In the first volume of Doctrines of Salvation, tenth Mormon President Joseph Fielding Smith made it very clear that there is “no salvation without accepting Joseph Smith” (1:188). While some might think that Mormonism has matured and moved away from such a heretical notion, Mormon Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland assures us that this is not the case.
The April 2017 edition of New Era magazine, a publication geared for Mormon youth, reprinted a talk that Holland gave back on June 27, 2002 (the 158th anniversary of the death of Joseph Smith). Delivered to a group of new mission presidents, the talk was titled “Testify of the Restoration” and stressed the importance of Joseph Smith’s role in the salvation of not only Mormons but all mankind. After stating that the most important event in all of human history was the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Holland said,
“The next greatest accomplishment in making that atonement fully efficacious in the great plan of salvation was the appearance of the Father and the Son to the boy prophet Joseph Smith in the New York springtime of 1820. Had we never had what we have come to call ‘the Restoration,’ the great plan of salvation would have been forever thwarted, and the full blessings of the Atonement would not have reached most of God’s children, past, present, and future. . . Take away Joseph Smith and the First Vision, take away the events which followed, take away a direct restoration from heaven, and what do we have? We don’t have much—at least not enough to distinguish us from a thousand other good groups of people” (3-4).
Despite the fact that many Latter-day Saints continue to insist how they are Christians just like us, Holland does not hide the fact that in order to receive the full benefits of the atonement, it is necessary to add Joseph Smith to the mix. Regarding their claim to be Christian, Holland cautioned the members to be “careful and sensitive and kind as we must be in how we say it, we declare that we are dramatically different in quite a few particulars” (4).
Whereas Christians look to the New Testament as being completely sufficient regarding the way of salvation, Holland says it is not enough.
“The rock upon which the latter-day Church of Jesus Christ rests is not solely the revelation of Christ to Peter or to Adam or to Enoch or Moses or Abraham. It is the revelation of Christ to the Prophet Joseph Smith coupled with the revelation of Christ to Joseph Smith’s successor prophets and apostles, and indeed the revelation of Christ in the heart of each individual member of this Church” (5).
You can see why Mormons are so protective of the image of their founding prophet. Once Smith’s veneer of authority and virtue is stripped away, there is no reason to be loyal to the Mormon system. The task ahead is convincing Mormons who have come to this point (and there are many) that the New Testament demonstrates how Joseph Smith is not needed to make the atonement of Christ fully efficacious in the lives of Christian believers.
Bill McKeever, Mormonism Researched, May-June 2017