The LDS Restorationist movement,
including Mormon denominations
History of LDS Restorationism before 1843
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
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?”
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. 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
Smith was also told to
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."
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
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
|A breastplate, such as might have been worn by an ancient Israelite.|
|Golden plates upon which ancient American authors Ether, Mormon, Lehi and Nephi had recorded
additions to Biblical history|
|The 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|
|Brass 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.
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. 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 translated the plates of Nephi which described the same events as the
Book of Lehi.
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.
Smith founds 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.
They 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
Mormons are familiar with Rigdon's massive contributions to the church
during its early years.
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:"Smith is later recorded as having said:
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
"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
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 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.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS," University of Utah, at:
- Joseph Smith, "Pearl of Great Price -- History." 1:9 to 20.
- "The Mormons" Frontline, WGBH, 2007, at:
- "Interview Gordon B. Hinckley," Frontline program, PBS, 2007-JAN, at:
- "Sidney Rigdon: A portrait of religious excess," 2think.org book
- Joseph Smith, "Doctrine and Covenants," 130:14-17, The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (1981).
- Stephen R. Gibson, "Did He Falsely Prophesy Of Christ's Return?," Light
Planet, undated, at:
- 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),
- "William Miller (preacher)," Wikipedia, as at: 2011-JUN-03, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
Copyright © 1997 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2011-JUN-15
Author: B.A. Robinson