Using the Book of Mormon to Navigate Problems in Church History

Some church members faith is challenged when they learn uncorrelated (unvarnished) history of the church. In Oct 2013 General Conference, Elder Uchtdorf discussed this concern. There has also been news articles reporting on the challenges the church is currently facing.

The internet has many blogs written by current and former LDS church members who are dedicated to writing about LDS church history. The other day I was reading a popular blog and came across the following comment written by someone named John. 

“Prophets and apostles who claim they are speaking for the lord and are only relaying their opinions is a gross sin…To claim your thoughts and opinions are revelatory because of your title is conceptual revelation…If we now are claiming that our apostles and prophets are giving us conceptual revelation…I cannot see that John the Baptist, Moses, etc. were conceptual revelators.

Councils of church leaders have done the best they could for centuries and attributed their decisions to the holy ghost. How are the LDS leaders any different than the many ecumenical councils that have met over the centuries and governed by unanimous decisions?

The heart of the matter to me is that if the LDS church claims true priesthood authority and revelation; why are there so many historical disasters in non-truth being given in the name of God.

I converted to the LDS church on a claim of authority and revelation and frankly I am furious to find this is not the case and I was duped.”

Understanding Prophets and Fallibility

I can understand, at least in part, the frustration John is experiencing. I think the difficulty he is having stems from his understanding of what it means to  be a prophet. 

One LDS writer exposed the tenancy we have to idealize LDS church leaders, saying:

“In the Catholic church everyone says the pope is infallible but nobody believes it; and in the Mormon church everybody says the prophet is fallible but nobody believes it.”

The scriptures attest to the frailties of mankind, and do not support the assumption that the Lord’s apostles and prophets are perfect or near perfect.

Like many others in our day, I’m reevaluating my thoughts on the fallibility of prophets. I have no doubt they are prophets, called of God, but I’m beginning to realize they may be more fallible than I have hitherto supposed.

Turn to the Book of Mormon for Answers

John, refers to “historical disasters” in his comment. I assume he is referring to things like multiple versions of the first vision, race and the Priesthood ban, Book of Mormon translation process, and plural marriage, to name a few.

Heavenly Father’s provided the Book of Mormon, the keystone of Mormonism, to help believers navigate the perplexities of mortality. Are there “historical disasters” in the Nephite church that can help church members in our day better understand what we’re facing?

I think there is, one example is found in Mosiah, chapters 23 and 24. It details the history of Alma and church members in his day. It provides some excellent teachings that John and I, and many others can use to deal with the issues of historical disasters in our day.

As you read the following outline, imagine how you would feel if you followed the prophet, and the result was that you and your family were put into hard bondage by your enemies. No doubt, you would have questions, was Alma an UNINSPIRED “prophet” receiving what John refers to as “conceptional revelation”? 

Alma Established the First Church Among the Nephites (Mosiah 23)

Alma (the older) was warned of the Lord that king Noah would come upon them, so Alma and his church members fled into the wilderness on an eight day journey, being strengthen by the Lord so that Noah could not overtake them.

They settled in a pleasant and beautiful land of pure water. Alma was their high priest, founder of their church. Alma appointed just men to nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness. They did labor exceedingly and and prospered. They called the city Helam.

My People Must be Tried in all Things 

The story in the Book of Mosiah is interrupted when Mormon intervenes with an editorial explaining what the Lord is about to do with the first Nephite church:

21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.
23 For behold, I will show unto you that they were brought into bondage, and none could deliver them but the Lord their God, yea, even the God of Abraham and Isaac and of Jacob.
24 And it came to pass that he did deliver them, and he did show forth his mighty power unto them, and great were their rejoicings.  (Mosiah 23:21 – 24)

An army of the Lamanites find Alma and his people. Alma exhorts his people to trust God, therefore they hushed their fears, relying on God. The Lord did soften the hearts of the Lamanites.

Amulon Persecutes Alma and His People (Mosiah 24)

The Lamanites grant Amulon, a former priest of king Noah, to be a king and ruler over Alma and his people. Amulon exercises authority over Alma and his brethren. He persecutes them, and causes his children should persecute their children. He put tasks upon them, and put taskmasters over them.

So great were their afflictions they began to cry mightily to God. Amulon responds to their prayers by telling the taskmasters that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.

Alma and his people did not raise their voices to God any more, but did pour out their hearts to Him. The voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions promising to deliver them out of bondage. And the physical burdens which are put on their shoulders and backs by their taskmasters were made light that they could not feel them.  They did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

So great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying, that on the morrow the Lord would deliver them out of bondage. And, as promised the Lord delivered them.

Hushing Our Fears

Is the Lord chastening today’s church, trying our patience and faith through the challenges being presented by church history? I think so, and the solution for our day is the same as it was in Alma’s day—we need to rely on the Lord—and hush our fears. Alma’s people cried mightily to God, we can do the same.

We live in that day prophesied by Heber C. Kimball. He said:

This Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory. To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess this personal knowledge or witness will fall. If you have not got the testimony, live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it. If you do not you will not stand.   Harold B. Lee quoting Heber C. Kimball, BYU, June 28, 1955; also in “We Believe” by Rulon T. Burton, p. 1038-39.

The solution for Alma and our day are the same, we need to experience the manifestations of the Spirit—“live right and call upon the Lord and cease not till you obtain it.” 

Note: I am using this space to recall other historical disasters in the Book of Mormon (as well as other scripture). If you recall any let me know.

1.  Alma and Amuluek in the city of Ammonihah. Many believers cast into the fire (Alma 14).

2.  Believers threatened with death if sign of Christ death prophesied by Samuel the Lamanite is not given by a certain day (3 Nephi 1:9).

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