- Literal: a straight piece of wood, used as a guide to draw a straight line
- Metaphorical: a standard of behavior, used as a standard to ensure consistent conduct
While serving as the high priest of the church, Alma had to deal with a situation he had never experienced before. Many members of the church had committed sins. Other members of the church were complaining about these sins and requesting that their ecclesiastical leaders do something about it. These leaders had no experience dealing with misbehaving members, so they escalated the complaint to Alma.
These members had not all committed the same sin. They had been “taken in divers iniquities” (Mosiah 26:11). It would have been tempting to say, “We’ll deal with this on a case by case basis.” But there was a clear pattern, and the leaders of the church needed some guidance for how to deal with this kind of issue, so that they could act in a reasonably fair and consistent manner. They needed rules or policies which they could apply to situations like these.
Alma took this issue extremely seriously. “He feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God,” and so “he poured out his whole soul,” asking for revelation to understand what church leaders should do (Mosiah 26:13-14). In answer to his prayers, the Lord gave him the following guidance:
Overarching principle: The church consists of people who are willing to hear and follow the voice of the Lord. Therefore:
- Members of the church who sincerely repent should be forgiven.
- Members of the church who refuse to repent should no longer be considered members of the church.
The guidance was simple and easy to understand. Decisions still had to be made one by one, for each member who had sinned, but at least there was a principle which could be applied consistently:
And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord.
And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church;
And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out.
In this way, “Alma did regulate all the affairs of the church” (Mosiah 26:37, italics added).
Today, I will review the guidelines I have been given to assist me in fulfilling my calling. I will remember that those guidelines came by revelation, in answer to prayers, and that they can help us make decisions and take actions which are consistent with true principles and with the will of the Lord.