Joseph Smith and the democratization of religious worship

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In our elders quorum class today, we were discussing chapter 5 in the Howard W. Hunter Manual: Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration.

Typically, this topic tends to amount to running through a list of Joseph Smith’s accomplishments and how great of a prophet he was. (That’s how it went down in the Relief Society class today.) When I was preparing my lesson, I knew I wanted to approach it in a unique way because I knew it would garner better discussion, which ultimately results in better introspection.

When I came across this quote, I had a good idea how I wanted to approach the lesson:

When Joseph announced that he had seen a vision and had seen the Father and the Son, the query came to the minds and lips of the neighbors, the ministers, and the townspeople: “Is not this the farmer’s son?”

The following quote just a few paragraphs later closed the deal for me:

within God’s hands and under the direction of the Savior of the world, weak and simple things should come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones.

As a communist, I was intrigued by the idea that Joseph Smith—despite his flaws and regardless of how authentic he was in his actions—was a revolutionary in his day. That was something I hadn’t consider in much depth before.

The bulk of our conversation on the topic revolved around 2 ideas found in another quote in that chapter:

the claim that God had spoken, that Christ’s Church was again organized and its doctrines reaffirmed by divine revelation, was the most outstanding declaration made to the world since the days of the Savior himself when he walked the paths of Judea and the hills of Galilee.

There were 2 main ideas that Joseph Smith’s First Vision changed: God was a nebulous, formless entity distant from us and revelation had been closed off with the death of the 12 apostles. These principles solidified the position of religious leaders of the day to be the gatekeepers of biblical interpretation and gospel explication.

The First Vision shows us that God looks like us: he’s a glorified, perfect human who is intimately familiar with the mortal experience, which makes him highly approachable, the opposite of how he was treated by Christian sects of the time.

In addition, the First Vision showed us that God can speak to us. We don’t need religious leaders to counsel us on our individual beliefs and aspirations; we can skip the intermediaries and petition God directly.

This revolutionized religious worship. It empowered the people with autonomy over their own religious beliefs. In fact, this idea is encapsulated in one our Articles of Faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This leaves me with one question, however: if God could use Joseph Smith as a weak and simple thing to come forth and break down the control the religious establishment had over the people, how might we, too, be weak and simple things and what mighty and strong things might God have us break down?

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