During Jesus Christ’s ministry, He established His Church. He called apostles and prophets and gave them authority to act in His name and teach the gospel. This authority is the priesthood. In Luke 6:12-16 we are told that Jesus Christ chose apostles . . . “and it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; Simon, (whom he also named Peter,) and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called Zelotes, And Judas the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, which also was the traitor.” It is important to understand that the priesthood is not a group of priests, but the authority to act in the name of God. After Jesus Christ was crucified, the apostles and prophets he appointed continued to receive revelation for the Church and about the gospel. They recorded these things in the scriptures and taught them to the people. The apostles and prophets went into different lands to teach the gospel, but they were mostly rejected. Mormons believe that even some of the members of Jesus Christ’s Church began to fall away from the teachings of the gospel, as was recorded and predicted by the Apostle Paul.
Many of the apostles and righteous members of Jesus Christ’s Church were killed by the unbelieving, and the priesthood, along with Christ’s Church, was lost. Persecution of those who were termed Christians began in about the first century by the Roman Empire. By the end of the third century, monuments were built to memorialize the extinction of Christians. Revelation could no longer be received for the Church as a body, because there was no one with true authority to receive it. Because men were not able to receive revelation and understanding from God, they began to rely on their own wisdom to interpret scriptures and Jesus Christ’s teachings. This caused much confusion and false ideas about God, Christ, and His Church.
Fragments of Jesus Christ’s Church were all that remained and doctrine was often mixed with pagan practices or the practices of other religions. The world fell into apostasy, which means that the truth of the gospel was not on the earth. There were no prophets to lead the people, and man was left to his own wisdom. This does not mean that God and Jesus Christ completely ignored mankind. There were times that men were guided to certain places or ideas. Members of the Mormon Church, for instance, believe that Christopher Columbus was led to the Americas by the Spirit and that the discovery of the Americas was instrumental in God’s plan for us. The new land provided a place where a new government could arise, a government that had built into its framework a tolerance for all religions. Mormons also believe many of the reformers of religion, such as Martin Luther, were inspired of God.
The restoration of the Jesus Christ’s Church came about through Joseph Smith. In 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) was organized officially, and the Great Apostasy ended. The authority to act in God’s name had been restored. Now there are again apostles on the earth, and a prophet who guides the Church through revelation and the power of the priesthood.