Ancient writings, newly discovered in the twentieth century, such as some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, preserve the teachings of Christian groups that existed before Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem. And of course, the Book of Mormon is the record of Jewish people who knew of and worshipped Jesus Christ beginning about 600 years before He was born. These ancient Christian churches are called “the Church of Anticipation,” because they anticipate, or look forward to, the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ in Palestine in the meridian of time. (See Hugh W. Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Volume 8 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989, 76–83.])
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a “Church of Anticipation” today—not anticipating the first coming of the Lord (although that was crucial to us all), but anticipating the Second Coming (see Gospel Topics essay, “Second Coming of Jesus Christ,” at lds.org, https://www.lds.org/topics/second-coming-of-jesus-christ?lang=eng). And in order to effectively anticipate the Second Coming of the Savior, the Church today has to be guided by prophets, as has always been (see Amos 3:7, in the Old Testament); these prophets must receive continuing revelation from God in order to guide the Church and its members as times change (see Newsroom, “Modern Prophets and Continuing Revelation,” https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/modern-prophets-and-continuing-revelation).
That continuing revelation was apparent in the announcements of changes to Church practices made by President Russell M. Nelson and other Church leaders at the April 2018 Semi-Annual General Conference of the Church. Changes to the home and visiting teaching organizations to emphasize ministering to one another are not just a change of labels. The renewed emphasis on Christlike caring by “individually rising above any mechanical, function-without-feeling routine to the heartfelt discipleship articulated by the Savior at the conclusion of His earthly ministry” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “‘Be With and Strengthen Them’” (April 2018) https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2018/04/be-with-and-strengthen-them?lang=eng) is nothing less than a call and encouragement of the people of the Church to be self-motivated, personal-revelation-receiving, neighbor-loving members of a Zion society, where we are “of one heart and one mind, and [dwell] in righteousness, and there [are] no poor among [us]” (Moses 7:18, in the Pearl of Great Price).
The old home and visiting teaching programs could be compared to the chore chart our parents used to have to assign tasks to the children in the family. But whose mother didn’t say, at least once, “I wish you would just see what needs to be done and do it!” We still have stewardships–sisters and families for whom we pray and to whom we respond carefully and intentionally, being certain that their needs are not being overlooked. But our current ministering charge is no less than to care, observe, and see all around us what needs to be done, and do it. We are to be shepherds, not hirelings (see John 10:11-14).
No visiting teaching supervisor will expect a report each month. No online form will ask us if we contacted each sister with a space (often left blank) for “needs or concerns.” No visiting teaching coordinator will make a monthly report on lds.org, checking a circle by each sister’s name as “contacted” or “not contacted.” A member of the Relief Society presidency will check in every three months or so, asking us how this sister or that sister that we have been assigned to minister to, with our companions, is doing. We will contact a member of the presidency when a sister or her family has news or a need that the ward leaders need to know in order to serve her, or them, more effectively. But for the most part, we are expected to be the first line of contact, friendship, and service to our neighbors and sisters, assigned to us or not, as we seek the Lord’s Spirit to guide and help us in reaching out to others.
It may take a while for us to achieve the new unity and willingness to serve our neighbors that have been emphasized by the prophets as we more fully become ministering sisters and brothers to each other, without the detailed and frequent administrative oversight. I know that I will have to work on some of my own tendencies and traits that prevent me from caring for others in a “bold, new, holier way,” as Elder Holland said, especially my tendency to think of my time and my life as my own, and not as blessings that I can choose to place in service of the Lord, family members, and neighbors near and far (see C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, letter 21 [New York: HarperCollins, 2001, first published 1942], 111–115). But the Lord gives no commandment except He prepares a way for each of us to accomplish His will (1 Nephi 3:7, in the Book of Mormon).
I was joyous as each new policy was announced in General Conference (there were also announced changes to the organization of the Melchizedek Priesthood and seven new temples). I am grateful that the Lord led a seeking, praying, studying 17-year-old to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, those 45-plus years ago. The way is not always easy, but it is always worthwhile. My testimony of the reality of living prophets and of the hastening work of the Lord’s Church increases every day. This is indeed a Church of Anticipation.