Relief Society Lesson Plan: “Preparing for the Lord’s Return” Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Guest Post by Descent
Each conference, my family listens closely to the talks to see if a theme emerged for the conference. In 2004, as my then boyfriend and I sat on the steps of the tabernacle looking up at the Salt Lake temple, we heard a theme emerging. We felt church leaders were clearly directing members to establish families and marriages built on the principles of the gospel. Not surprisingly, we were married by the next conference. Our son is now old enough to participate in this form of analysis. His assessment of the April 2018’s theme was “Life sucks, and then you die.” Thankfully, the theme was refined for October 2018, which he declared was “Life sucks, and joy comes from helping others.”
In his April 2019 Conference talk, Elder Christofferson seems to be continue with the previous theme. He starts out with a story from his apostolic ministry:
“Some time ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I participated in a conference with leaders from a wide variety of religious faiths. Their love for their fellow man was unmistakable. They were intent on relieving suffering and helping people rise above oppression and poverty.”
There are two remarkable aspects of this anecdote. Firstly, Elder Christofferson is acknowledging structural inequality and injustice in society. Secondly, he is praising social justice ministry and in so doing, implies that latter-day saint Christians have an ethical and religious duty to engage in work that addresses societal problems like oppression and poverty.
He then goes on to clearly state: “In that moment, the Holy Spirit affirmed two things to me. First, the work of ministering to temporal needs is vital and must continue. The second was unexpected, yet powerful and clear. It was this: beyond selfless service, it is supremely important to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
First: Ministering to Temporal Needs
Richard J. Foster, a quaker theologian, described in his book, Streams of Living Water, six forms of ministry; one of which includes ministering to temporal needs. He called that form the Social Justice Stream. Citing extensively the prophet Amos, he connects the social justice tradition with the duty and responsibility of the Lord’s chosen people to seek justice and compassion for all God’s children. In the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter-days, this duty is summed up in the fourth mission of the church which commands disciples to “care for the poor and the needy.”
Christofferson also hints at a vital part of ministering to those who are suffering under oppression and poverty. Pastoral theology is Christian theology that considers religious truth in relation to spiritual needs. Pastors, then, are people who minister to the spiritual needs of those they minister to. When the church describes the importance of ministering to one another, I believe they are referencing the pastoral practice of listening to and observing the needs of those who are in need. Counseling with others is often part of this effort, but so is direct action. How often do visiting ministers (previously called home and visiting teachers) sit with church members to offer encouragement and reassurance that they can have confidence in their decision to choose hope, faith and charity to find joy in the hard times? Listening is only part of the role of a visiting minister.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated,
“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear.“
In this way, the Spirit can inspire to know how to respond in love and service to help meet the temporal needs of those who are struggling in our ward communities.
Beyond Selfless Service:
To repeat: “…beyond selfless service, it is supremely important to prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Elder Christofferson hints at something quite interesting here, called Immanentizing the eschaton, which means trying to bring about the eschaton (the final, heaven-like stage of history) in the immanent world.The term is a critique of premillennialism, a belief that societal apathy and indifference to the state of the world will hasten the Lord’s Coming. Another theory that threatens to immanentize the eschaton is postmillennialism, which is the prideful assumption that the Millennium will be brought about the works of the righteous.
When I was involved in a research project at BYU, my team spent a good deal of time thinking about ways families have the power to heal the social ills of the world. In my naiveté, I asked the advising professor if there were any dangers in interventions that could bring about a better world, because, after all, don’t the signs of the times say that things must get worse before they can get better? What if by doing good, we are delaying Christ’s return?
Little did I know that I stumbled into the premillennialism vs. postmillennialism debate. After hearing and studying this talk, I believe that if Elder Christofferson were to err on either side of this debate, he would be advocating to immanentize the eschaton through a postmillennialist approach.
Based on the teachings of Christ: what is the ethical choice? What is God’s will? Is it to work for a better world and doing all we can (2 Nephi 25:23) to build Zion? Or to allow the world to languish and sin and wait for His Coming?
Second: Prepare the World for Christ’s Return
Elder Christofferson’s second realization is a powerful one. He describes Christ’s promised related to the temporal world. The gospel does not just provide hope of a heavenly reward, but offers a guide to a better world. Christofferson lists the following promises:
- When He comes, oppression and injustice will not only diminish; they will cease: 2 Nephi 21:6, 9; see also Isaiah 11:6, 9.
- Poverty and suffering will not only decline; they will vanish: Revelation 7:16–17.
- Even the pain and sorrow of death will be done away: Doctrine and Covenants 101:30–31.
Elder Christofferson, rather than focusing on the terror leading up to the events of the Second Coming, chose to focus on the promises for a better world. His talk offered hope and encouragement to the disciples of Christ, without discouraging us from working collaboratively and cooperatively to build Zion, to care for the poor and the needy, provide for individual’s temporal needs and address societal issues. In fact, Elder Christofferson encourages us to do all those things knowing that we will only make limited progress whereas Christ promises unlimited healing, justice and relief. We truly may waste and wear out our lives (D&C 121:13) doing good, but “we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do (2 Nephi 25:23).”
Christofferson ends his talk with:
And so, this Easter, let us truly celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and all that it portends: His return to reign for a thousand years of peace, a righteous judgment and perfect justice for all, the immortality of all who ever lived upon this earth, and the promise of eternal life. Christ’s Resurrection is the ultimate assurance that all will be put right. Let us be about building up Zion to hasten that day.