Common Institutes of the Restoration is an ongoing series of papers written and researched by Revan Filiaexdeus addressing topics important to the Latter Day Saint community.
Let us establish some common ground on which we can all agree. Without fail, the word of scripture is useful for exhortation and all manner of doctrine. Within the Restoration, we have some agreement and disagreement on what scripture consists of.
Scripture, for a concise definition, is inspired writing. Whatsoever is spoken by a holder of Priesthood “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation (D&C 68:4).”
Sixty five of the sixty six books of the King James Bible were identified by Joseph Smith as being legitimate scripture. The single exception to this is the Song of Solomon, otherwise known as the Song of Songs or Canticles. According to the Inspired Version, this book is not inspired scripture and exists on the level of Apocrypha or Deuterocanon (LDS D&C 91); such books are useful for those who are well established in the Gospel, but are not useful for establishing doctrine.
The whole of the Restoration began with the careful, Spirit-led examination of scripture. His First Vision is the result of a faithful response to a Biblical exhortation: “if any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not and it shall be given him.” Throughout his life, Joseph Smith continued to teach out of the Bible and study it himself. He made inspired corrections where necessary and embraced wholeheartedly the truth he found in both the existing text and the carefully edited Inspired Version.
Unique among the claims of Christendom, Restoration believers state that the Bible is not a closed canon but is a living document open to examination today. It’s claims are equally valid in these days as they were in the days of the writing of both the Old and New Testaments. Unlike Protestant reformers, Catholic doctors, and Orthodox fathers, the truths of the Restoration are divined from the Bible not by speculation or theology, but by holy and divine revelation. This revelation is open to each and every one of us, and increases as our measure of Priesthood increases.
The fact that Restoration truths can be found within the Bible yet escape notice by the religious men of both Joseph Smith’s day and our own is proof that such men have an eye not single to the glory of God, but to their own doctrine. All of the Restoration truths can be proven out of the Bible alone. A correct understanding of linguistics is essential and will reveal all.
Therefore, I submit the Bible as one part of the common scriptural ground between all Restoration believers.
KJV, NSRV, or IV?
Quiet debate continues on in the Restoration as to which translation of the Bible should be used. For reasons of posterity, I encourage the active use of the King James Version. The scope of scholarship and ease of accessibility with other resources such as a Strong’s Concordance is vaster with the KJV than with any other translation. I also humbly encourage all Saints to make key use of the Joseph Smith translation, or the Inspired Version as it is othewise called. Of the Inspired Version, Elder Bruce R. McConkie called it a “marvelously inspired work” and said it “is a thousand times over the best Bible now existing on earth.” The first complete Inspired Version was published by the Community of Christ in the mid 19th century. Later, through valuable exchange of manuscript, the LDS Church has embraced it more fully through the use of the JST footnotes.
Many other Restoration traditions continue to use the NSRV as a sort of easy reading Bible. This is acceptable, as is the use of other translations, with careful examination in light of revealed latter day truth.
Therefore, I submit that the Inspired Version of the Bible is the most correct for the use of doctrine without excluding the use of other translations for study.
Commandments, Doctrine, Covenants
In addition to the Bible, many things were revealed to Brother Joseph relative to the building up of the Church of Christ in these latter days. Directly prior to Brother Joseph’s martyrdom at Carthage, an edition of the Doctrine and Covenants was released. This is known as the 1844 D&C. It is from this edition that most Restoration traditions draw their own publications of the D&C from. A notable exception is the so-called Hendrickite tradition, or the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which chooses to use the Book of Commandments published in 1833 by W.W. Phelps.
If we recognize Joseph Smith as an authentic prophet of God, we can recognize his inspiration and know whether or not it is true for ourselves in the same manner as the Book of Mormon (Moroni 10:3-5). Therefore, I humbly suggest that the expansion of revelation offered in the D&C versus the wording offered in the Book of Commandments more accurately represents the original revelation, whereas the version in the Book of Commandments is a lesser and abridged version.
That being said, I acknowledge wholly the right of the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) and related traditions to continue their use of the Book of Commandments and accept their covenants with the Lord made through those true revelations.
Therefore, I submit that the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants forms the basic working version of the D&C that all Restoration believers can agree upon. Any so-called Restoration tradition which rejects either the D&C or the Book of Commandments cannot accurately be said to be a part of the Restoration.
Book of Mormon
Brother Joseph called the Book of Mormon the “cornerstone of our religion” and “the most correct of any book on this earth”. Without the Book of Mormon, there is no Restoration and no Restored Gospel. “Take away the Book of Mormon and the revelations, and where is our religion? We have none.”
Suffice it to say for now, I do not believe that any Restoration children will deny the authenticity of the Book of Mormon as a book of scripture. Some among the more liberal schools of thought in the Restoration have sought an explanation of the Book of Mormon apart from the golden plates story; that is, we can have the Book and it’s record as a testimony of Jesus Christ without needing to believe that Joseph translated the record, or even that there was a record.
That is a well and good concept, but if we may treat the Book as a work of fiction, then why do we base our life and religion around it? Surely there are many fine fictional books that will suffice. I myself have seen Christ and embraced Gospel truth in Lord of the Rings, for instance; many vital concepts relating to the creation of the universe were explained to me by the Holy Spirit through the use of Tolkien’s Ainulindale in The Silmarillion.
In word and in deed, I refute this argument with every fiber of my being. Therefore I offer up the following arguments for the authenticity of the golden plates, of Moroni, and of the Book.
The Gathering of Israel
The Book of Mormon predicts that, when it comes forth, Israel shall begin to be gathered. I quote the whole of 3 Nephi 29 (LDS Edition):
And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled.
And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel.
And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.
And when ye shall see these sayings coming forth among you, then ye need not any longer spurn at the doings of the Lord, for the sword of his justice is in his right hand; and behold, at that day, if ye shall spurn at his doings he will cause that it shall soon overtake you.
Wo unto him that spurneth at the doings of the Lord; yea, wo unto him that shall deny the Christ and his works!
Yea, wo unto him that shall deny the revelations of the Lord, and that shall say the Lord no longer worketh by revelation, or by prophecy, or by gifts, or by tongues, or by healings, or by the power of the Holy Ghost!
Yea, and wo unto him that shall say at that day, to get gain, that there can be no miracle wrought by Jesus Christ; for he that doeth this shall become like unto the son of perdition, for whom there was no mercy, according to the word of Christ!
Yea, and ye need not any longer hiss, nor spurn, nor make game of the Jews, nor any of the remnant of the house of Israel; for behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto them, and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn.
Therefore ye need not suppose that ye can turn the right hand of the Lord unto the left, that he may not execute judgment unto the fulfilling of the covenant which he hath made unto the house of Israel.
This was a bold claim for it’s time and is coincidental to a general rise in Jewish consciousness. I submit that this is wholly the work of Heavenly Father throughout the Earth.
The Jewish Diaspora had endured since 70 AD with the destruction of Herod’s Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem under Titus, who was later to become Emperor of Rome. In the many centuries in between this event and the great refounding of the State of Israel in 1948, Jewish pogroms were officially sanctioned in essentially every nation Jews were to be found.
The only reprieve from such bitter persecution came in the 1770’s with the Jewish Enlightenment. Called the Haskalah in Hebrew, the school rose primarily in Europe as a move to attempt to integrate the thus-far segregated communities into the rest of Western society without loss of essential Jewish identity and cultural norms. This idea largely morphed into Jewish nationalism, called Zionism. The name Zionism was chosen because of the many great Biblical yearnings for Zion, in reference to the “original Zion” of the Bible in Jerusalem, later called the City of David.
The single origin beginnings of Zionism, if there is to be such a thing, came with Judah Leib Pinsker’s publication Auto-Emancipation in 1882. The pamphlet came in the wake of the horrific Odessa Pogrom in Russia, merely one in a long series of pogroms. It urged the formation of a national Jewish state and discusses the brutal origins of anti-semitism. Pinsker later helped found Hovevei Zion, an organization dedicated to the realization of these ideals.
In the middle of this almost century of developing Jewish consciousness, the Book of Mormon comes forth in 1829 and the restoration of the Church by the holy Priesthood a year later on April 6, 1830.
Curiously, the fires of the Burned Over District so familiar to Joseph Smith and the other early Saints in New York did not remain in the United States; they burned across the Atlantic Ocean in Britain. In 1808, the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews - or more familiarly called the Jewish Society - was founded. In 1825, only a few short years before the Restoration, the Plymouth Brethren was founded in England with the explicit belief of the regathering of the Jews to Israel.
In 1837, the first LDS missionaries came to Liverpool, England. In 1838, the Crown established a British Consulate in Jerusalem, the same year that Joseph Smith received a revelation in Far West calling an Apostolic mission to Britain. In 1840, the first intentions were announced by the British government for the restoration of Israel and in 1841-42, the first practical plans were drawn up by prominent Zionist Moses Montefiore and Charles Henry Churchill, the British diplomat then present in Damascus.
Yet another century will pass before the State of Israel is founded again in 1948, in the terrifying wake of the Holocaust.
Says Mormon (Mormon 3:17-22):
Therefore I write unto you, Gentiles, and also unto you, house of Israel, when the work shall commence, that ye shall be about to prepare to return to the land of your inheritance;
Yea, behold, I write unto all the ends of the earth; yea, unto you, twelve tribes of Israel, who shall be judged according to your works by the twelve whom Jesus chose to be his disciples in the land of Jerusalem.
And I write also unto the remnant of this people, who shall also be judged by the twelve whom Jesus chose in this land; and they shall be judged by the other twelve whom Jesus chose in the land of Jerusalem.
And these things doth the Spirit manifest unto me; therefore I write unto you all. And for this cause I write unto you, that ye may know that ye must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, yea, every soul who belongs to the whole human family of Adam; and ye must stand to be judged of your works, whether they be good or evil;
And also that ye may believe the gospel of Jesus Christ, which ye shall have among you; and also that the Jews, the covenant people of the Lord, shall have other witness besides him whom they saw and heard, that Jesus, whom they slew, was the very Christ and the very God.
And I would that I could persuade all ye ends of the earth to repent and prepare to stand before the judgment-seat of Christ.
This great regathering of Israel is preparatory to the acceptance of the Gospel by Israel and the judgement of the Last Day thereafter.
Shall we mock this up to mere coincidence? The matters of history are interesting. I see the hand of God working in separate but intricately connected spheres. “Yea, whoever will thrust in his sickle and reap, the same is called of God (LDS D&C 11:28).” In Britain and throughout the Hebrew People of Europe, Heavenly Father found those willing to thrust in their sickles and reap - and thus extended to them the call to do so. The delicate guidance of God between the Restoration and these seemingly unrelated events is of supreme importance.
The fact that such a book as the Book of Mormon declares the regathering of Israel in such an improbable and hostile time is stark evidence of it’s actual, literal truth.
Now we turn to the matter of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon: Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer Sr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith. To count Brother Joseph among them - for his testimony is included in every copy of the Book of Mormon since the original printing - makes twelve.
Let us examine each of their stories.
Oliver Cowdery experienced many of the early things of the Restoration. He was Joseph’s scribe, the first to be baptized in this dispensation, and claimed to have communication with such angelic ministers as those who restored the Priesthood. He was called the Second Elder of the Church. In 1838, Cowdery was excommunicated for his failure to appear to a Church council. He disagreed personally with Joseph on many issues, including the matter of polygamy and the Law of Consecration. Later, he was personally threatened by the secretive Danites that arose within the Church - without knowledge or consent of Brother Joseph - as a result of Sidney Rigdon’s so-called Salt Sermon. He had every reason to deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon, even later joining a Methodist congregation. Yet in 1848, Cowdery returned humbly to the Church - perhaps waiting patiently for the death of Joseph Smith? - to be rebaptized. Though he intended to go west to Utah, he later passed away of tuberculosis in the Midwest. His last words were to his son: “Jacob, I want you to remember what I am saying to you. I am a dying man, and what would it profit me to tell you a lie? I know that this Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God. My eyes saw, my ears heard, and my understanding was touched, and I know that whereof I testify is true. It was no dream, no vain imagination of the mind - it was real.”
Martin Harris was also one of the original three witnesses. In 1837, he was excommunicated in Kirtland for his attempt to reorganize the Church in the wake of the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. This attempt was soundly outside of the organization of the Priesthood; others were excommunicated along side him for their participation in the attempt. Between 1837 and 1851, Harris remained in Kirtland and affiliated with various claims to leadership - including that of David Whitmer - in the succession crisis. He went to England during this time, reportedly saying of his testimony: “Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God.” In 1870, he received assistance from other Saints to move to Salt Lake City, Utah and was baptized. On his deathbed, he said: “The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true.”
Like the other two original witnesses, David Whitmer had a falling out with Joseph Smith and was eventually run out of Missouri by the Danites alongside Oliver Cowdery. In the secession crisis, he would found a “Church of Christ” with beliefs similar to the early Kirtland-era Church; he himself was president and it never experienced much membership. Cowdery contracted tuberculosis while on his way to convince David Whitmer to join him in going west to Utah. Whitmer was often called the “most interviewed” witness and said succinctly: "It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the Book of Mormon. To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement: That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all of my statements, as then made and published. He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion!” David Whitmer eventually had his testimony inscribed upon his gravestone.
These Three Witnesses had every reason to deny their testimonies. Yet none ever did, despite the many personal conflicts with Brother Joseph and the Priesthood authority of the Church. All of them stressed the spiritual nature of their witness, that they had actually communicated with God.
Much of the Whitmer family served as members of the Eight Witnesses. Most of them were excommunicated en-masse in Jackson County in 1838. Exceptions are Christian Whitmer, who remained faithful to the Church his entire life, moving to Jackson County and dying in 1835 in Far West as an Elder and a member of the High Council there. Peter Whitmer, Jr. also was one of the missionaries who helped to convert Sidney Rigdon and his congregation in addition to being one of the Eight Witnesses. He died of tuberculosis in Liberty, Missouri having never denied his testimony.
Jacob Whitmer, the older brother of David, was baptized only five days after the organization of the Church in April 1830. He also served on Far West’s High Council, and was excommunicated in 1838 with the rest of his family. He settled near Richmond, Missouri, not once denying his testimony of the Book of Mormon.
John Whitmer was excommunicated during the struggle over the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society. Despite this, he continued to live at Far West when the majority of the Church had moved on to Nauvoo. He joined David Whitmer’s “Church of Christ” after Brother Joseph’s death, maintaining his testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon alongside David.
Hiram Page was excommunicated with the Whitmers in 1838. Prior to this, he had endured several harsh beatings by non-Mormons during the strife of the Jackson County period. He too joined David Whitmer’s Church. He died in Excelsior Springs, Missouri, having never denied his testimony.
Joseph Smith, Sr. remained entirely faithful, dying in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1840. His testimony of the Book of Mormon remained his entire life.
Hyrum Smith was killed with Brother Joseph in Carthage. Alongside his testimony included in the Book, he later wrote and stressed that he had actually handled the physical plates. He said after Joseph Smith’s death: “As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself, and to the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847.” Of him, his son testified: “I knew my father to be true and faithful to his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon until the very last. Whenever he had an opportunity to bear his testimony to this effect, he would always do so, and seemed to rejoice exceedingly in having been privileged to see the plates.”
Samuel H. Smith, alongside being a witness to the plates, was one of the original six organizers of the Church. To Phineas Young, he said, “Yes [I am one of the witnesses]. I know the book to be a revelation from God, translated by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, and that my brother Joseph Smith, Jr., is a Prophet, Seer and Revelator.”
Now why should it be that so many witnesses to so many great and marvelous things should somewhat apostasize, later to be restored? Is it not to be remembered that Elijah, the greatest of Old Testament prophets, ran from God into the desert and even refused the command of God though he conversed with angels (1 Kings 19)? And Jonah too ran from God. Moses tried to refuse God (Exodus 4:10), not to mention that all twelve New Testament apostles deserted Jesus, though they knew they had the Living God in the Flesh among them (Mark 14:50)! If such things happen in dispensations pass, why should we expect that the human condition should have changed in this great and last dispensation of the fullness of times? In this age, as in every age, we must wholly depend on the atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace to transform us. Sometimes this is a rocky process, as it was for the witnesses.
All of the Eight Witnesses are on record - some of them multiple records - as having said that they handed the physical plates, having been shown them by Joseph Smith. All of the Three Witnesses stressed that they had really had a visitation from Moroni and had been shown the plates. With ample reason to deny their testimony and undermine the credibility of Joseph Smith, not a single one of them denied their testimony.
And of course, we have the witness of Joseph Smith himself who repeated it countless times throughout his life and finally sealed such a testimony with his own blood.
I wish to return to the Hebrews, my own people. The Book of Mormon, like the Bible, is a Hebrew book written by Hebrews and largely for Hebrews. It must be recognized, however, that the Hebrew nature of the Book of Mormon is somewhat different than that of the Bible. The Book claims to be written originally in “Reformed Egyptian”, explained in 1 Nephi as Hebrew language written in an Egyptian script. Many such excellent books have been written on the subject. A simple search engine query will turn out many of the finer ones. I do not intent to repeat their arguments here. Instead, I leave you with the testimony of Sammi Hanna, who translated the Book of Mormon into Arabic, a closely related Semetic language.
The many Semetic features of the Book of Mormon, had they been written intentionally into the Book of Mormon by a fraudulent Joseph Smith, would certainly have been used as evidence to support the Book’s truthfulness. Yet little mention is made of it beyond the pages of the Book itself. It has taken tremendous modern scholarship to discover these things.
Speaking of Joseph Smith’s supposed authorship of the Book, many such theories have been proposed. I have heard them from those who claim to be Restoration children and also from those who would make themselves our marked enemies. With the Joseph Smith Papers project anyone can view Joseph’s primary documents and attest to the discord of his own handwriting. Emma said of Joseph: Joseph Smith could neither write nor dictate a coherent and well-worded letter; let alone dictating a book like the Book of Mormon. And, though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates, and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, 'a marvel and a wonder,' as much so as to anyone else.
Yet with all of this, it remains soundly that the Book of Mormon issues a unique challenge to each of its readers. Such a challenge is familiar to all Restoration children (Moroni 10:3-6, LDS edition):
Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.
And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is.
Can a house divided against itself stand? I ask with the words of Christ, can Satan cast out demons (Matthew 12:26)? Can anything testify of Jesus Christ and be a work of Satan, or of men? Can anything lead to such profound good as has the Book of Mormon and be a lie?
With the words of the Apostle James, “Every good and perfect thing is from above (James 1:17)”.
The Book of Mormon does not ask for blind faith. It never has and never will. If we acknowledge the reality of God and our ability to interact with Him, He Himself will tell us whether or not this Book is true or not. There is no danger in doing so if this Book is false, for the God of Heaven will bear you up and tell you it is false. But if it is true, then there is extreme danger; to ascertain such a witness is to be bound to action.
I testify, alongside the Holy Ghost, Joseph Smith, and the Three and Eight Witnesses that this Book of Mormon is true. It’s events actually happened. It is a book of real scripture that God uses as a vital instrument in these latter days.
In 1844, the year of Joseph Smith’s death, Soren Kierkegaard pens in his Philosophical Fragments: “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, which emerges when the spirit wants to posit the synthesis and freedom looks down into possibility, laying hold of finiteness to support itself. Freedom succumbs in this dizziness. Further than this, psychology cannot and will not go. In that very moment everything is changed, and freedom, when it again rises, sees that it is guilty. Between these two moments lies the leap, which no science has explained and which no science will explain.”.
Therefore, friends, take a leap of faith. Let the challenge of the Book seize hold upon you.
The Book of Moses
The Book of Moses is a unique product of the Restoration. Among the LDS Church, it is included in the Pearl of Great Price while in many of the so-called “Prairie Saint” traditions it is included as the Inspired Version of Genesis and may therefore be treated as an extension of the JST.
As with the Book of Mormon, the truth of the Book of Moses may be discovered through both spiritual witness and rational examination. The Moses material is extraordinarily similar in many ways to another ancient Biblical work for which many extant copies now exist: the Book of Enoch. In ancient times, the Book of Enoch was influential on the development of the Deuterocanonical works and played an essential role in Jewish mysticism. Quoted in the New Testament Epistle of Jude (Jude 1:14-16), the Book of Enoch was preserved in Ethiopia and rediscovered by modern scholarship in the late 18th century.
The first available English edition did not appear until the 1820s. There is no evidence to suggest that the Book of Enoch was utilized or ever read by Joseph Smith. An 1835 revelation to Joseph Smith (LDS D&C 107:57) says: “These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time.” Given the relation of physical records to the revelations received by Joseph Smith (the golden plates for the Book of Mormon, the Bible itself for the Inspired Version, and the Egyptian facsimiles for the Book of Abraham), it is likely Joseph would have mentioned having obtained a record of the Book of Enoch should this D&C refer to the now-extant Book of Enoch. More modern revelation has told us that this revelation affirms the authenticity of an “original” Book of Enoch of which the current Book is likely a corrupted and devolved copy.
That being said, the Book of Enoch as we have it bears many similarities to the Book of Moses. The LDS apologetics blog Strong Reasons identifies many of them: in both books, Enochs has many visions of people’s deeds, generations, and all things; Enoch speaks of the premortal existence; Enoch is given the right to God’s throne (i.e. - exaltation); Enoch quotes from the written record of Adam; the return of the city of Zion from the heavens; and many, many other similarities. Perhaps most important among these is that the Book of Enoch predicts it’s own restoration in the latter days: And I will leave a righteous man (Noah), a member of your tribe, together with all his house, who will act in accordance with my will. And from their seed will arise a generation, the last of many, and very rapacious. And I shall raise up for that generation someone who will reveal to them the books in your handwriting and those of your fathers, by means of which the guardians of the earth will show themselves to the faithful men. And they will be recounted to that generation, and they will be glorified in the end more than at the first (2 Enoch 35:1-3).
And thus says the Book of Moses: “And in a day when the children of men shall esteem my words as naught and take many of them from the book which thou shalt write, behold, I will raise up another like unto thee; and they shall be had again among the children of men–among as many as shall believe (Moses 1:41, RLDS D&C 22:24)”.
I, therefore, submit that the Book of Moses is an authentic record of God profitable for doctrine. It represents the true restoration of the most ancient records of Adam and Enoch here in the latter days.
Common Ground and Further Scripture
Therefore, I propose that the common ground between all Restoration children is the story of the First Vision. As for scripture, it is the Inspired Version of the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants.
Much more Restoration scripture exists. Many Restoration branches have embraced revelations to their own leaders as being authentic revelation of God and placed in their edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. There is also the Book of Abraham, the Apocrypha, the Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and Lectures on Faith. These five resources are useful for the strengthening of our common ground and I will treat them as such.
In a later essay, I will treat this subject more closely and sensitively than it is here. However, suffice it to say here that the revelations to various Restoration traditions may be regarded as authentic. The end of polygamy given to Lorenzo Snow and Wilford Woodruff were authentic. Likewise, the command to Granville Hendrick to return to Zion to take care of the Temple Lot property was also authentic, as was the command of God to Joseph Smith III to look after the Prarie Saints who were not willing to be united to their brethren. Suffice it to say that these “denominational D&C” - for lack of any better terms - represent solemn covenants between authentic branches of the Restored Church and God. Let any man who has eyes to see and ears to hear see and hear, for no man can do a good work in His name and then curse him (KJV Mark 9:38-41). These may yet be found useful to the exhortation of the entire Restored Church under the direction and inspiration of Almighty God.
Many Restoration traditions have rejected the Book of Abraham for various reasons, while the LDS Church has embraced it wholeheartedly since 1880. I offer my own solemn testimony that it is a true and authentic record of God, reliable for doctrine and inspired. Such a testimony can be obtained through study and prayer by anyone, though not easily. Many such fine resources defending the Book of Abraham exist and I will not quote them at length here; I instead only cite them and gently encourage all readers to discover the Book of Abraham in a new way. It must also be noted that as the Book of Moses bears great similarity to the Book of Enoch, the Book of Abraham has many similarities with the equally ancient record the Testament of Abraham.
In 1833 in Kirtland, Joseph received the revelation now recognized as LDS D&C 91. This recognized the books of the Apocrypha recognized by Catholic and Orthodox traditions as being not useful for doctrine, but useful for those who read them under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are defined as mixed truth, having interpolations of men alongside authentic revelation and therefore must be read under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit for anyone to have any worth extracted from them. In the spirit of this revelation, prominent LDS scholar Hugh Nibley has sought Restoration truths in many Apocryphal books, including so-called Gnostic texts from the first few centuries AD. In that same spirit, I submit that the Restoration belief in an open canon of scripture allows us to use these books in a supporting way; that is, we seek our common scripture for the establishment of doctrine, and where we find support for authentic Restoration truth in Apocryphal books, let it be so!
Many of the things revealed to Brother Joseph were never canonized in any book of scripture and thus occupy a place in faith similar to the Hadith for Muslims. One such of these sayings sets the tone for our approach of these materials: “If I revealed all that has been made known to me, scarcely a man on this stand would stay with me.” Knowing this, I am profoundly thankful for the things that Brother Joseph did reveal, divisive though they may be. I submit that these sayings of Joseph Smith largely preserved by various Restoration traditions as matters of history may be regarded as authentic revelation. Whatever an Elder says under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is scripture (LDS D&C 68:4). As it is with our many great modern Apostles and Prophets, let it be so with Joseph Smith.
Finally, we have the Lectures on Faith which were included in the early editions of the Doctrine and Covenants. Widely utilized by Restoration scholarship, I propose that these writings are inspired and thus profitable for the support of doctrine found in scripture.
General Method of Appeal
Having established common ground in the Restoration, I outline the general method of appeal that will be made for all further work in the Common Institutes of the Restoration. Generally, the appeal will follow this:
The Biblical source is drawn from as many texts as possibly, with priority given to the Inspired Version reading where one exists. I seek to establish all Restoration truth from the Bible, exactly as Joseph did. The Restoration source are those scriptures previously established as common ground: the Book of Mormon, the 1844 D&C, and Book of Moses. The Further source represents all that was treated in the last section: the other D&C, Apocrypha, Book of Abraham, teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, and the Lectures on Faith. In addition, the Further source contains the inspired counsel given to modern day Apostles, Prophets, Seers, and Revelators.
A further delineation:
From the top down, each source of material supersedes the authority of the one below it; that is, if there seems to be an apparent conflict between the words of Christ and the words of an Apostle, then the words of Christ supersedes the latter.
Direct and primary experience of God concerns anointed Saints who have proper Priesthood authority given to them (if it is traceable back to Jesus Christ through Peter, James, and John and Joseph Smith) and thus communicate regularly with God. This is not to say that those without Priesthood cannot communicate with God; I, as an investigator of five years, had regular conversation with God without the Priesthood. However, God gives attention to His nation of kings and priests because He has chosen and anointed us to be the light of the world. These are they who have received personally of the doctrine of Christ, who have entered the Kingdom, who have received the baptisms of water and fire.
Our direct experience of God will not contradict the revelation given to inspired Priesthood authority; the so-called experiences and revelation of such individuals as Otto Fetting, Arnold Potter, James Strang, and Alpheus Cutler may all be rejected on the grounds that it soundly contradicts the teaching of Joseph Smith. We Saints believe in a Living God whom does not exist only in the hazy past of scripture, but speaks to us here and today.
The seminal and founding event of the Restoration is the First Vision and represents an authentically answered prayer which was prayed in faith and with real intent to obey should the prayer be answered. The various experiences of Saints in Joseph Smith’s lifetime fulfill the First Vision in their own lives. While they did not expect God the Father and Jesus Christ to appear before them in this life as they did Joseph, each Saint had their own experience of God and this is no less true today. I myself have many irrevocable and irrefutable proofs of not only God’s existence, but a certainty of knowledge of His compassion and love for us. Moroni’s words are my words: “Behold, I say unto you, nay [miracles have not ceased], nor have angels ceased to minister unto the children of men (LDS Moroni 7:29).” The great truth of the First Vision is that God does answer prayer, and He will answer every Saint’s prayer.
Therefore, the ultimate authority for the faith of the Restoration lies in our own direct and primary experience of God. I submit also the words of Christ, so that you might know that these things are true: “But be not ye called Rabbi; for one is your master, which is Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your creator upon the earth, or your heavenly Father; for one is your creator and heavenly Father, even he who is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for one is your master, even he whom your heavenly Father sent, which is Christ; for he hath sent him among you that ye might have life. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased of him; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted of him (IV Matthew 23:5-9)”.
To this end, we have established the Voices of the Restoration as an essential part of the Common Institutes of the Restoration. Many primary experiences of God have been had in all branches of the Restored Church - many too sacred to discuss freely - and it is my utmost desire that we lay ourselves bare before each other and before God and tell of the many great and precious things which He has done for us.
Second to this are the authentic records which we have of the words of Christ in times past. As direct experience is the word of Christ to us today, so do the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and 3 Nephi as well as the direct revelation of the Doctrine and Covenants represent the word of Christ to us in time past. Given that Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:12), we counsel all Restoration believers to remember that His word is final in all matters. These words cover almost every existing subject we would want to know about and are wholly profitable so far as they are translated correctly.
Apostles and prophets come next in authority, having the keys of revelation for the whole Church. In another essay, we will gently treat the subject of the leadership of the Restoration and the relationship various Quorums of Priesthood authority have to one another.
As for the supremacy of James, Peter, and John in the order of Apostleship, I point us to scripture: they were called the pillars of the Church by Paul (Galatians 2:9) and they were also the ones to confer Melchizedek authority upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. As for James being first, I cite Saying 12 of the Gospel of Thomas: The disciples said to Jesus, "We are aware that you will depart from us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to him, "No matter where you come it is to James the Just that you shall go, for whose sake heaven and earth have come to exist." This verse alone would not be particularly interesting by itself; many books of the Deuterocanon stress one early Church figure over another. However, I find it supremely interesting that it is the Epistle of James that caused Joseph Smith sufficient spiritual woe to go into the woods near his home, resulting in the First Vision! I will let such speak for itself.
A few writers of the early Church have proven reliable for their defense of many beliefs now regarded as essential Restoration truth (notably exaltation, salvation for the dead and premortal existence). Eminent among them are Irenaeus, Polycarp, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen of Alexandria. They represent the best of Church doctrine before the fullness of the Apostasy had set in. Therefore, we will draw from their writings from time to time to defend that which is already found in scripture.
In some rare instances, there is a matter so specific that it is not treated by any reliable source. Therefore, the best of our most rigorous academic methods must be applied to ascertain truth regarding the matter. Where scholarship does not exist, the consensus of the Church may suffice. Where it is not an important enough matter for the Church regard, let it be relegated to the realm of personal philosophy and opinion.
Those sources lower on the scale should seek to establish the veracity of the higher authority and agreement should run in the bottom-up direction, seeking to conform all things of the Restoration to Jesus Christ.
Let everything be established according to scripture. First, from the Bible, for it is our oldest source and it would be of great use to be able to prove the pure Restored Gospel to other Christians out of the Bible; then from the Book of Mormon, the most correct book on Earth; also from the 1844 Doctrine and Covenants; and also from the great wealth of treasures of knowledge which have been given to us in these latter days.
It is with great pleasure, our beloved brethren and sisteren, that we present all the material of the Common Institutes of the Restoration.
Ahmed Nait-Djoudi is a faithful Muslim and self-employed citizen of Algeria. He has studied at Université Mouloud Mammeri de Tizi Ouzou. Fluent in Arabic, German, English, and Algerian, he resides in Tizi Ouzou, Algeria.