If there is one part of his gospel the Savior carefully guards, it is maintaining the purity of his doctrine. We see his concern manifest when he visited the Nephites after his Resurrection. Telling them to bring forth the record they kept, he reminded them he had commanded them to write “other scriptures” and “ye have not.” They had failed to record instances of “saints (who) did arise and appear unto many and did minister unto them. … Therefore it was written according as he commanded” (see 3 Nephi 23:6, 11, 13).
Clearly, the Savior wanted an accurate record substantiating his Atonement and his Resurrection and that of others.
Jesus Christ also expressed his dismay over the dire consequences when his doctrine is polluted or perverted. In his preface to the Doctrine and Covenants, he says, “They have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken my everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon ... which shall fall” (Doctrine and Covenants 1:15-16). The Savior wants none of his children to be deceived and thereby abandon eternal truths.
Enter "Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith: 19th-Century Restorationists," by RoseAnn Benson. In her rich, nuanced work, Benson explores two of America’s great religious restorationist thinkers, their lives and the doctrine they espoused. It is captivating 19th-century religious history. It is also dense, and deep, as Benson carefully distinguishes and articulates many of the profound doctrines of Christ’s gospel as restored by Joseph Smith — often in sharp contrast to the religious thinking prevalent in his day.
A few examples illustrate this point. Nineteenth-century Christianity, in discussing the Godhead, preached the doctrine of “the Trinity” and, “according to this central mystery of most Christian faiths, there is only one God in three persons: while distinct in their relations with each other ('it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds'), they are stated to be one in all else, co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial, and each is God, whole and entire.”
As Benson explains, Christ’s doctrine, as Joseph Smith taught, rejected “the Catholic and Protestant doctrine of the Trinity … and instead announced the unique Latter-day Saint belief in a Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, as separate and distinct beings, and at the same time emphasized their oneness or unity in purpose” (see page 168). The official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reiterates, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three separate beings, two of which possess separate bodies of flesh and bones, while the Holy Ghost has only a body of spirit; and … their unity is not physical, but in purpose.”
Benson additionally clarifies, “In unambiguous terms, Smith set forth the nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, along with their responsibilities, powers, and relationship to each other — and it was very different from traditional Christianity” (page 170).
The distinction is stunning — traditional Christianity presenting a mysterious, virtually unknowable deity; Joseph Smith, describing distinct members of the Godhead, whom individuals can, and must, come to know and emulate.
Regarding the gift of the Holy Ghost, the church’s Fifth Article of Faith states, “a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (page 177).
Consequently, as Benson notes, “The requirement of priesthood authority separated Latter-day Saints from all Protestant churches, and Smith implied … he had received authority to administer in the ordinances. … (in) 1829 visitations, first of John the Baptist to restore the Aaronic Priesthood and later of Peter, James, and John to restore the Melchizedek Priesthood to himself and Oliver Cowdery” (page 177). The Prophet claimed authority given him by God, which could be perpetuated and distributed to other worthy individuals, effectively allowing them to perform priesthood ordinances essential to salvation — binding on earth and in heaven.
Benson also brilliantly clarifies, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not a static reproduction of the primitive church, but was a growing, progressing church … (with the promise of) continuing revelation to and for the church … to be revealed to prophets, seers, and revelators” (page 183). This, too, is quite the contrast to Christian faiths that deny the doctrine of continuing revelation to mankind and prophets on earth today.22 comments on this story
Replete with myriad other doctrinal insights, Benson’s book is certainly worthy of study. It reminds us how deeply invested the Savior is in maintaining doctrinal purity in his church.
When his church went into apostasy after his and his apostles’ deaths, a restoration was necessary. It came through the Prophet Joseph Smith — subsequently carried on by succeeding prophets. Perpetuating the Restoration, and its eternal doctrines, continues in our day. It behooves each of us to study the restored doctrine of Christ’s church and live accordingly, that we might avoid deception and gain eternal life.