|Volume 24 Number 6 June 2022
In 1830, Joseph Smith published the Book of Mormon and organized a church in the State of New York. According to the Book of Mormon, the name of that church was a matter of divine selection (3 Nephi 27:3-4, 7-8). Smith’s new church was initially known as the “Church of Christ.” However, in 1834 the name was changed to the “Church of the Latter-Day Saints,” only to be renamed again in 1838 to the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints” (Address to All Believers in Christ 73; History of the Church, 2:63; Doctrine and Covenants, Section 115, the preface and verse 3).
The original name corresponds to the church named in the Book of Mormon. “And they who were baptized in the name of Jesus were called the church of Christ” (3 Nephi 26:21); “…the disciples of Jesus had formed a Church of Christ…” (4 Nephi 1:1). Today, there are two Mormon churches – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a smaller, dissenting group, the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
In the 1820’s, the Restoration Movement was beginning to have an impact on the Western Reserve (northwestern Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio). Among other religious issues, the question of what constitutes a biblical or a divine church name was a subject of frequent discussion. Prominent among personages in the Restoration Movement who argued in favor of the name, “Church of Christ,” was Alexander Campbell (The Christian Baptist 2:237).
Sidney Rigdon, formerly associated with the Campbell arm of the Restoration Movement, assisted Joseph Smith in the establishment and early development of the Mormon Church. Consequently, the Mormons adopted some Restoration principles and borrowed the initial name for the Mormon Church – the Church of Christ – from the Restoration Movement.
Further, the Mormon Church enjoyed its heartiest early growth in the Western Reserve among religious people who already subscribed somewhat to the Restoration Plea. The Mormon writer, Ivan J. Barrett, in essence, acknowledges that the Mormon Church sprung forth from soil prepared by the Campbell Restoration Movement. “This work of preparation had been accomplished by a new religious movement known as the Disciples of Christ. …The teachings of the Disciples had certainly opened the way… in northern Ohio… on the Western Reserve thousands had been prepared…” (Supplement to the Remarkable Story of How We Got the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants, 1-5).
The rise of the Mormon Church from the tilled fields of the Restoration Movement on the Western Reserve is reminiscent of the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30). “But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way” (Matthew 13:25). “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30 NKJV).
Campbell, Alexander. The Christian Baptist. Vol. 2. 1825.
Doctrine and Covenants, Section 115, the preface and verse 3.
History of the Church, Vol. 2. Provo, Utah: Brigham U.
Supplement to the Remarkable Story of How We Got the Revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Whitmer, David. Address to All Believers in Christ. Richmond, Missouri: David Whitmer, 1887.
Mormonism: Doctrine of Clay
From its inception through the present, Mormon doctrine has proved to be as pliable as wet clay. Beginning with Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” onward, official Mormon history and its interconnected religious dogma have been repeatedly reshaped and refashioned. No longer able to conceal conflicting historical accounts and contradictory doctrine from its members and the general public, over decades, the Mormon Church has reluctantly conceded as true several histories and teachings that it had effectively hidden for well over a century. Yet, these candid admissions are made without acknowledgment of culpability, and they are reminiscent of malefactors who confess their misdeeds only because they have been caught. If Mormonism were to discard every falsehood, the Mormon Church would be utterly dismantled, and its contemporary proponents would be compelled to apologize for the injustices that religion has inflicted on men’s souls. Mormonism owes its very conception to fraudulent claims and its development from purposeful fabrications severely at variance with facts and Bible truth.
The Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) is itself a lump of clay, the final form of which is still uncertain. Yet certainly, the Mormon Church is a lump that the Lord will one day remove out of its place (Matthew 3:10-12). In this regard, Mormonism is similar to countless other denominations that change their doctrine from time to time. Mormonism, though, has been susceptible to more radical change than many other manmade churches, basically because it contends for ongoing new revelations and inspired, living apostles. The whole history of Mormonism has been one of unending metamorphoses, often in reaction to events and circumstances. The history includes grievous crimes of such obvious nature that Mormon leaders could not possibly have perpetrated them ignorantly. Without exaggeration, the entire weave of Mormonism is the fabric of falsification.
The “First Vision” of Joseph Smith is a single example of innumerable instances of deliberate frauds perpetrated by Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders upon unsuspecting people generally and Mormon followers in particular. Subsequent Mormon officials have often disseminated what they knew to be false. The Mormon Church considers the “First Vision” to be the foundation on which all of Mormonism stands or falls. Acceptance of the veracity of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” is considered by Mormons essential to faithful membership in the Mormon Church. “The First Vision of 1820 is of first importance in the history of Joseph Smith. Upon its reality rest the truth and value of his subsequent work” (Widtsoe 19). “Belief in the vision is one of the fundamentals to which faithful members give assent. …The story is an essential part of the first lesson given by Mormon missionaries to prospective converts, and its acceptance is necessary before baptism” (Allen 29 emphasis added).
However, Mormonism crumbles upon close scrutiny of the “First Vision.” There are at least two additional good reasons for exposing the underbelly of Mormonism first at this juncture. (1) It is the purported point of origin from which Mormonism came forth. (2) The “First Vision” is precisely the place at which Mormon missionaries undertake to unfold the story of Mormonism. Stop Mormonism here as it falls from the mouths of so-called Mormon “elders” and it is stopped. If those young men cannot be persuaded with facts and truth to assume an objective posture whereby they can re-evaluate Mormonism, there may be little use of progressing beyond the “First Vision” to other matters regarding Mormonism.
A comparison of Mormon claims versus facts about Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” will speedily spell the demise of Mormonism. Mormons claim for the “First Vision” (which is recorded in the Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2:17-20) the following. (1) In the spring of 1820 in Palmyra, New York a union revival occurred and was hosted by the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches. “Reverend” Lane of the Methodists and “Reverend” Stockton of the Presbyterians were the principal speakers. (2) Following a speech by Lane, entitled “What church shall I join?” Joseph Smith went into a wooded area to inquire of God which church he should join (Roberts 51-53). (3) God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith. (4) Joseph Smith was forbidden to join any of the existing churches because all those churches were corrupt.
The facts regarding the “First Vision” include the following: (1) Joseph Smith did not publish his description of his “First Vision” until 1842. (a) Joseph Smith’s vision was typical (nearly identical) to several documented vision stories resulting from camp or revival meetings in his day. (b) Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” was not widely known (even among Mormons) nor published for twenty-two years after it purportedly occurred. (c) The “First Vision” is equally unimportant today (among non-Mormons) except for showing the faulty foundation on which Mormonism is precariously perched.
(2) In 1832, Joseph Smith delivered a revelation in which he claimed that no one without the ordinances of the priesthood of Melchizedek could see God and live (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 84:21, 22). (a) “The Father and the Son appeared to the Prophet Joseph Smith before the Church was organized and the priesthood restored to the earth” (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. I, p. 4). (b) Joseph Smith made no claim to the priesthood in 1820. (c) According to the Doctrine and Covenants, Joseph Smith could not have seen the Father and the Son in 1820.
(3) At least three official, contradictory versions of the “First Vision” exist, each of which has been authenticated by Joseph Smith and/or the Mormon Church as correct and true. Obviously, contradictory statements about the same subject by the same persons loudly announce the error regarding the areas of conflict and undermine – sets at naught – the veracity of the entire vision — and in this case, completely undermines the basis of the existence of the Mormon Church. (a) Possibly the earliest version, partly in the handwriting of Joseph Smith himself, claims only one person, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith at the age of 16 (Brigham Young University Studies 281). (b) Another version of the “First Vision,” also long tucked away in Mormon archives, states that Joseph Smith saw many angels and was 14 years old when the vision occurred (Allen). (c) “…We now have three different handwritten manuscripts of the First Vision. They were all written by Joseph Smith or his scribes, and yet EVERYONE OF THEM IS DIFFERENT. The first account says there was only one personage. The second account says there were many, and the third says there were two” (Tanner 148). (d) Mormon officials have deleted the phrase “the first visitation of angels” from Joseph Smith’s statement of the “First Vision” in Desert News, Vol. 2, No. 15, May 29, 1852, and altered the record in History of the Church to conform to current Mormon doctrine, evidence (only one sample of multiple such) of deliberate and malicious rewriting of history and doctrine – in the name of divine revelation.
(4) The revival among Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists in Palmyra, New York that prompted Joseph Smith to inquire of God in a woods, over which revival Mr. Lane of the Methodists and Mr. Stockton for the Presbyterians presided, according to the respective church records, the Palmyra Register and religious periodicals occurred in April and May of 1825 – not 1820 (Tanner 155-161). (a) The “First Vision” was a faulty vision from the start of its seer-prophet’s (J. Smith) failure to reliably reveal even the year in which the events surrounding the vision are supposed to have occurred. (b) The whole scenario behind the “First Vision” was lifted from the chronicles in Palmyra about five years beyond the date of the vision well after the fact (1842) and committed to a published account. (c) There is nothing divine in this supposed revelation, and nor does it portray even cursory honesty on the part of the “prophet” – or the Mormon Church.
(5) The Smith family disregarded the message of the “First Vision” for a decade following the purported date of that revelation (1820). (a) Joseph Smith’s mother and brothers Hyrum and Samuel were active members of the Presbyterian Church through 1828, and their memberships were suspended in March 1830 (Brodie 410-411). (b) Joseph Smith attempted to join the Methodist Church in June 1828 but was rejected for membership because of his moral character (The Amboy Journal, June 11, 1879, 1). (c) This act by itself destroys the effect hoped for from the “First Vision” since Joseph Smith attempted to join a denomination in direct opposition to the purported message of the so-called vision.
Other material detrimental to the veracity of the “First Vision” as well as tedious details could be multiplied to what has thus far been presented. However, this is enough to prove that the “First Vision,” the foundation of Mormonism, is false.
Truly, every honest heart with the least amount of objectivity and presence of mind can see the horrendous error of Mormonism. The “First Vision” is a fraud, and the many doctrines dependent on it (e.g., the denial of a triune Godhead; the assertion of the mortal, fleshly form of God and Christ; the concept that God is an exalted man; and the belief that good Mormon men and women can become gods and goddesses) are also false. The Mormon Church is a vessel of clay to dishonor, not molded by the hands of God (Romans 9:21; Isaiah 64:8).
Allen, James B. Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn, 1966.
Amboy Journal, The. June 11, 1879.
Brigham Young University Studies, Spring, 1969.
Brodie, Fawn M. No Man Knows My History. New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 1971.
Roberts, B.H. A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. I, 1930.
Tanner, Jerald and Sandra Tanner. Mormonism, Shadow or Reality? enlarged ed. Salt Lake City: Modern Microfilm, 1972.
Widtsoe, John A. Joseph Smith – Seeker After Truth. Desert News Press, 1951.