It is, unfortunately, human nature to forget God. In times of peace and prosperity, we think we don’t need God’s help; in times of suffering and struggle, we think He doesn’t exist because He doesn’t immediately solve all our problems for us. Since the beginning of recorded history, individuals and groups of people have been faithful, fallen away from God, and then returned. The periods of time when we fall away from worshipping God and keeping His commandments are called periods of “apostasy.” Cain’s people apostatized; so did the people of Noah, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the children of Israel in the wilderness, and the kingdoms of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament. To help bring his people back to Him, God has always sent prophets to call the people to repentance and restore again the authority and practices of His church. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah, along with many others, were called to bring their people back to the Lord. Each prophet was called by God, ordained by proper priesthood authority, and sent out to declare His word and restore His people to the truth.
The Great Apostasy
Following the advent of Christ on the earth, a series of events occurred which drew the early Christian Church quickly into apostasy. Severe persecution, along with the influence of old philosophies and habits, lack of easy means of transportation and communication, and the death of the original apostles, all combined to create confusion in the young Church. Priesthood authority to ordain new prophets and apostles and to determine true doctrine was soon lost. As a result, well-meaning Christians who loved the Savior and desired to follow Him were left without divinely-sanctioned direction for many centuries. In reaction to the worldly influences on the Church, reformers eventually began to attempt to correct the errors they saw in doctrine. Yet they still did not have the authority from God to establish once again His true priesthood and His Church and kingdom upon the earth.
Joseph Smith was born in the United States, in Vermont, in 1805. His youth coincided with a period of religious revival known as the “Great Awakening.” In the northeastern part of the United States, itinerant preachers travelled from town to town, holding religious meetings and trying to convince the people to join their various churches. Yet, due to the huge diversity of doctrines preached by the various sects, the young Joseph Smith found himself completely unable to determine which church to join. He appealed to the Bible, with little success, for, as he put it, “the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible” (Joseph Smith—History 1:12).
At length, Joseph determined to ask God himself. He retired to the woods near his home, and prayed to ask God which church he should join. Joseph’s prayer was answered with a remarkable vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, who advised Joseph to join none of the churches then established on the earth. Instead, Joseph was called as a prophet to receive the priesthood authority of God and then go forth to declare His word, restore His Church, and bring the people once again to the truth.
The Restoration of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Over the course of the next few years, Joseph Smith was visited by John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, who ordained him to the ancient priesthood that had been lost over the centuries. He was led by an angel to an ancient religious record buried in the earth, which he translated by the gift and power of God, then published as The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. As an ordained prophet of the Lord, Joseph Smith received revelation from God that led him to re-establish the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, by those who had priesthood authority from God to perform ordinances in His name.
In 1830, Joseph Smith organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is sometimes inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon Church.” Through revelation, twelve modern Apostles were called as prophets and special witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world. Joseph Smith received many revelations about the organization of the restored Church of Jesus Christ and about a wide variety of Christian doctrines. Many of the revelations received by Joseph Smith and other modern-day prophets are published by the Church in a book of modern scripture, The Doctrine and Covenants. Word quickly spread, and converts were drawn to the restored gospel from every nation, traveling to the United States to join the body of the “Saints,” as members of the new church were called. The infant Church of Jesus Christ, newly restored, was persecuted and driven from place to place, just as the early Christians were. It survived, however, and began to thrive.
There are currently more than 14 million Mormons throughout the world, organized into nearly 29,000 congregations. They come from every country and every walk of life. Mormons are united above all by their faith in Jesus Christ and their desire to follow Him. The Church of Jesus Christ is led, as it was of old, by prophets, who can trace their priesthood authority back to Joseph Smith and, through him, to God Himself. The Quorum of Twelve Apostles continues, as it did in Christ’s day. The current President of the Church is Thomas S. Monson, who along with the Apostles is a living prophet on the earth today. The Church is protected from apostasy by continued revelation from God, who communicates through the prophets to the people.
Mormons are also encouraged to seek personal revelation from God to help them in their everyday lives. The gift of the Holy Ghost, conferred upon each member after baptism by the laying on of hands of priesthood holders, allows each person to hear God’s voice for themselves. When we have faith in Jesus Christ, repent, strive to keep God’s commandments, and seek him in prayer, we can receive inspiration through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost speaks to our minds and our hearts:
Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation…(Doctrine and Covenants 8:2-3)
Joseph Smith appeared in a dream to Brigham Young, who succeeded him as prophet, two years after Joseph’s death. In response to President Young’s questions, Joseph Smith taught him the following:
Tell the people to be humble and faithful, and be sure to keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go; it will yield the fruits of the kingdom. Tell the brethren to keep their hearts open to conviction, so that when the Holy Ghost comes to them, their hearts will be ready to receive it. They can tell the Spirit of the Lord from all other spirits; it will whisper peace and joy to their souls; it will take malice, hatred, strife and all evil from their hearts; and their whole desire will be to do good (from Elder Jay E. Jensen, “The Unspeakable Gift of the Holy Ghost“).
The most important question anyone can ask is the same question Joseph Smith posed so long ago: What is the truth about Jesus Christ? Where can truth be found upon the earth? Mormons believe that every human being has the right to know, through personal revelation from God, the answer to these questions. A scripture from The Book of Mormon reads as follows:
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:4-5).
We can know the truth for ourselves, if we will ask in sincerity and faith. Like Joseph Smith and all the prophets who went before him, we can receive revelation from God. God loves us and wants us to return to Him. May we always have the courage to seek the truth, and to live it when we find it.
While Jesus was walking with His twelve apostles on the coasts of Caesarea, Philippi, the Lord asked them, “Whom say ye that I am?” Without any trace of doubt or hesitation, Peter answered, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15–16). His confession was genuine. That inspired declaration of faith and conviction by Christ’s chief apostle has, for hundreds of years, defined the faith of millions of Christians around the world. After the Lord’s ascension, Peter testified to the people that Jesus “was foreordained from the foundation of the world.”
“Whom say ye that I am?” That same question has generated various responses from different organizations who profess faith in the Savior. A person’s response to this soul-searching question does not only reveal how much he knows about Jesus Christ, but more importantly, it also manifests his personal testimony of the divinity of Savior and His role in the salvation of mankind.
Today, religious organizations hold different views regarding the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ. Like some people in Peter’s day, many today see Jesus merely as one of the prophets, an influential leader or philosopher. He was a carpenter, the son of Joseph and Mary, so they say. He was a great teacher. Yet, because of His teachings, many considered him the greatest offender, as both Peter and Paul later testified referring to the prophesy of the prophet Isaiah, how the Christ—“the stone which the builders disallowed”—was “made the head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (See 1 Peter 2:7–8; Romans 9:33; Isaiah 8:14–15).
John’s own testimony of the Lord shows the impact on one’s salvation of having a correct understanding of the Lord’s character: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares in unison with Peter and other apostles of old that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He was with God from the beginning. He was the Supreme Creator, and all things were created by Him under the direction of the Father. In the great council of the Gods, he presented the Plan of Salvation whereby all of the Father’s children would have the opportunity to come to the earth, be tested, and return to their heavenly home in God’s presence.
As the only begotten of the Father, Jesus Christ was chosen from the beginning to atone for the sins of all people. He possessed all the attributes which were necessary for Him to accomplish this mission. He was a God from the beginning, yet His personal development was gradual. The scriptures testify that He grew from grace to grace until He received the fulness of His Father.
Jesus Christ was the God of Israel, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Great I AM. He appeared to Abraham, Moses, and other ancient prophets before His mortal birth. When the Lord commanded Moses to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, He told him what he should say to the people: “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (Exodus 3:14). During his ministry among the Jews, He declared to the arrogant Pharisees: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58).
When Paul delivered his discourse among the Jews, he declared that Jesus Christ was the God who accompanied them on their journey out of Egypt. Paul reminded them of how their fathers “did all eat the same spiritual meat and drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ“(1 Corinthians 10:1–4).
Latter-day Saints maintain that Jesus Christ offered His life to atone for the sins of mankind. Nobody could take His life against His will. The Lord said, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17–18). He laid down His life out of love for His Father and for all mankind. But having power over death, He rose triumphantly the third day and ministered to the saints of the early Church. After His ascension, He appeared to His people in the Americas and ministered to them for three days as a resurrected, glorified being.
In this glorified and resurrected state, He, together with God the Father, appeared to Joseph Smith in 1820, in answer to the young boy’s prayer to know which church to join. Several years later, the Savior appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery inside the Kirtland Temple to accept the holy edifice. To this day, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declares that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and that He continues to communicate His will to God’s children through a living prophet.
In “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” a piece of modern-day revelation from God, it says, “All human beings — male and female — are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.”
In the Mormon faith, women are equal to men in God’s eyes. Because the family is central to God’s plan of happiness, and because it is in the family unit where individuals learn and develop, the power women have to bare and raise children is a revered privilege and responsibility. Mormon women do not hold the priesthood as men do, but not because they are inferior in any way. Men’s role in God’s kingdom is to officiate through the priesthood in sacred saving ordinances — like baptism, blessings upon the sick and afflicted and marriage sealings — and women’s role is to usher new spirit children into the world, giving them physical bodies and teaching them the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Marriage between a man and woman is a sacred and essential part of God’s plan. Marriage partners have a responsibility to rear their children in love and righteousness and to seek inspiration from God in determining how to best divide the responsibilities of family life.
While not all Mormon women will be married or have the opportunity to become mothers, their individual qualities and talents are celebrated as means whereby God has blessed them to uniquely serve and uplift those around him.
Mormon women are diverse, and their differences are celebrated by God just as much as their common sacred womanhood. All women are daughters of a loving Heavenly Father.