Moroni 6:1-9 – policies and practices of the Nephite church – LeGrand Baker

Mormon tells us almost nothing about the organization of the early Nephite church, and very little about how the church operated after the Savior came. Moroni does not tell us much more. Here he gives us only the barest of details. And even these tell us only about the policies and practices regarding the members of the church.

The first thing he tells us appears to be about their practice of rebaptisms:

1 And now I speak concerning baptism. Behold, elders, priests, and teachers were baptized; and they were not baptized save they brought forth fruit meet that they were worthy of it.
2 Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.
3 And none were received unto baptism save they took upon them the name of Christ, having a determination to serve him to the end (Moroni 6:1-3).

His statement about who was baptized is most interesting. Apparently he does not mention a person’s initial baptism, but rather reports, “elders, priests, and teachers were baptized.” Since he gives no explanation, we are left to only guess about what the policies were. My guess is that there was a formal re-commitment that was validated by a rebaptism whenever someone received an advancement in the priesthood. Rebaptisms seem to have been relatively common among the Nephites, {1} and they were also frequently performed in the early LDS church. {2}

The reason baptism can be used to represent so many different milestones in our lives is that it can represent so many endings and new beginnings: Cleansing, remission of sins, burial and resurrection, born again, birth and death, entrance into the church, renewal of oneself (Romans 6:1-13; Mosiah 18:8-14; D&C 20:23-28; D&C 128:12-13; Moses 6:58-61).

The rest of what Moroni tells us about the practices in the Nephite church is almost exactly like our own. The members were given the gift of the Holy Ghost and then looked after by other church members. Moroni describes what could easily be read as home teaching and Relief Society visiting teaching.

4 And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.

Doctrine and Covenants 20 places the same requirements on Latter-day Saints. For example, the duties of the Elders are:

41 And to confirm those who are baptized into the church, by the laying on of hands for the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, according to the scriptures;
42 And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church;
46 The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, ….
47 And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties…..
51 And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties. ….
53 The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
54 And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking;
55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty (D&C 20:41-55).

Their meetings were also similar to our own. Verse 5 could easily be a description of our own fast and testimony meetings:

5 And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls.

They, like us, met often to partake of the sacrament:

6 And they did meet together oft to partake of bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

For them, as for us, membership in the church was a privilege, not a right. The privilege was earned by obedience to the laws, covenants, and commandments of the gospel. Persons who were not willing to keep the commandments were excommunicated, but, just as in the present church, if they repented they were welcomed back into full fellowship.

7 And they were strict to observe that there should be no iniquity among them; and whoso was found to commit iniquity, and three witnesses of the church did condemn them before the elders, and if they repented not, and confessed not, their names were blotted out, and they were not numbered among the people of Christ.
8 But as oft as they repented and sought forgiveness, with real intent, they were forgiven.

To Latter-day Saints who are accustomed to well structured meetings that are conducted the same way all over the world, Moroni’s description of their meetings might sound a bit chaotic, but that need not have been so. Moroni tells us:

9 And their meetings were conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit, and by the power of the Holy Ghost; for as the power of the Holy Ghost led them whether to preach, or to exhort, or to pray, or to supplicate, or to sing, even so it was done.

The form of our meetings are now set by church policy. However, the content of our meeting is still “conducted by the church after the manner of the workings of the Spirit.”We expect that the person presiding will receive inspiration about who should speak about what, and who should pray. The speakers’ message, the selection of hymn, and the prayers are all expected to be under the inspiration of the th Holy Ghost. The Lord told the Prophet Joseph,

2 But notwithstanding those things which are written, it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit (D&C 62:2).

The Church is, and has always been, a social and cultural organization whose ordinances and covenants are unchanging, but whose other policies and practices are consistent with the culture of its people. Everything that is not pure doctrine is, and has been subject to change. For example, in the Victorian Age long dresses were necessary because it was considered immoral for women to let their ankles show. Because it was equally immoral among Church members the women who crossed the plains did so in great, long skirts. Now, when culture has changed so that skirts are shorter and women can wear pants in the workplace, it is not immoral for Church members to wear short skirts and pants. Even the presentation of the temple drama has evolved along with American cultural tastes.

Even though some definitions of right and wrong, and some policies and practices may be adapted to the culture of the people, others may not. Priesthood authority is eternal, and the ordinances and covenants remain constant because they relate to, and help define our present and eternal relationships with our Heavenly Father and the Savior.

The reason to have a church organization is another of those constants. No matter what the time, place, or culture, the purposes of the church are to administer the sacred ordinances and covenants, and to bless the members and to give them opportunity to bless others, and to provide a social and sub-cultural bulwark to sustain the righteous. Those were the reasons for the Nephite church, the New Testament church, and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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FOOTNOTES

{1} I have written two short essays about that. You can find them using the search engine. They are: “Alma 7:14-16 – the many uses of re-baptism” and “Mosiah 18:9-30, The covenants of Baptism.”

{2}The Encyclopedia of Mormonism explains:

Rebaptism is rare among Latter-day Saints in modern times. Historically, however, many members were rebaptized as an act of rededication. This was first practiced in Nauvoo and was continued in the Utah Territory. Rebaptism served as a ritual of recommitment but was not viewed as essential to salvation. Members often sought rebaptism when called to assist in colonization or to participate in one of the united orders. On some occasions, the Saints were rebaptized as they prepared for marriage or entrance into the temple. Early members also rebaptized some of the sick among them as an act of healing. Because of misuse by some Church members, all such practices of rebaptism were discontinued in 1897. (“Rebaptism” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow [New York: Macmillan, 1992], 1194.)

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