A Brief History of the World Through the Lens of Prophets

Each year, on July 24th, I celebrate Pioneer Day, a holiday unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it is the day that the faith's pioneers, seeking religious freedom and physical safety, arrived in the Salt Lake valley in Utah in 1847. They traveled across the North American continent, being murdered, tortured, and persecuted along the way.

What was this belief they were so firm in that they were willing to give their lives for it? It was the gospel of Jesus Christ. That through Jesus Christ, we can all be saved if we have faith in him, repent of our sins, are baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end keeping the promises we have made to follow Jesus Christ’s example.

God is the ultimate source of truth. When you are ready to make a judgment about what is truth, go to God your Heavenly Father to confirm if what you have learned is true. Your own pride, doubt, or fear may tell you one thing, but God will speak truth to your mind and your heart through the Holy Ghost of what is true if you pray with sincerity.

I want to tell the history of the world through the lens of prophets.

In the beginning

In the beginning, there was God. God created us. He is our loving Heavenly Father. He has given us this experience on earth so we can learn and grow. God is a real being, similar to us because we were created in his image. He has a body of flesh and bone just like us, but he is perfect.

Everyone on this earth is a member of one great family—God’s family. This is why at church we sometimes call each other “brother” and “sister”. Within this great family, God has organized us into personal families—mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. The family unit is central to God’s plan.

A family tree spans the age of the universe. From the present, your family goes back generations to Adam and Eve. Your family can also go forward for generations. So, the generations of the earth have a long timeline.

When God created Adam and Eve, he assured they were taught the gospel in its pure form. The gospel is comprised of the truths of the universe, such as our purpose on earth, the importance of baptism and what faith is.

The role of prophet

God keeps us informed. Because remember, he is our loving Heavenly Father. In order to keep us informed, God calls someone to be his mouthpiece. He calls prophets to guide us. So in each dispensation, or era, of the world’s history, God makes sure there is a prophet to preach the pure gospel truths. We don’t have to experience life like a game of telephone. The person appointed prophet can go back to God frequently to get the original message and receive new messages. Today, we can hear straight from the prophet what God would have us hear.

A prophet is a person called to speak for the Lord. Moses and Isaiah of biblical times, for example, were prophets. Moses received instructions on how to free his people. Without a prophet to lead them, the people would have remained under Pharaoh’s rule.

We learn in the Bible that if you listen to the prophet, you will prosper. Asa, the king of Judah, had a son named Jehoshaphat. There was risk of a battle, and he rose early in the morning to speak to the people. He said to them, “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).

Apostasy—a rejection of the prophets

When a person abandons or rejects the prophet’s teachings, they are in a personal state of what is called apostasy.

When a whole nation or world rejects the prophets and the gospel of Jesus Christ, a widespread state of apostasy occurs. Because people turn away from the prophets, they forget and reject gospel truth, and God takes away their authority to perform essential ordinances like baptism and giving the gift of the Holy Ghost.

In the meridian of time, God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ, to fill the role of prophet and to establish the true order of his church. Jesus ordained twelve apostles and he established priesthood ordinances. The true church of Jesus Christ today is organized the way Jesus Christ organized it then.

Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, was rejected by the world and killed. He died for our sins. Because of Jesus Christ, we can be saved. Because of this rejection, the world entered into a state called the Great Apostasy. The Lord withdrew his priesthood authority from the earth for hundreds of years.

Restoration

The Great Apostasy lasted until the world was ready again to accept the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. After the rejection of Jesus Christ and then of his apostles, the world darkened. some say that evidence of this Great Apostasy can be seen in Western Europe, where the collapse of the Roman Empire occurred, resulting in what we call the Middle Ages, a time of "economic and cultural deterioration" (thanks, Wikipedia...), but in that region we see great art and industry. Some of my favorite art is from the Middle Ages. What really defines the Great Apostasy (and makes it a world era, not a Western European era) is the loss of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its pure form. It was a dark time. I should note that "dark" doesn't mean "pitch black." This doesn't mean there weren't good people, or that all humans returned to some primordial state. What makes the era dark is that the Gospel, as Jesus Christ taught it, started to be twisted, misinterpreted, and used for less-than-savory causes.

However, slowly, light, wisdom, and understanding started to increase again. Although I would love to analyze all points of global history, today I’ll follow a few specific developments through western Europe and North America as examples. I'll note again that this wasn't just a Western phenomenon--Christ's church was established in Europe, but also throughout the world: in Asia, Africa, and in Oceania and the Americas as well (although, that's for another post).

So, using just Western history as an example--how did seemingly secular developments gradually lead the region back to the restoration of lost truths?

Architectural developments

I’ll start in the 1400s, when developments were made in architecture and engineering, which allowed for thinner and taller walls in cathedrals without sacrificing architectural integrity. Because of the thinner walls, larger windows could be built without the pressure of the walls shattering them. The larger windows allowed for stained glass, which could depict Bible stories. The sun would shine through the glass, illuminating the stories to all those who sat within the cathedral. Most of the world was still illiterate at this time, so this was the first time in history the Bible stories became available to the masses, directly, without needing a priest to read to them. They could “read” the stories themselves by looking at the windows.

Spread of literacy 

By the 1500s, Gutenberg had invented his printing press, so that millions of volumes of books, including scripture, were printed, resulting in a drastic increase in literacy. This increase in literacy took power from the literate elite, gave power to the middle class, and resulted in challenges to religious authorities—people pointed out how religion had strayed far from the original church Jesus Christ had organized.

In the early 1500s, Martin Luther fought against erroneous ideas in religion, for example, he denounced the idea that people could pay off their sins with money.

The First and Second Great Awakenings

In the 1730s, the First Great Awakening occurred in Britain and in the American 13 colonies. This religious revival inspired a new standard of personal conviction of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

The Second Great Awakening began in 1790 in the U.S. and focused on emotion—the heart and not just the mind. Heroes of this age elevated the idea that to feel something is true is as important as thinking it is true, which prepared the way for teaching about the Holy Ghost, which speaks truth to the mind and to the heart.

In 1820, a boy named Joseph Smith had been reading the Bible, wanting to know which church to join. He had to know which was the true church, as Jesus Christ had established it.

Remember what I said about truth. When you have studied anything, whether it’s technology, business, art, or religion, you can turn to God for a confirmation that it is true or not. Joseph Smith decided to turn to God for the ultimate truth on the matter. He had read the scripture in James, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God… but let him ask in faith.”

Joseph was only 14 years old at the time. Many prophets are old, but some are young. In the Old Testament, Samuel, the son of Hannah, who studied with Eli, was called by God one night when very young. In the Bible, he is said to have been a “child” when the Lord spoke to him and revealed his will to Samuel.

So, young Joseph went to a grove of trees away from his house—and he prayed to God with his burning question. And suddenly a light appeared directly over his head. He saw two beings. One was God, the Eternal Father, and the other was Jesus Christ. The religions of the day had come a long way—over a period of several hundred years, the world was seeking truth again and desiring to follow Jesus Christ. So, God called Joseph Smith to end the Great Apostasy—to restore lost truth and priesthood authority. Joseph was given the authority from God to baptize again, to establish the true manner of sacrament, to organize the church with twelve apostles, to preside as its lead prophet.

Modern-day prophets

Does a prophet exist today? This reminds me of a story told by Hugh B. Brown, who was an assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the 1950s. He was in London in 1939 and the war was about to break out. A gentleman in the House of Commons asked him to prepare a brief about Mormonism. The man said he neither believes that God speaks to men today, nor that prophets lead us.

Brown asks if he believes God spoke to anyone. The man says, well yes, to Adam, to Noah, to Abraham—all the ancient prophets. But he says communication stopped after the establishment of the early Christian church. Brown asks him why he thinks so, but no answer.

So, Brown, says, maybe God does not speak to man because he cannot. He has lost the power. 
The man says that’s blasphemy. God has the power to speak to man. 

Ok, says Brown, then perhaps God isn't as interested in our lives now as he was in ancient times. The man says “No, God loves all men, and He is no respecter of persons.” 

“Well then," says Brown, “...the only other possible answer, ...is that we don’t need Him. We have made such rapid strides in science ... that we don’t need God anymore.” 

And then, the man says, with his voice trembling as he thought of the impending war, “Mr. Brown, there never was a time in the history of the world when the voice of God was needed as it is needed now. Perhaps you can tell me why He doesn’t speak.” 

“My answer was,” said Brown, “He DOES speak, He has spoken; but men need faith to hear Him.” Then Brown continues to tell him about prophets—how God has not and will not ever change—and if he called prophets to lead the world in ancient times, then he calls them today. 

What does this mean for you?

Perhaps we think of Old Testament times through mystical glasses; wild things could happen back then, but not today! But I assure you, if God gave the people a fearless, bold prophet like Noah to preach to his people then, he has given us someone today. It’s harder to believe perhaps, when we get stuck in a bubble, where life is safe and sometimes dull, and we get lulled into a comfortable state where miracles and God are nice ideas we listen to on Sundays. But there is a whole world out there, and here, that needs God more than ever before, and God cares about them and you and provides prophets, like he always has, to help us understand how to follow Jesus Christ and be saved.

The Church today, is The Church of Jesus Christ—in this era, the latter-days (or “modern times”). It is the PURE church of Jesus Christ, as HE established it. A prophetic leader is at the head. At the time of this writing, there is a modern-day prophet named Russell M. Nelson.

You too can know for yourself the truth. Today, when you return home, kneel somewhere quiet, just try it once, you shouldn’t be so afraid to do this, if so you really need to get out more. When you’re kneeling, you talk to God and you ask him if he leads his people today as he has throughout the history of the world—with living, breathing prophets. Ask about Joseph Smith by name—did he restore the original truths of the gospel to the world after a long period of apostasy?

Above all, ask God. Ask God directly through prayer. You and God. He will answer if you are quiet, and patient, and have faith that you will receive an answer.




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