29. And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your sub- stance, if ye have, to those who stand in need -- I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypo- crites who do deny the faith.
What is the core of true religion?
When looking at religion and attempting to discern what, if anything, should be carried forward from Leviticus and Deuteromony and what is the core of true religion (vs. directions for various times and places), it helps to consider the religious groups and practices available at the time of Christ and how they interacted with the lesser and greater law.
First, the Sadducee (or modern Liahona). This is a person who trusts to their own sophistication to weed out error and superstition from "what really matters." Often they are violent in dealing with those who disagree with them, forceably (either with physical or verbal violence) reacting to the "superstitious." (cf Acts 4:1-4; read the style and editorial voice of Secret Ceremonies).
Second, the Scribe (or modern Iron Rod). This is a person who takes a legalistic approach with many rules (used to judge others). They pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and omit the weightier matters of the law: fairness, mercy and faith. (cf Matthew 23:23).
Third, Zealots (or modern Mollies). People whose strong political agenda has replaced their religion. Marxist Christians, and others (of both the right and left wings) typify this well. Such feel that every conflict can be solved by force.
Fourth, Publicans (or modern "MBA"s). People who find their religion in business, often intending to "do good" "after" they have made "enough" money.
Fifth, Harlots (or modern Jacks). These are people who live in the world, seeking its pleasures, and often victimized or exploited by others.
Christ joined none of these groups, but taught them all to leave their focus for true religion.
True religion and undefiled involves obeying religious law -- but with emphasis on the weightier portion of fairness, mercy and faith.
It involves following the spiritual compass and "higher" law: --but in such a way that leads to greater sacrifice and effort (rather than as an excuse to do less). (The commandment says "Thou shalt not kill, but I say unto you, that he that is angry with his brother..." typifies the higher law).
It involves action to change the world for the better: -- but individually, without offense or violence, rather than by mass struggle or attack.
It involves living in the world: -- but not being of the world, choosing to have one master, even Christ.
Finally, it involves learning from physical life: -- but also being in control of that life rather than at its mercy.
Taking this position I find it easy to define the core of living a religious life and to find it rectified with the New Testament and the Old. The codes of the Old Testament are a schoolmaster to lead a people to Christ (Galatians 3:24). That is, the Old Testament law existed to create and preserve the proper milieu for the coming of the Messiah (thus Romans 10:4).
While Christ gave some specific instructions to individuals (e.g. Matthew 19:21), the broader warning implicit in the examples is often clear (cf Matthew 19:23-26, espec. 26). The heart eventually chooses to follow wherever long term attention is placed (Matthew 6:21-23).
The new covenant of Christ directs us to avoid offense, to be guided by the weightier matters of the law and to avoid violations of those commandments (i.e. regarding violence and sex) that are provided to protect us from overstepping when thought is clouded by passion.
Such a position is consistent with a natural reading of the New Testament, including those portions that deal with and focus on the so-called Leviticus Cafeteria debate (should we keep all of the Mosaic Law or just the parts we think are significant? If the latter, how do we determine what stays? Answer, we keep those portions consistent with the immediate direction God gave the prophets. This is discussed at length in Acts, in the debate over circumcision and other parts of the Mosaic Law). Such a reading does not offend any of the text in the four gospels.
It clearly explains topical or local applications of rules (e.g. "an eye for an eye" is given to a culture that demanded a "head for an eye," "cities of refuge" were given to a society that had a "no exceptions" rex talonis, etc.) that a "higher" law passes by (once a society has passed beyond "an eye for an eye" then it becomes appropriate to forgive a brother "70 times 7" times).
The bottom line is an active application of loving kindness, doing much good of our own initiative, not being commanded in all things (D&C 59: 26-28).
A timely note was in the March 20, 1994 Parade Magazine column by Marylin Vos Savant, changing five of the 10 Commandments from passive to active voice:
1. Heal those who have been harmed (Thou shalt not kill).
2. Respect all those who love you (Thou shalt not commit adultery).
3. Give more to the world than you take (Thou shalt not steal).
4. Value the dignity of truth (Thou shalt not bear false witness).
5. With the necessities of life be content (Thou shalt not covet).
The Reform Judaism recasting of the golden rule (do unto others as you would have others do unto you) is also well said:
"Be kind." This reformulation serves an age where there is little honest reflection or thought and guides one well. It is easy to tell what is kind and what is not.
It fits well the greatest commandments of loving God and our neighbors (classically found in Judaism and reconfirmed by Christ).
Perhaps more modernly rephrased as "be tender and kind." This is the loving kindness embraced by the scriptures as the greatest of Faith, Hope and Charity and a greater spiritual gift than tongues, strength or prophecy. (1 Corinthians 13).
Or, as my daughter in kindergarten could tell you:
"Heather, what is important?"
"Oh Daddy, to love, tell the truth, work hard and to be honest and fair. That is what is important."
All the rest are just forms and advice to preserve an environment where these truths can be taught, to help us to love and help others and to keep us out of trouble.
Well, what does that mean? It means that Christ truly did not care about many laws and rules and social beliefs. He made of one blood all nations, kindreds, tongues and people. He made all equal, bond and free, male and female, white and black. He did not tell the Publicans to sell their homes and become monks (though he did accept meals and approved when they ceased to do evil, reimbursing four fold all they had wronged).
God looks on the heart. Rituals exist and should be complied with, but we should be transformed and rectified, with our attention on the change of heart rather than the forms that support it.
The best indicator of whether or not we have come to Christ, or merely delude ourselves (cf Matthew 7: 22-23) is the kindness we show those we deal with, the fairness we show those who oppose us, the love we show to those who otherwise mean nothing to us.
Criticism, contention and judging others serve only to cut us off from the Spirit of God. When we criticize, contend and condemn, we bear witness against ourselves and of our own sins. Love all others. Honor parents, accept co-workers, aid those in need. Help others as the Spirit urges, and act freely to show love of your own initiative. (cf D&C 58: 27-28).
Reserve judgment. Remember that judgment applies best to yourself and is to be used as a part of repentance so that you can come to Christ. Remember that you are working out your salvation and striving not to be caught up with the hypocrites. (cf Luke 7: 37-39, 40-50 // Luke 11: 43ff)
Let love and charity be enough.
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