Membership in the Church of Christ has its privileges (like forgiveness, rather than wrath, when one repents). Repentance is not used to collect evidence for the purpose of condemning the penitent (what the State does), but to pardon (what Christ does). Original jurisdiction in any dispute involving disciples of Christ (who cannot reconcile the dispute themselves) belongs to the Church.
21 And the soul that sins against this covenant, and hardeneth his heart against it, shall be dealt with according to the laws of my church, and shall be delivered over to the buffetings of Satan until the day of redemption.
When a Saint sins, he can repent and is only “delivered up” to the buffetings of Satan if he hardens his heart against repentance (the covenant). Should Caesar have any claim in these disputes? What did King Mosiah tell Alma when dealing with sinners who were members of the Church? Did secular authority respect the jurisdiction of the Church to regulate itself (Mosiah 26:11-12)?
What will it be like in the Millennium when Satan is bound? Will there be no laws of the land because people will become perfect (without sin) or because people learn to reconcile (repent and forgive in private or before the Church rather than go to law with each other)? What does Matt. 18:15-17 have to say? What are the righteous doing in D&C 98:30? What does Paul say about going to law rather than going before the Church in 1 Cor 6:1-11?
Mosiah 26: A Case Study
The rising generation could not understand the words of king Benjamin. They grew up “not believing the tradition of their fathers” (v. 1). They neither believed in the resurrection (sounds like the Sadducees) nor the “coming of Christ” (v. 2). “They could not understand the word of God” because of their “unbelief” and their “hardhearts” (v. 3). They would not be baptized or join the church. They remained a separate people as to their faith, “even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God” (v. 4). They desired a secular ruler with carnal and temporal laws. Their numbers grew as dissensions among the people of God became more numerous (v. 5). This minority “did deceive many with their flattering words, who were in the church, and did cause them to commit many sins.” Those of the church who committed sins were “admonished by the church” (v. 6). Church discipline was administered. The sinning Saint was brought before Alma, the high priest.
King Mosiah represents secular authority and Alma church authority (v. 8). Witnesses testify against the sinners (v. 9). “There had not any such thing happened before in the church; therefore Alma was troubled” (v. 10). Alma takes the sinners before king Mosiah because they “do not repent of their iniquities.” “Therefore, we have brought them before thee, that thou mayest judge them according to their crimes” (v. 11). King Mosiah says, “Behold, I judge them not; therefore I deliver them into thy hands to be judged” (v. 12). Because they are numbered among the people of God, King Mosiah will not judge them. King Mosiah respects the sovereignty of the Church and God’s judgment. Alma inquires of the Lord what he should do concerning this matter, “for he feared that he should do wrong in the sight of God” (v. 13). Because Alma had inquired of the Lord (repenting of having gone to secular authority), the Lord speaks to Alma,
“Blessed art thou, Alma, and blessed are they who were baptized in the waters of Mormon. Thou art blessed because of thy exceeding faith in the words alone of my servant Abinadi. And blessed are they because of their exceeding faith in the words alone which thou hast spoken unto them. And blessed art thou because thou hast established a church among this people; and they shall be established, and they shall be my people. Yea, blessed is this people who are willing to bear my name; for in my name shall they be called; and they are mine.
“And because thou hast inquired of me concerning the transgressor thou art blessed. Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep. And he that will hear my voice shall be my sheep; and him shall ye receive into the church, and him will I also receive.
“For behold, this is my church; whosoever is baptized shall be baptized unto repentance. And whomsoever ye receive shall believe in my name; and him will I freely forgive. For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand. For behold, in my name are they called; and if they know me they shall come forth, and shall have a place eternally at my right hand.
“And it shall come to pass that when the second trump shall sound then shall they that never knew me come forth and shall stand before me. And then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, that I am their Redeemer; but they would not be redeemed. And then I will confess unto them that I never knew them; and they shall depart into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day.
“Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me. And ye shall also forgive one another your trespasses; for verily I say unto you, he that forgiveth not his neighbor’s trespasses when he says that he repents, the same had brought himself under condemnation. Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward.” (vv. 15-32)
King Mosiah was wise not to judge the people of God, even in their sins. King Mosiah does not have original jurisdiction over the people of God, only over the people of Nephi who are not numbered with the church (John 12:47-48), but are yet subject to the covenant of Moses. The Lord reveals himself to Alma because he repents for having gone to law with the Lord’s people and for bringing the matter before the Lord (1 Cor. 6:1-11). The Lord will judge his people and none else. The Lord says, if a sinner repent, then he is to be forgiven. If a sinner repent not, he is to be excommunicated. “And this shall be observed from this time forward.” The policy is consistent with D&C 98:44-48 in which the Lord states that the impenitent are to be indignantly estranged, not punished at law. Indignant estrangement and excommunication constitute the “vengeance of the Lord thy God.” This temporal estrangement has spiritual implications, but the Lord does not inflict the carnal punishments of Mosaic law. They are dead to a disciple of Christ, the Saints.
Alma writes down the words of the Lord that he might have them when he judges the people of the church according to the commandments of God (v. 33). Alma judges the sinners of the church and “whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, he did number among the people of the church (v. 35). “And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquities” were excommunicated (v. 36). It is interesting that Alma does not deliver the sinner up to secular law (king Mosiah) after having excommunicated them, but now there would be nothing stopping king Mosiah from pursuing the excommunicates if he desired to have them punished at law. No mention is made whether king Mosiah actively pursued the excommunicates or let them be, at least, until they transgressed the law again. In 1985 the First Presidency issued an invitation for everyone to come back, which reminded us of our duty toward those who have had their names “blotted out”:
“We are aware of some who are inactive, of others who have become critical and are prone to find fault, and of those who have been disfellowshipped or excommunicated because of serious transgressions. To all such we reach out in love. We are anxious to forgive in the spirit of Him who said: ‘I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.’ (D&C 64:10). We encourage Church members to forgive those who may have wronged them. To those who have ceased activity and to those who have become critical, we say, ‘Come back. Come back and feast at the table of the Lord, and taste again the sweet and satisfying fruits of fellowship with the saints.’ We are confident that many have longed to return, but have felt awkward about doing so. We assure you that you will find open arms to receive you and willing hands to assist you” (Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson, “An Invitation to Come Back,” Church News, Dec. 1985).
The church begins to have peace again and many are baptized (v. 37). Alma and the “laborers of the church” did walk “in all diligence teaching the word of God, suffering all manner of afflictions, being persecuted by all those who did not belong to the church of God” (v. 38). Alma and the people of God never retaliate because they do not wish to destroy those they are in the world to save. They cease to police society and begin to leaven society. “They did admonish their brethren; and they were also admonished, every one by the word of God, according to his sins, or to the sins which he had committed, being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things” (v. 39). To be “admonished” is to suffer church discipline and this by the word of God” or laws of the Church. It seems that the law of the Gospel had been revealed to Alma and his people because they were forgiving, believing, faithful, and patient enough to receive it (JST Deut. 10:2).