Restoration of the Mormon Church
In 1820, New England rocked with religious enthusiasm – and religious confusion. For anyone who hadn’t yet chosen a church to join, there were plenty to choose from. But which? Every church had many similarities to the others, but differences, too, and a seeker looking for truth could run into all kinds of difficulty deciding which church had it. And a then fourteen Joseph Smith Jr. couldn’t decide. So he turned to the scriptures – and, there, in James 1: 5, he found an answer. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” The solution was to ask God. This is what Joseph determined to do.
Joseph Smith went to a grove of trees near his home to ask God what church to join. The answer he received was both unexpected and glorious – for, in answer, the Lord gave him a vision: “When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” Joseph Smith saw God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ – and they told him, personally, that he should join none of the churches. None of the churches currently established were true.
Joseph’s experience is called the First Vision – and it was indeed the first of many. But Joseph was yet just fourteen and, even at the beginning, what he’d seen was soundly rejected. Most people he told his story to did not believe it – most people believed God no longer spoke to man so directly as to show Himself in miracles and visions. However, Joseph would not deny what he’d seen. And, at seventeen, he had another vision. He was visited by the Angel Moroni, who told Joseph about a book of golden plates, a record of a people who had once lived in the Americas. This record held “the fulness of the everlasting Gospel . . . as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants.”
Joseph Smith would eventually be guided to find and translate the record. It would be published as the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon told of a people called the Nephites, who testified of God and Christ throughout their history. In fact, after His death, Christ appeared to the Book of Mormon peoples. But the Nephites would also make awful mistakes and were often more wicked than their enemies, the Lamanites. In the end, because of their wickedness, the Nephites were destroyed. The Book of Mormon restored truths about Christ and his gospel that had been lost.
But the Book of Mormon, if perhaps the most famous feature of Mormonism, was not the only thing Joseph Smith restored. In the meantime, Joseph Smith received instructions to restore more than the Book of Mormon to the world. The Lord also restored the priesthood through him. The priesthood is the divine authority to act in God’s name. Joseph Smith was visited by John the Baptist, who gave him the Aaronic Priesthood (which gives authority to preach and baptize). In turn, Christ’s apostles, Peter, James, and John, visited Joseph Smith to confer on him the higher Melchizedek priesthood (which gives authority to give the gift of the Holy Ghost, among other ordinances). Joseph Smith would then give this priesthood to others, by the laying on of hands.
Joseph Smith officially organized the Church of Christ (later known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most commonly known as the Mormon Church) in 1830. At first, the Church had only six members – but it would grow very quickly. And Joseph Smith, as a prophet, would continue to receive revelations all his life. Indeed, he would continually ask of God and receive answers. And the gospel was restored. It would persist beyond Joseph Smith’s murder and is larger than ever before today. It stands and remains as the one true Church on all the earth.