by Sharon Lindbloom
8 May 2023
M. Russell Ballard, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently gave an address to church members and missionaries in Canada. Church News reports that in his talk, President Ballard identified “the most remarkable thing in the history of the world.”
As a self-identified apostle of Jesus Christ, one might expect President Ballard to align his teaching with that of the biblical apostles who found the most remarkable thing in history to be Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:1-2). But this is not what President Ballard pointed to when he told his listeners of “the most thrilling and most profound and most exhilarating message that I know of.”
He didn’t echo the incredible message of John 1:14, that God Himself became flesh and dwelt among us.
Or Luke 19:10, that Jesus came to seek and save the lost.
Or John 1:29-30, that Jesus takes away the sin of the world.
Or the beloved message of John 3:16, that God has such great love for the world that He sent His Son to save us.
The Old Testament prophet Ezekiel proclaimed a pretty remarkable and profound message when he recorded that God is willing and able to remove a person’s heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). But this is not the message that President Ballard finds most thrilling and exhilarating.
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah recorded a message that was so important — so utterly remarkable — that he wrote about it 800 years before it happened. Here God tells us that Jesus would bear our griefs and carry our sorrows. He would be crushed for our iniquities and His punishment would bring us peace and healing (Isaiah 53:4-6). And indeed it did — and does (see Matthew 8:17; Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 2:24).
But President Ballard didn’t talk about that. The thing that President Ballard finds the most remarkable and thrilling in all of world history isn’t mentioned even once by the Old Testament prophets or the New Testament apostles. For President Ballard and, by extension, the LDS church,
“The most remarkable thing in the history of the world happened in the Sacred Grove in 1820,” he said. “The heavens opened…That is our message…This is the true Church of Jesus Christ…Our message is the most thrilling and most profound and most exhilarating message that I know of.” (Church News, “President Ballard testifies of ‘the most remarkable thing in the history of the world’ during weekend ministry visit to Canada”)
In Mormonism, Joseph Smith’s First Vision takes the number one spot.
Given the truly remarkable messages that the biblical apostles proclaimed (some of which are highlighted above), the First Vision is an unusual thing for an “apostle of Jesus Christ” to identify as the most profound message he knows of. It’s not a message proclaiming the amazing truth that a holy God has reconciled sinful people to Himself through the atonement of Jesus Christ; it’s a message about Joseph Smith and the LDS church. To me, it’s quite feeble in comparison.
But it’s not surprising. LDS leaders have taught that the validity of the Mormon church is tightly and inseparably tied to Joseph Smith’s First Vision. “Nothing we live by is of greater importance,” said Mormonism’s 15th prophet Gordon B. Hinckley (“What Are People Asking About Us?” Ensign, 11/98, 70-71). So, unlike biblical apostles, LDS apostles must turn the great message away from “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” to the so-called Restoration — the “great work that [Joseph Smith] brought to pass.” (“President Ballard testifies of ‘the most remarkable thing in the history of the world’ during weekend ministry visit to Canada: The Message of the Restoration”)
But Joseph Smith’s First Vision, though touted as “the most remarkable thing in the history of the world,” is historically very unstable with no objective evidence to support the idea that it ever actually occurred. The official version of the vision can be found in the LDS scripture, Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith—History. Yet this canonized version of the story differs in significant ways from the other eight recorded versions, all of which differ from one another in very important details.
Joseph Smith stated that he went into the woods to pray on that spring day in 1820 because he was confused about religion due to a revival taking place in his community. The First Vision was the answer to Joseph’s prayer. However, historical records show that no revival fitting Joseph’s detailed description occurred there in 1820.
Of further note is the fact that the narrative of Joseph Smith speaking with God the Father and Jesus Christ in the spring of 1820 was apparently unknown to non-Mormons (including critics of the church) and general church membership until the 1840s, more than 20 years after it supposedly happened. According to James Allen, a past LDS church historian, for the early Mormon church the First Vision story “certainly did not hold the prominent place in Mormon thought that it does today” (“The significance of Joseph Smith’s ‘First Vision’ in Mormon Thought’”).
Other points of the story are likewise incompatible with historical records.
The validity of Mormonism hinges on the First Vision story. “That is our message,” President Ballard said, “the most thrilling and most profound and most exhilarating message” of which he knows. How tragic this is. President Ballard either doesn’t know or doesn’t fully value the amazing biblical message of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ Jesus. Instead, his hope and joy are found in Joseph Smith and the First Vision story.
MRM’s Bill McKeever has duly observed the sad truth that in Mormonism, “The most remarkable thing in the history of the world never happened.”
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