In the past two weeks my mind has been returning again and again to a single verse in the Doctrine and Covenants:
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written— D & C 84:57
In this particular section the members of the early church are being called to repentance. Specifically the Lord says they are ” under the bondage of sin” (v. 50), their “minds… have been darkened” and they ” have treated lightly the things [they] have received” (v. 54). Verses 55 and 56 state the whole church is under condemnation because of vanity and unbelief.
That’s a call to repentance that sounds very “Old Testament” but it’s from 1832 and distinctly modern. For me this scripture has made me ask the following questions:
- What is meant by the “new covenant, even the Book of Mormon”?
- Was is the historical context? Is it an isolated issue?
- How does this new covenant apply to me?
The 84th section of the Doctrine and Covenants has a lot to do with the Priesthood, family, and the blessings of the temple. Here we find the commandment from God to build a temple in Missouri, the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood as well as commentary on the ancient Priesthoods held by Moses and Aaron, doctrine relating to the light of Christ, instructions to missionaries, and so much more. This is a heavy section to say the least. Historically this was a time when many were returning from their first missions, and the membership was growing quickly. So it can feel out of place to have these few versus of condemnation intermingled with great revelations at a time that is described as joyful. I would love to know what questions Joseph Smith took before the Lord that prompted this vast revelation. From what I can surmise it seems as if some of the missionaries who had recently returned hadn’t put as much emphasis on teaching the Book of Mormon, or had treated it lightly. Maybe this was beginning to be popular attitude among the saints. I am not sure, but I can see how that can happen because it’s still a problem today. There can be lots of things that bring us to becoming members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, maybe it’s the sense of community, or the strong family values; but these things cannot keep us firmly rooted. We need a testimony of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon teaches of Christ in a unique and beautiful way that expounds on the Bible. It’s origin also testifies of the need for living prophets, and requires we act in faith.
“Every Latter-day Saint should make the study of this book a lifetime pursuit. Otherwise he is placing his soul in jeopardy and neglecting that which could give spiritual and intellectual unity to his whole life. There is a difference between a convert who is built on the rock of Christ through the Book of Mormon and stays hold of that iron rod, and one who is not.”
– Ezra Taft Benson, April 1975 General Conference: The Book of Mormon is the Word of God
I love the Book of Mormon and have read it again and again since I was a pre-teen, but it wasn’t until lately that I began to wonder, “what makes the Book of Mormon so unique?” I have many friends who are not of my faith who have deep and strong testimonies of the Savior. Their relationship with God is wonderful and their testimonies of him so pure. Surely I can’t say that I am somehow a better follower of Christ just because I’ve read a different book?
Joseph Smith said:
“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”
So what specifically is in the Book of Mormon that makes it special?
The New Covenant
Recently I started studying the Book of Mormon with a friend in my ward. She’s a new member of the church and I’m excited to help her come to know these scriptures. She has lots of great questions, so I have been trying my best to be prepared to help her understand the historical and spiritual context. This has been a huge blessing to me because I have learned so much. The biggest revelation being that the Book of Mormon isn’t written about the Nephites. Here’s what I mean.
We begin the Book of Mormon with an introduction to an obviously dysfunctional family. From nearly page one we see the stark contrast between the character of Nephi and his brother’s Laman and Lemuel. Nephi is faithful, humble and obedient. Laman and Lemuel are not. Their hatred of their younger brother will become a dividing point for their family once they reach the promised land and this family squabble leads to a series of wars that punctuate the book until it’s conclusion. I have wondered why they didn’t just leave Laman and Lemuel in Jerusalem? Why did Nephi keep forgiving them for trying to murder him? Probably for the same reason the sons of Mosiah went to preach among the Lamanites or why Samuel the Lamanite stood upon the wall preaching about the birth of Christ while stones and arrows flew all around him.
“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” D & C 18:10
I believe the Book of Mormon is better then any other scripture we have at teaching the first and second great commandment that Christ taught.
“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Matt 22:37-39
Nephi is given the promise (or covenant) :
“Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land:” 2 Nephi 4:4
When do we see this covenant fulfilled? When the peoples come together and follow God. Some key examples are found in Alma 21-25, and 4 Nephi. In these periods (as well as others) you see that the title of Lamanite and Nephite fall away and they are unified in following Christ. Why does this miracle come about? Because of the efforts of the followers of Christ to love one another. They don’t see enemies, they see each other as family. I had thought the Book of Mormon was about the Nephites, but it’s not. It’s about the love of God, and our call to seek after those that are lost.
It can be easy to see the Book of Mormon as a tale of the righteous Nephites and their struggle against the evil Lamanites. But if that’s the lesson we take away from it I think we are missing the point. That ideology reinforces pride and leads us away from God. I believe the “New Covenant” of the Book of Mormon is the same “New Commandment” Christ taught.
“The question that concerns us… [is] who are the righteous and who are the wicked? We may think we have an easy answer to that one, but it is not the answer that the scriptures give us. The righteous are whoever are repenting, and the wicked whoever are not repenting.” Hugh Nibley, The Prophetic Book of Mormon, Chapter 21.
Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?
While D & C 84:57 might have been specific to a few missionaries in 1832, I’m sure its council is applicable today. So I’m asking a new set of questions to myself:
- Am I keeping my promise to God to study the Book of Mormon and follow it’s teachings?
- Am I seeing others as Lamanites? Or am I seeing their true worth?
- Am I willing to repent when I fall short and try again?
I believe the Book of Mormon was specifically written for the modern world. We all need it’s profound message to come unto Christ. I really do believe it’s possible for us to become unified as the people in the Book of Mormon did. I believe in the promise of Zion. We can be a people of one heart and one mind and it’s my goal to do all that I can to be a part of this great work.