One important way that God shows His love for us is by calling prophets, who are given the priesthood—the power and authority given to man to act in God’s name for the salvation of His children. Prophets learn the gospel of Jesus Christ by revelation. They in turn teach the gospel to others and testify of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer. The teachings of prophets are found in sacred books called scriptures.
Our Father’s plan for us to be successful in this life and to return to live with Him is called the gospel of Jesus Christ, with Jesus’s Atonement at the center of that plan. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, we can receive eternal life if we exercise faith in Jesus Christ, repent, are baptized by immersion for the remission of sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. “This is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ” (2 Nephi 31:21). All people have the gift of agency, which includes the freedom to accept or reject the gospel as taught by the prophets and apostles. Those who choose to obey are blessed, but those who ignore, reject, or distort the gospel do not receive God’s promised blessings.
Whenever people choose to disregard, disobey, or distort any gospel principle or ordinance, whenever they reject the Lord’s prophets, or whenever they fail to endure in faith, they distance themselves from God and begin to live in spiritual darkness. Eventually this leads to a condition called apostasy. When widespread apostasy occurs, God withdraws His priesthood authority to teach and administer the ordinances of the gospel.
Biblical history has recorded many instances of God speaking to prophets, and it also tells of many instances of apostasy. To end each period of general apostasy, God has shown His love for His children by calling another prophet and giving him priesthood authority to restore and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ anew. In essence, the prophet acts as a steward to oversee the household of God here on earth. Such periods of time headed by prophetic responsibility are called dispensations.
God revealed the gospel of Jesus Christ to Adam and gave him priesthood authority. Adam was the first prophet on the earth. By revelation, Adam learned of mankind’s proper relationship with God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost; of the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ; and of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Adam and Eve taught their children these truths and encouraged them to develop faith and to live the gospel in all aspects of their lives. Adam was followed by other prophets, but over time the posterity of Adam rejected the gospel and fell into apostasy, choosing to be unrighteous.
Thus began the pattern of prophetic dispensations that makes up much of the recorded history of the Old Testament. Heavenly Father revealed His gospel through direct communication to prophets such as Noah, Abraham, and Moses. Each prophet was called by God to begin a new dispensation of the gospel. To each of these prophets God granted priesthood authority and revealed eternal truths. Unfortunately, in each dispensation people eventually used their agency to choose to reject the gospel and then fell into apostasy.
(See Preach My Gospel , 32–34.)