An acquaintance online shared in a social media post that her family hosted the local missionaries over for dinner. She gave them this wise and relevant counsel, “Don’t be dumb and leave the church when you go home.”
While her comment was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it wasn’t completely. Someone reading this post from my acquaintance commented, “Is it bad that I see missionaries and think about the percentage that will leave the church when they get home? A not insignificant number from my MTC group and former companions have.”
Another person responded to the comment about how many missionaries will leave the church when returning home by saying, “I think about this all the time. It almost feels hopeless.”
There’s a good chance you have had similar experiences with missionaries, friends, or members of your own family.
So, what do we do? What do we do when people all around us seem to be leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? How do we maintain faith, hope, and the proper perspective when some of those around us are being swayed by other voices?
I think there are some very important things we need to remember. Here are just a few.
We’re In The Long Game
I recently attended a meeting where a missionary reported on his two years of missionary service. During the course of his mission, his younger brother made the decision to leave the Church. This was obviously an excruciatingly painful situation for the family, and while speaking with them after the missionary report I overheard a high councilor express sympathy and say, “Remember, we’re in the long game.”
What did he mean? This good high councilman also had various family members and friends who had distanced themselves from the church, and he explained that this life is a journey and there is always hope for them to return.
As it mentions in the Doctrine and Covenants 50:7: “Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed…”
Not everyone’s journey is the same. For some, it is part of their journey to step into the darkness before they can realize the light that has always surrounded them.
They Have The Truth to Come Home To
One of the greatest principles I have learned was revealed to me recently as I was listening to a podcast between a popular public figure and a pastor. In this conversation, the pastor was asking this celebrity what their religious foundation was like.
The celebrity explained that she had been taught well as a child, went to church every Sunday, but when she became an older teen and went off to college, she rejected the truths she had been taught and adopted many of the worldly philosophies that universities promote.
Upon hearing this, the pastor said something incredible. He said, “But you always had the truth to come home to!”
I love this thought, and it reminds me of the story of the prodigal son. Two sons who grew up in the same environment, ended up choosing different paths. One “took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.”
However, when his inheritance ran out, when he began to be in want, and when he came to himself, he arose and returned to his father. He returned home, because he knew he could always come home.
Orson F. Whitney is quoted in the 1929 Conference Report as saying:
“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold.
Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.”
Prophecy is Being Fulfilled
Knowing that a great falling away is prophesied doesn’t necessarily making the chaos around us easy, but it does make it easier. God knows all things and His Church and Kingdom will be established and will fulfill its divine mission. There is no question of that. It is a guaranteed.
Christ told us these things in advance so we would believe when the bad times came. In John 14:29, he said:
And now I have told before it come to pass, that, when it is come to pass, ye might believe.
The question that does remain is whether you and I will be faithful to His kingdom and His cause. In an article on the parable of the ten virgins, we learn who the parable is referring to:
In this parable the virgins represent members of the Church, and the bridegroom represents Christ. The Lord explained to Joseph Smith that the wise virgins are those who “have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived” (D&C 45:57).
If we take the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins and split church membership equally, that would mean 50% of the Church won’t receive the truth, doesn’t take the Holy Spirit for their guide, and will be deceived.
Again, it doesn’t make seeing family and friends around us who leave the Church easy, but it does provide a measure of comfort in knowing that in order for this prophecy and parable to be fulfilled, the other 50% of the Church WILL be wise and will stay.
I don’t know about you, but I will be part of the 50% who receive the truth, take the Spirit for my guide, and feast on the scriptures so I won’t be deceived.
I am inspired by Mary Ann Pratt, an early Latter-day Saint who was married to Parley P. Pratt. In an excerpt of the incredible book, Women and the Priesthood, Sheri Dew shared a short piece of Mary Ann’s story.
Mary Ann “accompanied him [Parley] on missions to New York and England. They were among those who made “the final weary gathering to Utah,” as she described it. Elder Pratt ultimately died a martyr’s death while serving yet another mission.
Despite it all, Mary Ann maintained, “I was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints . . . being convinced of the truthfulness of its doctrines by the first sermon I heard; and I said in my heart, if there are only three who hold firm to the faith, I will be one of that number; and through all the persecution I have had to endure I have ever felt the same; my heart has never swerved from that resolve.”¹
May we show the same level of faith, commitment, and dedication that Mary Ann Pratt exhibited.
…if there are only three who hold firm to the faith, I will be one of that number…
The Safety is With The Prophets of God
Some who have those in their social circle leaving the Church might be concerned for another reason. Perhaps they aren’t sure which side is right? Are their friends and family who are leaving the Church actually on the right side of history?
The easiest way to gauge which path you should follow is by keeping your eyes on the prophet of God. President Wilford Woodruff declared that we can have full confidence in the direction the prophet is leading the Church:
“The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray. It is not in the programme. It is not in the mind of God. If I were to attempt that, the Lord would remove me out of my place, and so He will any other man who attempts to lead the children of men astray from the oracles of God and from their duty.”²
President Harold B. Lee taught this same principle:
“You keep your eye upon him whom the Lord called, and I say to you now, knowing that I stand in this position, you don’t need to worry about the President of the Church ever leading people astray, because the Lord would remove him out of his place before He would ever allow that to happen”³
President Gordon B. Hinckley gave similar assurance to Church members:
“The Church is true. Those who lead it have only one desire, and that is to do the will of the Lord. They seek his direction in all things. There is not a decision of significance affecting the Church and its people that is made without prayerful consideration, going to the fount of all wisdom for direction. Follow the leadership of the Church. God will not let his work be led astray”4
Those who leave the safety of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints leave many things. They leave behind covenants, sacred memories, pure truth, and perhaps most harmful – they leave behind the living oracles of God. You cannot move closer to God and enlightenment when you distance yourself from the prophet of God and temple covenants.
Do Not Be Concerned
While everything I have listed above can provide a measure of comfort and understanding as we see those in our Church leave our companionship, the greatest comfort I have personally received is from counsel that was given to a family member of mine by one of God’s ordained servants. This was the specific counsel that was given:
Do not be hurt by those who are the “seemingly Elect” of the Church who fail in the latter days. Don’t ever let that hurt your testimony. Just keep strengthening your testimony by throwing out old dross and get new energy in your life.
Knowing what will happen helps me prepare for it. Knowing that there are those who are seemingly elect who will most likely leave the Church prepares me to be ready when it happens. That makes it possible for me to not let it hurt my testimony in the long run.
“Long ago, I ceased to count heads. Truth is usually in the minority in this evil world. I have faith in the Lord Jesus for myself; a faith burned into me as with a hot iron. I thank God, what I believe I shall believe, even if I believe it alone.” —Charles Spurgeon pic.twitter.com/EOyswIgz9C
— Carrie McIntyre – The Relevant Questions (@RelevantQuest) October 27, 2021
The reality is, we are extremely blessed to live in this last dispensation. Can you imagine living in any other dispensation of this earth where the truth was taken from the earth and apostasy ended up being the final victor? That must have been such a painful thing to witness.
But us, in this last dispensation? We have a glorious promise that was explained by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
What a terrific time to be alive!
The gospel of Jesus Christ is the most certain, the most secure, the most reliable, and the most rewarding truth on earth and in heaven, in time and in eternity. Nothing—not anything, not anyone, not any influence—will keep this Church from fulfilling its mission and realizing its destiny declared from before the foundation of the world.
Ours is that fail-safe, inexorable, indestructible dispensation of the fulness of the gospel. There is no need to be afraid or tentative about the future.
Unlike every other era before us, this dispensation will not experience an institutional apostasy; it will not see a loss of priesthood keys; it will not suffer a cessation of revelation from the voice of Almighty God. Individuals will apostatize or turn a deaf ear to heaven, but never again will the dispensation collectively do so.
What a secure thought! What a day in which to live!
If there are some bumps along the way while waiting to see every promise kept and every prophecy fulfilled, so be it. If you haven’t noticed, I am bullish about the latter days.
In nothing could I have more faith than I have in God the Eternal Father, in Jesus Christ His Son, in Their redeeming gospel, and in their divinely-guided Church. Believe. Rise up. Be faithful. And make the most of the remarkable day in which we live!
If there are some bumps along the way while waiting to see every promise kept and every prophecy fulfilled, so be it.
May we not be afraid of the future. May we never have those who leave the Church hurt our testimony. May we be as Mary Ann Pratt and hold firm in the faith. Most importantly, may we hold to the iron rod and following the words of the living oracles of God.