In 1832, with the infant church barely two years old, the Lord announced to Joseph Smith that it stood condemned for not taking seriously the things which had been written, especially in the “new covenant,” the Book of Mormon.[1] One hundred and fifty four years later, President Ezra Taft Benson taught that the Church once more risked such condemnation.[2] Now I fear we again face that danger.

Of course, the Book of Mormon remains central to our religious identity. It is the keystone of our missionary efforts. We continue to encourage converts and youth to read it and pray to know whether it is true. But the actual details of what the Book of Mormon says are conspicuously absent from much of our practice and discussions. Instead, we seem to have reduced it to a mere artifact, a sign that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that the Church is true.

Such behavior cannot be pleasing to the Lord, who described the Book of Mormon as containing the “fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[3] Joseph Smith said that we “would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”[4] To do so, however, we must actually follow what is written in its pages, not just rely on the fact of its existence.

Our regard for the actual words of the Book of Mormon is especially crucial at this time of turmoil within the Church.[5] As we collectively wrestle with what it means to be Mormon – how we should live our lives and run our Church – we would be well-served to return to the principles of the “new covenant.” Let us consider some of what that encompasses and what it does not.[6]

Perhaps surprisingly, the Book of Mormon does not include:

  • Eternal Families. There is no promise of celestial marriage or eternal families in the entire book. Instead, even when the Book of Mormon does talk about families, the focus remains firmly on individual salvation, supported by family, church, and community.
  • Perfect Families. There’s no such thing as a perfect family in the Book of Mormon. Laman and Lamuel should be all the reminder we need that even “goodly parents,” emphasizing the gospel at home as much as at church, can have really rotten children.[7] Pahoran, Paanchi, and Pacumeni were raised by one of the most compassionate leaders the Nephites ever had and then fought bitterly over the judgeship after his death.[8]
  • Modern Temple Ordinances. Yes, the people of the Book of Mormon had temples. Nephi built them, Jacob and King Benjamin taught the people there, and the Savior visited one.[9] But as far as recorded, they used them as part of the Mosaic Law as a place for gathering and for animal sacrifices.[10] After the Savior’s visit, there is no further mention of their use.[11]

Does this mean that we should reject our modern teachings about eternal families or temple worship, or stop promoting strong families? Should we discard our Handbooks and manuals in favor of the Book of Mormon? Of course not. But might an effort to more closely follow Book of Mormon teaching lead us to reconsider where we place our emphasis and how we judge those among us?

As contained in the Book of Mormon, the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ does include:

  • Christ, full of charity, compassion, and grace.[12]
  • Priesthood servants.[13]
  • Personal revelation.[14]
  • The principles of fellowship and compassion that serve as the basis of programs like home and visiting teaching.[15]
  • Warnings against pride, even among the faithful.[16]
  • A rejection of polygamy.[17]
  • Faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.[18]

I rejoice in the additional revelations given through Joseph Smith and his successors. Prophetic revelation is central to all the claims of the Book of Mormon. And I recognize the need for administrative authority (also a Book of Mormon principle) in the modern church. But I wish we would do a better job of looking to the contents of this “Testament of Jesus Christ” to guide us and set the standard for what it means to be a Mormon.[19] If the “fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” means anything, it must mean that the standards set by the Book of Mormon are sufficient to guide us home to that God who gave us life.[20]

 

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[1] D&C 84:54-58

[2] Ezra Taft Benson, “The Book of Mormon – Keystone of Our Religion,” Oct. 1986 Genera Conference

[3] D&C 20:9

[4] Introduction to the Book of Mormon

[5] Have you been on social media lately?

[6] Obviously, this is not an attempt to be exhaustive.

[7] Despite the goodliness of Lehi and Sariah, Laman and Lamuel rejected the doctrines and authority of their prophets, Lehi and Nephi, and tried to kill Nephi. I would say that the fact that their father and two brothers served as prophets is plenty of evidence that the gospel was taught fully in their home.

[8] On Pahoran’s compassion, see his exchange of letters with Captain Moroni in Alma 60-61. His sons’ contention erupts in Helaman 1.

[9] 2 Nephi 5:16; Jacob 2; Mosiah 2-5; 3 Nephi 11:1

[10] Mosiah 2:1-6 is the most detailed explanation of how they used the Nephite temples.

[11] The last mention of a temple in the Book of Mormon is the Savior quoting Isaiah in 3 Nephi 24:1. His visit at the temple in Bountiful is the last mention of the temple as a location in the promised land.

[12] No list of these traits in the Book of Mormon could be exhaustive, but these are a few of my favorite passages in this regard: 2 Nephi 26:24-30, 3 Nephi 17, Helaman 5, and Mosiah 14.

[13] For example, see Jacob 1 and Mosiah 2

[14] For example, Enos 1

[15] See Moroni 6. This chapter is too often overshadowed in lesson by the chapters that follow it. It offers the clearest explanation of what worship was like at the pinnacle of Nephite civilization. It’s something to aspire to and contains many foundational principles that should guide own modern Church practices.

[16] For example, Alma 1:21-23

[17] See Jacob 3:20-25

[18] For example, 2 Nephi 31 and 3 Nephi 27:14-17

[19] For example, what if we took Mosiah 18:8-11 as the standard for membership in the Church?

[20] See Alma 40:11. In case it remains unclear, this in not a Reformation-style argument for ‘sola scriptura.’ The necessity of priesthood authority, saving ordinances, and modern revelation are central messages of the Book of Mormon.

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Jason L grew up in Arizona as a Mormon Democrat with a lawyer father – and heard all the jokes. Now he’s got a Ph.D. in history, is married to a sugar sorceress, and enjoys raising their sweet son.

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