Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mosiah 18: The Church of Alma

Previously on The Book of Mormon...

Abinadi struggles heroically against the two burly guards who are restraining him.  "I will never renounce the gospel of Jesus Christ!" he cries passionately.

"Then you will die," growls the morbidly obese King Noah from his shadowy throne.  The evil high priest Alma looks on with an expression that betrays his inner conflict.

"Please, spare his life!" Alma begs openly on the floor of King Noah's court.

"I don't even know who you are anymore," the king replies darkly.  "Get out of my sight."

Bound and helpless as his body is engulfed in flames, Abinadi shrieks, "The fruit of your loins will burn for this treachery!"


A Broken Line of Authority
Alma begins a campaign to undermine Noah by secretly preaching the gospel to his subjects.  Eventually, he welcomes his growing number of followers to the waters of Mormon to baptize them.  Then, as he and Helam are in the water getting ready for the baptismal ordinance, Alma prays for and is immediately given the authority to baptize.  Wirelessly.  No laying on of hands, no setting apart or ordaining.  Just bam—instant authority.

In a curious complication of events, two thousand years later, after the authority to baptize had again been lost, it required a long-deceased possessor of that power to appear to Joseph Smith and manually transmit the authority to him.

So either Alma's or Joseph's receipt of priesthood power was a lie or God works in very mysterious (by which I mean illogical) ways indeed. Although, my money is on Alma making his legitimacy up, because it's implied by verse 15 that he also baptized himself.  If that's not shady I don't know what is.

The First Home Teaching Program
Alma then began establishing a leadership structure for his church, ordaining one priest for every fifty members.  Not only does this chapter imply a more military hierarchical structure than the "organization that existed in the primitive church," but it also illustrates that priests were little more than church-sponsored naggers whose job it was to poke their fifty people in the arm every once in a while and remind them to repent.

Alma ordered that his priests were to preach to the people (verse 18).  But he also required that they only teach the things which Alma and the other prophets had taught (verse 19) and further clarified that they were expected to teach nothing other than repentance and faith (verse 20).  That sounds to me like the priests were simply home teachers.  Once a month, they'd knock on everybody's door and say, "Have you done your repenting today?" and "Don't forget to believe in God!"

Donation Without Coercion
Even if his priesthood organization was a little silly, Alma seemed to have a few good ideas about wealth.  Verses 24 and 26 stress the importance of the priests supporting themselves instead of relying on the members to pay their living expenses.  Even more interesting, however, are verses 27 and 28:
And again Alma commanded that the people of the church should impart of their substance, every one according to that which he had; if he have more abundantly he should impart more abundantly; and of him that had but little, but little should be required; and to him that had not should be given.
And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires toward God, and to those priests that stood in need, yea, and to every needy, naked soul. 
I think this sounds like a far cry from the modern church's tithing system.  It seems like Alma is saying that donations are expected of the people, but how much each member offers is up to his discretion--with the understanding that the system is in place to help the less fortunate among the congregation.  This doesn't sound like a flat fee of ten percent regardless of financial difficulties.

I don't think Alma was holding tithing settlements to hound his members about whether they paid exactly how much they were supposed to.  I don't think he was building malls and temples.  I don't think he was using the donations to fund a lavish lifestyle for himself and his family.  I think he was just asking his followers to give whatever they could so that their excess wealth could be redistributed among the members of the church who needed help.  That strikes me as a much more harmonious, Christlike system than the system currently utilized by the LDS church.


  1. With how much the church pushes proper authority, Alma baptizing makes no sense to me at all. Baptizing yourself, really? Even Jesus was baptized by someone else.

    I've come to view home teaching as the spy program of the church, and I've been in 2 Elder's Quroum Presidencies including president. The job sucks! I'm glad my home teachers never come but feel guilty enough to drop off cookies every couple months. Trust me. I've spent many years in PEC meetings under several bishops. The amount of gossip that goes on is ridiculous. Yes, in most cases they discuss genuine needs, but many of the people just want to be left alone. They would be horrified if they knew their families were the subject of serious conversation.

    1. What's the big deal? So Alma is better than Jesus. I don't see why anyone would have a problem with that...

      And maybe this makes me a bad person, but I kind of wish my home teachers (or missionaries or a bishop or an elders quorum or whatever) would try to make a push to reactivate me. I feel like my resistance to the church has been mostly passive--telling friends how bad it is, preaching to the choir on an exmo blog, etc--and I kind of wish I had a good reason to go off on some church representative.

      Maybe it's a closure thing. But at any rate, I kind of want my ward leadership to have more to gossip about.

    2. I'm surprised they leave you alone. I'm guessing they don't have your church records. How would that be? In Utah, the non-Mormons and ex-Mormons have big targets on their backs. You could always submit a request on LDS.org or whatever for the free Book of Mormon. That would get the missionaries at your door pretty fast. (:

      Anyway, I am really glad you have this site. It's been very good for me.

    3. I know they have my records, because my parents told told me they had them moved to the ward I currently live in.

      I sometimes wonder (quite arrogantly, to be honest) if I'm some kind of intimidating target--former Stake President's son. Like, hey guys, this one's a hard case, so we'll have to work up to him by bringing back a couple easy inactives first. That's probably stupid, though. More likely, I've been left alone because I don't live in Utah and few if any of the members of my current ward actually know who I am.

  2. I'm surprised someone hasn't tried to meet with you. You would definitely show up on their home teaching list. The Elder's Quorum President should assign you home teachers until you request not to have them. They should also hit you up for fast offerings. Consider yourself lucky to be left alone.

    1. Yeah. I should consider myself lucky, and most of the time I do. But every now and then, when I feel particularly angry at the church and feel like picking a fight...I wish they wouldn't leave me alone.

  3. The Alma story is totally consonant with the actual history of the Restoration --- as opposed to the later myth. Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery believed they had received authorization to baptize as of mid-May 1829. They then baptized each other, Joseph baptizing Oliver and then Oliver Joseph. This was right in the middle of the composition of the Book of Mormon; according to Oliver it was right around the time they'd reached the middle of 3rd Nephi. The would have composed the story of Alma's church only a few weeks earlier and it's clearly the original precedent. It was only later on that an angelic John the Baptist was added to story as theological ideas about priesthood authority changed. The John the Baptist myth was unknown in the earliest church; indeed, it was not invented until later. The Alma story makes perfect sense when you consider the actual history.

    1. Interesting.

      But I don't know...It doesn't seem like a direct precedent because the execution of it is slightly different. Joseph and Oliver baptized each other...neither one of them baptized himself.

      I think no matter way you cut it, there's something incongruous about the whole thing.