This post is the last in a three part sequence about the nature of scripture. Part 1 noted that God communicates with mankind both individually and structurally, through his church. When revelation is given through prophets and apostles and is written down, those revelations are scripture. The more clear and useful revelations were added to the canon of scripture anciently and it seems to me that the canon of scripture should not be accepted as closed in a living church.
In part 2, I identified that the church went astray and became an instrument of oppression, causing God to reject it. I identified the need for a restoration of lost truths and authority and the need to call a new prophet and new apostles to act as God’s servants here on earth. I identified the first prophet called since the dark ages as Joseph Smith.
A mass of bad things have been spoken about Joseph. He has been accused of wild crimes, debauchery and fraud. Some things he actually did have been held up as evidence that he could not have been a prophet. As has happened anciently, secular and religious groups fought any challenges to their influence and the existing way of doing things. Some people felt that the end justified the means and that if it meant that people would not listen to what they considered a false prophet, it would be acceptable to lie about Joseph Smith.
Fortunately, as God knows the beginning from the end he was able to provide a means by which the truth of Joseph’s prophethood (my word, but it fits here) could be discovered.
This came in the form of the Book of Mormon. A few years after his remarkable vision of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, he was directed to a local hill and was shown where a set of ancient records had been hidden. These records were subsequently given into Joseph’s care for him to translate by the gift and power of God.
That these records were written on plates of gold has in itself attracted many detrimental comments. Yet we know that gold was plentiful in the ancient Americas by the amount found by the conquistadors and we know that gold does not rust. What better way to preserve an important writing? Incidentally, I saw that King Darius had gold plates engraved with cuneiform writing buried under the courtyard about 515 BC. See here. There are better pictures around too. Obviously writing on gold is not so unheard of as it is made out to be.
The final translated work, called the Book of Mormon, tells the story of a Jewish family in Jerusalem at 600BC. They were living at the time when the prophet Jeremiah was calling the Jews to task for their wickedness. He warned them to return to the Lord or the Babylonians would come and overpower them. A man, Lehi, listened to Jeremiah and on returning to his house prayed to the Lord to see if it was true. In response God confirmed what Jeremiah had taught so Lehi also preached repentance to the people. Jeremiah was imprisoned, but Lehi was told by God that he should take his family and flee Jerusalem as the Jews wanted to take his life.
To cut the story short, Lehi’s family were directed to the coast. There they were taught to build a ship in which they sailed across the ocean to their promised land – the Americas. Once there the family split into two major factions, the one endeavouring to serve God and being led by their own prophets, the other lapsing into indolence and wickedness. There was frequent conflict between the two parties over the next 1000 years until the righteous faction lost their way and became more wicked than the “wicked” faction.
Their prophets were continually active in preaching to the people. They knew the Messiah would come and looked forward to that event. Some of their preaching is recorded and provides clarity to unclear biblical teachings. These include the need for the fall, the resurrection of all mankind, the need for repentance, the atonement of Christ, and lots more. There is a highlight of the book in which, after his ascension into heaven, Jesus visits the people of the America’s. While there he heals the sick, teaches his doctrine and blesses the children.
His presence there effects a great change on the people and peace follows for 200 years at which point, the people lose their way again, the return to their factions and it all goes downhill from there until the last prophet hides the plates by burying them to preserve them from destruction.
A litmus test
The Book of Mormon becomes then, like a litmus test, a simple way to determine if Joseph Smith was acting under God’s direction or not. The following process is relevant to those who want to find truth:
- Read the book with the intent to learn of its truthfulness. This may sound like blindingly obvious stuff but there are many who will sound off about the Book of Mormon without actually having read it. Some read it with the intent to find flaws that can be exposed to others. No, you need to read it in a humble state in which you are able to hear the spirit of God whispering to you.
- Ponder the book. Are the messages that are in it from God? They may be different from the doctrines you are familiar with but that’s not the question.
- Pray and ask God specific questions “Is the Book of Mormon true? Is it really from you? Is the doctrine that (something you have read about in the book) really your doctrine? Should I accept Joseph Smith as a prophet”
- Listen to the feelings and ideas that come to you from the Holy Ghost.
It’s interesting to note that this process cuts through all the arguments and debates about history, the translation process, archaeology, logic, the appropriateness of Joseph’s prophethood (the debates are many) and makes these sorts of to-ing and fro-ing irrelevant. It becomes a matter for you and God to sort out together.
If God tells you that this book is not from Him you will be free with a clear conscience to reject the book, Joseph Smith and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as not from God and continue in your search for truth elsewhere.
As I read the book, I feel a rightness, a goodness about it. I read the stories of the ancient prophets and their faith and determination to do God’s will against much tribulation and am inspired. I read the prophets teachings on doctrine and it feels right and makes sense. When the prophet Nephi explains that the fall was a necessary part of Gods plan for us to come to earth, it enlarges my understanding. When the prophet Moroni preaches against baptising little children, as they are innocent and automatically saved in Christ until they are old enough to choose, I see that God loves all his children and works to bring many more souls back to him. There are so many more doctrines spoken of with clarity and sense.
Above all this, though, is the strength of the testimony that those prophets have in Jesus Christ. As ancient prophets in the Old Testament looked forward to His coming, so too do Book of Mormon prophets. He is certainly their focus and the testimony of Him is strong.
As I read the Book of Mormon I feel my heart being softened by the Holy Ghost in a testimony that it is true.
So what if it is true?
If, having prayed, you were to feel that the book is true, as I do, there are clear implications. If the book is God’s word, the way that it has come forth now must have been though God’s power and that means that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God called to represent God in our day and stand as a watchman calling warnings to us all just as prophets did in ancient times. If Joseph Smith is a prophet the church he organised has been authorised by God. The heavens are not closed and more scripture is on its way.
This Yes/No test is important. It is no wonder that we call the Book of Mormon the Keystone of our religion. Without it the whole church fails. With it, the church is established and it’s work to bring souls back to Christ become more important.
This is very exciting to me. I love serving God and delight to serve in his organisation as part of His work to invite people to come back to him. In some small way I am following the command given to Peter to feed His sheep.
So there it is. A brief explanation of the Book of Mormon. Yes, very brief, yet I hope that I have placed it in context as, not only a source of doctrine and inspiring narrative, but as a keystone to knowing if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the restored church of Jesus Christ that it claims to be. And the key to opening that knowledge is not, I say again NOT, from listening to all the arguments for and against the book that go on across the world – but by going straight to the source of knowledge and asking God to tell you, with an open heart that is ready to receive and act on God’s word to you.
Try it and let me know how it goes for you.