“Individual salvation” is a phrase that nowhere occurs in the scriptures.
The concept can be found there. But so can the concept of corporate salvation.
Corporate meaning “group,” not suits, stocks, and boardrooms. Aside: It probably says something unkind about our civilization that all of our generic words for group effort have been narrowed to mostly just mean business. Corporation literally just means a group of people that work as a body. A church is by definition corporate. Similarly, a company is also just a group of people working towards a common end or under some kind of rule. When it comes to that, business and enterprise just mean the things people do, not exclusively commerce. And the one word we have for collective, organized action that is not associated with commerce is “institution,” which has mostly come to be associated with schools, jails, and asylums. Think of the phrase “institutional food.” Our culture image of joint action outside the capitalist world is grungy, linoleum-clad places that no one belongs to voluntarily. Like I said, it probably shows a certain sickness of soul.
Anyhow, yes, the scriptures do talk about corporate salvation. The Old Testament is about Israel as a nation. Paul talked about the body (corpus, corporation) of Christ. Joseph Smith introduced the sealing ordinances with the testimony that neither we nor our dead can be made perfect without each other.
The prophets of our day also speak in those terms. Frequently, enough that is is not noteworthy. But it still caught my eye when reading the first session of the October 1971 General Conference.
Here is President Smith:
I rejoice in the privilege that is mine to stand before you and bear testimony to the truth and divinity of this great latter-day work.
We the Latter-day Saints are a blessed and favored people. It is our privilege to become “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” (Ex. 19:6.) The Lord has chosen us, as he chose our fathers anciently, “to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Deut. 7:6.)
We have a peoplehood, and this peoplehood is part of the gospel plan. Even more, I have never noticed before that the latter-day work is singular. We are not engaged in individual latter-day works. There are not multiple buildings erected on the cornerstone. Our own part in fitly framing the building can differ widely. You may lay bricks, while I do wiring. But there is and should be a common aim and one work we are both part of.
That perspective makes sense of Elder Packer’s talk on the one true and living church. While I believe that most churches play a role in God’s providence, we still recognize that God had uniquely ordained and guided this Church, and that the ordinances are found here. In a world of purely individual salvation, a variety of churches is nothing to worry about. But in the world where there is one family of God and one body we must join, that there is a true church is a practical, perhaps even a logical, conclusion.
Finally, there is Elder Benson’s talk about protecting the youth from Satan’s attacks. Any institution worth its salt has to take care for the next generation. That is probably the dividing line between a real institution and stillborn one: whether it can be transmitted across generational lines. It is no surprise that this is a point Satan seeks to exploit.
A lot of ink has been spilled about what makes a group of people into “a people.” Common rituals, imaginary community, and so on. The single biggest one, in my opinion, is that a “people” is the group where the people in it believe their children will marry each other and have granchildren together with. Prospective relatives, in other words. So in a real sense, raising our children in the church is what makes and keeps us a people at all, let alone a special people.
Food for thought.
Other posts from this session