There's a children's song that I love called, "Follow the Prophet". The chorus goes:
Follow the prophet,
Follow the prophet,
Don't go astray!
In the New Testament, we read of Christ's birth, life, death and resurrection. While he was on the earth, he established his church by calling 12 apostles, giving them priesthood authority to act in His name. Though He was the Son of God, people even rejected Jesus Christ and His teachings and fell into a state of apostasy. After His crucifixion and resurrection, the apostles kept the church up and running the best that they could by sending epistles to people like the Corinthians, telling them that they needed to stop making changes and stick to what Christ taught. Eventually, people rejected the apostles as well. (See Mark 12:1-9) After they were all killed, there was no one on the earth that held the priesthood authority to help lead Christ's original church. Without the direction of the apostles, unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and ordinances like baptism.
There were lots of churches that were established during this time. Later on, reformers like Martin Luther or John Calvin saw corruption in churches and changed things in search of greater spiritual light and truth. Fun fact: not a single reformer ever claimed that they were called of God to be a prophet.
Christ's church didn't need to be reformed, but restored to its original state.
The Restoration of the gospel didn't happen until the 1820 when a 14 year old boy named Joseph Smith asked a simple question. Like many around him, he was confused by so many different doctrines and practices in all the different religions. He lived in Palmyra, New York and grew up in a religious family that constantly sought after truth. Joseph went to lots of different churches but still was confused.
He later wrote about his experience, "So great were the confusions and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was...to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong... In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?" Joseph Smith --History 1:8,10
He found a verse of scripture in the Bible that hit his heart: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, which giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. James 1:5
He took James' advice and went to a grove of trees to ask God what to do. His experience is amazing.
Joseph Smith- History 1:16-17
It is my testimony that God the Father and Jesus Christ came to Joseph Smith that day in that grove of trees. I know with all my heart that it really did happen! God is a personal god, who called Joseph by name and answered the question of his heart.
Joseph was instructed not to join any of the churches because they "were all wrong" and "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof" Joseph Smith History 1:19. There were lots of good people who believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, but they didn't have the fullness of truth or the priesthood authority to baptize or perform other saving ordinances.
Joseph Smith was called to restore Christ's original church in its fullness!! And that he did! He was given the priesthood authority, the same power that was given to prophets of old, to reestablish the church again on the earth. It was officially reorganized on April 6, 1830 with only six members in attendance. Since then, the church has grown by the millions and continues to grow today!
He was lead to an ancient record of scripture known as the Book of Mormon. (Since this post is getting long I'll direct you to my very first blog post called, The Keystone)
God is the same yesterday, today and forever. We know that God has always worked through prophets. He continues to speak through his prophet today, President Thomas S. Monson.
All of this may be new to you, and I invite you to pray about it. Follow what it says in James and ask God for yourself if there is a possibility that this is true. That's what I did! And now I'm serving as a full time missionary to help others come to know of the truth too. I know that Joseph Smith was called to be the prophet to end the Great Apostasy and bring the fullness of the gospel to the earth in these last days! That's why Joseph Smith is talked about so much by members of this church! Because without Joseph Smith, Christ's church wouldn't have been restored to the earth in its fullness!
I love what Elder Lawrence E Corbridge said about Joseph Smith:
"There is no dispute about what Joseph Smith accomplished, only how he did what he did and why. And there are not many options. He was either pretender or prophet. Either he did what he did alone, or he had the help of heaven. Look at the evidence, but look at all of the evidence, the entire mosaic of his life, not any single piece. Most importantly, do as young Joseph and “ask … God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given [you].” This is not only how you may learn the truth about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith; it is also the pattern to know the truth of all things." The Prophet Joseph Smith