Monday, February 13, 2012

Book of Mormon Precepts "A Type of the Latter Day Church"

This post is an introduction of sorts to a topic that will require many additional posts to develop fully from the Book of Mormon what we need to eventually understand. This topic, in order to be properly understood, will require additional understanding of prophecy and teachings from the Book of Mormon; those will be addressed and developed as we move along. To begin understanding, we need to first discover something about the last group of Nephi's descendants recorded in the Book of Mormon.

Among the recorded instances of "dwindling in unbelief" in the Book of Mormon narrative, there is one occurrence that should be paid particular attention. The dwindling, and ultimate destruction of the people that once received the Lord Jesus Christ and His personal ministry, is the most important and instructive example of all. This highly favored people began in such a condition that they were able to stand in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. (3Nephi 11) Whenever a person or a group of people arrive at the level of purity and holiness that enables them to endure the presence of God while in mortality, that condition is called, Zion. (3Nephi 12: 8, D&C 97: 21) The last Nephites began as a Zion people when Christ appeared to them and personally ministered to them. (3Nephi 11) In order for the people to be able to endure the presence of the risen Lord and still live, it was necessary for them to have received ordinances of the higher priesthood. (D&C 84: 19-22) It was necessary that they receive the fullness of the priesthood. These Nephites were spiritually advanced and spiritually accomplished saints. They enjoyed the company and presence of Christ during an intensive three-day ministry. Thereafter "he did show himself unto them oft, and did break bread oft, and bless it, and give it unto them." (3Nephi 26: 13)

The Nephites enjoyed a true Zion society where Christ and the fulness of the priesthood was present among them. The latter day saints on the other hand, failed in their attempts to establish Zion.  (D&C 124: 28, 32-34) Though the latter day saints came into the habit of calling themselves Zion, and are referred to in various places in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants as "Zion", (for example, 2Nephi 28: 21, 24), like the Israelites of Moses' day, (D&C 84: 23-25), the latter day saints never achieved the Zion condition that would allow God to dwell among them as the Nephites did. The latter day saints merited the ministering of angels among them from time to time. The Kirtland temple dedication era record includes instances of angelic presence and ministry. But, to Joseph Smith’s frustration and dismay, the latter day saints never achieved Zion despite all of Joseph's great efforts to bring the saints to that understanding and condition. 

About his frustration and inability to instill understanding among the saints, Joseph said, "there has been a great difficulty in getting anything into the heads of this generation. It has been like splitting hemlock knots with a corn dodger for a wedge and a pumpkin for a beetle…I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the saints prepared to receive the things of God, but we frequently see some of them …fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions, they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law and go through and receive their exaltation I am unable to say, but many are called and few are chosen." Modern latter day saints do not seem to have changed much in this regard since Joseph's day. "Tradition" rules the day among them still.

As to Joseph's expressed concern about "how many will be able to abide a celestial law," the Lord later revealed, (D&C 105) 

Behold, I say unto you, were it not for the transgressions of my people, speaking concerning the church and not individuals, they might have been redeemed even now.

But behold, they have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;

And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom;

And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.
And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer.

From the record of that last group of once highly blessed Nephite believers, is found a type of the latter day restored church. To miss, or misunderstand, the message of the experience of the last Nephites is to miss one of the foremost warnings provided by the Lord to latter day people from the Book of Mormon. To see and understand the great type established by the last Nephites is to begin to understand latter day events and fulfillment of latter day prophecy regarding the latter day church as set forth previously in the precious Book of Mormon.

The purpose of Mormon's inclusion in the abridged record, of the dwindling and ultimate destruction of a once Zion people, is misunderstood by almost all latter day saints. Generally, latter day saints tend to read and view the horrific events that led to the ultimate total destruction of the Zion Nephites as separate from themselves; as though they had no direct meaning or application to a latter day church or a latter day people. What can be learned after all, by a "chosen," and a "promised," latter day people, from a fallen, wicked, and destroyed Nephite people? Even if the Nephites were once Zion, even if God once dwelled among them, what can the experience of their dwindling and destruction possibly mean to a church who’s glorious destiny is assured? A proper and introspective understanding of what happened to the Zion Nephites; understanding why the Lord desires that it be clearly understood by latter day people what happened to the Zion Nephites, has everything to do with the church's own latter day history and destiny as it relates to prophecy in the Book of Mormon. We might even rightly say, to understand the latter day saints is to understand substantially what happened to the Zion Nephites.

It seems difficult, if not impossible, for latter day saints to see and understand the striking parallels between themselves and the Zion Nephites. It is because of pride, vanity, and unbelief of the latter day saints (D&C 84: 54-57) that they are unable to see what the Lord has placed before their eyes in the words of the Book of Mormon. Their minds have in fact been "darkened" just as the Lord said. (D&C 84: 54) It is, after all, the work of the enemy of God to, "blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men, and leadeth them away into broad roads, that they perish and are lost." (1Nephi 12 : 17)   We must not make the mistake of all together missing, misjudging, or discounting, the lessons and experience of the last Nephites. (Those things do in fact pertain directly to the latter day church.) To do so is to succumb to our "vanity" and "unbelief." If we believe the glorious destiny of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints makes it impervious to anything like what happened to the Zion Nephites, then we may surely know we are being guided by our "vanity" and "unbelief." The first evidence of a "darkened mind" is the refusal, or inability, to believe what is plainly written. (D&C 84: 54-57)

Much knowledge is needed to understand just how the last Nephites and the latter day church are set up in the Book of Mormon as types of one another. For now, in order to begin a foundation of understanding, we will try to understand just what happened to the Zion Nephites

Remember, our overall objective is to learn the precepts of the Book of Mormon in order that, as Joseph Smith said, we can come nearer to God by abiding by its precepts.

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