Friday, September 5, 2008

The Restoration

The primary message of the gospel, the "good news" of Jesus Christ, is that he has atoned for our sins and prepared a way for us to come back into the presence of the Father. The Restoration brings about a fullness of that gospel, with a fulness of truth and of the priesthood, with all the authority, keys, and ordinances to accomplish that task. It also restored further light, truth, and knowledge of God and His plan for a fulness of salvation--to bring about the immortality and eternal life of His children.

But of course for something to be restored, it must have first been broken or essential pieces lost. So to better understand the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, foretold by prophets of old, one must first understand the great apostasy, in which the gospel was not on the earth in its fulness, either in doctrine or in ordinance--also foretold by prophets of old.

The next two sections are from Preach My Gospel:

The Great Apostasy:

"After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the doctrines of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.

"Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many churches.

"After centuries of spiritual darkness, truth-seeking men and women protested against current religious practices. They recognized that many of the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel had been changed or lost. They sought for greater spiritual light, and many spoke of the need for a restoration of truth. They did not claim, however, that God had called them to be a prophet. Instead, they tried to reform teachings and practices that they believed had been changed or corrupted. Their efforts led to the organization of many Protestant churches. This Reformation resulted in an increased emphasis on religious freedom, which opened the way for the final Restoration."

The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through Joseph Smith:

"When the circumstances were right, Heavenly Father once again reached out to His children in love. He called a young man named Joseph Smith as a prophet. Through him the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored to the earth. Joseph Smith lived in the United States, which was perhaps the only country to enjoy religious freedom at the time. It was at a time of great religious excitement in the eastern United States. His family members were deeply religious and constantly sought for truth. But many ministers claimed to have the true gospel. Joseph desired “to know which of all the sects was right,” (Joseph Smith—History 1:18). The Bible taught there was “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Joseph attended different churches, but he remained confused about which church he should join. He later wrote:

“So great were the confusions and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).

As Joseph sought truth among the different faiths, he turned to the Bible for guidance. 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). Because of this passage, Joseph decided to ask God what he should do. In the spring of 1820 he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He described his experience:

“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!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17).

In this vision God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. The Savior told Joseph not to join any of the churches, for they “were all wrong” and “all their creeds were an abomination.” He stated, “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” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19). Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they did not have the fulness of truth or the priesthood authority to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. They had inherited a state of apostasy as each generation was influenced by what the previous one passed on, including changes in the doctrines and in ordinances such as baptism. As God had done with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and other prophets, He called Joseph Smith to be a prophet through whom the fulness of the gospel was restored to the earth.

"After the appearance of the Father and the Son, other heavenly messengers, or angels, were sent to Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery. John the Baptist appeared and conferred upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the Aaronic Priesthood, which includes the authority to perform the ordinance of baptism. Peter, James, and John (three of Christ’s original Apostles) appeared and conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, restoring the same authority given to Christ’s Apostles anciently. With this priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Through him, Jesus Christ called twelve Apostles.

"The time in which we live is referred to by Bible prophets as the last days, the latter days, or the dispensation of the fulness of times. It is the period of time just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. It is the final dispensation. This is why the Church is named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A living prophet directs the Church today. This prophet, the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. He and the present Apostles trace their authority to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations through Joseph Smith."

It's quite a story, and quite miraculous to behold.

I love the following quote by the late Neal A. Maxwell, from "The Richness of the Restoration":

"The Restoration, to mix metaphors, is like a harvest basket, which is a “good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over” (Luke 6:38). This abundant harvest spares us from hungering because of doctrinal deprivation. Without this fulness, however, some who are malnourished struggle with adversity while trying to believe in a God of loving purpose. Each of the Restoration’s key doctrines, by itself, would help us greatly. However, when “shaken together,” these doctrines can produce much stronger faith through their vital nourishment. The harvest is not only abundant and “running over,” but it also brings back the most vital “plain and precious things” (1 Ne. 13:40)—the balanced essentials...

"Restoration correctives provide emancipating perspectives! The revelations, when “pressed down, and shaken together,” emphasize that man is, at once, an intelligence or spirit coeternal—but certainly not coequal—with God (see Abr. 3:18). Thus, doctrinally, we are positioned very differently, because “God is neither the source nor the cause of either moral or natural evil.” God is thus the organizer of eternal intelligences, which can neither be created nor destroyed (see D&C 93:29). Furthermore, God will not coerce men since all intelligence is free to act for itself “in that sphere in which God has placed it. … Behold, here is the agency of man, and here is the condemnation of man” (D&C 93:30–31).

"In the Restoration, we further learn that, built into the existing structure of mortal life, there is “an opposition in all things” (2 Ne. 2:11). This doctrine is more than just a minor clue to life. It is a major divine disclosure! As Brigham Young University professor David Paulsen has thoughtfully written: “Without moral righteousness, there is no happiness; without significant moral freedom, there is no moral righteousness; without an opposition (opposing possibilities to choose between), there is no significant moral freedom. Thus, happiness and opposition are essentially related.”

When Restoration truths are thus “shaken together,” powerful understandings vital to daily life emerge. It is my opinion, not Church doctrine, that one distant day it will even become more apparent than it now is that our loving Father is doing all even He possibly can do to help us! The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is evidence of His help. As beneficiaries of Restoration blessings, we are recipients of “so much light and so much knowledge” (Alma 9:19) about the meaning and purpose of life, the character of the Father and the Son, and the work and glory of the plan of salvation (see Moses 1:39). May God bless us with a willingness to share the harvest basket of the Restoration, that as we have been spiritually nourished so may we nourish our neighbor."

We have so much to share! Please feel free to leave a comment and share your thoughts and testimony of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Relevant Links:

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and the Creation

The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: Priesthood, the Word of God, and the Temple

Mormon Answers: Questions about the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ (Apostasy, Authority, Restoration)

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