Total Apostasy? Joseph Smith’s First Vision

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church) claims that Christ’s authority vanished from the earth sometime after His apostles died. The LDS Church calls this a total apostasy because they claim that there was not one person left who could act with the authority of God. According to the accepted version of Joseph Smith’s first vision, Jesus came back to earth to tell Joseph Smith to “restore” the true gospel again to the earth. We will explore this topic by studying what the official LDS scriptures say. Joseph’s first vision is found in The Pearl of Great Price.

1)  The Pearl of Great Price – Joseph Smith History 1:19

“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.’”

Establishing a Total Apostasy

We are to establish all things (including teachings) on the testimony of two or more witnesses. According to Joseph Smith’s testimony, recorded in The Pearl of Great Price, he went out in the woods alone to pray. (Verse 15) According to Joseph Smith, the second voice he heard was the voice of the Lord of Mormonism (Verse 17). This Lord said (verse 19) that all the existing churches were wrong. All their creeds and professors (professors of their faith – evangelists / preachers) were also wrong. So, we have this total apostasy on the authority of the Jesus of Mormonism by the testimony of only one witness, Joseph Smith! Today the LDS Church claims it has the right to exist because Joseph Smith claimed he was called by this Jesus to restore the true church on the Earth.

2)  The Book of Mormon – III Nephi 28

The Book of Mormon tells of Jesus visiting the American continent. He picks out twelve more disciples to spread the LDS gospel.

The heading for Chapter 28 says: “Three Nephites are given power over death so as to remain on Earth until Jesus comes again … and they are now ministering among men.” Verses 6‑9: “Ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me. Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall never taste of death; but ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come in my glory with the powers of heaven. And ye shall never endure the pains of death; … for ye have desired that ye might bring the souls of man unto me, while the world shall stand.”

Fountain of Youth – Three Nephite Apostles

The Jesus of The Book of Mormon has stated that He will not allow these three Nephite Apostles to suffer death, but they will continue living until Jesus’ second coming. Jesus gave these Nephites full apostleship with all the authority to act in His name, the same as the apostles of the Old World (Moroni 2:2). They are presently ministering among men to bring their souls unto the Jesus of The Book of Mormon. This means that three apostles, who are nearly two thousand years old, are still today doing evangelism for Jesus’ true Church.

3)  Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), Section 7

The heading for D&C section 7 says, “John the beloved shall live until the Lord comes.” Verses 1-7: “John my beloved, what desirest thou? … And I said unto him; Lord, give unto me power over death, that I may live and bring souls unto thee. And the Lord said unto me; verily, verily, I say unto thee, because thou desirest this thou shalt tarry until I come in my glory, and shalt prophesy before nations, kindreds, tongues and people. And for this cause the Lord said unto Peter: … my beloved has desired that he might do more, or a greater work yet among men than what he has before done. … therefore I will make him as a flaming fire and a ministering angel; he shall minister for those who shall be heirs of salvation who dwell on the earth. And I will make thee to minister for him and for thy brother James; and unto you three I will give this power and the keys of this ministry until I come.”

John the Beloved Apostle Still Lives!

We find here that John the Beloved, one of the original apostles, was also allowed to stay alive on the Earth winning souls to Christ until Jesus’ second coming. Thus, according to The Book of Mormon and the D&C, we have three Nephite apostles and one original apostle who will never die. Two LDS scriptures agree, making a total of four full-fledged apostles staying alive evangelizing until Jesus’ second coming. If these apostles could not bring souls to Christ, then Jesus would have done a vain work by allowing them to stay alive all this time only attempting to win souls without having any real success.

Total Apostasy?

On that very day in 1820 when Joseph Smith went out in the woods to pray, these four were hard at the Lord’s work bringing souls to Christ. If Jesus was successful at starting His true church on two continents, one in the Old World and one in the New World, these four apostles could be successful at keeping them going with all their converts. After being personally trained by Jesus Himself, they should be pretty effective. Can you imagine how many new members these four experts would have made if each of them only converted one person each month in their extended lifetime of full time service (even if none of their converts converted anybody else)? (How does this compare with a two-year mission?) Starting with only these four men, in one hundred years, there would be forty-eight hundred new believers (and at least some of their children and their children’s children)! Of course, Christ’s apostles would make sure their converts joined Christ’s true, established church to learn to be obedient to the ordinances and commandments of God and for fellowship. As these churches grew, they would have to build other buildings to house the new members. As the apostles went on missionary journeys, they would establish Christ’s true church in other countries. Thus, there would be many local churches in many places.

Which Church Should Joseph Join?

But even if there were only these four apostles in existence on that very day that Joseph went out alone to pray, Jesus would have known about them. The Jesus of Joseph’s first vision doesn’t seem to know anything about these men. How could he forget his promise to his apostles? He should have answered that Joseph should join none of them except the church lead by John the Beloved (in Jerusalem?), or Nephite #1 (now in Australia?), or Nephite #2 (in Mexico?), or Nephite #3 (in New York?). The Jesus of the First Vision has a memory problem!

Who do you believe?

Do you believe the Jesus of the First Vision, who says there was a total apostasy? Or … do you believe the Jesus of The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine & Covenants who says there can never be a total apostasy because he has guaranteed, on his word, that there will always be a minimum of four full-fledged apostles on the earth? Which Joseph Smith do you believe? The one who wrote The Book of Mormon and The Doctrine & Covenants by inspiration? Or the one who told us of his ‘First Vision’ encounter with a Jesus who can’t remember what he has done?

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