Lesson 20: “My Soul Is Pained No More”
All the followers of Alma and Limhi were now safely gathered to Zarahemla. King Mosiah would now have to determine what to do with them. This determining began with a sharing of the records of both Limhi and Alma to the residents of Zarahemla. They would both rejoice and weep over the events accounted to them. Obviously, the people were prepared for long readings of the events, as such accounts could not have been handled in a short time. Perhaps the readings even took days to complete, we do not know for certain.
Afterward, the disposition of Limhi and Alma's peoples needed to be determined. Obviously, there could not be two kings of the people, and given this was Mosiah's kingdom, Limhi would have to surrender his kingdom. There is no evidence given of the Limhites being granted a land of their own, such as will occur later on with the converted Lamanite people called the Ammonites. In the current scenario, it seems the people do not remain a tribe of the Nephites, but are fully absorbed, as they call themselves Nephites.
How must King Limhi have felt to lose his kingdom, power and authority? With the Limhites now called Nephites, he no longer ruled, as only direct descendants of the prophet Nephi were rulers.
Imagine the feelings of the children of Noah's priests. Their fathers abandoned them to die at the hands of the Lamanites. Their fathers abandoned their mothers and carried off young maidens instead. They never tried to enquire regarding their families. It is noteworthy that while the people of Limhi and Alma were "numbered with the Nephites" (Mosiah 25:13), only the children of Noah's priests rejected their own fathers and chose to be the "children of Nephi" in a formal adoption (vs 12). They would not carry with them the stigma of being the children of evil parents, but would instead be the children of Nephi.
While Limhi may not have received any benefit except new citizenship and baptism, Alma is allowed by Mosiah to make churches in the land of Zarahemla (Mosiah 25:19-23). Didn't Zarahemla already have churches of God in the land before Alma? If so, why would Alma need to create more?
A search of the Book of Mormon for the following words: church(es) andsynagogue(s), shows that prior to Mosiah 18 (when Alma baptized his people at the waters of Mormon and started his church), we find that all references to the terms apply to either the apostate Jerusalem church in Nephi's day, or to the future churches of the Lamb and Devil in the last days. There is no reference that I could find regarding a church being established by the Nephites prior to Alma.
In other words, Alma may very well have formed the first church among the Nephites. The focus prior to this time was either family worship (altar in the wilderness) or national worship (at temple) of God. That King Benjamin gave a religious sermon at the national temple to all his people, who stayed in tents (miniature tabernacles), rather than having prophet-priests teaching them in their own churches, suggests that the concept of a church had not yet developed.
In developing his own religious group, Alma discovered that he personally could only teach and guide so many people, before the work became too arduous and unruly. He determined that ordaining a priest for every 50 people allowed the priest to manage the small flock well on a daily/weekly basis, with Alma able to move around between flocks to care for all of them as needed. It is very likely that King Mosiah found this organization very useful and as a prophet and seer himself, authorized Alma to establish churches throughout the land of Zarahemla. We may note that Alma was not necessarily given authority over the temple worship/sacrifice, but that possibly remained in King Mosiah's hands.
Another thing to consider: while Nephi previously spoke about baptism, it does not seem to have become a general practice among the Nephites until Alma, when "whosoever were desirous to take upon them the name of Christ, or of God, they did join the churches of God" (Mosiah 25:23). As noted in Mosiah 18, baptism was required for entrance into the church.
With this division of labor between church/synagogues of Alma, and temple of King Mosiah, it may be that we see different levels of authority, as well as different practices under the law of Moses. As in the days of Jesus, while many priests actively offered sacrifice in the temple, John the Baptist baptized in distant rivers. Similarly, while the early Christian Church required the Jewish converts to be circumcised and serving in the temple; Paul's Gentile converts had a different set of requirements to join the Church: faith, repentance and baptism. We may be seeing such a grand transformation of the Nephite religion with the work of King Mosiah and Alma, as well.
With the power that Alma desired of Mosiah to establish the Church, came authority and responsibility. Alma and his priests found that the children of many of their new converts did not believe. They refused baptism and membership into the church. They enticed members to join them in sin. For Alma, it was obviously a case for the king. As a wise king, Mosiah understood that authority given meant the new leader would have to solve his own problems. This wasn't an issue that was threatening the kingdom or the temple, but was threatening the destruction of Alma's church.
The Lord revealed to Alma (after much wrestling with the Spirit) that the issue was one of faith and repentance. For those who would repent, including humbly confessing their sins, they would be kept within the fold. Meanwhile, those who refused to confess faith or repent would be excommunicated. This would protect the Church from those who could possibly destroy it from within, while allowing the unbelievers their freedom to not be members.
In today's Church, many local leaders prefer to do as Alma initially did, and hide away from the responsibility that is theirs. I knew of a ward, where a series of bishops tucked away letters from unbelievers requesting to have their names removed from the records. Their hope was if they ignored it, then perhaps these would someday change their minds. Instead, leaving them on the records of the church only caused these individuals annoyance anytime someone contacted them. It was a courageous and tenacious bishop who finally cleared out almost 15 years worth of letters over a 3 month period of time. What these previous bishops did not understand is that retaining people who did not want to be retained hurt the church's relationship in the community and sometimes with its own members.
This, perhaps, became one of the keys to Alma's church surviving and often thriving. It did not force people to be in its ranks. It showed Christ's mercy by also being merciful to those who confessed and repented of their sins. It also protected itself by removing those who were like cancers in the church. And sometimes those cancers can be very close to home.
Contentions and persecutions arise in the Nephite nation to the extent that laws are passed by King Mosiah to forbid non-believers from persecuting Alma's Church. Note that King Mosiah still has his own priests (Mosiah 27:1), so Alma's church is not necessarily the only religious establishment around that is accepted by God or by King Mosiah.
Interestingly, Mosiah sent a proclamation for the unbelievers to not persecute the church, but Alma had to direct his church members to not persecute anyone, either. Clearly, we have a rule that benefits one group, and not all, as the proclamation does not prevent church members from persecuting non-members. We could consider Alma's church a privileged class, given extra consideration by the king to ensure that it not only survives, but thrives.
Among the unbelievers are those that actively seek the destruction of the church of Alma. Among these are the sons of King Mosiah and also the son of Alma. We do not know whether they were against all belief in God, or if they were only against the teachings and practices of Alma's church. It is possible that Mosiah's priests performed the works of the temple and the Mosaic Law for the nation, and Alma's church would be a new development that was separate from the official national religion. As Saul in the New Testament sought to destroy the Christian faith, being a threat to Jewish teachings and rituals, so these young men may have set out to protect the Law of Moses from an upstart religion. Why would Alma the younger be an "idolatrous" (27:8) man? Because the Law of Moses is to lead us to Christ, and not be the fulfillment in itself. As with the priests of Noah, they may have believed that salvation came through Moses and his Law.
Again, it is also possible that Alma and the sons of Mosiah were rebellious youth, not believing at all in the things of God, or perhaps even worshiping another god entirely. As noted in previous lessons, it is very probable that the Nephites had absorbed many other nations already here, and would have also absorbed the local gods of the peoples, as well. Perhaps these youth were angered that Mosiah would give preference to one religion over the others, by establishing laws that protected Alma's church, but did not include protection for the other religions among the people.
Regardless of what/who Alma worshiped, he set out to destroy his father's church. Flattery seems to be the preferred tool of those that seek to lead people away from God. It is easy to use one good concept to beat up on other virtues of the gospel. Today, we have the virtues of freedom, fairness, etc., being used to excuse sin and even try to justify evil works as normal. We can imagine young Alma doing the same thing in his day to entice people away from the gospel's teachings and convince them to accept a different world view that embraced sin, calling good evil and evil good.
That it took an angel's chastisement to get their attention is instructive. Laman and Lemuel were also castigated by an angel, and they were humbled for a time. Why did Alma and Mosiah's sons have a true and lasting change of heart, and Lehi's sons did not? We'll get into Alma's conversion story later (Alma 36), as it is very instructive on many levels for us. For the sons of Mosiah, they also fell to the earth when the angel trumpeted his demand to stop harming the church of God.
It is obvious that they all experienced a "mighty change of heart", as the young Alma noted as he arose from his coma:
"I have repented of my sins, and have been redeemed of the Lord; behold I am born of the Spirit.And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.I say unto you, unless this be the case, they must be cast off; and this I know, because I was like to be cast off.Nevertheless, after wading through much tribulation, repenting nigh unto death, the Lord in mercy hath seen fit to snatch me out of an everlasting burning, and I am born of God" (Mosiah 27:24-28).
The concept that we must be "born again" means we must allow the old person die. One cannot just rearrange the old molecules, but must allow a major replacement of the whole cloth. We must become "new creatures" in Christ, or we cannot be born again. Without being born anew, we will die and be cast off as dead. Only the new born children of God, the living, may inherit the kingdom of God.
Mosiah's sons were also vigorous in bearing witness of their lives, traveling throughout the Nephite lands trying to repair the damage they previously had done. In describing their efforts, we are reminded of Abinadi's preaching among the people of wicked king Noah:
"And how blessed are they! For they did publish peace; they did publish good tidings of good; and they did declare unto the people that the Lord reigneth" (Mosiah 27:37).
"Now they (sons of Mosiah) were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble.And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them; nevertheless they suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities, suffering much and fearing that they should be cast off forever" (Mosiah 28:3-4).
They felt themselves the vilest of sinners, and needed to fix what they had destroyed. Why then, did they feel a need to go to the land of Nephi to preach the gospel to the Lamanites, which they had never seen? Was it to fix the damage caused by another king (Noah) among the Lamanites? Clearly, Nephite reputations were not helped by Noah's antics, nor the wars his pride (and that of his people) engendered. As noted in Mosiah 27:37, perhaps it was to redeem Abinadi's words in the land of Nephi? Here we begin to see a parallel story. Years before, King Mosiah sent a group of men to see what had happened with Zeniff and his people in the land of Nephi. This group was led by a man named Ammon, who felt himself unworthy to baptize King Limhi's people. Still, he was able to help physically save the people from slavery and possible destruction.
Now, we see another Ammon going to the land of Nephi. This time, he also feels unworthy of God, but righteous enough to baptize and preach repentance. In this mission, Ammon and his brethren will save the Lamanites in the land of Nephi from spiritual slavery and destruction. Of course, this story will detailed later in the Book of Mormon's saga regarding the Land of Nephi.