Ammon & Aaron: Two Approaches
In the Book of Mormon, Alma and King Mosiah had rebellious sons who experienced a miraculous conversion. Fueled by a divine manifestation and a spiritual rebirth, they had a burning desire to reach out and share the experience.
I don’t think we focus enough on what is was that initially brought this desire to go out on this mission.
These men received a manifestation of God to themselves. (Lecture 2, questions 146 & 147) They knew the pure love of God, it changed them, they were born again and that experience will always cause an individual to immediately desire to reach outward in genuine concern for others. Unless you know God and unless you have tasted of his redemption yourself, then much of your efforts will feel like you’re just under the pressure of trying to get people to join a club.
When you remove God from the equation, when his literal power and influence are absent, then what do you have? I’m convinced that most, if not all problems we have in the Church can be traced back to an absence of a connection between an individual and their God. Even Alma the high priest confronts the “brethren” of the Nephite church with the question: “have ye been spiritually born of God?” (Alma 5:14)
For Alma and the sons of Mosiah, it wasn’t enough to reach out to the people around them, they wanted to go to their enemies, people that would probably kill them on sight, but this didn’t dissuade them. Mosiah’s two sons Aaron and Ammon took two different approaches that resulted in dramatically different outcomes. I believe that the way they went about things can teach us quite a bit about bringing souls to God.
Let’s start with Aaron. He approaches a city called Jerusalem and begins to preach to a group that was called the Amalekites. They were religious and worshiped in synagogues, which is where Aaron first decided to approach them.
First he enters their sacred space and begins to publicly preach to them his own religion. The reaction of the Amalekites is not surprising, they immediately begin to contend with Aaron. An Amalekite rises up and says, “What is that thou hast testified? Hast thou seen an angel? Why do not angels appear unto us? Behold are not this people as good as thy people?” (Alma 21:5)
He continues, “Thou also sayest, except we repent we shall perish. How knowest thou the thought and intent of our hearts? How knowest thou that we have cause to repent? How knowest thou that we are not a righteous people? Behold, we have built sanctuaries, and we do assemble ourselves together to worship God. We do believe that God will save all men.” (Alma 21:6)
I’ve received the same kinds of responses while tracking as a full-time missionary. Our presence at their door is not perceived as a blessing but interpreted as an accusation that they are wrong. To someone that is actively involved in another religious tradition, this is rarely, perhaps almost never received positively. Aaron shoots back with a question: “Believest thou that the Son of God shall come to redeem mankind from their sins?” (Alma 21:7)
The man immediately puts up a wall: “We do not believe that thou knowest any such thing. We do not believe in these foolish traditions. We do not believe that thou knowest of things to come, neither do we believe that thy fathers and also that our fathers did know concerning the things which they spake, of that which is to come.” (Alma 21:8)
He sees Aaron’s religion as a farce. He doesn’t believe in Aaron’s religious traditions, much like how many don’t believe the religious traditions of the Latter-day Saints. It all gets shot down in one fell swoop; “I just don’t believe you.” At this point, like many missionaries might do (and as I’ve done), Aaron decides to try and prove his point using scripture (some might call this Bible-bashing), “Now Aaron began to open the scriptures unto them concerning the coming of Christ, and also concerning the resurrection of the dead, and that there could be no redemption for mankind save it were through the death and sufferings of Christ, and the atonement of his blood.” (Alma 21:9)
This never works out well. Doesn’t work today and didn’t work then: “And it came to pass as he began to expound these things unto them they were angry with him, and began to mock him; and they would not hear the words which he spake.” (Alma 21:10)
Aaron gives up and leaves this city and meets the same fate in each town he visits, the record states that “few believed.” (Alma 21:12) Ultimately, he ends up getting thrown in prison with a few others and remains there until bailed out later by Ammon who, as we will see, had a much different experience.
Upon entering the land of Ishmael, Ammon is immediately bound and taken before the king over that land whose name was Lamoni. (Alma 17:20-21)
Like Aaron, Ammon is among people that are not too thrilled to see him encroaching on their space. The king fires off the first question and asks Ammon if he is there because he is desiring to live among the Lamanites or his people. (Alma 17.22)
Ammon could have used Aaron’s approach, opening his mouth to deliver a sermon on his religion and calling everyone in earshot to repentance. He could have asked if there was a time they could all get together and have a discussion about religion or he could have presented the king with some scriptures to read. It’s likely that none of these things would have been very successful, but that’s not to say that they can’t ever be successful, Aaron even seems to have had some success.
Ammon’s response to King Lamoni is surprising, he says, “Yea, I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.” (Alma 17:23) I’m guessing that Ammon was dead serious when he said this and that his intent was palpable. Ammon’s bands were loosed and either out of genuine trust in Ammon or some kind of test, Lamoni offers him one of his daughters as a wife. Ammon offers a simple, surprising response: “Nay, but I will be thy servant.” (Alma 17:25)
Serving a friend or family member is one thing, even serving a complete stranger wouldn’t be too hard for most people, but imagine standing before the leader of an enemy who wouldn’t think twice about killing you on the spot.
Just for fun, imagine a “conservative” going up to President Obama and making the same offer, or perhaps approaching Vladimir Putin or an Al Qaeda leader – no that would be treason, you can’t give the enemy aid or comfort! Imagine someone of the “liberal” persuasion going up to Glenn Beck or Alex Jones saying, “Hey, I’d like to come work for you!”
What about you, who’s your enemy?
This is exactly how dramatic it was for Ammon to speak those words to King Lamoni and mean every word. I think this aspect can be too easily overlooked when reading the text; we can take it for granted. It’s amazing how powerful an encounter with God can be and the ripples and waves that emanate from the individuals who find him.
Ammon’s actions were driven out of a godly love. He didn’t see all the reasons he could have given for why he should hate the king he stood face to face with. This was a man that frequently had his servants murdered over trivial matters outside of their control; make no mistake Lamoni was a bad dude. Odds are, the king wasn’t at all impressed with Ammon initially. After all, the next thing the king does is appoint him to watch his flocks which was practically a death sentence; these were the guys he often had killed.
In his humble mission to simply serve faithfully, Ammon is strengthened by God and through both mightiness and faithfulness astounds the king and captivates his attention. The powerful fruit of Ammon’s actions, lead to an intense encounter where a rich discussion about God ensues; dedicated service opened the door to some very hard hearts.
The results of Ammon’s ministry lead to Aaron and his companions being delivered out of prison and entire cities and lands converted to the Lord and peace established. The many stories revolving around these converts and their posterity are some of the best in the Book of Mormon. All of this because one man said, “I will be thy servant” and followed it up with faithful action.
I’ve been really encouraged by changes being made in some missions in how the missionaries are serving. Less tracking and door-to-door “sales” and more labor-based service:
“In Northern California, the image of Mormon missionaries in dark suits and white shirts, knocking on doors at inconvenient times, is being replaced by the sight of these name-tag-wearing twosomes in blue jeans and T-shirts, hoeing gardens, scrubbing off graffiti, dishing out food in homeless shelters and reading with refugees.
It’s part of the LDS Church’s recognition that its long-held practice of “tracting,” going door to door handing out church materials and delivering religious messages, is no longer effective. Now few people are home during the late morning and early afternoon, and those who are may not want to be disturbed.” (Link to article at the Salt Lake Tribune)
Imagine the good that 100,000 strong army of young volunteers could do in this world? Contrast that with hours spent unsuccessfully knocking on doors begging members to talk to their neighbors and feeling depressed that they have nobody to teach. I like what’s happening in California, it reminds me more of Ammon’s approach.
Service is a Sermon Shining Through
Ultimately everything comes back to your relationship with God. Do you know God? If not, how can you, being blind, lead another?
If you do not know the redemption of God and have not tasted the joy of rebirth yourself, then what are you out there trying to “sell?” I’m reminded of individuals that I’ve encountered who tell me how wonderful and amazing their new MLM is but they’ve never seen a profit; they’re zealots to an idea rather than a reality. I take more seriously the suggestions of one who has put something into practice and has experienced real, tangible results that I can reproduce myself. It’s not some fluke or coincidence, it’s a repeatable, proven model I can follow.
First there’s that essential fire burning within that comes from a personal encounter with God which ignites the desire to reach outward. How many are missing that initial spark? Or how many have allowed that spark to dim with time? .
There’s no better way to preach the word of God than to live it yourself, become born again and then have others see that light shine effortlessly through what you have become. I think this is a good place to insert one of my favorite principles from Stoicism:
“For there is great danger in immediately throwing out what you have not digested. And, if anyone tells you that you know nothing, and you are not nettled at it, then you may be sure that you have begun your business. For sheep don’t throw up the grass to show the shepherds how much they have eaten; but, inwardly digesting their food, they outwardly produce wool and milk. Thus, therefore, do you likewise not show theorems to the unlearned, but the actions produced by them after they have been digested.” (Enchiridion, Epictetus)
Ammon and Aaron were both knowledgable concerning the salvation of the Lord. One tried to convince with words, driven with a sense of urgency, the other was patient and let his actions speak for him. One seems more immediately successful while the other seems to immediately struggle, but in the end, the success of one ends up with them both teaching kings. Why does God want us to read these things?
Ultimately nobody loves the people around you more than the Father, he knows how to reach their hearts and unless you know Him, you’ll never know how to reach them.