Mormons often speak of the Great Apostasy as the reason why the Lord had to restore His Gospel back to the earth. Why did Jesus Christ’s Church have to be restored when Christianity has existed since the coming of Christ? This is an expanded explanation of why the restoration was necessary.
Jesus Christ’s ministry was one of preaching and miracles, but it was also one of organization. Before His sacrifice, and also after His resurrection, Christ was concerned with setting up His Church. He called people like Peter, James, and John to be Apostles and Prophets. He gave them the authority to act in His name and preach His gospel. This authority is the priesthood. Luke 6:12-16 tells us that Jesus Christ chose apostles and identifies them, as follows . . . “and it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the sonof Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.” The calling of apostles was a matter of considered prayer and heavenly power. Note again that the priesthood is what Mormons believe to be the power by which God calls people to do His work, by His power. They believe that this is the power that Jesus Christ conferred upon His apostles.
Jesus Christ’s crucifixion did not end the authority of the apostles. They continued to receive revelation for the Church, which policies and principles they taught to the people and recorded. As an illustrative example from Acts, originally, the apostles would not preach to the Gentiles. But Peter received a vision. He saw a great sheet descending from heaven, which held animals held by the Law of Moses to be unclean. He heard a voice telling him to kill and eat, but Peter refused, saying the animals were unclean. The voice told him that which the Lord had cleansed, Peter couldn’t call unclean. Through this vision and the further guidance of the Spirit, Peter learned that the gospel was to be, taken to the Gentiles as well as the Jews (Acts 10). This policy change was made by the Lord, conveyed by revelation, and acted upon by those who had been given priesthood authority by Him.
The apostles also acted as missionaries, traveling to different lands while preaching the gospel. Persecution followed Christ’s Church, however. The lives of the apostles were often endangered and many were martyred. Many people had not received their message. Even some baptized into Jesus Christ’s Church began to stray from the teachings of the gospel.
With the death of the apostles, God’s authority, the priesthood, passed from the earth. Persecution continued for about two and a half centuries. The surviving Church became legalized in Rome and eventually became its state religion. However, without direct revelation from God, members turned to their own wisdom and their own education to explain matters of God and interpret the scriptures. This resulted in the confusion of many of the original doctrines of Christianity, as well as in some outright false doctrines about God, Jesus Christ, and His Church.
Christian practices mixed with the practices of other religions, perhaps as a part of being accepted by Rome. Also, while originally the Christian faith had been upheld by the “weak” of the world, it may be that as the powerful began to embrace it, some tenets of faith inconsistent with their power were changed. Some teachers of the early Christian Church were prideful and wanted the praise of the world and the goods of the world. Such essential parts of Jesus Christ’s gospel as charity and love for one’s fellow man were put aside for glory and riches. The exact details are difficult to know – but a shift happened inside the Church, and the period often called the Dark Ages soon followed.
Indeed, the world fell into apostasy. The truth, power, and authority of the gospel were no longer on the earth. Those who led the people were not prophets, and the wisdom of men alone is insufficient to lead the Church. This does not mean that God and Jesus Christ completely ignored mankind, for God will never simply abandon His children. Even in the Dark Ages, the Spirit gave insight and guidance to individuals. The invention of the printing press turned the ownership of books from something only allotted those in power and, instead, gave t the opportunity to everyone. The Renaissance, with its advances in art, science, and education, is seen as inspired and driven by the will of God. And the Reformation encouraged Christians to learn the Bible for themselves.
And in Mormon belief, the Spirit led Christopher Columbus to the Americas, for Mormons believe that the discovery of the Americas was key to God’s plan for the earth. The United States of America was founded partly on religious toleration. This religious toleration was essential for the return of Jesus Christ’s gospel in its fullness and purity.
The restoration of the Church of Christ came about through Joseph Smith. 1830 marked the official organization of the Church of Christ (later called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and nicknamed the Mormon Church) and the end of the Great Apostasy. The authority to act in God’s name, the priesthood, have been restored. We have apostles on the earth again, and a living prophet, guided by revelation from God, directs Jesus Christ’s Church.