Nephi makes a distinction between the institutions or churches of our day, and individuals. As to the institutions he declares: “They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray…” (2 Ne. 28: 14.)
I think it is possible for an institution to be different from its members. I think it is possible for a “committee” to have a different mind, or intent, or constitution from the individuals who comprise the committee. In a graduate leadership course I teach in an MBA program, we examine the difference between individual behavior and group behavior. There are a lot of studies done on this topic. My view is that it is entirely possible for a group to make a decision that no single individual in the group would make on their own. It is the “group’s” decision, and does not comprise the individual thinking or mind of any of those who contributed to the outcome. Compromises, insecurities, give and take, fatigue, and conflict avoidance result in a lot of group decisions being far from what any of the participants want.
So when the institutions are condemned, I do not think that means Nephi is damning all those involved in leading. Despite this, Nephi continues: “they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ…” (2 Ne. 28: 14.)
This remark makes it clear that the institutions contain humble followers of Christ. In other words, even if things are off track, people can remain on track. The challenge is always individual. It is up to each of us to focus on and be faithful to Christ. He is the Redeemer, and it is Him alone to whom we must look for our salvation.
That having been said, Nephi adds, “nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.” (2 Ne. 28: 14.) Even humble followers of Christ are “taught by the precepts of men” in our day. This causes them to “err” “in many instances.” Meaning that our doctrine is poorly and inadequately taught.
So what is the cure? The Book of Mormon, of course. (D&C 84: 54-57.) This is how the “humble followers of Christ” can take in pure doctrine, uncorrupted by “the precepts of men” and find their way back to repentance. It is a lifeline extended to us by prophets who wrote for our day. They wrote as solitary individuals, not as members of a committee. They held no institutional positions, office or connections pulling them in one direction or another. They wrote as the Spirit led them and as the Lord directed them. And they wrote for us.
Nephi was one of them. And he cared deeply about us to have provided this counsel and warning to us. I think it ought to be taken very seriously. Our eternity will be affected by how we apply his writings.