An Overview of Latter-day Saint History
This strange eventual History
Latter-day Saints have no quarrel with images. They see their religion as a series of images fitting into an overarching image which confirms their faith in the church as the 'restored' Church of Jesus Christ. The fundamental proposition of Mormonism - it is difficult to find an appropriate noun to replace this - is that it is the primitive Gospel restored to earth by divine provenance after a period of universal apostasy. The principal instrument of the Restoration was the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr. He is sustained by Latter-day Saints as a prophet of God, authoritatively called and endowed by direct revelation, as his successors are also held to be.
Smith was born in Vermont in 1805. The family moved to Palmyra, New York State when he was eleven. Most of his family attached themselves to the Presbyterian movement, but Joseph did not. His reticence to embrace a particular creed was due in large part to the fact that he saw different denominations and sects interpreting the same Biblical text differently.
In 1820 his attention was drawn to a scriptural passage which not only changed his life, but which changed the course of American history, produced the "American religion" and sent shock waves throughout the Christian world. The passage was the weekly portion in the Methodist Church that Joseph sometimes attended.
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.
He wrote that this passage struck him with great force. He pondered it deeply. In response to its urging he knelt in prayer in a wood close to the Smith home and received an open vision of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, who appeared as two glorious corporeal personages. In answer to his question "which church should I join?" he was cautioned against any then extant. He was promised that he would some day be the means through which the prophesied Restoration would be effected.
At the time Joseph was unaware of the significance of the vision. It dispelled the notion of a Trinitarian Godhead and disclosed the truth that the nature of God and his Son had been lost in antiquity. The Saviour's statement that none of the churches was correct must have shocked the young man. On his return home his mother, Lucy Mack Smith, thought him troubled in mind and spirit . She asked what was wrong.
'Never mind, all is well - I am well enough off.' I then said to my mother, 'I have learned for myself that Presbyterianism is not true.'
A few years later he wanted to know what God had in mind for him and in response to earnest prayer the Angel Moroni appeared and spoke about his mission. He learned that Moroni was the son of Mormon, the abridger of the Nephite record that came to be known as the Book of Mormon. Moroni made the final entry of the story of his people in the book before hiding it in the earth where it would remain until it would be revealed to the world. It was to be another witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ. The angel told Joseph that the record contained the religious history of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent, and was engraved on gold plates. In time Moroni delivered the plates to Joseph together with the means of their translation.
In May 1829 John the Baptist conferred The Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. In June of the same year Peter, James, and John conferred the higher or Melchizedek Priesthood. In June 1830, a few weeks after the Book of Mormon was published, the Church of Jesus Christ was organized according to the law of New York State and in obedience to divine instruction.
Against all expectations the Church grew rapidly, attracting friendly and hostile attention. A year after the inaugural meeting it had a membership of one thousand but as membership grew so did persecution. To escape this the congregation moved en masse to Kirtland, Ohio, but persecution became even more severe as the Church expanded in its new location. They learned that the centre 'stake' of Zion, the New Jerusalem, was to be built in Jackson County, Missouri. Selected families were sent ahead to buy land and plant crops in preparation for the thousands of Latter-day Saints who were to follow them to the land of their inheritances much as ancient Israel had done in their Promised Land. But the Missourians were disturbed by the large scale migration and made it clear that Mormons were not welcome there. The strength of hostility against the Mormons is covered in the next chapter.