Joseph Smith is a very divisive figure in American religion–to found a church is one thing, but to have God and Jesus Christ appear to you is quite another. Joseph Smith has been maligned time and time again, but his story, his life, and the events surrounding God calling him to be a prophet are not absurd, rather it is all congruent with how God has called a prophet and spoken to his children in all ages of the world.
The crux of any claim or statement that attempts to malign or discredit a Mormon’s belief, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in general, originates in the validity of Joseph Smith’s testimony of The Father and The Son coming to visit him (Please see Joseph Smith History 1:13-20). Either They did in fact visit him, or They didn’t. It is not my wish to convince you that Joseph Smith was God’s prophet, rather it is my hope that you will see that Joseph Smith meets the qualifications of a prophet as found in the Bible. I urge you to ponder these points as you read them, and please do so with an open mind and heart.
- According to the Bible, God has always led His church and people through a prophet. “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7, emphasis added). This doctrine of governing the affairs of the church through a prophet was reaffirmed when Christ established the new covenant and built His church upon prophets and apostles, Jesus, Himself, being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-22). This is shown clearly by Christ giving Peter the keys of the kingdom, or the right to direct the affairs of Christ’s church, when Christ himself was not on the earth (Matthew 16:18-19). Joseph Smith received instructions from Jesus Christ on how to govern His church, and these were compiled into what is now known as the Doctrine and Covenants.
- Prophets have always had direct authority from God to act in His name. They did not just “feel” that they were called of God, they were actually given this right by either God Himself, or by another who could trace his authority back to God. As clear example of this, before Aaron could officiate in the ordinances of the tabernacle, he was anointed and given the authority to do so by Moses who was a holder of this priesthood. This same pattern of conferring the priesthood is still employed today in Jesus Christ’s church. Furthermore, this practice is in accordance with what Paul teaches the Hebrews, “No man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrew 5:4). John the Baptist who held the right to administer baptism for the remission of sins visited Joseph Smith in May 1829 and gave this authority to Joseph Smith (D&C 13:1 and section heading); furthermore, Peter, James, and John, Christ’s head apostles, came to Joseph and gave to him the authority to govern Christ’s church shortly after John the Baptist visited Joseph (D&C 27:7-8, 12).
- Prophets have always written down their revelations to be handed down to the future generations. Their writings, however, weren’t to be intended as the end of all revelation (and no where in the Bible does it say there will be no more revelation). Thus, we now have the Bible–it is the compilation of some 4000 years of God’s revelations and teachings. Once again, this has been the pattern and will continue to the pattern. Through Joseph Smith came The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. These are physical evidences that God not only spoke to those of his children in Israel and the regions round about, but to others on a different continent and continues to speak to us today through prophets.
- Peter himself prophesied that before Christ would come again, all things would be restored (Acts 3:19-21). Paul taught of a dispensation of the fulness of times when all things would come together (Ephesians 1:10) and he also taught that before the second coming of Jesus Christ there would come a falling away, or a turning from the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Furthermore, there is evidence from the New Testament that this falling away was already beginning to happen (Acts 20:29-31; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 2 Timothy 1:15; 1 John 2:18-19). This restoration of all things began with Joseph Smith being visited by The Father and The Son.
- God has always had only one church that He personally endorses. Paul taught this to the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:5) and it is clear that Jesus Christ (Jehovah) was leading only one house of Israel. As another example, if Jesus Christ is the head of multiple churches, then why was Paul not content with letting the wolves enter the flock and lead them astray? Why was he so concerned that the doctrine is being corrupted and changed by others? This further underscores that Christ leads only one church. Yes, there are many good churches who do many good things in Christ’s name and sincerely strive to do what Christ taught-they have many pieces, but not the whole pie. Through Joseph Smith, Christ declared, “And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually–” (D&C 1:30, italics added).
- A prophet of God does not doubt who God is–His character and attributes, because he knows God personally. This pattern was established with Adam and has been reaffirmed over and over again down through history. Joseph Smith and his prophetic calling is not out of context, rather it fits perfectly with the pattern that has long been established for God’s calling of a prophet. He did not doubt if they came or what they looked like, he knew who it was that came to him in the spring of 1820. He firmly declared the true character of God and His Son, Jesus Christ from that spring day until he gave his life.
- The last point is that a prophet giving his life for the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something that has frequently occurred throughout the course of time. Joseph Smith was true to his testimony–of the restoration of the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ–to his death. There will always be those that scoff and point the finger of scorn towards Joseph Smith. There will always be those who try to lay subtle traps and search for supposed loop holes in the teachings and doctrine that Jesus Christ gave to the world through him. But just as the prophets of old, Joseph Smith’s blood was shed as a final testimony of the validity of Jesus Christ restoring His church and authority once more. How can a man suffer what he suffered–beatings, being tarred and feathered, whippings, persecution wherever he went, being arrested multiple times and being incarcerated in the worst of circumstances, being rejected and maligned by even some of his closest associates, seeing his fellow disciples be beaten, driven from their homes multiple times, and suffering all manner of cruelty, and then to finally lay down his life, and all the time be living a lie? (Please see Elder Jeffrey Holland’s most recent General Conference address, text and on YouTube.)
I wish to emphasize that it cannot be proven empirically by me or any other human being that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. There will always be those who want this type of proof, but God does not work this way. He teaches his children truth when they are willing to hear it and when they are willing to believe, and act accordingly. God does not confirm his words through complex philosophical methods, rather through the undeniable feelings of the Holy Ghost, a burning in the heart so to speak. In this way, I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God. I cannot deny those feelings–I know it and I know that God knows I know. You, too, are free to embrace the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and you are free to accept Joseph Smith as one of God’s prophets. This will take belief and action, pondering and sincere prayer, but the answers will come. Please feel free to contact me through the question box by leaving your e-mail address, or by contacting the missionaries of our church through the link on the side bar of our website.