Mormons (a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) often use the term “fulness of the gospel.” Mormons refer to modern times as the dispensation of the fulness of times, referring to the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in full.
Mormon beliefs teach that Adam and Eve, the first people to live on the earth, were given the full gospel. They shared it with their children. However, people often found it difficult to live the full gospel, and so, periodically, the fulness of the gospel was replaced with preparatory laws, such as the Law of Moses, to help people progress to a point where they could live the full gospel. In addition, truths were sometimes lost. There have almost always been those who wanted God to change truth to something more pleasing to them, and periodically, those false beliefs became widespread among the people. During these times, God often took away the prophets, which also removed access to God’s word. This was known as apostasy, since the people had chosen to apostatize by ignoring or changing God’s word. However, God never allows apostasy to last forever. Each time, He eventually returns the prophets to the earth, as we see while studying the Bible.
His gospel was first established on the earth beginning with Adam and has been taught in every dispensation through such prophets as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and others. Each of these prophets foretold the coming of Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of the world. Those prophecies have been fulfilled. The Savior did establish His Church. He called His Apostles and established His priesthood. Most importantly, He laid down His life and took it up that all will rise again, thus carrying out the atoning sacrifice. But that was not the end.
After the Savior’s Resurrection, He commissioned His Apostles to lead the Church and administer gospel ordinances. Faithful to this charge, they were persecuted, and some were eventually martyred. As a result, the Lord’s priesthood authority was no longer on earth, and the world fell into spiritual darkness. In the centuries that followed, God’s children had the Light of Christ, could pray, and could feel the influence of the Holy Ghost. But the fulness of the gospel had been lost. There was no one left on earth with the power and authority to lead the Church or perform sacred ordinances such as baptism, conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the saving ordinances of the temple. Almost everyone was denied access to the scriptures, and most people were illiterate (Robert D. Hales, “Preparations for the Restoration and the Second Coming: ‘My Hand Shall Be over Thee’,” Liahona, Nov 2005, 88–92)
The Mormons call this the Great Apostasy. It was very long and very thorough. We can see the impact of this time as we look around us on earth. Even while the apostles were on the earth, apostasy was beginning, and the apostles grieved at losing people and even entire nations through apostasy. Today, as we observe the landscape of our nation, we see hundreds of churches, all teaching different things and most claiming to have the truth. This happened because the truth was lost and people had to try to decide on their own what was true and what wasn’t. Often these choices led to the formation of new Christian churches with new beliefs not found in the Bible or the church as it existed when Christ was on the earth and even directly contradict those teachings. Because God is not a God of confusion, and because truth matters to Him, as we see by the many references to it in the Bible, we know it matters to God what we believe and how we act based on the truth Jesus Christ taught while on the earth.
However, God began to prepare His people for a restoration of prophecy and the fullness of the gospel. Literacy increased and the printing press made it possible for people to read the Bible on their own. Reformations began which challenged the traditions of some long-standing religions.
In the 1700s, a nation was formed which guaranteed freedom of religion. This made it possible for a restoration to occur. Finally, in the 1800s, the world was ready for the restoration to occur. Joseph Smith, a teenager in upstate New York, lived in a time of great excitement over religion. People were anxious to align themselves with a church and many opportunities were given to them to choose one that suited their beliefs. Joseph, his mother, and his siblings attended many of these revivals and churches, but this exploration only confused Joseph. He couldn’t figure out how to tell which of the churches was true.
He turned to the Bible for help. While studying, he found James 1:5-6: “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. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” This verse, believed by many scholars to be the work of the half-brother of Jesus Christ, was, Joseph realized, the key to solving his dilemma. He went into the woods near his home and prayed with faith. God and Jesus appeared to Him and instructed Him not to join any of the churches currently on the earth, since none were entirely correct. Later, when he had grown and matured, an angel named Moroni came to begin tutoring him in preparation for the restoration. Joseph eventually translated a set of ancient records we call the Book of Mormon, which is a companion to the Bible and testifies of its truthfulness. When this was complete, the restoration of the Savior’s gospel could begin.
Today, we live in a time that again has the blessings of prophets to share with us God’s word. While some think God has turned His back on His children forever, Mormons know that just as prophets were needed to prepare God’s people for the first coming of Christ, prophets are just as necessary to prepare us for the second coming. Perhaps the need is even greater, since this return will be made known to all the world.
Our message is unique. We declare to the world that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth. We declare with boldness that the keys of the priesthood have been restored to man, with the power to seal on earth and in the heavens. The saving ordinances pronounced by the Lord as requirements for entering into eternal life with Him can now be performed with binding authority by those who worthily exercise the power of His holy priesthood. We declare to the world that this is the day referred to by biblical prophets as the latter days. It is the final time, before the coming of Jesus Christ to rule and reign over the earth.
We invite all to listen to the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ from us. Then you can compare the glorious message with what you may hear from others, and you can determine which is from God and which is from man (L. Tom Perry, “The Message of the Restoration,” Ensign, May 2007, 85–88.)
The fullness of the gospel, then, means that God’s prophets are on the earth, allowing us to sort truth from the teachings of men, and helping us to prepare for the triumphant return of the Savior, and for our own return to God’s presence. We can know for ourselves if this is true, because God has promised us that we can pray to find out, rather than simply trusting man’s word. Just as the brother of Jesus said, if we lack wisdom, God promises to give it to us if we ask in faith, with a sincere desire to know the truth.
Mormons teach that they have the fullness of the gospel found in their own faith. However, James E. Faust, a previous apostle of the Lord, teaches what this means in relationship to other faiths:
We believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ, which was built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” It is not a breakoff from any other church.
We believe that the fulness of the gospel of Christ has been restored, but this is no reason for anyone to feel superior in any way toward others of God’s children. Rather, it requires a greater obligation to invoke the essence of the gospel of Christ in our lives—to love, serve, and bless others. Indeed, as the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.” Thus, we have respect for the sincere religious beliefs of others and appreciate others extending the same courtesy and respect for the tenets we hold dear (James E. Faust, “The Restoration of All Things,” Liahona, May 2006, 61–62, 67–68.”)