The Great and Abominable Church

[This page contains articles by Dennis A. Wright and Bruce R. McConkie]

by Dennis A. Wright

The phrase "great and abominable church," which appears in an apocalyptic vision received by the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi1 in the sixth century B.C. (1 Ne. 13:6), refers to the church of the devil and is understood by Latter-day Saints to be equivalent to the "great whore that sitteth upon many waters" described in Revelation 17:1. This "whore of all the earth" is identified by Nephi's brother Jacob as all those who are against God and who fight against Zion, in all periods of time (2 Ne. 10:16). Nephi did not write a detailed account of everything he saw in the vision, as this responsibility was reserved for John the apostle, who was to receive the same vision; however, Nephi repeatedly refers to its content and teachings, using various images and phrases (1 Ne. 13:4-9, 26-27, 34; 14:1-4, 9-17).

Like John, Nephi and Jacob describe persecutions that evil people will inflict on God's people, particularly in the last days. The angel who explained the vision to Nephi emphasized that this great and abominable church would take away from the Bible and "the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord" (1 Ne. 13:26), causing men to "stumble" and giving Satan "great power" over them (1 Ne. 13:29; D&C 86:3; Robinson, "Early Christianity," p. 188). Though many Protestants, following the lead of Martin Luther, have linked this evil force described in Revelation 17 with the Roman Catholic church, the particular focus of these LDS and New Testament scriptures seems rather to be on earlier agents of apostasy in the Jewish and Christian traditions (see A. Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, Vol. 6, pp. 1036-38, Nashville, Tenn., 1977).

When Nephi speaks typologically rather than historically, he identifies all the enemies of the Saints with the church of the devil (1 Ne. 14:9-10; 2 Ne. 10:16). They are those from all nations and all time periods who desire "to get gain, and…power over the flesh, and…to become popular in the eyes of the world,…who seek the lusts of the flesh and the things of the world, and to do all manner of iniquity" (1 Ne. 22:23). Other scriptural terms related to the great and abominable church include "Babylon" and the "great harlot" (Rev. 17:5; 1 Ne. 22:13; D&C 1:16). Images of pride, greed, and covenant abandonment are associated with these terms, in sharp contrast to the church of God. The scriptures are consistent in warning people to flee from the church of evil and find refuge in the church of God (Jer. 51:6; Rev. 18:4; 1 Ne. 20:20; D&C 133:14; see also P. Minear, "Babylon," in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 1:338, Nashville, Tenn., 1962). The Book of Mormon image of a great and abominable church complements the biblical images of Babylon and the harlot.

The fate of the great and abominable church is described in both ancient and modern scriptures (Jer. 51:37; Rev. 18:21; 1 Ne. 14:15-16; 22:14; D&C 1:16): Though the nations of the earth will gather together against them, "the covenant people of the Lord, who were scattered upon all the face of the earth" are promised redemption even if it requires power sent down from heaven, as if by fire (1 Ne. 14:14; 22:17). When Jesus Christ returns, he will claim his own and reject those who have opposed him (Mal. 4:1-3; 2 Thes. 2:6-10; 1 Ne. 22:23-26; see Jesus Christ: Second Coming of Jesus Christ). As the Savior institutes his millennial reign, great will be the fall of Babylon, the harlot, and the great and abominable church (Rev. 18; 2 Ne. 28:18), for every knee will bow and every tongue confess, with thankfulness, that Jesus is the Christ (Isa. 45:23; Mosiah 27:31).

Bibliography

Nibley, Hugh W. "The Passing of the Primitive Church: Forty Variations on an Unpopular Theme." In CWHN 4:168-208.

Nibley, Hugh W. "Prophecy in the Book of Mormon: The Three Periods." In CWHN 7:410-35.

Robinson, Stephen E. "Warring Against the Saints of God." Ensign 18 (Jan. 1988):34-39.

Robinson, Stephen E. "Early Christianity and 1 Nephi 13-14." In The Book of Mormon: First Nephi, The Doctrinal Foundation, ed. M. Nyman and C. Tate, pp. 177-91. Provo, Utah, 1988.


by Elder Bruce R. McConkie

The titles church of the devil and great and abominable church are used to identify all churches or organizations of whatever name or nature -- whether political, philosophical, educational, economic social, fraternal, civic, or religious -- which are designed to take men on a course that leads away from God and his laws and thus from salvation in the kingdom of God.

Salvation is in Christ, is revealed by him from age to age, and is available only to those who keep his commandments and obey his ordinances. These commandments are taught in, and these ordinances are administered by, his Church. There is no salvation outside this one true Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. There is one Christ, one Church, one gospel, one plan of salvation, one set of saving ordinances, one group of legal administrators, "One Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Eph. 4:5.)

Any church or organization of any kind whatever which satisfies the innate religious longings of man and keeps him from coming to the saving truths of Christ and his gospel is therefore not of God.

Hence we find our Lord saying, "He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad." (Matt. 12:30.) And hence we find Alma inviting the wicked to repent and join the true Church of Christ and become the sheep of the Good Shepherd. "And now if ye are not the sheep of the good shepherd of what fold are ye?" he asks. "Behold, I say unto you, that the devil is your shepherd and ye are of his fold; and now, who can deny this? Behold, I say unto you, whosoever denieth this is a liar and a child of the devil." (Alma 5:39; Jos. Smith 2:19.)

Iniquitous conditions in the various branches of the great and abominable church in the last days are powerfully described in the Book of Mormon. (2 Ne. 28; Morm. 8:28, 32-33, 36-38; D. & C. 10:56.) Nephi saw the "church which is most abominable above all other churches" in vision. He "saw the devil that he was the foundation of it"; and also the murders, wealth, harlotry, persecutions, and evil desires that are part of this organization. (1 Ne. 13:1-10.)

He saw that this church took away from the gospel of the Lamb many covenants and many plain and precious parts; that it perverted the right ways of the Lord; that it deleted many teachings from the Bible; that it was "the mother of harlots"; and finally that the Lord would again restore the gospel of salvation. (1 Ne. 13:24-42.)

Similar visions were given to John as recorded in the 17th and 18th chapter's of Revelation. He saw this evil church as a whole ruling over peoples, multitudes, nations and tongues; as being full of blasphemy abominations, filthiness, and fornication; as having the name, "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH"; as drunken with the blood of the saints; as revelling in wealth and the delicacies of the earth; as making merchandise of all costly items and of "slaves, and souls of men." And then John, as did Nephi, saw the fall and utter destruction of this great church whose foundation is the devil.

In this world of carnality and sensuousness, the great and abominable church will continue its destructive course. But there will be an eventual future day when evil shall end, "and the great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall be cast down by devouring fire." (D. & C. 29:21; Ezek. 38; 39; 1 Ne. 22:23; Rev. 18.) Before that day, however, desolations will sweep through the earth and the various branches of the great and abominable church "shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood." (1 Ne. 22:13-14; 14:3.)

The resurrected Christ gave to the Nephites this test whereby they might distinguish the true Church from any other: 1. It would be called in his name, for "how be it my church save it be called in my name?" he said. 2. It would be built upon his gospel, that is, the eternal plan of salvation with all its saving powers and graces would be had in it. 3. The Father would show forth his works in it, meaning that miracles, righteousness, and every good fruit would abound in it. 4. It would not be hewn down and cast into the fire as must surely come to pass with the great and abominable church. "If it be not built upon my gospel, and is built upon the works of men, or upon the works of the devil, verily I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast into the fire, from whence there is no return." (3 Ne. 27:4-12.)

Mormon Doctrine, p.760

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