The word “Mormon” is a nickname for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you live in the United States, you probably know someone who is a Mormon; if you live in Ukraine, where the Church was prohibited until the 1990s, you may not know one yet. But there are Mormons in Ukraine, and in nearly every country in the world.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is sometimes inadvertently referred to as the “Mormon Church” in the media, is a Christian faith, as it name implies. There are over 14 million Mormons worldwide. You can find Mormons in every profession and walk of life. Some Mormons are famous; others live quiet lives with their families. Some are young; some are old. Some are descended from generations of Church members; others are recent converts. But what all Mormons have in common is this: they love and worship the Lord, Jesus Christ, and strive to follow Him. Mormons are, above all, Christians. Jesus Christ is at the very center of their lives and their faith.
Mormon Beginnings: The Prophet Joseph Smith
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was organized in 1830 on a small farm in upstate New York, in the northeastern United States. Mormonism began when a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith prayed to God in the woods near his home, asking which church he should join from among the many seeking converts in his area. To his great astonishment, his prayer was answered with a vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, who instructed the young Joseph that he should not join any of the churches then in existence. God explained that over the centuries, many truths known to the ancient Christian church had been lost. Joseph Smith was to wait, study the Bible, and pray. Jesus Christ would soon restore His original Church, as it existed during and after His mortal ministry, to the earth. Joseph Smith would be called as a prophet, and God would restore His ancient doctrines through Joseph to the people of the earth.
When Joseph Smith came of age, he received from an angel an ancient record, inscribed on plates of gold, which he translated by revelation from God. This record, known as The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, recorded God’s dealings with a group of people who lived in the Americas anciently. The people of The Book of Mormon were taught by their prophets about the mission of Jesus Christ, just as the people in the old world were, prior to His coming to earth. After His resurrection, Jesus visited the Book of Mormon people, teaching them His gospel. The entire religious history of this people, which spans many centuries, was abridged and recorded on gold plates by the ancient American prophet Mormon. It is from Mormon that The Book of Mormon got its name. Mormons acquired their nickname from the same prophet.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Joseph Smith established the Church of Jesus Christ by revelation from God. The Bible and the Book of Mormon together clarify many ambiguous points of doctrine, making it much easier to know what is true. The prophet Joseph Smith also asked questions of God, receiving many revelations from Him. Through study and revelation, Joseph organized a new Christian church that followed the same teachings and practices as the church Jesus organized during His ministry on earth.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has grown from its early beginnings to a world-wide organization, with its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States. More Mormons live outside of the United States than inside. The Church continues to be led by a modern-day prophet, Thomas S. Monson. President Monson has been ordained to his calling through the priesthood passed down from Joseph Smith, who was ordained by heavenly messengers in the 1800s. Twelve living Apostles of Jesus Christ lead the Church and bear witness of the Savior to the world.
The modern Church of Jesus Christ is known for its emphasis on traditional moral values. Mormons strive to follow Jesus by keeping His commandments as set forth in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible and The Book of Mormon. They believe in faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism by immersion for the remission of sins. They strive to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost as it guides them in making decisions and serving others. When they break God’s commandments, Mormons believe they can repent by asking forgiveness from God through the atonement of Jesus Christ, by making restitution to the best of their ability, and by forsaking their sins. Through the atonement of the Savior, all human beings can repent, change, and be forgiven for their sins. We can be sustained through all our trials if we turn to Jesus Christ. The Savior has also conquered death, meaning that one day, all humanity will be resurrected, just as Jesus was resurrected. Those who have repented of their sins and followed the Savior can then return to live with Heavenly Father in joy and peace with their families.
Mormons believe that God has given us our families, and that they are central to our happiness both on earth and in the eternities. In Mormon temples, families can be “sealed,” or bound together, not just for this life but also after death. Faithful Mormon couples come to the temple to be married, so that their marriages will last beyond the grave. Children are also sealed to their parents in Mormon temples. The LDS Church teaches that building and maintaining a loving eternal family is the most important work we can do in this life. Our family will also be a large part of our joy and reward in heaven.
Mormon Missionary Work
Because it is imperative that all of God’s children have the opportunity to learn about and follow Jesus Christ, Mormons send missionaries throughout the world, just as Jesus did when He was on earth. Nearly every Mormon will serve a mission at some time during his or her life. Most missionaries serve as young men and women, giving up two years of schooling, work, and friends to teach, at their own expense, the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries share messages about the Savior and about His Church as it has been restored through Joseph Smith and the prophets and apostles of our day. They encourage people everywhere to have faith in Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, and follow Jesus’s example in their everyday lives.
Most of all, Mormons seek to follow Jesus Christ in everything they do. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its humanitarian efforts throughout the world. However, it is in their day-to-day choices that Mormons, like people everywhere, make the biggest difference. Just as the Savior healed the sick and cared for the needy, Mormons seek to help those around them every day in their families, neighborhoods, and communities. If someone is sick, they strive to be there to help; if someone is in need, Mormons attempt to meet those needs. The Church has a large network through which goods and services can be provided to those who are hungry physically, socially, or spiritually. Jesus reached out to all those around Him, sacrificing even His life so that we might live. As members of His Church on the earth today, Mormons strive to spread His gospel and dedicate their lives to His service. A Mormon is a follower of Christ.
The Thirteen Articles of Faith are considered to be scripture and distill some points of Mormon doctrine. They were written down by Joseph Smith in response to a query from John Wentworth, editor of the Chicago Democrat, about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (as the Mormon Church is officially called) and its beliefs. They are listed below, with an explanation of each point following.
- We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
- We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
- We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
- We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
- We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
- We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
- We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
- We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
- We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
- We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
- We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
- We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
- We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
- As opposed to other Christian denominations, which embrace the Nicene Creed of 325 A.D., Mormon doctrine teaches that the Godhead (what many other denominations call the Trinity) is made up of three distinct beings: God, the Father, is our spiritual father and created us before we came to this earth (see Plan of Salvation); Jesus Christ, the literal Son of God, came to this earth and was born of a virgin mother, Mary, atoning for the sins of the world and giving His life for all who would live upon it; the Holy Ghost, a spirit being who testifies to individual spirits of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the truth of the gospel. Mormons believe that the members of the Godhead are one in purpose, but are still separate entities.
- The Mormon understanding of “original sin” is also quite different from other Christians’. While Mormons believe that Adam and Eve transgressed God’s law by partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and fell from God’s presence for doing so, we are not punished for this act. Though we will all die as a result of the Fall, through Christ’s Atonement and resurrection, we will all rise again. Thus, we are only held accountable for the choices we make in this life, not for anyone else’s choices.
- The Atonement of Christ is a complex doctrine, but is not unique to Mormonism. Christ, the literal Son of God, took upon Himself not only the sins of the world, but also all the pains of the world. He did this so He would know all we went through, that He might succor us. He also died for us and rose again, the conqueror over death, allowing each of us to be resurrected as well, and to return to God to be judged for our thoughts, desires, and actions in this life. All will be saved in a heavenly kingdom of glory except “Sons of Perdition,” who have gained a perfect knowledge of Christ and then denied Him, thus “crucifying Him anew.”
- The first and most basic principle of Christianity is faith that Jesus Christ is our Savior. No other doctrine holds up without this. We must be baptized, as He was, to be cleansed from our sins. Baptism is more than just an act; it is a covenant on the part of the person being baptized to take upon him- or herself the name of Jesus Christ. This means to follow His commandments and strive to become a better person. Mormon doctrine teaches that one must be baptized by immersion (the whole body must go beneath the water), not sprinkling. In addition, one cannot qualify for baptism until the age of eight, what Mormon doctrine calls “the age of accountability.” Before this age, children are considered pure and are not held responsible for their actions. By the age of eight, they should have been taught the difference between right and wrong and may then can be held accountable for their choices. If a person becomes a convert later in life, the baptism is exactly the same as a child of eight’s. The laying on of hands refers to the power of the priesthood. This is the power and authority to act in God’s name. By having the gift of the Holy Ghost conferred upon you, you have the right and privilege of having a member of the Godhead with you at all times to lead and direct you, as long as you are living a virtuous life.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by a prophet of God. Mormons believe in continuing revelation, or that God continues to speak through a prophet today. Only one person can be the ultimate authority on the earth at one time, and that man is always answerable to God.
- When Joseph Smith received his First Vision, he learned that the authority to act in God’s name had been lost from the earth when the Apostles died. Jesus Christ restored the fulness of His gospel through Joseph Smith, and the organization of the LDS Church today is the same as it was when Christ organized it during His lifetime.
- Mormon doctrine teaches that there are myriad gifts of the Spirit, and they are the same today as they were anciently. Priesthood blessings can be given which perform miracles, according to the will of God and the faith of the person being blessed. The power of the priesthood has led to countless miracles in our day, including many of healing, prophecy, revelations, visions, etc.
- Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon through the power of God. It is a second witness to Jesus Christ being our Savior and is a companion text to the Bible; it does not replace it. The Lord told Joseph Smith that over time, many plain and precious truths had been lost from the Bible. Some through the evil designs of men, some through error in translation and transcription. The Book of Mormon and modern revelation have restored these lost truths.
- Mormons believe in modern revelation. God continues to speak through His prophet today. The Old Testament says that God will do nothing without revealing it to His prophets first (Amos 3:7). Scriptures also tell us that when the prophet speaks, it is as if the Lord is speaking (Doctrine and Covenants 1:38). Old revelation is always valuable, but the newest revelation always takes precedence over past revelation. In this way, the Lord can reveal what is needful to His people in each generation.
- The gathering of Israel spoken of in the Old and New Testaments is taken literally in Mormon doctrine. Scriptures declare that the Jews will be gathered home prior to Christ returning to the earth.
- Mormons believe that religious worship is a God-given right. Though they have been severely persecuted in the past for their own beliefs, they respect the freedom of others to worship how they see fit.
- The doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on abiding by laws is clear: members should support their governments where they live and should contribute when they can to building a stronger community. At times when the law of the land conflicts with the law of God, however, the law of God is higher.
- Members of the LDS Church are encouraged to live good lives. Christ preached honesty and virtue. We should seek after the virtuous things in life and build them up. We should also reach out in kindness to one another.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly referred to today as the Mormon Church, was founded on April 6, 1830, by a man named Joseph Smith. The roots of the church began 10 years earlier, however, when Joseph Smith, as a young man of 14, prayed to know which of all the many Christian denominations he should join. A religious revival around 1820 resulted in many denominations condemning each other, and Joseph was confused by their differing interpretations of scriptures in the Bible. During his own study, he came across James 1:5, which reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph decided to heed this counsel, and he prayed. In answer to his prayer, he received a marvellous vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ, the Son. They told Joseph that the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ had been lost from the earth, but it would be restored.
Joseph immediately received persecution when he spoke to local spiritual leaders about his experience. He was told roughly that the heavens were closed. The heavens were not closed then, nor are they now, as Joseph knew and continued to learn. Over the course of ten years, Joseph continued to receive divine instruction. He was led to an ancient record written on brass plates. He translated this record by the power of God. This book was published in 1830 as the Book of Mormon. This book of scripture is a spiritual record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, who were led to the new land by the hand of God. It is a second testament that Jesus is the Christ and visited the American continent after His resurrection.
Missionary work has been a part of Mormon doctrine since its foundation. Early Church leaders went to Canada, England, and Europe and soon travelled to other far countries. Converts were encouraged to gather to Zion in the United States. What started as a church of six members has today grown to a worldwide church membership of more than 14 million. Now, however, members are encouraged to build the kingdom of God where they stand. There are now more members outside of the United States than inside it. Life has never been easy for the Latter-day Saints, however. They were pushed from New York to Ohio, then to Missouri, then to Illinois. Finally, the Saints fled the organized United States and settled in the Utah Territory. Even here, though, they were pursued.
Joseph Smith received many revelations from God. He restored, through the power of God, many precious truths which had been removed from the scriptures over nearly two millennia. He would often go to the Lord in prayer after reading in the Bible or while translating the Book of Mormon to gain clarification on certain doctrine. During one of these times, when Joseph asked about the practice of polygamy anciently, the Lord told him that it was only lawful when He commanded it. After some time, the Lord did command it. However, it was only a few members of the Church who were called to live this law. The Lord commanded the practice to cease in 1890, and it no plural marriages have been sanctioned by the Mormon Church since then. There were some break off groups more than one hundred years ago who chose to continue practicing this law. They are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though some claim to be Mormon. No person practicing plural marriage can be a member of the LDS Church. (More on polygamy.)
Joseph Smith and his brother, Hyrum, were martyred at Carthage Jail on June 27, 1844. After this, the Saints were led by Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley, as Joseph had instructed Brigham to do. The first group of Saints arrived in the valley in 1847, and all new members of the Church continued to gather there for several decades.
Since this time, the LDS Church has grown to fill the earth. A living prophet, Thomas S. Monson, leads the Church today as its sixteenth president. Mormon doctrine teaches that he is the mouthpiece of the Lord. Jesus Christ is the leader of the LDS Church and reveals His will through His prophets today, just as He did anciently (Amos 3:7). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint has a world-class humanitarian aid program, a welfare program, education programs, and incredible organization. Mormon clergy are lay clergy, meaning they are not paid; they volunteer their time to serve when called by God. This means that a man could be called to serve as bishop in his congregation (or ward) and after his time is fulfilled could be called to be in charge of cleaning the meetinghouse. This is not seen as a demotion in the Church. Rather, all members recognize whatever call comes, comes from God. There is no demeaning service in God’s kingdom, and each job is important. These callings are opportunities to grow and learn and to serve others.
The Mormon Church continues to build temples in unparallelled numbers. More than 150 now dot the earth in countries everywhere, and more are announced every year. Temples are vital to the eternal salvation of God’s children. Learn more about the purpose of LDS temples as you visit this website.