Nephi’s Commentary on Church Organization

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Anyone who doubts the centrality of Jesus Christ to Mormonism (if we ignore the name of the church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) needs only to read the first chapter of the Book of Mormon. In 1 Nephi 1:9 we read: “And it came to pass that he saw One descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day.”

It took just a few verses to reference the Savior. The context is Lehi, a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, had a vision where he saw God sitting on His throne, surrounded by many angels. Then he saw “One descending out of the midst of heaven” who was followed by “twelve others” (1 Ne. 1:10). These twelve had similarly bright radiances. So here we are with God the Father, Jesus Christ, and His twelve Apostles. Who were these Apostles? The twelve He called while on earth.

Now we continue to see the organization of God’s kingdom. “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read.” (1 Nephi 1:11). The first in the verse might refer to the Savior but that does not make as much sense as it referring to the first of the Apostles; in other words, the chief apostle. Who is this? Peter.

Here we have the Father sitting on His throne, His Son descending to earth, and Peter (and the rest of the apostles) doing some of the specific work. That is the order of God’s kingdom, His authority and His priesthood. Heavenly Father sends His Son to act in His stead in some situations (actually, in most circumstances of which we have record). Jesus then delegates some of the work to His apostles, namely to Peter (and James and John). This is what we read in the first part of the Book of Mormon. It’s quite a rich commentary on the nature of God’s work, including how He accomplishes some of the work – through Priesthood delegation.

So there we have not only Christ taking an early and central role in the Book of Mormon, we have reference to the Father as well as Christ’s Twelve Apostles; there are other Apostles, including 15 alive at present – the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plus the 12 Apostles – but the original Apostles had and have (although I can probably safely say that Judas Iscariot is not currently acting in the role of Apostle) a special calling. They have been involved in directing and teaching the work of the Lord since the beginning of the earth and since Adam’s time upon the earth.

It did not take long in the Book of Mormon to reveal the centrality of Christ and the centrality of the organization of the Church. This is one of the reasons that I really enjoy the writings of Nephi. He teaches so much in such a compact space. The 1st chapter of 1 Nephi is rich with doctrine.

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