When I got a notification in late November in my podcasts app, it really felt like Christmas came early. A new episode from The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast was titled, “New Podcast Mini-Series Announcement.”
Now for a bit of background, I listen to a lot of podcasts, but the First Vision podcast is the only podcast I’ve ever listened to more than once. When the host, Spencer McBride, came to the office for an interview for our podcast All In, I felt like I was meeting a celebrity who completely changed my understanding of a transformative event in Church history.
So when I got a notification of a new podcast mini-series coming from the Joseph Smith Papers, to say I was excited would be an understatement. I was instantly enthralled with the topic The Priesthood Restored, and anxiously awaited its release.
I’ve since listened to all six episodes in the mini-series, and once again I learned so much from McBride and the historians featured on the podcast. At the beginning of the first episode, McBride starts by talking about the year 1829:
It was a momentous year for Joseph Smith. According to his history, in May of that year an angel visited him and Oliver Cowdery and conferred upon them priesthood authority. Other angelic appearances followed, bringing additional authority and instructions. But to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, priesthood restoration started with this event in 1829.
But what if I told you that the history of the restoration of the priesthood was more than a sequence of angelic encounters and revelations? Those are an essential part of the story, of course, but these iconic moments really fit into a much larger context. Surviving historical records demonstrate that it was only with time and experience that Joseph Smith and other church members began to fully grasp the scope and role of priesthood in the Church.
So in a way, when we talk about the history of the restoration of the priesthood, we are talking about a prolonged process as much as we are a historical event.
This podcast allows listeners to embark on a journey to discover the prolonged process of the restoration of the priesthood. As I did so, I learned things that deepened my own understanding of the priesthood and the role it can play in my life. Here are just six of my takeaways from the mini-series.
1. Understanding religious authority wasn’t just a question for Latter-day Saints.
The first episode of the podcast examines the context of the world in which Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery lived in. Christopher Jones, an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, explains how other religions perceived authority. He even notes how authority affected the names of various churches:
If the Methodist Episcopal Church indicated rule by bishops, the Presbyterian Church and its name indicated the authority of elders, presbyter being the Greek word for “elder.” Meanwhile, the Congregational Church’s name reflected its adherence and insistence that religious authority operated most powerfully and most authoritatively at the local or congregational level. Meanwhile, groups like the Baptists assumed names for their church based on their belief in the correct or authoritative religious practice of baptism.
As I listened to the episode, I realized that many churches of the time were trying to find authority. And for me, that made the significance of John the Baptist appearing to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery and giving them the authority to baptize became even more important, as I’m sure it was to them.
2. Record keeping in the early Church happened with varying success.
Matthew Godfrey, the managing historian and a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, shares an insight in the second episode of the podcast about an 1835 meeting when the Apostles were called. This meeting was held six years after the restoration of the priesthood:
When the Twelve Apostles are called in 1835, the first meeting that Joseph has with them, he bemoans the lack of record keeping that has occurred in the Church at that time. He says this to the Twelve Apostles: “I have for myself learned a fact by experience which on reflection gives me deep sorrow. It is a truth that if I now had in my possession every decision which has been given upon important items of doctrine and duties since the rise of this church, they would be of incalculable worth to the Saints, but we have neglected to keep record of such things.”
And so, he’s telling the Twelve Apostles, you need to keep better records than we’ve kept up to this point. So, I think Joseph recognized that the Church hadn’t really kept records of important events as much as they should have up to that point.
There are many things we don’t know about early Church history, and I appreciate that Joseph Smith acknowledged that these things would have been of worth to the Saints. But I also like what Robin Jensen, an associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, explains:
There is a difference between historical ambiguity and eternal truth. I can have a strong testimony of something and still not know everything there is to know about it. And so, when we look to the early restoration of the priesthood, there are going to be a lot of questions because we don’t have the records that we wish that we would have had.
If the restoration of the priesthood would have happened in the mid-1830s, we would have many more answers because they kept different kinds of records. We had Joseph Smith keeping a journal by 1832. I wonder what would have happened if the restoration of the priesthood happened just a couple years later. We would have answers that we don’t have now, but those questions should not scare us.
We may not ever have all of the answers to our questions regarding the restoration of the priesthood, but not knowing everything does not change the truth that the priesthood was restored and blesses our lives today.
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3. The exercise of priesthood authority is a central part of our worship.
The third episode of the podcast really dives into what we know, and what we don’t know, about the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. One insight I had when I listened to the episode was when McBride talks about the first meeting of the Church:
On the Whitmer’s farm in Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830, several men and women assembled, many of whom had previously been baptized. Joseph and five others officially organized the Church and then proceeded with the business he and Oliver were commanded to conduct months earlier. With the sanction of those assembled, they ordained each other elders and were accepted by the congregation as the first and second elders of the Church, respectively.
The sacrament was administered for those in attendance, and many who had been baptized were confirmed members of the Church and received the gift of the Holy Ghost. Others were baptized at the conclusion of the meeting. So, from the very first meeting of the Church in 1830, the exercise of priesthood authority was a central component of worship.
In my notes, I wrote down that “the exercise of priesthood authority was a central component of worship.” I love that although so much has changed in the Church since that first Church meeting over 175 years ago, the exercise of priesthood authority remains a central part of our worship.
4. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wasn’t right next to the First Presidency in terms of authority at first.
Perhaps this insight stuck out to me because shortly thereafter I had stake conference where we sustained the First Presidency, and then right after that, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. I had no idea that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wasn’t always right next to the First Presidency in terms of authority until I listened to the fourth episode. Godfrey explains how after the Apostles returned from their successful mission in England, Joseph started to recognize what the Quorum could provide:
Brigham Young was the one as the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was really responsible for seeing that the Saints were able to get out of Missouri and into Illinois after they were expelled from Missouri. Because of course, Joseph Smith is in jail at this time. He can’t really do anything for that, so he delegates that to Brigham Young, and Brigham does a great job of making sure that all the Saints are taken care of.
And so I think Joseph recognizes kind of the administrative abilities that those in the Twelve had. And so, at a conference that’s held in 1841, Joseph tells the Church that it’s now time for the Twelve to take their place next to the First Presidency. And that’s where you really see the Twelve begin to develop as one of the major central administrative bodies of the Church.
Throughout this episode, I learned how priesthood structure has been revealed over time and that revelation on the priesthood did not end with the first meeting of the Church in April 1830.
5. Helvecio Martins’ faith was exemplary.
My favorite episode in the mini-series is episode five. The episode dives into adjustments to the priesthood organization, including the racial restriction on priesthood ordination. The episode shares the story of Helvecio Martins.
Helvecio Martins’s story is related by his son, Marcus Martins. The São Paulo Brazil Temple was announced in 1975 and Helvecio Martins, a Black member of the Church, was called to be the chair of the Public Affairs Committee in 1976.
“At that point, there was absolutely no sign that we would be allowed in that temple, and yet he was called to be the chair of the Public Affairs Committee for the dedication, which meant that he was the one contacting the press, fielding questions, which he did,” his son explains on the episode.
In June 1978, the Church announced the revelation on the priesthood. The temple was dedicated just a few months later. I found Helvecio Martins's faith so exemplary. He accepted a calling and fulfilled it even before he knew he would be allowed to receive the blesssings of the temple himself. And the faith of the Martins family didn't end there. On the Joseph Smith Papers podcast episode, McBride shares:
Marcus’s father Helvecio received the priesthood and served as a bishop, a stake president, and a mission president before being called to the Second Quorum of the Seventy in 1990, the first General Authority of Black ancestry. And Marcus, shortly after President’s Kimball announcement, similarly received the priesthood and became the first Latter-day Saint of Black ancestry to serve a mission in the twentieth century.
My piece of advice for this episode? Don’t listen to this episode in public because it is such a powerful and beautiful story, it may make you cry as it did me while I was out on a walk.
6. The priesthood is delicate.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles joins McBride for the final episode. A quote from him has caused deep reflection for me since I heard it:
The restoration of the priesthood by heavenly messengers signifies that the priesthood that we have is not man-made. It isn’t derived from studying things out and then having an “aha” moment and then claiming the priesthood. It is from heaven, and so it’s been given to priesthood bearers on earth to then use. And because it came from heaven, it is not man-made, and it is pure and it’s powerful. But that leads to another point, is that it’s delicate. We know that no power or influence can or ought to be exercised by virtue of the priesthood except using Christlike attributes. And so, it’s a very delicate power to use. Man can corrupt it, and if man does corrupt it by doing anything for self gain, it shifts it from being real priesthood to being priestcraft. It’s delicate.
As I’ve thought about this quote, I’ve considered if I am treating the priesthood power in my life as delicate. The fact that heavenly messengers restored the priesthood shows how important it really is. Do I treat it with that same sacredness in my life? As I've asked myself that question, it's changed how I feel about this gift from heaven.
How to Listen
The Joseph Smith Papers team once again has produced a fascinating podcast, and I look forward to listening to it again and learning more from it. These are just six of the many beautiful takeaways within the series.
You can find the podcast in any of the following locations:
- Joseph Smith Papers website (with transcripts)
- Gospel Library App
- Latter-day Saints Channel
- Google Play
- RSS Feed