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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) is a Mormon Christian denomination headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah and whose doctrine and practices differ significantly from protestant and Catholic Christian religions. The church was legally founded on April 6, 1830 in the state of New York by Joseph Smith, Jr.. It has since grown to a worldwide membership of over 11 million and is the fifth largest Christian church in the United States. The church is the largest by far of several groups claiming to be the legimate continuation of the religion founded by Joseph Smith.

Members of the church hold that their faith is a divinely appointed restoration of the church founded by Jesus in biblical times. They base their views on revelation given through modern prophets and other scripture which they hold to be be revealed by God, and therefore as important as the books of the Bible. These books, including the Book of Mormon, describe an account of Jesus' visit to the Americas following his resurrection. These ancient Americans had been taught about Jesus by a succession of prophets who foretold his coming. During his brief visit, Jesus taught the people and performed miracles similar to those recorded in the New Testament.

This story has been compared to Rastafarians' description of biblical connections for Ethiopia and claims during the height of the British Empire that the English were the Lost Tribe of Israel[?]. Some hold that just as Christianity became a new religion after it introduced new scriptures to the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible, aka Old Testament), the Mormons developed a new religion when they added their new scriptures to the Bible.

Table of contents

Name of the Church

The church was originally called simply the "Church of Christ", later the "Church of Latter-day Saints", and finally the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", a name that Smith claimed was given by revelation (see below). The Church is also commonly referred to as the "LDS church", and sometimes the "Mormon church", although this designation can be confusing, because groups outside the church are sometimes also referred to as "Mormons". The nickname comes from The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which the church accepts as scripture in addition to the Bible. Other LDS scriptures include The Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price

In a clarification to reporters in 2001, the church requested that the official name, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" be used wherever possible, stating: "This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838." When referring to members of the church, they asked that the term "Latter-day Saints" be preferred, although "Mormons" is acceptable.

Within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all church members are called "Saints", and the membership of the church "The Saints". There is no concept of a Saint in the sense used by other Christians of a religious hero, only the sense of a faithful follower of Christ. The original 12 followers of Jesus are referred to simply as the "Apostles".

God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost

Similar (although differing in many ways) to some early Christian Coptic, Gnostic and Arianism sects and some early New England churches, Mormons teach that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct personages that together form the Godhead (as distinct from the Trinity decreed by the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, in response to disagreement on the subject and anti-Platonic movements within the early Christian church). According to Mormon doctrine, all three members of the Godhead are eternal and equal in divinity, but they play somewhat different roles. While the Holy Ghost is an unembodied spirit, God and Jesus are embodied spirits. The spirits of God and Jesus are forever united with a separate, perfect, glorified, physical body of flesh and bone.

Although it is not directly stated in the canonical scriptures, Joseph Smith and other church leaders have taught that God the Father is an exalted man who once lived on an earth. Though not mentioned in official doctrine, it is implied that God may have lived a life much as we do, living by the laws of that world's divine Creator, and that after his death and resurrection, after much time and progression, was given the responsibility of Godhood, with the opportunity to create "worlds without number". The creation story in Genesis would begin sometime after this point.

The relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is considered a very close one, because although they are physically separate beings, they share a spiritual unity of purpose. Mormons consider them to be one in the sense that they are perfectly unified in purpose and cooperation. Thus, there would never be any kind of conflict or disagreement between them.

It is also believed, although it is seldom discussed within the church, that God is married to a Heavenly Mother. No reference is made to the status of the Heavenly Mother in terms of her divinity, nor is she mentioned in doctrine, scripture, or other church teachings. Her existence is referred to briefly in the church hymn titled "O My Father" (Hymn number 292). Her existence is a natural extension of church teachings that proclaim that each person is "a spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents," so her existence is acknowledged by church members and leadership. She is not worshipped or prayed to; her existence is simply acknowledged.

Some theologians and members of other Christian faiths consider the difference between the Mormon doctrine of the Godhead and the mainstream Christian doctrine of Trinitarianism so fundamental that they do not regard Mormons as Christians. Some consider the Mormon view of God to be polytheistic or henotheistic in contrast to the monotheistic views of mainstream Christianity. Mormons hold that it is mainstream Christianity that misunderstands the nature of God; it holds that the mainstream concept of God was corrupted by the introduction of Platonic realism and Neoplatonism in the early Christian church and continued through the Great Apostasy.

The Plan of Salvation, Exaltation, Damnation and Eternal Progression

According to LDS Mormons, the Plan of Salvation is God's plan for the salvation of mankind. Salvation occurs through Jesus, whom they view as the redeemer of mankind. The gift of immortality is believed to come to all through Jesus's sacrifice on the Cross and his subsequent Resurrection. Although it is believed that immortality is a free gift to all people, entrance to the Heavenly Kingdom (referred to as the "Celestial Kingdom") comes only to those who accept Jesus through baptism by priesthood authority into the church, follow church doctrine, and who live righteous lives. Faith alone, i.e. dead faith, or faith without works, is not considered sufficient to gain exaltation.

Mormons do not use the cross as a symbol of their faith, saying that it is not Christ's death that is most important, but his life and resurrection.

Exaltation is the reward which the LDS church believes is given to righteous church members (including those who accept the Gospel in the afterlife). Through the process of exaltation, a person can eventually become a god and creator.

It is believed that people who do not have the opportunity to accept the Gospel while on Earth will have another opportunity to do so in the afterlife. However, those who reject the Gospel while on Earth will have no such opportunity.

The Celestial Kingdom (metaphorically glorious as the sun) is the place where righteous church members live with God and with their families.

Those good people who choose not to be valiant in following Jesus or who do not accept the gospel do not qualify for exaltation, and will be consigned to (and indeed find themselves more comfortable in) the Terrestrial Kingdom (metaphorically compared to the moon's brightness). This place is believed to be one of great glory, but without the presence of God the Father.

Murderers and other criminals also spend eternity with people of like intent, in the Telestial Kingdom (likened to the stars). This also is considered a kingdom of glory, and is described as being much more glorious than mortal life, perhaps because it is free from the sickness and want of mortality.

A small number of truly evil people, who have a full knowledge of the gospel and willingly reject what they know to be God's truth in its entirety, are believed to be consigned to what is commonly referred to as Outer Darkness[?] at the final judgement - a place of no light (light being the common metaphor for truth). An individual banished to Outer Darkness is known as a Son of Perdition.

Repentance

Mormons believe in the principle of repentance, which for them includes a sincere regret as well as restitution when possible and reform of one's actions. It is considered important for a person to confess serious sins to their Bishop, who can also offer advice and encouragement in less serious matters. Key to the repentance process is a person's personal, prayerful confession to God, which includes asking for forgiveness and resolving not to repeat the mistake. Consistent with the meaning of the Greek word from which it is translated, repentance denotes "a change of mind" and "a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined." (See the LDS Bible Dictionary[?]) Thus, one who recommits a sin shows that he or she has not yet truly completed the repentence process.

Baptism

The LDS Church practices baptism by immersion. It is believed that baptism is symbolic of a burial and rebirth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Through repentance and baptism, the person is believed to be cleansed of all previous sin and becomes a member of the church.

Baptism is always performed after the eighth birthday. The age of eight is considered the age when people can be responsible for their actions. The Book of Mormon and modern revelation specifically forbids the practice of infant baptism.

Latter-day Saints also believe in the gift of the Holy Ghost. It is conferred as holders of the priesthood place their hands on the head of the recipient and pronounce a blessing upon him or her. It is conferred shortly after baptism.

Latter-day Saint fathers typically bless their babies shortly after birth when they are formally given a name, and various blessings are pronounced, as the father feels inspired. This blessing is not considered required for salvation and thus converts are not required to have this blessing.

The Church has engendered a high amount of criticism for their practices in regard to Baptism for the dead, a practice in which a relative will perform baptism by proxy in behalf of the deceased individual. Some Jewish groups have taken offense at the Mormon practice of retroactively baptising if family members have not given permission for dead Jewish Holocaust victims.

Chapels and Temples

One must be a member in good standing in order to enter any of the Temples. However, the public is welcome to attend meetings in local chapels[?].

Worship services, known as sacrament meetings, are held weekly. Every sacrament meeting includes administration of the sacrament, similar to communion or the eucharist in other churches. Typical meetings include the singing of hymns (accompanied by piano or organ) and two or three discourses by members. Although it is not required, women usually attend wearing skirts or dresses, while men wear dress shirts and ties.

The temples are not used for regular Sunday worship, but are primarily used for the performing of ceremonial ordinances that Mormons believe are essential for entering the Celestial Kingdom. The ordinances performed in the temples, including baptisms, are also done by proxy for those who have died. To obtain names of people for whom ordinances can be performed, the church encourages genealogical research and makes available its vast genealogical resources to nonmembers. Although it is not official doctrine, Mormons generally believe that ultimately (after the Second Coming) all people who have lived will have had ordinances performed for them. The ordinances are believed to have no effect, however, on those who decide they don't wish to receive the benefits of, or reject the Gospel.

More information on Temples.

Sealing

A sealing is a special ritual or ceremony which is held only in a Temple. During a Sealing, the members of a family, including parents and children, are bound together as a family in a way which is believed to endure beyond death. The church teaches that a family which has been sealed in the Temple will remain a family unit after death. This is the belief which lies behind the well-known church slogan, "Familes are Forever."

Other Practices

Practices more or less distinctive to Mormons include following the Word of Wisdom (eating healthy, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee and eating meat sparingly), tithing (giving 10 percent of one's income to the church), chastity (no sexual relations outside lawful marriage), modesty in dress, lay leadership (church officials are not paid) family home evenings (families are encouraged to meet weekly for prayer and other activities - typically on Monday), and home and visiting teaching (members regularly visit other members in their homes for prayer and study). Tattoos and body piercings (except for one pair of earrings for women) are discouraged. Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and as a result, Mormon families tend to be larger than average.

Prayers are addressed to Heavenly Father and offered in the name of Christ. English-speaking members generally use "thee", "thou", "thy", and "thine" when addressing God.

Young men (between the ages of 19 to 26) are expected or highly encouraged to go on a two-year, full-time proselyting mission, if they are able. Young women, who must be at least 21, may also serve 18-month missions, but are not expected to. Elderly, retired couples are encouraged to serve missions as well, but their length of service varies from 12 to 24 months. The church has about 60,000 missionaries worldwide.

The church places a strong emphasis on education and heavily subsidizes Brigham Young University and related church schools. The church also has a seminary program for high school students and an institute program for college-aged students that teach church doctrines and encourage study of scripture.

Church members also may wear special clothing or undergarments which is called the Garment of the Holy Priesthood. Only those who have attended the temple wear the garment. This clothing functions similarly to the ecclesiastic clothing worn by many other Christian groups, but the church has a lay clergy and members wear this clothing under their normal attire.

The Priesthood

See Priesthood.

Church Leadership

The LDS church is headed by its President, revered as a Prophet, a man who is believed to directly speak with God and receive His guidance in leading the church. The first Prophet of the church was Joseph Smith, Jr.. The President of the Church serves until his death, after which the next most senior apostle (in years served as an apostle) is ordained as his replacement.

The President of the Church has two Counselors. Together, the three of them are known as the First Presidency.

Beneath the First Presidency is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles[?]. It was founded on February 14, 1835 in Kirtland, Ohio (see Doctrine and Covenants 107:23-24). Members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are sustained as "Prophets, Seers and Revelators."

There are also several Quorums of the Seventy[?]. The original quorum of the seventy was founded February 28, 1835, also in Kirtland (See History of the Church 2:201-2).

At the local level, each Stake, made up of a number of congregations, is led by a Stake President and his two counselors, the "Stake Presidency." Each congregation (known as a "ward", or a "branch" if it is very small) is led by a Bishop and his counselors, called the "Bishopric" (or by a branch president and his counselors).

History

See History.

Scriptures

Under the Church's doctrine of continuing revelation (see Articles of Faith number 9), the Church has an open canon which currently includes the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, which together form the Standard Works. English-speaking members typically use the King James Version of the Bible; the Joseph Smith Translation[?] of the Bible is often referred to, but is not considered canonical. Other scriptures are expected to be added to the canon from time to time. Viewed as authoritative but again technically not canonical are some proclamations by the church leadership, including the 1995 "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" and the 2000 "The Living Christ[?]."

See also: Standard Works, Articles of Faith, Controversies regarding Mormonism

External Links

  • The LDS Church official web site: www.lds.org (http://www.lds.org)
  • Official information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons): http://mormon.org



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