The Unfinished Restoration: A Global Vision

Andrewapologetics, book of mormon, LDS, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, prophets, religion, restoration, theology 21 Comments

GlobeMormons tend to think of the Restoration as a discrete series of events that began with the First Vision and concluded with the Martyrdom. Because we tend to view the Restoration as something that has already occurred, we don’t seem to talk much about whether there is something more we can and should be doing to complete it. However, there is an aspect of the Restoration that is unfinished, and which seems to be largely overlooked.

That unfinished aspect of the Restoration is the gathering of God’s words to all nations in one. It began with the publication of the Book of Mormon, and continued with the Book of Moses and Book of Abraham, but its current status is uncertain. This unfinished aspect of the Restoration has not been forgotten, however. In fact, Elder Oaks reminded us about it at a recent General Conference when he stated: “the Lord will eventually cause the inspired teachings He has given to His children in various nations to be brought forth for the benefit of all people.”[i]

Elder Oaks’ reminder about this unfinished aspect of the Restoration raises some inevitable questions: when will God’s words to all nations be gathered together, who will do the gathering, and where and how will that gathering take place? These are the questions I will be addressing in a multi-part series of posts. But first, we should cover some necessary background about why these questions are being raised in the first place.

A World Full of Scripture

The Book of Mormon declares: (1) that God speaks the “same words” to “all nations”; (2) that He commands all nations to “write the words” he speaks to them; and (3) that one day God’s words to all nations will be “gathered in one.”[ii] It is difficult to overstate how radical a concept this was in Joseph Smith’s time and place. It shattered the conventional Christian view that God had spoken only to the ancient Israelites as recorded in the Bible. By declaring that God speaks to “all nations,” the Book of Mormon opened the cannon of scripture not only to make room for itself, but also to conceivably include books of scripture from India, China, and all over the globe. Which raises an inevitable question: where are these books of scripture that record God’s words to other nations, and what can or should we be doing to find them?

A World Full of Prophets, Inspired Men, and Servants of God

The Book of Mormon’s declaration that God speaks to “all nations” also raises the questions of who, specifically, God has spoken to in each nation, and how those divinely-inspired messengers fit into Mormonism. The following quotes from LDS Apostles provide some answers to these questions:

All down the ages . . . good and great men, not bearing the Priesthood, but possessing profundity of thought, great wisdom, and a desire to uplift their fellows, have been sent by the Almighty into many nations, to give them, not the fulness of the Gospel, but that portion of truth that they were able to receive and wisely use.[iii]

The great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.[iv]

We are indebted to the men and women who kept the light of faith and learning alive through the centuries to the present day. . . . We honor them as servants of God.[v]

It is likewise difficult to overstate how radical a belief this is for a Christian church: that Mohammed, Confucius, and others falling outside the Christian tradition were “servants of God” who were “sent by the Almighty” to “enlighten whole nations.”

Thus, the Book of Mormon provides not only a vision of a world full of scripture, but also of a world full of prophets, inspired men, and servants of God. So, for example, while the Pope and other Christian leaders continue to condemn Mohammed and his teachings to this day, a prominent Mormon scholar can publish a laudatory book entitled Muhammad, Prophet of God without any negative reaction whatsoever from Mormon leaders.

The Church as a Central Repository for All Truth in the World

The Book of Mormon’s description of a world full of scripture and divinely-inspired truth just waiting to be “gathered in one” naturally caused our early leaders to envision the Church as a central repository for all truth in the world. This was not an exclusive claim; to the contrary, it was a highly inclusive claim. It was inclusive because it was to be accomplished in part by incorporating into Mormonism truths that other divinely-inspired messengers in other nations of the world already had, as opposed to relying exclusively on Mormon prophets to provide new truths that were unavailable to the rest of the world. To accomplish this truth-gathering, Mormons would search everywhere for truth, and Mormon prophets, as the authoritative gatekeepers, would sift truth from error and decide what qualified to be “gathered in.” Consider these quotes, for example:

For me, the plan of salvation must … circumscribe [all] the knowledge that is upon the face of the earth, or it is not from God. Such a plan incorporates every system of true doctrine on the earth, whether it be ecclesiastical, moral, philosophical, or civil: it . . . takes from the right and the left, and brings all truth together in one system, and leaves the chaff to be scattered hither and thither.”[vi]
Brigham Young

We should gather all the good and true principles in the world and treasure them up, or we shall not come out as true “Mormons.”[vii]Joseph Smith

One of the grand fundamental principles of “Mormonism” is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.
. . . If by the principles of truth I succeed in uniting men of all denominations in the bonds of love, shall I not have attained a good object?[viii] Joseph Smith

Thus, the Mormon prophets’ exclusive claim to authority was certainly not an exclusive claim to inspiration. Rather, they viewed their priesthood authority as empowering them to discern and identify truth so that they could gather all the truths given to other divinely-inspired messengers in “all nations.” Moreover, the entire Church membership was enlisted to participate in this global truth-gathering, being instructed to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom,”[ix] and to “become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.”[x]

Thus, the vision was of a Church that embraced all truths and their divinely-inspired messengers in all nations, and whose leaders and members were outward-looking, open to accepting truth from unfamiliar sources, appreciative of all peoples, and self-educated about the world.

In the next part of this series, I will discuss possible ways Church members can realize this global vision more fully, and to identify the lost and scattered truths and books of scripture that the Book of Mormon foretells will be “gathered in one.”

Elder Oaks, Conference Report, Apr. 2006.[ii] 2 Ne. 29:7-14.[iii] Orson F. Whitney, Conference Report, Apr. 1921, pp. 32-33 [quoted by Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18].[iv] Elder James E. Faust, “Communion with the Holy Spirit,” Ensign, May 1980, 12 (emphasis added).[v] Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 84.[vi] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 7:148 [quoted by Howard W. Hunter, “The Gospel-A Global Faith,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 18].[vii] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:517.[viii] Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 5:499.[ix] D&C 209:7.[x] D&C 90:15.

Comments 21

  1. Curses. I guess I need to go out and purchase and English-Arabic copy of the Quran. I’ve been meaning to do this, but now I really need to do this. Great, what will my wife think?

  2. Andrew,

    What is your opinion of what it means to “gather in”? When I heard this as a kid, I always assumed the lost ten tribes would come out from behind a glacier and hand a moldy manuscript over to the President of the Church.

    Does “gathering in” mean, as you seem to imply, the selective individual appropriation of the world’s religious texts? So I can select which of the suras come from God, which from man, and which from the devil, to paraphrase Joseph Smith? If so, this opens up radical departures for the interpretation of the LDS canon…

  3. John, great question, and you’re getting ahead to part 2! I agree that seems to be the typical view (to the extent anyone even thinks about it) that the books will be gathered together when the lost 10 tribes come down from the north and the city of Enoch comes down from heaven. I’m just not sure it’s supposed to work that way.

    I’m interested in hearing more about why you believe “this opens up radical departures for the interpretation of the LDS canon.” I guess what I mean is, I’m not sure why a greater recognition and application of these principles would require us to tinker with the LDS canon at all. My understanding is that the “canon” is very narrow (i.e., the “standard works), and doesn’t officially include many sources of truth we nevertheless rely upon frequently, e.g., General Conference addresses, curriculum and lesson manuals, Ensign articles, C.S. Lewis quotes, etc. So if we can rely upon General Conference addresses and C.S. Lewis quotes notwithstanding the fact that they haven’t been canonized yet, I’m not sure why we would need to tinker with the canon to likewise rely upon the Dhammapada or Qur’an, etc., to the extent they agree with the standard works.

    My purpose here in this first post is mainly to encourage us all to have a broad view and open mind about potential sources of spiritual truth around the world, and to demonstrate how that principle is either explicitly or implicitly contained in our scriptures and statements of church leaders, though perhaps not fully recognized and applied yet by the average Mormon our local wards and stakes.

  4. P.S., due to the lack of comments on this post thus far, I am beginning to see that not only are these principles often overlooked, but nobody is even interested in talking about them! 🙂

    I hereby call you all to repentance! Repent! Repent! Your slings and arrows cannot touch me! 🙂

  5. Andrew,

    You’re just so far above us! Three names come to mind, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Andrew Ainsworth!

  6. I am not sure when we say we gather in all truth, that is applies to looking under every rock to find it. I think the truth must be associated with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The way that is revealed is through scripture, both currently in our possession and yet to be discovered and that which is revealed by Prophets through revelation. Otherwise, I think we would have already incorporated the “truth” from other religions and their texts, most of which have long existed before the church. There is no movement in that direction that I am aware of. No quotes in GC from the Talmud or Koran, for example.

    And, I don’t think I can carry all those to church in my little scripture bag.

  7. Jeff,

    Good point. But there are quotes in General Conference from Les Miserables and the Music Man. Do these musicals have more to say to us than the founding texts of world religions?


    I guess I was thinking of how we approach the products of revelation in the Church. If the concept of the Restoration can include truths revealed to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Sikhs, we are obviously committed to a filtering or sifting process to determine what is in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ergo, if we are engaged in a sifting process, say we as LDS accept a principle in the Quran which enjoins us to give alms to the needy at a certain percentage in a certain spirit but reject the description of heaven as a male-centered paradise with fruits, cooling fans, and beautiful virgins attending to our every need, why stop with the Quran? Why not apply the same selective approach to the LDS canon?

    The Song of Solomon is in the canon, right? I mean, it’s very presence in the LDS version of the Bible has added to that crink in my neck I get from carrying the scriptures around…

  8. Would this interpretation change what we regard as ‘scripture reading’? If something is part of the official canon, then I guess we know it is from God. Should our families be actively searching for truth in books other than the standard works? Maybe scripture studying time could be devoted to reading the classics of literature, philosophy, history and relating them to gospel principles.

  9. “Do these musicals have more to say to us than the founding texts of world religions?’

    Same message, less controversy!

  10. John N. (#6) you smart aleck. I love it. I’m going to delete your comment. Okay maybe not. It’s too funny. But thank you for indulging me on a topic that is near and dear to my heart and that I’m passionate about.

    Your comment in #8 above is exactly what I’m getting at. If we quote Les Misrables to the extent it is in harmony with well-known gospel principles, then why not also quote the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching, the Dhammapada, etc. to the extent they likewise harmonize with the Gospel? It seems there is an ocean of spirituality and truth that we’re not fully tapping into yet because of that magical, powerful word: Tradition.

  11. dpc, great question. When I was on my mission, a sister showed me an old Relief Society manual that contained works of literature as the curriculum. She said they used to study literary works known for containing spiritual truth. It’s all part of the searching out the best books that we’re admonished to do in D&C. Scripture can be narrowly defined as that which has been officially “canonized,” e.g., the “standard works,” or can be defined broadly as anything spoken under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which has been written down. So whether or not studying the Bhagavad Gita equates to “scripture study” would depend on your definition of “scripture.” In my follow-up post, I’ll be addressing these definitions of scripture, canonization, etc. So you’re going exactly where I am with this.

  12. I also think that the missionary program of the church may play a role in finding truth. I think a lot of missionaries go out thinking, “I’ve got something to tell the world!”, but come back thinking “Wow, the world had a lot to teach me!” There are a lot of things that I learned from Japanese culture that would be great if they implemented here. (On the other hand, there are a lot things that are not positive). Missionary experiences may also become scripture. They may not be strictly doctrinal, but I’m sure a that a lot of missionary experiences become parts of lessons and talks for years afterwards.

  13. dpc, great points. As Mark Twain said: Travel cures prejudice. We think we know it all until we realize how much everyone else knows already, and then realize what they know that we haven’t fully realized yet.

  14. Andrew,

    I truly love this perspective. It would bring me great joy to learn that general membership and leadership grew to see things as expansively and as inclusively as you do.

    I believe that we are slowly moving towards your vision — but I see you as visionary…and I see the rest of us working towards this goal.

    Thanks for sharing such wonderful thoughts! May we all pay attention!!!

  15. John D. (#15) Your comment is way too kind. And to be clear, it was Joseph and Brigham’s vision, not mine, and it has been reiterated by Elders Hunter, Faust, Oaks, and many others. And I too hope we can discover a way to bring that global vision to pass.

  16. Add my name to the list of those who appreciate this perspective. In particular I like how you try to bring balance to it. Some see a vision of this and quickly lean towards thinking that means everything is the same and suddenly the restored Gospel is nothing special other than yet another nice path like all the others. Other folks reject this view out of hand and stay narrowly confined. As you rightly point out, Joseph and Brigham and modern Apostles and Prophets have this amazingly open, expansive, and yet properly defined vision of truth. We have a core of canon we can and should rely upon, and yet that very canon and the Prophets teach us to be open to and looking for truth everywhere and seeking to incorporate it into what we know. So when in my studies of science or cultures or whatever I find something that rings true in my mind and heart, I don’t have to view it as a potential competitor with the Gospel, it is actually part of the Gospel itself. I think I’ve always lived on this basis, but thank you for articulating it well.

  17. “So when in my studies of science or cultures or whatever I find something that rings true in my mind and heart, I don’t have to view it as a potential competitor with the Gospel, it is actually part of the Gospel itself.”

    Jamal, I think that says it perfectly. Thanks!

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  20. Andrew,

    I sense of thawing of thought and an expansion of vision here. Thank you. You’d never have gotten this enthusiastic hearing back in the days of President Benson.

    When I was a missionary in Thailand our introductions were often greeted cheerfully with a phrase that I have come to value more and more over the years, “Each and every religion teaches men to be good.” At the time it felt like an pat answer that drove us crazy but now it shines for me like a bit of gold in a stream bed.

    I have to chuckle at my repeating the official line when I was a missionary that reincarnation is incorrect. I’ve long since come to believe—in part through the writings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young—that reincarnation is one of the facts of life just over the horizon of mortality.

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