The Importance of Joseph Smith to Mormonism

This might seem obvious.

Yet, the missionaries have told me that the evidence for their case is whether I get a spiritual impression from God that what they say is true.  Now, I agree that no one can come to a personal, saving knowledge of God's truth apart from God's intervention.  However, I disagree that their case rests there.

LDS Prophet Joseph Fielding Smith wrote,
Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground. (Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, p. 188)
So great is Joseph Smith that an LDS song dedicated to him is entitled, “Praise to the Man.” Personally, I would feel funny about singing a hymn about anyone other than Jesus Christ, and the fact that the song encourages participants to “hail to the prophet” who now “can plan for his brethren” parallels the Roman Catholic practice of praying to the saints. In the third verse, congregants sing of the “faithful and true” one who, according to the fourth verse, has great glory and an endless priesthood—attributes formerly of Christ Himself (Heb 7:24; Rev 3:14).  Indeed, we stand warned that “Earth must atone for the blood of that man,” Joseph Smith.

At the very least, then, Joseph Smith is the most venerated man in history within the LDS church. Joseph Smith would have had it no other way. He made astonishing claims of himself.  In response to his accusers, Smith said,
God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil — all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet. (Documentary History of the Church, Volume 6, pp. 408–9)

History is replete with prophets who have arose, claiming to have a vision or a visitation that they ask us to follow. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 warns of this. In the KJV, it reads:
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the LORD thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
God tests His people to see if they will abide by His revelation or if they will follow a new voice. He was serious enough to command capital punishment for false prophets under the Old Covenant, and the LDS church would agree false prophets lead people astray.  So, the question of Joseph Smith is vital.  He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen.

I must insert here that I would rather come to agreement on the basis of the Bible alone. I do not always enjoy polemics, as it can quickly degenerate into mudslinging and division. If we are not careful, contention will prevail. I would rather that those of us claiming Jesus Christ could come together in a unified understanding of true worship and see God glorified.

However, in studying the claims of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, we must ask some difficult and uncomfortable questions. It is not because we hate or enjoy strife, but because it is necessary.  If Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon cannot hold up under scrutiny, then our subjective feelings or impressions do not amount to much.

I would invite anyone to do this with the Bible, and it does not seem unreasonable to do this with Joseph Smith and the book he delivered to us.  There is no middle ground.

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