The Restoration of the Church did not happen in the first appearance of Heavenly Father and His Son to Joseph Smith. Just as the ground needs to be prepared before seeds are planted, the right kind of nourishment needed to be given to the earth before the Church of Jesus Christ could be successfully restored.
During the hundreds of years following the Great Apostasy (see “What Happened to Christ’s Church?” Liahona, Feb. 2005, 12), the Lord prepared the earth so He could plant His Church upon it. He set up a place where the Church would be allowed to grow and a time when the people would be ready to begin accepting it.
Starting in the 14th century with the Renaissance, people began to break free of old ways of thinking. Science, art, literature, and many other areas of learning began to prosper in Europe. The way opened for new ideas, exploration, and inventions.
All these new ideas and the increased availability of the Bible due to new printing techniques inspired many to evaluate what they knew and how they felt about religion. People such as John Wycliffe in England and John Calvin in Switzerland began to question the practices of the Christian church. They saw that the church in their time and the Church in New Testament times were not the same.
Martin Luther was another of these people, called reformers, who saw that some of the practices of the Christian church were incorrect. He was a religious and educated man, and he wanted to change the practices of the church that did not match the teachings of the Bible. In 1517, in an attempt to promote discussion on the practices of the church, Luther wrote a document, identified as his Ninety-five Theses, and nailed it to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation.
Luther was excommunicated from the Catholic Church for his actions of protest, but he kept his desire to conform to the teachings of the Bible. He opened the way for other reformers through his years of work and his German translation of the Bible. Many followed Luther and others like him who fought to reform the Christian church or to establish new churches. These people were called Protestants.
Some Protestants and other groups sought more religious and economic freedom. With the spirit of exploration still very alive, many departed Europe to form colonies elsewhere. One of the places they went was to America.
From the time Christopher Columbus sailed to the Americas, people were interested in going there. Colonists in North America formed thirteen colonies and eventually created a union that won its independence from Britain and all other countries. This new country, the United States of America, had a constitution that guaranteed religious freedom.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, at about the same time the United States was being established as a free country, a religious revival started in the northeastern United States. The Prophet Joseph Smith described this revival: “There was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. … Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people” (JS—H 1:5).
Because of the religious confusion surrounding him and prompted by his faith in the scriptures, Joseph went to the woods near his home in 1820. He prayed for answers to his questions. The answer to his prayer eventually resulted in the Restoration of the true Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days.
The Restoration of the true Church of Jesus Christ could occur only after Heavenly Father put in place all that would make it possible for His Church to blossom in a prepared land. The Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the establishment of the United States as a free country, and the preparation of a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith were all part of the Lord’s plan to bring the fulness of His gospel back to the earth so His children could be saved.
Before the Renaissance, copies of the Bible were slowly reproduced by hand, expensive to obtain, and in languages difficult for most people to read. So only the rich, the educated, and the clergy of the church could obtain and read the scriptures.
The invention of the printing press in about 1450 made it possible to mass produce the Bible. This mass production made Bibles less expensive. The lower price and new translations made the scriptures available to many.
The official English version of the Bible used by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the King James Version. For about seven years, more than 50 scholars worked on the King James Version using the best sources available. It was published in 1611.
Joseph Smith was reading the Bible in 1820 when he was prompted to “ask of God” (see James 1:5). After hundreds of years of limited access to the scriptures, anyone, even 14-year-old farm boys, could read the Bible and learn from it.
Born in 1483, Martin Luther is one of history’s most important religious reformers, although he was not the first. Martin did not start out as a religious scholar. His father wanted him to be a lawyer, but Martin left his law training to join a monastery.
He studied the Bible in great depth and concluded that people were saved by faith alone and not by their good works (a belief still held today in the Lutheran Church). His knowledge of the scriptures also led him to challenge church leaders, who he felt were corrupt. And he was especially angered by the sale of indulgences, which supposedly allowed people to buy forgiveness.
Martin Luther’s studies led him to write a document called the Ninety-five Theses, which challenged the practices of the church. His efforts laid a foundation for future reformers who continued to work for religious freedom in Europe.
The prophet Nephi wrote of Columbus, whom Nephi saw in a vision: “I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land” (1 Ne. 13:12).
In his own journal and in letters to others, Columbus wrote of how inspired he felt on his journey to the Americas. He said: “Our Lord unlocked my mind, sent me upon the sea, and gave me fire for the deed. … Who can doubt but that the Holy Ghost inspired me?” (quoted in Mark E. Petersen, The Great Prologue , 26).
After sailing for weeks, Columbus’s crew was tired of waiting to find land. Columbus told his crew that if they did not find land in two days, they would turn around and go home. He then prayed to the Lord. On the following day they saw land—they had found the Americas. And many others would begin to come to America, forming governments that created a land of freedom.
“The reformers were pioneers, blazing wilderness trails in a desperate search for those lost points of reference which, they felt, when found would lead mankind back to the truth Jesus taught.
“John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, Jan Hus, Zwingli, Knox, Calvin, and Tyndale all pioneered the period of the Reformation. Significant was the declaration of Tyndale to his critics: ‘I will cause a boy that driveth the plough shall know more of the scripture than thou doest’ [see Roger Hillas, “The History of the Book,” Washington Post, Apr. 10, 1996].
“Such were the teachings and lives of the great reformers. Their deeds were heroic, their contributions many, their sacrifices great—but they did not restore the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
—President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “They Showed the Way,” Ensign, May 1997, 51.
The Lord inspired people in the original thirteen colonies of America to write a constitution and form a government. In D&C 101:80, the Lord says He “established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.”
President Wilford Woodruff (1807–98) spoke about the good men who helped establish the United States of America: “Those men who laid the foundation of this American government … were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits … [and] were inspired of the Lord” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1898, 89).
Christopher Columbus sought for new knowledge. (1492)
Reformers like Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. (1517)
The King James Bible was published. (1611)
The Mayflower landed in North America. Many others also sought religious freedom. (1620)
Inspired men wrote the Declaration of Independence, ending the thirteen colonies’ connection with Britain. (1776)
The American Revolutionary War ended and a new nation began. (1781)
A time of religious revival started where Joseph Smith lived. (Late 1700s)
While reading the Bible, Joseph Smith decided to “ask of God.” (1820)
Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph in the Sacred Grove. (1820)
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized. (1830)