President Wallace B. Smith of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints told a Salt Lake congregation Sunday that the success of the church's mission depends on the willingness of members to become instruments of God.
That mission, the church leader said, is to serve as a witness of Christ in the world, embrace all people with unconditional love, speak out the truth prophetically regardless of the consequences and invite everyone to seek a life reconciled to God.An estimated 230 members of the Salt Lake branch of the RLDS Church attended the worship service at 2747 E. 3640 South to hear from and meet their president and his wife, Anne, who last visited the area 12 years ago.
President Smith did not meet with news reporters before returning to church headquarters in Independence, Mo., Sunday afternoon, but RLDS Intermountain District President Sidney G. Troyer said that the purpose of the three-day visit was to renew personal ties with Salt Lake members.
During Sunday's worship service, which coincided with "World Education Day," President Smith emphasized the church's role in promoting education in many of the world's poorer nations
"Knowledge is one of the fundamental ways of supporting the gospel and of giving these people new hope in their lives," he said. And individuals - "as instruments in God's hands" - become more effective with knowledge, he added.
Recalling a recent visit to a church-supported, mud-hut schoolhouse in Haiti, President Smith said the knowledge that was being imparted to the children helped explain the church's success there.
He said the church's 11,000 Haitian members feel they really are a people with a mission. They also sense a tremendous acceptance in the church and an international fellowship through the church, he added.
"They feel they have a place and a responsibility. They feel that their lives have been changed significantly for the good," President Smith said.
If the church is not creating that kind of environment elsewhere, "then we have failed to completely understand our mission," the 60-year-old church leader said.
President Smith assumed the presidency of the 243,000-member church in 1978 and incurred some dissent six years later with announcement of a revelation permitting priesthood ordination for women.
Troyer said most RLDS members in Utah have accepted the controversial change. "There are some people who disagree with it, but I would say an overwhelming majority support it, and women are currently serving very effectively in the priesthood in all the branches," he said.
Organized in 1860, the RLDS Church shares some history with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but their doctrines and beliefs differ substantially.
President Smith, a descendant of the Prophet Joseph Smith, said the RLDS Church has been striving in recent years to more clearly define its mission and its vision for the next decade. The "mission statement" cited Sunday by the president was articulated two years ago at a retreat attended by church leaders.
While noting that many mainstream denominations are suffering decline in developed countries, President Smith said the Christian faith is spreading in other parts of the world. By the year 2025, as many as 50 percent of the world's missionaries will come from today's under-developed countries, he said.
"In the midst of such information, we envisage a specific role for our church, but we need many more persons and resources than we have," President Smith said.