In our country where religiosity is on the decline (Huffington Post), many seem to celebrate ethereal spirituality but scoff at religious organizations, not recognizing that organized religions exist for the sole purpose of improving spirituality. Dismissing structured religion is like saying, “I like being healthy and though sometimes I get sick, hospitals are for other people, not me.” Others nominally belong to churches, but rarely attend. With mystic Eastern philosophies claiming the limelight in pop culture (e.g., the film Batman Begins) it feels socially outdated to claim membership to an organized church. And yet, my spirituality is best executed through my church; God as the perfect teacher has created out of a religious organization the perfect classroom. This is a classroom full of struggling, imperfect students, but each member comes to class seeking to be better. Through imperfect people we execute God’s perfect system of learning.
Howard Gardner—Professor of Education at Harvard—advocates that students have multiple intelligences such as kinesthetics, logic, interpersonal savvy, etc. As such, educational research recommends that teachers vary instruction techniques to fit the needs of all different intelligences. So too does our perfect Father seek to vary his instruction to meet the strengths and learning styles of his children. Nephi explains in the Book of Mormon that “the Lord God giveth light unto the understanding; for he speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3) or, according to their intelligence. He does this by instructing us in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to access truth through myriad ways: we are to teach one-on-one; to share and learn in small classes; to be instructed as a large congregation; and to receive counsel and revelation as a single body tuned in to a conference twice a year. In addition, God asks us to speak directly to him, and to have independent study every day to commune with him by reflecting on revelation he gave long ago. We have activities, baptisms, service experiences, institute, family home evening, and temple nights all in addition to our church meetings, because God wants us to learn. He wants ALL of his students, with all of our different ways of learning about the world, to come to a knowledge of the Savior as the Redeemer of the world. If I tried to gain spirituality in isolation, I would miss out on the many additional avenues to truth that only come when I participate in my organized religion.
God’s perfect classroom provides access to truth for all learners. But the organization of the church goes beyond a teacher-student knowledge transfer; it allows for participants to apply what we learn towards one another, to form what the apostle Paul calls the “Body of Christ”, or rather a group of people that provides complementary efforts to care for one another. This is not possible without a structure to guide this effort. Paul teaches that “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit . . . For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:4, 11–12). God has given a variety of gifts and talents to all of us; it is only as we all both teach AND learn, both serve AND receive service, that our gifts—or our multiple intelligences—can create the body of Christ, and gain a level of spirituality unknown to those who seek it alone. I am grateful for a Father who knows the learning needs of his children. I am grateful for a congregation in which to learn and then apply the principles of the Atonement. I am grateful for the community of people who help me follow Christ. In short, I am grateful for my membership in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.