" For it shall come to pass in that day that the churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord, when the one shall say unto the other: Behold, I, I am the Lord’s; and the others shall say: I, I am the Lord’s; and thus shall every one say that hath built up churches, and not unto the Lord—"
The Book of Mormon will become available to the remnant in a day when there will be "churches which are built up, and not unto the Lord." Generally this is interpreted by Latter-day Saints to mean OTHER churches, but not ours. However, the context requires all, including our own church, to be considered at risk as well. Here are the questions bearing on whether we (LDS) are among those being warned:
-Is the prophecy limited to the time before the Book of Mormon comes forth? (No; it will reach until the time when other records of the Lost Tribes are to come forth--a future event. (See, 2 Ne. 29: 13-14.)
-Is the prophecy about only those churches created by man, and not one intended to become Zion? (No; see verses 21-24.)
-Can a church established by the Lord become one which is not built up to Him? (Of course; see Eze. 44: 10; Isa. 53: 6; John 5: 39.)
Does the promise that the Lord will never abandon His latter-day work (D&C 138: 44) mean that the church He established will not drift into condemnation? (See D&C 84: 55-58.)
Should we, therefore, consider these warnings to be equally applicable to us as Latter-day Saints as to the larger community of churches?
Nephi warns that each church will claim it is the Lord's. Do we do that? Each will claim divine authority and approval. Do we do that? Each will assert it belongs to the Lord. Do we do that? But the question Nephi focuses upon is whether it is "unto the Lord."
What does it mean for a church to be "unto the Lord?" What would the opposite be?
How certain are we that what we do as a church is building up to the Lord? Do the procurement practices of the church "build up unto the Lord?" Does the auditor's report in General Conference even begin to allow you to make that determination? If some of the large and well-connected Latter-day Saint families own the businesses which contract with the church and have become wealthy by reason of trading with the church, is there some question which ought to be considered about "building up unto the Lord" in how business is conducted?
I explained how the church distinguishes between tithing money and "investment income" in a post on April 1, 2010. Does this seem consistent with the Lord's parable about the talents? (Luke 19: 20-23.) If in the parable, all returns realized on the money were the Lord's, why does the return on the Lord's tithing now become investment money to be used for commercial projects developing condominiums, shopping malls, banks, and other income-producing ventures? Who is benefiting? What careers and fortunes are being made? What families are being benefited? Are they the Lord?
Assuming the purpose of a church were to "build up unto the Lord" what single purpose would be most important? In the Book of Mormon, as I've explained earlier, the writers seek to have you trade unbelief for belief; then to trade belief for faith; then to come beyond faith and receive knowledge. The knowledge it would have you obtain is of Christ. (See Ether 3: 19.)
The lack of knowledge condemns a people who claim to be the Lord's. Nephi quoted Isaiah in 2 Nephi 15: 13: [You will not understand Nephi's purpose in quoting Isaiah if you are unacquainted with Nephi's Isaiah.] "Therefore, my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude dried up with thirst." Captivity comes from a lack of knowledge. Joseph Smith warned that "a man is saved no faster than he gains knowledge." (DHC 5: 588.) The ones who are considered "honorable" are "famished" because they lack knowledge. The "multitude" who follow the "honorable men" are in turn "dried up with thirst" because they are not taught enough to become saved. (2 Ne. 28: 14.)
If the Lord promises to never abandon His latter-day work (D&C 138: 44), does that mean men cannot abandon Him? Although men may abandon Him, can He work with you individually and "remember" His promises? Even if others are without knowledge, can you still obtain knowledge from Him? Though others may be "dried up with thirst" can you still obtain "living waters" from Him?
Can you rely upon the assertions from any church today that it is "built up unto the Lord?" How can you be "built up unto the Lord" even if you do not have any institution you can trust to bring to you that knowledge? Was the Lord always intended to be directly involved in your life? (Matt. 11: 27-30.)
If "captivity" comes from a lack of knowledge, and Joseph Smith tied knowledge to salvation, then why is the correlated curriculum of the church focusing less and less on doctrine? Why was the Relief Society and Priesthood Manual on Teachings of the Presidents volume on Joseph Smith carefully edited by the Correlation Department so as to support meanings somewhat different than Joseph's? If you think meanings were not changed, then go to the sources quoted in the History of The Church and read each of the whole statements made by Joseph from which the excerpts were taken. I leave it to you to decide if the edited versions in the church manual were or were not both incomplete and misleading. [Personally, I was dismayed. But I have a sensitivity to words that is quite acute, and therefore something left out that is important to me may not be significant to you. You must decide that question for yourself. You will find it an interesting exercise even if you disagree with my conclusion.]
If a church claims to be built up to the Lord, but does not attempt to confer knowledge of the Lord upon people, then how are you to seek after this knowledge? [We are going to be discussing Nephi's instruction to us about this very subject for the coming weeks. So keep the question in mind as we go forward.]
Remember this is the promised day when all are intended to grow into knowledge of the Lord, from the least to the greatest. (See, e.g., JS-H 1: 41 and Joel 2: 28-29; and D&C 84: 96-97.) "Those who remain" will remain because they have "knowledge" that will save them. Hence Joseph's teaching about the link between "knowledge" and "salvation." Also, the captivity spoken of by Nephi because people lack knowledge.
Go back to the post on Lecture 6 of the Lectures on Faith, April 21, 2010. If your church encourages you to become part of a broad mainstream without asking for the sacrifice of all things, then it is not requiring you to take the steps necessary to develop faith to save you. Rest assured, however, the Lord still has the same requirements, and He will work directly with you to develop you into a person who has the required knowledge. It was always intended to be individual. It is your quest. Others may encourage you along, but you must confront the process for yourself.
[Now, as a complete aside, I want to address the misapplication and overreaching misinterpretation of the idea one is "evil speaking" when a person explains something that concerns them. First, we are dealing with the souls of men. We are addressing salvation itself. If there is an error in doctrine or practice, everyone has an obligation to speak up, from the least to the greatest. (D&C 20: 42, 46-47, 50-51, 59, among other places.) Second, the "truth" cannot ever be "evil." Though the truth may cut with a two edged sword, truth is not and cannot be "evil." Therefore, if someone should say something that is untrue or in error, then correct their doctrine, show the error, but do not claim what is good to be evil, nor support what is evil by calling it good. (2 Ne. 15: 20.) Using a broad generalization to stifle a discussion of the truth is a trick of the devil, who is an enemy to your soul. It is not the way of our Lord. He was always open to questions, always willing to answer questions, ever willing to speak the truth even when it caused those with authority over Him to be pained by His words. We must follow Him, and not men, in that example. Even if we would personally prefer to not endure insults but remain silent. So, rather than condemn something as "evil speaking" that you believe to be wrong, explain the error and bring us all into greater understanding. But if something is true, then even if it disturbs your peace of mind, it cannot be evil.]