It’s a question we hear quite often–if the Mormon Church is Christian, what makes it different from other Christian churches?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is indeed a Christian church. But it does differ from other modern Christian churches in some important ways. Today, I want to talk about the root of that difference, the reason we believe membership in the Mormon Church is so vitally important—it’s something we call “The Restoration.”
To help explain the Restoration, I have a simple little analogy about garden hoses. But before we get to that, I need to tell you what we believe about “authority.” As Mormons, we believe that only Christ can save souls, and that he controls the pathway to salvation precisely because “he is the way.” Consequently, the things that are necessary for our salvation, like baptism, have to be done on his terms, by his ordained servants. As Paul said, there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4:5).
So with that, let’s talk about garden hoses!
The conscientious gardener waters his garden regularly and with care. Water is essential to the life and beauty of a flower, and a hose is a tool for directing that water to those parts of the garden that need it.
However, sometimes the hose kinks up and the water can’t flow as well as before. The more kinks, the less water, until eventually, nothing flows at all. Sometimes, simply unkinking the hose may fix the problem. But if left kinked for a long time, the hose will wear, its rubber tear, and even removing the kinks will not fix the non-flow of water. The conscientious gardener, who revels in the beauty of each flower, must install a new hose.
So it is with Christ. He is the conscientious Gardener and his saving power is “the Living Water.” During his short ministry on earth, he sowed the seeds of his garden, and began nourishing it. Soon after he began, Christ was crucified, leaving some uncertainty over who would continue His work. But thankfully, Christ ordained apostles to water the garden on His behalf, to “teach all nations, baptizing them.” (Matt. 28:19). With Christ’s authority to teach and baptize, the garden bloomed.
But over time, some kinks developed in the proverbial garden hose. The apostles died or were killed, and the Church entered a time of transition (even while Paul was alive, he spent a lot of his time writing letters to different congregations to correct their teachings and practices). Such alterations of Christ’s teachings and practices limited the flow of Christ’s saving power to the inhabitants of the earth. What had been a steady stream of living water had reduced to a trickle. Many well-intentioned attempts to unkink the hose by the Catholic Church with its Councils and the Protestants with their Reformation ultimately could not restore the flow. The hose had become too worn.
To be sure, much that is praiseworthy occurred during this time period. Shakespeare, Da Vinci, Mozart and others displayed their beautiful faith through priceless and revered works of art. Billions of Christians experienced real, genuine faith in Christ. However, what was missing was the authority to administer those things necessary for salvation, like baptism. As Roger Williams, the Christian colonist and religious refugee, said with great lament in 1639, “There is no regularly constituted church of Christ on earth, nor any person qualified to administer any church ordinances; nor can there be until new apostles are sent.”
In 1820, we believe our conscientious Gardener, Jesus Christ, replaced the hose which had worn down throughout the centuries since his ascension to heaven. On an April spring morning, Joseph Smith knelt down to pray, to ask God which of all the churches he should join. What followed was remarkable. In Joseph’s words:
“I saw a pillar of light, exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. When the light rested upon me, I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other, “This is my beloved Son. Hear Him!”
God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph and told him to join none of the existing churches. Instead, they called him to be an ordained gardener, to water the earth anew with “the Living Water.”
We believe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that same Church that Christ established while he lived on the earth. In restoring the Church through Joseph, a modern day prophet and apostle, Christ also restored the necessary authority to baptize. At last, the Living Water flows full stream. Christ, who cares about each and every one of us, can again nourish us through his ordained, authorized servants. And as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continues to expand throughout the entire earth, the Lord’s garden is rapidly blooming.