The Mormon Claim of Being “The Restored Church”

Joseph Smith was reading the Bible one day in the spring of 1820 when he came to James 1:5—“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” The verse came alive for him. He decided to pray in the woods and ask God which church to attend. He says he had a vision and saw the Father and the Son. Smith describes how “the Son” told him that all churches were evil and that he should not associate with any of them: “The Personage that addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.”[1]

Mormons today teach that the “one true church” had to be restored because a complete apostasy swept over the church shortly after the death of the last apostle. This apostasy was prophesied in Galatians 1:6-8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3; Acts 3:20-21; and 20:29-31. Mormons claim that proper church organization with its respective offices has been lost, along with continuous revelation through God’s appointed representatives. Because of the removal of “plain and precious” truths by “designing priests,” the true gospel was also lost from the Bible (see Galatians 1:8). Furthermore, after the death of the last apostle, the priesthoods of Aaron and Melchizedek disappeared from the face of the earth (see Acts 3:20-21).

The true gospel, the “eternal” priesthood, and proper church organization were supposedly restored by the “prophet” Joseph Smith.[2] Mormons believe that the presence or absence of this priesthood (both Aaronic and Melchizedek) establishes the truth or falsity of a professing church (they cite Psalm 110:4 and Hebrews 5:6 to support their view). Mormons consider the Mormon church to be the only authentic church because it is the only one with a “restored” priesthood. All other churches in Christendom are considered apostate.

Scripture proves that the Mormon church is not, in fact, the restored church. First and foremost, the Bible does not prophesy a total apostasy in the early church. Let us consider the three primary passages Mormons cite to support their view—Galatians 1:6-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:3, and Acts 3:20-21.[3]

Galatians 1:6-8—A Different Gospel

Paul says in Galatians 1:6-8: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” The apostle Paul here cautions against accepting a false gospel. Notice that Paul’s remarks were specifically directed to the local church in Galatia alone, not to churches worldwide afflicted by some imagined global apostasy.

In context, the Galatian believers had succumbed to a gospel that added works to their faith. Some Jewish Christians, unhappy with the way Paul freely invited Gentiles to come to God, had begun to visit the churches he had planted. They wanted to convince these Gentile believers that they needed to be circumcised as a follow-up to their faith in Christ. 

This requirement added “law” to the “grace” Paul preached. The “other gospel” being taught in Galatia had to do with salvation by works (see Galatians 3:1-2).

In response, Paul emphasized that the Galatian believers should reject any gospel that conflicted with the gospel of grace that had already been authoritatively communicated to them. Paul even held himself to the standard of the already prescribed, official gospel of grace (Galatians 1:8; see also 1 Corinthians 15:3). 

Considering such facts, there is no way that this passage can be twisted to support the idea of a “total apostasy of the early church,” thereby creating the need for a restored church.   

2 Thessalonians 2:3—Rebellion Against Truth

In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the apostle Paul warns: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” Mormons claim that this verse speaks of an apostasy that would engulf the early church, and therefore, a restoration would be necessary.[4]

Mormons interpret 2 Thessalonians 2:3 to mean something it does not say. Paul was speaking of a specific, distinguishable apostasy yet to occur in the end-times future, not a general, worldwide apostasy of the early church (see 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 4:3-4; James 5:1-8; 2 Peter 2; 3:3-6; Jude). We know that the apostasy addressed in this verse pertains to the end times because the context is set with the reference to the second coming in verse 1, the day of the Lord in verse 2, and the antichrist (“man of lawlessness”) in verse 3. This being so, there’s no way this verse can be cited in support of an apostasy in the early church, as Mormons claim. 

Acts 3:20-21—Refreshing and Restoration

Mormons often cite Acts 3:20-21 to support the need for a restored church and gospel. However, the passage speaks only of the need for repentance, “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.” 

Evangelical Christians offer several interpretations of Acts 3:20-21—none consistent with the Mormon claim of a restored church and a restored gospel. Many believe the passage deals with the restoration of Israel. After all, contextually, Peter is speaking specifically to the “men of Israel” in this sermon (see Acts 3:12), and he speaks of the fulfillment of all that the prophets had foretold (verse 18). The Jews had long expected the restoration of Israel, and this was a central theme of the Old Testament prophets (see Isaiah 40:9-11; Jeremiah 32:42-44; Ezekiel 37:21-28; Hosea 11:9-11; 14:4-7; Amos 9:11-15). Peter may well have this Jewish restoration in mind in Acts 3:20-21. Other evangelical Christians say that the “restoration” follows the Lord’s second coming and deals with the consummation of the age when the Lord makes all things new (see 2 Peter 3:13).  

Regardless of which interpretation is correct, I want you to pay special attention to what Acts 3:20-21 does not say. The text and its surrounding context do not even remotely suggest or imply that there would be a total apostasy of the early church. Such a view is reading something into the text that is simply not there.

Biblical Arguments Against the Mormon View

Mormons cannot possibly restore the Melchizedek priesthood among male priests in the Mormon church[5] since Christ alone is the rightful heir to this priesthood. “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4; repeated in Hebrews 5:6). Contrary to the Mormon view, Psalm 110 is unquestionably messianic, prophetically pointing ahead to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Psalm 110 is applied only to Christ by Hebrews 5–8 and other New Testament passages, not to human imitators of the divine priesthood. (Remember, Jesus Himself quoted Psalm 110 in demonstrating that He—as the divine Messiah—was David’s Lord [Mark 12:36].) This messianic psalm anticipates Jesus Christ in three roles: King (verses 1-3), Priest (verse 4), and victorious Warrior (verses 5-7).

The phrase “priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” refers to Christ’s unchangeable and eternal priesthood. As an irrevocable priest, Jesus once and for all sacrificed Himself by His death on the cross (Hebrews 7:27-28; 10:10).

Hebrews 7:23-24 speaks of human priests who cannot continue in office due to death, but “because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood.” Christ’s priesthood is eternal since Christ is an eternal being. Unlike humans who perish and die, Christ exists eternally. Hence, His priesthood is unlike anything a human being could offer. He alone is our immortal High Priest, living eternally.

We can also confidently say, based on Hebrews 7:11-12, that the Aaronic priesthood has passed away: “If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” Scripture clearly states that the priesthood changed. The Aaronic priesthood was abolished and substituted with something better: the priesthood of Jesus Christ, our eternal priest. The breaking of the veil leading to the Holy of Holies in the temple during the crucifixion marked the end of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood (see Matthew 27:51). All of these facts spell D-O-O-M for the Mormon view of the priesthood. 

A Historical Argument Against the Mormon View

By tracing the history of the Christian church, the Mormon claim of a “restoration” is exposed as a fabrication. Because church history is extensively recorded, we have a clear picture of the early church’s beliefs and the aberrations from orthodoxy that occurred, such as Gnosticism, Arianism, and Sabellianism. If Mormonism is the “restored” church, we would expect to find evidence in the first century for unique Mormon concepts such as the plurality of Gods, men becoming Gods, and God the Father’s having once been a man. However, we find no evidence of these in ancient church history. Hence, history is not on the side of the Mormon church.

Recent Revisionism on Mormon Claims

In recent years, the Mormon church has attempted to soften its exclusivity as the “restored” church. The reason for this is that the Mormon Church has become increasingly involved in the Interfaith movement, collaborating with many Christian groups on various charitable projects. Mormons recognize that maintaining working ties with Protestants, Catholics, and others would be extremely difficult if they continued to espouse the idea that theirs is the only true church and that all others are apostate. As a result, in recent years, the Mormon church has attempted to moderate or downplay its position on this assertion. Some Mormon leaders are now denying that Mormonism has the harsh view of orthodox Christianity for which it is well known.

To make this denial plausible, Mormon academics have had to adopt strained interpretations of founder Joseph Smith’s “only true church” utterances. For example, according to the canonized version of Joseph Smith’s account of his First Vision (in which he allegedly saw God the Father and Jesus Christ), Smith was told in response to his inquiry about which church he should join: “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight, that those professors were all corrupt.”[6]

A reconciliatory Mormon leader provided the following explanation of Joseph Smith’s words: “Upon careful reading of the passage, we understand that the Lord Jesus Christ was specifically addressing the ministers within Prophet Joseph Smith’s community who were engaged in disputes over which church held the truth.”[7]

Mormon revisionism fails spectacularly here! If the aforementioned explanation were accurate, Joseph Smith simply could have relocated to a nearby community and sought out an untainted minister. There would have been no imperative to undertake the monumental task of “restoring” the Church of Jesus Christ on Earth by establishing the Mormon Church.

We conclude that the arguments against the notion that the Mormon church is the restored church are formidable. Indeed, most of them are groundless. 

If you’re seeking a comprehensive treatment on this subject, I invite you to dive into my rather large book, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Mormons (published by Harvest House). It will not only explain the Mormon view with clarity, but it will also give you the scriptural answers you need to intelligently dialog with a Mormon.

  1. Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1973), 1:17,19.
  2. Joseph Fielding Smith, ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1977), p. 158.
  3. See Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1977), p. 334.
  4. James E. Talmage, The Great Apostasy (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1975), p. 41; see also McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 43.
  5. Doctrine and Covenants 84:26-28.
  6. Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1:19. 
  7. Cited in Robert M. Bowman, Jr., “How Mormons Are Defending Mormon Doctrine,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1989, p. 26.

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