Mormons may think they understand the Restoration, but in 19th century America, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not just another restoriationist religion.
Scholar Terryl Givens explained at the “Exploring Mormon Conceptions of the Apostasy” conference on Friday afternoon at BYU: “It is historically misleading in one important regard to consider Mormonism another variety of restorationism. Parley P. Pratt made this seemingly obvious point, ‘We can never understand precisely what is meant by restoration until we understand what was taken away.’”
Other religions both contemporary to Mormonism and prior considered themselves “restorations” but not in the sense that they were restoring missing pieces. Givens likened the word “restoration” to those who restored artworks or architecture, stripping away the impurities to get to the original artwork or building underneath. “That was the sense of the word ‘puritan.’” In fact, getting back to the “pure” original scripture was the impetus of the contemporary religious motto: “When the scriptures speak, we speak, when they are silent, we are silent.”
Joseph Smith radically departed from these “restorationist movements” early in his career. Givens described two significant developments stemming from the Angel Moroni’s visit in 1823: “First, Smith was informed by the messenger that God had a work for him to do and then in clarifying what this work would entail, Moroni turned Smith’s understanding of restoration inside out.” Moroni then described the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which, as Givens explained, “was no paring away but the hint of a vast expansion. This was no return to fundamentals but the introduction of the first of many scriptures into Mormonism.”
Secondly, Givens explained, in quoting Malachi, Moroni quoted a variation of the scripture found in the Bible, showing that the Bible "could not be sufficient.”
Givens concluded that “Before he translated the first word of the Book of Mormon, Joseph had already stepped outside any contemporary definition of ‘restoration.’”
The conference on “Exploring Mormon Conceptions of the Apostasy” was the first of its kind, and organized by BYU Professor Miranda Richardson and funded by the Eliza R. Snow Faculty Grant with a goal “to develop a richer understanding of the definitions, connotations, social functions and theological implications of Latter-day Saint conceptions of the apostasy.”
Emily W. Jensen updates "Today in the Bloggernacle" on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, presenting the best from the world of LDS-oriented blog sites. Her extended "Bloggernacle Back Bench" appears on Tuesdays.