Jesus Christ established His true Church while He lived on earth. He wanted everyone to have the truths of His gospel and to receive the ordinances of it. He organized His Church in order that those truths and the ordinances could be administered with proper authority. It was through this organization that Christ could bring the blessings of salvation to all mankind.
After Christ ascended into heaven men started changing the ordinances and doctrines of His gospel. The Apostles were killed, exiled, or otherwise incapacitated, and apostasy took place. (See 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3.) Because of the apostasy, there was no direct revelation from God, and the true Church of Jesus Christ was no longer on the earth. Other men organized different Churches and claimed them to be the true Church of Christ, but they taught conflicting doctrines. This brought much confusion and contention over religion.
Ancient prophets foretold that the apostasy would take place and that the Lord's Church would be restored in the latter days. Christ told Isaiah, "I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and wonder" (Isaiah 29:14).
People lived in spiritual darkness for many years. About 1700 years after the time of Christ, people started to search for truths about God and religion. By careful study of the scriptures, people could see that the gospel of Christ was no longer upon the earth. Some realized that there was no revelation or true authority on earth. The time had arrived for the Church of Jesus Christ to be restored to earth.
One of the most important events in the history of the world happened in the spring of 1820 because it was time for the marvelous work and wonder spoken of by Isaiah to take place. Joseph Smith was searching for the true Church of Jesus Christ and went into the woods near his home to pray. With humility and real intent to know the truth, he asked Heavenly Father which church he should join.
In answer to his humble prayer, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared personally to Joseph Smith. The Savior told Joseph that he should join none of the churches because the true church was not on the earth. He also said that the creeds of the various churches presently on earth were "an abomination in his sight" (Joseph Smith-History 1:19; see also verses 7-18, 20). After this visit from the Father and the Son, there was direct revelation from heaven once more. The Lord chose a new prophet and the heavens opened again. Joseph was chosen to help restore the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and each of the chosen prophets continue to receive revelation to this day.
As part of the restoration of the gospel, God gave the priesthood to men once again. John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood on Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in 1829. (See Doctrine and Covenants 13; 27:8.) Later Peter, James, and John, who composed the office of the presidency of the Church in ancient times, came to Joseph and Oliver and gave them the Melchizedek Priesthood and the keys of the kingdom of God. (See Doctrine and Covenants 27:12-13.) Additional keys of the priesthood were restored later by other heavenly messengers such as Moses, Elias, and Elijah. (See Doctrine and Covenants 110:11-16.) The priesthood was returned to earth. Men who hold this priesthood today hold the authority to perform ordinances of the gospel such as baptism as well as to direct the Lord's work on earth.
Under the direction of the Savior, His Church was organized on earth again on April 6, 1830. (See Doctrine and Covenants 20:1.) His Church is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (See Doctrine and Covenants 115:4.) Jesus Christ stands at the head of His Church today just as He did in ancient days. Jesus Christ Himself has said that this Church is "the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased" (Doctrine and Covenants 1:30).
Joseph Smith was sustained as prophet and "first elder" when the Church was first organized. He was sustained as President when the First Presidency was organized. The framework of the Church was set up when it was first organized. As the Church grew, the organization of the Church continued to develop.
The Church was organized after the pattern of the ancient church. It has the same offices in the priesthood as were in the ancient church, including apostles, prophets, seventies, evangelists (patriarchs), pastors (presiding officers), high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons.
Acting under the direction of the Lord, a prophet leads the Church today. He is also the President of the Church and holds all the necessary authority to direct the Lord's work on earth. (See Doctrine and Covenants 107:65, 91.) Two counselors assist the President. The Twelve Apostles are special witnesses of the name of Jesus Christ who teach the gospel and regulate the affairs of the Church all over the world. Other general officers of the Church have special assignments, such as the Quorums of the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric. They serve under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve.
Because the Church is much larger than in the days of Christ, He has revealed additional units of Church organization. Wherever the Church is fully organized in an area, the local divisions are called stakes. Each stake is presided over by a stake president and two counselors. They are assisted by twelve high counselors. Priesthood quorums are organized under the direction of the stake president. Each stake is divided into wards. Each ward is presided over by a bishop and two counselors. Districts and branches, similar to stakes and wards, are organized in developing areas of the Church.
The Church today teaches the same principles and performs the same ordinances as were performed in the time of Christ. The first principles and ordinances of the gospel are faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. (See Article of Faith 1:4.)
Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, which contains the plain and precious truths of the gospel, through the gift and power of God. He received other revelations, which are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price. Some of those important truths include the following: 1) Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are real beings with tangible, perfected bodies of flesh and bones. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. 2) We existed as spiritual children of God in a premortal life. 3) The priesthood is necessary to administer the ordinances of the gospel. 4) We will be punished for our own sins and not for Adam's transgression. 5) Children do not need baptism until they are accountable and are at least eight years old. 6) There are three kingdoms of glory in the heavens. People will be rewarded according to the desires of their hearts and according to their actions. 7) Through the sealing power of the priesthood, family relationships can be eternal. 8) Ordinances and covenants are required for salvation and are available for both the living and the dead.
The Church of Jesus Christ will never be taken from the earth again. Its mission is to take the truth to every person on earth. There are now members of the Church in almost every nation on earth.
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