The main reason for doing this is to reinforce to Mormons the importance of Jesus Christ in their religion. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Mormon Church, made this sweeping declaration about the centrality of Christ in Mormonism:
“The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (“Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2007), 45–56)
Another reason is to communicate this fact to people who are not Mormons. For various reasons, people are not aware that Mormons are Christians. Part of it may have to do with the name “Mormon,” which is not really a name, but a nickname. The correct name of the church is “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” This name was a revelation from God.
The confusion may also arise form a statement from Brigham Young, the second president of the Mormon Church. He once said something that some people—not members of the Mormon Church, to be sure—have understood to mean that Mormons worship Joseph Smith.
Here is the quote:
“I want to talk a little more about the witnesses. I am a witness—of what? I have told it here and in Nauvoo. I know what I am a witness of, and I know my Apostleship. I am a witness that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. What an uproar it would make in the Christian world to say, I am an Apostle of Joseph. Write it down, and write it back to your friends in the east, that I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith. He was a man of God and had the revelations of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus Christ to the people. He did build and establish the kingdom of God on earth, and through him the Lord Almighty again restored the Priesthood to the children of men.” (February 17, 1856, Journal of Discourses 3:212)
It’s that part about being an apostle of Joseph Smith that causes this misunderstanding. Yes, he did make the statement, but no, it is not being understood properly.
There is a joke about a philosopher who once wrote a book called What Plato Said. Then he had to write a longer follow-up book called What Plato Meant. What a person says and what a person means can sometimes be very different things.
This is what Brigham Young meant.
First, keep in mind that the quote is taken out of context. Brigham Young lived seventy-six years, and spent thirty of those years as president of the church. Plus he was also territorial governor for Utah. So over time he said a lot of things on a lot of subjects, to varied audiences, with specific intents in mind.
In this instance he was talking to Mormons about the importance of Joseph Smith laying the groundwork that he, Brigham Young, built upon. Mormons view Joseph Smith as a dispensation head, or a leader for an era of time. For example, Moses got the Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch, and from Moses to John the Baptist, all prophets—Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, etc.—worked within the framework that Moses laid.
Similarly, Brigham Young believed (as all Mormons do) that he was working within the context of Joseph Smith’s mission. As the later prophets in the Old Testament followed Moses’ pattern, so too would Brigham Young and the later Mormon prophets work within Joseph Smith’s pattern.
One of the revelations to Joseph Smith sums up this idea:
“Behold, verily I say unto you, I have reserved those things which I have entrusted unto you, my servant Joseph, for a wise purpose in me, and it shall be made known unto future generations; But this generation shall have my word through you.” (D&C 5:9-10)
The emphasis is on “this generation shall have my word through you.” He was to be a witness of Christ, leader, and foundation-layer for all that would follow.
This is a bit of a technical matter. For a longer treatment of this subject, read this talk by Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie called “Joseph Smith: A Revealer of Christ.” (Click Here)
The second point is that Brigham Young, in affirming that he was an apostle of Joseph Smith, was in no way denying that he was also an apostle of Jesus Christ. Reread these sentences:
“I am a witness that Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. What an uproar it would make in the Christian world to say, I am an Apostle of Joseph. Write it down, and write it back to your friends in the east, that I am an Apostle of Joseph Smith. He was a man of God and had the revelations of Jesus Christ, and the words of Jesus Christ to the people.” (emphasis added.)
This statement is further clarified by another statement Brigham Young said where he rephrases the idea:
“I am Brigham Young, an Apostle of Joseph Smith, and also of Jesus Christ. If I have been profitable to this people, I am glad of it. The brethren call me so; and if it be so, I am glad.” (October 6, 1857, Journal of Discourses 5:296)
So it is not accurate to use these quotes to “prove” that Mormons worship Joseph Smith. And it is not an “either-or,” but a “both-and” affair because Joseph Smith is a revealer of Christ. To be an apostle of Joseph Smith is also to be an apostle of Jesus Christ. To be one is to be the other.
The Mormon Church’s official position on Jesus Christ is found in this statement released January 2000:
As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago, we offer our testimony of the reality of His matchless life and the infinite virtue of His great atoning sacrifice. None other has had so profound an influence upon all who have lived and will yet live upon the earth.
He was the Great Jehovah of the Old Testament, the Messiah of the New. Under the direction of His Father, He was the creator of the earth. “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Though sinless, He was baptized to fulfill all righteousness. He “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38), yet was despised for it. His gospel was a message of peace and goodwill. He entreated all to follow His example. He walked the roads of Palestine, healing the sick, causing the blind to see, and raising the dead. He taught the truths of eternity, the reality of our premortal existence, the purpose of our life on earth, and the potential for the sons and daughters of God in the life to come.
He instituted the sacrament as a reminder of His great atoning sacrifice. He was arrested and condemned on spurious charges, convicted to satisfy a mob, and sentenced to die on Calvary’s cross. He gave His life to atone for the sins of all mankind. His was a great vicarious gift in behalf of all who would ever live upon the earth.
We solemnly testify that His life, which is central to all human history, neither began in Bethlehem nor concluded on Calvary. He was the Firstborn of the Father, the Only Begotten Son in the flesh, the Redeemer of the world.
He rose from the grave to “become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20). As Risen Lord, He visited among those He had loved in life. He also ministered among His “other sheep” (John 10:16) in ancient America. In the modern world, He and His Father appeared to the boy Joseph Smith, ushering in the long-promised “dispensation of the fulness of times” (Ephesians 1:10).
Of the Living Christ, the Prophet Joseph wrote: “His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:
“I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father” (D&C 110:3–4).
Of Him the Prophet also declared: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!
“For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father—
“That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:22–24).
We declare in words of solemnity that His priesthood and His Church have been restored upon the earth—“built upon the foundation of . . . apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
We testify that He will someday return to earth. “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him. Each of us will stand to be judged of Him according to our works and the desires of our hearts.
We bear testimony, as His duly ordained Apostles—that Jesus is the Living Christ, the immortal Son of God. He is the great King Immanuel, who stands today on the right hand of His Father. He is the light, the life, and the hope of the world. His way is the path that leads to happiness in this life and eternal life in the world to come. God be thanked for the matchless gift of His divine Son. (The Living Christ)
(To see a multimedia clip that explains the role of Jesus Christ is Mormonism, click here.)
The Mormon Church’s official position on Joseph Smith is found in this eulogy written by John Taylor, the third president of the Mormon Church:
To seal the testimony of this book and the Book of Mormon, we announce the martyrdom of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and Hyrum Smith the Patriarch. They were shot in Carthage jail, on the 27th of June, 1844, about five o’clock p.m., by an armed mob—painted black—of from 150 to 200 persons. Hyrum was shot first and fell calmly, exclaiming: I am a dead man! Joseph leaped from the window, and was shot dead in the attempt, exclaiming: O Lord my God! They were both shot after they were dead, in a brutal manner, and both received four balls.
John Taylor and Willard Richards, two of the Twelve, were the only persons in the room at the time; the former was wounded in a savage manner with four balls, but has since recovered; the latter, through the providence of God, escaped, without even a hole in his robe.
Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain. He lived great, and he died great in the eyes of God and his people; and like most of the Lord’s anointed in ancient times, has sealed his mission and his works with his own blood; and so has his brother Hyrum. In life they were not divided, and in death they were not separated!
When Joseph went to Carthage to deliver himself up to the pretended requirements of the law, two or three days previous to his assassination, he said: “I am going like a lamb to the slaughter; but I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men. I SHALL DIE INNOCENT, AND IT SHALL YET BE SAID OF ME—HE WAS MURDERED IN COLD BLOOD.”—The same morning, after Hyrum had made ready to go—shall it be said to the slaughter? yes, for so it was—he read the following paragraph, near the close of the twelfth chapter of Ether, in the Book of Mormon, and turned down the leaf upon it:
And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness, thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. And now I . . . bid farewell unto the Gentiles; yea, and also unto my brethren whom I love, until we shall meet before the judgment–seat of Christ, where all men shall know that my garments are not spotted with your blood. The testators are now dead, and their testament is in force.
Hyrum Smith was forty–four years old in February, 1844, and Joseph Smith was thirty–eight in December, 1843; and henceforward their names will be classed among the martyrs of religion; and the reader in every nation will be reminded that the Book of Mormon, and this book of Doctrine and Covenants of the church, cost the best blood of the nineteenth century to bring them forth for the salvation of a ruined world; and that if the fire can scathe a green tree for the glory of God, how easy it will burn up the dry trees to purify the vineyard of corruption. They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward. From age to age shall their names go down to posterity as gems for the sanctified.
They were innocent of any crime, as they had often been proved before, and were only confined in jail by the conspiracy of traitors and wicked men; and their innocent blood on the floor of Carthage jail is a broad seal affixed to “Mormonism” that cannot be rejected by any court on earth, and their innocent blood on the escutcheon of the State of Illinois, with the broken faith of the State as pledged by the governor, is a witness to the truth of the everlasting gospel that all the world cannot impeach; and their innocent blood on the banner of liberty, and on the magna charta of the United States, is an ambassador for the religion of Jesus Christ, that will touch the hearts of honest men among all nations; and their innocent blood, with the innocent blood of all the martyrs under the altar that John saw, will cry unto the Lord of Hosts till he avenges that blood on the earth. Amen. (D&C 135:1-7)
(For a multimedia clip about the life of Joseph Smith, click here)
Mormons revere Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith. But we worship one, and honor the other. One was God, one was man, and I love them both.