bit because you will become “perfect–eventually,” the members of the new LDS First Presidency are clearly traditionalists. Their teachings over the years have upheld traditional Mormonism and its demands to make and keep all their covenants in order to achieve eternal life. For example:
“His hope for us is eternal life. We qualify for it by obedience to covenants and ordinances of the temple – for ourselves, our families, and our ancestors. We cannot be made perfect without them. We cannot wish our way into the presence of God. We are to obey the laws upon which those blessings are predicated.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Now is the time to prepare,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2005, 18. Italics in original)
“Teach of faith to keep all the commandments of God, knowing that they are given to bless His children and bring them joy. Warn them that they will encounter people who pick which commandments they will keep and ignore others that they choose to break. I call this the cafeteria approach to obedience. This practice of picking and choosing will not work. It will lead to misery. To prepare to meet God, one keeps all of His commandments. It takes faith to obey them, and keeping His commandments will strengthen that faith” (Russell M. Nelson, “Face the Future with Faith,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2011, 34. Italics in original)
“Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children. Mercy cannot rob justice, and those who obtain mercy ‘are those who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment’ (D&C 54:6).” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Love and Law,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2009, 26-27)
“Because of what He accomplished by His atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has the power to prescribe the conditions we must fulfill to qualify for the blessings of His Atonement. That is why we have commandments and ordinances. That is why we make covenants. That is how we qualify for the promised blessings. They all come through the mercy and grace of the Holy One of Israel, ‘after all we can do’ (2 Nephi 25:23).” (Dallin Oaks, “Two Lines of Communication,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 2010, 84)
“It is hard to know when we have done enough for the Atonement to change our natures and so qualify us for eternal life.” (Henry B. Eyring, “This Day,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2007, 90)
“The greatest of all the blessings of God, eternal life, will come to us only as we make covenants offered in the true Church of Jesus Christ by His authorized servants. Because of the Fall, we all need the cleansing effects of baptism and the laying on of hands to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. These ordinances must be performed by those who possess the proper priesthood authority. Then, with the help of the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost, we can keep all the covenants we make with God, especially those offered in His temples. Only in that way, and with that help, can anyone claim his or her rightful inheritance as a child of God in a family forever. To some listening to me, that may seem a nearly hopeless dream.” (Henry B. Eyring, “A Priceless Heritage of Hope,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2014, 24)
Indeed, that one must keep all the commandments and keep all the covenants Mormons are required to make with their God in order to qualify for eternal life does seem hopeless to many Latter-day Saints, and clearly impossible to others. It is hard for a Mormon to know when he or she has done enough to qualify for eternal life (2 Nephi 25:23).
This is why Mormons who are desperately aware of their inability to perfectly obey, and thereby perfect themselves, cling to the hopeful ideas they have sometimes heard coming from LDS leaders. While they hope against hope that Mormonism is changing, new LDS President Russell M. Nelson has made it his first order of business to call people back to the covenant path; to exhort, “stay on the covenant path,” “keep on the covenant path,” “keep the commandments,” and be “faithful to covenants” that will qualify Mormons for eternal life because, as Henry Eyring has clearly articulated, that is the only way.
Most presidents of the LDS Church leave a sort of legacy and are remembered for a particular focus in their church leadership. Ezra Taft Benson, for example, was remembered for his emphasis on the Book of Mormon. And Gordon B. Hinckley was known as a temple-builder. Perhaps Russell Nelson’s initial stressing of commandment- and covenant-keeping will turn out to be his legacy. For despairing Latter-day Saints who struggle with the heavy demand for obedience and perfection that traditional Mormonism places on them, this is not good news.
Really Good News, filled with hope and certainty for your future, is available right here.