Cover image: “Light Descending” by Oliver Johnson.

“Immerse yourself in the glorious light of the Restoration. As you do, general conference next April will be not only memorable; it will be unforgettable.” –President Russell M. Nelson, Oct. 2019 General Conference

There are moments when things click into place, times when seemingly random fragments of thought and information suddenly fit together to form a clear picture in your mind. In my mid-teens, I had such a moment, which altered the way I view the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

On a Sunday evening, I found myself listening to a radio station which played Latter-day Saint music and firesides. This particular night’s broadcast featured a speaker whose focus was the great apostasy and events leading to Joseph Smith’s first vision. As an active member of the church, this was certainly not the first exposure I’d had to words like apostasy, the dark ages, the renaissance, the reformation, and names such as Tyndale, Gutenberg, Luther, and Wesley. But for some reason on this night, it seemed that all of the information gleaned from years of home, church, and seminary teachings connected like puzzle pieces, opening the eyes of my understanding. It felt as if I had stepped through a doorway, expecting to enter a familiar room, but instead found myself standing on a high mountain where a broad new view stretched before me.

It is possible, through the witness of the Holy Spirit, to have a firm testimony of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ without having a true understanding of the apostasy which preceded it. Such had been the case with me. But as my understanding of the apostasy increased, my appreciation of the magnificent blessings of the restored gospel was greatly enhanced.

As church members accept President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation to “…prepare for a unique [general] conference that will commemorate the very foundations of the restored gospel…” (1) we may wish to familiarize ourselves with the events leading up to the restoration. Last year’s “Come, Follow Me” study of the New Testament laid the perfect foundation, as we reviewed the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ.

The New Testament clearly shows the Savior setting up a church organization during His time on earth, with apostles, ordinances, and spiritual gifts. As one becomes familiar with the teachings of Jesus Christ and reads of His unceasing efforts to heal and bless His followers, one begins to form a picture of the way His church operated, with miracles in abundance. The Savior conferred priesthood keys and authority on those who would carry on the work after His death.

“Jesus, Savior, came to earth,
organized a living church,
went about His work divine–
Glory! How the light did shine!

Taught the people His good news,
twelve apostles He did choose.
He gave sight unto the blind–
Glory! How the light did shine!” (2)

The epistles contained in the New Testament show a pattern of the apostles working to correct any false teachings and practices which crept in among new members of Christ’s church, but the priesthood keys were lost with the deaths of the apostles. I have thought many times of the people in whom the light of Christ was a guiding force, who lived during the dark times of the apostasy, seeking for spiritual truth wherever it could be found. Many of them recognized that the priesthood had been lost from the earth, ordinances changed, and doctrines twisted by men. Infant baptism and the doctrine of original sin were introduced, the very nature of God was subject to debate, the doctrine of transubstantiation was created, detracting from the simple, yet powerful ordinance of the sacrament. Where was baptism for the dead? Where were any temple ordinances? The scriptures were taken out of the hands of the common people. “…scriptural ignorance abounded because people lacked access to the Bible, especially in a language they could understand.” (3)

Though the form of a church was still in place, it was a far cry from the organization established by Jesus Christ. There were still earnest followers of Christ left on the earth, but without a prophet or apostles to correct tainted doctrine and practices, the world slipped gradually into centuries of spiritual darkness. Elder Tad R. Callister writes that, “There are at least seventy scriptures in the Bible that testify or warn of the Apostasy of Christ’s Church.” (4)

“But Jesus’ church and all its fruits
were pulled up by their sacred roots,
truth was twisted, light was lost.
Oh! How dreadful was the cost!

There followed centuries of half lit days,
as if the sun refused to share its strongest rays.
Where was the light of God to penetrate the haze?” (5)

My continued study of the apostasy has shown that God’s hand was at work even during dark times, gradually preparing for the full restoration of the gospel. I highly recommend reading the following, from President M. Russell Ballard:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/01/how-the-lord-prepared-the-world-for-the-restoration?lang=eng

“Now we stand on barren ground
where a garden once was found.
How we hunger, how we need
a gardener to replant the seed.

We continue in our search,
Christians here, without a church,
hoping truth will be restored,
gospel fulness from the Lord.

We will watch until that time,
waiting for the light to shine!” (6)

Enter young Joseph Smith. This is the era into which he was born, as a resurgence of religious fervor began sweeping through his community. He recorded, “…there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion…Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties…” (7) Joseph’s own search for truth led to his remarkable first vision and the dawn of the restoration.

I have imagined my life without the fruits of the restoration, and the picture is bleak. No Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price. My understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ would be incomplete at best. There would be no true understanding of the nature of the God I worship, no inkling of a Heavenly Mother or eternal marriage. When my youngest brother died just after birth, our family’s mourning would have been unbearable–thinking him to be lost to us forever. There would be no priesthood blessings, no living prophets and apostles to show a clear path to God. The constant gift of the Holy Ghost would not be mine. No temples would grace the earth, thus, no lasting connection to those who have lived before me, or those who will follow after. No miracles or other spiritual gifts. It is unsettling to imagine the confusion and discouragement of such a life.

Is it any wonder that we celebrate the restoration? No longer must we wait for the light to shine. Let us bask in the glorious light of the restored church and gospel of Jesus Christ!

Waiting for the Light to Shine
by Lynne Perry Christofferson

Choir:
Tanya Barkdull,
Tammy Simister Robinson,
LaReneTinney,
Johanne Frechette Perry,
Rob Rowberry,
Roger Hoffman,
Daron Bradford,
Steve Meredith

“Jesus, Savior, came to earth,
organized a living church,
went about His work divine–
Glory! How the light did shine!

Taught the people His good news,
twelve apostles He did choose.
He gave sight unto the blind–
Glory! How the light did shine!

But Jesus’ church and all its fruits
were pulled up by their sacred roots,
truth was twisted, light was lost.
Oh! How dreadful was the cost!

There followed centuries of half lit days,
as if the sun refused to share its strongest rays.
Where was the light of God to penetrate the haze?

Now we stand on barren ground
where a garden once was found.
How we hunger, how we need
a gardener to replant the seed.

We continue in our search,
Christians here, without a church,
hoping truth will be restored,
gospel fulness from the Lord.

We will watch until that time,
waiting for the light to shine!”

*This song is part of “Let the Morning Come,” a musical celebration of Joseph Smith and the restoration, by Janice Kapp Perry, Steven Kapp Perry, and Lynne Perry Christofferson. Songbook, script, and recording available at janicekappperry.com.

Notes:

  1. President Russell M. Nelson, Closing Remarks, October 2019 General Conference.

       2.    From the song “Waiting for the Light to Shine,” by Lynne Perry Christofferson. From the album “Let the Morning Come,” Prime Recordings, 2005.

      3.    Elder D. Todd Christofferson, The Blessing of Scripture, April 2010.

      4.    Elder Tad R. Callister, The Blueprint of Christ’s Church, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015, p. 30.

      5.    From the song “Waiting for the Light to Shine,” by Lynne Perry Christofferson. From the album “Let the Morning Come,” Prime Recordings, 2005.

      6.    ibid.

      7.    Joseph Smith History 1:5, Pearl of Great Price.

Recommended Reading:

The Blueprint of Christ’s Church, (particularly chapters 2 and 3) by Tad R. Callister, Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City. https://www.amazon.com/Blueprint-Christs-Church-Tad-Callister/dp/1629720216

The Great Apostasy:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/the-restoration/the-great-apostasy?lang=eng