Church History

One reason why the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established was to bring about Zion.

Enoch described the objective:

18 And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.

19 And Enoch continued his preaching in righteousness unto the people of God. And it came to pass in his days, that he built a city that was called the City of Holiness, even Zion.

(Moses 7:18–19)

Establishing Zion is both an individual and a group effort, as Moroni explained:

31 And awake, and arise from the dust, O Jerusalem; yea, and put on thy beautiful garments, O daughter of Zion; and strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.

32 Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.

(Moroni 10:29–33)

Clarity about Church history can help bring greater unity. 

I recommend the Joseph Smith Papers as the single best resource for studying Church history. You can see original documents, in context. The notes provided by the editors are excellent when they relate factual history, but be cautious when the editors suggest interpretations instead of sticking to facts.

References to History of the Church and even Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith are outdated and, in many cases, incorrect. Go to the Joseph Smith Papers instead. 

In recent years, some historians have embraced what has been called the "New Mormon History." This is a term for more "objective" interpretations of historical documents. I approve of considering every historical source, but I don't accept historical sources on their face. In each case, we need to evaluate the circumstances and the ordinary criteria for assessing the credibility and reliability of witnesses, including motive, means and opportunity.

History provides us only with a few scraps of evidence. That evidence leads to multiple working hypotheses that are subject to change as we obtain more evidence. We can also assess each hypothesis by considering context and human nature. 

Essentially, I believe Joseph Smith translated the engravings on the plates. I believe he used the plates to do so--one by one. And I believe he used the Urim and Thummim--the Nephite interpreters prepared for that purpose--to do so. I've explained my conclusions based on all the evidence in my book titled A Man that Can Translate: Joseph Smith and the Nephite interpreters.

My blog on Church history topics is here:

http://www.lettervii.com/

My bias: I choose to believe what Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery said because I find them trustworthy, open, and forthright. I think their claims are corroborated by extrinsic evidence. I disagree with those who teach that Joseph and Oliver were unreliable because they engaged in speculation and thereby misled the Church.