Possible Meanings of the Terms Church of the Devil and Great and Abominable Church

Daniel H. Ludlow

The terms “church of the devil” and “great and abominable church” are apparently used with two senses in the Book of Mormon.

1. All churches that are not the true church of Christ are false churches, and they thus represent the “church of the devil” to the extent that they contain error and lead people away from the true church and its saving principles and ordinances. As the Lord stated in the New Testament: “He that is not with me is against me.” (Matthew 12:30.)

2. The “mother of abominations” (1 Nephi 14:9) that is “most abominable above all other churches” (1 Nephi 13:5) and is described in detail (1 Nephi 13:1-9, 26-29; 14:10-17; 22:13-14) as being the source of religious persecution and bigotry after the ministry of Christ (1 Nephi 13:26-28) might refer to the “mother” church from which other so-called Christian churches have protested or rebelled.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie has defined these terms:

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 chapters of Revelation. He saw this evil church as a whore 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 [Bookcraft, 1966], pp. 137-39.)

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