Central to Mormonism is the story that truth was slowly lost after Christ came to earth. An apostasy occurred, necessitating that the true church be restored by Joseph Smith in the last days. This account, however, rests on the assumption that there ever was a moment when people understood the “truth.”
Reading through the Old Testament books–books that were written after Christ’s death rather than first hand–I’m struck by how frequently the writers reveal their own lack of surety. In numerous instances, writers record how they only see through a glass darkly, the apostles are depicted as not understanding the parables, we learn that people cannot see the Light.
Nor did there appear to be a clear blueprint for a church. We see disciples, principally Paul, making administrative decisions as new circumstances arise. We see humans attempting to fit Christ’s messages into an organization that Christ appeared to spend relatively little time setting up. Indeed, Christ didn’t seem particularly interested in ensuring the transmission of divine knowledge.
What I’m proposing is that the accounts in the New Testament challenge the idea that there ever was a prior moment when there was a consensus about Christ’s gospel. Instead of apostasy, we see in the New Testament and beyond people struggling from the beginning to turn Christ’s life into a unified message, but acknowledging throughout the limits of their knowledge.
Seen through this lens, the latter-day restoration is not so much a restoration of past knowledge, though we acknowledge a literal restoration of the priesthood (a subject beyond the scope of this post), but the addition of new knowledge to help us as we still press forward in relative darkness about God.