Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Vermont. When he was ten years old his parents moved to Palmyra, New York. Joseph Smith, in his "testimony," claims that in 1820 there was a great deal of "revival" preaching being done by area Methodists and Baptists. Actually, the revival did not start till 1823. Smith was wrong about the date, just like he was about so many other things.
Joseph Smith claimed that one day in 1820, when he was just 15 years old, he was in the woods praying to God. Mormons refer to this place in the woods as "the Sacred Grove."
"...I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me ... When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other 'This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!' My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right -- and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight..." (Joseph Smith, The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, pp. 4-5).
"There in that secluded place, in the most dramatic revelation since biblical times, God and his Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to the boy and gave him instructions. He was commanded to join none of the existing churches and was told that God would restore to earth the Church originally organized by Jesus Christ, with all of its truths and priesthood authority." ("History," www.lds.org).
If Smith had really received such a vision, we would expect that he would have nothing to do with other churches after this. And yet, Volume 2 of the "Session Records" for the Western Presbyterian church in Palmyra shows that the Smiths were still active members in 1828 -- eight years after "First Vision." They were suspended as members of the Presbyterian Church in 1830 because they had neglected "public worship and the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper." There is also evidence that Smith attempted to join the Methodist church in June 1828, but was dropped by the local circuit rider because of Smith's low moral character and occupation as a necromancer and dealer of enchantments.
All of this raises the question, "Did anyone take the story of the first vision seriously?" The answer is no, not even his family. Smith also claimed that on September 21, 1823, the angel Moroni appeared to him and disclosed the location of a partially buried box containing golden plates in the "reformed Egyptian tongue" together with two stones used for translating the plates. "He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it; as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants." (The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony, p. 10).
Four years later Smith claimed to have removed the plates from Hill Cumorah, and after three years of translating through a curtain, Smith published The Book of Mormon in 1830. He claimed at an angel recovered plates and they no longer exist on earth. The book claims to contain the religious writings of civilizations in Ancient America between 2200 B.C. and A.D. 421. It claims to give an eyewitness account of the ministry of Jesus Christ on the American continent following His resurrection in Jerusalem.
"Latter-day Saints also consider the Book of Mormon to be a record of great Ancient-American civilizations. According to the record, one of these civilizations stemmed from a man named Lehi who left Jerusalem with his family around 600 B.C. They traveled to the sea, built a boat and continued over sea to the Americas. Following the party's arrival in the New World, growing disharmony caused family groups to fragment into clans that evolved eventually into two opposing nations. Conflicts ensued during the recorded 1,000 years, leading to the eventual demise of one of these nations. Within the context of this story ... stands a series of prophecies and testimonies about Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world, including, strikingly, a visit by the risen, resurrected Jesus to the people in the New World... One of the last record-keepers was an ancient American prophet named Mormon who abridged the centuries of records into a concise account on gold plates... This abridged record was passed from Mormon to his son Moroni, the last known survivor of his nation, who, near the end of his life, buried the plates in a hillside located in what centuries later became upstate New York." ("The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ," www.lds.org).
State court records prove the Smith was arrested in New York in 1826 for being a con artist. "Warrant issued upon written complaint upon oath of Peter G. Bridgeman, who informed that one Joseph Smith of Bainbridge was a disorderly person and an impostor. Prisoner brought before the Court March 20, 1826. Prisoner examined: says that he came from the town of Palmyra ... that he had a certain stone which he occasionally looked at to determine where hidden treasures in the bowels of the earth were; that he professed to tell in this manner where gold mines were a distance under ground ... he pretended to tell by looking at this stone where coined money was buried in Pennsylvania, and while at Palmyra he frequently ascertained in that way where lost property was of various kinds..." (Court records of New York).
While the Mormons claimed this never happened, Jerald and Sandra Tanner published the microfilm copies of the court records in 1971, under the title, Joseph Smith's 1826 Trial. There can be no middle ground about Joseph Smith!
Mormons must believe that Joseph Smith was the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator -- the means through which the "true Gospel" was restored to the earth. You cannot become a Mormon and doubt the words of Smith! "Latter-day Saints revere Joseph Smith as a prophet in the tradition of biblical prophets like Moses and Isaiah. Church members believe that his doctrinal teachings and instructions concerning the Church's organization resulted from divine revelation, not his own learning." ("From Farm Boy to Prophet," www.lds.org).
On April 6, 1830 the Mormon Church was organized -- at the time it was called "The Church of Christ" (this group has no connection with the church established by Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2). In 1834, thru the influence of Sidney Rigdon, the name was changed to "The Church Of The Latter-day Saints," dropping out Christ's name. Later, Thomas B. Marsh, one of the original 12 Mormon Apostles, decreed in 1838 that the name should be changed to "The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-day Saints."
Persecution caused Smith and his followers to leave New York and move to Kirkland, Ohio on Lake Erie. Kirkland served as their headquarters from 1831 to 1837. In 1836 they finished construction of a large temple.
They now have 114 temples (not to be confused with church buildings or meetinghouses). It has been reported that 98% of the ceremonies performed in Mormon temples are for the dead, and only 2% for the living. The temple in Kirkland is now owned by the Reorganized branch.
Independence, Missouri is approximately 1,000 miles away from Kirkland. After arriving in Independence, Missouri, Smith dedicated a plot of ground upon which the Mormons believed a great temple would one day be built (Doctrine and Covenants, 84:3-5). The Mormons were soon driven out of the county by gunpoint. The Reorganized branch of the LDS church dedicated their temple in Independence in 1994.
Mormons moved here, 45 miles north of Quincy, Illinois, to build a "Mormon City" which became the largest city in the state. Nauvoo had a population of around 20,000 people, about one quarter of which were Mormons. Joseph Smith reached the zenith of his influence here -- he was mayor of the town! Church membership rose to 100,000 members nationwide. As the mayor, Smith raised his own militia. His political power was equaled to that of the state government.
It was in Nauvoo that the Mormon doctrine of "Plural Marriage" (polygamy) caused a great deal of trouble. In June 1844 a newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor published affidavits of 16 respectable women stating that Joseph Smith and other Mormon leaders tried to seduce them into polygamy. Smith's answer was to send a mob, the Legion of Nauvoo, to destroy the printing press and compel the publishers to flee for their lives. Illinois Governor Ford learned of the act, and ordered Smith to surrender himself to the constable at Carthage for trial. Joseph Smith fled, but later returned and was arrested and placed in jail at Carthage, Illinois.
The governor ordered Smith's militia to surrender their weapons. A riot developed outside the jail and a mob broke into the jail killing Joseph Smith's brother, Hyrum. On that afternoon of June 27, 1844 Joseph Smith was shot and killed as he tried to escape from the jail window. He was murdered -- not by a group of "anti-Mormons," but by men whose wives and daughters he had tried to ruin! When the jail was stormed, Joseph Smith used a handgun to kill two men and wound another. He might have killed more if his gun had not jammed!
Mormons claim that Smith was a "martyr." The dictionary defines "martyr" as "one who suffers death as a penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce his religion." Smith was in jail for breaking the law, and even in jail he tried to defend himself with a six-shooter, and wounded three men.
Mormons compare Joseph Smith with Jesus Christ: I've had Mormon elders tell me, "Christ sealed His testimony with His blood at Calvary Joseph Smith sealed his testimony with his blood at Carthage, Illinois." Smith's birthplace in Vermont has been called the "Bethlehem of Mormonism." During the riot the million dollar temple was destroyed by fire.
Two years after the death of Smith, Mormon forces rallied and began a pioneer trek into the far West. "As the senior of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young succeeded Joseph Smith as the leader of the Church. In February of 1846, he led the Latter-day Saints across the frozen Mississippi River into unsettled Iowa territory. They struggled across Iowa, eventually establishing a settlement called Winter Quarters near modern-day Omaha, Nebraska... Brigham Young prepared his people-perhaps 17,000 of them by that time-for a historic trek across the vast wilderness to the Rocky Mountains, 1,300 miles to the west. The first pioneer party departed from Winter Quarters early the next spring and arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake on 24 July 1847. During the next few years, thousands of other Latter-day Saints struggled across the American Great Plains to the newly found refuge. Some of the pioneers crossed the plains in wagons. Others were equipped with small, lightweight handcarts. Ten handcart companies crossed the American plains in the next four years. Eight made the journey with relative success, but two endured tragedy and saw hundreds perish of hunger, fatigue and exposure." ("History," www.lds.org).
On April 6, 1860, a group of Mormons formed the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" at Amboy, Illinois. The Reorganized group selected the son of Joseph Smith Junior to be their leader and prophet. They reject plural marriage and deny that Joseph Smith ever taught or practiced polygamy, but admit there is a "huge body of circumstantial evidence from sermons" that he did. Since 1920 the official corporate headquarters of the church has been at Independence, Missouri. This group still believes that the "gathering to Zion," before Christ's return, will take place in Missouri, where their headquarters are located at Independence. They do not baptize or marry by proxy their ancestors. They reject the "Eternal Progression" theory of the LDS group, and do not use the word "Mormon" to refer to their group. On April 6, 2001, the official name of the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" was changed to "Community of Christ" (www.CofChrist.org). They have about 250,000 members in 40 countries worldwide.
The Truth About Mormonism, the largest of all American cults, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) has grown to a worldwide membership of over 11 million people -- yet it began in 1830 with just six members. This sixteen page booklet contains two sermon outlines on this cult (PDF file size: 264k).
Also, you can listen to David Padfield and Mormon elder Paul Meade debate the "Inspiration of the Book of Mormon." This debate on Mormonism is available as an MP3 file from this website.