Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Great and Abominable Church -1 Nephi 13

As the vision given to Nephi of the destruction, or scattering, of his posterity closes, another one is open to his view.  In 1 Nephi, Chapter 13, Nephi begins to be shown, by the angel, many nations and kingdoms.  It is in this chapter that Nephi learns of the role that the Gentiles play in regards to his posterity, and how the Lord uses them for a wise purpose in fulfilling the covenants that were made with him because of his obedience. 

It is important to remember that Nephi is part of the House of Israel, and as such is entitled to the blessings of the covenants made with his fathers, the Abrahamic Covenant. 

Something to ponder… when are the Gentiles allowed those same blessings?  Who are the Gentiles according to the Book of Mormon?

Right at first Nephi sees among the Gentiles the formation of a great church.

Look for who is the founder of that church:
1 Nephi 13:5 And the angel said unto me: Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.
 6 And it came to pass that I beheld this great and abominable church; and I saw the devil that he was the founder of it.

Now notice the desires that are attached to this “church”:
1 Nephi 13: 8 And the angel spake unto me, saying: Behold the gold, and the silver, and the silks, and the scarlets, and the fine-twined linen, and the precious clothing, and the harlots, are the desires of this great and abominable church.
 9 And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.

Although this institution is first introduced here, it is also discussed in 1 Nephi Chapter 14 as well.  Because it is referred to as “most abominable above all other churches”, it appears to be one institution, given in a historical context.  Later in chapter 14 when we are given the explanation that there are really only two churches, “one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil”; the great and abominable church becomes more of a type, or symbol, rather than an actual institution.  

A good explanation of this concept is found in an article written, in the January 1988 Ensign, by Stephen E. Robinson, titled “Warring against the Saints of God.”

From the article:
Once we understand that the term great and abominable church has two uses, the one open (inclusive and archetypical), the other closed (exclusive and historical), the rest becomes easier.

Apocalyptic literature is dualistic. Since it deals with types, everything boils down to opposing principles: love and hate, good and evil, light and dark. There are no gray areas in apocalyptic writing. In this sense, there are only two categories in the realm of religion: religion that will save and religion that won’t. The former is the church of the Lamb, and the latter, no matter how well intentioned, is a counterfeit.

In the historical sense, though, only one entity can be the great and abominable church. Well-intentioned churches would thus not qualify as the mother of abominations described in 1 Nephi 13. They do not slay the saints of God nor seek to control civil governments nor pursue wealth, luxury, and sexual immorality.

In either the apocalyptic sense or the historical sense, individual orientation to the Church of the Lamb or to the great and abominable church is not by membership but by loyalty. Just as there Latter-day Saints who belong to the great and abominable church because of their loyalty to Satan and his life-style, so there are members of other churches who belong to the Lamb because of their loyalty to him and his life-style. Membership is based more on who has your heart than on who has your records.

The author further warns against assigning a specific denomination to “the great and abominable church". He suggests that some have speculated it to be Judiasm, or Catholicism, which he regards both as historically incorrect.

Robinson explains:
Actually, no single known historical church, denomination, or set of believers meets all the requirements for the great and abominable church: it must have formed among the Gentiles; it must have edited and controlled the distribution of the scriptures; it must have slain the Saints of God, including the Apostles and prophets; it must be in league with civil governments and use their police power to enforce its religious views; it must have dominion over all the earth; it must pursue great wealth and sexual immorality; and it must last until close to the end of the world. No single denomination or system of beliefs fits the entire description. Rather, the role of Babylon has been played by many different agencies, ideologies, and churches in many different times. It should be clear that the great and abominable church that Nephi described in chapter 13 is not the same historical entity that crucified the Savior or that martyred Joseph and Hyrum.

It would be an error to blame some modern denomination for the activities of an ancient great and abominable church. The other error is to go too far the other way, dehistoricizing the abominable church altogether. The term then becomes merely a vague symbol for all the disassociated evil in the world. We cannot, in the face of the scriptural evidence, accept this view. For if we do, we shall not be able to recognize the categories and know who is playing the role of Babylon in our own times or in times to come. Thus, we must, on the one hand, avoid the temptation to identify the role of the great and abominable church so completely with one particular entity that we do not recognize the part when it is played by some other entity. At the same time, we must remember that the role will be played by some entity or coalition, and we must be able to tell by their characteristic fruits which is Zion and which is Babylon.

Robinson goes on in the article to explain that he would like to term the great and abominable church as “Hellenized Christianity”.  Make sure to read the article here and see if you agree.

More importantly for me, this great and abominable church should still be seen as a tool in the Lord’s hands, as was Babylon a tool in scattering the House of Israel,  to bring to pass his wise purpose.  It is the scourging agent that is used to provoke humility and continued reliance on Him, stirring those in need to the remembrance of their covenants made with Him.  It provides the opposition required to exercise agency which is needed for progression.

Seen in that context it is something that we know will not prevail.

1 comment:

Delirious said...

THis is a really good post. I'm going to jump over and read the other. This is topic about which I've always felt a little under educated. I've always worried about how to explain this to non-members who read the Book of Mormon, and come across that term.