The Mormon Writer Blogfest: Joseph Smith
Not long ago, blogger Krista V from Write. Mother. Repeat. approached me about participating in a blogfest with the aim at shedding some light on what Latter-day Saints believe.
My topic is one near and dear to my heart: The Prophet Joseph Smith.
But to talk about Joseph Smith, I have to back up a bit.
Latter-day Saints believe that following the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that His apostles had the required priesthood keys that granted authority to administer His church, perform ordinances, receive revelation from God, and more.
With the death of the original twelve apostles, that priesthood power was lost from the earth, and with it, authority from God.
Faithful Christians carried on as best they could, but inevitably, without priesthood keys in the hands of authorized leaders, things began to change over the centuries. Doctrine was interpreted differently by various groups, incorrect rituals and beliefs crept in, and so on. The truth was lost.
We call this period the Apostasy, prophesied by Paul and others, such as in Thessalonians 2:3.
We believe that God inspired many men to pave the way for a Restoration of His true church, which would bring back correct doctrine and full priesthood authority. Those men include Gutenberg, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others, including the Founders of the United States.
In 1820, a great fervor arose surrounding religion during what has been termed The Second Great Awakening. Joseph Smith, whose large family lived in poverty in Palmyra, New York, were very much a part of that religious excitement. His family read the Bible, prayed, and were devout Christians, yet like many in that time and place, they didn't know which denomination to join. Some of Joseph's family felt warmly toward the Methodists, but Joseph himself, then only 14 years old, was troubled and couldn't decide what to do.
One day, he read a scripture that changed his life and the course of history, James 1:5
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.
In Joseph's own words:
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for 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.At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.
On an early spring day of 1820, Joseph went to a secluded grove near his home to pray, to ask God with real intent, with faith, what he should do:
I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being
Joseph held on, praying in his heart and mind for deliverance. And then it came:
just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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 was told in answer to his burning question that none of the churches were correct, that he was to join none of them, and that Joseph himself had a mighty work to perform. He was taught other things as well in what we now refer to as "The First Vision."
Joseph grew into his role as prophet over the years, literally being tutored by a resurrected angel, Moroni. This angel had lived his mortal life in the Americas and buried a record of his people: scriptures his father Mormon had gathered and which they both knew would never be read by their own descendants but instead by future generations.
Through the power of God, Joseph received that record, which was engraved on gold plates. In spite of harsh persecution and multiple attempts by others to steal the plates, they were miraculously preserved until Joseph had translated the ancient record, after which he returned them to Moroni. That record was published as The Book of Mormon, named after the man whose life work was compiling records and words of the prophets who had lived on the Western Hemisphere.
Joseph and others were visited by other resurrected beings who conferred the priesthood upon them. With the official organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on April 6, 1830, the Restoration of Christ's church had finally occurred and the long Apostasy was over.
There was still more to be revealed, line upon line, but after centuries of darkness, the essentials were in place: Christ's power was again on the earth. Authority to act in His name had been brought back. Once again, needed ordinances could be performed. The heavens were finally open, and revelation for the Church at large was available through a living prophet, someone like Moses, Abraham, and Jacob.
Those same priesthood keys have been passed along through living Apostles from the time of Joseph's cruel martyrdom in 1844 to the present day. Our current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, can trace his priesthood keys back to Jesus Christ Himself.
Thanks to Joseph Smith and his work, I, along with over 13 million other members of the Church worldwide, have the privilege of listening to a living prophet, his counselors and apostles, twice a year in general conference, which is broadcast across the world, streamed on the Internet, and printed later in magazine form as well as on the Church website. We learn and can later review what has been taught then try to incorporate teachings and characteristics that will bring us closer to becoming the servants Christ would have us be.
Tomes have literally been written about Joseph Smith, and a simple blog post can hardly touch the surface of the man and his legacy, but in summary, to quote Joseph F. Smith, the Prophet's nephew, who later led the Church as prophet:
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.
Other Stops in Today's Blogfest: