Jesus taught his disciples that they should seek truth.
Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32)
As we follow our quest for Eternal Life, we must continually seek for truth, for God is the author of all truth. Within the Christian world today, there are hundreds of denominations and churches. They all teach of Christ, but they differ in important ways. They differ in their teachings about the nature of God. They differ in their teachings about salvation. They differ in their teachings about who is a Christian and who is not. They differ whether Priesthood authority is necessary or not. These examples of differences illustrate that there is confusion in the Christian world. God, however, is not the author of this confusion; God is the author of truth, and truth is consistent with itself.
For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
As we search for truth in the Christian world, we must determine which of the many denominations is Christ’s church. This is not an easy task, for all Christian churches have truth. Some churches have more truth than others, and one church has the Priesthood authority of God to perform ordinances.
The New Testament Church
Let us study the New Testament church as a pattern of what the Savior’s church should be like today. Because it is a pattern, the New Testament church will not be exactly like the savior’s church today, because conditions are different today; the savior’s church must evolve and adapt to the changing conditions. However, the New Testament church had attributes that should be in the church today.
When Jesus of Nazareth began his ministry, he taught and blessed the people. In addition to being a great teacher, he was the Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. As such, Jesus received power and authority from his Father in Heaven.
These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee:
As thou has given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. (John 17:1-2)
Early in his ministry, Jesus brought together others to help him with the work.
And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples; and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; (Luke 6:13)
These twelve men were different than the other disciples. They were ordained by Jesus and received power and authority to perform his work.
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 3:14-15)
After the ascension of the Lord, the Apostles met with the disciples in prayer and worship. Peter explained they should choose a new Apostle to fill the vacancy left by Judas. They selected two persons. Then they prayed for guidance, and they chose Matthias, who was “numbered with the eleven apostles”.
And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.
Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.
And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
And they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:15,21-26)
It is significant that the first recorded decision of the Apostles after Christ’s ascension was to fill the vacancy in the Apostleship and thus keep the number of Apostles at twelve.
Another vacancy occurred in the Apostleship when Herod killed the Apostle James.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. (Acts 12:1-2)
The Bible does not explicitly say whether anyone was chosen to fill that vacancy, but we must remember the Bible does not give a complete account of the history of the early church. The Bible does, however, speak of other Apostles besides the original twelve and Matthias, implying vacancies were filled. In many of his epistles, Paul introduced himself as an Apostle.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1)
In addition, Barnabas was referred to as an Apostle.
Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, (Acts 14:14)
Also, Paul spoke of James the brother of Jesus as being an Apostle.
But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother. (Galatians 1:19)
Prior to his ascension to heaven, Jesus told his apostles to take the Gospel to all the world; they would carry the burden of furthering his work.
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:16-20)
Jesus’ command to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations“ was not a general call to the ministry for anyone reading the Bible. It was a specific call given to eleven men to be the leaders of his church! As we read the history of the church as recorded in the book of Acts, we realize the Apostles did take the Gospel to the world. Even though the Apostles were not the only members of the church, they were the leaders, and the people looked to them for guidance.
In writing to the members in Ephesus, Paul explained the importance of the Apostles to the church.
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;
In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: (Ephesians 2:19-21)
Through an analogy of the church and a building, Paul explained that Christ is the center or head of the church and the Apostles are the foundation. He said the church with this organization was fitly framed together and groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. Now we can begin to understand the urgency with which the eleven Apostles filled the vacancy in their group by choosing Matthias–they wanted to keep the church fitly framed together.
Purpose of Apostles
In writing to the Ephesians, Paul taught that the Apostles and other officers were in the church for specific reasons.
And he 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, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Let us discuss the reasons Paul gave for the officers being in the church.
Perfecting of the Saints. The “saints” referred to in the New Testament were not people who had reached some special status but were the members of the church, people like us. For example, in beginning his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul said “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:” (Ephesians 1:1). That is, Paul addressed his epistle to the members of the church (saints) at Ephesus and in general to all disciples. The Apostles were included in the church by Christ to help the members improve their lives through following his commandments, that is for the “perfecting of the saints”.
Work of the Ministry. The Apostles were to conduct the work of the ministry within the church. They were the leaders of the church.
Edifying of the Body or Church of Christ. The Apostles were to teach “all nations”. They were to eliminate false teachings from the church and lead the people to Christ. Paul told how long the Apostles and other officers should be in the church.
Til we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: (Ephesians 4:13)
That is, Christ’s church had a foundation of living Apostles, and those officers were to remain in the church until the members became united in their faith and knowledge of Christ. It is obvious that people today are not united in their faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Thus, Christ’s church today should have a foundation of living Apostles!
Other Officers in the Church
The church contained other officers besides the Apostles. We have already studied Paul’s statement about the church containing evangelists, pastors, and teachers. In addition, Jesus called seventy men to serve as missionaries of the Gospel.
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come. (Luke 10:1)
As the church spread through out the known world, the leaders ordained Elders.
And when they had ordained them elders in every church [city], and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)
For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: (Titus 1:5)
These verses are especially interesting because they teach that Elders were local officers to lead individual congregations of the church. In contrast to this, Apostles were general officers and traveled from city to city.
Living Apostles Today?
Some people say we can not have living Apostles today, because no one can satisfy Peter’s “criterion” that Apostles must have lived personally with Jesus. They are referring to the occasion when Matthias was chosen to replace Judas as an Apostle. Let us study Peter’s comments on that occasion. In chapter 1 of Acts, we read where Peter explained that Judas’ betrayal of Christ was a fulfillment of prophecy. Peter referred to Psalms 69:25 as a prophecy of the field which Judas purchased with the silver coins; he said the field was known among those that dwelled in Jerusalem as “the field of blood”. Peter then referred to Psalms 109:8 as a prophecy that another person would take the place of Judas in the Twelve.
Let his days be few; and let another take his office. Psalms 109:8)
In the context of those two prophecies from Psalms, Peter said a man must be ordained to be a witness with them.
Therefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us,
Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22, emphasis added)
Some versions of the Bible use the word ‘necessary’ instead of the phrase ‘must be’. That is, Peter was saying, in effect, “It was prophesied in Psalms that another man would take the place of Judas in the Twelve. Therefore it is necessary that we choose a new Apostle from among those who believe in Christ”, i.e. from among those who “have companied with us”. In explaining that a new Apostle had to be ordained, Peter referred to the fact that the men being considered had been with the disciples since the time of John the Baptist. In saying this, Peter was describing the background of the men as a general reference, not as a criterion or requirement for a new Apostle. In understanding what Peter was saying, we need to recognize that the new Apostle obviously had to be chosen from among men who had already been faithful since no other people were available for consideration. Pentecost had not yet come, and newer converts to Christ were not yet available.
There is nothing in those verses that suggests that all Apostles had to have been with Jesus since he was baptized by John. As evidence of this, we have Paul becoming an Apostle, and he was not a follower of Jesus during Jesus’ mortal life. Those who claim that only men who had been disciples during Jesus’ mortal life could be Apostles admit that Paul was an exception to their “criterion”, but they say that Paul was an exception to the criterion because he was “abnormally” born. They refer to the following verses.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as one born out of due time.
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:8-9, emphasis added)
Some versions of the Bible use the phrase “abnormally born” instead of “born out of due time”. Paul is enumerating the persons who saw the resurrected Christ and included himself as the last person up to that time (not the last who would ever see the resurrected Christ, as some claim). The context of those verses concerns the fact that Paul had persecuted the church and was suddenly converted to Christ through a vision rather than through an association with Jesus and a gradual acceptance of him. The word “as” in verse 8 makes it plain that Paul is using a simile in comparing his conversion to Christ with a premature birth (one born out of due time). Just as a premature baby is at a disadvantage compared to a baby who goes the full term, so Paul felt his activity in persecuting the church put him at a disadvantage. His comment says nothing about the pattern to be followed in the calling of new Apostles. In verse 9, Paul said “For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet [adequate, sufficient, competent] to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” We see in that verse Paul’s remorse for his previous activity. That verse should not be construed to mean Paul was an inferior Apostle, as some claim, and hence an exception to the ‘criterion’. All of his epistles as well as Luke’s descriptions in Acts show that Paul behaved as an Apostle and that the church members and other Apostles accepted him as such. It is interesting to note that all references but one in the New Testament to the word Apostle use the same Greek word (apostolos), indicating the Greek manuscripts make no distinction between the original twelve Apostles and the other Apostles who were chosen later on. The one exception is a reference to false apostles (pseudapostolos) and does not refer to the office of Apostle.
The New Testament does teach that there is a criterion for one to be an Apostle, but that criterion is different than the one discussed above. Let us return to the account of Matthias being chosen to replace Judas and see what it was that made him an Apostle.
Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:22, emphasis added)
Matthias was an Apostle because he was ordained and given the authority of the Apostleship, the same authority which Jesus gave to the original men through ordination. This is a key point!
Church Guided by Revelation
Let us continue our study of the New Testament Church to see the method used by Christ to guide and direct his disciples. As our first example, we have the meeting of the eleven Apostles to fill the vacancy in the quorum of Apostles that was caused by the death of Judas. The men used their own reasoning to select two men whom they thought would be a qualified replacement for Judas. Then, and this is important, they prayed for guidance in making their final choice. The Bible does not explicitly say God directed their decision, but it seems clear the Apostles were inspired in their final choice.
And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias.
And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all [men], show whether of these two thou hast chosen,
That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.
And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles. (Acts 1:23-26, emphasis added)
Next, we have the revelation given to Peter that the Gospel should be given to the Gentiles. During his earthly ministry, Jesus taught only the house of Israel. However, in his final commission to the Apostles, Jesus told them to take the Gospel to all nations.
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matthew 28:16,18-20)
The Apostles did not fully understand their commission to take the Gospel to all nations. As Jews, they had been taught that people in other nations were unclean, and they had difficulty leaving that teaching behind. This misunderstanding was a serious problem that was preventing most of the known world at that time from hearing about Jesus. The Savior solved the problem by giving direct revelations to two people, a man named Cornelius and the Apostle Peter.
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band,
A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.
He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius.
And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God.
And now send men to Joppa, and call for one Simon, whose surname is Peter:
He lodgeth with one Simon a tanner, whose house is by the sea side: he shall tell thee what thou oughtest to do.
And when the angel which spake unto Cornelius was departed, he called two of his household servants, and a devout soldier of them that waited on him continually;
And when he had declared all these things unto them, he sent them to Joppa. (Acts 10:1-8)
While these men were traveling to Joppa, Peter received a vision in which he saw a vessel containing many animals and fowls. Peter was commanded by God to kill and eat the animals, but he refused.
And [Peter] saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth.
Wherein were all manner of four footed beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat.
But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. (Acts 10:11-14)
The Lord then told Peter
And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10:15)
Peter did not understand the meaning of the vision, and while he was thinking about that event, the messengers from Cornelius arrived. At their request, Peter accompanied the messengers to Caesarea and met with Cornelius. After talking with Cornelius, Peter understood the meaning of the vision given to him in Joppa.
Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons:
But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34-35)
Through revelation to a living prophet, Jesus corrected a serious problem in the church.
Another problem developed in the church, again involving Jewish customs that were being retained by the Christians. Certain people were teaching that the Christians who had not come from a of background of the Jewish religion had to be circumcised.
And certain men which came down from Judea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. (Acts 15:1)
This problem caused great dissension in the church, and Paul, Barnabas, and a few others were sent to Jerusalem to bring this problem to the attention of the Apostles. This indicates those men recognized the Apostles as the foundation of the church. The Apostles discussed the problem. Peter spoke and reminded them that God had recently directed him to take the Gospel to the Gentiles, and he expressed his feelings that the Gentiles should not be required to submit to circumcision. Paul and Barnabas spoke, and then James arose and agreed with Peter about the Gentiles not needing circumcision. He suggested that letters be sent to the Gentiles explaining this decision and encouraging them stay away from idol worship, fornication, and other sins. The Apostles agreed and wrote letters in which they said the following.
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. (Acts 15:28-29, emphasis added)
Notice that the Apostles acknowledged they had been inspired of God in their decision. Again, we have a serious problem being solved by direct revelation from God to living Apostles.
In addition to receiving inspiration from the Lord, the Apostles received help from angels. Early in their ministry, the Apostles were imprisoned by the Jewish leaders but were freed from prison by an angel.
Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life. (Acts 5:17-20)
Later in his ministry, Peter was imprisoned by Herod.
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. (Acts 12:1,3-4)
The Lord sent an angel to deliver Peter from Prison.
And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly, and his chains fell off from his hands.
And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. (Acts 12:7-11)
Philip, one of the seven men chosen by the Apostles to assist them in the work of the ministry, traveled through out the area teaching about Christ and baptizing the people. He was given directions by an angel concerning his work.
And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.
And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship.
Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet.
Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. (Acts 8:26-29)
After teaching the Eunuch about Jesus and baptizing him, Phillip was sent by the Holy Ghost to another place.
And when they were come up out of the water [the baptism], the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
But Philip was found at Azotus: and passing through he preached in all the cities, til he came to Caesarea. (Acts 8:39-40)
The Apostle John declared in the beginning of his revelation that he had been visited by an angel.
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John; (Revelation 1:1)
Prior to the active ministry of the Apostles, when the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven after spending 40 days preparing his leaders, two angels appeared to the Apostles and prophesied that Christ would return.
And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight.
And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel;
Which also said, ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven. (Acts 1:9-11)
Not only did the early leaders receive guidance from angles, but they had visions from the Savior. Paul, who as Saul had been fighting the church, was converted through visions received by himself and Ananias.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined around about him a light from heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?
And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.
And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. and he said, Behold, I am here, Lord.
And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth. (Acts 9:3-6,10-11)
Through these miraculous visions, Jesus brought a special leader into the church.
From reading these verses, we see a picture of the New Testament church in which visions and angels were common. The church was indeed Christ’s church, and he guided it though direct revelation to living Apostles!
Authority from God
We are discussing the Savior’s church as described in the New Testament. We have seen that Jesus chose the 12 Apostles to be the foundation of his church, and he guided them through direct revelation, visions, and angels. In addition, those men received authority from Jesus to perform his work.
And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sicknesses and all manner of disease. (Matthew 10:1)
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. (John 15:16)
It is important that we understand the significance of this ordination of the Apostles. Their ordination was not an imaginary thing; it was an actual ordinance in which Jesus put his hands on their heads and gave authority to them. Jesus explained to the Apostles that with the power he had given them, their actions and decisions would be his actions and decisions.
Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
Because of the authority Jesus had given them, their teachings and baptisms would be accepted by him and would be valid on earth as well as in heaven. In fact, Jesus told the twelve Apostles they would help in the judgment.
And Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed me, in the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Matthew 19:28)
The twelve Apostles did indeed receive power from Jesus when he ordained them!
In addition to the twelve Apostles, Jesus gave authority to the 70 special missionaries.
After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come.
And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.
Behold I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. (Luke 10:1,17,19)
Prior to their departure as missionaries, Paul and Barnabas received authority by the laying on of the hands of prophets.
Now there were in the church that was at Antioch certain prophets and teachers; as Barnabas, and Simeon that was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen, which had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.
And when they had fasted and prayed, and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. (Acts 13:1-3)
The Apostles called seven men into the ministry to assist them. These men were ordained by the Apostles and given authority.
And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said it is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them. (Acts 6:1-3,5-6)
One of the seven men was Philip. Due to the havoc being caused by Saul, the members of the church scattered to different locations and taught about Christ as they went. Philip went to Samaria where many people accepted his message and were baptized. An interesting and significant thing then happened. Philip did not give people the Holy Ghost. Instead, the Apostles came from Jerusalem and gave the Holy Ghost. Even though Philip had been ordained by the Apostles and had authority to baptize, he did not have authority to give the Holy Ghost.
But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.
Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.
Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John:
Who when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost:
(For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)
Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. (Acts 8:12-17)
Philip held the Aaronic Priesthood and could baptize. The Apostles held the Melchizedek Priesthood which enabled them to confer the Holy Ghost. These two priesthoods can be seen in the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. John baptized with water and Jesus baptized with the Holy Ghost.
In Hebrews we read of the authority of God and the manner in which it is given to man. In chapter 4, Paul talks about Christ as our great High Priest. In chapter 5 he uses Christ as a type and talks of the responsibilities of men who hold the authority of God.
For every high priest taken from among men is ordained for men in things pertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins:
Who can have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way; for that he himself also is compassed with infirmity.
And by reason hereof he ought, as for the people, so also for himself, to offer for sins. (Hebrews 5:1-3)
Just as Christ offered himself a sacrifice for sin, so should we sacrifice for sin through service to others. Just as Christ had compassion on the ignorant, so should we. Then, in verse 4 we are told people can not assume the authority of God. People only receive that authority by the same procedure through which it was given to Aaron.
And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron. (Hebrews 5:4)
Verse 5 explains that even Jesus did not assume the authority but received it from his Father.
So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him. Thou are my Son, to day have I begotten thee. (Hebrews 5:5)
Let us read from the Old Testament the method by which Aaron received the authority of God.
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)
Aaron did not receive his calling directly from God but received it by way of Moses who already had the authority. Thus, the pattern described in Hebrews 5:4 is that men receive the authority of God by being called to the ministry by persons who have the authority. Now we can see the importance of the scriptures cited earlier in this chapter that describe Jesus giving the authority to the Apostles and they in turn giving it to others. It is significant that the Apostles laid their hands on the seven men, Barnabas, and Paul when they gave them authority. We can see from the Old Testament that this pattern was used when Joshua was called by the Lord.
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 set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation: and give him a charge in their sight.
And Moses did as the Lord commanded him: and he took Joshua, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation:
And he laid his hands upon him, and gave him a charge, as the LORD commanded by the hand of Moses. (Numbers 27:18-19,22-23, emphasis added)
Some people say, “Well, that method pertained to the Old Testament, to the Law of Moses. It doesn’t apply to the New Testament and to the Gospel of Christ”. In reply, I say, “It does apply to the New Testament and to the Gospel of Christ, because it was the method used by Jesus and by the Apostles throughout the New Testament era, and it is the method referred to in Hebrews 5:4 which states And no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.
Consider the following story that illustrates the importance of this pattern. One day you are poking around your attic, and you discover an old trunk that belonged to your great grandfather. In looking through the trunk, you find a certificate that certified that your great grandfather was appointed constable of the town. While reminiscing about your ancestor, you feel a strong desire to be constable and serve the people. So, armed with the certificate from the trunk, you embark on your “ministry”. A few days later, you come upon a person disturbing the peace, and you attempt to place him in jail. Recognizing that you are not really a constable, the person asks, “By what authority do you act?” You respond by showing him the certificate and describing the strong feeling you experienced. Were you really empowered by the town to be constable? Of course not, that is silly; all you had was an old certificate that certified that someone else was constable. So it is today. People feel strong urges to serve Christ. They take a written record (the Bible) describing people in years past who had the authority of God, and they use that record as their justification for assuming a calling from God.
The Rock of Revelation
Jesus asked his disciples, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? (Matthew 16:13) The disciples answered that some people said Jesus was John the Baptist, while others said he was Elijah, and others said he was one of the prophets. Jesus then asked the disciples whom they thought he was. Peter answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matthew 16:16) Jesus then said
And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 16:17)
Jesus was reinforcing in the minds of the disciples the principle of revelation: they had testimonies of Christ because those testimonies were revealed to them, not because of their own studies or from the influences of other people. Then Jesus went on to say that his church would be built upon this principle of revelation.
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16;18)
The context of that statement is the principle of revelation. Revelation is the rock that is so strong that not even Satan and all of his powers would be able to destroy the church.
Some people say that Peter was the rock upon which the church would be built. They say this, because Jesus changed Peter’s name to Cephas, a stone (John 1:42). I don’t believe that Peter was the rock, because Peter was human and committed sins. I don’t believe that Peter could have prevented Satan from destroying the church. The context in chapter 16 was the principle of revelation from God, and I believe that that context indicates that revelation was the rock. Only God, himself, could stop Satan, and God uses revelation as his way of directing his church. In addition, Paul in his letter to the Ephesians said the church would be built upon a foundation of apostles and prophets (not just Peter) with Jesus as the corner stone
Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens 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; (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Jesus was, of course, not referring to the apostles and prophets as persons who commit sin but to them as a group, holding the Priesthood of God and receiving revelation from God; that is, to their office within the structure of the church. There is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that the office of the Pope would supercede the apostles as the foundation of the church.
Apostasy From the Church
Even though the Apostles tried to keep the church unified, things were difficult. Persecution from the Jews and from the Romans and other Gentiles was severe. Many Christians clung to their old beliefs and tried to combine them with the principles of the Gospel. Others yielded to persecution and drifted away from the church. The Apostles and other leaders recognized what was happening and tried to stop it.
For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.
Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.
They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:10-11,15-16)
Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us. (1 John 2:18-19)
Paul pleaded with the Christians to cease being divided in their beliefs and become united in Christ.
Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you.
Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.
Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Corinthians 1:10-13)
He expressed surprise the members were so quickly adopting false teachings and practices.
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.
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
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. (Galatians 1:6-9)
Jude warned the members to be diligent in their faith because wicked men had entered the church.
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 3-4)
He warned that wickedness would come.
But beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ;
How they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.
Those be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. (Jude 17-19)
Many Christians thought the Second Coming of Christ would soon come. Paul warned them it would not come until a falling away from the truth had occurred in which Satan would run rampant.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, emphasis added)
Paul challenged Timothy to preach the word of Christ, to reprove and rebuke those that need it, and to teach the doctrines of Christ with patience. It was necessary for Timothy to do this, Paul warned, because at a future time, the church members would forsake the truth and turn to teachers who taught false doctrine.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Paul warned Timothy that members would forsake the church.
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;
Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. (1 Timothy 4:1-3)
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:1-7)
Peter warned of false teachers who would enter and corrupt the church.
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that brought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. (2 Peter 2:1-3, emphasis added)
Paul warned that the flock of Christ would not be spared, that is, apostasy would actually destroy the church.
For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
And also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after them. (Acts 20:29-30, emphasis added)
Because of wickedness and persecution, the Apostles were scattered. They tried to put out fires of wickedness and keep the church together, but one by one they were killed. The time came when only John was left. Then he disappeared, and spiritual darkness reigned.
The various congregations of Christians fought and contended with each other, and it was not until they were brought together through the political intervention of the Roman emperor Constantine that they became a universal church, the Catholic church. Because it was supported by the ruling political leaders, the Catholic Church had absolute control over the religious thinking of the times. Persons who disagreed were silenced, sometimes with death.
Secular History Confirms the Apostasy
We have studied New Testament prophecies of an apostasy from the true Church of Jesus Christ and evidences from the New Testament that the apostasy had begun during the lives of the Apostles. Let us now look briefly at secular history to see the growth of the apostasy after the Apostles were gone from the church.
One of the historians who lived immediately after the apostolic period was a man named Hegesippus. A later historian named Eusebius referred to the writings of Hegesippus.
The same author, [Hegesippus] relating the events of the times, also says, that the Church continued until then as a pure and uncorrupt virgin; whilst if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel, they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom had passed away, then also the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusions of false teachers. These also, as there were none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth. Such is the statement of Hegesippus. (Eusebius, pp. 70-71.)
A historian named Mosheim, who lived after Eusebius, described the changes that occurred during the second century in the ceremonies used in the Christian church.
There is no institution so pure and excellent which the corruption and folly of man will not in time alter for the worse, and load with additions foreign to its nature and original design. Such, in a particular manner, was the fate of Christianity. In this century, many unnecessary rites and ceremonies were added to the Christian worship, the introduction of which was extremely offensive to wise and good men….Both Jews and heathens were accustomed to a vast variety of pompous and magnificent ceremonies in their religious service. And as they considered these rites as an essential part of religion, it was but natural that they should behold with indifference, and even with contempt, the simplicity of the Christian worship, which was destitute of those idle ceremonies that rendered their service so specious and striking. To remove then, in some measure, this prejudice against Christianity, the bishops thought it necessary to increase the number of rites and ceremonies, and thus to render the public worship more striking to the outward senses….The rulers of the church adopted, therefore, certain external ceremonies, that thus they might captivate the senses of the vulgar, and be able to refute the reproaches of their adversaries. (Mosheim, Century II, p. 71)
Mosheim described the changes to the Christian ceremonies that continued through the third century.
All of the records of this century mention the multiplication of rites and ceremonies in the Christian church. Several of the causes that contributed to this, have been already pointed out; to which we may add, as a principal one, the passion which now reigned for the Platonic philosophy, or rather, for the popular Oriental superstition concerning demons, adopted by the Platonists and borrowed, unhappily, from them by the Christian doctors. For there is not the least doubt, but that many of the rites, now introduced into the church, derived their origin from the reigning opinions concerning the nature of demons, and the powers and operations of invisible beings. Hence the use of exorcisms and spells, the frequency of fasts, and the aversion to wedlock. (Mosheim, Century III, pp. 71-72)
Mosheim described the fourth century, a time in which changes and distortions to the church continued.
While the Roman emperors were studious to promote the honour of Christianity, by the auspicious protection they afforded to the church, and their most zealous efforts to advance its interests, the inconsiderate, and the ill-directed piety of the bishops cast a cloud over the beauty and simplicity of the gospel, by the prodigious number of rites and ceremonies which they had invented to embellish it….The rites and institutions, by which the Greeks, Romans, and other nations, had formerly testified their religious veneration for fictitious dieties, were now adopted, with some slight alterations by Christian bishops, and employed in the service of the true God. (Mosheim, Century IV, p. 72)
The Roman emperor Constantine adopted Christianity as the state religion, and the bishops of the Christian church obtained great political power. For centuries the apostasy reined, a period known informally as the “dark ages”. John Wesley wrote of that period.
It does not appear that these extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit were common in the Church for more than two or three centuries. We seldom hear of them after that fatal period when the Emperor Constantine called himself a Christian….The cause of this was not, as has been supposed, because there was no more occasion for them, because all the world was become Christians. This is a miserable mistake; not a twentieth part of it was then nominally Christian. The real cause of it was that the love of many, almost all Christians, so-called, was waxed cold. The Christians had no more of the spirit of Christ than the other heathens. The Son of Man, when he came to examine his Church, could hardly find faith upon earth. This was the real cause why the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost were no longer to be found in the Christian church–because the Christians were turned heathens again, and only had a dead form left. (Wesley, p. 73)
The Doctrine of the Trinity
An important evidence of the apostasy is the distortion that occurred in the church about an understanding of the nature of God. The result of this distortion was a doctrine known today as The Trinity.
As we have seen in previous chapters, the Bible teaches that members of the Godhead are separate personages but one in unity. I believe the early Christians worshipped that type of God. However, as we have discussed, wickedness and persecution grew, and church members adopted sinful practices from neighboring countries. The Apostles tried to correct the church, but they were unsuccessful in this because they were scattered and communication between them and groups of Christians was slow. In cases where the Apostles did learn of wickedness in the church, they were not always able to communicate with the people and exhort them to repent. As a result of persecution, the Apostles were killed, and the time came that the church was without their inspired leadership.
Once the Apostles were gone, the Bishops over the churches in individual cities began to extend their influence to other areas, causing them to contend with each other. Philosophers introduced changes in the doctrines of the church, and the church languished in apostasy. One of the conflicts in the apostate church concerned whether the Son was coequal with the Father since he had been created by the Father. Constantine used his political power to bring the Bishops together in a council, known as the Council of Nice, in 325 AD to settle this and other conflicts. The result of this meeting was the Nicene Creed which stated among other things that the Father and the Son were one in “substance” (in our language we would say one in person). Later, another creed known as the Athanasian Creed was formed. This creed states the following.
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated; but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty; and yet there are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God. (Talmage, pp. 47-48)
In other words, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are of one “substance” or person but are revealed to man in three forms. The Church of England expressed this concept of the Trinity in the following words.
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. (Talmage, p. 48)
Imagine! People claiming to be the Church of Jesus Christ and not being able to agree on the nature of God! Instead of having inspired Apostles as their foundation who could receive divine revelation from God, they resorted to councils of intellectuals. Jesus taught it was life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent (John 17:3). Life eternal to know God, and yet it required the intervention of the Roman emperor to bring the apostate Christians together to agree on the nature of God!
Many Christians today believe in one God rather than three separate personages in one Godhead. These people are sincere and think their belief in one God comes from the Bible, but it doesn’t. Their belief comes from the Catholic Bishops, the intellectuals, and the philosophers who met in councils to debate the nature of God.
After centuries of spiritual darkness, the Spirit of God began to move upon the earth, and people were inspired to recognize the wickedness in the Catholic church and to begin a slow process of breaking down the political power of that church. People hungered to read the scriptures without the intervention of the clergy, and they began to realize that current religious practices were different than those described in the Bible. The sparks of revolt against the Catholic church spread into open flames of rebellion, and the great Reformation began.
The reformers recognized that apostasy had taken place, and they attempted to bring back the purity of early Christianity. However, they found themselves in a dilemma. They had no authority from God, and they could not receive authority from the Catholic church. They could not receive authority from anyone. So, they turned to the Bible and began to teach that a feeling of being called by God was sufficient and that authority given through ordination by the laying on of hands by someone having authority was not necessary.
The condition of the Christian churches during the reformation can be understood by reference to a parable of a dead tree. The tree was once living and beautiful. But due to neglect, it had died. Others wanting to enjoy the beauty of the tree tried to bring life to the tree by pruning a branch here and pruning one there. But to their dismay, the tree remained lifeless, because its roots were dead. The reformers were great men, and they were inspired by God to break down the political power of the Catholic church, a power that prevented freedom of religion. They were not, however, given priesthood authority by God, and the churches they established were the churches of man. Even though the reformers claimed no authority from God but used the Bible as their authority and guide, they paved the way for religious freedom.
The Restoration of the Church
The Biblical prophets knew that apostasy would occur, and they knew the time would come when a new tree would be planted, that is, the Church of Jesus Christ would again be given to the earth. Peter prophesied of a future time when new revelation would come from God. He told the Jews to repent and be converted to Christ so their sins could be forgiven when a time of “refreshing” would come from God.
Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord;
And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you;
Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. (Acts 3:19-21)
Peter said that at a “times of refreshing”, God would send Jesus Christ, but he said Jesus would not come until a “times of restitution of all things” had occurred. There is no need of a restitution or restoration of “all things” if “all” things have not been lost or taken. Certainly, “all” things would include the authority of God!
Joseph’s First Vision
In the early 1800’s, Western New York was part of the American frontier. People were active in religion, and many religious revivals were held. One area having religious activity was near Palmyra, New York. Living on a farm not far from Palmyra was a family named Smith, consisting of the parents Joseph and Lucy, and the children Alvin, Hyrum, Joseph, Samuel, William, Don Carlos, Sophronia, Catherine, and Lucy. The son Joseph described the religious excitement in the area.
Some time in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country. Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo there!” Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist.
For, notwithstanding the great love which the converts to these different faiths expressed at the time of their conversion, and the great zeal manifested by the respective clergy, who were active in getting up and promoting this extraordinary scene of religious feeling, in order to have everybody converted, as they were pleased to call it, let them join what sect they pleased; yet when the converts began to file off, some to one party and some to another, it was seen that the seemingly good feelings of both the priests and the converts were more pretended than real; for a scene of great confusion and bad feeling ensued–priest contending against priest, and convert against convert; so that all their good feelings one for another, if they ever had any, were entirely lost in a strife of words and a contest about opinions. (Joseph Smith–History 1:5-6)
Joseph was interested in religion and wanted to join a church. However, because of the differing claims and contention, he was confused.
In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it and how shall I know it? (Joseph Smith–History 1:10)
He turned to the Bible for guidance.
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: ‘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’.
Never did any passage of Scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at the time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of Scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. (Joseph Smith–History 1:11-13)
Joseph went into the forest and knelt in prayer.
So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally. (Joseph Smith–History 1:14)
He was immediately overcome by the power of Satan who tried to destroy him.
After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. (Joseph Smith–History 1:15)
He pleaded with God to be delivered from Satan, and God answered his prayer.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction–not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being–just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. 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)
Joseph beheld the Father and the Son. He asked them what church he should join, and he was given guidance by them about what he should do.
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)–and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I can not write at this time…. (Joseph Smith–History 1:18-20)
Truths Learned from First Vision
Through this vision in the spring of 1820, we learn the following truths that help us in our quest for Eternal Life.
- God and Jesus Christ are distinct, separate personages having form and shape
- None of the churches at that time were accepted by Christ and had the authority of God
- The “professors” or clergy of the churches were corrupt. The creeds taught by the churches were false
Jesus told Joseph Smith he must join none of the existing churches for they were all wrong. This statement has been misunderstood by persons who oppose the LDS church. Jesus did not mean people in the existing churches had no faith in Christ. Jesus did not mean those people did not have their prayers answered. Jesus did not mean those people were bad or evil. Jesus did not mean God does not love those people. On the other hand, Jesus did mean none of the churches had the authority of God. Jesus did mean the churches were teaching false creeds and doctrines, teachings that had been introduced after the death of the Apostles by corrupt and misguided Bishops and other officials. Jesus did mean there was much more to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than that found in the existing churches in 1820.
Restoration of the Priesthood
Later, through the visitations of other divine messengers, the Priesthood of God was restored to the earth. The restoration of the authority for baptisms occurred when the resurrected John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. Oliver was acting as scribe during the translation of the Book of Mormon.
We still continued the work of translation, when, in the ensuing month (May, 1829), we on a certain day went into the woods to pray and inquire of the Lord respecting baptism for the remission of sins, that we found mentioned in the translation of the plates. While we were thus employed, praying and calling upon the Lord, a messenger from heaven descended in a cloud of light, and having laid his hands upon us, he ordained us, saying:
‘Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness’. (Joseph Smith–History 1:68-69)
Joseph and Oliver were directed to baptize each other.
He said this Aaronic Priesthood had not the power of laying on hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost, but that this should be conferred on us hereafter; and he commanded us to go and be baptized, and gave us directions that I should baptize Oliver Cowdery, and that afterwards he should baptize me.
Accordingly we went and were baptized. I baptized him first, and afterwards he baptized me–after which I laid my hands upon his head and ordained him to the Aaronic Priesthood and afterwards he laid his hands on me and ordained me to the same Priesthood–for so we were commanded. (Joseph Smith–History 1:70-71)
Through this visitation from John the Baptist, the restoration of the Priesthood was begun.
The messenger who visited us on this occasion and conferred this Priesthood upon us, said that his name was John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament, and that he acted under the direction of Peter, James and John, who held the keys of the Priesthood of Melchizedek, which Priesthood, he said, would in due time be conferred on us, and that I should be called the first Elder of the Church, and he (Oliver Cowdery) the second. It was on the fifteenth day of May, 1829, that we were ordained under the hand of this messenger, and baptized. (Joseph Smith–History 1:72)
It is important to notice that Joseph and Oliver were commanded to ordain each other to the Aaronic Priesthood after they were baptized, even though they had already been ordained by John the Baptist. This is because in the New Testament, the proper order of events was for a person to be baptized and then be ordained with authority. In the case of the restoration of authority by John the Baptist, it was necessary that John first give authority. Joseph and Oliver were commanded to follow the proper order by performing the baptisms and then ordaining each other with authority.
Approximately one month after the visitation of John the Baptist, Joseph and Oliver were again visited by divine messengers. These messengers were the ancient apostles, Peter, James, and John. The apostles laid their hands on the heads of Joseph and Oliver and gave them the power of the Apostleship.
And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witneses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them.
Unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven and which are on earth; (D&C 27:12-13)
Establishment of the Church
With the authority of the Apostles restored to the earth, Jesus directed Joseph Smith to organize a church having a foundation of Apostles and prophets. Obedient to that command, he organized the Church on April 6, 1830 under the laws of New York state.
The rise of the Church of Christ in these last days, being one thousand eight hundred and thirty years since the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the flesh, it being regularly organized and established agreeable to the laws of our country, by the will and commandments of God, in the fourth month, and on the sixth day of the month which is called April– (D&C 20:1)
The name of the church was later specified by Jesus in a revelation given to Joseph Smith.
For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (D&C 115:4
That is, it is the Church of Jesus Christ which has members living in the latter-days prior to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.