The Book of Mormon was published in March of 1830, and began trickling into the world.    The Church of Christ was organized a month later. However, that was merely the legal organization of a congregation that had begun to coalesce around Joseph Smith over a year earlier.  Some time during the translation of the Book of Mormon (Summer 1828 to Spring 1829) the Lord declared “behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church. Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.-DC 10:67-68.   By the time of it’s formal organization, some had declared their repentance and been baptized, so in that sense “my church” had begun to form before April 1830. 

2 1/2 years after the publication of the Book, the Lord stated that the Saints remained in darkness:

And the whole world lieth in sin, and groaneth under darkness and under the bondage of sin. And by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me.For whoso cometh not unto me is under the bondage of sin. And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me.

And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now. And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all. 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—That 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. DC 84

Observations:

The whole world was in darkness because they refuse to hear Christ’s voice, which would have led them to him.   The  Saints were in the same condition, with their minds darkened by their “vanity and unbelief”.   As stated above, the condition for being “my” church, was that they repent and come unto him (DC 10, above).   They were claiming the sacred title without meeting those conditions, earning them condemnation.  The Lord was no longer “well pleased” with the Church, as he had been 10 months earlier (DC 1:30).

This condemnation came because they “treated lightly the things” that they had received, by their “vanity and unbelief”.   However, to release it, they would have to “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—That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom“.   Good intentions wouldn’t release the condemnation, nor would claiming that they were “doing their best”.  They actually had to accomplish things. Aspirations were no substitute for achievement.

What did the Lord expect them to have achieved by that point? If the condemnation could only be lifted by their “bringing forth fruit”, that implies that the condemnation came by their failure to” bring forth fruit” to that point.  How were they to know when they had brought “forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom?”  God apparently wanted them to have done so after only having the Book of Mormon for 2 1/2 years.  For clues about what the Lord expected, I look to DC 84, where the condemnation is found.

The topics addressed in DC 84 come in this order:

  • ancient Israel’s failure to abide the presence of the Lord and obtain the knowledge of God, and the condemnation they inherited because of it;
  • the necessity of communing with angels, the Son, and finally the Father to obtain eternal priesthood and the promise of eternal life.  (“And wo unto all those who come not unto this priesthood…“;
  • the power of Christ’s spirit/words to lead men to the Father’s presence to receive those blessings;
  • the condemnation of the whole world for not hearkening to that voice and coming to Christ, and instead remaining in darkness (subject to the devil)
  • the condemnation of the church for also remaining in darkness;

The revelation focuses on a single topic: repenting and coming unto Christ to be redeemed from the Fall.  The statements about the condemnation of the Church must be understood in that context:   The world is darkened because they refuse to follow the Word/Light/Spirit of Christ back into God’s presence, “and your minds in times past have been darkened…”.  Your condemnation remains until you “bring forth fruit meet for” God’s kingdom.   Receiving the Book of Mormon constitutes a covenental invitation into God’s presence, so casting off your unbelief and following it’s precepts will be key to your repentance.

If God required them to have done this in 2 1/2 years, why do we think it should take anyone longer?  If 30 months was too long, what about the 182 years since then? Is this repentance supposed to take generations?  Is it supposed to take decades?   Have we taken the invitation of the Book of Mormon and DC 84?  Do we even teach these plain and principles to one another?   How many different forms can unbelief take?  Is it only found in those who reject the Book of Mormon completely?   By joining the Church, the people demonstrated that they did believe the Book of Mormon to be true.  So, rather than a rejection of the word, can their unbelief stem from a refusal to understand the word?

That appears to be the kind of unbelief that caused Nephi to mourn:

And now I, Nephi, cannot say more; the Spirit stoppeth mine utterance, and I am left to mourn because of the unbelief, and the wickedness, and the ignorance, and the stiffneckedness of men; for they will not search knowledge, nor understand great knowledge, when it is given unto them in plainness, even as plain as word can be.

Some unbelief causes men to fail to search knowledge, and to fail to understand great knowledge even when it is written plainly.  In other words, the people claimed belief in the Book without ever reading it with a desire to understand and do what it actually says. This continues today.  Daymon Smith’s work, A Cultural History of the Book of Mormon, explains how this works.  The cluster of ideas and narratives surrounding the Book of Mormon constitute a “metatext” that substitutes itself for the actual text.  Thus people can approach the text, but only perceive the “metatext” that exists in their heads.   Daymon has written 5 volumes showing how we continue to “treat lightly the things we have received”.

If people suffering from such unbelief claimed to be “my church” for 2 1/2 years while refusing to repent and come unto Christ, wouldn’t that be “vanity”?  What if they persisted for 183 years (3 or 4 generations) to claim to be “my church”,  failing en masse to reenter God’s presence?    Would their unbelief grow stronger as they gradually whittled the doctrine in their discourses down to shallow, wrote platitudes, treacly emotionalism, and sentimental stories?  Would their minds grow darker as they increased their reliance on their leaders, tightening the feedback loops with which they recycled the already recycled teachings coming from the upper hierarchy?  Would their vanity grow as their estrangement from God grew, even as they continued claiming “chosen” status, using the vocabulary from the scriptures describe themselves (such as “zion,” “chosen,” “anointed,”or “royal priesthood”)?  Would their vanity grow as they continued to soothe each other, proudly proclaiming that “the work of the Lord continues uninterrupted?”

During all our decades of delay, sufficient repentance could have happened at any time, apparently in less than 2 1/2 years.   Did it take decades for King Lamoni, or his wife, or his father?  Did it take decades for Alma the Younger?  By definition, it can’t take generations for a person to repent.   It has to be something anyone can do in a single lifetime.  We can’t claim that we haven’t had time.  There is no reason the “good ship Zion” should have been sailing for 4 generations without ever finding port.  It can happen as fast as the person turns to God.  

What is the Book of Mormon inviting us (the gentiles) to do that we aren’t doing?  What is it inviting us to hear that we aren’t hearing?  What is it inviting us to see that we aren’t seeing?

Moroni wrote

For the Lord said unto me: [The revelations on the sealed portion of the plates] shall not go forth unto the Gentiles until the day that they shall repent of their iniquity, and become clean before the Lord.

And in that day that they shall exercise faith in me, saith the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that they may become sanctified in me,then will I manifest unto them the things which the brother of Jared saw, even to the unfolding unto them all my revelations, saith Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of the heavens and of the earth, and all things that in them are.

Ether 4:6-7

Generations have passed without these greater things being manifest.  How long will the Lord allow us to continue claiming to be his covenant people, when we refuse to “repent of [our] iniquity, and become clean before the Lord”?   How do we expect to pass out of this life and into “eternal families” when we, the Gentiles, don’t “exercise faith in…the Lord, even as the brother of Jared did, that [we] may become sanctified” in Christ?

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