In my daily study I happened to run into D&C 84:54-55 (emphasis added):
And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—[w]hich vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
Now, you’ll notice my emphasis? The whole church? As if to assent, “you heard me!” He goes on in verse 56:
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
So my first big question here is why the all-encompassing condemnation? The answer comes soon enough in verses 57-58:
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—[t]hat they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.
With the Book of Mormon hint, it was not so difficult to dig up from my memory, that President Benson (President of the First Presidency 1986-1995) famously used this passage in the October 1986 General Conference opening address, Cleaning the Inner Vessel. What blew me away then was not that the book was given such stature — it had been talked of previously — but that the condemnation that rested upon all. I was a convert with a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon, who had actually finally received a real testimony of Christ from the Book of Mormon; was I under the same condemnation, too? (You see, it all comes down to Me!)
I hesitate to bring it up now, because I’m far from certain I have the right answer. However, this has been brewing for a couple of days now, so I must get to it to process it.
It’s actually the same question that has been asked from a different angle: “Do you mean that all the people, who have been faithful Christians during your “apostasy” are lost?” Let’s leave aside the question of Priesthood for a second and look at the position of an individual.
A while ago, I wrote a little thought about who can be saved. I started from Matthew 19, but one could start from different points. To Nicodemus, Jesus famously says, that one must be “born of water and of the Spirit” and it’s obvious how the Christian world has interpreted the water part of it — i.e. baptism — but we are not spiritually reborn by being immersed in water, no matter how much authority is present.
Spiritual rebirth comes from the heart. Alma asked probing questions from the people of Zarahemla, for example in Alma 5:14
And now behold, I ask of you, my brethren of the church, have ye a spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?
Back to why the whole Church was under condemnation. Is it possible, that at some point a group can be considered apostate, even if some members are righteous? The Lord famously promised to save Sodom and Gomorrah for ten righteous people, but I’m not sure that can be taken as a literal guide.
In the end, I’m suggesting that the Book of Mormon was given such prominence for a reason. I first came upon this passage as I was preparing for my mission. I had a testimony of the book, but it was not so easy for me to see just how Christ-centered it is. But I see now more and more teachers of religion moving away from maintaining Jesus’ divinity, all the while maintaining their claim that they base their authority on the Bible alone.
Thirty years ago it was a novelty — in my experience — to hear a priest say he wasn’t convinced of the divinity of Jesus, that the Christ was just a master teacher, and that the value of the scriptures is in their moral teachings. I am not sure how to ask this tactfully, but do people honestly think the Sermon on the Mount is such a unique teaching? I guess it is easy to take the Sermon for granted from my perspective, but don’t the Buddhists hold a corner on pacifism?
The pacifism of Buddhists has been taken advantage of by a good number of despots. One could speculate that Siddartha Gautama had access to New Testament writings, but if you look at older documents from the Orient, you see that the ideas come from there independently.
In any case, the greatest value in the Book of Mormon comes out in the context of its explanations of the Atonement, Resurrection and Repentance. I come time again to the expositions of the Book of Mormon prophets and see how they affirm and clarify the ideas that originally had made the deepest impact on me in the Bible. Jesus is the Christ, the very Son of God, on merits alone we can rely on for salvation. And without charity, we are nothing.
I love the scriptures, and I am trying to keep my mind open so that the Spirit can teach me line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, a little there. As Paul said, “we see through a glass, darkly,” but with the scriptures and the living prophets the picture is coming clearer. One day we will see it clearly — indeed as we are seen — and it will likely surprise us.