The Book of Mormon is a historic record of an actual civilization who populated the American continent. Their dealings with one another, and encounters with God, are in fact literal events that affected real people. Christ appeared and ministered to many people following His resurrection, and the Book of Mormon is a record of one these visits.
The historicity of the Book of Mormon is not its primary feature, nor is it the most relevant. Many books that are historically authentic will not bring you closer to Christ. They are inspired by false spirits conspiring to lead you astray. The Quran, for example, was written in actual history. The encounters Muhammed had with spiritual beings may have even been legitimate, but it does not ensure they were of God. Historical authenticity does not guarantee something is “true,” in the sense that it is from God. Even those who have had authentic spiritual experiences with beings on the other side are not necessarily inspired by a true spirit.
Conversely, many of the parables taught by Jesus did not take place in actual history, but do teach true principles about the Kingdom of God. They’re inspired by the Spirit of God, and are intended to bring you closer to Him. The most important factor is not whether these parables actually happened somewhere in space and time, but rather that they are inspired by a true spirit. Does abiding their precepts bring you closer to God?
Try the Spirits
Like John wrote to the early Christians, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:1-2). There is some historical context to this verse that gets overlooked sometimes, and that is that there were Gentile converts to Christianity who were pushing for the idea that Christ did not come in the flesh to die. They felt it didn’t make sense to have a God who could be killed, so they tried to conform Christianity to their paradigm. John was giving them a key to discern false spirits.
Here’s Joseph’s claim about the Book of Mormon: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Book of Mormon, Introduction).
What is the “spirit” of the Book of Mormon? Whether you believe the Book of Mormon or not, I’d suggest reading through it with the intention of discerning its spirit. As you do, compare it to the spirit that inspired the Sermon on the Mount, and other teachings of Christ. Does it help you better understand God’s character? Does it fill you with more light? Does it edify you? Does it comfort you the way God has? Does living the way it invites you to live fill you with pure love for those around you?
Remember that no important truth God asserts will go unopposed by Satan. He will stop at nothing to prevent you from getting any closer to God than you presently are. Therefore, as you read, ask yourself which spirit compels you to reject the Book of Mormon. Is it one of fear? Pride? If it makes you uncomfortable, why? Is it because it dulls your sensibilities and leads you away from God? Does God’s spirit urge you to disbelieve it?
By Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gave another key to discern false prophets: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
Does making an effort to live its precepts produce good or evil fruit in your life? Paul wrote to the Galatians,
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” (Galatians 5:19-23, NKJV)
Which effect does doing what it says have on you? Do you feel more inclined towards immorality? Idolatry? Jealousy? Selfishness? Anger? Pride? Contention? Does it cause you to feel that you are better than others? Does it close your mind off to receiving more truth from God? Does it lead you to violate one of the ten commandments, or Christ’s teachings? I personally do not believe the evidence, both internal and external to the text, compels the honest seeker to conclude that Joseph Smith fabricated the Book of Mormon. At the very least, an angel and some plates were involved (I’ll revisit these evidences in another post). The real question is, was the angel from God? The people and events in the Book of Mormon could even be historically authentic, but none of that matters unless they were inspired by a true spirit.
If the prophets of the Book of Mormon lead you to be less Christlike, you can set them down as false prophets. If following the Christ of the Book of Mormon causes you to exhibit the bad fruits from the scripture above, you can conclude He is a false Christ, and that the spirit of the Book of Mormon is a lying spirit.
If on the other hand, accepting and living the teachings of the Book of Mormon bears the fruits of the Spirit, you can know that its prophets and writers are inspired by the same Spirit that motivated and inspired Christ. Does it fill you with pure love? Joy? Peace? Longsuffering? Kindness? Gentleness? Patience?
Determining What’s True
At some point you have to ask yourself why you believe the Bible, if you do. What gives Moses any credibility? Or Isaiah? What gives those guys the right to speak on God’s behalf? How do you know Moses wasn’t fabricating the revelations He received from God? And if he was having an experience with the other-worldly, how can you determine it was from God, and not what we’d call Satan? Ultimately you’ll determine that there’s some aspect of the human experience that’s holier, nobler, and more pure than the rest. You’ll find there’s a pattern and consistency to that spirit. As you strive toward it, you’ll understand it more and more. Your experiences and interactions with it will grow more vibrant and vivid. Certain things the biblical authors teach will harmonize and expand your understanding of that spirit, life, and reality.
This is God.
As you encounter the Book of Mormon, you must ask yourself if the same spirit animates and inspires its authors. Does it fill you with that spirit? Does it make you more humble, submissive, and trusting of God?
If you find something it teaches harmonizes with that spirit, but extends it beyond what is known to you, you have something to pray about. After all, that’s what the entire Bible has done for you thus far. For example, when you read Alma’s explanation to his son of what happens to us in between death and the resurrection, you’ll note it’s a topic the bible says very little about. You can determine whether or not its true by reflecting it off of the same spirit that tells you Moses gave an accurate depiction of the creation and fall, or that Jesus is the Christ.
Lastly, take any event at any time in the Bible. It could be Noah calling the world to repent, join him on the ark, or be destroyed by the coming flood, or later in time during Jesus’ ministry. Take any of those circumstances and ask yourself: Let’s assume that that was happening today. Let’s assume God was doing things today similar to what He was doing back then. What would that look like? How would that unfold? What would be said? What would the response be? How would you react to that if it were going on today? How would you decide if something like that were happening now, whether or not it was authentic and of God? How would you go about deciding that in your own day, in your own time, among your own people, within your own family, what is happening is of God and not of men?
I don’t think that just because something gets enshrined in scripture we should lose sight of the fact that it has always required faith, it will always require faith, and it doesn’t matter what proofs you can muster for or against belief in something. At the end of the day either God is behind it or God is not. And if God is behind it and your heart is open to it, you’ll recognize it, but it takes faith.
If you want to know what the purpose of the Book of Mormon is, Moroni tells you in the title page. It’s ” to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God.” The writers in the Book of Mormon don’t even point to themselves. They just want you to have faith in Christ. He’s the focal point.
As you dive in and take it seriously, you will breathe the spirit of the writers. If you ultimately find it to be harmonious with the Spirit of Christ, then it can also become a standard for your faith, and a tool used to determine truth. All that matters is that it’s inspired by the Spirit of God. It’s that Spirit you’re striving to align your life with.
It’s my experience that the Book of Mormon conveys the Spirit of Christ better than any I’ve ever read. It is in fact that most correct book, and a man can get closer to God by abiding its precepts than by any other book.