The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members are sometimes called Mormons, teaches that after the death of the Savior and His apostles, priesthood authority to administer God’s church was withdrawn from the earth. 3276People disagreed over what the scriptures meant and over what Jesus had taught, and as a result, thousands of Christian churches teaching conflicting doctrine began to appear across the earth. Although Christianity continued to be taught and its core doctrine, that of the Savior’s divinity, spread, each church had its own version of Christianity. Many of the doctrines were critical to salvation, and so, as the last days before the second coming of Christ approached, it was important that the truth be completely restored.
It was in preparation for this eternally significant moment that a fourteen-year-old boy named Joseph Smith found himself becoming very interested in religion. The area in which he lived was in the midst of a religious fervor. There were revivals and many people were deciding which church to join. Joseph’s family participated in this movement, and Joseph wanted to choose a church as well. However, his visits to various churches and revivals left him confused. No one could explain to him how to know which of the conflicting teachings he heard in the various churches was right. He knew they couldn’t be right. God is not a God of confusion. If a doctrinal teaching was essential to salvation, it could only have one answer.
He began reading the Bible, looking for his own answers. There, he found James 1:5, believed to have been written by the brother of Jesus Christ. He read:
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)
As Joseph thought about this verse, he realized this was the best solution to his problem. Men gave him conflicting information, but God knew what was true. He trusted this counsel and set off for the woods to pray, the first time he would pray aloud. His prayer was answered, just as promised, but in a way he could not have anticipated. This prayer was the moment chosen by God to take the first step toward the restoration. Like many Biblical prophets, a young boy was given a powerful spiritual experience to prepare him for events to come. God and Jesus Christ appeared to him. God introduced the Savior, who then instructed him not to join any of the churches, because the complete gospel was not yet on the earth.
It would be a number of years before the restoration began, as Joseph Smith grew up and matured. He was then tutored by an angel named Moroni, who taught Joseph the important initial principles of the gospel and also helped him develop the maturity to cope with the challenges ahead.
The restored gospel is the gospel of Jesus Christ, as He taught it when He lived on the earth. He is the head of the restored church and guides it from day to day. The Mormons have a prophet who leads the church on earth, but the prophet himself is lead by the Savior, and can’t do anything of himself. He can’t invent doctrine or put truth to a vote. He is not permitted to “keep up with the times” by altering doctrine to make the church more popular with society. Only the Savior decides what is truth and He directs the church leadership accordingly.
There are many articles appearing in the press advising the church to make changes to its doctrine in order to become more acceptable to a changing world. However, this suggests that we must counsel God, instead of taking our counsel from God.
Russell M. Nelson, an apostle of the Lord in modern times, taught:
Another unchanging principle is that of divine or moral law. Transgression of moral law brings retribution; obedience to it brings blessings “immutable and unchangeable” (D&C 104:2). Blessings are always predicated upon obedience to law. 39 So the Church teaches us to embrace the right and to renounce the wrong—that we might have joy. 40
The Savior and His servants 41 do not speak words of complacency but teach what people need to know. Through the ages, history attests that contemporary critics have pressed Church leaders to modify a decree of the Lord. 42 But such is eternal law, and it cannot be altered. Not even for His Beloved Son could God change the law that required the Atonement. Divine doctrines cannot be squeezed into compact molds to make them fit fashionable patterns of the day. Nor can they be fully expressed on a bumper sticker (Russell M. Nelson, “Constancy amid Change,” Ensign, Nov 1993, 33).
It is reassuring to those who have found the source of truth to know that truth is unchanging. In a world where everything changes by the moment, a few things will never change. We can always depend on God’s truth. Practices might change, but principles of truth do not.
The Savior is the head of the restored gospel. Any person is given the ability to do as Joseph Smith did and turn to God for counsel on which church to join. This is not an opportunity reserved for future prophets, but something every person can do. People who meet with Mormon missionaries are taught that before baptism, they must ask God if this is the true church, so they will know for themselves, rather than relying on the testimony of men. Those who honestly do this are able to develop an unshakable testimony because they received their knowledge personally from God and Jesus Christ.
While most people will not receive a personal visit from God, since they aren’t being prepared to restore the gospel, they will receive a sure knowledge of truth in their hearts. When Jesus Christ was on the earth, He taught that prayer was an essential part of the spiritual life. It is equally essential today, and because God promised us wisdom if we ask for it, as recorded by James in the New Testament, He will give us that answer in a way we can recognize as His, if we are patient and come to Him with complete faith.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
The late Terrie Lynn Bittner—beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and friend—was the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that appeared in Latter-day Saint magazines. She became a member of the Church at the age of 17 and began sharing her faith online in 1992.