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The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations

History of LDS Restorationism before 1843 CE

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Joseph Smith's early experiences:

The Mormons have had a fascinating and turbulent history. Its founder was Joseph Smith. He lived in Palmyra NY -- in "...western New York state, sometimes known as the "Burned-over District" because of the waves of religious revivalism that periodically swept over the area." 1

His family of origin were called "Seekers." These were Christians who were not affiliated with a specific denomination, but who respected the teachings of all faith groups. In his early teens, his mother and most of the rest of the family converted to Presbyterianism. However, Joseph was deeply troubled by the multiplicity of sects that existed in Christianity. Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists were active in his hometown. In common with many Christians before and since, he wondered which was the "true" Christian religion. He asked God: "Who of all these parties is right; or, are they all wrong together?”

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Smith's first vision:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- the main Mormon church -- teaches that he received his answer in the form of his first vision in 1820, at the age of 14 in Palymra, NY. God and Jesus Christ appeared before Joseph as two separate persons, apparently in flesh and bone bodies. This conflicts with the traditional Christian beliefs that God is a spirit, and that God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit consist of three persons in a single entity.

Smith wrote that he was told by Jesus to:

"Join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘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’." 2

Smith was also told that he would receive a major personal assignment in the future.

Belief in this vision is a central belief of the LDS Church. LDS president, Gordon B. Hinckley, has said:

"We declare without equivocation that God the father and his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, appeared in person to the boy, Joseph Smith. Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision." 3

During an interview with PBS, Hinckley stated:

"...it's either true or false. If it's false, we're engaged in a great fraud. If it's true, it's the most important thing in the world. Now, that's the whole picture. It is either right or wrong, true or false, fraudulent or true. And that's exactly where we stand, with a conviction in our hearts that it is true: that Joseph went into the [Sacred] Grove; that he saw the Father and the Son; that he talked with them; that Moroni came; that the Book of Mormon was translated from the plates; that the priesthood was restored by those who held it anciently. That's our claim. That's where we stand, and that's where we fall, if we fall. But we don't. We just stand secure in that faith. 4

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Subsequent visitations:

The Church also teaches that in 1823, at the age of 17, he received three visitations from Moroni (some texts say Nephi) at the time of the Autumn Equinox. The angel revealed to Joseph the location of golden tablets on which was written the history of two early American tribes. He later wrote that he had gone to the site and found:
bulletA breastplate, such as might have been worn by an ancient Israelite.

bulletGolden plates upon which ancient American authors Ether, Mormon, Lehi and Nephi had recorded additions to Biblical history

bulletThe Urim and Thummim. These were two "stones in silver bows" which appear in Numbers 27:21 and 1 Samuel 28:6 of the Hebrew Scriptures. They were apparently devices (perhaps in the form of flat stones) that the high priest consulted to determine the will of God. They might have worked something like a pair of dice. Smith claimed that through the stones "and by the gift and power of God" he was able to translate the unknown script on the golden plates into English

bulletBrass plates upon which another author, Laban, had quoted from Hebrew Scriptures and recorded genealogies.

However, he was not permitted to remove the plates at that time. He was instructed to return to the spot at each Autumn Equinox. Four years later, in 1827, he was finally allowed to take possession of the material.

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Translation of the golden plates:

A friend of Smith, Martin Harris, attempted to authenticate the tablets by taking copies of some of the inscriptions to Professor Charles Anton and is said to have received verbal confirmation that the tablets were written in "reformed Egyptian" hieroglyphics. There is no such language. Prof. Anton later denied making this statement, and wrote that the symbols that he saw were a combination of Greek, Hebrew, inverted or sideways Roman letters, and elements from a Mexican calendar.

Joseph Smith positioned himself behind a curtain and used the special stones to translate the inscriptions on the golden plates. Emma Smith, Martin Harris and Oliver Cowdery served at various times as a scribe. A 116 page Book of Lehi was translated over a two month interval in 1828. Unfortunately, Martin Harris showed the only copies to his wife who promptly "lost" them. Lucy Harris was a skeptic, and there is speculation that she believed the book to be a fraud. By forcing Smith to retranslate the book, she hoped to demonstrate discrepancies between the two versions, thus proving that the book was a hoax. Smith stated that God was so angry at this loss that he temporarily took away the special stones. Smith later decided to not re-translate the Book of Lehi, but to translate the plates of Nephi instead, which described the same events as the Book of Lehi.

The preface to the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon included the following preface referring to the loss of the Book of Lehi. It was signed "The Author:"

"As many false reports have been circulated respecting the following work, and also many unlawful measures taken by the evil designing persons to destroy me, and also the work, I would inform you that I translated, by the gift and power of God, and caused to be written, one hundred and sixteen pages, the which I took from the Book of Lehi, which was an account abridged from the plates of Lehi, by the hand of Mormon; which said account, some person or persons have stolen and kept from me, notwithstanding my utmost exertions to recover it again—and being commanded of the Lord that I should not translate the same over again, for Satan had put it into their hearts to tempt the Lord their God, by altering the words, that they did read contrary from that which I translated and caused to be written; and if I should bring forth the same words again, or, in other words, if I should translate the same over again, they would publish that which they had stolen, and Satan would stir up the hearts of this generation, that they might not receive this work: but behold, the Lord said unto me, I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing: therefore thou shalt translate from the plates of Nephi, until ye come to that which ye have translated, which ye have retained; and behold ye shall publish it as the record of Nephi; and thus I will confound those who have altered my words. I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will shew unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the Devil. Wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, I have, through his grace and mercy, accomplished that which he hath commanded me respecting this thing. I would also inform you that the plates of which hath been spoken, were found in the township of Manchester, Ontario county, New-York." 10

The preface is missing from modern editions of the Book of Mormon.

Mormons believe that John the Baptist later appeared to Smith and Cowdery, investing them in the Aaronic Priesthood showing them how to baptize each other by total immersion in water. Still later, the Apostles Peter, James and John invested Smith and Cowdery in the Melchizedec priesthood and commissioned them as the first two elders of the new church.

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Smith founded the Church of Christ:

Joseph Smith and five other men founded the Church of Christ in 1830-APR-06. it attracted 1,000 members during its first 12 months. Smith and a small band of followers moved to Kirtland (near Cleveland OH) in 1830. Their group was renamed the Church of Latter Day Saints in 1834. Financial problems and local opposition from non-Mormons caused them to flee for their lives to Jackson County, MO in 1837, which he called Zion. Church members were heavily persecuted here as well -- largely because many of the public believed that the church was promoting the establishment of a religious dictatorship -- a theocracy. They were also distressed at the Mormon's belief that the Book of Mormon was the revealed work of God, with the same status as the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and Christian Scriptures (New Testament). In spite of the opposition -- much of it state-sponsored or condoned -- the church increased greatly in numbers.

Many of their homes were destroyed. Many Mormons died while trying to survive winter without adequate shelter. Other Christians expelled the church from Jackson County. The Mormons settled in Far West, MO, in Caldwell County which had been reserved for them. In 1838, they renamed their group again, to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,  In the same year, 17 Mormon settlers were murdered in the Massacre at Haun's Mill.

Sidney Rigdon had a major influence on the LDS between 1831 and 1839. In spite of his mental illness -- apparently bipolar affective disorder -- he was Joseph Smith's spokesperson and was responsible for a number of:

 "...doctrines, policies and key portions of Mormon history like the current two-tiered priesthood structure, moving to Kirtland, temple building, the belief of an immanent second coming in early Mormonism, the Joseph Smith 'translation' of the Bible and portions of the Pearl of Great Price, the Word of Wisdom, the United Order, a First Presidency, a salary for some church leaders, the name of the church and the term 'Latter-day Saint,' the Lectures on Faith, a new Jerusalem and Zion in Jackson County, Zion's Camp, and settling in Nauvoo. ... It is very safe to say that Mormonism would be a very different religion today were it not for Sidney Rigdon's influence. He delivered nearly every significant Mormon sermon in the 1830s." 5

Few present-day Mormons are familiar with Rigdon's massive contributions to the church during its early years.

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Joseph Smith's prophecy about Jesus' second coming:

During 1843, Joseph Smith heard a voice while he was praying. He, or someone on his behalf, wrote, in Doctrines and Covenants section 130:

14: "I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following:"

15: "Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let this suffice, and trouble me no more on this matter."

16: "I was left thus, without being able to decide whether this coming referred to the beginning of the millennium or to some previous appearing, or whether I should die and thus see his face."

17: "I believe the coming of the Son of Man will not be any sooner than that time." 6
Smith is later recorded as having said:
"I prophesy in the name of the Lord God, and let it be written--the Son of Man will not come in the clouds of heaven till I am eighty-five years old.8

Smith would have reached the age of 85 during 1890. Unfortunately, by that year, Smith had been dead for almost a half century, having been assassinated by a Christian mob in 1844 when he was 38 years of age. Mormon belief is that Smith would have reached the highest of the three levels of Heaven when he died and would end up in the presence of Jesus at that time.

Note that his prophecy can be interpreted that Jesus would return to Earth during 1890 (which did not materialize) or that 1890 would pass without Jesus' return (which did come to pass). Some anti-Mormon sources quote only verses 14 and 15, and draw the former conclusion -- that Smith's prophecy failed.

As a result of this prophecy, his followers were not caught up in the great religious turbulance caused by William Miller's prophecy of the imminent return of Jesus. He initially computed the date to be between 1943-MAR and 1844-MAR. When that failed, Miller changed the date to 1844-APR-18 and later to 1844-OCT-22. These were equally unsuccessful prophecies. Mormons also were able to ignore subsequent predictions of the date of Jesus' return as later prophecized by Ellen White (co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination), Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science) and Charles Taze Russell (founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses).

On an unrelated topic, Joseph Smith predicted that a Civil War would occurr and would start in South Carolina. Two decades later, the Civil War began with shots firec on Fort Sumter in South Carolina.

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Later history of the LDS Church is described elsewhere on this site.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS," University of Utah, at: http://www.media.utah.edu/
  2. Joseph Smith, "Pearl of Great Price -- History."  1:9 to 20.
  3. "The Mormons" Frontline, WGBH, 2007, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  4. "Interview Gordon B. Hinckley," Frontline program, PBS, 2007-JAN, at: http://www.pbs.org/
  5. "Sidney Rigdon: A portrait of religious excess," 2think.org book review, at: http://www.lds-mormon.com/
  6. Joseph Smith, "Doctrine and Covenants," 130:14-17, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (1981).
  7. Stephen R. Gibson, "Did He Falsely Prophesy Of Christ's Return?," Light Planet, undated, at: http://www.lightplanet.com/
  8. Joseph Smith, "History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 5:336–337.
  9. "William Miller (preacher)," Wikipedia, as at: 2011-JUN-03, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  10. "Joseph Smith's Historical Enterprise," The Church Historian's Press, at: http://josephsmithpapers.org/

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Copyright © 1997 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-OCT-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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