Though written scripture has been produced in the course of each gospel dispensation, the current one began with a book of scripture, the Book of Mormon, Elder D. Todd Christofferson pointed out in a presentation June 27 at the 2017 Seminar for New Mission Presidents.
“Following the First Vision, Joseph Smith’s first commission, even before re-establishing the Church, was to translate and publish the Book of Mormon,” said Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking at the Provo Utah Missionary Training Center. “Clearly the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was foundational to the Restoration and the work of this last, glorious dispensation.”
That is because of its undiluted testimony of Jesus Christ, he remarked.
“This incomparable testament of the Savior, together with Joseph Smith’s personal eyewitness testimony of both the Father and the Son, combine to establish the underpinnings of this ‘dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which [the Lord] will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth,’ ” he said, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 27:13.
The Book of Mormon carries out the Lord’s purposes in this gospel dispensation by being the Lord’s “tool of the harvest” of the gathering of Israel, being an instrument of conversion for this dispensation and in drawing people closer to God, Elder Christofferson said. He touched on each of those points in turn.
To emphasize the effectiveness of letting the Book of Mormon speak for itself, he told of an interesting experiment conducted recently by Professor Jeff Sheets and some of his students at Brigham Young University. They set up a small display in each of five major cities in the world: London, Sydney, Chicago, Cape Town and Las Vegas.
At each display they asked passers-by to read one page from the Book of Mormon and mark every reference to God or Jesus Christ they found on that page. Each participant received a different page to read, and with 531 participants, each of the printed pages of the book was used.
“Those who were willing had their picture taken and posted in a display with the particular page that they had marked,” Elder Christofferson explained. “Many also shared comments. They felt the power of the Book of Mormon just in that simple, brief encounter.”
A short video was played summarizing the experience. Here are a few of the comments featured on the video:
“My page was about God’s salvation. Reading the Book of Mormon reminds me about the goodness and mercy of God.”
“I really liked the experiment. My favorite part was reading that Jesus is our Savior.”
“In a modern world like ours, we need more teachings about how to overcome our problems and how to have more faith and hope. This book helped me remember to repent and remember Christ in my life.”
After the video, Elder Christofferson remarked, “Given, then, that the power of the Book of Mormon comes as we allow the book to speak for itself, the question for you is, how will your missionaries get people to read the Book of Mormon, and also to pray with real intent about its truthfulness? You might draw something from the experiment of marking a page or pages from the Book of Mormon that we just saw in the video. I am not suggesting that you do the same thing, but there may be a kernel of an idea that would work in your mission.”
Regarding the book being an instrument of conversion, Elder Christofferson said he spoke a while ago with a young returned missionary who was bright, confident and well-spoken, and who had served as an assistant to his mission president. He was troubled, having learned for the first time that there are several accounts of the First Vision that are not identical. He felt this information had been hidden from him.
Elder Christofferson told him that, far from being hidden, there had been more than one article in Church magazines discussing the accounts. The apostle also told the young man that with a testimony of the Book of Mormon, he need not be unsettled or feel his faith had been shaken.
“I was shocked to hear him say that he didn’t know that the Book of Mormon was true,” he said. “How is it possible that a faithful, successful missionary could not have received that witness? Presidents, Sisters, please don’t let this happen with any of your missionaries. Be sure that each one does what is necessary so that he or she does not leave the mission without a sure conviction of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and all that implies.”
Elder Christofferson said the book has power to draw people closer to God because gospel principles are found in their fullness therein, while they are found in fragments in other scriptures.
“The power of the exposition of gospel principles in the Book of Mormon enlightens our understanding of the Bible and other scripture,” he observed. “Our appreciation of the Bible grows. As prophesied, the Bible and Book of Mormon ‘grow together unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions’ (2 Nephi 3:12).”