Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Religion Prior to the First Vision

This is mainly for my mother who wanted to know all about the  Northeastern Church history tour Richard and I went on this past summer. This is  a Church History Series sharing with all of you some of the gems I have learned from the tour and other readings since.  Hope  you enjoy!

Previous Post: Who Were Joseph Smith's Ancestors

The hardest part of this Church History Series is knowing how to lay this all out for you in an order that flows and makes sense.  I am anxious to share with you some insights into Joseph Smith Sr., Lucy Mack, Joseph, Alvin, and others people and sites, but before we get to that part, we need to lay some background down first.

Religion prior to the First Vision
One of four churches on four corners
 in downtown Palmyra, New York
  • We all know that the country was founded upon  liberty to think, speak, live, and worship according to the dictates of our own conscience.
  •  The Pilgrims who came to this country were Bible-teaching, Bible-believing folk who feared God and wanted to walk uprightly before Him. 
  • 45% of Pilgrims were original ancestors to the Mormon Pioneers.
  • There were great social pressures to be religious, God-fearing people who  belonged to a church. If you did not, you were thought of  as "of the world" and looked down upon by society
  • If someone joined the "wrong" church, the others would say they were in error.  The only church that said one was right, was they were following.  They each witnessed against one another and none were like the Church of Christ as it once existed.
Two main branches of Christianity were Calvinism, and Arminianism. In New England, most churches were strongly Calvanistic.
"The system of Calvinism adheres to a very high view of scripture and seeks to derive its theological formulations based solely on God’s word. It focuses on God’s sovereignty, stating that God is able and willing by virtue of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence, to do whatever He desires with His creation. It also maintains that within the Bible are the following teachings: That God, by His sovereign grace predestines people into salvation; that Jesus died only for those predestined; that God regenerates the individual where he is then able and wants to choose God; and that it is impossible for those who are redeemed to lose their salvation.
Arminianism, on the other hand, maintains that God predestined, but not in an absolute sense. Rather, He looked into the future to see who would pick him and then He chose them. Jesus died for all peoples' sins who have ever lived and ever will live, not just the Christians. Each person is the one who decides if he wants to be saved or not. And finally, it is possible to lose your salvation (some arminians believe you cannot lose your salvation). " The Five Points of Calvinism

  Calvinism is known as T.U.L.I.P-the acronym for their beliefs:
Total Depravity (also known as Total Inability and Original Sin)
Unconditional Election of certain people
Limited Atonement (also known as Particular Atonement)"Jesus died only for the elect"
Irresistible Grace-"there is nothing you can do about it"
Perseverance of the Saints (also known as Once Saved Always Saved)

The Smith Family's Religion prior to the Restoration

 The restoration of the gospel began with the formation of this country where one could worship God according to the dictates of their own conscience.  The Pilgrims came here seeking religious freedom.
Interesting note: 45 % of the Pilgrims were the original ancestors to the Latter-Day Saint Pioneers.
 One thing I have noticed in my study of the Smith family and others of their time period, is that they were  fiercely loyal to God, religion, and liberty. Where you found one trait, you found the  others. They were never one without the other.  Just a personal observation.

I have not done a lot of study of Joseph's ancestors, just brief insights.  What I have learned is that they were intensely loyal to their country and faithful God-fearing people.They were Bible-teaching, Bible-reading, Bible-believing folk who were  searching earnestly for Christ's church as it was once was upon the earth, but could not find it.  Some joined churches regardless, others did not. 

Robert and Mary French Smith (born in1648) Joseph Smith Jr.'s Great-Great-Great  Grandparents "participated fully in the community's religious life"  They are also listed to be in "full communion" in the Topsfield church records. [Joseph Smith: An American Prophet, John Henry Evans]

Congregational Church in Topsfield Massachessets
Congregational Church founded founded in 1663 where 4 generations of Smith worshipped, though not members.Calvanism was what was taught in this church.

Asael Smith, Joseph's Grandfather, became dissatisfied with religion.  Although in the early part of his marriage he and his wife Mary actively participated in organized religion in Topsfield, Massachusetts. He felt the religions of his day were seriously lacking and he became the "hinge of religious dissatisfaction in the Smith family"  As a result he began a three generational drift from traditional religion:  grandfather-father- young Joseph Smith. 

They were very religious minded and were yearning for truth to be restored to the earth. Asael Smith firmly believed that one of his family members would bring this gospel to the earth and be a great benefit to mankind.

Joseph Sr. like his father, Asael, was passionately religious, but was not quite sure what to do with it.  The religion he was seeking, was not to be found according to him.  He had 7 dreams or visions of spiritual nature where he was trying to save his family or find Christ's true church.  He did not join any church or accept baptism as his wife Lucy did.  He was an un-affiliated Christian.  This was an uncomfortable place to be in their time as one with out a church or religion was thought to be "of the world". With his father and brother Jesse he helped found the Universalist Society in Tunbridge whi ch promoted the belief that everyone would receive salvation regardless of their beliefs.

Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother was also brought up to fear God and to walk uprightly before Him.  Her soul yearned for the truth and light of Christ. Her salvation was very important to her.  After a serious illness at the beginning of her marriage, that almost took her life, she covenanted with God that she would will serve Him and do His will. After this experience she became even more consumed about religion, life and salvation. She believed that baptism was required for the remission of sins.  So within the Joseph Smith Jr. home, there were a few different religious views and beliefs.

My own observation*  There was a conflict on the earth about religion and truth, there was conflict in the town of Palmyra about religion and truth, and there was a conflict within the Smith home-although not obvious as they were a close loving family, about religion and truth.  You can see how this environment and time in history that  young Joseph Smith was brought to the point he was of wanting to know what church was true.