As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we care about all of God’s children who now live or who have ever lived upon the earth. “Our message,” as stated by the First Presidency in 1978, “is one of special love and concern for the eternal welfare of all men and women, regardless of religious belief, race, or nationality, knowing that we are truly brothers and sisters because we are sons and daughters of the same Eternal Father.”1 As Elder Dallin H. Oaks stated a few years ago:
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has many beliefs in common with other Christian churches. But we have differences, and those differences explain why we send missionaries to other Christians, why we build temples in addition to churches, and why our beliefs bring us such happiness and strength to deal with the challenges of life and death.”2
I wish to testify today of the fulness of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, which adds to the religious beliefs of other denominations, both Christian and non-Christian. This fulness was originally established by the Savior in His earthly ministry. But then there was a falling away.
Some of the early Apostles knew that an apostasy would occur before the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. To the Thessalonians, Paul wrote concerning this event, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first.”3
With this falling away, priesthood keys were lost, and some precious doctrines of the Church organized by the Savior were changed. Among these were baptism by immersion;4 receiving the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands;5 the nature of the Godhead—that They are three distinct personages;6 all mankind will be resurrected through the Atonement of Christ, “both … the just and the unjust”;7 continuous revelation—that the heavens are not closed;8 and temple work for the living and the dead.9
The period that followed came to be known as the Dark Ages. This falling away was foreseen by the Apostle Peter, who declared that “heaven must receive [Jesus Christ] until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.”10 Restitution would only be necessary if these precious things had been lost.
In the centuries that followed, religious men came to recognize that there had been a gradual falling away from the Church organized by Jesus Christ. Some of them suffered greatly for their beliefs, in what came to be called the Reformation, a sixteenth-century movement that aimed at reforming Western Christianity. This resulted in the separation of the Protestant churches from the main Christian church.
Among these reformers was the Reverend John Lathrop, vicar of the Egerton Church in Kent, England. Incidentally, the Prophet Joseph Smith was descended from John Lathrop. In 1623 the Reverend Lathrop resigned his position because he questioned the authority of the Anglican church to act in the name of God. As he read the Bible, he recognized that apostolic keys were not on the earth. In 1632 he became the minister of an illegal independent church and was put in prison. His wife died while he was in prison, and his orphaned children pleaded with the bishop for his release. The bishop agreed to release Lathrop on condition that he leave the country. This he did, and with 32 members of his congregation he sailed to America.11
Roger Williams, a seventeenth-century pastor who founded Rhode Island, refused to continue as pastor in Providence on the grounds that there was “no regularly-constituted Church on earth, nor any person authorized to administer any Church ordinance; nor could there be, until new apostles were sent by the great Head of the Church, for whose coming he was seeking.”12
These are but two of the religious scholars who recognized an apostasy from the Church organized by Jesus Christ and the need for a restoration of the priesthood keys that had been lost. The Apostle John saw in vision the time when “another angel [would] fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.”13 This prophecy has been fulfilled. Because we believe the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in our time by the Prophet Joseph Smith, we wish to give all people an opportunity to know and accept this message.
We now have in the restored Church apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists, as spoken of by Paul to the Ephesians.14 These priesthood offices were established by the Savior when He organized His Church in the meridian of time. We recognize the two orders of the priesthood and the offices contained within them: the lesser priesthood is the Aaronic Priesthood, named after Aaron; and the greater priesthood is the Melchizedek Priesthood, named after Melchizedek, to whom Abraham paid tithes. The Aaronic Priesthood was restored on May 15, 1829, under the hands of John the Baptist, and the Melchizedek Priesthood within a month under the hands of the ancient Apostles Peter, James, and John to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. Thus those possessing the priesthood today claim the power to act in the name of God through the priesthood, “which power commands respect both on earth and in heaven.”15
In the Kirtland Temple on April 3, 1836, Moses appeared and gave the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery the keys of the gathering of Israel. After this, Elias appeared and committed the gospel of Abraham, that in “our seed all generations after us should be blessed.”16 After this, Elijah the prophet appeared and gave to them the keys of this dispensation, including the sealing power, to bind in heaven that which is bound on earth within the temples.17 Thus, prophets of previous gospel dispensations presented their keys to the Prophet Joseph Smith in this, the “dispensation of the fulness of times” spoken of by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesians.18
I am grateful the Lord has seen fit to establish again the law of tithes and offerings for this people. When we keep the law of tithing, the windows of heaven open for us. Great are the blessings poured down upon those who have the faith to keep the law of tithing.
Through the earth’s long history, temple worship has been a significant part of the Saints’ worship, by which they show their desire to come closer to their Creator. The temple was a place of learning for the Savior when He was on the earth; it was very much a part of His life. Temple blessings are available once again in our day. A unique feature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its teaching concerning temples and the eternal significance of all that occurs within them. Our majestic and beautiful temples now dot much of the earth. In them the most sacred work is done. President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated of these temples, “There are only a few places on earth where man’s questions about life receive the answers of eternity.”19 The solemn mysteries of where we came from, why we are here, and where we are going are answered more fully in the temples. We came from God’s presence and are here on earth to prepare to return to His presence.
Of transcendent significance is that within the sacred walls of the temple, husbands and wives make eternal covenants. These covenants are sealed by priesthood authority. Children of that union, if they are worthy, may enjoy an eternal relationship as part of a family and as children of God. As the Apostle John wrote: “What are these which are arrayed in white robes? … Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple.”20
The Lord has said that His work is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”21 It follows then that all mankind, living and dead, should have the opportunity of hearing the gospel either in this life or in the spirit world. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”22 This is the reason we do ordinance work in temples for our deceased ancestors. No person’s choice or agency is taken away. Those for whom the work is done may accept it or not, as they choose.
The Apostle John saw in vision the time when an angel would come to the earth as part of the Restoration of the gospel. That angel was Moroni, who appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith. He directed Joseph to the place where golden plates containing ancient writings were deposited. Joseph Smith then translated these plates by the gift and power of God, and the Book of Mormon was published. This is a record of two groups of people who lived centuries ago on the American continent. Little was known about them before the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. But more importantly, the Book of Mormon is another testament of Christ. It restored precious truths concerning the Fall, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and life after death.
Prior to the Restoration, the heavens had been closed for centuries. But with prophets and apostles upon the earth once more, the heavens were opened once again with visions and revelations. Many of the revelations that came to the Prophet Joseph Smith were written down in a book that came to be known as the Doctrine and Covenants. This contains further insights about principles and ordinances and is a valuable source concerning the structure of the priesthood. In addition, we have another canon of scripture called the Pearl of Great Price. It contains the book of Moses, which came by revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the book of Abraham, which he translated from a purchased Egyptian scroll. From these we learn not only a great deal more about Moses, Abraham, Enoch, and other prophets but also many more details about the Creation. We learn that the gospel of Jesus Christ was taught to all of the prophets from the beginning—even from the time of Adam.23
We believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the original Church established by Jesus Christ, which was built “upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.”24 It is not a breakoff from any other church.
We believe that the fulness of the gospel of Christ has been restored, but this is no reason for anyone to feel superior in any way toward others of God’s children. Rather, it requires a greater obligation to invoke the essence of the gospel of Christ in our lives—to love, serve, and bless others. Indeed, as the First Presidency stated in 1978, we believe that “the great religious leaders of the world such as Mohammed, Confucius, and the Reformers, as well as philosophers including Socrates, Plato, and others, received a portion of God’s light. Moral truths were given to them by God to enlighten whole nations and to bring a higher level of understanding to individuals.”25 Thus, we have respect for the sincere religious beliefs of others and appreciate others extending the same courtesy and respect for the tenets we hold dear.
I have a personal witness of the truth of the covenants, teachings, and authority restored through the Prophet Joseph Smith. This assurance has been with me all of my life. I am grateful that the Restoration of the fulness of the gospel has taken place in our time. It contains the pathway to eternal life. May the strength, peace, and concern of God the Father and the abiding love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.