The Savior’s original Church–or Church of Jesus Christ–had definitive characteristics by which it was identified and by which it operated. If a church today claims to be the true of Jesus Christ, we can assume that church would mirror those characteristics and patterns of operation. By the same token, if a church is missing those features or is marked by man-made doctrines mixed with original patterns, we would have to assume that church is not holding the fulness of Christ’s teachings or plan. That would be important to know, since it affects not only the meaning of our lives and the view of life in the here and now, it affects our eternal destinies.
From the Bible, at least 5 essential characteristics were present in the Savior’s original church:
- Priesthood of God: Authority to Act in God’s Name & Successive Ordination
- 12 Apostles
- Recognizes the Apostasy Predicted Biblically and Need for Restoration
1. Church of Jesus Christ: Priesthood of God
The apostles were called by the Savior into His ministry by an ordinance called the “laying on of hands.” A man already holding the priesthood of God would lay his hands on another man’s head and ordain him, transferring the priesthood power to him through that sacred ordinance. Men didn’t just randomly hear a call from God and declare themselves pastors and form churches. Jesus Christ told his disciples in John 15:16, for instance, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you…”
The Bible is full of examples of people who tried to use priesthood power when they weren’t entitled to it because they hadn’t been ordained. Acts 19:13-16 tells us about the seven sons of Sceva who tried to cast evil spirits out of a man in the name of Jesus without holding the priesthood. Or consider what happened in Acts 19, 1-6, when Paul came to Ephesus; he found people there who had been baptized by someone who lacked authority. And what did Paul do? He baptized them again because he knew it was necessary that they be baptized by someone who held true priesthood authority. Can you trace, in your church, your priesthood authority directly back to Jesus Christ?
One characteristic of Christ’s New Testament Church was that its prophets received direct revelation from God. A prophet is God’s mouthpiece; he receives and reveals God’s will to the people at large, while individuals receive personal revelation for their individual lives and stewardships. When a prophet truly prophesies the word of God, that prophecy is revelation.
Continuing revelation is vital–it’s God speaking to man. It was in the New Testament Church and it is now. Paul certainly understood that. In Galatians 1:11-12 he wrote:
But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
When new revelation is written down, and formally accepted by the church, it becomes scripture. Revelations to the early Church were recorded and became new scripture–parts of the New Testament. In all ages, the existence of scripture and acceptance of new scripture or revelation is one way to tell if a church really does receive revelation and have prophets.
3. Twelve Apostles
The Savior’s Church was clearly built on a foundation of twelve apostles. Paul, when writing to new church members in Ephesus, taught them this principle. He said in Ephesians 2:19-20:
Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
Significantly, in Acts, one of the eleven apostles was replaced. This illustrates the Savior’s teaching and pattern of having a quorum of twelve apostles (as in The Church of Jesus Christ today [errantly called by the media The Mormon Church]). After Judas betrayed the Savior and took his own life, there was a vacancy in the call of an apostle. Two men were identified as worthy: Barnabas and Matthias. The Church had grown by then and the Savior could have easily called both of them to be apostles if He desired, but He didn’t. The apostles knew that the membership of the quorum was to be fixed at twelve, so they chose only one. So, we read in Acts 1 that Matthias was “numbered with the eleven apostles. Another characteristic of the true Church is a foundation of twelve apostles.
4. Prophets–Spokesmen for God
The apostles were also prophets in the sense that they were authorized to receive revelation on His behalf to guide the Church. In addition, Jesus stood at the helm of the Church as its living Head and prophet. Just as Moses, Elijah, Abraham and others were prophets in His absence, the Savior indicated that there again would be prophets when He ascended, during the restitution of all things. In Amos 3:7, He indicates that “surely the Lord God will do nothing but he revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets.” Authorized prophets are needed as God’s spokesmen on earth today just as they were necessary in Old Testament and New Testament times.
5. Recognizes universal apostasy
After Jesus Christ was crucified, persecution intensified against the Church. Within the next several decades, enemies of the church slew the apostles and other leaders, inflicting horrible deaths upon them. As their lives were taken, the chain of ordinations was broken and continuity of Church leadership was interrupted. Soon there were no longer twelve apostles. Without this chain of ordained apostles through whom revelation from God and authority to act in He name came, false beliefs and practices emerged and crept into the church. Eventually the priesthood was lost and the church was no longer the Church of Jesus Christ as He built it–it was one, as Paul described it, now “having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof.” Other changes and deformed doctrines emerged, including a changed concept of the nature of God, the worship of saints and of the Virgin Mary, baptism by sprinkling, celibacy, the rosary, the dogma of papal infallibility, the doctrine of purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the Spanish inquisition, and much more. This was all prophesied. And so, too, was a full restoration (not Reformation) of truth. Mormons testify that the full truth was restored to the earth, and the Church of Jesus Christ has been re-established in our day.
As you examine your own spiritual journey and the church you attend, you might ask yourself these questions:
Does it believe in revelation, continuing revelation?
Does it have a living prophet?
Does it have twelve apostles?
Does it have a valid chain of priesthood ordinations back to Jesus Christ?
Does it accept the Biblical doctrines of apostasy and all of its implications?
The Church of Jesus Christ exists to help us become sanctified through God’s power. It is not possible in full without His authority and power; without it, one goes through the form of godliness without connecting to the power source, as if using artificial light rather than the light of the sun. Those who live according to the light they have will receive more light so the honest in heart of any faith will grow in their journey. But as we grow, we ought to consider where salvation really lies–and consider which church really professes rightfully a restoration of all of the Savior’s pure teachings and His authority to sanctify His people and bring them into the kingdom of God.
We invite you to visit a Mormon meetinghouse, more accurately known as a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.