In my previous post I posed the question: Why is there so much variance between Christian churches today in core aspects and doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe that it is because the church and authority that Christ established while He was on the earth were eventually lost, and that many of the precious truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ were also either changed or lost. I would, therefore, suggest the arugment of a need for a divine restoration, not a mere reformation of Christ’s church.
First let us consider why we need a church in the first place. The apostle Paul taught the Ephesians the following:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:11-14).
From this scripture alone I can count 4 important reasons why Jesus established a church in New Testament times, and why we need that very church today: 1- It serves as a goverment consisting of individual offices or positions with their own respective authority and responsibilities, to manage the ministry of pure doctrine and saving ordinances, 2- The ministry of correct/true doctrine and saving ordinances is essential to the perfection of the saints, 3- This ministry was to go forth to all nations of the earth with the hope of bringing all to a unity of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and 4- To be a source of continuous divine revelation in order to protect its members from being led about by false prophets or false doctrine.
In the conclusion His sermon on the mount, Jesus extends the commandment that we be perfect. In my last post I explain how this is possible to us. The path to our perfection begins by turning our hearts to God, and obeying God’s commandment to be baptized in the name of Christ by one who has been given authority to perform this ordinance. Of this authority Paul declares: “And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebews 5:4). This power and authority, or Priesthood as referenced in the scriptures, is a portion of God’s power delegated to men whom He calls to be His servants to administer baptism and other ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who desire and are found worthy to take upon themselves the name of Christ. As we see in both the Old Testament during the days of Moses and Aaron, and also in New Testament in the time of Christ and the apostles, this authority was passed to other worthy men by method of the laying on of hands, by those who had already received the priesthood. In conjunction with priesthood authority, the Savior conferred “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” upon Peter, the senior apostle. With these keys the Lord instructed Peter that “whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19).
Now, before I get too much further into the historical/logical side of this subject I would ask that you consider a couple of other items from a more personal or spiritual perspective. Consider how you have come to know that God and Jesus Christ exist. Consider how you have perhaps sought God in prayer, and how He has answered. Consider miracles or blessings that have occurred in your life. All of these serve as a witness that God does not only exist, but that He loves and cares about you, and that He wants to reach out to you and bless you as you look to Him as a child looking for direction and help from a loving Father. For that is our true relationship with God. The Apostle Paul testifies of this truth in the New Testament: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:16-17). If this is so (and it is), then wouldn’t God desire our salvation, and therefore make Himself known to us as well as the pathway that leads back to His presence? Also, if He is so willing to bless us with all these things and reveal His hand in our lives, don’t you think He would be willing to reveal to each of us, as His children, a true church if there were to be one on the Earth?
I testify that He does, and He will to all who sincerely seek Him. By way of His Son we have acces to Him. And Jesus has taught us how: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). In order for this method to work it is essential that we first learn and heed the warning and counsel found in these scriptures:
“And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15).
“But though he had done so many miracles before them, yet they believed not on him: That the saying of Esaias the prophet might be fulfilled, which he spake, Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.
Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:37-40, 42-43).
“O all ye that are spared …, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you? Yea, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me” (3 Nephi 9:13-14).
Has not this been the stumbling block of men in all ages? I will show you how it is, and it was by this that the church that Christ established was lost.
You see, from the time of Adam to Jesus Christ we find a pattern that demonstrates the love of God for His children who are on earth. That pattern consists of God calling a prophet on the earth who receives revelation from God and then teaches that revelation to the people. And yet in almost every case where God showed His love in this way the people grew angry and rejected it; rejected and killed the prophets. This was even the same with Jesus Himself. The majority of the people rejected Him and eventually crucified Him, seeing Him only as “the carpenter’s son,” or a thing of naught.
This brings us back to where we were before. Although Christ had been crucified, ressurected, and had ascended back up to heaven, He had taught His chosen twelve apostles His doctrine, and had conferred the keys of the kingdom to them, and they were built upon the rock of revelation (as we read in Matthew).
In the book of Acts in the New Testament we read that revelation indeed continued to be given to the Apostles as they strived to build up the church by preaching the gospel of Christ and administering baptism to those who believed on His name. By way of revelation Peter was given the commandment to take the gospel not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles, and to all the world. For a time the Church expanded greatly. But, after a few years of growth and expansion that same stumbling block of pride and faithlessness began to creep in again. The apostles, being separated in their duties to take the gospel to all the earth were also being captured and eventually killed off by angry non-believers. And not only this, but the epistles of Paul give plenty of evidence that there were dissensions, faithlessness, and falsehoods happening within the church, hence his epistles to help resolve these issues. Eventually all the apostles were killed and with their death the keys of the kingdom of heaven were completely lifted off of the earth.
For about two centuries Christians were an insignificant number, and due to the loss of the foundation of the church (apostles and prophets), many of the pure and precious truths of the gospel were changed, removed, lost, or forgotten. However, as Christianity grew more popular and prominent the Roman empire saw fit to use Chrisrianity to their benefit to keep the people in order, yet they took the liberty to give Christianity a flavor of their own. The Bible was compiled and translated to Latin, and the government only allowed certain people to become literate. It was inevitable that during translation plain and precious truths were at times poorly or incorrectly translated. After many many years, many people began to see and believe errors in their government and this church, and believed in the need of a reformation of the true church of Christ, and thus leading to many reformed Christian churches; all accepting the Bible, but making their own translation and interpretation of it. Although there may have been some “improvements” with these new and reformed churches, can you not see that the most essential pieces were still missing? There was no divine authority restored, no revelation, no foundation of prophets or apostles appointed by God, and certainly no unity of faith or doctrine.
However, with all this reform and “great awakening” God saw that his children were once again turning back to Him, and in the year 1820 God chose another prophet through which He would restore all that was lost or taken away. This prophet was Joseph Smith. As a 14 year old boy Joseph wanted to know how to be saved, but was confused with all these reformed churches battling against each other and teaching different doctrines of salvation. He didn’t know who was right or where to go. One day as he was reading in the book of James in the New Testament, he read a passage of scripture that struck him:
“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” (James 1:5).
Joseph felt that if anyone could show him where the truth was it was God. He decided to pray and ask God, with the full purpose of heart to follow whatever answer God would give him. So, during the early hours of a spring day he went out into the woods where he could be alone and pray vocally. During his prayer something miraculous happened. In his own words Joseph recounts:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
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!
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)–and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.'”
Over the course of the next two decades, God restored unto Joseph Smith all that had been lost from the death of Christ and the apostles; the church today known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the form of resurrected beings, John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph and conferred the priesthood and its keys on him. Joseph continued to receive divine revelation on how to organize the true church of Jesus Christ. At length it was revealed to Joseph the persons who were to be called as apostles, to whom he also conferred the priesthood and the keys of the kingdom. During this time Joseph also received revelation about doctrines that were lost or modified by men, and how to correctly perform saving ordinances such as baptism. In fine, the Church and truth has been restored once again to earth and to mankind in its fullness.
So how can we know of a surety that all of this is true? It seems to all depend upon if Joseph Smith was truly a prophet of God. So, how can we distinguish a true prophet from a false one? Jesus gives us the answer to this question:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:15-20).
God revealed a sacred record to Joseph Smith that was written by prophets of the ancient Americas, and by the power of God Joseph was able to translate it to the English language in just a few short weeks. This record is known today as the Book of Mormon. Mormon was one of the last of these ancient American prophets who compiled this record from many other records. His son, Moroni, was the last prophet to write in the book. He ends it with a promise extended to us (for it was for us that this record was made), that tells us how we can know for ourselves if it is true:
“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
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 10:3-5).
In conclusion, I challenge you, if you have not already experimented with reading the Book of Mormon, that you try reading it, and then pray and ask your Heavenly Father if it is not true. I don’t want you to believe me. I want you to gain a sure knowledge for yourself, from God, that these things are true. By this knowledge you will then also know that Joseph was truly a prophet of God, and that the true and living Church of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fullness. And then, if you desire to take upon yourself the name of Christ, and enter into His fold, you should be baptized in His church, thus fulfilling the commandment, and doing as you have seen Him do.