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  • Writer's pictureJacob Hansen

LDS Claims #1: The Historical Narrative

The True Church?

Of all the phrases uttered by members of the LDS faith I doubt there is anything more controversial than the oft repeated phrase "The One True Church". The outside observer is puzzled and a little offended by such an arrogant statement from a relatively small religion that originated in the 1830's. The phrase seems totally disrespectful of other religious traditions that have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. The phrase seems to denote a kind of self righteous judgmental attitude about other faiths and religions. Sadly, some of the Mormon faith would use these statements to justify self righteous and disrespectful behaviors/attitudes but I want to examine closely what is actually meant by this statement. What it does NOT mean. I guess the first things to remember is what it does not mean. The statement in no way claims we are exclusive possessors of the truth. We believe we have a great deal we can learn from others and this has been our message from the beginning despite the often "know it all" attitude some members carry. "Be willing to receive the truth, let it come from whom it may; no difference, not a particle. Just as soon receive the Gospel from Joseph Smith as from Peter, who lived in the days of Jesus. Receive it from one man as soon as another....“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom."..- Brigham Young "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things"- 13th article of faith. Indeed, our faith is one that accepts all truth be it temporal or spiritual in nature and we welcome all truth and reject all falsehood. The key is being able to discern the one from the other.

What it does mean. Now I don't want this to come across as the unchristian nonsense that "all paths lead to God" or that the LDS church is not making a bold claim. However, it is important we clarify what that bold claim is. In its simplest form the claim is that the LDS Church is the only church that was started by Christ himself and continues operating as authorized by Christ himself. In short it is Christ's official church and the one he would direct people to join if he were on the earth today. Upon hearing this claim a great number of people get offended a never take the time to try to understand that LDS case for these bold claims. To even have this discussion a person must first be a believer in God and more specifically in the biblical narrative as the basis for understanding who Christ was. The LDS church rejects the notion that you can can simply "invent" in your own mind who Christ was without any outside basis for it. Though the LDS faith certainly is not a fundamental literal biblical religion, we like most other Christian faiths use the biblical narrative as the primary basis to understand Jesus Christ's mortal ministry. If an open minded person accepts biblically based Christianity then LDS claims can come as an eye opening and fascinating take on the whole of the biblical narrative.


The Old Testament Narrative.

The Old testament tradition very clearly shows us a God who anciently called authorized

servants to serve as priests and prophets in leading the people who had entered into a covenant with him. Prophets seem to have been the pinnacle of these authorized servants who led and guided the people in the ways and will of the Lord within the framework of an organized religion complete with ritual and priesthood authority structures. "Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets."- (Amos 3:7)

"And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood"- (Exodus 40) "And the Lord said unto Moses, Take thee Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him; And thou shalt put some of thine honour upon him, that all the congregation of the children of Israel may be obedient... And Moses did as the Lord commanded him:... And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the Lord commanded by the hand of Moses." (Numbers 27.)  "And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the Lord commanded Moses."- Duet 34:9

"And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron’s sons." (Exodus 28:1)  The old testament narrative contains many histories, stories and legends. Of the many themes found in the old testament one of the most frequent is that of the these tales the reception of God's prophets was often less than ideal and that the people fell frequently into apostasy and captivity. Equally frequent is the notion that God would never forget his people and would call new prophets to guide the people back to him again. These patterns of calling the fallen people back to God can be found over and over in the stories of Noah, Jeremiah, Moses, Micha and many other biblical prophets.


The New Testament Narrative The new testament follows the story of a jew named Jesus who is the promised redeemer. Jesus comes to fulfill the words of the ancient prophets and to take the ancient faith that has been so perverted over time by the social/political powers and mold it into the higher law based in the good news (gospel) that mankind might be saved through him. The jews had married the promise of a redeemer into a story of political and social redemption from the oppression of their social and political foes. Chists message went much deeper and proclaimed the messiah would bring a redemption of the human soul.


"Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then

would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence... To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth."- (John 18:36) However, I is important to note that Jesus did not reject the rituals or the organizational structures of the jewish religion which he himself followed. He instead rejected the perverse, hypocritical, divided and uninspired leadership that long since had lost the connection with him that once served as the revelatory bedrock of the ancient house of Israel. He claimed to be the source of the ancient faith and with that seemingly blasphemous authority preached against how the real meaning of these traditions had been lost. His mission was to not not only to correct them, but to take them to a higher level in which mankind could be made right with God through Him. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."- (Matt 5:17)


The organization of his original church



"And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church."- (Matt 16:18) Despite the large body of biblical evidence, many reject the notion that Christ organized a church. Not only is this claim unbiblical, it misses the fact Christ seemed to follow an old testament model when organizing his church by utilizing authority, ritual, official doctrine and organization through the calling and ordaining authorized ministers who would work using revelation from Christ to guide the church in order keep it unified under Him.  "And He (Christ) a gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry,... that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men...whereby they lie in wait to deceive... Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" - Paul of Tarsus in his letter to the Ephesians addressing the organization of the church (Ephesians 4) "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." -(Gal 1:11-12) "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Matt 16:19)

"And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils."-(Mark 3:14)

"Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness"- (Matt 10:1)

Equally clear in the biblical record is the idea that not only was ecclesiastical authority needed, it could not be claimed without being chosen and ordained by Christ or his representatives. Christ had a stern condemnation of anyone who did works as if they had been authorized by him when they had not been. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me...”- Sermon on the Mount (Matt 7) "And no man taketh this honour (the priesthood) unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron."- Paul in his letter to the Hebrew who were familiar with the ancient Aaronic and Melchizedek orders of the priesthood. (Hebrews 5:4) "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you"- (John 15:16) "And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen." -The prayer of the Apostles asking the Lord to provide revelation for who he had chosen to replace Judas as the next apostle. (Acts 1:24) The Apostasy The biblical record is also clear that, just like in ancient Israel, divine authority was given to run this newly organized religion and that any attempts to claim authority outside of that given by Christ was forbidden. The church was meant to be a unified body founded on the apostles central leadership. Despite this, false teachings and a lack of unity began very early in the church. Paul's letters are very instructive as they are nearly all letters of correction sent to church branches that had begun to wander from the official church doctrines as set by revelation to the Lord's Apostles.  "Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)...I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel...Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.... As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed....  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Galatians 1)

This single and united church was held together under the centralized leadership of the Apostles. Then quite abruptly the biblical record stops. The apostles were killed and persecution of the church was rampant. The various branches of the church under the leadership of the local leaders did their best over the the next 200-250 years to hold the church together but without the central inspired leadership of the apostleship disputes arose and schism became rampant as there was no unifying central leadership body to hold together the unified faith community spoken of by Paul.  "One Lord, One faith, One baptism..."- Paul in his letter to the Ephesians addressing the intended unity of God and the church. (Ephesians 4:5)

Christianity was a persecuted heavily during this period but this all ended with a rather miraculous event, the conversion of the emperor Constantine. His conversion brought Christianity out of the shadows. One of his first actions was to bring together the various branches left over from the apostolic age at the Council of Nicea in order to recentralize the faith under himself. What he found was great disagreement among the branches of the church. There was dispute in this counsel on fundamental doctrines/practices due to the divisions that arose over the course of 2 centuries since the loss of the central leadership of the Apostles. He wished to create a universal (catholic means universal) church which all could agree to and unite under. Instead of clarification and unity coming via apostolic revelation, in this counsel a Roman Emperor did his best to piece together church that had been divided and without a centralized leadership for over 200 years. The history after Constantine is well known. What followed was a "dark age" where political power and Christianity were mixed together leading to massive corruption in the church.


Wonderful, sincere followers of Christ tried their best to remain true and preach the message of Christ; but the essential structure and leadership of the church had become so involved in political affairs its hard to believe this was the church started by he who said "my kingdom is not of this world".


More importantly the central foundation of the apostleship as spoken of by Paul was gone. Hence, schism after schism happened despite all the counsels that tried and unite them under one banner. The central authority, the structure and eventually many of the teachings of the church established by Christ himself were lost or corrupted. 

That Christianity had gone off track became extremely clear over a millennia later when the bible was finally allowed to be read by the general public. The printing press and the spread of the bible heightened the level of division among Christians because suddenly it became very clear that many of the teachings and practices at that time were not consistent with the biblical narrative. Using the bible as their foundation protestant reformers began to try and get Christianity back on track. Great improvements were made to the faith, corruption declined and Christendom got nearer to Christ and farther from secular politics. However, this certainly did not represent a restoration of centralized prophetic authority which would bring all under its banner. What resulted were self authorized christian faiths that preached a "universal priesthood of all believers" which has no history either in the bible or Christendom prior to the the reformation. This fact was not lost on many reformers like Roger Williams of the mid 15th century who rightly recognized.   "There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent by the Great Head of the Church for whose coming I am seeking."

Great debate over biblical principles like these ensued and schism continued and continues to this day.   


The Mormon Claim


So here we find ourselves in this story. The incredible and miraculous claims of Mormonism make no sense without the proper backdrop of this context. A restoration of central prophetic leadership authority only makes sense if you understand its role in the biblical narrative. If one accepts the miraculous God of the scriptures the Mormon story takes on a new life. It was the God of the bible who called the unlikely shepherd boy David to kill Goliath and save his people, it was the God of the bible who called a royal Egyptian in exile to free his people from Egyptian slavery, it was the God of the bible who called a gaggle of peasant fishermen to be his apostles charged with carrying his gospel to every creature and it was Christ himself, Alpha and Omega, The Savior of the World, who was born to an engaged "virgin" under scandalous circumstances in a barn while on their way to pay taxes to a pagan dictator. So, why is it so shocking to think that same God would use the rough edged Joseph Smith to bring about the miraculous restoration of his church? Why if God used prophets in ancient days to call his fallen people back to him, do we insist that it could not be so today? Are miracles dead, has God gone silent? Despite the attempts to discredit the witnesses (which echo the attacks on the credibility of fisherman from Galilee) the context is what gives power to the last words of these men who claimed with their dying breaths the miraculous reality of the restoration miracle.   "Jacob, I want you to remember what I say to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know, that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testified is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind—it was real".- Oliver Cowdery shortly after he returned to the church, just prior to his death. 

"It having been represented by one John Murphy, that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the BOOK OF MORMON. To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once and for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion!"’- David Whitmer, who never returned to the church near the end of his life.  "The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true." Martin Harris on his deathbed.  I don't blame anyone for not believing my history. If I had not experienced what I have, I would not have believed it myself....I felt much like Paul (who had also seen Christ in a vision)….some said he was dishonest, others said he was mad; and he was ridiculed and reviled. But all this did not destroy the reality of his vision. He had seen a vision, he knew he had, and all the persecution under heaven could not make it otherwise; …. So it was with me. I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me,reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it.- Joseph Smith. So the unique Mormon claim is that we find ourselves in the continuation of the biblical narrative in a very real sense. God, as in old times, has called prophets again and restored his church. An incredible story even for the skeptic.

I think one of the reasons the LDS claims are so fascinating to me is because they are so comprehensive. Many christian faiths only lightly touch major biblical themes like priesthood authority, prophets, the restoration of Israel or less major biblical ideas like baptism for the dead. Most never really talk much about the history and origins of their own faith tradition or christian history as a whole. Most christian faiths all but forget the old testament's connections to christianity and a great many base themselves in very specific new testament doctrines like grace. Mormonism, through a miraculous (and seemly unbelievable) narrative takes it all into an account that spans all the biblical records and even secular history. Some may disagree with the interpretation and this does not prove the truth of our claims by any means. However, it does say something impressive about Mormonism's ability to take vast amounts of seemingly unrelated information from various eons of time and connect them into a comprehensive history believed by millions including well educated individuals.  If Mormonism is not true, Joseph Smith was perhaps the greatest biblical and theological tale twister of all time when you realize the depth and comprehensive nature of the LDS faith. It has always perplexed me (and even skeptics who are familiar with Mormonism's depth of biblical/theological comprehension) that such an incredibly complex and comprehensive biblical based faith could have arisen from the mind of farm laborer in his early 20's on the American frontier in the first decades of the 19th century. Certainly many of his claims about miracles may be doubtful or seem totally insane, but his consistency and fidelity to the tenets of the whole of the biblical narrative while creating a "new" religion are astounding when properly understood. Many around Joseph Smith, like his wife Emma, said a major reason they believed his claims was because they knew him personally and believed the only way he could be doing the things he was doing was through some sort of divine and miraculous intervention.  

So is it true?

The story and it's claims can be debated and re-debated and nothing I say is going to bring you to believe in miracles. I am merely putting out the Mormon claim to the best of my ability, it is up to you to find out if this really is the work of Christ and I hope you seek an answer from him before buying what I say or caving to your own skeptical inclinations. For those who accept Christ and the message of the bible I would invite them to listen to Christ's message therein because I believe he taught us the way to know for ourselves how to recognize his work. After reading the verses below and considering the overarching message of them as a group, I hope you will see what he wants you to do. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you"- (Matt 7:7)

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God" - (James 1:5)  "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." -(Matt 16:17)

"But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me."- (John 15:26) "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance."- (Gal 5:22) "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." (John 7:16) Woe unto you...ye say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets....behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city...O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!- (Matt 23:29-37) For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. (Matt 23:39)

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