When the hunger for religious experience peaked in the 1800s, the lack of unity among the differing branches of Christian faith became a stumbling block for some. A man named Joseph Smith emerged to propose his own reported religious experiences as the solution. He declared himself to be a prophet of God. Adherents claimed that to Joseph Smith was restored the “holy priesthood [of] the apostles and disciples of old.” Smith also declared that in these “latter days” of the world, all other churches were participating in apostasy (Articles of Faith, p. 182-185) and only his private revelation (or that of those associated with him) could be trusted for salvation and instruction (Mormon Doctrine, p. 670).
Primarily by the efforts of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, an organization formed and was named The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The name was reported to have come by revelation from Jesus Christ. It was to indicate three specific certainties: 1) Jesus Christ ordained the church, 2) the church’s ministry was specific to the latter days of the world, and 3) the church would consist of only the true saints acknowledged by Jesus Christ. Such a name would have sounded very appealing in a time of widely fluctuating doctrine. The LDS church put forward that theirs was the task of establishing the kingdom of God and of instituting the practices of Christian religion as God intended. These things together were commonly called “the restoration of the gospel” and were part of the restoration movement of the early 19th century.
According to the Bible, it is God who shall establish His kingdom (Isaiah 9:7). The saints are not called upon to do this for Him. Also, whether one views the latter days as the very end of our earth’s age, or as including all the days that follow the completed ministry of Jesus Christ, there is no biblical support for a broken gospel in need of restoration. Jesus declared Simon Peter’s acknowledgment of Him as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” to be the rock on which His church would be built, against which “the gates of Hades shall not prevail” (Matthew 16:16, 18). God also declares that, although some have strayed from the truth, “The solid foundation of God stands” (2 Timothy 2:18–19). These verses indicate the enduring nature of the church within the context of the gospel. Indeed, in the end times, apostasy will abound (Matthew 24:11), but the gospel will remain intact with those who endure (Matthew 24:13–14).
The true work of today’s saints is to continue to declare the truth of the eternal gospel (John 3:16) and to “hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard . . . in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13).
(Editor’s note: many of the references in our articles on Mormonism are Mormon publications, such as Mormon Doctrine, Articles of Faith, Doctrines of Salvation, History of the Church, Doctrine and Covenants, and so forth. Others are from the Book of Mormon itself, e.g., books such as 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Alma.)