Lacey recently wrote me about an experience she had in teaching someone. As is the case with many investigators, the one she described was interested in the message of the Restoration of the Gospel, but was reluctant to turn his back on religious traditions he held dear.
This week, I have decided to discuss this topic. Specifically, I will cover how the Restored Gospel is in fact the end result and ultimate goal of every good and noble religious tradition.
I take as my text five verses from the New Testament: Galatians 3: 24-29. These read as follows:
Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
What do these verses teach us? There was a Law (the Law of Moses) that had as its purpose to prepare a People (the Jews) for something better (Christ). But, what do we know of this people? What do we know of this law?
The Law of Moses was a type of Ersatz-law. We know, for example, that the people had suffered bondage in Egypt. Previously, they had had the Gospel through the ancient prophets: Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Israel, and others. In the Pearl of Great Price, we learn that these prophets knew and taught of Christ. However, after 470 years in Egypt, the people had forgotten the One True God. For this reason, God called Moses.
In truth, Moses had a two-fold mission: he was to deliver the people from bondage, and to restore the Gospel to them. We see, however, that the people were not ready for the complete Gospel and thus received a lower law, the Law of Moses. Of course, with this law came a specific authority to act in the name of God!
This law had as its purpose to bear witness of Christ; it formed the foundation for the Old Testament. “Testament” means “Testimony” or “Witness”…but witness of what? The purpose of the Old Testament was to testify of Christ. Yet despite this, as I finished reading the Old Testament for the first time years ago, I was somewhat taken aback. In over 1000 pages of ancient prophecies, the words “Jesus Christ” and “Son of God” were nowhere to be found.
What happened? Nephi knew the answer, having seen in a vision 600 years before Christ that “that there were many plain and precious things taken away” (1 Nephi 13:28). Isaiah described this as well: “they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant.” (Isaiah 24:5).
I believe that the words the Prophets wrote down contained the Gospel in its fullness. This means, by extension, that the old Israelites also knew of Christ, not merely by symbolic extension, but by name and in the same level of specificity we know him today.
The Book of Mormon is a witness of this: a branch of Israel actually knew of Christ, specifically and by name. By extension, those who followed the prophets in Israel must have known Christ. However, after their words were altered, the Gospel could serve them in no greater capacity than that of Schoolmaster.
God send prophets among this People, but they were killed by this same people. During the time of Christ, there was barely any who had the Authority to preach in the name of God. There was hardly anyone left who understood the scriptures.
This is perhaps the reason that there were so many Factions in Israel when Christ came. Historians point out that there were four particular factions in Israel at that time: the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the Zealots, and the Essenes.
The Sadducees were the Heirs of the Priesthood of Aaron, the “old church.” However, they barely understood the Gospel; it had been changed in part through them.
The Pharisees were the heirs of the Maccabees, and formed a contemporary religious school to the Sadducees. In number, there were more Pharisees, and they believed, in essence, that the Sadducees were mistaken; the mission of the Pharisees was to protect the True Word of God.
The Zealots were fanatics, full of energy but lacking of any deep doctrinal basis. They were focused on ridding their nation of foreign overlords and were eagerly awaiting Christ’s coming to do just that.
The Essenes were separatists: they thought that they alone had the truth and that all the others were mistaken. In most instances, they kept themselves apart from Israel, and we do not see them interact with the Savior.
These people were not “evil.” Many, if not most, of them were righteous, but they erred, not knowing the scriptures (Matthew 22:29). Even those who rejected Christ meant no evil by it…but does that their rejection was a good thing? Were they right in doing so?
The answer is a clear “No!” They believed in God, but this was not enough. Up until the moment that Christ died on the Cross, the Law of Moses was the only way to Eternal Life, and the Jews lived according to Words of that Law. However, in failing to accept Christ, they missed the very purpose of that Law. In other words, they mistook the Schoolmaster for the Goal, and as such, failed in the very purpose of their Faith.
(3) First Restoration
At that time, they also had no authority. Earlier they had had it, and as long as there were Prophets, the authority to act in God’s name was present as well. The Nephites, for example, had the authority to preach and baptize in the name of Christ. However, after years and years of Bondage (Babylon, for example) there were only a few residual bearers of this authority. One of these was, of course, John the Baptist.
Aside from the Atonement, Christ had as a secondary mission to restore the authority and the law. That which had been lost in the course of time was restored through the Son of God. We hear frequently of how Christ and Moses were similar in their missions (an example of this is the paintings on the walls of the Sistine Chapel, another example is found in Deuteronomy 18:18!). What this all means is that, as of the moment that Christ offered up his life, the Law of Moses died with him. After this, the Law was had expired…the people were supposed to follow Christ.
The point is, and this is what Paul was driving at in his letter to the Galatians, that following Christ was the entire point of the hundreds of years under the Law of Moses. Every aspect, every commandment, every prophesy and promise – all were directed Christ-ward.
Jacob, the brother of Nephi, wrote of this:
But behold, the Jews were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness, and killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark , they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it. And because they desired it God hath done it, that they may stumble. (Jacob 4:14)
Ultimately, each person at the time of Christ who held to an old tradition and rejected Christ did wrongly by so doing. Up until Christ, their acts were arguably righteous. Much as the Manna of old decayed when kept too long, when any of these people clung to the Schoolmaster at the expense of the Gospel, their righteousness decayed.
Note, however, Christ’s invitation to come and follow him. At no point did he require people to abandon an old, beloved tradition. Rather, he invited them to bring the good they had, and allow him to add more. And so we see he chose, in addition to fishermen, members of all groups. For example, he had two apostles who were Zealots (Judas and Simon) and eventually even an apostle who was a Pharisee.
In all things, Christ invited those of his day to bring with them the lessons they had learned under their schoolmaster and allow him to add the truths that were taken and missing.
And many did so. Christ had his own Apostles and his own Church. We know that they were “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). After his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ led his People through Revelation and the Holy Ghost. This revelation was the foundation of the Church (Mathew 16:18).
The Apostles preached Christ’s Word, baptized with authority, and led the early Christians to Eternal Life. There came, however, all manner of false prophets, preaching other gospels. St. Clement, for example,was a devout follower of Peter. He wrote about Peter and Simon Magus. Simon Magus was the Sorcerer who wanted to purchase the Priesthood Authority from Peter in Acts 8. After Peter refused to oblige him in this and a short stint as a church member, Simon Magus became a bitter opponent of Peter. He began to preach false doctrines calculated to earn him fame and fortune. However, as long as Peter was around, Simon Magus had no success. Why? Because Peter was an actual witness of Christ! Simon Magus could preach whatever he wanted, but Peter could say: “That’s not right…and I know because I was with Christ; I saw him and touched the wounds in his hands.” As long as the Apostles lived, there were no opportunities for success for false preachers! This is why the true witnesses were put to death.
In our Church today, we like to talk of an Apostasy — a falling away — of the church. However, I think it is better to speak of two Apostasies: an Apostasy of Authority and an Apostasy of Faith. The Apostasy of Authority was relatively fast…when the last Priesthood holder died or was forced into exile, the authority was at its end. This meant that the Holy Ordinances could no longer be performed.
But with the Apostasy of Faith we must be cautious. There were still people who truly believed in Christ and attempted to serve him. In this sense, there never was a true Apostasy of Faith. However, although these earnest, righteous people tried to hold to the faith, the longer they lived without God’s Authority and Revelation, the less they understood of Christ. This Apostasy did not happen in one day, but rather was a process of Forgetting and Loss. Other doctrines were added, plain and precious things (for example the Temple, Eternal Marriage, Work for the Dead, Baptism by Immersion, &c.) were taken away. Sometimes this was intentional; sometimes someone simply did not understand the purpose of the Ordinances.
However, in the course of time, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was changed. Line upon line, precept upon precept…then suddenly, the pure Truth was no more! And this alteration is what we mean when we say there was an Apostasy of Faith.
What happened as a result of this? The state of Christians today is comparable to the state of the Jews at the time of Christ. The Christians had many good doctrines, but they were incomplete. They did assist the righteous to be better people, but great confusion ensued! The Christians formed factions, just as the Jews had done. Some said “We have inherited the Church through Peter!” (the Catholics, who can be likened to the Sadducees) These had “History” as a witness of their truth, but they misunderstood the doctrines notwithstanding.
Then we have the various Protestant groups. There are some who seek to guard the “true” understanding of the Gospel, presenting themselves as an alternative to the Catholic church. For example, early Lutheranism was designed in this way – to safeguard the Law. These are, in many ways, analogous to the Pharisees of old.
There are others who find church exciting, who revel in music and moments. I attended a service in Atlanta once, for example, where a good portion of the worship consisted of hugging and dancing. There is sort of a “God is cool” mentality that is reminiscent of the Zealots.
And finally, there are complete separatist groups. These believe that they are all others are in error and seek to preserve the true interpretation. Examples are Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists. These seem very similar to the Essenes of Christ’s day.
(5) Second Restoration
Does God want us to live in confusion? No! What should he do, then? In ancient times, he called Prophets…and our God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. In these latter days, he has accomplished another restoration! We needed a prophet like unto Moses and Christ who would receive the Truth from God and preach it to the world. Such a prophet was Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith wanted to find the Truth, and this is why he went into the forest to pray. In answer to his prayer, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him. Joseph received his calling from them. And what was this calling? He was to preach the Gospel and restore what was lost. And he did just that!
Now we have, for example, the Book of Mormon. It repeats the testimony of another People who knew Christ. Through it we have again the “many plain and precious things “that were taken away. It is a Witness that other people knew of Christ, even before his birth. In the Book of Mormon, we see that the people of America believed in Christ. We read and understand what Christ preached to them. In addition, we see their ordinances, their authority, and their apostasy. Through them, we come to understand Christ’s mission better.
We have the authority today. Joseph Smith received the Priesthood — the Authority — from the authorized apostles Peter, James, and John. In this way, we can perform such Holy Ordinances as baptism. We have the “everlasting covenant” once more.
However…what of the faith the other Christians have? Their faith is good, and it helps. It is, however, incomplete, just as was the Law of Moses. The Christian Faith has been their schoolmaster to bring them unto Christ, that they might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, they are no longer under a schoolmaster.
What this means is that each truth of Christ these good people have has prepared them. Their experiences, their studies, and their faith have primed them to accept the Restored Gospel when presented to them.
President Gordon B. Hinckley is known for having taught the following:
This must be our great and singular message to the world. We do not offer it with boasting. We testify in humility but with gravity and absolute sincerity. We invite all, the whole earth, to listen to this account and take measure of its truth. God bless us as those who believe in His divine manifestations and help us to extend knowledge of these great and marvelous occurrences to all who will listen. To these we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it. (October 2002 Conference)
Just as the Jews in the time of Christ had been primed by their experiences to accept the Savior, even so, the Christians of today have been primed by their experiences to accept the Savior’s Restored Gospel. Each moment of their religious tradition has been carefully constructed by a loving Father in Heaven to lay a firm foundation of faith in Christ so that, when a bold young missionary invites them to pray and learn for themselves, they will be ready. Joining our church does not in fact erase a lifetime tradition of faith and service of God!
Yet, just as those in the time of Christ who rejected Christ did wrong by so doing, those who cling to an old tradition look beyond the mark and deny themselves of the fullness that awaits them.
In the words of Paul:
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11)
In my 33 years of trying to serve the Lord, I have frequently heard people say: “But I have my own religion already, and I feel very good in it.” I have even heard people say they feel as though God has called and guided them into other churches.
Can this be possible? Yes! Everything that leads us to Christ is good, just as Mormon himself wrote (Moroni 7:16). But we must draw distinction between the End and the Means — between the Goal and the Schoolmaster. Otherwise, we find ourselves in the same boat as the Jews at the time of Christ!
For this reason we invite all men to follow Christ. Take a copy of the Book of Mormon, read it, and ask God if it is true! I know that it is true. I know clearly and surely. God really called the Prophet Joseph Smith, and through him, the Church of Jesus Christ was restored. I have asked God, and I received my answer in such a special — perhaps extraordinary — way, but in any case so clear that it is impossible for me to deny. From God Himself I know that this Church of Jesus Christ is the true Church, the path that leads to Eternal Life. This is the path to which all the other paths lead! It is even called the Church of Jesus Christ, and “how be it my church save it be called in my name?” (3 Nephi 27:8)!
Come to us and bring the Faith you already have. We will only enhance it with all that God desires you to know! You can keep your Faith…all you need is to learn the things that were lost over the course of time. Then you can be baptized under the proper authority! What a blessing! Be baptized…make an appointment and come unto Christ. “Whatsoever ye shall do, ye shall do it in my name” (3 Nephi 27:7). Do you the same…what are you waiting for? This is a decision you will never regret! Give yourself the chance to find out…there is more than you can possibly imagine.
At that point, we can rephrase the promise of Paul as follows:
There is neither Catholic nor Lutheran, there is neither Baptist nor Presbyterian, there is neither Adventist nor Jehovah’s Witness: for we are all one in Christ Jesus. And if we be Christ’s, then are we Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.