What Is the “Great and Abominable Church?”

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi sees many future events in a vision, including the formation of an organization which he calls a “great and abominable church” (1 Nephi 13:6).

Nephi tells us several things about this organization:

  1. It murders, tortures, and imprisons good people (1 Nephi 13:5).
  2. It was founded by the devil (1 Nephi 13:6).
  3. Its goals are to enrich itself with worldly wealth and to win “the praise of the world” (1 Nephi 13:7-9).
  4. It seeks to gain power over people by withholding truth from them (1 Nephi 13:26-29, 34).

Any organization with these goals and practices is unquestionably abhorrent and reprehensible. The adjective “abominable” fits perfectly.

Lest we try too hard to identify a specific organization which matches this description, the angel who narrates the vision explains its symbolic significance for us:

Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth (1 Nephi 14:10).

What did the angel mean?

I think this is what he meant: In a confusing world with a variety of options, there really are some decisions that are simply right or wrong. If you do not align yourself with God in those decisions, you have aligned yourself with the devil. There is no middle ground between right and wrong.

Nephi goes on to describe the growth of the abominable church, until it covers the earth. He says that it sat upon many waters, echoing the imagery which the apostle John would later use (1 Nephi 14:11, Revelation 17:1, 15). In contrast, the church of the Lamb would be small, but the power of God would be with them (1 Nephi 14:12, 14).

Like the great and spacious building, the great and abominable church will ultimately “tumble to the dust, and great shall be the fall of it” (1 Nephi 22:14, 2 Nephi 28:18). The church of the Lamb has no need to attack the great and abominable church. It will collapse under its own weight.

The key, as Nephi’s brother Jacob tells us, is to avoid being persuaded to join that church, particularly as it becomes large and powerful. “The Gentiles,” he says, “if it so be that they shall repent and fight not against Zion, and do not unite themselves to that great and abominable church, they shall be saved” (2 Nephi 6:12).

Today, I will strive to choose right even when it isn’t popular. I will strive to recognize and avoid the characteristics of the abominable church. I will remember that sustainable leadership and influence cannot be built on a foundation of unkindness, wrong choices, worldliness, and obfuscation.

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