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Church History: The Puzzle of Familiarity

Leaders of integrity or infamy found in The Book of Mormon provide the fodder for spiritual growth and self-improvement. It was made for us.

Happened that a fox lighted through the bush and came across something it had never before seen, a great and monstrous beast called a lion! Flat on its belly did it fall with its forepaws crossed in front as it whimpered in fear at the thunderous roar the lion used as a voice.

Happened again that the fox came across the lion. This time, it dared to view the beast from the covering of a bush observing its movements and behavior intrigued but still fearful.

Another time the fox saw the lion it interacted with the beast and became quite chummy. Fear soon left, and so did the deference the fox had garnered toward this kingly beast.

The adaptation of this proverbial story of the Fox and the Lion is supposed to teach the Nigerian proverb:

Familiarity breeds contempt; distance breeds respect.

During the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ, the Savior eluded to such an observation when He is credited with the saying "a prophet hath no honour in his own country" [John 4:44]. Returning to Galilee where He was reared and to the familiar of His kinsmen it would be a test of His family and friends to see the greatness of His nature being so familiar with Him in life as the normal man He was for the first 30 years of His life.

If the God of creation had to endure the contempt of His creations, why not a prophet who testified on His behalf in modern times? Following is a brief exploration of the history of Joseph Smith, Junior's ministry regarding the publication of modern scripture. Doctrine and Covenants is a canonical book of scripture used officially by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on equal authoritative footing with The Holy Bible and The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

Familiarity is a chief concept of Jesus Christ's teachings as He taught that "this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent" [John 17:3]. The caveat here is that Jesus did not indicate that knowing Them meant humanity could do so as we are in mortality, nor does it preclude the possibility of becoming familiar with Them as a possibility in this life.

Aesop's The Fox and The Lion

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church-history-the-puzzle-of-familiarity

Familiarity is the root of the closest friendships, as well as the interest’s hatreds.

— Antoine Rivarol

More Than Words

Following a theophany in his youth, Joseph Smith, Jr. through a series of events received a divine directive as a prophet of God, published The Book of Mormon, and organized the Church of Jesus Christ for the last time before the second coming of the Lord. Notably, Joseph Smith had many friends and foes over the course of his life because of the claims that he put forward. [More information about Joseph's experiences can be found through links at the end of this article.]

A little over one year after The Church was organized on April 6, 1830, following missionary work for spreading the news about the new church and the newly called prophet went out for the world to learn, came a puzzle, Using The Book of Mormon as evidence of his calling, many men went forward declaring to the world that Joseph Smith was God's new prophet to tell the world about Jesus and His reestablished church. The only issue that many of these ministers in the field took with dispensing this news is the lack of evidence.

"What is God saying right now" came the cry.

"He says to gather to Zion and build up His Kingdom" came the reply.

"Where is it written," followed that answer.

"Uhm... Well... I will get back to you. Here is The Book of Mormon in the meantime."

The Book of Mormon is a record of ancient people who lived in the Americas pre-Columbus. Almost two hundred years ago, there was no internet to spread information quickly. Word of mouth and printed documents were the means of dissemination. Joseph Smith had received revelation from God regarding the organization of the Church and the gathering of the Saints [church members] as often as the need arose. Those faithful missionaries wanted those new revelations to show to their potential converts that God continues to speak to prophets.

This new Book of Commandments would also need names attached to it to prove its validity to those 19-century potential hears.

The Lion We Know

With this in mind, Joseph Smith called a special conference of the Church to address the concerns of the ministers of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ on November 1, 1831. The leaders of the Church had determined that a book of the revelations given to Joseph should go to print by the name of The Book of Commandments. Ten thousand copies to print went the decision at the behest of the leaders of the church, ten elders. At the time, affidavits circulated to provide witnesses of the validity of a work. The Book of Mormon had 11 witnesses of its origin and divinity. This new Book of Commandments would also need names attached to it to prove its validity to those 19-century potential hears.

Joseph said that since the Lord had given the great blessing of so many revelations, the elders should decide what testimony they were willing to attach to the book. After several present arose and said they were willing to testify to the world, Joseph prepared a statement for the witnesses to sign. The contemporaneous minutes described it as a revelation. The conference adjourned for the day. And then the trouble began. [1]

What was the trouble? Joseph Smith was an "unlearned man" as history describes him. He did not have more formal education than a third-grade level! For him to put together words and for those in assembly to call it revelation brought with it a high cost for a number of those asked to witness to the credibility of the budding document.

This new document would be in answer to the faithless who claimed the prophet was a fraud and the faithful who declared him a servant of God. The elders did not doubt Joseph's calling. He was a lion of the Lord--one with whom they had become too familiar.

They knew Joseph was a prophet, and they knew the revelations were true, but they were embarrassed that the word of the Lord had come to them filtered through Joseph’s limited vocabulary and weak grammar. [2]

These men knew Joseph. They knew his penchant for joviality and his temperament. They knew his quirks and imperfections. Though he stood before them as a modern prophet of God, they were too familiar with him to tackle this burden with nothing short of a miracle! The witnesses of the Book of Mormon handled the gold plates Joseph used to translate. Some of them saw an angel who presented them with the record! What would God do for the witnesses of this new thing?

Replica of The Book of Commandments

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God chose an unpolished spokesman for His prophet. As He did with Moses, He would do with Joseph Smith Junior.

The Unpolished Man

Following a failed attempt to produce a preface for The Book of Commandmentsthat the conference could agree to, Joseph received a revelation to answer the commotion the dissenting views in the meeting produced.

In direct answer to the criticism of Joseph Smith's limited vocabulary came a clarification from Jesus Christ. Thus said the Lord,

...these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding. And inasmuch as they erred it might be made known; and inasmuch as they sought wisdom they might be instructed; and inasmuch as they sinned they might be chastened, that they might repent; and inasmuch as they were humble they might be made strong, and blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time [Doctrine and Covenants 1:24-28].

Who to them appeared at first a lion for greatness because of his calling as a prophet was now so common to them that the familiarity obscured his novelty which is what brought them together initially. Jesus explained to them that his limitations are no cause to fear or worry society would not take the revelations with the weight to which it should.

Jesus Christ assured the conference, "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; 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—the weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—but that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; that faith also might increase in the earth; that mine everlasting covenant might be established; that the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers" [D&C. 1:17-23]

God chose an unpolished spokesman for His prophet. As He did with Moses, He would do with Joseph Smith Junior. In another revelation through the prophet, God challenged the wisest of the men at the conference to duplicate what they consider to be the least of the revelations of Joseph Smith. If he could not, then they all must testify of the truthfulness of The Book of Commandments or suffer damnation found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 67.

William E. McLellin took the challenge with pen to write in the name of the Lord to show he could duplicate what Joseph had done. It failed. It failed, not because William lacked the talent to do so, but he lacked the conviction that he wrote in the name of Jesus Christ. In his history, Joseph Smith recorded,

The Elders and all present that witnessed this vain attempt of a man to imitate the language of Jesus Christ, renewed their faith in the fulness of the Gospel, and in the truth of the commandments and revelations which the Lord had given to the Church through my instrumentality; and the Elders signified a willingness to bear testimony of their truth to all the world [3].

There were no recorded angels visiting as occurred with the witnesses of the Book of Mormon. A revelation out of the mouth of a man speaking on behalf of Jesus Christ is all that would need to occur to remind those in attendance that Joseph was still the novelty they thought him to be at first, the lion standing terribly in the forest, a prophet.

Joseph Smith

Interesting Facts

  • One of the signers testifying of the validity of The Book of Commandments is a descendant of John Hancock, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His name was Levi Hancock.
  • Levi signed in pencil while the others signed in pen. When he noticed it, he annotated his signature with "never to be erased."
  • The press for The Book of Commandments was destroyed by a mob in Missouri who thought members of the Church were abolitionists because of their stand on slavery.
  • The Book of Commandments is the precursor for what is now The Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Rodric Anthony Johnson

Comments

Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on December 31, 2020:

Denise, Aesop's fables are great teaching tools if in the right hands. I hope I did not send out the wrong message. We overlook things that become too common I think to our disservice.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 30, 2020:

That's a good illustration about many who have a message but are later reviled. Aesop's Fables certainly have a lot of truth in them.

Blessings,

Denise

Rodric Anthony Johnson (author) from Surprise, Arizona on December 30, 2020:

Ruby, thanks for reading. I too believe that God looks at the heart and through Christ, we are saved by grace. Humility is a great cure for the ails in our society and in our individual characters. Happy Blessed New Year!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on December 30, 2020:

This was interesting. What do you think? There are so many beliefs, who is to say who is right? I believe God looks at the heart and we are saved by grace. In the Bible God chose men who were not highly educated.

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