In a nutshell, what I've said so far can be condensed into this: God lives. He is our father, and he loves us. He created a plan where we can become more like him. Jesus Christ is at the center of God's plan; he lived a perfect life and sacrificed himself for us to save us from our mistakes. We can always return to God because of this redemption, no matter what we've done. To spread this message and to reveal his plans to us, God has called prophets throughout history to teach his word.
My post on prophets covers the question: Okay, if God has called prophets throughout history, has he called them today? Why don't we hear about prophets in this modern day? Well, there actually are prophets on the earth today. I talked about them here, in the post on prophets.
So the next question is, when did this line of prophets start? In the bible, we hear about Adam and Abraham and Moses getting called, and then we can read about their successors throughout the Old Testament, and then in the New Testament there's Jesus himself, and then Peter and Paul, and then...who? What happened?
The Loss of Priesthood Authority
The Church of Jesus Christ is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:19–20; 4:11–14). These leaders have divine priesthood authority. Through revelation they direct the affairs of the Church. They maintain doctrinal purity, authorize the administration of ordinances, and call and confer upon others the priesthood authority.
After Jesus died, people persecuted the Apostles and killed many of them. When the Apostles died, the presiding priesthood authority - the authority to lead God's church and speak in his name - was taken from the earth. Consequently, there was no longer authority to confer the Holy Ghost or perform other saving ordinances. Revelation ceased, and doctrine became corrupted.
Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on their own wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth, and a lot 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. This apostasy eventually led to the emergence of many different churches, each teaching their own docrines.
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.
A Restoration, not a Reformation, was required. Priesthood authority did not continue in an unbroken line of succession from the Apostle Peter. To reform is to change what already exists; to restore is to bring back something in its original form. Thus, restoration of priesthood authority through divine messengers was the only possible way to overcome the loss of priesthood authority.
The Savior’s Apostles foretold this universal apostasy. They also foretold that the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church would be restored once more upon the earth.
The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
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 fullness 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." The Bible taught there was “one Lord, one faith, one baptism." 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?”
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!”
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." Even though many good people believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they did not have the fullness 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 fullness 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 fullness 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.
I know this is a long post, but it's an important one, and thanks for reading until the end. I want you to know that I know that this is true - that Joseph Smith was a prophet, and that the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to earth today.
Resources you might be interested in: