Mormon Church History Overview
The history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) can be divided into eleven major parts dating from Joseph Smith’s First Vision to modern international growth. A brief description of each division follows:
The First Vision
This was the beginning of Christ’s Church in this dispensation. Christ’s Church and the proper priesthood authority were taken from the earth during what was known as the Great Apostasy. This great apostasy occurred after the apostles were killed and the early Christian church divided into sects with various beliefs. These sects have proliferated over the past hundreds of years, all mingling the philosophies of men with scripture. Then in 1820, Joseph Smith was concerned about religion and prayed to God to know which church to join. He saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, this was the beginning of the return of Christ’s Church to the earth.
Establishing Foundations of the Mormon Church
From the time of the First Vision to 1830, Joseph Smith received numerous revelations and visitations from heavenly messengers that showed him how to establish Christ’s Church correctly. Joseph Smith received and translated the Book of Mormon; he learned how to properly perform baptisms; the priesthood was restored; the Church was official organized; and the first Mormon missionaries were sent out to preach.
Kingdom in Kirtland, Ohio
In 1831, Joseph Smith arrived in Kirtland, Ohio. This became the official headquarters of the Church. The saints began construction on the Kirtland Temple, the first Mormon temple in this dispensation. Joseph Smith worked on a translation the Bible, and more than 70 revelations Joseph had received about Christ’s Church were prepared for printing. The law of consecration was also introduced.
Zion in Missouri
During the same time that many saints were in Ohio, a few were commanded to go to Missouri and establish a settlement. The area of Jackson County, Missouri, was revealed as being the center place of the New Jerusalem or Zion. Starting in 1833 the saints were heavily persecuted by their neighbors. Mobs drove them from their homes and businesses. The Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were put in jail, and there were numerous confrontations between the saints and their neighbors including the Battle of Crooked River and Haun’s Mill.
In 1839, the saints escaped from Missouri and the mobs to Illinois. They worked hard to drain the swampy land they had been allowed to buy and to build a city. Within four years the city of Nauvoo rivaled Illinois’ largest city, Chicago. Joseph Smith received revelations on temple work, especially the endowment, and the saints began work on the Nauvoo Temple. Joseph Smith also received the revelations now found in the Pearl of Great Price. On June 27, 1844, the women’s Relief Society was formed. While the Saints were in Nauvoo, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob.
Crossing the Plains
After the death of Joseph Smith, the saints were again persecuted, and leaders began discussing moving west. In February of 1846, many of the saints were forced from their homes and began the journey to Utah. While in Iowa, the U.S. government requested the Mormon Church provide 500 men for the Mexican War. These became known as the Mormon Battalion. Over two decades, nearly 62,000 Mormon pioneers crossed the plains to Utah.
In the late summer of 1847, the first group of saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. The group had nearly two thousand people. A late crop was planted and settlements were immediately started. The first year was hard, but by 1849, many small settlements were established, and Salt Lake City was growing. Brigham Young asked members to colonize different parts of the west including Utah, Southern Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Nevada, and California.
Trials and Testing
After Brigham Young died, persecution again plagued the saints. Much of the persecution was focused on the Mormon Church’s practice of polygamy, and was based on false rumors that the Saints were planning an insurrection. Many missionaries of the Church were persecuted as they preached in other parts of the U.S. At least three missionaries were killed by mobs, and many were beaten or ridiculed. This time was also a time of growth in temple work and missionary work. In 1890, polygamy was officially stopped as a practice in the Mormon Church.
The Expanding Mormon Church
This period covers 1901-1970 and four presidents of the Mormon Church: Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant, George Albert Smith, and David O. McKay. During this time nine temples were built, and membership grew from 300,000 members and 50 stakes in 1901 to 2,800,000 members and 500 stakes in 1970.
The Worldwide Mormon Church
This part of the Church’s history covers 1971-1985. The Mormon Church saw amazing growth outside of the U.S. The first stakes were established in Asia and Africa. More missionaries were sent out to preach and Missionary Training Centers were set up in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, and Japan. The priesthood was extended to all worthy males of the Church regardless of race in 1978.
The Present Day Church
The Mormon Church was allowed to preach and build temples in many countries that had previously been closed, such as the German Democratic Republic, Russia, Albania, Romania, Estonia, Hungary, the Ukraine, Latvia and many others. Members living outside of the U.S. finally outnumbered members living in the U.S. The number of temples reached over one hundred, and temples are being built in as many places as possible to make the ordinances available to all members. Membership continues to grow and is currently over 13 million.