Mormons 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]
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.”
[i] 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.