History of the Church

After the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the death of his apostles, and faced with organized
persecution and hostility from within the Roman Empire, the church that Christ had established
with its simple but beautiful doctrines and authority began rapidly to change. While many good
people and many truths remained, by the fourth century, it bore little resemblance to the original
Church of Christ. With the loss of divine approval and authority from the Church, a long period
of spiritual darkness followed.

But in the spring of 1820, God appeared to a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, setting in
motion events that led to the “restoration” of the ancient Church of Jesus Christ to the earth. In
contrast to Protestantism, which sought a “reformation” of the church that survived, Mormonism
believes that a “restoration” of the original church was necessary, and that this was brought about
by the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith
Joseph Smith was born 23 December 1805 in Sharon, Vermont, in the northeastern United States.
He later moved with his family to the rural community of Palmyra, New York, where in 1820 a
religious revival occurred. Confused by the conflicting claims of the various faiths, the boy went
to the Bible for guidance and there found the invitation to “ask of God” for himself.

In a wooded grove near the family farm, the boy Joseph knelt to pray. There in that secluded
place, in the most dramatic revelation since biblical times, God and his Son, Jesus Christ,
appeared to the boy and gave him instructions. He was commanded to join none of the existing
churches and was told that God would restore to earth the Church originally organized by Jesus
Christ, with all of its truths and priesthood authority.

The Book of Mormon
The restoration of gospel truths began with Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon:
Another Testament of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was led to a hill near Palmyra, New York,
where he received an ancient record from an angel known as Moroni. The record, engraved on
gold plates, was compiled by a prophet named Mormon and gave the history of a people who
lived on the American continent during ancient times, including the time of Christ. Among other
things, the Book of Mormon records the visitation of the risen Christ to the inhabitants of ancient
America. Joseph translated the plates in about three months, and the Book of Mormon was first
published in New York in 1830. Members of the Church were soon called “Mormons” by those
of other faiths.

Priesthood Authority
The restoration of priesthood authority through Joseph Smith in 1829 was a literal act through
angelic visitations from those who held the authority anciently. Apostles and prophets in all ages
have had priesthood authority from God to act in his name. The original Twelve Apostles
received this authority under the hands of Jesus Christ himself. But with their passing, the
authority of the apostleship disappeared from the earth.

In May of 1829, a resurrected being who identified himself as John the Baptist appeared to
Joseph Smith and his associate Oliver Cowdery, laid his hands on their heads, and gave them the
Aaronic Priesthood with the authority to baptize and perform other ordinances. Shortly thereafter,
three of the original apostles – Peter, James and John – appeared to Joseph and Oliver and gave
them the authority of the apostleship and the Melchizedek, or higher, Priesthood.

Early Church History
With the restoration of priesthood authority, and in accordance with the laws of the state of New
York, Joseph Smith officially organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on 6
April 1830, in Fayette, New York, USA. New religious movements in the United States often
encountered opposition from established denominations, and members of this newly established
faith soon faced persecution and, later, even calls for extermination. To escape the escalating
turmoil, Joseph Smith moved the Church headquarters from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri
and later to Nauvoo, Illinois. But persecution continued, and Joseph and his older brother Hyrum
were shot to death in nearby Carthage, Illinois on 27 June 1844 by a mob of 150 to 200 men.
Joseph was 38 years old.

Following the pattern of organization established by Jesus Christ during his earthly lifetime,
Joseph Smith had selected from among his associates in 1835 twelve men whom he ordained as
apostles. As the senior of the Twelve Apostles at the time of Joseph’s death, Brigham Young
succeeded Joseph Smith as the leader of the Church. Pursuing a vision initially articulated by
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young prepared his people – approximately 17,000 of them by that
time – for a trek across the vast wilderness of Western America to the Rocky Mountains, 1,300
miles (2,100 km) to the west. The first pioneer party arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake
on 24 July 1847. Salt Lake City, Utah has served as headquarters of the Church since that time.
The church that Joseph established in 1830 is today a global faith of over 14 million members,
and Joseph Smith himself is regarded by Latter-day Saints as the pre-eminent prophet of modern
times. Contrary to assertions by some opponents of the Church, Joseph is not worshiped by
Church members. Like Abraham or Moses, he is honored as a prophet (a person authorized to
speak on behalf of God), but Joseph was still a man with the shortcomings and faults common to
other men.

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