How did God tell His children the Ten Commandments, warn them about the flood and the Fall of Jerusalem, or tell them to flee into the wilderness? He spoke to them through prophets. Why did He choose this method, when He could have simply told each person individually?
During times of apostasy—times when there were no prophets—God did speak to individuals who wanted to know what was true. However, that did not seem to lead to a unity among the believers. In order to avoid confusion, it is always essential that just one person have the ability to speak for God. Throughout the Bible, we learn that this person is called the prophet. While each person may receive personal revelation for his own life and those things for which he is responsible, only the prophet has ever been able to receive revelation for the entire church.
32 And Judas and Silas, being prophets also themselves, exhorted the brethren with many words, and confirmed them. Acts 15:32
However, they also died and God did not choose to replace them. There were too few people who cared to know the truth or to respect the teachings of the prophets. Even during their lifetimes, the prophets struggled with people inserting false doctrine into the teachings of Jesus Christ. They introduced new doctrines themselves through revelation, but were often ignored. As had happened in the past, the world fell into apostasy. This apostasy is known by Mormons as the Great Apostasy because of its length.
God never leaves the world in apostasy forever, though. He made promises to us that He would always operate His church through prophets:
7 Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets ( Amos 3:7).
He also instructed His followers that His Church must be built on a foundation of prophets and apostles, just as it had been from the very beginning of time.
19 Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone (Ephesians 2:19-20).
In the 1800s, the apostasy came to an end, just as all apostasies have in the past. It is nearing the Second Coming and there is much work to do in order to prepare. This requires the restoration of the New Testament church and of prophets to put an end to the confusion that has erupted in the generations since Jesus’ apostles died. In that time, thousands of churches emerged, all claiming to have the truth, but all teaching conflicting doctrines. When these churches disagreed on doctrines, they held councils and put it to a mortal vote. Some people became angry and left to start their own religions, adding to the confusion. This, of course, could not continue, and so God called Joseph Smith to become the first prophet of the restoration.
Joseph Smith first learned of his sacred calling when he was fourteen years old. He, like so many before and since, tried to figure out which church to join among the many. How could anyone know which minister was telling the truth? He turned to his Bible and eventually encountered James 1:5 in the New Testament, a book some scholars believe was written by Jesus’ half brother:
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 (James 1:5).
He realized that in order to get an answer to his question, he would have to ask God, not men. He went into the woods and began to pray. Satan tried to stop the prayer, but of course, God is stronger than Satan. He and Jesus Christ appeared above Joseph and God introduced His Son. Jesus instructed Joseph not to join any of the churches because none were completely right.
Several years later, when Joseph was grown, he began to ask God what was expected of him now. He hadn’t joined any of the churches, even though he sometimes attended, but he felt that lack of religious belonging. God sent an angel named Moroni to begin the process of restoring the gospel.
Today, the Mormons are headed by an unbroken line of prophets and will be until Jesus returns. Today’s Christians must know exactly what is true in order to help God prepare the world for the Second Coming of the Savior.
A prophet is the only person authorized to speak for God. A future article will explain how Mormons view their prophets and introduce you to the current prophet.