Throughout history, Heavenly Father has ended periods of apostasy by calling prophets who receive divine authority to restore the fulness of the gospel and establish the Church of Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was this prophet in our dispensation. Understanding how God leads His people and establishes His Church through prophets will help students develop a deeper appreciation of the need for a Restoration and a greater ability to teach others about the Restoration.
Begin the lesson by writing the following on the board:
Invite a student to read Amos 8:11–12 aloud. Ask students to follow along and identify how the word famine is used as a symbol.
What type of famine did Amos prophesy would occur? (Write student responses on the board next to “Famine =”.)
What did Amos prophesy that people would do because of this famine?
What evidence have you seen in the world that there has been a famine of “hearing the words of the Lord”? (Amos 8:11).
Explain that although the prophecy found in Amos 8:11–12 has likely been fulfilled multiple times throughout history, one important fulfillment is known as the Great Apostasy. You may want to suggest that students write Apostasy, including the Great Apostasy in the margin of their scriptures next to Amos 8:11–12.
Display the following statement, and invite a student to read it aloud. Ask students to look for some of the factors that contributed to the Great Apostasy.
“After the death of Jesus Christ, wicked people persecuted the Apostles and Church members and killed many of them. With the death of the Apostles, priesthood keys and the presiding priesthood authority were taken from the earth. The Apostles had kept the doctrines of the gospel pure and maintained the order and standard of worthiness for Church members. Without the Apostles, over time the doctrines were corrupted, and unauthorized changes were made in Church organization and priesthood ordinances, such as baptism and conferring the gift of the Holy Ghost.
“Without revelation and priesthood authority, people relied on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures and the principles and ordinances of the gospel of Jesus Christ. False ideas were taught as truth. Much of the knowledge of the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. The doctrines of faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted or forgotten. The priesthood authority given to Christ’s Apostles was no longer present on the earth” (Preach My Gospel: A Guide to Missionary Service , 35).
According to this statement, what were some factors that contributed to the Great Apostasy?
Why is it essential to understand that the Great Apostasy actually occurred? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following principle: Knowing that there was a Great Apostasy can help us recognize the need for the Restoration of the gospel.)
Explain that during this period of apostasy, Heavenly Father continued to exercise His influence in the world through the Light of Christ, which is “given to every man” (Moroni 7:16), and through the power of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses that the gospel is true (see Guide to the Scriptures, “Holy Ghost,” scriptures.lds.org. He inspired men and women in many cultures who sought His help during that time. Christian reformers such as Martin Luther and William Tyndale labored to help Christians live closer to the ideals they found in the Bible. The efforts of reformers, philosophers, and even statesmen in Europe and North America led to an increased emphasis on human dignity and religious freedom in many parts of the world. Notwithstanding these important developments, God had not yet fully restored His Church. (See Preach My Gospel, 45–46.)
Display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), and invite a student to read it aloud:
“For centuries the heavens remained sealed. Good men and women, not a few—really great and wonderful people—tried to correct, strengthen, and improve their systems of worship and their body of doctrine. To them I pay honor and respect. How much better the world is because of their bold action. While I believe their work was inspired, it was not favored with the opening of the heavens, with the appearance of Deity” (“The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” Ensign, Nov. 2002, 80).
Remind students that in 1820 the young boy Joseph Smith was searching for the true Church but could not find it. Invite students to read Joseph Smith—History 1:5–10 silently, looking for phrases that describe challenges caused by the Great Apostasy.
What are some of the phrases Joseph Smith used to refer to the spiritual challenges of his day?
How did Joseph describe his feelings that came as a result of the religious turmoil that surrounded him?
Remind students that Joseph Smith’s search for truth resulted in the First Vision and his call as a prophet. (These will be discussed in the next lesson.) Point out that the calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Restoration of the gospel followed a pattern established by God that has been repeated throughout history. For example, the calling of Enoch (see Moses 6:26–32) and of Noah (see Moses 8:17–20) followed this pattern. Display the following explanation of this pattern, and invite a student read it aloud:
“Biblical history has recorded many instances of God speaking to prophets, and it also tells of many instances of apostasy. To end each period of general apostasy, God has shown His love for His children by calling another prophet and giving him priesthood authority to restore and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ anew. In essence, the prophet acts as a steward to oversee the household of God here on earth. Such periods of time headed by prophetic responsibility are called dispensations” (Preach My Gospel, 33; see also Bible Dictionary, “Dispensations”).
How does the Restoration of the gospel through Joseph Smith follow a pattern seen in earlier dispensations? (Students may use different words, but make sure they identify the following doctrine: After periods of general apostasy, God calls prophets and gives them authority to restore and teach the gospel anew. Students should also understand this doctrine: Joseph Smith was called by God to restore the gospel for our dispensation.)
How might understanding this pattern help you explain the Restoration of the gospel to someone of another faith?
Emphasize that in the First Vision, Joseph Smith learned that no true Church existed upon the earth and that the fulness of Christ’s gospel needed to be restored. Although the Bible contains prophecies of the Great Apostasy, the most important evidence that this apostasy occurred is the fact that Joseph Smith was called to be a prophet and the fulness of the gospel was restored.
Explain that the scriptures relate some of the Lord’s reasons for restoring His gospel to the earth in the latter days.
Invite students to silently read Isaiah’s prophecy of the Restoration found in 2 Nephi 27:25–26, looking for the Lord’s description of the spiritual condition of the world at the time of the Restoration. You may want to suggest that students mark words and phrases that describe these spiritual conditions. (Note: One of the most helpful ways for students to capture and retain what they learn from the scriptures is to mark important words and phrases.) After sufficient time, ask students to share what they found.
Why do you think the Restoration of the gospel is referred to as “a marvelous work and a wonder”?
What do you find “marvelous” and “wonderful” about the Restoration? (As students respond, point out that the Restoration of the gospel as a “marvelous work and a wonder” is an example of a recurring theme in the Doctrine and Covenants. “Themes are overarching, recurring, and unifying qualities or ideas” [David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water” (Brigham Young University fireside, Feb. 4, 2007), 6, speeches.byu.edu].)
Invite half of the class to study Doctrine and Covenants 1:12–17, looking for reasons the Lord gave for bringing about the Restoration of the gospel. Invite the other half of the class to study Doctrine and Covenants 1:18–30, looking for ways that the Restoration of the gospel would bless God’s children. (Note: Doctrine and Covenants 1:30 will be studied in greater detail in lesson 6.)
After sufficient time, invite students to share what they found. Make sure students understand the following truth: The Restoration of the gospel helps those who believe in Christ to increase in faith and overcome the calamities of the last days.
Read aloud the following statement by the Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–1844):
“[Prophets] have looked forward with joyful anticipation to the day in which we live; and fired with heavenly and joyful anticipations they have sung and written and prophesied of this our day” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 186).
Why might past prophets have looked forward to our day? (One idea students are likely to identify is that the Restoration will spread across the globe and prepare the world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.)
Display the following statement by President Gordon B. Hinckley, and ask several students to take turns reading it aloud:
“My brethren and sisters, do you realize what we have? Do you recognize our place in the great drama of human history? This is the focal point of all that has gone before. …
“… The latter-day work of the Almighty, that of which the ancients spoke, that of which the prophets and apostles prophesied, is come. It is here. For some reason unknown to us, but in the wisdom of God, we have been privileged to come to earth in this glorious age. …
“Given what we have and what we know, we ought to be a better people than we are. We ought to be more Christlike, more forgiving, more helpful and considerate to all around us.
“We stand on the summit of the ages, awed by a great and solemn sense of history. This is the last and final dispensation toward which all in the past has pointed. I bear testimony and witness of the reality and truth of these things” (“At the Summit of the Ages,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 74).
What thoughts and feelings does the statement “we stand on the summit of the ages” stir within you?
If it is not too personal, share an experience from your life that strengthened your testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
What can we do to show our gratitude for the Restoration of the gospel?