I’ve recently started reading Stephen Mansfield’s The Mormonizing of America and I would recommend that all members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take a look at it. The book isn’t perfect but it gives an unbiased look at how the Church grew from a few humble farmers to being interwoven into the very fabric of America. There are some facts in there that Saints might not be familiar with. I know when I was investigating the Church, I brought up a few of them and was met with confusion. Towards the end of the book, there’s a list of 27 points titled Mormon Beliefs in Plain Language. After reading through them, there are a few things I’d like to either expand on or clarify.
1 – Not long after the Christian Church began, the pure teachings of Jesus Christ were lost or perverted. By the early 1800s, all Christian churches had become corrupt, had distorted the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and were an “abomination” to God.
This is accurate. Throughout time there have been multiple periods (called dispensations) where a prophet is called to Earth to teach people what God wants from them, the people listen to him for a while, the message is eventually rejected, the people go back to being wicked, and the whole process starts over again. The word choice (corrupt, distorted, abomination) sounds kind of harsh but it just means that the fulness and purity of the Gospel had been altered in some way, big or small, by the churches on Earth and needed to be restored.
2 – Beginning in 1820, the Prophet Joseph Smith experienced a series of spiritual visitations in which the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods were “restored” and through which the Book of Mormon was recovered and translated.
Members believe that the power of the priesthood (such as the ability to baptize) can only be used by someone with the proper keys or authority. And that authority can only be given to you by someone else who has the authority. Since there was no one on Earth with that authority, Joseph Smith was visited by John the Baptist and given the Aaronic (or lesser) priesthood. There’s not really a specific account that I can find and the Church website states “It is impossible to precisely date this heavenly manifestation from existing sources” but it’s commonly believed that Smith and Oliver Cowdery were visited by the Apostles Peter, James, and John and had the Melchizedek priesthood conferred upon them. It doesn’t seem that the priesthood was required for Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon, though. He started translating in April 1828 and wasn’t given the priesthood until May 1829. During this time, Smith had translated a majority of the Book of Mormon, including the 116 pages that Martin Harris lost.
3 – The Book of Mormon teaches that tribes of Jews settled in the New World first at the time of the Tower of Babel and then again at the time of the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, around 600 BC. Jesus Christ visited the descendants of these tribes after his resurrection. His teachings as well as the history of these warring Jewish tribes were recorded on gold plates and buried around AD 400. Guided by the angel Moroni, Joseph Smith recovered these plates and translated them, thus producing the Book of Mormon in the early 1800s.
The Jaredites were the people that made it to the New World around the time of the Tower of Babel. They lived and built up their civilization but were ultimately destroyed as the second “tribe” (Lehi’s family) arrived. Over the years, Lehi’s descendants grew in numbers and split into two warring tribes called the Nephites and the Lamanites. Jesus visited the Nephites when He came to North America. Something this book gets right that most people get wrong is that Joseph Smith didn’t write the Book of Mormon, he translated it. The wording makes it sound like he did this with the help of Moroni, though. He helped Joseph find the plates but he wasn’t involved in the translation process.
4 – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) was formed on April 6, 1830, with Joseph Smith as its First Elder. Mormons consider it “the only living and true Church” on earth. Today, it is led by a President who is regarded as “prophet, seer, and revelator.” He is aided by Twelve Apostles. There is also a Quorum of the Seventy who help govern the church. These together are called The General Authorities.
There isn’t really anything to add here. This is the basic structure of the church’s higher ups.
5 – All men have existed as spirits before assuming physical bodies on earth. During this “premortality”, families were already formed and destinies determined. The noble spirits in this preexistence become Mormons when they live on earth. The ignoble spirits of preexistence are non-Mormons on earth.
This point is sort of disconnected from what I’ve come to understand about the premortal life. The first sentence is correct in that we all existed before this life as spirits. We lived with our Heavenly Father but couldn’t progress because our world was perfect. So we were sent here to Earth and given physical bodies to experience all the joys and trials of life. To my knowledge, we weren’t already sectioned into families and we don’t subscribe to the belief of “predestination” so I don’t believe that our destinies were already determined. Maybe they were up to the part where we were destined to come to Earth and will return to our Heavenly Father but whatever happens here is up to us. We were given agency or free will.
I don’t think there’s any doctrine to back up the last two sentences but I have heard members make mention of those thoughts. In my understanding, noble spirits would be the ones who sided with Jesus and ignoble spirits would be the ones who didn’t. The ones who didn’t join with Jesus weren’t given the opportunity to come to Earth and gain physical bodies. They will remain spirits. It’s believed that everyone on Earth chose to side with Jesus and come here. So technically we should all be noble which, going by the book entry, means we’d all be Mormons but we know that isn’t true.