Church Organization in The Book of Mormon

Standard

In Mosiah 18 and Mosiah 25 we learn much about the proper organization and role of Christ’s church. Let’s set the context. An off-shoot of the Nephites were under the reign of a wicked man named Noah. The king ordained priests who shared his love of wickedness. A righteous man, a prophet, Abinadi came among the people and testified of their wickedness. He fled for his life and then later came back in disguise to preach more. Abinadi was taken before King Noah and his priests. He testified against their wickedness boldly. He also taught the gospel of Christ in power and purity. Abinadi was killed for his beliefs but one of the wicked priests believed his teachings. This priest – Alma – fled for his life but began to teach the people in secret after he repented of his sins. So the setting for Mosiah 18 is a wooded area where there is a fountain of pure water (how very appropriate for a setting for Alma’s teachings about the Source of Living Water, even Jesus Christ).

What did Alma teach and what do we learn about the organization of Christ’s church? Alma started teaching “repentance, and redemption, and faith on the Lord” (Mosiah 18:7). Those are the foundational principles of the gospel – faith in Christ and repentance (which is made efficacious through the reception of the Savior). In verses 8-10 we read about baptism and the reception of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

“8 And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?”

What’s important is in these verse we learn the covenant that those who are baptized make. Those who are baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s church are “called his people” – they take upon themselves the name of Christ (or at least are willing to and Christ puts His name upon them in their worthiness). Then we read of the responsibilities of the baptized members of Christ’s church:

  1. Bear one another’s burdens
  2. Mourn with those who mourn
  3. Comfort those who need comfort
  4. Testify of God in all things and times (particularly through the example of their lives)

Those in the church have a primary responsibility to take care of each other. Our devotion to God and our discipleship of Christ is evident in what we do and how we serve others. This sentiment echoes what the Savior taught His disciples on the eve of His death – “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35).

As we continue through Mosiah 18 we understand more about the true nature of Christ’s church. Before Alma performed an ordinance (baptism), he prayed for the Lord’s Spirit to be with him (verse 12). Then Alma baptized a man – Helam – “having authority from the Almighty God.” (verse 13). He did not receive authority of himself, it was given to him by God (either his ordination to the priesthood under the direction of Noah was valid or he was ordained and given authority by a heavenly messenger after that time {I believe that the former is true though, which could lead to an interesting discussion about the priesthood}). The priesthood authority is something you cannot receive but from God (“And no man taketh this honor [ordination to the priesthood] unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews 5:4).

Then Alma baptized Helam who was then filled with the Spirit (Alma also baptized himself, which is done only in this special circumstance; normally, it is not possible to baptize oneself; UPDATE: a statement by Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith was brought to my attention; Pres. Smith stated that the self-baptism was merely symbolic {http://seminary.lds.org/manuals/book-of-mormon-seminary-student-study-guide/bm-ssg-05-mos-8-12.asp}. This brings up a whole point I did not initially bring up about where Alma’s priethood authority came from. Was his ordination as one of Noah’s priests valid (my guess is yes, it was)? Was he ordained secretly under the hands of Abinadi before Abinadi’s death? Did he already have the priesthood before being raised to the level of one of King Noah’s priests? Was he ordained by an angel? These are all unanswered questions and not entirely pertinent to this post, which is why I did not bring them up initially. However, if Alma’s baptism was symbolic, it means he was previously baptized by the proper authority). As Alma baptized more people, he did not go under the water again – one baptism is enough. These verses show that entrance to Christ’s church is dependent upon baptism and reception of the Holy Spirit: “And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.” (Mosiah 18:17).

Next, to get the church set up further, Alma ordained priests over the people (initially about 4 – one for every 50 church members; there were 204 individuals baptized at that time). What did these priests do? Teach the people “nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets. Yea, even he commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people.” (Mosiah 18:19-20). They were commanded to teach only the basics of the gospel as taught by the prophets.

The people of the Lord were then commanded to be unified and without contention (verse 21). The church members were also commanded to preach (to one another and to others) – they were to be missionaries (verse 22). They were also commanded to keep the sabbath day holy and thank the Lord in all things (verse 23). Related to this, the church members were to meet together one day a week for church services but also meet together as often as they could.

Next we get to something important – Christ’s church had a lay ministry (“he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support” – verse 24). This was also important in the context of King Noah and his priests who were supported by taxes of their people. Alma did command church members to be free with their substance, to give freely to support those in need; the needy could be the priesthood leaders but they were not otherwise supported: “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul.” (verse 28). The lack of coercion is important – the giving needs to be freely done. This support was both temporal and spiritual (verse 29).

Doesn’t this sound like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today? I think there are great reminders for us in Mosiah 18 about our responsibilities and duties as members of Christ’s church.

In Mosiah 25 we learn a little more about the nature of Christ’s church. It was divided into multiple congregations (we call these wards today):

“And Alma did speak unto them, when they were assembled together in large bodies, and he went from one body to another, preaching unto the people repentance and faith on the Lord…And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church. Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly; Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma. And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.” (Mosiah 25:15,19-22).

Alma was given authority by King Mosiah (who was also the prophet). Mosiah held the priesthood keys, he authorized Alma to direct and organize the different congregations. Alma essentially acted as an apostle under the keys of Mosiah. He traveled to the different conjugations to teach them the gospel. Even though there were different congregations, they were all one church. This is just like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Wherever you go in the world, there is likely to be a congregation (there are many places the LDS Church is not but it is spreading). All of these different congregations are part of Christ’s church. They are different bodies of people but all are one.

While this church structure as found in the Book of Mormon is not novel to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was when Joseph Smith was translating the Book of Mormon. It served as an important guideline in conjunction with revelation for Joseph Smith to use to set up Christ’s restored church.

2 thoughts on “Church Organization in The Book of Mormon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>