Re-examining what the scriptures say about the “Only True Church” Doctrine

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67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church (D&C 10:67–68).


In this article I hope to show from numerous scriptures in the New Testament, the Book of Mormon & the Doctrine & Covenants that the “one true church” of Jesus Christ mentioned in most of LDS scriptures appears to be a non-denominational “spiritual church” or heavenly church which manifests as a cultural movement and NOT an exclusivist Christian sect as has been established in LDS tradition.[def] I also hope to show in this and other articles in this series that Judaism, Christianity and Mormonism were created to be a symbol, or type/archetype of this heavenly church, which should seek to establish & bring forth a temporal version of the “true and living church” spoken of in D&C 1:30. The “only true church”, or Kingdom of god/heaven would be something earthly churches aspire to and lead people to, not an inherent right that comes with priesthood keys. The scriptures toward the end of this article hit the point home, and show that like Peter and other apostle’s constant misunderstanding of Jesus teachings—Joseph and modern church leaders may have also misunderstood and overlooked LDS scriptures which clearly teach that the “only true church” is a heavenly church instead of specific religious sect or denomination. A global spiritual brotherhood which all the good people and faiths of earth are destined toward if the follow the path of love and selflessness. It seems to this author that religious scripture, like good music and poetry, is made to be somewhat ambiguous on many issues, and cultures use that ambiguity to promote love and selflessness or egocentrism and pride.  It is my hope that by looking at the following scriptural arguments that the LDS people might choose to focus on scriptures which promote religious pluralism, and not those which promote exclusivity and pride.

Outline of points covered in the article
-The cultural overuse of the only true church concept in LDS testimonies too often follows the example of the Book of Mormon Zoramites. (see Alma 31:12–21)
-The Book of Mormon, Bible and Doctrine and Covenants teach that Christ’s one true church (as well as the church of the devil) are spiritual churches which transcend organizational and priesthood lines. (D&C 10:67–68, 1 Ne 14:10Moroni 7:16–17, Mark 9:38–402 Nephi 10:16Matt 12:30, etc)
-The Doctrine & Covenants (D&C 10:67–68) clearly teaches the condition required to be part of Christ’s Spiritual Church. Declaring more or less than that definition threatens Mormonisms’ membership in Christ’s one true spiritual church.
-A temporal sect or religion’s “trueness” or whether they can be classified as part of the “one true church”, depends on how well they copy, obey or “come unto” the spiritual church in heaven. (D&C 10:53–59,67–69)
-The separation of the wheat and the tares at the end of the age is synonymous with Christ’s separation of the Church of God and Church of the devil. The point of the parable revolves around the difficulty for humans to distinguish between the two. (see Matt 13:37–43, D&C 86:1–3, D&C 88:94)
-D&C 10:52–54 makes it clear that Christ’s spiritual church existed on earth before the restoration of the LDS sect. Joseph Smith’s church & priesthood were meant to “build up” and correct the already existing spiritual church on earth. And to be a symbol and archetype of the end-epoch separating and gathering process (see Heb 8:5;9:23-24;10:1; Alma 13:16).
-Mormonism should never boast of being the only true church until Messiah’s final gathering of all people and churches in One Body, and that universal brotherhood or kingdom is ready to “present to the Father”.
-Interpreting D&C 1:30 to suggest the LDS church is ‘the ONLY true church’, contradicts other scriptural evidence concerning the matter. We LDS people need to relook at the conditional nature of what the verse actually says–and stop using it as a pillar of exclusivity. (see exegesis of D&C 1:30)

Zoramitism in the LDS Church

As much as I love the good in Mormonism, it seems to me that many of us in the LDS church have focused too much on a prideful reading of D&C 1:30, and discount an abundance of scriptural information to the contrary, in order to support the tradition of being “the only true church”. Like the biblical Pharisees and Zoramites in the Book of Mormon, we sometimes twist the scriptures in a manner that makes us think that God has “separated us” and “elected us to be saved”, while “all around us are elected to be cast by [his] wrath down to hell” (or lower kingdoms until we do their temple work). Understanding the pride inherent in our doctrines is the first step in unraveling what I believe to be egocentric scriptural interpretations which crept into the church from its earliest days. The similarities between the Book of Mormon account of the Zoramites and the average Mormon testimony in Fast & Testimony Meeting should be enough to convict us and open our hearts to the need to look closer at what the scriptures teach concerning the only true church doctrine. For those unfamiliar with the story of the Zoramites, let’s read through Alma’s experience for some insight into this extremely prideful sect—one that LDS people don’t want to be like!

12 Now, when they had come into the land, behold, to their astonishment they found that the Zoramites had built synagogues, and that they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord; and they did worship after a manner which Alma and his brethren had never beheld;
13 For they had a place built up in the center of their synagogue, a place for standing, which was high above the head; and the top thereof would only admit one person.
14 Therefore, whosoever desired to worship must go forth and stand upon the top thereof, and stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice, saying:
15 Holy, holy God; we believe that thou art God, and we believe that thou art holy, and that thou wast a spirit, and that thou art a spirit, and that thou wilt be a spirit forever.
16 Holy God, we believe that thou hast separated us from our brethren; and we do not believe in the tradition of our brethren, which was handed down to them by the childishness of their fathers; but we believe that thou hast elected us to be thy holy children; and also thou hast made it known unto us that there shall be no Christ.
17 But thou art the same yesterday, today, and forever; and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee; and we also thank thee that thou hast elected us, that we may not be led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren, which doth bind them down to a belief of Christ, which doth lead their hearts to wander far from thee, our God.
18 And again we thank thee, O God, that we are a chosen and a holy people. Amen.
19 Now it came to pass that after Alma and his brethren and his sons had heard these prayers, they were astonished beyond all measure.
20 For behold, every man did go forth and offer up these same prayers.
21 Now the place was called by them Rameumptom, which, being interpreted, is the holy stand. (Alma 31:12–21)

Although the beliefs of the Zoramites concerning the nature of God and Christ were different than our own, we come too close to sharing the same pride concerning salvation. Like all fundamentalist sects, the Zoramites saw themselves as a “chosen and holy people”. Like us, the Zoramites truly believed that their doctrines, divine election, (and likely priesthood & ordinances)  made them the only true church, “elected by God to be saved”. They did not understand the following concepts taught by Nephi, and reiterated by Moroni, Jesus and other prophets—that until Zion is fully established & redeemed, the only true church is a spiritual church which transcends cultural and organizational lines.

The ‘Only Two Churches’ are ‘Spiritual Churches’ or Social Movements

I suggest the LDS concept of being the ‘only true church’ is promoted by a small handful of misunderstood scriptures. One example is Nephi’s vision of the two churches. In his vision given in 1 Nephi of the Book of Mormon, Nephi was taught that there are only two churches, the church of the Lamb of God (or the true church), and the church of the devil (the false church). This vision is often used to support the idea that there is only one true church on earth — however, since Nephi’s vision specifies that everyone on earth belongs to one of these two churches— it should be obvious that term “church” here is referring to a “spiritual” church or ideological allegiance and not just a temporal sect or ecclesiastical organization. Lets look at what the verse says,

10 And [The angel of the Lord] said unto me: 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 Ne 14:10)

It should be apparent from the context of this verse, that the term “church” in this scripture, can not be referring to the most popular modern definition of the word church (which is a specific religious denomination). Since the verse says “there are save two churches only”, defining “church” as a denomination would mean there could only be two religious denominations in existence, and everyone on earth would have to be a member of one or the other.

As implied by the context and noted by other authors, the word church anciently, often had a much broader meaning than it does now (Hebrew qahal or edah; Greek ekklesia). For instance, in Greek texts it referred more broadly to a general assembly, or political association of people who bonded together and shared the same beliefs or loyalties. Scholars have noted that the modern concept of a church as a separate priesthood organization or religious denomination, didn’t exist among Jews of the first and second temple periods. Instead the differing religious groups or “schools of thought” as Josephus called them, were forced to work together to manage the Jewish theocratic state despite their conflicting ideologies.

In regards to Nephi’s vision of two churches, LDS apostles and church leaders have often misunderstood the scriptural use of the word “church” by arguing an inconsistent definition-— suggesting on one hand that the “church of the lamb of God” refers to a literal ecclesiastical organization (the LDS church and its ancient equivalent), but yet that the “church of the devil” refers to a figurative or spiritual church that transcends organizational lines. Others have tried to define the Church of the Devil in Nephi’s vision as the Catholic or American Evangelical Churches. However any interpretation to make either “the church of the Lamb of God” OR “the church of the devil” into literal Christian organizations or sects, contradicts the principle taught in Moroni 7 where he teaches that “every thing which inviteth to do good… is of God” and “whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil… is of the devil”.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him. (Moroni 7:16–17)

12 And whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do good is of me; for good cometh of none save it be of me. I am the same that leadeth men to all good… (Ether 4:12)

The idea sometimes pushed by early church leaders that every other Christian denomination BUT the LDS church was the Church of the devil would be a complete contradiction to Moroni’s words. How could Catholicism or protestantism for instance be the “church of the devil” when the devil “persuadeth no man to do good[0], no not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him“! The idea is prideful and contradictory and has subsequently been abandoned by most modern LDS teachers. But at the same time, how could the LDS church be the “only true church” when according to Nephi and other scriptures THERE ARE ONLY TWO CHURCHES? According to Nephi’s vision, holding that the LDS denomination is the only true church requires all others to be part of the church of the devil, which as we will see in this article goes contrary to the words of Moroni, Christ’s and the Joseph’s Doctrine and Covenants. The answer to this apparent contradiction is that Both Moroni and Nephi for the most part taught a broad spiritual version of Christ’s true church. [1]

Is it any wonder that we are scorned as being a cult by other churches when we repeatedly infer that they are part of the church of the devil? (Perhaps some LDS members don’t realize it, but our insistence that we are the ONLY true church infers by definition that unlike us, all others are false!).

To make either the Church of God OR the Church of the Devil into one particular organization is to twist the scriptures on the matter.

Early LDS Church leaders were not alone in their misunderstanding of the spiritual nature of the “church” Christ taught.  In the New Testament John and other apostles make this same mistake when they forbid a man who would not follow them, from casting out demons by Christ’s name and authority. Jesus rebuked them and teaches the same principle as Nephi and Moroni. No-one who does good in Christ’s name is of the devil—and the apostolic followers weren’t the only one’s allowed to act with Christ’s authority. Because all who do good in Christ’s name are part of Christ’s spiritual church.

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone forcing demons out of a person by using the power and authority of your name. We tried to stop him because he was not one of us.”
39 Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! No one who works a miracle in my name can turn around and speak evil of me.
40 Whoever isn’t against us is for us. (Mark 9:38–40 GWT)

Nephi makes essentially the same statement using reverse logic later in his writings as he explains the nature of both the true church of Christ and the False church of the devil. (Christ also says almost the exact thing in Matt 12:30)

“Wherefore, he that fighteth against Zion, both Jew and Gentile, both bond and free, both male and female, shall perish; for they are they who are the whore of all the earth; for they who are not for me are against me, saith our God.” (2 Nephi 10:16, see also Matt 12:30)

So Christ in one place says “whoever is not against us–is for us”, but in another place says (along with Nephi) “whoever is not for us–is against us” (see Matt 12:30). These statements are a complete contradictions if you try to define Christ’s church as a closed ecclesiastical organization. (see footnote 4) They can only be harmonized if you see them as a restatement of the same forced spiritual dichotomy used over and over in scripture which teaches that those who do good and are heading toward love are part of the spiritual church of God, and those who do evil and are fighting good are part of the church of the devil. And that every ecclesiastical church, sect, denomination, religion, person or nation is constantly aligning themselves with one or the other in everything they do–and will eventually have to chose allegiances in the heavenly or spiritual battle. Understanding this logic shows how the verses mentioned above support the idea of a spiritual church… and not just a temporal church.


The Good vs. Evil Dichotomy in Scripture

The binary or dichotomy of good vs. evil is taught throughout the scriptures. And perhaps nowhere is the idea that these terms transcend organizational lines taught better than in the parable of the wheat and the tares. In the parable the Master commands his servants to plant wheat in a field— but when it grows he find tares MIXED WITHIN the wheat. He tells his servants to allow them to grow together, least pulling out the tares, “ye root up also the wheat with them”.  The meaning of this parable is explained not only in the New Testament but also in D&C 86 & 88, where we learn that that “the field was the world, and the apostles were the sowers of the seed” (D&C 86:2), the good seed are the children of Christ’s kingdom (true church), and the tares are the church of the devil or bad people and bad works that come from twisted doctrine (Matt 13:38, D&C 88:94).

37 …He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man;
38 The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom [Christ’s true church]; but the tares are the children of the wicked one [ie. devil’s church, see D&C 88:94];
39 The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
40 As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
41 The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
43 Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 13:37–43, see also D&C 86:1–3)

Verse 38 (clarified in D&C 88:94) makes it clear that in this parable the wheat are the kingdom or church of Christ, and the tares are the ‘kingdom or church of the devil’. And the whole point of the parable is that it is hard to tell the difference between the two because they look so similar and grow together within each organization! Both the wheat and the tares exist within every religion, culture and kingdom. There are tares in “Christ’s Kingdom”, and wheat among the Gentiles. But it is not until “the end of the world” (end or close of the age in most translations) that Christ and his angels (not mortal servants) will separate the two; gathering the wheat into heaven and burning the tares with the stubble to prepare a new crop cycle. [2].

[[defs]]Spiritual Church: A social movement. A state of being. A type of spiritual nature or character which binds like-minded people together.  And organization which exists in heaven with which people can align themselves in thought and behavior.

Organizational or Temporal Church: A specific religious organization or denomination on the earth, bound together by specific ordinances, priesthood and leadership.[[defs]]


The Temporal Church as a Copy or ‘Type’ of the Spiritual Church

In the revelations given to Joseph Smith in Doctrine and Covenants ten, the “trueness” of a temporal or denominational church appear to be dependant on how well it copies or aligns itself with the spiritual church as it exists in heaven. Apparently, when the Heavenly Church commits a dispensation or makes a covenant with a people, the leaders are given a charge or responsibility to be a type, copy or microcosm of that true spiritual church which exists in heaven— to be a “light” or example (Heb 8:5;9:23-24;10:1; Alma 13:16). As they succeed they can be classified as a “true and living” church or religion (meaning they are legitimate or approved by the church in heaven). The spiritual church in heaven influences sweeping social movements in every part of the earth. Within each dispensation, every good/true organization or church adds to Christ’s true spiritual church, but if they fail, they do the opposite. This point is explained to Joseph Smith in D&C 10, a revelation given in 1829 before the LDS church was even organized. Take note of the changing use of the word “church” and the distinctions that are made between the spiritual church, and the temporal or denominational copy Joseph is charged with establishing. Red text and parenthetical annotations are mine.

52 And now, behold, according to their [the Nephites] faith in their prayers will I bring this part of my gospel to the knowledge of my people. Behold, I do not bring it to destroy that which they have received, but to build it up.
53 And for this cause have I said: If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.
54 Now I do not say this to destroy my church, but I say this to build up my church;
(“my church” in v. 54 is obviously referring to his spiritual church, since the LDS temporal church was not yet organized, and would otherwise make no sense in this context. For instance, why would “establishing” his temporal church destroy his temporal church when it did not even exist yet? (or had already been destroyed by apostasy- see next article in series) Obviously it’s saying, “I’m not revealing this part of my gospel to destroy the part of my church that the Gentiles already have, but I’m doing it to build up my overall spiritual church which includes all denominations who are coming unto me…”)
55 Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.
(once again “my church is referring to his spiritual church. And more importantly he stresses that those who belong to his spiritual church don’t need to fear this new temporal church, because any member of his spiritual church will inherit the kingdom of heaven)
56 But it is they who do not fear me, neither keep my commandments but build up churches unto themselves to get gain, yea, and all those that do wickedly and build up the kingdom of the devil—yea, verily, verily, I say unto you, that it is they that I will disturb, and cause to tremble and shake to the center.
(Only temporal churches which are part of the spiritual church of the devil need to fear being disturbed by this new organizational church)
67 Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.
(In this verse ‘my church’, is once again a spiritual church. Not Mormonism, or any one specific organization, sect or denomination. “His church” is a spiritual association of people who are repentant and “coming unto Christ”— the head and archetype of the heavenly church)
68 Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.
(Once again, “my church” must be referring to a spiritual association, as attempting to define it as a organizational church would not make much sense in this context)
69 And now, behold, whosoever is of my church, and endureth of my church to the end, him will I establish upon my rock [or gospel. see D&C 11:24], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them. (D&C 10:52–69)
(All those who are of Christ’s spiritual church will eventually be gathered into his “rock” and heavenly kingdom.) [3]

The bottom line of this excerpt is found in verse 67 where the spiritual nature of Christ’s church is specifically explained. It says “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church“. And equally important is the idea that “whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same… is not of my church”. The purpose of a temporal church is to symbolize, copy and “build up” his spiritual church. Pride within a temporal church aligns us with the devil, putting us in opposition to Christ’s spiritual church.

When we or our leaders stand up in conference or fast and testimony meeting and preach like the Zoramites and Pharisees that just because of our priesthood, or revelations we alone are “the only true church”, we run the risk of being “not of His church!” (v.68 see also 3 Ne 11:28–30) Christ’s church is not proud, it is not boastful. It understands that all who do good are members of the true church. It understands that teaching doctrines of elitism or exclusivity only lead to idolatry, contention and division. It understands that there are multiple valid priesthood lines on earth, and that ALL earthly religion that leads to good can be classified as part of God’s true church (a principle Paul the Apostle taught and a point we will cover in our next article).

Paul, who received a priesthood independent of Peter’s, tried relentlessly to teach these principles over and over to the orthodox Jews of his day who believed they were God’s only true people–and that salvation could come only by their system of laws and ordinances. Instead he tried to teach them that salvation does not come by the Jewish (or even Christian) law, ordinances, or outward religion (Gal 2:16-21, Eph 2:8–18, Rom 3-8, Acts 15:10, 1 Cor 15:56), but that the Jewish temporal religion was a symbol trying to point people to the salvation of the true heavenly church which is lead by Christ and his equals (Col 2:16-19Heb 10:1).  He goes as far as to say that when Gentiles follow their consciences and keep the Spirit of the Jewish law, “they are a [religious] law of themselves” (Rom 2:14, Gal 5:18, 2 Cor 3:6) — because a loving Christlike character “is the fulfilling of the law” (Gal 5:14, Rom 13:10).  He says religious strictures and commandments were not intended for the righteous, but for the “lawless, disobedient, ungodly, sinners, murderers, whoremongers and liars” (1 Tim 1:9–10). He calls the temporal church and its laws a “schoolmaster” or temporary “tutor” designed only to bring us to Christ and a true Christ-like Character (Gal 3:24–25, Gal 4:1–5). He calls those who seek salvation by looking to the temporal church, “slaves to the law” (v. 5, 25) comparing them to Hagar and Ishmael while encouraging his followers to be free by following the heavenly church, which he refers to as “the heavenly Jerusalem”, who “is our mother” (see Gal 4:4,9-10,21-31. also Heb 12:22). He understood the need of earthly churches with authority, but didn’t want his followers to fall captive to an exclusivist, prideful sectarian mindset the Jews had developed.

At the end of the age or “world”, Christ apparently will gather ALL his sheep from among ALL the churches of earth and the spirit realm—exalting them into a heavenly kingdom of God (D&C 29:26–29; 27:11-14; 84:100). In addition to the New Testament, the Book of Mormon gives us a template to how this occurrence might happen at the end of each major age (3 Ne 11). We as Latter-day Saints believe Joseph Smith was charged with helping to begin and aid in the earthly aspect of that final gathering process.  But we should note that one of the first items of business which Christ addressed among the Nephite people was to chastise them for their “disputations”, and teach them that whoever has the spirit of contention, is “not of me, but is of the devil” (or part of the devil’s church). Perhaps we as Mormons shouldn’t be surprised when Christ comes to us as a people and we not only get this same chastisement, but are dumbfounded when many prophets from other churches are chosen over our apostles to administer the unified political & religious kingdom![4]  Just as the Jews couldn’t accept that the Messiah would call obscure publicans, and fishermen (who held no Jewish priesthood) to lead his kingdom instead of their beloved highest religious priests.

Much like the Jews, Joseph Smith and the early Saints were also repeatedly chastised in the Doctrine and Covenants concerning their pride, boasting & contentions and were told that if they didn’t repent they wouldn’t be allowed to help in the work (D&C 20:32–34, D&C 3:10–11; 23:1, D&C 38:39, D&C 90:17, D&C 98:20, D&C 121:37). Despite these warnings, statements like the following from Joseph Smith set a tone of Pharisaical pride and antagonism which has persisted in the church for over 100 years,

“…all the priests who adhere to the sectarian religions of the day with all their followers, without one exception, receive their portion with the devil and his angels.”   (The Elders Journal, Joseph Smith Jr., editor, vol.1, no.4, p.60.)

Expand More Quotes
Here are a few more examples of the church’s continuing pride and animosity toward other Christian religions…
If it had not been for Joseph Smith and the restoration, there would be no salvation. There is no salvation outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Mormon Doctrine, 1979, p. 670) The only principle upon which they judge me [Joseph Smith] is by comparing my acts with the foolish traditions of their fathers and nonsensical teachings of hireling priests, whose object and aim were to keep the people in ignorance for the sake of filthy lucre; or as the prophet says, to feed themselves, not the flock. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Deseret Book, 1977, p. 315) “What is it that inspires professors of Christianity generally with a hope of salvation? It is that smooth, sophisticated influence of the devil, by which he deceives the whole world.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270) When Joseph Smith was asked “Do you believe the Bible?” he replied “If we do,we are the only people under heaven that does, for there are none of the religious sects of the day that do.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 119) . . .he that confesseth not that Jesus has come in the flesh and sent Joseph Smith with the fullness of the Gospel to this generation, is not of God, but is anti-christ. (Journal of Discourses, vol. 9, p. 312) This is not just another Church. This is not just one of a family of Christian churches. This is the Church and kingdom of God, the only true Church upon the face of the earth . . . (Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pp. 164-165)

The Source of LDS Religious Exclusivism

In regards to the LDS only true church doctrine, the basis of it seems to come almost exclusively from the scriptural verse D&C 1:30. Despite all the contrary counsel and scripture, a phrase from this single verse has become the Mormon motto of testimony and religious exclusivism often used to define our faithfulness. It reads,

 30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this [or my see v.1, spiritual] church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually— (D&C 1:30)

Since its foundation, the Saints have failed to grasp the scripture’s loose and often dualistic definition of the word “church” defined in D&C 10:67 & 1 Nephi as a spiritual movement and not just a specific sect. They read and focus on what they wanted to hear, which was that the LDS sect itself was intrinsically “the only true church”, instead of what the verse actually says which is that Joseph and the early Saints were (like the founders of democracy) laying the foundation of the coming out of obscurity of the Lord’s spiritual church (see v.1), which is and will be “the only true and living church… with which the Lord was well pleased”. (footnote 6) This interpretation should be obvious, since its the spiritual church that had fallen into “obscurity and darkness” NOT the LDS sect. But instead of putting a major focus on the concepts taught in D&C 10:52–69, the Church has followed the lead of the Zoramites and Pharisees and adopted a few out of context words from this single verse to be one of the most recited testimonial phrases recited in our religion.

See this article for a closer look at D&C 1:30 (a piece by piece scriptural exegesis)

In fact, the early saints were really only told they if they proved worthy, they might be given the privilege (along with others; see v.1 & D&C 49:8) of helping to found a legitimized sect which would eventually correctly typify or be synonymous with God’s universal true spiritual church (as per D&C 10). One with the power to guide the other sects of America. And once they were to succeed in helping to “gather all things in Christ; both which are in heaven and which are on earth” (Eph. 1:10; D&C 27:13), that organization might even one day be given a political kingdom and power to help unify all sects of Christendom into one universal union of brotherhood (just as the United States has tried to do).

But instead of taking this verse in the context of a conditional “preamble” of how to build Zion (the realization of the only true church), the Saints have pridefully used this scripture as the foundation of our elitist & exclusive truth claims. Instead of using this verse to unify Christianity, we used it to divide ourselves from Christianity. We use it to justify our vain ambitions of having exclusive control of God’s church, kingdom, power and authority, with a false exclusive claim on God’s prophets and priesthood (see the next article in this series for details on this).

According to Joseph’s 1838 retelling of his first vision, it appears the Lord was not “well pleased” with the other churches of the era since Joseph remembers being told they were “all corrupt” and were “all wrong” (JS-H 1:19). However, in Joseph’s 1832 account of the first vision, instead of God saying all other churches of his day were “wrong”, Jesus quotes biblical passages affirming that throughout ALL history there were, “none that doeth good, no not one” and “all have turned aside from the gospel” (see Psalms 14:3, Rom 3:10,23). It seems human nature that the church’s of every dispensation eventually declare “more or less” than the doctrine of d&C 10 which states that “he who repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church”. Instead of respecting the spiritual gifts of prophecy and revelation of those outside their denominations and cooperating with each other to build Zion, the church’s end up fighting with each other in the spirit of contention— pretending to be the only true church, crying “Lo here! and Lo there” (JS-H 1:5). It seems to me that if the Lord of Joseph’s revelations was not pleased with them it was because they all were acting a lot like the modern Catholic Church, LDS Church and Christian Fundamentalist sects sometimes do! Too often put sect membership and adherence to their sectarian creeds, manifestos and proclamations above ecumenical cooperation (JS-H 1:19). They talked the talk but they were too interested in being right & gaining converts, than to humbly work with each other on a truly equal footing to establish a “Zion” civil society. And worst of all they rejected the spirit of prophecy (revelation) in anyone outside their fold. They likely all believed that if God did somehow have inspiration for the world, it would come through their church leaders and would prove that they were right.[5]

On the other hand the Heavenly Church was apparently pleased with fledgling LDS church, because it was about to get the opportunity to help the church in heaven to begin the process of establishing Zion on earth by gathering all of Christ’s people and churches together into a nation of freedom, unity and democracy. The heavenly church had just completed the truly phenomenal task of beginning the industrial revolution and establishing one of the first nations in human history with both democracy and true religious liberty; and an individual with a strong gift for clairvoyance and clairaudience (gift of revelation) had now become a channel to attempt to establish a living example of Zion or a Utopian Society. To ground and establish a society which would be a perfect copy of the only true church or kingdom which exists in heaven. A society matching the one described in 4 Nephi of the Book of Mormon, where “there were no disputations among them”; one where there were no schisms or divisions “but all were one and partakers of the heavenly gift”. One where there were neither rich nor poor, bond nor free, but all people were truly free, united and equal under God, with all things in common, of one heart and one mind.


Failure of the Saints and Hope for the Future

But here’s the travesty… the early Saints and early American idealists failed to build God’s utopian Zion or perfect copy of the only true Church of heaven in their dispensation — and the Doctrine & Covenants catalogs their failure. From their failed attempts to unify with each other and the Christian churches of the era, to their failed experiments of living the law of social & economic equality (consecration), to their mega-failure in finding greater gender/marital freedom & equality (polygamy), the early saints laid the foundation for Zion and the grounding of the true spiritual church to earth, but because of ignorance, “division”, “pride”, “unbelief”, “disobedience”, “lust” and sexual exploitation the LDS leadership turned on each other and killed the prophet (primarily over Joseph’s polygamy, monetary and power issues), broke into schisms and were “driven [back] into the wilderness”. They wanted the kingdom solely for themselves, and because of this pride they weren’t allowed to “redeem Zion” (see D&C 105:9–13). [6] Much like Isaiah, Jeremiah and John the Baptist, both Joseph Smith and the Church became archetypes or living metaphors as promised—but instead of representing God’s heavenly Church, they ended up becoming a symbol and foreshadow of the future of the American Experiment itself. Much like the prophet King David being forbidden to finish building the Temple as a curse for his murders and fornication  — It seems to me that Joseph and the Saints were “given over to their lusts” to follow the dictates of their own hearts just as ancient Israel was time and time again (see Romans 1:21–24; Psalms 81:11–12; Acts 7:42, Jeremiah 3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; D&C 3:4–9). Joseph and the early saints were essentially made into examples and mirrors as a foreshadowing warning of what would eventually become of the United States (see Ben Kathryn 64:13-14; 33:1-3; 18:17).

As the Saints were driven into isolation to “be taught more perfectly” (D&C 105:9–10) and work out their sexual and economic issues, God’s Spirit seems to have been poured out on the groups most aligned with his spiritual church. American reformational protestantism temporarily became the most prosperous and politically influential religious force in the nation (and perhaps the world)—apparently waiting for the dawn of the coming age when the LDS people along with Latin Christians, reformational Islam, restored Judah and other Saints of restorationism would humble themselves, repent and find the degree of unity, humility, pluralism and wisdom needed to be the global political leaders for the final dispensation. (2 Ne 30:1–10, 3 Ne 21:6–26)

I believe the establishment of God’s true church and a more perfect world or utopian Zion is still strongly underway. Heaven has been leading the various member of God’s “true spiritual church” to push for these changes not only in Europe, Latin America and the United States but in all the world. (Especially agnostic China!) It has been moving the world closer to equality by breaking up monarchies, empires, religious fundamentalism and dictatorships. It has been using the good people of the world to advance the cause of freedom and equality. It has been pouring god’s spirit upon the whole world and giving dreams and visions to the movers and shakers of humanity (Joel 2:28–29 ). It has been working to create unity in the nations of the world for the purpose of freedom and peace, while at the same time the wicked church of the devil works to build up oppressive empires and divisive religions, mean spirited organizations and destructive philosophies.

The LDS Church has grown to be an influential player in the world, and as the wall between us and the world breaks down we have a choice. Will we put away our fundamentalist traditions and acknowledging the true equality and brotherhood of Christianity and all mankind? Will we take our place as an archetype, divine copy and example of a humble, balanced, self-sacrificing government and people?  As America’s imperial ambitions cause its political system to struggle will we step up to take the place of the faltering churches in pushing for the Utopian dream of a truly equal American Zion? Or like the early Saints and ancient Jews who looked beyond the mark, will we insist that we are the sole owners of the kingdom, and cause greater division with our brethren through insisting that we alone are God’s “only true church?”

Other Articles In This Series

Article 1. Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine.

Article 2.  A Doctrinal Look at The Universal Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to LDS exclusive truth claims.

Article 3.   Re-examining the LDS adoption of the protestant fundamentalist view of the “Great Apostasy”.

Article 4. Clearing up Misunderstandings in the LDS View of the Afterlife (The 3 Degrees of Glory and their support for religious pluralism)