What was Jesus Christ’s original Church?
Seeking divine guidance or help is among the most fundamental of human instincts. It is how we know we’re not alone. It is how Jesus Christ’s Church was returned to His people.
God loves us and has consistently revealed light to His children. The embodiment of that light came to earth in the form of His Only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ—whose birth had long been foretold by prophets. During His mortal life, Jesus declared His gospel, appointed Apostles, gave righteous men God’s priesthood, and directed followers in the performing of specific ordinances, such as baptism by immersion. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice fulfilled ancient promises made by God, promises that included the establishment of Christ’s Church on earth. But during the time after Christ’s Resurrection, there was considerable chaos and dissent; Apostles were martyred, and the foundational principles of Christ’s Church became diluted. As a result, the members of His Church were scattered. Left with only remnants of the original truth, each generation of earnest followers strayed further from the true teachings and doctrine of Christ’s Church until the priesthood authority was eventually lost to the world.
In the 16th century, faithful religious reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin brought considerable enlightenment to a world darkened by apostasy.
Luther proclaimed his “95 Theses,” where he outlined how Christianity had strayed. The movement spread all over Europe and created a crucial momentum of fervor for religious freedom. It became the rallying cry for pilgrims colonizing the New World, a place unique on earth for many reasons. Some 1,500 years earlier, Jesus Christ had visited people in the Americas before leaving this earth, teaching them as He did the people in the Old World. A record of His visit and the history of these faithful followers were recorded on golden plates and buried in the earth by an ancient prophet who lived on the American continent. It was here, in a land blessed with religious freedom, that Jesus Christ chose to restore His original Church.
In 1830, He did just that through Joseph Smith, a young man who was called of God to bring forth the ancient record and, through the divine gift of translation, transcribe it. This work is called the Book of Mormon. This book of scripture bears witness to the divinity and teachings of Jesus Christ. It calls us to repentance and helps us lead better and happier lives.
We have a loving Heavenly Father who answers prayers.
Our Heavenly Father answers the kinds of prayers where we earnestly petition Him for insight, wrestle with doubt, or implore Him for mercy. Sometimes when we pray, we do all of these things at once. It is through prayer that a boy named Joseph Smith came to a grove of trees in upstate New York in 1820, asking God to know which church to join. Earlier he had come across a scripture in the Bible, James 1:5: “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.” As many of us do, Joseph was seeking light, and he found it, literally. He later related, “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). Joseph was told that through him Jesus Christ would eventually restore His original Church, which had been lost through the apostasy of the previous millennia. Joseph was also told that in the coming years he would be called as a prophet.
God chose Joseph Smith as a prophet much as He chose the ancient prophets—often from among the most humble and unlikely of candidates.
With the clear-eyed dedication of youth, the farm boy from upstate New York eventually became God’s instrument for the considerable temporal work required to reestablish the truths, structure, and authority of Christ’s Church on earth. The Restoration of Jesus Christ’s Church started from Joseph’s desire to know God and to serve Him, the sincere request from a young man kneeling in prayer. The answer to that prayer has blessed all of us who have done likewise, and we are promised that if we pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and of the Restoration of Christ’s Church, we too will receive our own personal witness that they are true.
Why was Jesus Christ’s Church restored?
Jesus Christ’s request to His disciples was simple: “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19). During His ministry on earth, it was He who personally chose and called His twelve Apostles when He organized His Church.
Jesus Christ answered the questions of truth seekers and troublemakers alike and explained His gospel to all who would listen. He also gave direction to His chosen leaders—to the Apostles after He was resurrected and later to Paul on the road to Damascus. In every case, the direction of Christ’s Church came from Jesus Christ Himself. One might wonder then, why, if Jesus Christ is central to every Christian denomination, all Christian churches are not the same?
Consider the children’s game of telephone. In this game, one person speaks a few words or sentences in his or her neighbor’s ear, that person then tells the next person, and the words continue to be passed down the line. The message begins clearly enough, but as it is shared from person to person, words are inadvertently lost, added, or changed, and the resulting communication isn’t the same as the original. If you repeat the activity with the same phrase or sentence, the result is a little different every time.
The Apostles chosen by Jesus Christ had heard His words directly. But they and the other leaders they selected were eventually martyred. Because the words of Christ’s gospel were being shared by various people in diverse places, it’s no surprise that differences in the doctrine appeared along the way.
Moreover, just as in the times of Noah, Moses, and other prophets, the refusal of people in later periods of time to accept divine commandments limited God’s communication with humankind. But it never limited His love for His children.
How can I know His true Church today?
Throughout the ages and regardless of culture or continent, God has heard—and answered—the prayers of the faithful.
The Bible is written documentation of God’s communications through prophets to His people. History is also replete with accounts from people who have felt God’s guiding hand aiding them in their personal efforts and trials. But it was not until 1830, in answer to a fervent prayer by a young man named Joseph Smith, that our Heavenly Father reestablished the original Church of Jesus Christ on earth again.
Joseph Smith had prayed to know which of all of the churches was true. In answer, Jesus Christ and God the Father appeared to him and spoke directly to him, telling him that none of the churches had the fulness of the gospel. They told Joseph that he would be the instrument to reestablish Christ’s Church as it had been organized during Jesus’s earthly ministry. By Christ’s authority, twelve Apostles were again called to lead that Church and receive direct revelation. This direct communication with the Savior continues today, and He is at the head of and directs the work of His Church.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is as its name attests: it is the Church of Jesus Christ. As with the early Church that we read about in the scriptures, it is led by a prophet who instructs God’s people under the Savior’s direction. And because it is Christ’s Church, Church members continue to fulfill His commandment to “go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them . . . [and] teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). They also strive to live His other commandments and to follow His example by serving and loving those around them. Today, as disciples have before us, we too can fulfill Christ’s commandment to “follow me.”