These revelations take place from April through July of 1838 in Far West, Missouri. At this time, Far West would become the headquarters of the church. Just two years earlier, in Kirtland, Ohio the temple had finished construction and its revelatory dedicatory prayer, recorded in D&C 109 marked a spiritual high point for the Saints. Since, they struggled with financial trouble that came from losing land and resources in Jackson Country, Missouri and in their poverty, building the temple. Significantly exacerbating their problems, they tried and failed to start a charterless bank, the Kirtland Safety Society, but that lasted a single month before wiping out the funds of all who invested in it, most significantly Joseph Smith. These and other difficulties cause many in the church, including key leaders, to lose their faith. Additionally, longstanding grudges against the Saints were inflamed. In the midst of rising persecution many Saints fled to Missouri, including Joseph Smith, leaving behind a newly constructed temple and the rest of their land and other resources.
Far West was a city built on rolling, largely unoccupied planes in Caldwell County, a country carved out of northern Missouri especially reserved for the Saints to occupy independent of other settlers. Far West became its capital.
From this context comes this week’s revelations
(This is a really short summary taken from chapters 17 through 19 of Rough Stone Rolling.
D&C 115 – The Name of the church with Far West as Its HQ
Eight years after the forming of the church the church undergoes an official name-change that continues to this day.
The next two verses lay out the reason for this name change – that the church may be a light that can serve as a standard for the nations (verse 5) and be a means to gather Zion for the safety and security of the Saints (verse 6).
Since President Nelson became prophet he has leaned in heavily into the official name of the church hoping that outsiders might refer to us by this name rather than the more common Mormon nickname. General conference talks come up from time to time on this topic, most recently, Elder Neil L. Anderson’s talk entitled The Name of the Church Is Not Negotiable.
Where the “Mormon” nickname differentiated the church from the mainline Christian faith, leaning into our Christian name does two things in my opinion 1) Establishes our faith as one deeply rooted in Christ, 2) Binds us more closely to the broader Christian tradition rather than a heretical, peculiar offshoot. In fact Elder Anderson makes this precise point.
Christians who are not among our membership will welcome our role and our sure witness of Christ. Even those Christians who have viewed us with skepticism will embrace us as friends. In these coming days, we will be called by the name of Jesus Christ.Elder Neil L. Anderson
I admit that I’ve been reluctant to use the full name. It’s awkward to say and confusing to outsiders who know us only as Mormons. I suppose confusion is the point. We want to more firmly establish ourselves within the Christian tradition offering our contributions as insiders within the larger faith rather than as outsiders that many Christian faiths have tried to make us.
The revelation goes further as it pivots to Far West, in verse 7:
Let the city, Far West, be a holy and consecrated land unto me; and it shall be called most holy, for the ground upon which thou standest is aholy.v7
Far West shall be the new headquarters, consecrated as a holy land where another temple will be built, after having to abandon the one just recently built in Kirtland. The command here is to build it in earnest to completion without going into debt (verse 13).
This is the legacy of my faith born out of an unwavering confidence of Joseph Smith bound to make the best of whatever situation they found themselves in. Whatever land they’ve been forced into, they consecrate and make holy.
D&C 116 – Spring Hill is Adam-ondi-Ahman
And this section follows through with the promises of D&C 115. They were pushed out of Jackson County into Caldwell County. Surveying the land north of Caldwell County near the Grand River, Joseph Smith declares Spring Hill the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman, the place Adam shall come to visit his people some day.
It’s hard for me to take these pronouncements literally, but its easy for me to appreciate Joseph Smith’s every desire to connect the church to the deepest roots of Christian faith, tying our traditions and locations to these Biblical sacred places.
D&C 117 – A rebuke to William Marks and Newel K. Whitney and Some Love for Oliver Granger
William Marks and Newel K. Whitney were still in Kirtland at this time unwilling to leave their possessions to join the Saints in Missouri. Verses 6 and 7 connect previous revelations to this command to leave their possessions behind.
Is there not room enough on the mountains of aAdam-ondi-Ahman, and on the plains of Olaha bShinehah, or the land where cAdam dwelt, that you should covet that which is but the drop, and neglect the more weighty matters?verse 7 and 8
Again, the legacy of my church. In its history, we’ve drained a swamp to build Zion (Nauvoo), irrigated deserts (Utah and Arizona) and ploughed the fields (Missouri). With prophetic leadership and divine blessing, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has blossomed.
Oliver Granger on the other had was asked to perform an apparently impossible mission – to try to reclaim value from property left behind in Kirtland.
Therefore, let him contend earnestly for the redemption of the First Presidency of my Church, saith the Lord; and when he falls he shall rise again, for his asacrifice shall be more sacred unto me than his increase, saith the Lord.verse 13
This verse provides hope. Our lives can sometimes feel like one failure after another as we grind away at what seems like impossible dreams. Sometimes what we hope to achieve takes more than our lifetime and our contributions are only a small piece of a larger effort. Often our attempts end up in failure, perhaps most of the time. In these times, “we rise again, for our sacrifice is more sacred than our increase.”
Oliver Granger would end up passing away at a young age in Kirtland after having behaved honorably in his attempts to fulfill this assignment.
D&C 118 – A Prophetic Mission
Many members of church leadership have left the church by this point requiring others to replace them (verse 1). More importantly, this revelation is a call to send church leaders to England to seek to gather to Zion. The revelation gets extremely specific.
Going on these missions, in the midst of poverty and persecution, leaving their wives and children behind, this promise:
Let the residue continue to preach from that hour, and if they will do this in all alowliness of heart, in meekness and humility, and blong-suffering, I, the Lord, give unto them a cpromise that I will provide for their families; and an effectual door shall be opened for them, from henceforth.verse 3
Interestingly, the prophecy in verse 5 ends up proving difficult to fulfill as the Saints would soon be driven from Missouri altogether. Filling it would involve a covert meeting in Far West on this date before setting off on a mission, a mission by the way that would culminate in over 50,000 converts immigrating into the United States from England between 1840 and 1900.
D&C 119-120 Tithing
With a command to build a new temple, this time without borrowing money, still recovering from tremendous losses in both Kirtland and Independence, this revelation laid out the principle of tithing for the first time in this new church. Members were already familiar with consecration and sacrifice. Paying a church tithing would give the church a revenue stream from which to build temples and other church buildings so essential to the goals of this church.
Temporal matters are also spiritual. Pay attention to the language in verse 4:
And after that, those who have thus been atithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.verse 4
That tithing is a standing law forever for God’s holy priesthood. And again in verse 6, zion cannot be built without the principle of tithing.
And I say unto you, if my people observe not this law, to keep it holy, and by this law sanctify the land of Zion unto me, that my statutes and my judgments may be kept thereon, that it may be most holy, behold, verily I say unto you, it shall not be a land of aZion unto you.verse 6.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints from its earliest inception has been to bring about Zion, asking its members to both sacrifice and consecrate, doing so through covenant, with an emphasis on temple rituals much of these practices inspired from Old Testament as well as New Testament sources. We’ve always been a Christian church, though many mainline Christians have sought, over the years, to other-ize us. Btu we are fundamentally Christians. We strive to be Saints, committed followers, engaged in both gathering and Zion-building. We are quick to designate places sacred, but a careful study of our history, teachings and practices over the years, recognize a few fundamental facts:
1) Every single person on this planet can become Saints. We have the spark of divinity within us.
2) Every piece of land on this good earth can be and should be considered sacred.
3) We can make this earth blossom and the abundance within our planet should be made available to all.
Gathering, for me, is an attempt to do this universal mission, combining the efforts to gain both temperal and spiritual abundance and equity within one unified, zion-building purpose, sanctified by God through covenant.