The Spirit of Alma Was…Troubled – Mosiah 26:6-7, 13

6 For it came to pass that they did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins; therefore it became expedient that those who committed sin, that were in the church, should be admonished by the church.
7 And it came to pass that they were brought before the priests, and delivered up unto the priests by the teachers; and the priests brought them before Alma, who was the high priest….
13 And now the spirit of Alma was again troubled; and he went and inquired of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God.
(Mosiah 26:13)

Soon after establishing churches in all the land of Zarahemla, Alma encountered a new challenge: some members of the church had begun to engage in conduct which was not consistent with the teachings of the church, and they were persuading others to follow their examples. Something clearly had to be done.

When Alma established the church of God at the waters of Mormon and again in the land of Helam, he had taught his people to love one another and to avoid contention (Mosiah 18:21, Mosiah 23:15). None of them were to think that they were above other people, including the priests (Mosiah 23:7). As described later in this chapter, they were to “admonish” one another and to receive corrective guidance willingly (Mosiah 26:39). But as the leader of the church, Alma now faced the responsibility to admonish members of the church who were unwilling to receive correction.

His anguish over this prospect is evident in the narrative. First, he asked King Mosiah to judge these members. The king wisely declined to interfere in what he considered a church matter. Next, as indicated in the passage above, Alma took the problem to the Lord.

In response to Alma’s prayer, the Lord outlined some key principles for dealing with misbehavior in the church:

  1. The Savior gladly receives everyone who is willing to hear His voice. However, those who refuse to follow Him will not be redeemed at the last day. This is not because He was unwilling to save them, but because they were unwilling to be saved (Mosiah 26:21-26).
  2. When members of the church commit sins, if they confess and sincerely repent, the church should forgive them, because the Savior will forgive them (Mosiah 26:29-30).
  3. If members of the church refuse to repent of their sins, then they should no longer be recognized as members of the church (Mosiah 26:32).

I’m guessing that Alma still dreaded those conversations with people who were no longer loyal to the purposes of the church. But at least this answer from God gave him clarity about how to handle the situation. Repentance was the key. People who were repentant—who listened to the voice of the Savior, who received correction willingly, and who reformed their behavior—were welcome in His church. People who refused to repent and hear His voice were no longer members of His church because they were no longer choosing to follow Him.

Today, I will be grateful that my Heavenly Father is willing to give me guidance when I face challenging situations and difficult decisions. Just as Alma asked for guidance when his spirit was troubled, I will take the opportunity to ask God to help me understand how to respond to the difficult situations I face in my life, particularly the decisions involving interpersonal conflict.

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They Were All One Church – Mosiah 25:19-22

19 And it came to pass that king Mosiah granted unto Alma that he might establish churches throughout all the land of Zarahemla; and gave him power to ordain priests and teachers over every church.
20 Now this was done because there were so many people that they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly;
21 Therefore they did assemble themselves together in different bodies, being called churches; every church having their priests and their teachers, and every priest preaching the word according as it was delivered to him by the mouth of Alma.
22 And thus, notwithstanding there being many churches they were all one church, yea, even the church of God; for there was nothing preached in all the churches except it were repentance and faith in God.
(Mosiah 25:19-22)

A common question in business when a process or a team is unusually successful is: “Will it scale?” Some practices work really well in a small tight-knit team but are completely ineffective in a larger group. Leaders face the challenge of maintaining the vitality, creativity, and shared sense of ownership which often characterizes a small team but which can fade as the organization grows in size and complexity.

Alma learned how to organize and lead the church through a series of experiences:

  • As a priest of the wicked King Noah, he saw firsthand what not to do. Specifically, he learned the hazard of separating the priests from the people, supporting them financially and allowing them to live a life of idleness (Mosiah 11:5-11).
  • As a spiritual leader in exile, he learned to minister to individuals and small groups who sought him out (Mosiah 18:1-3).
  • After baptizing 204 people, he formally organized them into a church and ordained priests to help him teach and lead (Mosiah 18:16-17).
  • When they had more than doubled in size, to 450, he led them into the wilderness, where they built a city, fell into bondage together, and ultimately were miraculously delivered from their oppressors (Mosiah 18:34-35, 23, 24).
  • After arriving in Zarahemla, Alma earned the admiration of Mosiah, king over the Nephites and the Mulekites. Mosiah was so impressed with Alma’s success in establishing the church on a small scale that he encouraged him to establish the church throughout his kingdom. Alma recognized that he couldn’t lead such a large number of people the way he had led his smaller church. There were too many: “they could not all be governed by one teacher; neither could they all hear the word of God in one assembly.” So, he organized a number of different churches, each with their own leaders. These churches all operated in the same way and all taught the same doctrine, so even though there were many churches, they were also, in a very real sense, “all one church.”

In 1995, after announcing a change in organizational structure to accommodate the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Gordon B. Hinckley reminded us that, no matter how large the Church may grow, its essential functions must happen on a small scale:

The Church is becoming a very large and complex organization. We now have members in more than 150 nations. There are nine million of us, and we are growing at the approximate rate of a million each three and a half years….

[As of 2018, 23 years later, there are more than 16 million members.]

We are becoming a great global society. But our interest and concern must always be with the individual…. There must continue to be an intimate pastoral relationship of every member with a wise and caring bishop or branch president. These are the shepherds of the flock whose responsibility it is to look after the people in relatively small numbers so that none is forgotten, overlooked, or neglected.
Jesus was the true shepherd who reached out to those in distress, one at a time, bestowing an individual blessing upon them.
President Lee told us on more than one occasion to survey large fields and cultivate small ones. He was saying that we must know the big picture and then assiduously work on the particular niche assigned to each of us, and that in doing so we concentrate on the needs of the individual (“This Work Is Concerned with People,” General Conference, April 1995).

Today, I will remember that the work of salvation happens on an individual level. The work can only “scale” as more and more individuals learn to serve as the Savior did, one person at a time. I will be grateful for my membership in a large global church. As President Harold B. Lee taught, I will “survey large fields.” But I will “cultivate small ones.” I will remember that the most important work I do happens on a very small scale, as I minister to members of my congregation, to my family, and to individuals I interact with every day.

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He Consecrated All Their Priests and All Their Teachers – Mosiah 23:16-18

16 And now, Alma was their high priest, he being the founder of their church.
17 And it came to pass that none received authority to preach or to teach except it were by him from God. Therefore he consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.
18 Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.
(Mosiah 23:16-18)

After leaving the land of King Noah, Alma and his people established a new city. Some of the people wanted Alma to be their king, but he taught them that they should not give up their newly claimed liberty. They should not “esteem one flesh above another,” and therefore they should “trust no man to be a king over [them]” (Mosiah 23:7, 13).

Then he taught them about church government. The people had to decide for themselves whom they would follow. Alma cautioned them that they should “trust no one to be [their] teacher nor [their] minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments” (Mosiah 23:14).

They trusted Alma. They had gathered regularly at the waters of Mormon to hear him preach, even though he was hiding from the king’s soldiers, who had been commanded to kill him. They had accepted his invitation to be baptized and to become part of the newly organized church. They had subsequently abandoned their homes and followed him into the wilderness to establish a new city. They absolutely believed that he was a “man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments.” So they also trusted the people whom he selected to act as their spiritual leaders.

In the passage above, we read that all of the priests and teachers were chosen and consecrated by Alma personally. This was logistically possible in their case: they were a relatively small group of people, about 450 when they established the city (Mosiah 18:35).  The church organization was intentionally simple. Alma ordained one priest for every 50 members, so there were about nine priests. It’s not clear how many additional people were chosen as teachers, but the total number of church leaders was small. The people took confidence from their knowledge that every one of these leaders was selected by Alma himself.

In a revelation given to Joseph Smith in Kirtland, Ohio in 1831, the Savior taught the members of His church how their leaders were to be chosen:

Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church (D&C 42:11, italics added).

And our fifth Article of Faith states:

We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof (Articles of Faith 1:5).

I’ve always thought of authority as something that is imposed upon me, that I am obligated to respect. But as I’ve pondered this passage today, I’ve begun to think of authority in a new way: as a mechanism for transferring trust from one person to another. Let me give two examples:

  1. I trust President Russell M. Nelson as my spiritual leader. I have had a number of experiences which have convinced me that he is a man of God. I have had fewer experiences with Elders Gerrit W. Gong and Ulisses Soares, but I accepted them as new members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles last April because I know that they were called by President Nelson.
  2. Yesterday at church, several members of my congregation were called to serve in various responsibilities, including teachers. I don’t know all of them, but I raised my hand to sustain them in their new responsibilities because I know that they were called by my bishop, whom I know and whom I trust.

Of course, this places a serious responsibility on the people who have been chosen. They are literally borrowing the trust of the people they serve from the leader who chose them. Perhaps that is why Alma instructed his priests “that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets” (Mosiah 18:19). They were now acting as representatives of the church, and specifically as representatives of the high priest who had called them. They needed to recognize that their actions and their words would reflect on Alma personally, since they had received their authority directly from him.

Today, I will be grateful for a church organization which allows an orderly transfer of authority from one leader to another. I will remember Alma’s caution: I must ultimately decide whom I will trust as my spiritual leaders and teachers. I will be grateful that I can have confidence in the people who have been assigned to teach me because I have confidence in the people who made those assignments.

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They Were Called the Church of God – Mosiah 18:16-17

16 And after this manner he did baptize every one that went forth to the place of Mormon; and they were in number about two hundred and four souls; yea, and they were baptized in the waters of Mormon, and were filled with the grace of God.
17 And they were called the church of God, or the church of Christ, from that time forward. And it came to pass that whosoever was baptized by the power and authority of God was added to his church.
(Mosiah 18:16-17)

When we are baptized, we become members of the church of God.

Nephi taught that baptism is the “gate” which grants access to “the strait and narrow path leading to eternal life” (2 Nephi 31:17-18). Once you have entered that path, you have the companionship of the Holy Ghost, which will help you know how to follow the path (2 Nephi 32:1-3). If you then “press forward” along the path and “endure to the end,” you will ultimately obtain the reward of eternal life (2 Nephi 31:20). Nephi talked about it in individual terms: we each choose to enter that gate and to move forward along that path independently of the decisions of other people.

About 400 years later, Alma preached to a group of people in secret because of persecution from their government. After preaching to them for many days, he invited them to be baptized. As we read in the passage above, the entire multitude—two hundred and four people—were baptized at that time. Alma organized them into a church, which he called “the church of God” or “the church of Christ.” After that time, everyone who chose to be baptized became a member of the church.

Alma gave them some instructions for how to operate the church:

  1. Church leaders (“priests and teachers”) should teach the members the doctrines which they had been taught (Mosiah 18:18-20).
  2. Members should strive to be unified and to avoid contention with one another (Mosiah 18:21).
  3. They should keep the sabbath day holy (Mosiah 18:23).
  4. They should meet at least once a week to worship together and to teach one another (Mosiah 18:25).
  5. The priests should not be supported by the members, but they should all support one another, both temporally and spiritually (Mosiah 18:26-29).

These instructions help us to understand Alma’s vision of the purpose of the church: he saw it as a support system for a group of disciples of Jesus Christ, all of whom were walking along the path together. By meeting together often, supporting one another, and teaching one another, they could more effectively follow the path that they had entered. They could help each other along and increase the probability that they would all reach the goal that they had individually set for themselves.

Today, I will be grateful for my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I will take note of the ways the Church helps me to follow the path I started when I chose to be baptized. I will be grateful for the instruction I receive in church meetings, for the assignments which enable me to stretch and develop Christlike attributes, and the opportunities I have to support other members of the Church and to be supported by them as we face the challenges of life.

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He Should Take the Names – Mosiah 6:1-2

1 And now, king Benjamin thought it was expedient, after having finished speaking to the people, that he should take the names of all those who had entered into a covenant with God to keep his commandments.
2 And it came to pass that there was not one soul, except it were little children, but who had entered into the covenant and had taken upon them the name of Christ.
(Mosiah 6:1-2)

Names are important.

After hearing King Benjamin’s speech, his people pleaded with God to “apply the atoning blood of Christ” so that their sins could be forgiven (Mosiah 4:2). As a result, they were filled with the Holy Ghost, and their guilt disappeared. They subsequently made a covenant with God to obey His commandments for the rest of their lives (Mosiah 5:5).

All this was done verbally. It was a memorable event: the final speech of a beloved king, given as the people were all gathered, in families, around the temple. But Benjamin realized that they needed something to make this covenant more permanent. So he took their names. He made a written list of the people who had made the covenant. This accomplished several things:

  1. It made the covenant more durable. Decades later, it would be harder to forget or deny that they had made these promises. We all know that a written record is more reliable than our memory, particularly over a long period of time.
  2. It created a sense of community. A group of names on a single document with a single purpose represents a group of people who are unified. This list emphasized what they had in common—a covenant with God and a determination to keep that covenant forever—rather than their differences.
  3. It emphasized the importance of a name. This group of people had just taken upon themselves the name of Jesus Christ. What did that mean to them? By allowing their names to be taken, perhaps they felt more fully the importance of the name which they had just taken upon themselves. A name isn’t just a name; it represents something. Just as signing our names on a document creates real obligations, taking upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ creates accountability to Him.

Today, I will be grateful that my name has been “taken,” that there is a written record of the covenants I have made with God, and that this record unites me with other people who have made the same covenant. I will also remember the obligations I have taken on, because I have declared my willingness to take upon myself the name of Jesus Christ.

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I Would That Ye Should Take Upon You the Name of Christ – Mosiah 5:7-8

7 And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters.
8 And under this head ye are made free, and there is no other head whereby ye can be made free. There is no other name given whereby salvation cometh; therefore, I would that ye should take upon you the name of Christ, all you that have entered into the covenant with God that ye should be obedient unto the end of your lives.
(Mosiah 5:7-8)

When King Benjamin asked his son Mosiah to gather the people, he said that one of his purposes was to “give unto them a name that never shall be blotted out” (Mosiah 1:11-12). After he taught the people about Jesus Christ, they spontaneously pleaded with God to “apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins” (Mosiah 4:2). As a result, they were filled with the Spirit of the Lord and received “a remission of their sins” (Mosiah 4:3). They subsequently entered a covenant with God “to do his will, and to be obedient to his commandments in all things that he shall command us, all the remainder of our days” (Mosiah 5:5). In the passage above, Benjamin explained to them that, by making this covenant, they had become “the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you.”

Then, he urged them to take upon themselves the name of Christ. What did he mean? If they had become the children of Christ, if they had been “spiritually begotten” by Him, what more did they need to do to take upon themselves His name?

As President Henry B. Eyring pointed out, the sacramental prayer on the bread teaches us that taking upon ourselves the name of Christ is a process, not an event:

The statement that we are “willing to take upon [us]” His name tells us that while we first took the Savior’s name when we were baptized, taking His name is not finished at baptism. We must work continually to take His name throughout our lives, including when we renew covenants at the sacrament table and make covenants in the Lord’s holy temples.
So two crucial questions for each of us become “What must I be doing to take His name upon me?” and “How will I know when I am making progress?”
(“Try, Try, Try,” General Conference, October 2018)

President Eyring suggested several ways that we can take the Savior’s name upon ourselves; by speaking for Him, by serving Him, and by cultivating the Christlike feelings of faith, hope, and charity in our hearts.

Today, I will remember that, even though I have made sacred covenants with God, the process of taking upon myself the name of Christ is ongoing. I will strive to continue that process by speaking on His behalf, by serving Him, and by continuing to develop Christlike attributes.

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They Had Brought No Records with Them – Omni 1:17-19

17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
18 But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.
19 And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.
(Omni 1:17-19)

Amaleki, the last writer on the small plates of Nephi, relates a cautionary tale about the importance of written records. About 450 years after Lehi and his family left Jerusalem, the king of the Nephites, Mosiah, was warned by God to take his people further away from their enemies, the Lamanites. Like their ancestors had done before, they abandoned their homes and traveled through the wilderness to an unknown destination in search of peace.

To their surprise, they found another civilization with a similar pedigree to their own. The people of Zarahemla had also immigrated from Jerusalem at about the same time that Lehi and his family left, just before the Babylonian captivity. However, they had not fared so well as the Nephites.

Amaleki attributes all of these societal ills–contention, erosion of the language, and loss of faith–to one cause: the lack of written records. “They had brought no records with them,” he says.

The people of King Mosiah taught them their language, after which King Zarahemla recited the oral history of his people. King Mosiah then did the obvious thing: he wrote the history which Zarahemla had just recited, so that it could be preserved without having to be remembered.

King Mosiah’s son Benjamin took an important lesson from this experience. Years later, he taught his sons that the brass plates which Lehi’s family carried to the promised land saved them from the same kind of societal corrosion which Zarahemla’s people had experienced:

My sons, I would that ye should remember that were it not for these plates, which contain these records and these commandments, we must have suffered in ignorance, even at this present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.
For it were not possible that our father, Lehi, could have remembered all these things, to have taught them to his children, except it were for the help of these plates….
I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things, which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.
(Mosiah 1:3-5)

Today, I will be grateful for the written words which are available to me, particularly the word of God, written by prophets. I will remember that written words have a permanency and power far beyond spoken words, and I will take advantage of the written texts which are available to me, to increase my unity with other people, to refine my ability to communicate effectively, and to build my faith in Jesus Christ.

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