I love the story of the Restoration. It’s the story I told most often (and sometimes in no more than a handful of sentences) when I was a missionary for the Church. In fact, in one companionship, we even came up with a game. One of us would pick a random object – maybe I’d throw out “skyscraper” as we walked the streets of downtown Honolulu, surrounded by them – and my companion would then have to teach me about the Restoration, telling me how it was like a skyscraper.
It was a fun game.
People sometimes mistake the story of the Restoration as the story of Joseph Smith, but though Joseph is an important part of the story, he isn’t central piece. He isn’t even the beginning!
It begins, as do all things, I guess, with God.
God is our Father. Because He loves us, he’s given us the gospel to help us be successful in this life and to return to live with Him someday. Central to this gospel is Jesus Christ’s atonement. Through the atonement we can overcome sin and death, and develop the strength to face our challenges.
From the beginning (yes, that “beginning”), God has followed a pattern. He revealed the gospel to prophets, men like Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses.
But people have historically chosen to reject the prophets and the gospel, falling into spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy, where God’s priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel is taken from the earth.
This pattern continued with Jesus Christ, who taught His gospel, established His church, and accomplished the atonement. Incredibly, people even rejected Jesus. After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted and killed the apostles and church members. With the death of the apostles, priesthood authority was taken from the earth, and over time the doctrines were corrupted. Important religious questions were settled by councils.
A restoration, not a reformation, was required to set things right. This is where Joseph comes in.
Joseph Smith, who lived in the world fragmented Christianity, wrote of his experience:
“So great were the confusions and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . 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 1:8, 10).
As Joseph sought truth among the different faiths, he turned to the Bible for guidance. He read,
“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).
Because of this passage, Joseph decided to ask God what he should do. In the spring of 1820 he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He said,
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . . 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).
In this vision God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith. They called him as the first prophet of our modern days today. Since then there have been prophets upon the earth, and a living prophet directs the church – the Savior’s church – today.
For something more official, visit the mormon.org page mormon.org/Restoration.