The History of the Mormon Church
The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be easily misunderstood or unnecessarily complicated. The following is a simple way of introducing the basic events of Mormon Church history.
The First Vision
- This was the beginning of Christ’s Church in this dispensation. Mormons believe Christ’s Church along with the priesthood had been lost from the earth following His death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. The time when the power of the priesthood and the truth of the gospel was no on the earth is known as the Great Apostasy. In 1820, Joseph Smith, Jr., who later became the first president and Mormon prophet, was concerned about religion and prayed to God to know what to do. He saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, who told him not to join any of the various sects of the day. This momentous event began a series of divine instructions and marked the beginning of the return of Christ’s Church, which today is known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) to the earth.
Establishing Foundations of the Church
- From the time of the First Vision to 1830, Joseph Smith received numerous revelations that showed him how to establish Christ’s Church correctly. Joseph Smith received and translated the Book of Mormon, learned how to properly perform baptisms, was directed to restore the priesthood through divine authority and power, and officially organized the Mormon Church. In addition, the first Mormon missionaries were sent to spread this exciting Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Kingdom in Kirtland, Ohio
- In 1831, Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio. This was now the official headquarters of the Church. The saints began construction of the Kirtland temple, the first temple in this dispensation. Joseph Smith translated the Bible, and arranged for the publication of more than seventy revelations about the true Church of Christ.
Zion in Missouri
- During the time that many saints were in Ohio, a few were commanded by the Lord to go to Jackson County, Missouri, the place revealed as being the center point of New Jerusalem or Zion, and establish a settlement. Starting in 1833 the Saints were bitterly persecuted by their neighbors. Mobs pushed them from their homes and businesses. The Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were put in jail, and there were numerous confrontations between the Saints and their neighbors.
- In 1839, the saints escaped from the mobs of Missouri and traveled to Illinois. They worked hard to drain the swampy land and build a city. Within four years the city of Nauvoo rivaled Illinois’ largest city, Chicago. Joseph Smith received revelations on temple work, such as the Mormon temple endowment, and the Saints began work on the temple. Joseph Smith also received the revelations now found in the Pearl of Great Price, which is a book of the Mormon scripture. On June 27, 1844, the women’s Relief Society was formed. While the Saints were in Nauvoo, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob.
Crossing the Plains
After the death of their prophet Joseph Smith, the saints were again persecuted, and leaders began discussing moving west. In February of 1846 many of the Saints were forced from their homes and began the journey to Utah. While in Iowa, the U.S. government requested that the Church provide five hundred men for the Mexican War. Over two decades, nearly sixty-two thousand saints crossed the plains to Utah.
- In the late summer of 1847, the first group of saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. The group had nearly two thousand people. A late crop was planted and settlements were immediately started. The first year was hard, but by 1849 many small settlements were established and Salt Lake City was growing. Brigham Young asked members to colonize different parts of the West, including Utah, Southern Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada and California.
Trials and Testing
- After Brigham Young died, persecution again plagued the Saints. Much of the persecution was focused on the Church’s practice of polygamy and was based on false rumors that the Saints were planning an insurrection. Many missionaries of the Church were persecuted while they preached in other parts of the United States. This was also a time of growth in temple work and missionary work. In 1890, polygamy was officially stopped as a practice in the Church.
The Expanding Church
- This period covers 1901–1970, which spans the years of service of four presidents of the Church; Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay. Nine temples were built, and membership grew from 300,000 members and fifty stakes in 1901 to 2,800,000 and five hundred stakes in 1970.
The Worldwide Church
- This part of the Church’s history covers 1971–1985. The Church saw amazing growth outside of the U.S. The first stakes were established in Asia and Africa. More missionaries were sent out to preach and Missionary Training Centers were set up in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan. The priesthood was extended to all worthy males of the Church regardless of race in 1978.
The Present Day Church
- The Church is now allowed to preach and build temples in many countries that have previously been closed, such as the German Democratic Republic, Russia, Albania, Romania, Estonia, Hungary, the Ukraine, Latvia and many others. Members living outside of the U.S. finally outnumber members living in the U.S. Temples are being built in as many places as possible to make the ordinances available to all members, and membership continues to grow.