‘If someone asked you why the priesthood restoration was so significant, what would you say?’ Joseph Smith Papers historian answers


Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in February 2021.

Have you ever had a mental flashback to something that happened years earlier? For me, these flashbacks often include a singular moment from my time as a missionary. It is often something I hadn’t thought about in years, but all of the sudden I will be taken back to that time and place. I had one of these moments last week when I was seemingly transported back to an apartment in Pasco, Washington, into the home of a family I came to love. The mother’s name was Alma, and one night we were teaching her about the Great Apostasy. We explained to Alma that when Christ was on the earth, He gave His Apostles the priesthood—the authority to bless and baptize, among other things—but that this authority was eventually taken from the earth. 

And then Alma said something that stopped me in my tracks. She essentially said, “And that’s where we are now.” It hit me for the first time that there are people in this world that truly believe we remain in the darkness of that Great Apostasy. In that instant, I felt this urgency and excitement to tell Alma that this authority had actually been restored to the earth with all of its light. To me, this is the significance of what we study this week in Come, Follow Me. It is something worthy of celebration. 

Last week, I was able to interview Spencer McBride, host of the Joseph Smith Papers’ new podcast, The Priesthood Restored, to talk with him about what he learned as he spent hundreds of hours studying the restoration of the priesthood. He emphasized that while the restoration of the priesthood as it pertains to the organization of the Church was absolutely essential, it is also important that we ponder how the restoration of the priesthood has directly impacted our personal lives. 

McBride emphasized that while the restoration of the priesthood has blessed millions of lives, the catalyst for its restoration was Joseph Smith’s individual desire to be baptized.   

“When he went into the Sacred Grove in 1820 to ask which church to join, I really think he thought he was going to be told to join this church or that church. He did not think the answer would be none of them. And I don’t think, even after he left the grove in 1820, that he had any idea that he would be the one restoring the Church,” McBride said. “Even when he asked about the restoration of the priesthood—about the authority to baptize—it’s because he wanted to be baptized. So much of the story of the restoration of the Church—yes, it’s about the Church—but it’s about the restoration of blessings into the lives of men and women. The Church doesn’t save us, the Church exists to help bring us to Christ. The priesthood doesn’t save us, but the priesthood exists to help bring us closer to Christ.” 

McBride invited listeners to ask the questions, “What does this bring into our lives? Why did God need this authority? Why did God need these ordinances in our lives at this time?”  

“We’re good at the obvious,” he said. “We love to have priesthood blessings from a father or brother or a minister. Those are good, but think deeper. What does the ordinance of baptism bring into my life? Not just in the moment I was baptized, but in the days, weeks, months, years that follow. What do the ordinances of the temple bring into my life? We believe they’re necessary for exaltation—but on a daily basis, what are these ordinances bringing into my life?” 

In reality, these questions are at the root of our missionary message to the world—a message that McBride says should be less focused on the question of which church to join and instead should be centered on why and how a church can bless people's lives.

“I really don’t think it’s about who can sign up for the right church,” McBride said, later adding, “The Church is about bringing the power of godliness into our lives, about helping us come unto Christ. So yeah, the question, ‘Which church?’ matters, but more important than that is what the Church can do for men and women in their daily lives to help them come unto Christ.”

So, as you study Come, Follow Me this week, I hope you’ll join me in thinking about what it would be like if we were hearing this message of a restored gospel for the first time—what it would mean to know that we are not in a period of darkness but one full of gospel light. For me, this knowledge means I have never felt forsaken by God and that I have confidence that God’s authority is alive and well because we are members of a living truth. I hope we’ll also take the chance to consider the ways the restored priesthood has allowed us to see and feel the power of godliness throughout our lives. It is something we should be excited to tell everyone around us—it is something worth celebrating, even if only in our prayers tonight.   

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