30 And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this 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)
In this scriptural exegesis, I suggest that D&C 10:52–63, clearly suggests that the “only true and living church on the face of the earth” mentioned above in D&C 1:30, is Christ’s spiritual church. And the LDS denomination was founded to help the other prophets of the restorationism movement to “bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness”, where it had been forced as a result of medieval period fundamentalism.
Like many long, somewhat ambiguous run-on sentences found in scripture, D&C 1:30 is understandably confusing in its structure. The verse’s numerous clauses leave the reader to guess the subject of each segment. If we break each clause up, it’s easier for the reader to see how many different ways this verse can be interpreted depending on your aims.
And also those to whom these commandments were given,
Since this revelation was given as a “preface” to the Book of Commandments, it seems natural to assume that this verse is exclusively addressing the LDS church and saints. However, most readers forget about the “others” from verses 17- 18 in the same chapter.
17 Wherefore, I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments;
18 And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—
Although Verse 18 is a bit ambiguous in itself, the reader can use other LDS revelations to assume that “others” might be referring to other global prophets of the restorationism movement who are about to overthrow the predominate Gentile religious system which held people in “bondage” to narrow-minded exclusivist religious ideas. The “calamity which should come upon… earth” may very well have been WWI & WWII, where oppressive fascist regimes would seek to take over the entire earth. Verse 20-21 says this new religious movement would not only “increase faith upon the earth”, but would allow “every man [to] speak in the name of God the Lord” (v18-20. see also D&C 49:8, D&C 77:15, 3 Ne 15:17–24). Two important references concerning the meaning of others are in 3 Ne 15 and D&C 49:8. These verses hint at the universal nature of Christ’s work among earth’s peoples. In the first, Christ speaks to the Book of Mormon people about the global nature of his work, chastising his disciples in Jerusalem for thinking that they were his ONLY people, and saying that he allowed them to stay in the dark concerning the matter because of the “stiffneckedness and unbelief”.
15 Neither at any time hath the Father given me commandment that I should tell unto them concerning the other tribes of the house of Israel, whom the Father hath led away out of the land.
16 This much did the Father command me, that I should tell unto them:
17 That other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
18 And now, because of stiffneckedness and unbelief they understood not my word; therefore I was commanded to say no more of the Father concerning this thing unto them…
20 And verily, I say unto you again that the other tribes hath the Father separated from them; and it is because of their iniquity that they know not of them….
22 And they understood me not, for they supposed it had been the Gentiles; for they understood not that the Gentiles should be converted through their preaching… (3 Nephi 15:17–24)
4 …And I command you that ye shall write these sayings after I am gone, that if it so be that my people at Jerusalem, they who have seen me and been with me in my ministry, do not ask the Father in my name, that they may receive a knowledge of you by the Holy Ghost, and also of the other tribes whom they know not of… (3 Nephi 16:1–4)
Note also the similar language in D&C 49:8
8 Wherefore, I will that all men shall repent, for all are under sin, except those which I have reserved unto myself, holy men that ye know not of.
Also of note are these verses which speak of John’s latter-day work “gathering the tribes of Israel” as well as the work of two latter-day JEWISH prophets which are to be “raised up to the Jewish nation”, AFTER the Jews are gathered to Israel. We can assume from other clarifying verses (D&C 98:17; 18:26; D&C 45:18–44; 77:9-15; 109:62-66; D&C 133:12–14,34–35), that this Jewish restoration is going to be entirely separate form the LDS restoration.
14 Q. What are we to understand by the little book which was eaten by John, as mentioned in the 10th chapter of Revelation?
A. We are to understand that it was a mission, and an ordinance, for him to gather the tribes of Israel; behold, this is Elias, who, as it is written, must come and restore all things.
15 Q. What is to be understood by the two witnesses, in the eleventh chapter of Revelation?
A. They are two prophets that are to be raised up to the Jewish nation in the last days, at the time of the restoration, and to prophesy to the Jews after they are gathered and have built the city of Jerusalem in the land of their fathers. (D&C 77:14–15)
The Book of Mormon further gives further reason to suppose that any number of the world’s religions and scriptures actually originate from the same God, even though the language, symbolism, archetypes and cultures to which they were given vary greatly.
10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.
12 For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it. (2 Ne 29:10–12)
For those who have faith in Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences, there is reason to look into the teachings of the “other witnesses” of the restorationism movement, who also claimed to see God and Jesus and to be archetypes of the end-time Messengers mentioned in D&C 1:14, 133:63; 3 Ne 20:23, 21:11; JS-H 1:40, Acts 3:23. This includes modern prophets like Siyyid Shírází (Founder of Bahá’í Faith), Mirzā Ghulām Ahmad (Aḥmadiyyah Muslims), Hong Xiuquan (The Taiping prophet), Jachanan Ben Kathryn (Messianic Judaism), and others.
might have power to lay the foundation of this church,
The word “foundation” is an obvious allusion to Eph 2:19–22 where the early Christian Saints are compared to the “Holy Temple”, apostles (eyewitnesses of Christ) and prophets (those with the gift of prophecy) being the foundation; with Christ as chief cornerstone.
In Mormon circles this allusion brings up its own problems because LDS culture has come to assign a narrower meaning to these titles than the Bible or LDS scripture defines. Most of us LDS people tend to equate a “prophet” with only our church leaders or presidents of the high priesthood, instead of the scriptural definition of anyone (man or woman) who exercises the spirit of prophecy. (see more information in the article “The Priesthood of God & Its Relationship to the Only True Church Doctrine”.) With a broader understand of what Christ’s “foundation” entails, it’s easier to see that “this church” can have a dual meaning or archetypal context referring to a broader context than simply the LDS sect. One need only look at the striking parallels between Joseph’s teachings and those of contemporaries across the globe to see that something wild and seemingly inspired from heaven was going on around the world with the Second Great Awakening. Events like Alexander Campbell‘s non-denominational “disciples of Christ”, or The Báb in Iran (“restorer of John the Baptist and Elijah’s priesthood in 1844) or the Catholic Apostolic Church in England (“restored” in 1831 with 12 apostles, priesthood and all) or Hong Xiuquan’s Chinese vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ Hong’s brother in 1844 and founding of the “heavenly kingdom). Isn’t it possible that the coming of God’s church had reference to the heavenly church inspiring mean all across the globe with vision and revelation’s which each “prophet” interpreted according to their cultural understanding and personal affinities for love, power, lust, greed or selflessness. Just as used in D&C 10, “this church” is quite likely the restorationism movement in general and all those who are coming unto God and not just Mormonism.
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)
and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness,
An important key to deciphering the correct context of “this church” is the phrase “out of obscurity and darkness” which is an allusion to Isaiah 29:18 and Nephi’s exegesis of that chapter in 1 Ne 22:12,
“and they [scattered Israel] shall be gathered together to the lands of their inheritance and brought out of obscurity and out of darkness; and they shall know that the Lord is their Savior and their Redeemer, the Mighty One of Israel. And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.”
Just as the article Re-examining what LDS scriptures say about the ‘Only True Church’ doctrine makes it clear that the ‘Great and Abominable Church’ or ‘Church of the devil’ is a spiritual church composed of the evil people of the world, we can also assume from the context of this verse that the “church” that will gather Israel “to the lands of their inheritance”, bringing them “out of obscurity and out of darkness” is also a spiritual church composed of those doing God’s will. The LDS church is meant to be an archetype of this monumental end-time gathering process. The “gathering together to the lands of their inheritance” likely has reference not simply to Mormonism, but to formation of the United States of America, and its role in preventing the fascist regimes of “the church of the devil” from taking over the world in WWI & WWII, as well as to the gathering of the Jews back to Palestine.
Since the D&C makes it clear that many parts of the restoration of Israel (especially the restoration of Judah) is to occur apart from Mormonism (see D&C 98:17; 18:26; D&C 45:18–44; 77:9-15; 109:62-66; D&C 133:12–14,34–35; Ether 13:3–12 JS Matthew 24), it would seem that this verse is trying to draw the reader’s mind to the idea that “this church” is bigger than simply Mormonism, but has dualistic reference to the restoration of Israel and the gathering of the righteous out of the spiritual “great and abominable church” or church of the devil which is composed of those who do evil and actively fight against the works of God (D&C 10:56). It is a leading theme throughout the D&C, that the LDS church is meant to play a leading role in this broader work of gathering righteous nations together.
Note that D&C 10 makes it clear that “Christ’s church” already existed on earth before the LDS restoration and broader restorationism movement of the 1800’s, but with the restoration God would restore “this part of my gospel”.
52 And now, behold, according to their 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 [the aspect of Christ’s church that already exists], but I say this to build up my church;
55 Therefore, whosoever belongeth to my church need not fear, for such shall 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. (D&C 10:52–55)
However, LDS scripture paints the picture that Christ’s church (although ON EARTH) was in hiding or in “obscurity and darkness”. These words are used in revelations such as D&C 6:21, 10:21, 10:58, 11:11, and are allusions to Christ’s earthly sojourn where even though he was on earth (Like his Church), he was not recognized by the prevailing religions or rulers.
21 Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not. (D&C 6:21)
This is the same concept which is taught in LDS scripture with the phrase “out of the wilderness” used in D&C 5:14, 33:5, 84:23-24, 86:3, 109:73. It alludes to the idea that like the children of Israel who sojourned in the wilderness of Sinai for 40 years were not allowed to enter the promised land or “fulness of his glory” (D&C 84:24; 76:56), so also was Christ’s scattered Church having to sojourn in the wilderness (or in a scattered, somewhat apostate condition).
73 That thy church may come forth out of the wilderness of darkness, and shine forth fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners;
74 And be adorned as a bride for that day when thou shalt unveil the heavens… (D&C 107:73–74)
Much like the manchild of Revelation 12, Joseph and other restorationism prophets were to lay the very beginning or foundation to the latter-day work which would bring the manchild (the TRUE scattered sons of God) out of the wilderness and darkness where the oppressive self-righteous religions and rulers of the middle ages had forced them to hide–into the light of the latter-day work of freedom and pluralism.
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—
There are, of course, multiple ways to interpret each of these segments. In regards to “the only true and living church upon the face of the earth”, the reader is left to guess whether this “true and living church” is referring to the LDS sect, or as the case we’ve made to the spiritual church of D&C 10 and 1 Ne 14, which is alluded to in the clause “out of obscurity and out of darkness”.
To further complicate things, the subject of the clarifying segment “speaking to the church collectively and not individually” is ambiguous. It could be saying “I am well pleased with the collective LDS church, but not necessarily its individuals”, or it could be clarifying that “the only true church on the face of the whole earth” is referring to the collective spiritual church and not any individual sect or denomination.
Given the context as explained in the many scriptural verses laid out in this article, it would seem that the Lord chooses to make little distinction between his spiritual church and his covenant people. As stated in D&C 10:67–69, it would seem that any sect or individual which does the will of God and is “coming unto me” is considered part of God’s “true church” and is scripturally made synonymous to the spiritual church.
It should also be noted that the phrase “true and living church” is almost certainly an idiomatic expression meant to allude to the “true and living God” (see 1 Ne 17:30, Alma 5:13; 11:25-27, Moroni 9:28). Just as there is only ONE true and living God (even though there are actually three aspects of Him in Father, Son and Spirit), so also does he have only one true and living church, even though there are many differing sects, branches or aspects to it as well. There may be multiple branches but ONE tree, multiple members, but ONE unitarian body (1 Cor 1:12,20).
The below is an example of a second way in which this verse could be interpreted, in contrast to the typical interpretation of the verse by mainstream Mormonism.
30 And also those [Joseph as well as others ye know not of; D&C 49:8] to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this [restorational spiritual] church [or latter-day movement], and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church [being a spiritual church, defined as those who repent and come unto me; D&C 10:67] upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church [or latter-day movement] collectively and not individually [to any sect]—
In my opinion, this interpretation actually fits far better given the context of the rest of the section of the revelation. But at the same time, I believe the Christian scripture, much like Christ’s parables, are actually designed to allow egotistical and fundamentalist interpretations while hiding the more profound truths within a veil of metaphor.