A scripture study exercise: if we wanted to summarize the overall message of major collections of scripture, what might they be? We’re probably familiar with the “missions of the Church” formula–preach the gospel, perfect the saints, redeem the dead, care for the poor and needy–so, can we find similar missions communicated in books of scripture?
Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, with comments below:
Old Testament : Obey the law
New Testament : Perfect the saints
Book of Mormon : Learn the gospel
Doctrine and Covenants : Build the kingdom
Pearl of Great Price : Seek the Lord
Old Testament: I also considered “keep the commandments” and “follow the prophets.” The first is similar to “obey the law,” but not as inclusive–there’s more to the Old Testament than the “thous shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” Saying to “follow the prophets” resonates with us today, and certainly encompasses a major theme, but the largest idea in the Old Testament is that conforming to God’s whole system of living will bless us.
New Testament: “Love thy neighbor” would have been nice here, right? But while that may be one of the most important messages in the New Testament, I don’t know that it’s the dominant mission taught to us. Most of the teachings and testimonies in the four gospels are meant to help us draw nearer to God through our lives, of which Christlike service is a part.
Consider the letters of Paul and the other Apostles: what are they ultimately for? To preserve the young church as a vehicle for spiritual progression, and especially to foster that progression itself; improving discipleship, growing more maturely as individuals and as a community of faith–that’s what the New Testament wants from us.
Book of Mormon: Both before and after we’ve accepted the truth of the gospel, the Book of Mormon is a tool of conversion: to initiate it and to continually refine it. Though many subjects are covered between its covers, nothing seems to stand out more than the injunction to understand truth. This body of scripture, more than any other, embodies what Elder Boyd K. Packer meant when he said, “True doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior. The study of the doctrines of the Gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”
Doctrine and Covenants: “Establish Zion” would have worked here, too, as would have something like, “serve in the church.” Certainly, more than anything else, what this collection of scripture wants is for us to contribute to the growth of the church, through our preaching, our service to others, and our own increasing purity.
Pearl of Great Price: No anthology of scriptural records is more diverse than this little one! What one mission could possibly make sense of it?
Actually, there is one strong idea repeated throughout these stories about the founding prophets of the seven major dispensations. Each is shown striving to find the Lord through revelation and priesthood ordinances. While this is more by implication with Noah and Enoch (though Moses 7:2-4 is definitely a result of this process for Enoch, and Moses 8:19 for Noah), most of these stories center on the search for the Lord. Consider:
Adam–in Moses 5:16: “And Adam and Eve his wife, ceased not to call upon God.”
Abraham–in Abraham 1:2: “And, finding there was greater happiness and peace and rest for me, I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same; having been myself a follower of righteousness, desiring also to be one who possessed great knowledge, and to be a greater follower of righteousness, and to possess a greater knowledge, and to be a father of many nations, a prince of peace, and desiring to receive instructions, and to keep the commandments of God, I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.”
Moses–in Moses 1:18: “And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him…”
Jesus Christ, in a revised excerpt from Matthew 23, warns the disciples that the only way to be safe in a dangerous future is to always be near the Lord, in Joseph Smith–Matthew 1:37, 46: “And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived….watch, therefore, for you know not at what hour your Lord doth come.”
The most specific explication of this theme is in the final story in the book, that of the current and last dispensation; from Joseph Smith–History 1: 13, 18: “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to ‘ask of God,’ concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture….My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.”