John W. Welch, "The Book of Mormon: The Keystone of Our Church Organization and Administration"
(Right click here and select "save as" to download Welch's handout.)
Wading upstream against a river of historical studies that argue the surprising lack of prominence given to the Book of Mormon by early Church members, Welch argues that the book is the keystone and foundational document of organization and administration in the Church. The elements of organization are scattered among expressed words, revelations and experiences of Nephite leaders and people. The alert reader can assemble beneficial principles, practices and procedures that are consummate with mind and will of Lord as seen in the BoM. Welch seeks to identify them and argue that earliest readers followed BoM as an administrative handbook precisely and sometimes explicitly. He builds his case from textual, practical, and historical details.
After 1829 the BoM became main revelation of the new Church, the authoritatively binding document for the fledgling church. How could early members embrace it without taking its teachings seriously, including admin guidelines, he asks.
Modern LDS may not recognize the influence. Most people paid little notice to this essential role of BoM when writing history. Reasons BoM overlooked: Admin history not focused on often, or researchers were not well enough versed in it, or overlooked the elements, or may relegate BoM to separate cateogory of documents to spend more time with letters and journals. This is understandable, BoM not written as historical document in same sense. But writers of BoM spoke to readers, assuring them they had seen the modern day and were writing for their benefit. How could a reader not see those words as applying to them? When decisions are made today we don’t always make it explicit, don’t refer to directly to hdbk.
People should no longer ignore elephant in room, the BoM, as a persitent and even dominant source of early administrative genius.
Exhibit A: Articles of the Church of Christ, 1829.
--told a little about the "interesting background" to this document, revelation by Oliver Cowdery, never publicly used. The earliest step in preparing an admin handbook for church. He places its reception after JS and OC had translated 3 Nephi and Moroni, OC was on fire to build up the church. Gather out of 470 original mss. pages of BoM the basic instructions and guidelines around which to administer in the church. Selection process a daunting task. Must have been aided by HG to remember where admin. matters found. Included 3 Nephi 9, 11, 18, 27, Moroni 3-6 with isolated phrases from other passages. Clearly influenced directly by BoM.
Exhibit B: Article sand Covenants of Church, which would become D&C 20.
The first official handbook for the Church. Does not believe the earlier one was a draft of sec. 20. but it has similarities drawing directly from BoM.
Exhibit C: McLellan and Woodruff journals
Hard to divest selves of modern view of church. back then didn’t have primary, relief society, meeting houses, etc. but they did have the BoM. Until 1835 there wasn’t much else in print, in LDS Library. On 33 different documented occasions McLellan spoke from BoM, and on other occasions spoke on sec. 20. 1832, spoke on the “utility” of BoM. practices and doctrine. McLellan responded once to a sermon by Boynton noting he had not mentioned BoM, which was poor form. Probably better known and used in early formative days of church than we often have realized. It was the only Mormon book at the time.
Exhibit D: Selected Administrative Directives Found in the BoM
These examples are often presumptive, implicit early uses of the BoM, showing overall conformity to these principles to modern day instructions.
Welch provided a four page document with examples from the BoM, noting some of them may be stretching. Download it here.