What is the condemnation we are under that President Benson speaks of regarding the Book of Mormon?
In the April 1986 general conference, President Benson made two now oft-quoted statements: “Unless we read the , associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University and stake patriarch in the Orem Utah East Stake.Book of Mormon and give heed to its teachings, the Lord has stated in section 84 of the Doctrine and Covenants that the whole Church is under condemnation” and “In our day, the Lord has revealed the need to reemphasize the Book of Mormon to get the Church and all the children of Zion out from under condemnation—the scourge and judgment.” (Ensign, May 1986, pp. 5, 78.) Many members have wondered what that condemnation is.
It might be well to fix in our minds the meaning of the word condemnation. To be condemned is to be found guilty. It also means to be found unfit for service. It is interesting to note that a major teaching of the Book of Mormon is how we might be found “guiltless” before God when Christ stands to judge the world (3 Ne. 27:16) and how we might be fit servants in his kingdom (Mosiah 2:16–21).
A careful examination of the verses President Benson referred to in section 84 provides added insight for the thoughtful reader:
“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.” (D&C 84:54–57.)
As we read these verses and ask ourselves why we, as members of the Church, are under condemnation, certain words stand out—unbelief, treated lightly, vanity. What have we not believed? What have we treated lightly? What is our vanity?
If God were speaking of the world and charging it with unbelief, we would have an immediate explanation. Most of the world does not believe in Jesus Christ. Most of the world does not believe in the restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Most of the world does not believe in the Book of Mormon. Most of the world does not believe in living prophets. But as members of the Church, we believe in all these things. What, then, don’t we believe?
The answer must be that we don’t believe these things strongly enough. This is particularly true of our belief in the Book of Mormon. We believe the Book of Mormon, but do we believe that it is as important as the Lord says it is? Our unbelief is evident in that we treat it “lightly.” Those are the Lord’s own words.
There are a number of ways in which we have treated the Book of Mormon lightly. First, we have not studied it as we should. Note the constant neglect our leaders have charged us with from the Restoration to this day:
“I am fully aware that there are in the Church … many persons who are very careless about reading the Book of Mormon. … How many there are of the Latter-day Saints who suffer this book to remain upon their shelves, week after week, without ever reading a page of these precious things.” (Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 19:213.)
“I hold in my hands the Book of Mormon. … It is too much slighted in the midst of this people. I say unto you fathers, let the … Book of Mormon … be upon your tables, and [be] read in your households.” (Brigham Young, Jr., in Conference Report, 1901:67.)
“I could make a guess, and I do not think I would be too far out if I did say that one-half of the members of the Church have not read the Book of Mormon.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Seek Ye Earnestly, 1970, p. 96.)
“The Book of Mormon has not been, nor is it yet, the center of our personal study. … Of this we must repent.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1986, pp. 5–6.)
Second, we have not taught the Book of Mormon as we should. Teaching the Book of Mormon involves teaching the world, teaching ourselves, teaching our families, and teaching one another. President Benson spoke forcefully and prophetically of this:
“I have a vision of homes alerted, of classes alive, and of pulpits aflame with the spirit of Book of Mormon messages.
“I have a vision of home teachers and visiting teachers, ward and branch officers, and stake and mission leaders counseling our people out of the most correct of any book on earth—the Book of Mormon. …
“I have a vision of thousands of missionaries going into the mission field with hundreds of passages memorized from the Book of Mormon so that they might feed the needs of a spiritually famished world.
“I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon.” (Ensign, Nov. 1988, p. 6.)
In order for us to come out from under condemnation, we must study the Book of Mormon and teach its precepts in our homes. Seminary and institute teachers and professors at Church-sponsored schools need to effectively teach their students from the Book of Mormon. Priesthood and auxiliary teachers need to use the Book of Mormon, as the Lord has instructed us. (See D&C 42:12.)
Finally, we are under condemnation because we have not applied the Book of Mormon in our lives as we have been counseled.
“Our great charge is to get our students to understand these scriptures and apply their teachings in meeting the daily problems with which they are confronted. … Students must be so familiar with the scriptures themselves that they not only recognize the solutions, but also understand and apply them to current questions and problems.” (Marion G. Romney, address to seminary and institute personnel, BYU, 13 July 1970, p. 5.)
“The Book of Mormon was written for us today. … God, who knows the end from the beginning, told [Mormon] what to include in his abridgement that we would need for our day.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, May 1975, p. 63.)
“If they saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon?” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, p. 6.)
Applying the Book of Mormon in our lives is of such major importance that we will never come out from under condemnation until we actually do what the book instructs us to do.
Vanity means futile or worthless behavior, also excessive self-satisfaction. The consequences of our unbelief remain upon us because, speaking of the Church collectively and not individually, we insist upon following the culture of the world rather than having a pure style of our own. We insist that we dress and groom by the world’s standards. We insist that we participate in the world’s music, dance, literature, and entertainment. We try to live the impossible—having one foot in the kingdom of God and the other in the world, hoping to be accepted by both. Truly we are caught up in vanity—futile, worthless behavior in which we find excessive self-satisfaction in thinking that both God and the world are pleased with us.
The Lord told us plainly that this vanity has brought the whole Church under condemnation and that, if we do not “bring forth fruit meet for [the] Father’s kingdom … there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (D&C 84:58.) President Benson said, “We have felt that scourge and judgment!” (Ensign, May 1986, p. 5.)
Certainly, experiencing this scourge and judgment includes such things as “our minds being darkened.” It means that we “receive not his voice,” we “lieth in sin,” we are not “filled with light,” and our missionary work is not as effective as it should be. Neither we nor our children are filled with as much power of the priesthood and power of the Spirit as we could be.
Blessings Follow the Lifting of the Condemnation
The specific blessings we can expect when the condemnation is lifted will certainly include a saving testimony of Jesus Christ, our minds being filled with light and truth, more power in the priesthood, more guidance by the Holy Spirit, and more effective missionary work. We can even expect to reach the point of being worthy to receive the greater part of what Jesus taught the Nephites during his ministry to them. In giving us the Book of Mormon, Mormon said:
“And when they shall have received this, which is expedient that they should have first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater things be made manifest unto them.
“And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.
“Behold, I was about to write them, all which were engraven upon the plates of Nephi, but the Lord forbade it, saying: I will try the faith of my people.” (3 Ne. 26:9–11.)
As a Church we are under condemnation for not exerting sufficient spiritual effort to understand, teach, and live by every word in the Book of Mormon. But we are still God’s people, and he loves us. Through his living prophet, he has invited us to come out from under condemnation and to receive greater blessings than we currently know.
We are under divine decree to testify to the world of the Book of Mormon’s messages. We are to perfect our lives by applying the Book of Mormon’s teachings. We are to prepare for the Millennium by living the Book of Mormon’s teachings and preparing to receive more scripture—even greater teachings—by really living what has already been given to us in the Book of Mormon.
I have some friends and relatives who have had negative experiences with Church members. How can I encourage them to learn about the gospel in spite of those experiences?
By ourselves we can do much, but influencing anyone’s interest in eternal truth is a task we are more suited to assist in rather than direct. Notwithstanding shared childhood experiences, common interests, and loving ties that bind our lives together, penetrating the preoccupations of relatives and friends requires more than our personal efforts—especially with loved ones who have had negative experiences with Church members. We need divine help and the compassionate assistance of righteous people. , Sunday School Course 16 teacher in the Provo Fifteenth Ward, Provo Utah Bonneville Stake.
If we want to make a difference in helping our relations and friends, we must begin by calling upon God, who loves them and desires to help them. If we “get together with the Lord,” he will help us work it out.
The Lord knows those we want to reach. He knows what they need. And he has designs for touching them that probably include our most valiant efforts. He will surely make us instrumental in influencing their well-being if, like Enos in the Book of Mormon, we dedicate, increase, and intensify our exertions to be a significant influence in their lives.
Many of us know all too well the provocations that may have offended our loved ones. We may have endured more negative experiences from other members than our offended relatives and friends have encountered. We know how they feel. However, while Church members see the misconduct of fellow members as obligatory hurdles on the way to the celestial kingdom, our nonmember loved ones often see the negative actions of Latter-day Saints as representative of the entire Church. It is important, therefore, that we reach out freely to others—whether they embrace the Church or not—in such a way that we invite them to treasure our friendship as more than mere gesture.
There is usually no instant ointment for soothing hurt feelings, but a continual outpouring of compassion and trying to be as Christlike a member as we can be will do much to heal the emotional wounds. Our loved ones may never have a greater human influence in their lives than our personal expressions of righteousness.