(Taken from a previous Facebook post July 27, 2016)
So if you’ve been following our vacation posts, you know that we are touring some of the historical places related to the history of our church. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Wanting to know and understand the history of the church is probably somewhat unique to our faith. I don’t know of other faiths that do something similar other than maybe Muslims who travel to Mecca at some point in their life or maybe Jews who make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It’s not quite the same. Being a global church, I imagine that most members of our church probably never do this tour, but it is not uncommon for members who live in the USA to come see these sites at least once. It’s something that I love to do. I feel inspired and uplifted when I visit them. I like to hear about what life was like for these people in the 1800s. I feel a real connection with Joseph Smith and revere him as a prophet.
Today we made it to upstate New York and started our tour at the Peter Whitmer farm in Fayette/Waterloo, NY. It was here that the translation of Book of Mormon was finally finished. It is also where the Church was officially organized. On April 6, 1830 a small group assembled in the log cabin belonging to Peter Whitmer Sr. and the Church had its official beginning with 6 members. Today there are over 15 million members worldwide.
Also important to the Whitmer farm is what we call the three witnesses. Close by in the woods an angel showed the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated, to Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and David Whitmer, along with the Prophet Joseph Smith. This is one of those things that takes faith to believe, but three respected men were willing to put their names as witnesses to the world, that the ancient record called the Book of Mormon was of God. Later Joseph Smith would show eight other people the same golden plates and their witness is also recorded.
So we have the translated book. We have the words of those who saw the plates. We have Joseph Smith’s account of what transpired. It’s actually impressive how much is recorded and documented.
It is probably a little confusing, but our historical visits have not gone in chronological order. In fact, a lot of our trip has been going in the reverse order. These stops have just been the most convenient way driving for us to see everything.
We next drove today to the Smith family farm in Palmyra, NY. It is here where everything began more or less. In summary, Joseph Smith was 14 years old and there were a lot of churches and preachers in the area. There was somewhat of a revival going on and he wanted to follow Jesus and be baptized, but he wasn’t sure which church to join. He wrote that he favored the Methodist church, but wasn’t sure that he should join. His family was religious. They read the Bible as did many families back then. He read in James, 1:5.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
This really hit him and he kept thinking about it over and over. So he decided to go out into a wooded grove of trees behind their farm. Today we call it the “Sacred Grove”. He went to a secluded place. He knelt. He prayed aloud. He got an unexpected answer in certainly an unexpected way. He saw a vision of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. They told him to join none of the churches. Joseph Smith then says something we hear quite often. He says he was told many other things but that he was forbidden to share them. I think God tests our faith. He doesn’t give us all the answers all at once. This vision is definitely something that is hard for people to believe. When I was a missionary in France we had some who would say they liked the teachings, they liked the Book of Mormon, they liked us, and they liked the Church members, but they had a hard time believing that Joseph Smith saw God or angels. It is a hard thing to believe. It just is. I think Joseph Smith’s words are the best response.
“I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true; and while they were persecuting me, reviling me, and speaking all manner of evil against me falsely for so saying, I was led to say in my heart: Why persecute me for telling the truth? I have actually seen a vision; and who am I that I can withstand God, or why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation.”
I personally believe Joseph Smith’s words. The teachings I follow bring me happiness and joy. They make me a better person. They make me a better father. They turn my focus from inward to outward. I fall short, but if there is one thing I can learn from all of these early saints and leaders, is that they too fell short at times, yet with the help of God, they did great things. All is possible with God’s help. President Gordon B. Hinckley said about our religion, “It makes bad men good, and good men better.” (and women)
I appreciate my friends who are of other faiths who can see the good in my beliefs and we put our differences aside. I see much good in the faiths and churches of many of my friends outside my faith. We share a common belief with other Christian churches in the Bible and in our Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t expect all my friends to join my church (though you probably should and you’d be very welcome) but hopefully you get a glimpse of how our faith started, understand better what the Book of Mormon is, and what our religions is all about I hope it has been interesting to you.
Tomorrow we finish our church history tour by seeing a couple more important sites here in Palmyra, NY and then we are heading up to see Niagara Falls.