I’ve had the opportunity during the past 40+ years to meet and speak with many Mormons. Some were teenage missionaries. Others were bishops or high priests of the LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I once spent five hours on a plane talking with an elder of the LDS. I became friends with the leader of a local Mormon church through my job as a journalist and his job working for the government.
Even though I asked them many questions about what they believed, I would have liked to question Joseph Smith. Smith lived in the early 19th century (1805-1844) and was the founding Mormon prophet. Mormons have told me that Smith is the “lynchpin” (their word) of their spiritual relationship with God. Smith claimed that God used him for “the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Is that true? Let’s find out.
In case you haven’t had the opportunity to meet and talk with Mormons, let’s begin there. I usually learn something new every time I meet a Mormon. Even though what they share is similar to what I’ve heard before, each person is unique and brings their own personal experience into the conversation. I think it’s important that we demonstrate respect and a genuine interest in the person when we have discussions with people who believe differently than we do.
The Apostle Peter wrote that Christians should —
… always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. 1 Peter 3:15
Being “ready” to give a defense to everyone who asks us a reason for the hope that is in us means being prepared. In fact, the Greek word translated “ready” in 1 Peter 3:15 is hetoimoi and means “prepared, standing by.” It’s the idea of being ready to meet any challenge that might come your way.
I ask Mormons about themselves and their beliefs, then share my story of how I came to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. After I share what I believe about Jesus, many Mormons I meet say they agree with everything I said. That often leads us into some interesting areas of discussion that I will address in this series.
Mormon missionaries often hand me a copy of The Book of Mormon and ask me to read a section they marked. They ask me to read the marked verses and pray that God would show me that what I was reading was true. Reading Mormon Scriptures is how I’ve learned what Mormons believe and why they believe it. Knowing what they believe is helpful in reaching them with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Questioning Joseph Smith
The reason Mormons believe what they do is because of what Joseph Smith believed. The reason I believe what I do is because of what Jesus Christ believes. That’s the primary difference between Christians and Mormons — the issue of authority. Is Joseph Smith the authority? Or is Jesus Christ the authority?
That may sound like a strange question since the official name for Mormons is — “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.” It would appear from the name of their church that Jesus Christ is their primary authority. However, if you look deeper into what they believe you learn that the one they trust for truth is Joseph Smith and what he said Jesus said and did. That may sound a bit harsh to a Mormon who is reading this, but please stay with me. My approach to spiritual truth is similar to my approach as a journalist to any truth claim.
Mormons treasure four books that were written/translated by Joseph Smith. They are —
- The Book of Mormon
- King James Bible (as translated by Joseph Smith)
- Doctrine and Covenants
- Pearl of Great Price
Mormons believe The Book of Mormon to be the “most correct” of any book on earth. Is that true? Why would Mormons believe it to be the “most correct?” Because of their belief that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Is that true? Was Smith a prophet of God?
The Restoration According to Joseph Smith
A primary belief of Mormons is that the Church of Jesus Christ became apostate soon after the apostles died. They also believe the original writings of the Bible were corrupted by the apostate church. Why do they believe that? Because Joseph Smith said so.
Mormon missionaries sometimes give me a booklet titled The Restoration Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ. Here’s what it claims about how the original Church of Jesus Christ became apostate —
God chooses a prophet. The prophet teaches the gospel and leads the people. God blesses the people,. The people gradually disregard or disobey the teachings of the prophet and his teachings and fall into apostasy. Because of apostasy, people lose knowledge of the gospel. Priesthood authority is taken from them. When the time is right and people are ready to follow Him again, God chooses another prophet, restores the priesthood and the Church, and directs the prophet to teach the gospel. The Restoration of the Gospel, p 4
The booklet goes on to give a history of what it calls “The Great Apostasy” that followed the death of the apostles of Christ. According to the teachings of Joseph Smith, here’s how Mormons view this apostasy —
The Apostles were killed, and priesthood authority–including the keys to direct and receive revelation for the Church–was taken from the earth. Because the Church was no longer led by priesthood authority, error crept into Church teachings. Good people and much truth remained, but the gospel as established by Jesus Christ was lost. This period is called the Great Apostasy. The Restoration of the Gospel, p 8
Mormons believe God prophesied this apostasy through the 8th century BC prophet Amos —
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. Amos 8:11-12 (KJV)
Why do they believe a prophecy from a Hebrew prophet who prophesied to the northern kingdom of Israel prior to its destruction by the Assyrian army was for the Church age? Because that’s what Joseph Smith taught.
Mormons believe, based on the teaching of Joseph Smith, that the Church that Jesus Christ said He would build (Matthew 16:18) became apostate about 70 to 100 years after His death, resurrection, and return to Heaven. They believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was “lost” for 17 centuries until God called Joseph Smith to be the prophet who would restore the Gospel on earth.
Mormons believe God revealed Himself to Smith in 1820 AD “to restore the gospel and the priesthood to the earth” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 11). Mormons believe “Joseph Smith received the same priesthood authority that Jesus Christ had given to His Apostles” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 12). They believe that happened in 1829. Mormons believe God continues to direct “the Church today through living prophets and apostles” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 12).
As we look at the teachings of Joseph Smith in this series we will also share some of the teachings of past and present Mormon prophets and apostles. Mormons believe that “These men are prophets, seers, and revelators” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 12). Why do they believe that? Because of the teachings of Joseph Smith. It has to do with the restoration of the “priesthood” that would be passed from Smith to others —
After he received priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Through him, Jesus Christ again called the Twelve Apostles” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 12).
As you can see from what Mormons say and write, they base everything they believe on the priesthood authority of Joseph Smith.
Mormons believe that “As part of the Restoration of the gospel, God brought forth the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ” (The Restoration of the Gospel, p 15). More on that in the next part of our series.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Faith and Self Defense © 2023