Recently I started reading the Book of Mormon in my personal scripture study. A question that came to my mind, is one that has appeared before. In the book of Mosiah, King Noah’s priest, Alma, after repenting starts the Church of Christ. He takes his followers first to the land of Helem and then to the city of Zarahemla, where he becomes a close friend with King Mosiah. My question is, was there an established Church of Christ in the land of Zarahemla before Alma arrived & if so, who was the leader of that Church? Please explain the relationship of the kings, whom as I recall, were the record keepers, and the spiritual leaders of the people of Nephi. I appreciate your thoughts on this matter.
The righteous kings of the Nephite were also their spiritual leaders, beginning with Nephi, who was their first king. As you mention, it is true that Alma was called and given authority by God to organize the church among the righteous people who fled into the wilderness to escape capture by the people of King Noah (Mosiah 23:16). And this was, of course, before they had found their way to Zarahemla. When they did arrive, Mosiah was the King of the people at Zarahemla. This Mosiah was the grandson of the Mosiah who fled the land Nephi with as many of the people who would flee with him, being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land. Mosiah carried with him the Brass Plates of Laban, that Nephi brought with him out of the land of Jerusalem, that contained all the scriptures, from the time of Adam down to the time of Lehi and Jeremiah. Mosiah and his people discovered the land of Zarahemla, that was peopled with the descendants of Mulek, the infant son of King Zedekiah, whose other children were all put to death in front of him before he was blinded by his captors. Apparently from the Brass Plates of Laban Mosiah could determine who the Mulekites were.
This Mosiah’s son was King Benjamin, and his son was King Mosiah, with whom Alma interfaced. Both King Benjamin and King Mosiah, as well as Mosiah the father of Benjamin, were prophets of God.. Although the ordinances of the gospel are not mentioned in the Book of Mosiah before the advent of Alma, nevertheless, the covenants associated with those ordinances are mentioned.
Daniel H. Ludlow relates in his A Companion to Your Study of the Book of Mormon, p.180, that
“Although Benjamin did not specifically mention baptism by water and by the Holy Ghost, it seems reasonable to assume that the people whom Benjamin was addressing had already received these ordinances for the following reasons: (1) the Nephites had authority to baptize (2 Nephi 6:2); (2) they plainly understood that baptism was essential to salvation (2 Nephi 9:23-24); (3) apparently the righteous Nephites had practiced baptism from the beginning of the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 31:17).”
I would imagine that because of his heavy duties as King of the people, Mosiah would have appointed Alma as high priest because he too had received priesthood authority from God.