Saturday, May 9, 2009

Must the Gospel be Preached in ALL the World Before the 2nd Coming?

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (Matt. 24:14)

A few weeks ago, President Obama eased a half-century American policy toward the communist nation of Cuba. Briefly, restrictions were lifted on Cuban-Americans who want to travel and send money to their island homeland. The broader U.S. trade embargo, however, remained unaffected.

Politics aside, this decision got me wondering about potential expansion of LDS missionary efforts into the Cuban island. Could this move by the Obama administration be a precursor to the Gospel being preached “in all the world”? On the other hand, in light of today’s expansive technological resources, is it even necessary to have a missionary force present in similarly situated countries? I see no reason why we couldn’t teach the missionary discussions via webcam since we have already set precedent by dedicating temples and other holy edifices via satellite.

Paul once stated that, since Christ’s death, the Gospel had been preached “in all the world,” when missionaries certainly had not reached all the known regions of the Earth, let alone the unknown inhabitants of the Americas. (See Col. 1:5-6) So, was Paul there referring to physical nations or that the Gospel had simply been extended to the two types of people representative of the world – i.e., Jews and Gentiles? Does a similar line of reason follow for the prophecies of the last days?

The question then becomes, does scripture or modern revelation support a vast missionary effort where our missionaries physically trod the soil of the various nations of all the Earth?

It is true that every person must have the opportunity to hear the gospel, either here or hereafter. In fact, eventually “the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:540).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that before the Lord Jesus can return in glory, two things must take place:

The first . . . is that the restored gospel is to be preached in every nation and among every people and to those speaking every tongue. Now there is one immediate reaction to this: Can’t we go on the radio and preach the gospel to . . . the nations of the earth? We certainly can, but that would have very little bearing on the real meaning of the revelation that says we must preach it to every nation, kindred, and people. The reason is the second thing that must occur before the Second Coming: The revelations expressly, specifically, and pointedly say that when the Lord comes the second time to usher in the millennial era, he is going to find, in every nation, kindred, and tongue, and among every people, those who are kings and queens, who will live and reign a thousand years on earth (Revelation 5:9-10).

That is a significant statement that puts in perspective the preaching of the gospel to the world. Yes, we can go on the radio; we can proclaim the gospel to all nations by television or other modern invention. And to the extent that we can do it, so be it, it’s all to the good. But that’s not what is involved. What is involved is that the elders of Israel, holding the priesthood, in person have to trod the soil, eat in the homes of the people, figuratively put their arms around the honest in heart, feed them the gospel, and baptize them and confer the Holy Ghost upon them. Then these people have to progress and advance, and grow in the things of the Spirit, until they can go to the house of the Lord, until they can enter a temple of God and receive the blessings of the priesthood, out of which come the rewards of being kings and priests.

The way we become kings and priests is through the ordinances of the house of the Lord. It is through celestial marriage; it is through the guarantees of eternal life and eternal increase that are reserved for the Saints in the temples. The promise is that when the Lord comes he is going to find in every nation and kindred, among every people speaking every tongue, those who will, at that hour of his coming, have already become kings and priests. . . . All this is to precede the Second Coming of the Son of Man” (quoted in Spencer J. Palmer, The Expanding Church [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co. (1978), 141-142).

Although some readers of this blog make it general practice to second guess controversial doctrinal topics explained by Elder McConkie (I admit I fall victim to this tendency also), he seems quite clear here. When Christ returns, He will return to a world where ALL nations include at least a handful of peopple who have obtained the promised blessings of the temple. Thus, opening up Cuba’s borders, according to McConkie’s reasoning and explanation, may in fact be a foreshadowing of the time when the Church opens the Havana, Cuba mission.

However, it does not follow that every person or even the majority of people must hear the gospel before the Second Coming. In fact, the great day of gathering – the day when millions upon millions will come into the fold of God – is millennial. According to Doctrine and Covenants 45: 50-54, the heathen nations will not be redeemed until the millennial era. Therefore, whether you lean toward the McConkie interpretation, or follow a more realist approach, the REAL great missionary effort will eventually take place during the Millennium under the direction of Christ Himself.

I would like to hear reader’s thoughts on McConkie’s statements above.


Jack Mormon said...

I tend to agree with your interpretation. The Church must gain, at the very least, an official foothold or beachhead in every nation of the world as a precursor to the Second Coming. When nations like China and Saudi Arabia allow foreign LDS expatriates to assemble in small groups in private homes on their soil, but not to proselytize their indigenous citizens, this is insufficient to meet the criteria.

Our Church has a proven capability to go where others are limited. Don't forget, we built a temple in East Germany five years before the fall of Communism. What allays the concerns of foreign authoritarian rulers is our Twelfth Article of Faith. This article assures them that we don't seek to use our religion as a cover to forcibly overthrow their governments.

But the bulk of the global evangelization can only occur AFTER Christ's return, because only then will the boundaries against evangelization be effectively and completely shattered.

Anonymous said...

Paul once stated that, since Christ’s death, the Gospel had been preached “in all the world,” when missionaries certainly had not reached all the known regions of the Earth, let alone the unknown inhabitants of the Americas. (See Col. 1:5-6) It would appear that Paul was simply unaware of more of the world. He was just "speaking as a man," not as an apostle, since he has since been proven wrong (i.e. the gospel was not preached "in all the world." Certainly, it wasn't preached to all the people on the American continent (just the Nephite/Lamanite nations), or the Australian continent.

We always have to be careful how we interpret the words of an apostle -- is he speaking for God, or just being a cheerleader for the effort, as Paul clearly was?

Jeremy said...

Anon, as my post indicates, I agree with that position. Nonetheless, unless we include the information contained in certain pseudapigraphical or apocryphal works, the Gospel had NOT been preached to the whole world as Paul understood it - let alone the inhabitants of the Americas, etc.

The theory I wanted to introduce, however, is that maybe Paul was referring to the world as a composite of Jews and Gentiles. If that was his personal interpretation, then couldn't that work for the last days when the restoration of the Gospel is to be preached to the whole world, i.e. both Jew and Gentile?

Sharon LDS in Tennessee said...

Immediately, it came to me that one of the MAIN keys to this is the actual act of someone holding the KEYS and using that POWER MUST dedicate that land / people to the Lord and the preaching of the Gospel? And must that not happen, on that land physically, being recorded as well? Also a point of interest I just came to be aware of: Should we be praying for the individual lands to be "open" for official missions more frequently, and for the return of our Savior and the setting up of His millenial reign?
Thanks for all the posts' great points. There is SO MUCH WORK to do...and my shoulder is so sore !
Love to all!

SJR said...

I've always wondered about this topic in reguards to the USA's role. We live in country where people immigrate to from all countries. They hear and join the Church and probably in some form or another talk to their families in thier old country about it. That seems to be a form of getting the Gospel preached in all lands. I know that it's know where near reaching everyone. I agree that that will take place in the millenuim. However, it is a start.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for stopping by SJR. Honestly, I'm torn between how I feel and what Elder McConkie said in his statement. I feel the world is only getting worse and worse, therefore, borders will be tightened even more in the future - especially in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia. I believe these countries will be quite hesitant to allow Christian missionaries within their borders to potentially "westernize" their societies.

On the other hand, Elder McConkie seemed quite determined that physically preaching in those countries is the way things will play out.

I'd like to think that the Millennial effort will be the major force behind fulfilling the prophecies.

Rick M said...

This may be a bit off subject but does anyone here get the feeling that the President's pick for ambassador to China (Gov. Huntsman) might be a stepping stone to achieving missionary work inside China?

Jeremy said...

I don't think it's off topic at all, Rick. I think you're on the right track with Huntsman's appointment. He likely won't to any prosyletizing while in China, but his presence will speak volumes. The Chinese will see an active member of the LDS faith who is well-rounded and articulate. I think his presence may also be a pre-cursor to China's borders being opened to missionary work.

Thanks for stopping by, Rick.

linda said...

All I know it that conservatives in Ut are glad to see him go....good luck Huntsman Jr! He's well suited to be a diplomat.

Tim Malone said...

I agree that we need "boots on the ground," to borrow a military phrase, in order to perform the ordinances. Nothing can replace that. If you had to put a number on it before the Savior returned, how many of the 6.7 billion people in the world need to be baptized before that great and dreadful day?

And yet, are we not expecting some major catastrophic and cataclysmic events to precede and accompany the Savior's return? Perhaps the world will be a very different place when he comes again. If I'm not mistaken, the Book of Revelation refers to large percentages of the population being taken to the spirit world by the apocalyptic events of that day.

I am also of the opinion that the great signs and wonders that will foreshadow and accompany the advent of the Son of Man will be long and drawn out. In other words, it may take twenty or thirty years from the start of these great and terrible events before the Savior actually does return. Your thoughts?

Jeremy said...


I agree that the signs will likely take decades to come to fruition. But, as I've stated above, I'm not sure I adhere to McConkie's literalist interpretation of the Gospel being preached physically in each nation before the Great and Dreadful Day. I see no need for the Gospel to literally and physically reach all nations before the Second Advent if the majority will nonetheless be converted during the Millenium.

Instead, I would venture to guess that the Church will increase it's influence through the streams of media, especially the Internet. I may be completely off on my opinion here, but I think that gradually countries will loosen their grips on the use of the Internet by their peoples. They will do this, not out of an increasing liberal attitude towards their current-day policies, but more because technolog will advance to the point where it will be next to impossible to regulate it. This would be especially effective in such technologically advanced countries as China.

Tim Malone said...

I'm going to go with your thoughts on this as expressing well what I've always had in the back of my mind. At the present rate, it will take hundreds of years to extend our reach into all the world. Just take a look at the numbers - 13.5 million on the records out of 6.7 billion.

Well, wait a minute...We don't have to baptize everyone, or even a substantial number of them. The saying is that the gospel must simply be preached in all the world. I suppose what it comes down to is how do you define what constitutes preaching?

Again, I'm going to agree with your thoughts on this. I don't think Elder McConkie anticipated the impact of the Internet as being a tool to preach the gospel. I think the church will still have a relatively small footprint in each nation when the Lord ushers in the Millennium.

And yet maybe things will become so fundamentally altered when the first of the prophesied cataclysmic events takes place that people will suddenly be much more interested in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. And perhaps what we know know as nations will no longer exist twenty or thirty years from now. It will be interesting to see.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post and additional comments.