So, my last paper is due for my Great Religions of the Western World class. I got to pick a leader of a western religion and I chose Joseph Smith, Jr. I thought I’d post it here for you:
The religious leader that I have chosen to write about is, Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I believe his greatest contribution to the western world is the restoration of the church that Jesus Christ himself established when he was on the earth.
In order to understand why Christ’s church needed to be restored, it is necessary to explain some of the events that happened after his death. When Jesus was on the earth, he established a church. He appointed twelve apostles and gave them the authority to act in his name. These men would carry on Christ’s teachings after his death, resurrection, and then ascension into Heaven. Being a new church and so very hard to communicate at that time because of the distance between them, it became very hard for the apostles to keep the teachings pure. After their death, there was no one left with the authority given by Christ to carry on his church. With no one to lead the way, these teachings were left to men’s interpretations. People continued to believe Christ’s basic message, but without His authorized representatives the fullness of the message was lost. Now let’s fast-forward over a thousand years to the Reformation. Men like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther and John Calvin recognized that the current version of Christianity had strayed much from its original state. Although they recognized this, they did not have the means or authority to restore them to their original context. A restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a reformation, was needed.
Joseph Smith, Jr. was instrumental in restoring the gospel of Jesus Christ. The restoration happened over a series of events throughout his life. The first major event happened in the year 1820 when he was just fourteen years old, living in upstate New York. At that time there was a religious revival in the area he was living. Three main churches and several various sects were vying for converts. Joseph wanted to join himself with one of them but became confused by the disparity between the teachings of each church and the contentions that their preachers and converts had towards each other. In Joseph’s own words, he wrote about how he felt during this time:
“In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.”
While contemplating what to do, he read in the Bible one day a scripture in the Epistle of James that inspired him to pray about the matter. He chose a place in the woods to pray vocally and ask God which church he should join. During his prayer, Joseph had the following 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 up-on 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!”
The two personages told him not to join any of the churches because they were all wrong. Joseph later identified the two personages as God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ.
The second major event of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ was the coming forth of The Book of Mormon. This book of holy scripture is a record of God’s dealings with two civilizations that migrated to ancient America, one from Babylonia at the time of the tower of Babel and the other from Jerusalem in approximately 600 B.C.E.. It includes an account of Jesus Christ visiting the American continent shortly after he was resurrected. The record was written on golden plates and buried in a hill, in around the year 421 C.E.. Joseph Smith acquired these plates and was given help from God to translate them. Because he had been given this help, the translation was not left to men’s interpretations and contained the gospel message as it was originally given.
After the translation of The Book of Mormon, other important parts of the restoration continued to transpire. One important thing needed to restore Christ’s church was priesthood authority, which nobody had after the death of the apostles. Joseph was visited by John the Baptist and later by Peter, James, and John; and they gave him this authority to act in Christ’s name. With this priesthood authority, Joseph Smith was directed to organize the Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Apostles were once again called and could carry on Christ’s teachings and act in His name.
The church that Joseph smith restored has challenged the norms of modern Christianity. It stands apart from other Christian religions in its claim that revelation from God did not cease with the ancient apostles but that He still speaks to man today.