Gospel Doctrine Lesson #41
“Every Member A Missionary”
Written By: Robert J. Norman
Missionary work is as old as the history of the world. From the first generations of time the righteous were called upon to be missionaries to their own kindred. Adam, himself, was commanded by God to be a missionary to his own children, “And Adam hearkened unto the voice of God, and called upon his sons to repent” (Moses 6:1).
Adam’s righteous posterity followed the great example of their father:
And they were preachers of righteousness, and spake and prophesied, and called upon all men, everywhere, to repent; and faith was taught unto the children of men. (Moses 6:23)
Missionary work has forever been under the direction of the House of Israel to whom belong the keys for that work. As the Apostle Paul taught, Israel would have the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises (Romans 9:4). The Lord declared to the Prophet Joseph Smith and the early elders of the Church that they were lawful heirs according to the flesh (D&C 132:30-31; 86:8-11).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie expands on the doctrine that missionary work is from the beginning of time:
From Adam down, whenever the Lord has had a people on earth who would receive his word and hearken to his voice, he has had among them "preachers of righteousness" who have spoken, prophesied, taught faith, and called upon men to repent. (Moses 6:23.) These preachers, these teachers, these personal representatives of the Lord in heaven have made known to the residue of men the things which must be done to return to the Eternal Presence. That the Son of God, ministering as a mortal, should be the preeminent Preacher of Righteousness, the greatest Teacher ever to grace the earth, is an obvious and self-evident reality. As the Chief Prophet and the Presiding Apostle, as the Pattern and Exemplar in all things, it follows that he was destined to be the Master Teacher whose message and methods would set the perfect standard for all apostles, all prophets, all preachers of righteousness, all teachers, of all ages. And so, as we would expect, we find prophetic pronouncements in profuse abundance telling of the teaching ministry of the Messiah, and we find in the life of our Lord a flow of spoken words and performed deeds that woven together comprise the greatest teaching labor ever performed among men on this or any of the endless creations of Him whose we are.[i]
The Lord promised Abraham that the gospel would always be given first to his literal seed and then be taken, as a blessing, to all the world:
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee above measure, and make thy name great among all nations, and thou shalt be a blessing unto thy seed after thee, that in their hands they shall bear this ministry and Priesthood unto all nations;
And I will bless them through thy name; for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father;
And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee; and in thee (that is, in thy Priesthood) and in thy seed (that is, thy Priesthood), for I give unto thee a promise that this right shall continue in thee, and in thy seed after thee (that is to say, the literal seed, or the seed of the body) shall all the families of the earth be blessed, even with the blessings of the Gospel, which are the blessings of salvation, even of life eternal. Abraham 2:9-11
Moses reiterated the missionary responsibility of the House of Israel when he gave blessings to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh:
His glory [is like] the firstling of his bullock, and his horns [are like] the horns of unicorns: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth: and they [are] the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they [are] the thousands of Manasseh. (Deuteronomy 33:17)
Here it is prophesied that Ephraim and Manasseh would be the two main tribes responsible to, “push the people together to the ends of the earth.” The Lord used this phrase when instructing the early missionaries in the Church (see D&C 58:45). The LDS Bible dictionary says, “Epharaim was given the birthright in Israel (1 Chr. 5:1-2; Jer. 31:9), and in the last days it has been the tribe of Ephraim’s privilege first to bear the message of the restoration of the gospel to the world and to gather scattered Israel. (See entry on Ephraim)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie further explains this concept:
How shall Israel be gathered? First will come the conversion and gathering of the tribe of Joseph. Then Joseph shall gather the other tribes. "His horns are like the horns of the unicorns [wild oxen]: with them he shall push the people together to the ends of the earth." It will not be an easy work. Every lost sheep must be taught the gospel; every new convert must believe the Book of Mormon; all must repent and forsake the world and come voluntarily, often in the face of great opposition, into the latter-day kingdom of the God of their fathers. Missionaries must labor with zeal and in the face of great odds. They must "push the people together." And who shall do this work? Moses says: "They are the ten thousands of Ephraim, and they are the thousands of Manasseh." (Deuteronomy 33:17.) And such is an apt and accurate definition of the missionary force of the great latter-day kingdom.[ii]
Already "the ten thousands of Ephraim, and... the thousands of Manasseh" have been pushed together from "the ends of the earth." (Deut. 33:13-17.) Already there has been some political preparation for the future return of the Jews, an event which shall finally occur when they accept Christ. (2 Ne. 10:7-9.) And in due course the one who holds the keys shall direct the return of the ten tribes from the land of the north. With "their rich treasures" they shall come to their American Zion to "be crowned with glory" by "the children of Ephraim," who already have assembled at the Lord's house in the tops of the mountains. (D. & C. 133:26-35.) And finally, in a millennial setting, the full political kingdom shall be restored. Then shall "the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven,... be given to the people of the saints of the most High"; then shall the kingdom be "an everlasting kingdom"; and then "all dominions shall serve and obey" Christ the King of Israel. (Dan. 7:27.)
How evident it is that the true Church and kingdom of God on earth must know the doctrine of the gathering of Israel, and must have the power to do the mighty work involved, the work which will build up and establish, in all its glory and perfection, the long-desired government. Where this knowledge and power is, there the true Church of Christ is found; and where these things are not, there the true Church of Christ is not.[iii]
The Book of Mormon was designed by the Lord to play a powerful role in missionary work during the last days. It is the tool the Lord designed to bring his children back to Him, both Israel and Gentile. Isaiah 29 lists some of the great things that the Book of Mormon will do for missionary work:
1. Cause the spiritually deaf and blind to hear and see. (Verse 18)
2. Cause to meek and poor (in spirit) to increase their joy in Christ and rejoice in him. (Verse 19)
3. Cause to House of Israel to come back to Christ and sanctify his name. (Verse 23)
4. Bring understanding and doctrine to those who have erred in spirit and who have murmured. (Verse 24)
Elder Hyrum M. Smith and Brother Janne M. Sjodahl have this to say about the Book of Mormon as a missionary tool:
The Book of Mormon is a marvelous work, no matter from what angle it is viewed. It was marvelous because it was brought to light by immortal hands. It was marvelous that a young man, with only a limited school education, and poor as far as this world's riches go, should be called upon to translate and publish it. It is marvelous in the story it tells, the teachings it gives and the prophecies it contains. It is marvelous in the effects it has produced. It has encountered the most bitter opposition. Is it because it is a fable? No, there are many works of fiction, ranging all the way from Aesop's far-famed Fables, or the Arabian Nights, down to Cervantes' Don Quixote, Rider Haggard's He, or Muenchausen's absurdities; but none of them has aroused a storm, except the Book of Mormon. That sacred volume is not fable. Owing to its influence, thousands upon thousands of God's children have been saved from spiritual and temporal poverty, degradation, and sin, and lifted up to the highest level. The prediction of Isaiah has been fulfilled literally, "The deaf shall hear the words of the book, and the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. The meek also shall increase their joy in the Lord, and the poor among men shall rejoice in the Holy One in Israel" (Isaiah 29:18, 19). However, the marvelous work is not confined to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, but has reference to all that pertains to the restoration in the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.[iv]
Elder Neal A. Maxwell has some deep insights as to what the phrase means that Isaiah used when he said, “. . . they that murmured shall learn doctrine” (Isaiah 29:24):
We do know, individually, that we shall have a bright recollection of our guilt and a perfect remembrance of our past. (Alma 5:18; 11:43.) If needed, there could be a collective equivalent in which human folly is graphically recounted, so that all will be forever disabused of any mistaken, provincial, or lingering notions about what really happened during the second estate.
Very importantly, we know that our memories of the first estate will eventually be fully restored; and, upon regaining our premortal perspectives, we will acknowledge that we did indeed come here under certain conditions to which we earlier agreed—with the risks and rewards adequately explained beforehand.
Only with such a final cleansing of our perceptions about mortality could we then, profitably and without disabling backward glances, get on with immortality and eternal life. Perhaps this is part of what it means when a prophet said, "they that murmured shall learn doctrine." (Isaiah 29:24.)[v]
President Spencer W. Kimball had a powerful vision of missionary work:
We must teach the world. We must teach the gospel. The duty of teaching the world is clearly that of the Church and especially that of the Twelve, and those sent by them. (68-06)
Evangelistic harvest is always urgent. The destiny of man and of nations is always being decided. Every generation is crucial; every generation is strategic.
We may not be responsible for past generations, but we cannot escape the full responsibility for this one, and we have our time and our generation and our missionaries and our great potential. (74-14)
Is it not time that we sent out a great army, not of uniformed men, but an army of missionaries to preach repentance to a world that is dying? (55-09)
Our objective as the Lord's army of missionaries is to (1) warn the world, (2) bring about conversions, (3) baptize people, (4) organize membership, (5) teach and train, and (6) develop activity toward (7) stake organizations. (68-08)
Your faith and knowledge of truth are the result of missionary work of days gone by, which you can repay only by giving to others the same opportunities. Hence it is well for every worthy and prepared young man, as he grows up, to desire mightily to fill a mission. Of course, there is no compulsion. Each person makes up his mind on this matter as he does in receiving the priesthood, paying his tithes, marrying in the temple, serving in the Church. He ought to do all these things, but has his free agency. (73-03)
We must warn the world. We are not interested in numbers. They are secondary. We are interested in warning the nations of the world. I believe we have not scratched the surface. We are like the person who said, "Pull up the ladder; I'm aboard." (74-29)
Our goal is nothing less than the penetration of the entire world. Our new office building is a world building with four giant maps, each showing a particular part of the globe. We are not promised that the whole world will believe. Evangelization of the world does not mean that all men will respond, but all men must be given the opportunity to respond as they are confronted with the Christ. (74-29)
We do not need to baptize all the world, but we do need to warn them and bring to their attention, in an effective manner, the blessings available to them, and the regrets and deprivations which will follow a rejection of the plan of salvation. (58-09)[vi]
President Gordon B. Hinckley has great expectations of missionary work by Church members:
I believe . . . with all my heart that the field is white ready to harvest. . . . I think the answer to an increased number of converts does not lie particularly in our methods—effective as those methods are. Rather, I think we are living in the day of the fulfillment of the word of the Lord given through the Prophet Joel, and repeated by Moroni in his first visitation to the Prophet Joseph.
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh. . . ." (Joel 2:28.)
. . . Great and magnificent as is the work of the . . . missionaries who have been set apart, I am convinced that we have a far greater force for teaching the gospel to the world in the membership of the Church—"every man a missionary"—as has been said here so convincingly tonight. "Every man a missionary!" (Conference Report, April 1961, pp. 87-88.)
I think every member of the Church has the capacity to teach the gospel to nonmembers. I was told the other day of a crippled woman, homebound, who spends her days in a wheelchair, who has been the means of bringing thirty-seven people into the Church. . . . We need an awareness, an everyday awareness of the great power that we have to do this thing.
Second, a desire. I think many of us realize that we could do it, but we lack the desire. Let every man single out another, a friend. Let him get on his knees and pray to the Lord to help him bring that man into the Church. I am as satisfied as I am of anything that with that kind of prayerful, conscientious, directed effort, there isn't a man in this Church who could not convert another. . . .
Third, the faith to try. It is so simple. . . . This is not complex. It is simple. We have in the Northern Far East Mission of the Church today a beautiful and capable Japanese girl, born in Honolulu. I said to her, "Were your folks members of the Church?" "No, they were Buddhists." "How is it then that you are here?" She said, "I had a high school friend who took me to Mutual once a week and then gave me a tract to read." That girl went on to the University of Hawaii and then to Illinois Wesleyan University, from which school she was graduated. Today she is a missionary in Japan. ("Ready to Harvest," Improvement Era, July 1961, p. 508.)
It is an inspiring experience . . . to witness the manner in which the Lord is weaving the tapestry of his grand design in those foreign parts of the earth. He is gathering his children there as elsewhere—"one of a city and two of a family." He is remembering the promises made of old as he works among those who have seen so much of poverty and misery and evil and oppression. He is answering the prayers of those who have gone before, and who struggled to establish a foothold for the gospel in those distant places. . . .
. . . The work is becoming very much enlarged. It does require a commensurate accumulation of men and means. It requires an expansion of mind and energy, ability and perseverance. Let us prepare ourselves more diligently for the great assignment which God has laid upon us to carry this work to the children of the earth wherever we may be permitted to go. (Conference Report, April 1962, p . 71, 73.)[vii]
President David O. McKay emphasized the power of individual influence in missionary service:
Every member is a missionary. He or she has the responsibility of bringing somebody: a mother, a father, a neighbor, a fellow worker, an associate, somebody in touch with the messengers of the gospel. If every member will carry that responsibility, and if the arrangement to have that mother, or that father, or somebody meet the authorized representatives of the Church, no power on earth can stop this Church from growing. And personal contact is what will influence those investigators. That personal contact, the nature of it, its effect depends upon you. And that's one thing which I wish to emphasize. There's one responsibility which no man can evade, and that's the responsibility of personal influence. What you are thunders so loud in my ears, I cannot hear what you say. And what you are is the result of a silent, subtle radiation of your personality. The effect of your words and acts is tremendous in this world. Every moment of life you are changing, to a degree, the life of the whole world. (Address to the North British Mission, 1961.) This was a quote used by President Ezra Taft Benson.[viii]
As I served as mission president of the New Hampshire Manchester Mission (1992-1995) I saw the power of members and missionaries working together to change the lives of friends and neighbors. I was heartened by the dedication of my missionaries and the willingness of members to work with them to help convert others. I have a strong testimony that the missionary program is divinely inspired and directed by the hand of our Father in Heaven. I know that those who get involved in this work are blessed in their lives.
[i].(Bruce R. McConkie, The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 510.)
[ii].(Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985], 528.)
[iii].(Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1965-1973], 2: 26.)
[iv].(Hyrum M. Smith and Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine and Covenants Commentary [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1978], 23 - 24.)
[v].(Neal A. Maxwell, We Will Prove Them Herewith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1982], 56 - 57.)
[vi].(Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982], 544.)
[vii].(Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 365 - 366.)
[viii].(Ezra Taft Benson, Come unto Christ [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 95.)