To maintain that Joseph Smith brought back the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Mormons need a reason for that restoration. The reason: The Great Apostasy. What's the Great Apostasy? If you've met with Mormon missionaries upon first encounter, they've no doubt have mentioned to you something along these lines:
"Back in Old Testament times, God raised up Prophets to speak for Him to His people. Moses, for instance, was called by God to be a Prophet to Israel. After him came Joshua, then his successors. Elijah, then Elisha, and the list goes on and on. Now if you'll notice, in looking through the Old Testement, that everytime a Prophet dissappeared for a while, the people of Israel fell into sin and blasphemy. They departed from the true faith of God. So God had to raise up a new Prophet to put the people back in line. This is exactly what happened with Christianity. With the death of the very last apostle of Christ, the Truth was once again lost. God Himself prophesied that this would happen in Amos 8:11-12, 'Behold, the days come...that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord...And people shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it.' Now certainly we know that the church is built on apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:19-22) so therefore when the last apostle died, the church died with him, and the prophecy from Amos was fulfilled. But in 1820, as God did countless times in history, He raised up a Prophet once again to feed His flock. A young boy, named Joseph Smith, inquried of God which denominational church to join, and upon stumbling a passage in the Bible (KJV) James 1:5, 'If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; it shall be given him.' When Joseph prayed to know the Truth, Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ both appeared to Smith and told him that none of the churches had it right, doctrinally. So God and Christ gave Smith the restored Gospel, which has been preserved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints since then. To give us assurance the Gospel will be preserved through this Church, God gave to Joseph the restored Aaronic and Melchizedech priesthood, which in turn is given to every successor of the Prophet. Joseph Smith gave it to Brigham Young, Young gave it to his successor, so on and so forth. By this we know that the Gospel of Christ is truly preserved in the Church of the Latter-Day Saints."
At about this point they'll present you with the Book of Mormon, but we'll not get into that part right now. The main objection I present here from the oldest revelation of God (the Bible), is that the Great Apostasy never occured and cannot occur the way Mormonism presents it. Certainly, the apostle Paul warned that many will depart from the faith, but DEPART is the key word, not BRINGING APOSTASY into the faith, but they will leave that which they have already committed themselves to. All those who departed from the faith (and continue to depart) have become the Gnostics, the Arians, the Nestorians, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and yes, the Mormons. All these heresies began by a person or persons who were excommunicated from the Church by the head leaders of the Church.
Now here is where Catholiscm and Mormonism can appreciate about each other: both recognize the importance of having an ecclesiatical heirachy and authority to preserve the Gospel. The Mormons maintain the Prophet was God's tool of preservation in the Old Testament. I agree - but let's take the Old Testemant in context. Not only did Israel have a Prophet, but they also had a King, and numerous Judges during her epic history. When a Prophet was not on the scene, God kept the people in line with Judges, and when they weren't around, God kept the people awake with a King. Solomon, third of the Kings of Israel, inquried of the Lord for wisdom, and God granted Solomon's request. Through Solomon God has revealed Himself not only to Israel but also to the Church. Some of his very works are canonized Scripture both by Jews and Christians alike. With these very words of Solomon God kept the faith of Israel in line. Complementing that, the Judges maintained the obedience of the people, and the Prophets brought continual revelation of God to Israel. So before we look to Israel for a pattern to point to Christendom, let us make sure we've seen it in context before applying any one of it to anyone in Christianity.
What the missionaries will not tell you is one little detail that Christ promised to His Church which Heavenly Father never promised to Israel, concerning doctrinal purity. If you have a KJV on hand, (the only Bible Mormons use), turn to Matt. 16:18-19, "And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
The promise Christ gave to Peter was that Hell would never destroy the Church, that its teachings will never fall into oblivion, basically that there will never be a Great Apostasy in which the Church would be wiped away from the earth until a time for restoration. Compare with 1 Corinthians 5:6-7, "Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump as ye are unleavened." Here Paul tells us that no isolated sin, or doctrine, is something to overlook. In the immediete text, Paul explains how one sin can contaminate the entire Church of Christ: so get rid of it! Likewise, the text is most certainly applicable to doctrine: if even one false doctrine was officially taught by Christ's Church, the entire lump would have been leavened: it would have been RUINED. Hence, the gates of hell will have prevailed against the Church and Jesus would have lied to Peter. "But", you may say, "doesn't Paul tell them to purge out the leaven? So even if the gates of hell did prevail for a time, and some false doctrine got officially taught, couldn't the Church have purged itself of those false doctrines and become pure again?" Absolutly not. Once the leaven has entered (in this case, false doctrine being infallibly and officially taught by the Church) then the "lump" is ruined: all it takes is ONE FALSE DOCTRINE, and the gates of hell will have prevailed, making Our Lord and Saviour a liar.
But what about the prophecy in Amos? Context is beautiful...unfortunatly the Mormons do not have it. The passage in Amos refers to the 400 years of silence, in which God didn't raise up a Prophet until John the Baptist. When I told this to my Mormon missionaries they seemed a bit nervous, but eventually said, "Fine, but can't it also apply to the Great Apostasy as well?" I said, "No, it can't, simply because of Christ's promise to Peter: the gates of hell shall not prevail."
I proceeded to jump back onto Israel having a Prophet and how that is applicable to Smith. I mentioned that when Christ gave authority to His Apostles (but primacy to Peter, though he wasn't greater than they), He not only gave them the authority of Prophets, but also of Judges, and Kings. Apostle Paul prophesied of a great falling away, the mark of a Prophet; the Apostles fought heresies and kept them at bay, the mark of a Judge; the King of Israel was a representative, a vicar, if you will, of Israel's Supreme King: God; Peter was the chief reprentative, the Vicar, and visible head, of the Church's Supreme Head: Jesus Christ, God the Son in human flesh. Take all three of these positions in ancient Israel and you can see how the Apostles are given all three positions - Peter only receiving the position of "King", or Prince over the Apostles.
Compare Christ's promise with John 14:16,26, "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever...But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
Not only do we have the assurance of Christ's promise, but also the promise of the Holy Ghost who will "abide with us forever" and "teach us all things." That's fine, the missionaries may tell you, but when the Apostles all died the Holy Ghost left the Church, because He was only promised to the Apostles. First off, doctrinally speaking to guide in all truth, the Holy Spirit was promised to the Apostles only - but He was given to the entire Church at Pentacost, both for Clergy and Laymen. Secondly, if one pores over the book of Acts, or the letters of Paul, one will find that the Apostles laid their hands on their successors, bestowing upon them all the gifts and graces Christ Himself gave to them personally: including the promise and Person of the Holy Spirit. This is why there is a Vicar of Christ alive today, exercising the same authority Peter exercised.
With all these solely biblical facts in mind, the teaching that the Great Apostasy occured with the death of the Apostles is viewed as a hoax, a neccessary reason for the Mormon Church to exist. Seeing as how the Apostasy will never happen (at least, not in the way Mormonism presents it) the claim Smith made that he was given the restored Gospel and priesthood is a lie. The church fathers and ecumenical councils throughout the centuries also do not show one hint of Mormonism in their teachings: rather, their decrees and canons are all Catholic! One need only look at the fathers and councils in their own documents and see for themselves.
The Succession of the Prophets is a clever mockery of the Succession of the Popes. The Pope speaks ex cathedra, defining a doctrine that has already been in the Christian Church; the Prophet speaks as a Prophet, declaring a new doctrine, one that has no foundation in the Bible or in orthodox Christianity, or worse yet, "orthodox" Mormonism! The Succession of the Prophets has been warned by God to us in Deuteronomy 13:1-5,
"If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them, thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear Him, and keep His commandments, and obey His voice, and ye shall serve Him, and cleave unto Him. And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death: because he has spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God..."