Church and Churches

By Roger R. Keller

Roger R. Keller, “Church and Churches,” in Book of Mormon Authors: Their Words and Messages (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1996), 42–57.

Church and Churches

The Church is central to Latter-day Saints. Normally, when we think of “church,” we think of prophets, apostles, seventies, stake presidents, bishops, quorums, the Relief Society, and local congregations. In other words, our thought is often structural. Given this, it is interesting and instructive to see how Book of Mormon authors use the words Church and Churches. No author uses the words with any great frequency. In itself this is interesting, for we might expect a greater emphasis on things ecclesiastical since these are so important to us today.

However, as chapter 1 indicates, the Church word group is of minimal importance to the writers of the Book of Mormon: only the Angel, Amnion, the Father, and Jesus show any significant interest in the cluster. Interestingly, the Father never uses the words Church or Churches but uses other words of the group, such as Appoint, Bless, Blessed, and so forth.

On the other end of the spectrum, Alma 2, Captain Moroni, Jacob, the Lord, Mormon, Moroni 2, and Nephi 1 use words of the Church cluster very rarely. It therefore does not appear to have been very important to any of them. However, each of these authors uses the words Church or Churches. Figures 1 and 2 show how the words Church and Churches are distributed in meaning for the authors who use them.

Figure 1: Church

 

Alma 2

Ammon

Angel

Jacob

Jesus

Lord

Mormon

Moroni 1

Moroni 2

Nephi 1

Christ’s, NW

5

1

-

-

-

-

80

1

-

-

Local

3

-

-

-

1

1

20

-

7

-

Christ’s, not NW

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Great and abom.

-

-

9

1

-

1

-

-

-

6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the Lamb

-

-

2

-

-

-

-

-

-

3

Of the devil

-

-

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

Universal

4

-

-

-

10

5

44

-

2

1

Not true

-

-

-

-

-

-

3

-

-

-

NW/universal

1

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jews

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

-

1

 

 

Figure 2: Churches

 

Angel

Mormon

Moroni 2

Nephi 1

Other churches

2

-

-

-

Two churches

1

-

-

-

Local

-

10

-

-

Local/denomin.

-

5

7

6

 

The categories may need some explanation. “NW” indicates the New World. A local church is a gathering of Christians in a particular spot, e.g., the church in Gideon, Zarahemla, or Nephi. In contrast, the universal church includes all the followers of Christ—past, present, and future—in whatever places they have been or may be found, A more complete explanation of each category will be given as the chapter progresses. It is important to note here that there are both similarities and differences already apparent between the authors, even though only a few persons speak of Church or Churches. For example, several of the authors speak of the universal church. In contrast, the Angel and Nephi 1 speak of the great and abominable church, while Mormon and Moroni 2 seem to talk of local entities.

Having laid this preliminary groundwork, we now turn to an in-depth examination of the words Church and Churches to determine how they are used by various authors who will be grouped under the most dominant theme of their texts. We will then seek the theological implications of those usages for the Church today.

The Great and Abominable Church

Nephi 1 and the Angel

For both Nephi’s Angel and Nephi 1, the word Church is used with distinctly negative connotations. Unquestionably, the word Church is more important in the Angel’s words than in the words of any other individual who will be considered, being used 5.78 times per thousand words of author text. In virtually every instance it refers to the great and abominable church (nine times—1 Nephi 13:5, 8,26, 28, 32; 14:3, 9, 10, 17) or to the church of the devil (one time—1 Nephi 14:10). The great and abominable church is a church which prizes fine clothing and is lustful (1 Nephi 13:8), takes away precious parts of the Bible (1 Nephi 13:28, 32), is founded by the devil and leads people away from God (1 Nephi 14:3), stands in opposition to the church of the Lamb (1 Nephi 14:10), and is known as the mother of harlots (1 Nephi 14:17). The only positive use of the word Church by the Angel occurs when he refers twice to the church of the Lamb of God, which stands in opposition to the church of the devil (1 Nephi 14:10).

When the Angel uses the word Churches he does so once in contrasting two churches, i.e., the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil (1 Nephi 14:10), both of which have been referenced above. However, the two other uses of the word are also interesting and potentially instructive. In 1 Nephi 13:5, 26, the Angel refers to the great and abominable church “which is most abominable above all other churches.” It would seem that there may be other organizations, known as churches, which, while perhaps not fully correct, are certainly not to be identified with the great and abominable church. The implication seems to be that they have something which is positive about them—something which cannot be said for the great and abominable church. Perhaps all earthly organizations (1 Nephi 13) contain, to a greater or lesser degree, aspects of the cosmic entities known as the church of the Lamb and the church of the devil (1 Nephi 14). Earthly entities of any time or place which are so utterly immersed in evil that they are virtually beyond redemption are identified as part of the great and abominable church; but there are other “churches” which have not sunk to such depths and may thus be open to fulfillment or completion.

Nephi l’s use of the word Church parallels that of the Angel. Once again, one encounters the confrontation between the church of the Lamb of God and the great and abominable church. The earthly manifestation of the abominable church is found among the Gentiles (1 Nephi 13:4), the devil is the founder of it (1 Nephi 13:6), God’s wrath is poured out upon it creating wars and rumors of wars (1 Nephi 14:15), and in the end it will fall (1 Nephi 22:14; 28:17). While Nephi 1 saw that the great and abominable church would cover the earth and have great strength, he also saw the church of the Lamb, which would be small but would also be found throughout the earth (1 Nephi 14:12). It consisted of the Saints or the covenant people of God (1 Nephi 14:12, 14), bore the power of the Lamb of God, and its people were armed with righteousness (1 Nephi 14:14). Thus, the cosmic powers of Satan and Christ come into conflict on the earthly stage.

Nephi 1 uses Church in two other ways. The first is to refer to the Jewish religious community as a church when Nephi 1 commands Zoram to get the plates of brass so Nephi 1 can take them to his brethren. He indicates that Zoram presumed Nephi 1 spoke of “the brethren of the church,” i.e., the Jews (1 Nephi 4:25). The other usage seems to indicate Christ’s universal church, i.e., all those people who accept Christ as their Lord and Savior and belong to his church. Nephi 1 states the following: “And behold it shall come to pass that after the Messiah hath risen from the dead, and hath manifested himself unto his people, unto as many as will believe on his name, behold, Jerusalem shall be destroyed again; for wo unto them that fight against God and the people of his church” (2 Nephi 25:14). This church cannot in the end be defeated but will ultimately prevail, not merely in the meridian of time or in the latter days, but for all time.

Finally, all Nephi l’s uses of the word Churches are negative.Churches contend with other churches. It is not possible to determine whether local churches or denominational entities are here envisaged, but given Nephi l’s prophetic foresight, it is probably both. Pride, the desire for gain through the suffering of the poor (2 Nephi 26:20; 28:12), arrogant exclusiveness (2 Nephi 28:2–3), and false doctrine (2 Nephi 28:12) all give rise to “churches” which are not the Lord’s.

In summary, the Angel and Nephi 1 both use Church/Churches in a primarily negative manner, referring to entities opposed to the church of the Lamb of God, the only true church.

The Universal Church

Jesus

Jesus’ use of the word Church refers only to his church. The church is universal because Israelites and Gentiles alike may be included within it (3 Nephi 21:22). Because it is Christ’s church, it must bear his name; any “church” which bears the name of another, such as Moses, is an untrue church (3 Nephi 27:7–8). Christ’s one and only church is founded upon the good news of his gospel (3 Nephi 27:9–10), and its members are to pray to the Father as Christ taught them to pray, i.e., in Christ’s name (3 Nephi 18:16; 27:9). Such a church will do what it has seen its Savior do (3 Nephi 27:21).

The Lord

Not surprisingly, the same themes are sounded by Jesus as the Lord when he speaks from heaven, both before and after his mortal ministry. Before Jesus is born, he, as the Lord, states that those who hear his voice (Mosiah 26:21), repent, and are baptized (Mosiah 26:22) are of his church. Nothing can overthrow the church except transgression (Mosiah 27:13), and those who will not hear his voice or repent must be excluded from the church (Mosiah 26:28). Even so, in the dark days in which Mormon lived, the hope and the grace of God were still available, if the errant people would but accept the divine offer. Once again, the church was to be based on faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism (Mormon 3:2); the Lord’s invitation to come to him was put before the people by Mormon.

In two instances, the Lord uses the word Church differently from that discussed above. In the first instance, he refers to the great and abominable church as that entity which has kept back part of the plain and precious truths of the gospel (1 Nephi 13:34). In the second instance, he commends Alma the Elder for establishing a church in the land of Nephi. Here the meaning of Church is that of a local congregation, rather than the all-encompassing idea of Christ’s church as more generally used by the Lord.

Jacob

One other author, Jacob, seems to use the word Church with a universal meaning. He asserts that the Jews—members of the house of Israel—have been addressed by prophets from generation to generation and that eventually “they shall be restored to the true church and fold of God” (2 Nephi 9:1–2). Likewise, Gentiles who repent, who do not oppose Zion, and who do not join the great and abominable church will be saved (2 Nephi 6:12)—the implication being that they will be saved in Christ’s church.\

In summary, both the resurrected Jesus and Jesus as the Lord from heaven use the word Church predominantly to refer to the one church which is the Church of Jesus Christ, a church which is to be entered through faith, repentance, and baptism. This is also the church in which Jacob sees the Jews and Gentiles being united.

A Local Congregation

While Alma 2, Jesus, and the Lord all use Church to mean a local congregation, they have few such references, Their uses will be discussed in other contexts. Moroni 2, however, uses the word Church seven times to refer to the congregation of people in a local area when he explains how church affairs were conducted in his day. Thus, Moroni 2’s understanding of the local church will be examined by itself. For example, he tells us how priests in a local church were ordained by elders (Moroni 3:1) and how the sacrament was administered, with the elders and priests kneeling with the members of a local church and praying to the Father in the name of Christ (Moroni 4:1–2). People were received for baptism only when they had demonstrated to the local church that they had repented and that they bore a broken heart and a contrite spirit (Moroni 6:2). The local congregations met often for prayer and fasting, and the meetings were conducted under the influence of the Spirit (Moroni 6:5, 9). When a person sinned, three witnesses from the local church were required as witnesses before the elders. If the person then did not repent, his name was removed from the rolls of the church (Moroni 6:7).

In two instances, Moroni 2 uses Church in a broader way. In Mormon 8:38 he asks persons of the latter days, whom he has been shown, why they have, by their greed and pride, polluted the church of God. Likewise, Moroni 2 tells us that once persons have been baptized and cleansed by the Holy Ghost, they are incorporated into the church of Christ (Moroni 6:4). Clearly, these uses of Church transcend the idea of a local unit and take on the nature of Christ’s universal church. However, the majority of Moroni 2’s uses reflect a local congregational situation.

The local church situation is heightened when one turns to Moroni 2’s use of the word Churches. All uses refer to either denominational entities or to local congregations in the latter days. Clearly, the organizations are separate and distinct and are in conflict with their neighbors. Churches are defiled because they deny the power of God and are lifted up in pride and envy (Mormon 8:28, 36). Some churches will offer forgiveness of sins for money (Mormon 8:32), others are built to enhance the reputations of their members (Mormon 8:33), and still others love fine clothing and expensive church decorations more than they love the poor (Mormon 8:37). Thus, all references to Churches by Moroni 2 have a negative connotation. But since the churches are separated from each other, this usage supports Moroni 2’s tendency to use Church to mean a local unit.

The Church in the New World

Captain Moroni

There is a fine line between Church referring to Christ’s universal church and the designation referring to the church in the New World. But it seems reasonable to make such a distinction. For example, Captain Moroni says:

And now, Zerahemnah, I command you, in the name of that all-powerful God, who has strengthened our arms that we have gained power over you, by our faith, by our religion, and by our rites of worship, and by our church, and by the sacred support which we owe to our wives and our children, by that liberty which binds us to our lands and our country (Alma 44:5).

He seems to be referring to a portion of Christ’s church, a portion which is the organization present in the New World.

Ammon

Ammon, the son of Mosiah, seems to do the same thing when he refers to his attempts to destroy Christ’s church with his brothers and Alma 2 (Alma 26:18). Clearly, these destructive activities were in relation to the church organization in the New World.

Alma 2

Alma the Younger’s use of Church has elements similar to those present in Captain Moroni’s and Ammon’s, but it is harder to distinguish his references to the New World church from those which refer to Christ’s universal church. However, there are differences which can be identified. As does Ammon, Alma 2 speaks of his attempts to destroy the church (Alma 36:6), but, as with Ammon, the destructive activities were aimed at the church community in the New World. Alma 2 also speaks of his work within the church, references which could be construed as meaning Christ’s universal church, but which, upon closer examination, seem to refer once again to the gathered peoples in the New World. These people could be the only logical individuals who paid Alma 2 nothing for his work in the church (Alma 30:33–34).

Even more to the point, Alma 2 was “the high priest over the church of God throughout the land” (Alma 8:23, emphasis added; see also Alma 5:3). Alma 2 is not claiming to be the high priest or earthly head of Christ’s whole church (wherever it may have been); rather, he was high priest over only that portion of the church found among his brethren in the New World. Finally, he addressed his “brethren of the church” (Alma 5:14) and commanded those who belonged to “the church” (Alma 5:62). These references seem to relate most directly to persons in the Western Hemisphere who were part of an organization called “the church.” Thus, Alma 2 appears to use the word Church in several instances to refer to those who follow Christ in the New World. The importance of this distinction is heightened when one realizes that Alma 2 refers to Christ’s church outside the New World by stating that when the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt “God did establish his church among them” (Alma 29:11–13).

But this does not exhaust all meanings of the word Church for Alma 2. Some uses are clearly universal in nature. When he says, “And we were brought into this land, and here we began to establish the church of God throughout this land also” (Alma 5:5), the “church of God” refers to Christ’s universal church. It was branches of this one and only church which were planted in “this land,” i.e., the land of Zarahemla. Similarly, when Alma 2 speaks to those “who do not belong to the church” (Alma 5:62), this has to be a reference to the universal church, for one cannot belong to a “local church” without first being a member of Christ’s one church.

Alma 2, of course, recognizes the legitimacy of the local worshipping community. He refers to his father, Alma 1, establishing a church in the land of Mormon, clearly a reference to a local community (Alma 5:3). Alma 2 also addressed the members of “this church,” i.e., the one in Zarahemla (Alma 5:6), and rebuked his listeners for persecuting the humble who had been brought into “this church” (Alma 5:54)—clearly referring to local communities.

Thus, in summary, one can say that Ammon and Captain Moroni use the word Church [1] to mean the New World church. On the other hand, Alma 2 also uses this meaning but adds dimensions of the universal church, the local church, and the church which existed outside the New World

The Church in Mormon

Mormon is somewhat unique. First, the word Church appears 147 times in his writings and is distributed throughout them. It also has a use rate of 1.50 per thousand words of Mormon’s text, higher than that of anyone except the Angel. Since Mormon’s text is so lengthy, this means that Mormon writes more about the church than any other author in the Book of Mormon.

Second, Mormon has a clear propensity to use Church to mean the church in the New World (eighty times). However, as with Alma 2, it is not always easy to determine whether Mormon means the church in the New World or Christ’s universal church, to which he refers clearly forty-four times. He also has twenty references to the local community and three to false churches. Since Mormon uses the word Church so many times, it will not be possible to examine every instance, but significant occurrences will be considered to show the variety of his meanings.

New World Church in Mormon

Some of the clearest references by Mormon to the church in the New World occur in Mosiah 26. In this chapter we learn about those who were children in king Benjamin’s day and did not understand him or make the covenants that their parents did. Perhaps the central passage is Mosiah 26:9, in which we read that king Mosiah gave Alma 1 authority over “the church.” This authority was over the church in the New World, and Alma 1 and others “did regulate all the affairs of the church” (Mosiah 26:37–38; see also Mosiah 29:42–43,47; Alma 16:5). Thus, most other references to the church in this chapter refer to the New World church. The errant children deceived many in the church and led them to sin, thus requiring that the church admonish them (Mosiah 26:6). Nothing of this nature had occurred before in the church (Mosiah 26:9); therefore, Alma 1 sought the Lord’s guidance. When the Lord’s instructions came, Alma 1 wrote them down so he could judge the people of the church by those standards (Mosiah 26:33). Those persons who repented of their errors were counted “among the people of the church,” while those who would not were excluded (Mosiah 26:35–36; see also Alma 6:3). Mormon shows us that the church of the New World possessed authority, structure, and continuous divine guidance.

Mormon’s sense of a New World church continues in Mosiah 27 when he talks about the persecution endured by the church, the participation of Alma 2 and the sons of Mosiah in that activity (Mosiah 27:1,10), and the ultimate efforts by Alma 2 and the sons of Mosiah to repair the damage they had done (Mosiah 27:33, 35).

Other chapters in which Mormon’s predominant word usage reflects a New World church are Alma 1 (Nehor and priestcraft), Alma 4 (Alma gives up the judgment seat to preach), Alma 46 (Amalickiah wants to be king, and Moroni 1 raises the standard of liberty), and Helaman 3 (northward migration, many are converted, and Helaman’s son Nephi becomes chief judge).

Other specific instances of New World usage which are scattered through the material Mormon edited are Alma 2:2–4 (the people of the church are alarmed by Amlici), Alma 43:30, 45 (the Nephites defend their liberties and church), Alma 45:19 (the saying went around the church that Alma 2 had been taken up as had Moses), Alma 45:21 and 62:44 (a regulation should be made throughout the church), Helaman 4:1, 23 (there were dissensions and iniquities within the church), Helaman 11:21 (Nephites and Lamanites belong to the church in the land), 3 Nephi 2:12 (Lamanites and Nephites oppose the Gadianton robbers to preserve their church), 3 Nephi 6:14 (inequality leads to the breakup of the church), and 4 Nephi 1:20 (a few people leave the church and take the name Lamanites).

Universal Church in Mormon

Mormon is clearly aware that the church is something that embraces more than just the Western Hemisphere. Throughout his writing, and in the midst of references to the New World church, one finds a consciousness of the all-encompassing church of Christ. For example, in Mosiah 26, which is so heavily oriented toward the New World church, one finds two clear references to the universal church. First, those persons who were young when king Benjamin gave his sermon would not be baptized and join the church (Mosiah 26:4). Second, Alma 1 and his brethren suffered much from those who did not belong to the church of God (Mosiah 26:38). In the first instance, one cannot be baptized into the New World church; one is baptized into Christ’s church (see Alma 4:4–5), a part of which may exist in the New World. In the second instance, the church of God clearly transcends any geographical barriers.

Interestingly, Mormon often designates the universal church by defining it as “the church of God” or “the church of Christ.” This is true when he speaks of Alma 2 and the sons of Mosiah trying to destroy “the church of God” (Mosiah 27:9–10; see also Alma 46:10), when Nehor meets Gideon, a member of the church of God (Alma 2:7), when those outside the church of God begin to persecute those within it (Alma 1:18–19; 2:4), and when, after more than 150 years of peace, some Nephites begin to deny the true church of Christ (4Nephil:26).

In a more positive vein, the people of Ammon were included in the church of God (Alma 27:27), true believers belonged to the church of God (Alma 46:14), and the church of God was reestablished through baptisms following the wars in which Captain Moroni fought so valiantly (Alma 62:46; Helaman 3:26). Further, Lamanites joined the church of God (Helaman 6:3), those baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ (3 Nephi 26:21), and all the people were converted to the church of Christ (3 Nephi 28:23).

In addition, Mormon makes a very interesting distinction between the church of God and those who profess to belong to the church of God. Pride enters into the hearts of those who only profess to belong to the church of God, when in reality they are members of convenience only without the humility sufficient to be members of the true church of Christ (Helaman 3:33–34; 4:11–12).

At times Mormon uses the word Church alone to indicate the universal church. Those baptized are added to his church, i.e., Christ’s church (Mosiah 18:17; Alma 6:2). The order of the church is established (Alma 6:4; 8:1), and this order must refer to the transcendent order found only in Christ’s universal church. The church is established throughout the land (Alma 16:15, 21; 45:22; 3 Nephi 5:12). The Zoramites would not continue in the performances of the church, i.e., prayer and supplication to God (Alma 31:10), and those who followed Amalickiah dissented from the church (Alma 46:7). Finally, in a personal letter to his son Moroni, Mormon identifies the church as the peaceable followers of Christ (Moroni 7:3) and tells those who have no faith in Christ that they are not fit to be part of Christ’s church (Moroni 7:39).

False Churches in Mormon

In three instances, Mormon uses the word Church to designate a body in opposition to the true church. In Alma 1:6, Nehor is said to establish a church which reflected his untrue doctrines. Similarly, in 4 Nephi, churches are mentioned which either opposed the true church (4 Nephi 1:28) or actually persecuted it (4 Nephi 1:29).

Local Churches in Mormon

Mormon also uses Church to designate the local congregations in various regions. The church of God or the church of Christ was formed by Alma 1 at the waters of Mormon (Mosiah 18:17; see also Mosiah 23:17; 3 Nephi 5:12), its members were to assist one another with material needs (Mosiah 18:27), and Mosiah gave Alma 1 authority to ordain priests and teachers over every church which Alma had established (Mosiah 25:19, 21). In the land of Nephi, Limhi’s people mourned for Abinadi and for the people who had formed a church under Alma 1 (Mosiah 21:30). But because there was no authority available, they did not themselves form a church, even though they desired to do so (Mosiah 21:34).

Later, Alma 2 spoke to the people of the church in Zarahemla and ordained priests and elders to watch over it (Alma 5:2; 6:1, 7), preached in the church in Gideon (Alma 6:8), established a church in the land of Sidom (Alma 15:13), left the church in Zarahemla to go on a preaching mission (Alma 31:6), and blessed the church in Zarahemla just before his departure (Alma 45:17). Similarly, Ammon established a church among the people of Lamoni who were Lamanites (Alma 19:35), and a church was established among the people of Amnion in the land of Jershon (Alma 28:1).

This sense of a local entity is enhanced when one notes that all Mormon’s uses of the word Churches relate to local groups—ten times in Mosiah and Alma and five times in 4 Nephi. In Mosiah and Alma all references bear a positive tone. King Mosiah gave Alma 1 permission to establish churches (Mosiah 25:19), and the people were assembled in different bodies called churches (Mosiah 25:21). Although there were seven churches in the Land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:23), they were all one church and preached the common doctrines of repentance and faith in God (Mosiah 25:22). People who took upon themselves Christ’s name joined the churches of God (Mosiah 25:23), and there were to be no persecutions or inequalities among the members of the churches (Mosiah 27:3). Similarly, in Alma, Mormon tells us that church leaders went from city to city establishing churches and ordaining local leaders (Alma 23:4; 45:22–23).

In 4 Nephi, however, when Mormon uses the word Churches, the connotation is always negative. Churches at that time were those entities which were corrupted or stood in opposition to the true church. People built churches to themselves (4 Nephi 1:25, 41), or members of churches professed to follow Christ while denying the central tenets of the gospel (4 Nephi 1:27). Also, priests and false prophets led the people to build churches and to commit many sins (4 Nephi 1:34).

In summary, Mormon uses the words Church and Churches in a variety of ways, all of which complement one another. His language reflects most clearly his identity with the church as it existed in the New World. But that church is only a piece of the broader universal church which manifests itself among the people in local congregations. However, there is always opposition to Christ’s church, whether the church be local, regional, or universal; thus, there are also untrue churches which deny the truth taught by those of Christ’s church.

Conclusions

Author Individuality

Clearly there are differences in the way the various persons considered above have used the words Church and Churches in the Book of Mormon. The Angel and Nephi 1 refer to the church in connection with the great and abominable church, and where they use the word Churches it appears to be groups of people in opposition to the true church, much as we find in Mormon and Moroni 2. The exceptions to this were two instances where the Angel indicates that the great and abominable church is more abominable than all other churches, thereby implying that there may be groups of religious people who, while not having the fullness of the gospel, may not be fully wrong.

Moroni 2 uses the word Church predominantly to refer to local congregations, while Mormon’s favorite usage refers to the church in the New World, although he does refer to the local congregations several times. By contrast, the major emphasis in Jesus’ and the Lord’s words is on Christ’s universal church, a meaning that is also quite important to Mormon and Alma 2. Alma 2 is also concerned with the New World church and local churches; he even uses the word Church in the context of the Israelites after their flight from Egypt. Ammon and Captain Moroni, who use Church once each in reference to the New World church, and Jacob, who once refers to the abominable church and once to the universal church, have too few usages for us to gain much sure insight into their general understanding of Church.

Once again we observe what one would expect of different authors, i.e., different meanings and different content when their uses of common words are examined. In this case, Mormon has the most all-inclusive use of the words under consideration.

Theological Implications

Given this analysis of the way the words Church and Churches are used in the Book of Mormon, what can we finally say that is applicable to the church in our day? To answer this question, it is necessary to revisit, from a theological perspective, 1 Nephi 13 and 14 and recognize that chapter 13 must be understood in light of chapter 14. Chapter 14 speaks of two churches—the church of the Lamb of God and the church of the devil. These two churches are the cosmic realities which signify the constant confrontation between good and evil, between God and Satan. But both entities are also present on the historical plane. Thus, the description of the great and abominable church in 1 Nephi 13:5–9 defines what characterizes the abominable church in its earthly manifestations. It is oriented toward the material and physical things of the world. As it follows those lusts, it always persecutes the Saints and tries to remove truth from the world whether in the first century (1 Nephi 13:23–29) or in the last days(l Nephi 14:13–14).

No matter where or at what time the great and abominable church manifests itself, it will always have more adherents than will the Church of God (1 Nephi 14:12). Its ultimate end, however, is destruction—a fact, according to Nephi 1, that John the Beloved will reveal (1 Nephi 14:18–28). Consequently, when we turn to the Book of Revelation, we find the great and abominable church portrayed as the great whore, Babylon, who has fallen. Over her an angel sings a dirge in which the merchants of the earth, the recipients of her material wealth, mourn her demise (Rev. 18:1–20). Thus, the church of God will overcome the great and abominable church cosmically as well as temporally.

In summary, there is ultimately only one universal church, and that is Christ’s church. It is that church which is not contaminated by pride, envy, lust, avarice, or jealousy. In opposition to it stands the great and abominable church, which is never long absent from any group of people. It leads individuals and groups away from Christ’s universal church, and its footprints are everywhere in evidence, even within the Latter-day Saint community, for we too are human beings and subject to its temptations.

However, the footprints of Christ’s church are also universally present, and where we find people trying to live in accord with the light that God has given—even though it may not be the fullness of light—there we see the influence of Christ to challenge the great and abominable church. The universal church meets people where they are—among Lehi’s descendants in the ancient New World, but also in India, Korea, Russia, Argentina, America, Taiwan, Thailand, and Nigeria. Christ’s church is found in small groups of people gathered together to worship, to learn, and to grow under the leadership of duly appointed teachers, priests, and elders. Thus, the church may gather in a building in Buenos Aires or Bangkok or Seoul, in a home in New Delhi or Moscow or inner-city Chicago, or perhaps even under a tree in Lagos.

In the end, the church is people, all trying to do the best they can while frequently falling short of God’s call to them. Consequently, they all belong to the church of Christ, whose atonement transcends all human sins, frailties, inadequacies, and ultimately ushers those who are faithful into the presence of God—spotless by virtue of the blood of the Lamb.

Notes

[1] Ammon and Captain Moroni each use the word only once. Therefore, we must not deduce too much about their views from such minimal evidence.