Radical is probably the best word to describe the Book of Mormon delivery and doctrine of revelation. In 1Nephi alone we are given the best descriptor and tutorial of the how, when, why (what), and to whom of divine communication between God and his children anywhere in scripture. 1 Nephi validates and fortifies ancient modes of revelation, obliterates modern notions, establishes conditions, describes instances, invites all, says who can receive, and contrasts between those who will and will not receive.
1Nephi’s description and tutorial is especially radical to the modern world. Many ancients such as Abraham, Moses, and others, prophets would rejoice in Nephi’s testimony then pronounce the Hebrew equivalent of “you’re preachin’ to the choir.”
Terrell Givens points out that, “In the first 50 pages alone, we read of eight visions, various angelic visitations, several occasions on which Nephi is “visited” by the Lord, “constrained by the Spirit,” “led by the Spirit,” “commanded” by the Lord, and so forth.” (Journal of Book of Mormon Studies: Volume – 10, Issue – 2, Pages: 16-27 Provo, Utah: Maxwell Institute, 2001)
Nephi was not the prophet when he communicated directly with God during the Laban encounter. More profoundly, he was given a vision of the tree of life after he requested it. The dialogue with the Spirit that followed his request is particularly enlightening because Nephi was asked, “Believest thou that thy father saw the tree of which he hath spoken?” At this point, if the order of heavenly communication were that prophecy were exclusively the activity of prophets, the spirit might have said, “These things are revealed only to prophets. It should be enough for you to have the word of your father, the prophet.” But that is not what happened. Nephi received a glorious revelation that added to what his father had communicated.
In General Conference, Oct 2010, Elder Oaks distinguished between two lines of communication with God, the personal line and the priesthood line. The order of heaven with regard to revelation is that there is an organizational leadership component and an individual component. Lehi would have been the functionary for the organizational component, Nephi was sufficient to be the functionary for the individual component.
This has become so second nature to Latter-Day Saints that it is almost a ‘So what?’, yet it is something that we should praise and thank Heavenly Father for with our whole souls. The fact that God would directly communicate with his children, even his prophet children was not acceptable to the traditional Christian world from just after the first century on. The Book of Mormon clearly teaches that God will speak to his children through prophets and directly as long as there are people on the earth that seek righteousness.
What has not become second nature and is radical to modern saints is awesome depth and breadth of what can be received from the personal line.
Joseph Smith said,
“God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him (who remain) from the least to the greatest” (Smith, Teachings, 149).
Imagine that you are starting a church and the topic of revelation comes up. You have a choice to make. You can have revelation be the exclusive domain of one or multiple but certainly a limited number of individuals. This will yield the most control but will allow for the possibility of a Jim Jones. Another plan would be to remove revelation all together which will place spiritual matters in the domain of academia (what actually happened). This will check a wacko but will allow an elitist class free reign in all matters. This allows for ultimate control until elitists become too corrupt (what actually happened). This practice is still maintained in spite of the heroic acts of Wycliff and Tyndale. Although there is access to scripture, most follow that talk radio crowd model and consume and regurgitate talking points they got from the intelligentsia of their particular church. The final option is to open revelation to every soul that each “might speak in the name of God, the Lord, even the Savior of the world.” (D&C 1:20). The upside is that, if God exists, loves his children and wants to reveal his will to them, there will be adherents who have heard the voice of God and will lay down their lives to follow his revealed will (what actually happened(s)). The downside is that you will get an occasional wacko that will claim revelatory sanction for bizaare beliefs and acts (what actually happened(s)).
The astonishing thing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is that bizarre, revelation-justified behavior does not happen more often. Were Joseph Smith a diabolical impostor, he should have been much more cautious than to deliver a book to the world that proclaims in resounding shouts that not only can anyone receive profound and powerful revelation from God, but that everyone should. Couple the book with his statements like the one above and you have a recipe for chaotic disaster…unless it really is God speaking through the pages of the book and through his mouth.
Radical Notion 2: How
As a preface to an exchange with is brothers, Nephi tells us that his father Lehi had taught many great things to his family that were “hard to be understood save a man should inquire of the Lord.” With a grieving heart that came from having seen one of the greatest, most glorious and yet terrible visions ever given which included seeing the entire destruction of his posterity, Nephi at least partially recovered enough to ask his brothers “the cause of their disputation.” They responded that it concerned “the natural branches of the olive tree and also concerning the Gentiles.”
Nephi asks, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” The response is one of the great types for our time. “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us.” Nephi’s responded,
Behold, I said unto them: How is it that ye do not keep the commandments of the Lord? How is it that ye will perish, because of the hardness of your hearts?
Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?—If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you. (1Nephi 15:10,11)
The requirements have always been the same, do not harden your heart, keep the commandments, ask in faith, believing ye shall receive.
Radical Notion 3: What
1Nephi takes the Amos scripture, “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets,” and gives the broadest definition possible. Nephi teaches that it is within the purview of every person to be A prophet. The radical nature of the content of the revelation that comes as a result of asking in full faith with a soft heart while keeping the commandments is its astonishing breadth and depth. The only exclusion from what will be revealed to A prophet is what is reserved for THE prophet which is a tiny and specific amount of the total amount of revelation available. If revelation quantity and quality were measured in bytes, 1Nephi would be weighted about 92% in favor of revelation to A prophet and about 8% to given to THE prophet exclusively.
Nephi admits a bias toward his own ministry and that the things which Lehi saw, heard, taught and wrote would not be written in full, but Nephi’s own ministry would be emphasized in at least 1Nephi and 2Nephi (1Nephi 1:16-17). I believe, however that the ratio still holds. My own experience with general conference is that about 5% of the instruction given exclusively came from God, through one of THE prophets. Everything else is available to any prophet…even me. Having said that, I cannot think of any revelation given from God to The prophet that could not also be given to the “least of the saints.” The table below is a representative sample and number of verses devoted to revelation exclusive to THE prophet and then revelation to A prophet.
|Revelation exclusively given to THE prophet||# of verses||Revelation given to A prophet||# of verses|
|“Go testify about what you have seen!” (1Nephi 1:18)||1||The Lord softened Nephi’s heart and made things known unto him by the Holy Spirit (1Nephi 16-17, 19-24)||7|
|“Take your family into the wilderness.” (1Nephi 2:2)||1||Slay Laban. (1Nephi 4:10-13||4|
|Send your sons to retrieve the brass plates.(1Nephi 3:1-6)||6||Make plates. (1Nephi 9:3,5)||2|
|Take your family into the wilderness. 1Nephi 7:1)||1||Vast vision (1Nephi 11-14)||128|
|Take your family into the wilderness. (1Nephi 16:9)||1||Go here for food (1Nephi 16:30)||1|
|Repent and use the liahona. (1Nephi 16:25-26)||1||Build a boat like this… (1Nephi 18:1,3)||2|
The iron rod is a representation of the word of God. The word of God really only comes in two ways, the priesthood line and the personal line. Both are essential and both are neglected. One of the great things about scripture is that it contains one and facilitates the other. Of all scripture, there is nothing like the Book of Mormon in providing hold-fast rod grip glue.
As for revelatory content, no inquiry seems to be off limits. 1Nephi alone ranges in topics from the importance of scripture to where to find food, to how to build a boat to cross the ocean, to when killing is justified. Alma taught that one should pray “against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase” (Alma 34:22-25). From the mundane to the cosmic, God is willing to engage his children.
Radical Notion 4: When
Parley P Pratt wrote a tract called, “Joseph Smith and the Devil” (http://bit.ly/vUw5O7) Wherein the devil and Joseph enter into a conversation with each other. After an exchange of pleasantries and introductions, Joseph tells the devil that he is dismayed that the devil would tolerate and even celebrate some religious practice as he believed that the devil was opposed to all such. The devil responds,
It is false; there is not a more religious and pious being in the world than myself, nor a being more liberal minded. I am decidedly in favor of all creeds, systems and forms of Christianity, of whatever name and nature; so long as they leave out that abominable doctrine which caused me so much trouble in former times, and which, after slumbering for ages, you have again revived; I mean the doctrine of direct communication with God, by new revelation. This is hateful, it is impious, it is directly opposed to all the divisions and branches of the Christian church; I never could bear it. And for this very cause, I helped to bring to condign punishment all the prophets and apostles of old, for while they were suffered to live with this gift of revelation, they were always exposing and slandering me, and all other good pious men in exposing our deeds and purposes, which they called wicked, but we considered as the height of zeal and piety; and when we killed them for these crimes of dreaming, prophesying, and vision-seeing they raised the cry of persecution, and so with you miserable, deluded Mormons.
The under appreciated Book of Mormon message is that revelation was and continues to be essential in the personal and organizational domains of God’s interaction with his church and children. This was generally lost to Christianity as evidenced by a summary of the gift of prophesy taught by the Word of Life Baptist Church Website (http://bit.ly/ugyMpU):
Prophecy was an important gift to the church and met a unique need in the early church, but it is no longer needed or given. Its “partial” messages (I Corinthians 13:9) have been replaced by the complete Revelation. The church today stands, then, at a great advantage without it.
Augustine, though not the first, proclaimed what became known as Cessationism or the ceasing of spiritual gifts. In two separate statements he wrote, commenting on Acts 2:4,
In the earliest times, “the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed; and they spake with tongues,” which they had not learned, “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” These were signs adapted to the time. For there behooved to be that betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues, to shew that the Gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away.(Homily 6 on the First Epistle of John, Augustine)
For those that are baptized do not now receive the Spirit on the imposition of hands, so as to speak in the tongues of all the peoples; neither are the sick healed by the shadow of the preachers of Christ falling on them as they pass; and other such things as were then done, are now manifestly ceased. (City of God chap. 22).
Cessation was generally accepted when Constantine convened the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. There was no pretense that the resulting creed was somehow written by the hand of God. It was an agreement made between the best scholars of the day using the New Testament, the fathers (Augustine, Clement, Origen, others), and Platonic philosophy.
Has God stopped revealing his will directly to his children as well as through prophets? Have miracles ceased? Were spiritual gifts given only to the infant church and withdrawn? The Book of Mormon proclaims and emphatic NO.