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"The Fullness of the Gospel"
The gospel is a series of simple principles. that lead to success. In this case, they lead to spiritual success, amd so we use gospel language ("faith," "repentance," etc.). The principles are very simple, but the detailed application of those principles is of course unlimited.
The modern introduction to the Book of Mormon states that the Bible and Book of Mormon contain "the fullness of the gospel". Those principles are explained in greater clarity on the Book of Mormon than anywhere else.
|What is the gospel?|
I recently received an email that asked how the Book of Mormon could contain the fullness of the gospel, when it is possible to find teachings that are not contained in that book.
"The fullness of the gospel" is a widely misunderstood idea. This misunderstanding leads to the false idea that we need to understand complicated things in order to be saved. No wonder other Christians disagree with the restored gospel, if they think that is what it means!
I had a friend at university, an atheist, who asked me about "the fullness of the gospel" and the other revelations. He illustrated the issue with a glass of water being full and empty. (He was a good teacher!) His point was that, if the Book of Mormon contained a fullness, God could not add any more.
At the time I couldn't answer him. Later I read the Book of Mormon again and found the answer was there all the time. Since then I have found this happens quite often. I think something is a problem, then I read the scriptures again and find that the answer was there all the time!
What is the gospel?
The key to this is to ask "what is the gospel?" The Bible does not define it, but the Book of Mormon does.
(An interesting aside, given the topic: the Bible actually covers many MORE doctrines than the Book of Mormon. The difference is, the Book of Mormon, being edited and abridged by prophets, just focuses on the essential ones: the atonement of Christ, faith, repentance, etc.)
This is from 3 Nephi, chapter 27:13-21
"Behold I have given unto you my gospel, and this is the gospel which I have given unto you--that I came into the world to do the will of my Father, because my Father sent me.
And my Father sent me that I might be lifted up upon the cross; and after that I had been lifted up upon the cross, that I might draw all men unto me, that as I have been lifted up by men even so should men be lifted up by the Father, to stand before me, to be judged of their works, whether they be good or whether they be evil--
And for this cause have I been lifted up; therefore, according to the power of the Father I will draw all men unto me, that they may be judged according to their works.
And it shall come to pass, that whoso repenteth and is baptized in my name shall be filled; and if he endureth to the end, behold, him will I hold guiltless before my Father at that day when I shall stand to judge the world.
And he that endureth not unto the end, the same is he that is also hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence they can no more return, because of the justice of the Father.
And this is the word which he hath given unto the children of men. And for this cause he fulfilleth the words which he hath given, and he lieth not, but fulfilleth all his words.
And no unclean thing can enter into his kingdom; therefore nothing entereth into his rest save it be those who have washed their garments in my blood, because of their faith, and the repentance of all their sins, and their faithfulness unto the end.
Now this is the commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, this is my gospel; and ye know the things that ye must do in my church; for the works which ye have seen me do that shall ye also do; for that which ye have seen me do even that shall ye do."
So there we have it. The gospel is that Christ came to save us, and that we should have faith, repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost in order to become clean ready for judgement. Elsewhere it is stated that we should not teach more or less than this. So, put simply, the gospel is those fundamental principles that gets us near to God.
Modern prophets confirm this definition
Doctrine and Covenants 76:14 comes after a testimony of Jesus Christ:
"Of whom we bear record; and the record which we bear is the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ who is the Son, whom we saw and with whom we conversed in the heavenly vision."
Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., in "The Way to Perfection", p.335, refers to "the fullness of the Gospel; that is, knowledge of the saving principles by which men may come back into the presence of the Lord."
Neal A. Maxwell, in "Even As I Am", p.9, distinguishes between the gospel and the implications of the gospel: "Strangely, it is not only the fullness of the gospel that is rejected by some, but the fullness of its attending implications." In "Notwithstanding My Weakness" p.71, he refers to "The fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ ... with its interwoven and related truths,"
Joseph Smith instructed missionaries to prepare people for the fullness of the gospel, AND (in addition) the everlasting covenants (History of the Church, vol.1, p..280):
"Brethren, as stars of the ensign which is now set up for the benefit of all nations, you are to enlighten the world, you are to prepare the way for the people to come up to Zion; you are to instruct men how to receive the fullness of the Gospel, and the everlasting covenants, even them that were from the beginning"
Shouldn't the gospel contain EVERYTHING?
A little thought will show that "the gospel should contain everything" is a silly idea. No thinking person - including Joseph Smith - could entertain the notion for a moment.
- First, the gospel implies listening to God, and God is able to speak whenever he wants to. So God's words are never finished.
- Second, the gospel needs to be understood by all of God's children, not just those who can read and study.
- Third, much of the gospel can only be known by experience. It could not be reduced to writing.
Of course, these three self-evident truths were lost as a result of the Dark Ages, when the church lost its way and started to believe, like the ancient Pharisees, that everything it needed was contained in the written word.
What about all the other teachings?
Teachings are truths, the words of God. The word of God leads to faith. So truths are IMPLIED BY by the principle of faith, but are not identical with faith. (Because it is possible to accept truth without having faith. As James put it, "the devils also believe".)
Many teachings are in the Book of Mormon, as an aid to faith. But they are not the gospel. Sometimes we speak in general terms, as if "the gospel" means anything RELATED TO the gospel. But according to the words of Christ, the gospel is the simple principles.
Principles and applications
So there is a difference between a principle and the application of the gospel.
The gospel is simple and complete, but the application of the gospel is endless and increases in depth as we grow in maturity.
In the same way, the principle of truth is simple, but the applications of truth are endless.
The principle of education is simple, but the applications of education are endless.
The principle of love is simple, but the applications of love are endless.
The principle of computer programming is simple, but the applications of programming are endless.
And so on.
We could conceive of a well written textbook containing a principle in its fullness and perfection. But we would never dream that it would contain every possible application of that principle. What an absurd idea!
If the Book of Mormon can get you "nearer to God than by any other book", then why use any other book?
This is a good question. The answer is implied by the Bible itself. Critics of the church often use the epistles of Paul to demonstrate that the gospel is taught (though not defined) in the Bible. Fair enough. But think it through.
Paul wrote his epistles in the 50s and 60s AD. If the gospel was fully explained back then - people needed nothing more for salvation. Yet after that time, Peter, James and John wrote their epistles. They did not add anything to the gospel. But they did write true scripture.
Question: could a true Christian, who was saved after hearing Paul's preaching, safely ignore the later writings of Peter, James and John?
When you know the answer to that, you will know whether someone who has discovered the Book of Mormon needs to listen to the other revelations.
New revelations do not add anything to the gospel. But they do offer new truth. A follower of Christ will naturally want to follow truth.
Once we have got near to God, once we have been saved, we have to continue following God. This process of following is endless. It is implied by the principle of obedience (one of the principles of the gospel), but the principle itself is simple and clear cut.
What are ordinances?
The idea of ordinances can be a little confusing to non-members. What follows is my personal understanding, after many years in the church. For official statements and more details, see the official LDS web site and "All About Mormons" .
Baptism is an ordinance. The gift of the Holy Ghost is an ordinance. The Lord's Supper is an ordinance. Basically, an ordinance is a covenant that involves some physical act. If God has something for us to do, he gives it by covenant - we promise to do it, and he promises blessings in return. We promise to follow him through baptism, and he promises to make us his children. We promise to remember him through the sacrament and he promises to give us his Spirit to guide us. And so on.
How many sacred ordinances are there?
In principle, there is no end to the number of covenants Jesus could require of us. For example, when someone is ordained to a calling in the church, hands are laid on his head. He (in effect) promises to do his best in the calling, and God promises to give him the help he needs. Another example is healing - according to James this involves the laying on of hands and also annointing with oil. The sick person promises to have faith, and God promises to heal them (if that is God's will). Marriage is another ordinance. (It involves a covenant and a ritual). When Isaiah and John were given their comissions (involving the coal on the tongue, and eating the book) those were ordinances too.
I believe that God uses ordinances because he is the master teacher. We are more likely to remember something if we do it than if we just hear it. Thus, being born again means more to us if we are physically baptised. Remembering Jesus' death has more personal impact if we eat his flesh and drink his blood (symbolically). And so on. It just happens that in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints there are a number of ordinances. I have mentioned most of them, but in principle there could be an unlimited number. It would be misleading for me to say "there are seven essential ordinances" or any other fixed number.
Are the ordinances essential to salvation?
A person who accepts the gospel but rejects any further light (ordinances, teachings, whatever) does not really accept the gospel. They are in the identical position of a non-LDS Christian who accepts Paul but rejects Peter, James and John. While technically they may claim to follow the gospel, they are in fact apostate (literally "going away from" the church).
The gospel is simple (the atonement, faith, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit, following Christ, and eventual judgement). The gospel includes continued obedience to God. If we reject continued obedience to God, we have rejected the original gospel.
The Book of Mormon contains the fullness of the gospel: it contains a simple description of the gospel, together with enough examples of its application that we can understand it perfectly. No other book contains the gospel in such clarity. In fact, no other book can lead us to those with the authority to carry out the essential ordinances like baptism. Therefore the Book of Mormon can get us nearer to God than any other book.