Was Joseph Smith a real prophet, is the Book of Mormon more than fiction, was there a restoration of the Gospel in the early 19th century, and what happened to the leadership of the Church?
Are they still guided by God (and if not, why not–what happened to all the promises of guidance and direction)?
As a whole these are not the type of questions I ask for myself. Let us take your first question for example. “Was Joseph Smith a real prophet?”
If a true believer feels the answer is yes then in his mind this means that every teaching he gave out, as a prophet, is true. It means the end to seeking any further on those statements but to just accept.
This is not my approach to Joseph Smith or any other teacher. My approach is to examine each teaching given out and see them as separate entities and run them by my soul. If my innermost self confirms it to me than I go with it.
LWK referenced some writings I gave out about Joseph’s teachings about man and God, for example. These register very strongly with my soul
On the other hand, plural marriage does not. Either his teachings were altered on it or he made some mistakes as I see it.
Then you ask, “is the Book of Mormon more than fiction.”
This is good in that instead of just asking if the book is true you are fairly specific.
When I was in the church I followed the advice given and asked God if the Book of Mormon was true. I didn’t receive an answer to that question but I did receive a lot through the Holy Spirit as I read the book. Here are a few things.
(1) I am entitled to receive truth directly from God just as were the ancient prophets.
(2) Babies have no sin and do not need baptism to be saved.
(3) Christ does have other sheep.
(4) God speaks to all the peoples of the earth.
(5) No human servant judges whether we enter the kingdom of heaven.
(6) It teaches us to do good and elevates the spirit.
(7) Moroni’s warning that the United States would be in danger because of corruption and conspiracy.
Is the book historically true? I think it is in part but not 100%. I believe that Joseph lived a number of past lives as an ancient American Indian and with concentration could retrieve many ancient memories. I think parts of the Book of Mormon were a retrieval of his past memories.
Were all the stories of the gold plates, visitations, visions accurate? I do not know but do believe he had a number of supernatural experiences, but just not sure they were presented to us accurately.
I think Joseph was a sincere man doing his best but it appears he was deceived into thinking that it was all right to mislead in order to further the Kingdom of God. He was not the first prophet to do this, as such a teaching is a staple of the Muslim faith.
Then Fred asks, “was there a restoration of the Gospel in the early 19th century?”
Joseph did restore a number of things the most important of which is that all are entitled to revelation from God.
As far as authority goes I think Nephi from the Book of Mormon had it right when he said, “And the Holy Ghost giveth authority…” I Nephi 10:22
Notice that this is the source of all authority in that book?
“Next Fred asks, “what happened to the leadership of the Church?”
The same thing that happens to every inspired movement. It deteriorates just as the Principle of Corruption illustrates in my book Eternal Words.
Look at our country for instance. When, except in its founding, has there been the likes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and many others dedicated to the same goal for the good of the people?
Even though we have a hundred times more people to draw from our government is lucky to have a hundredth part of the talent and intelligence as the initiators of this country.
The same thing has happened to the church. The real thinkers are putting their attention other places than church leadership.
Fred: “Are they still guided by God.”
I think they receive some inspiration from time to time but nothing like as believed by the rank and file LDS. Most of the time they just use their best judgment and sometimes it is right and sometimes not.
My book, Infallible Authority” which I sent you should give you a more complete answer to your questions.