To understand what Mormons believe and why, it’s important to understand who Joseph Smith was (a prophet of God, like Moses or Abraham) and why his life and role are important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (because through him the gospel and Church of Jesus Christ were restored). Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith, but we honor him as someone who was called of God to do an essential work for the salvation of God’s children.
It started with what we call his First Vision at age 14. He was deeply concerned about the salvation of his soul and was searching for a church to join.
Verses in the Bible in James 1:5-6 inspired him to pray and ask God what he should do. On a spring morning in 1820, he went to a grove of trees near his home and sought God in prayer. In answer to his prayer, the world was changed forever. Joseph was visited by God the Father and by Jesus Christ. In his own words, Joseph Smith describes the 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!” (Joseph Smith-History 1:16-17).
Over the next decade, Joseph Smith received more visitations and revelations that brought forth The Book of Mormon, restored priesthood authority, and enabled him to formally re-establish the Church of Jesus Christ on April 6, 1830.
Why was a restoration necessary? Listen to a podcast on the Mormon Channel about Joseph Smith’s First Vision that explains the Great Apostasy which took place after Jesus’ early apostles were killed and the authority of God was lost. Although during this time of apostasy, many good people lived and did much for the cause of truth and light (including the important, inspired work that many did during times in history such as the Renaissance and Reformation), Christ’s church was no longer on the earth. Many truths had been lost and and authorized ordinances of salvation were no longer performed. Many thought the day of revelations and visions was no more.
But the Restoration through Joseph Smith, beginning with the First Vision, led to the fulfillment of ancient prophecies that after a “falling away,” a “restitution of all things” would happen before Christ’s Second Coming. Once again, the heavens were opened!
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declare that the heavens are still open. God still speaks through living prophets.
The following video shares the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision.
(You can watch part 1 of the Joseph Smith story here.)
For more on Joseph Smith and the First Vision, see the following links:
Mormons around the world testify of the divine calling of Joseph Smith and the reality of the Restoration
Related scriptures and articles on this topic:
- “Apostasy and the Restoration” Dallin H. Oaks, Ensign, May 1995, 84–87 — In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the principles of Greek philosophy.
- “Restored Truth” M. Russell Ballard, Ensign, Nov. 1994, 65–67 — The New Testament indicates that the early Apostles worked hard to preserve the church that Jesus Christ left to their care and keeping, but they knew their efforts would ultimately be in vain.
- “The Church of Jesus Christ in Former Times” — Gospel Principles, Chapter 16