The Mormon Church as the Restored Church

By: Marvin W. Cowan; ©1999
The Mormon Church claims to be the “restored” church. But what evidence is there that the Church needed to be restored? What did they “restore” it to? Pastor Cowan also examines Joseph Smith’s account of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He compares Smith’s account with newspapers and legal documents of the time to determine whether or not Smith’s account is true. His findings may surprise you.

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The Mormon Church claims to be a restoration of “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (Doctrine & Covenants 1:30). It also claims that there was a “decline and final extinction of the primitive church among men” (The Great Apostasy, Preface) and therefore, all other churches are a part of “apostate Christendom” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 131). Notice how LDS Apostle, James Talmage explains the concept of the restoration:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints proclaims the restoration of the Gospel, and the re-establishment of the Church as of old, in this, the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times. Such restoration and re-establishment, with the modern bestowal of the Holy Priesthood, would be unnecessary and indeed impossible had the Church of Christ continued among men with unbroken succession of Priesthood and power, since the “meridian of time.” The restored Church affirms that a general apostasy developed during and after the apostolic period, and that the primitive Church lost its power, authority, and graces as a divine institution, and degenerated into an earthly organization only. The significance and importance of the great apostasy, as a condition precedent to the re-establishment of the Church in modern times, is obvious. If the alleged apostasy of the primitive Church was not a reality, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the divine institution its name proclaims. (The Great Apostasy, Preface)

Talmage makes two very important points in the above quotation: 1. It would be un­necessary and even impossible to restore the true Church and Gospel if they still existed on earth because you can’t “restore” something unless it is marred or destroyed. (To restore something is to put it back in its original condition as nearly as possible). 2. The second point Talmage makes is that if there was no universal apostasy or extinction of the original Church and Gospel, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can’t be a “restoration” of Christ’s true Church and Gospel and therefore, its claims would be false.

In spite of Mormonism’s claim that there was a universal apostasy, their own scriptures contradict that teaching. Section 7 of the Doctrine and Covenants is supposed to be a translated version of a revelation recorded by the Apostle John and later revealed to Jo­seph Smith. Verses 1-3 say:

And the Lord said unto me: John, my beloved, what desirest thou? For if you shall ask what you will, it shall be granted unto you. And I said unto him: Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me: verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues, and people.

Verse 6 goes on to say that John “shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salva­tion who dwell on the earth.” This text is the reason why Mormons claim that the Apostle John has been on the earth preaching the gospel and bringing souls to Jesus ever since he became a disciple of Christ in the first century. But, how could there have been a “universal apostasy” of the Church and Gospel if the Apostle John was actually doing what this LDS scripture said he would do? But that is only part of the problem.

The Book of Mormon also claims that after Jesus was resurrected in Judea, he ap­peared in America and chose twelve “Nephite” disciples to function like the twelve did in Palestine. The heading over 3rd Nephi, chapter 28 says: “Nine of the Twelve desire and are promised an inheritance in Christ’s kingdom when they die—The three Nephites desire and are given power over death so as to remain on the earth until Jesus comes again— They are translated and see things not lawful to utter, and they are now ministering among men.” In 3rd Nephi 28:6 Jesus told the three Nephite disciples that He knew that they wanted the same thing that the Apostle John wanted, so in verse 7 He said to them: “ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven.” Then verse 18 says those three “did go forth upon the face of the land, and did minister unto all the people, uniting as many to the church as would believe in their preaching; baptizing them, and as many as were baptized did receive the Holy Ghost.” Thus, according to LDS scripture, four disciples of Jesus never died but have been on the earth preaching, baptizing, and adding people to the Church, and they will continue to do so until He comes again. That teaching is in con­flict with the LDS teaching of a universal apostasy whereby the true Church and Gospel were no longer on earth. How could there be such an apostasy with four Apostles of Christ on earth along with multitudes of their converts? Either Mormonism’s doctrine of a univer­sal apostasy is wrong or their scripture is wrong—or both!

In the Bible, Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). He also said “all power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18), so He surely should have had the ability to build His Church! Even after He had ascended into heaven, Acts 2:47 records: “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.” Thus, He was building His Church just like He said He would in Matthew 16:18. The Apostle Paul declared that God “gave Him (Christ) to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body—” (Eph. 1:22-23). And in Ephesians 5:23, he said, “Christ is the head of the Church.” Again in Colossians 1:18 Paul said, Christ “is the head of the body, the church.” Notice that Scripture describes the Church as a body with Christ as the Head. The Head and body are permanently joined together as one unit. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how the “body” or Church could become universally apostate unless the Head also became apostate—which is unthinkable!

Apostasy and Restoration is the title of a pamphlet published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). On the last page it says “As Latter-day Saints we testify that shortly after the death of the Lord’s original twelve apostles, there came seven­teen hundred years of apostasy and darkness. Then in 1820, the resurrected Savior ap­peared to Joseph Smith and called Him to be a prophet to all the world. Through him came the restoration of the priesthood, the gospel, and the true church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” In the LDS scripture called The Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith-History 1:3-19, Smith claimed he was fourteen years old in 1820 when a revival took place in Palmyra, New York, near Manchester where he lived. The claims of the Method­ists, Presbyterians and Baptists confused him, so he asked God in prayer which church was right and which he should join. In response, both God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to him and told him not to join any of the churches because they were all wrong along with all their creeds (doctrines) and all those who professed to believe them.

Since Joseph Smith had no witnesses to his “First Vision,” is there any other way to determine whether or not his story is true? Yes, Smith mentions several details that can be compared with other records of those same details. For example, he mentions a revival among Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists in Palmyra, New York, near his home in Manchester, just before he was visited by God and Christ early in the spring of 1820. He also said his brother, Alvin, died November 19, 1823. This kind of data can be verified or disproved by other records. For example, in verse 5, Smith claimed he was living in Manchester, New York in 1820. But in 1970, BYU microfilmed the road tax lists of Palmyra township during the Smith era. Joseph Smith, Sr., was listed among property owners and males over 21 who were required to repair the roads in Palmyra Road District No. 26 from April 1817 through April 1822 because that is where they lived. The property tax records for Manchester show that the Smith’s bought their land in 1821, but there was no home on it before 1822, which agrees with the road tax records. So the Smiths did not live in Manchester in 1820.

In verse 5, Joseph Smith said that in the place where he lived there was an “unusual excitement on the subject of religion” and great multitudes united themselves to the Meth­odist, Presbyterian, and Baptist Churches. Since Smith said it was this revival that caused him to ask God which church was right in spring of 1820, the revival would have had to have been shortly before that in 1819 or early 1820. But those churches in Palmyra in 1819 and 1820 recorded more losses than gains! Nor did the area newspapers mention a revival then.

Joseph also said his brother Alvin died November 19, 1823, and Alvin’s tombstone confirms that date. William Smith, another brother, and one of the original 12 LDS apostles, wrote that Rev. Stockton spoke at Alvin’s funeral indicating he went to hell. Will­iam also said that Rev. Stockton and Rev. Lane later became leaders of the Palmyra re­vival and Joseph Smith, Sr., (Smith’s father) refused to go to the meetings because of what Stockton had said at Alvin’s funeral. Therefore, the revival had to be after Alvin’s death. The area newspapers reported a revival in the fall of 1824 and early 1825, led by Rev. Stockton and Rev. Lane, which resulted in large numbers joining the churches. The church records for the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists also show large gains at that time.

But if that was the revival that caused Joseph Smith to ask God which church was right, the earliest “spring” he could have had his First Vision was in 1825. Smith also seems to be confused about what he saw in his First Vision. His earliest account in his own diary says he saw the Lord who told him his sins were forgiven. But there was no mention of all the churches being wrong. Another time he said the Lord and many angels appeared to him. The account in LDS scripture was published 22 years after it supposedly happened and says he saw “two personages” who are now identified as God the Father and Christ. But the Bible says “No man hath seen God at any time” (John 1:18; I John 4:12; I Tim. 6:16). The reason no man can see God is because He is invisible (Col. 1:15).

Smith’s story also claims that the angel Moroni first visited him three years after his First Vision and then it was four more years before he got the gold plates and began to translate the Book of Mormon. If Smith’s First Vision was in the spring of 1825, he couldn’t have begun to translate the Book of Mormon until 1832. But the Book of Mormon was registered June 11, 1829! Joseph Fielding Smith, the tenth LDS Prophet, said “Mormonism as it is called must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground…If his claims and declarations were built upon fraud and deceit, there would appear many errors and contradictions, which would be easy to detect” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. I, p. 188). The errors and contradictions in Smith’s story indicate it is not true.

For more information on this subject we recommend Inventing Mormonism by Wesley Walters and Michael Marquardt, published by Smith Research Associates in 1994. Our next article will discuss the Angel Moroni and other heavenly visitors involved in Smith’s “Restored Church.”

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