Mormon Beliefs: Grace or Works?

mormon-works A debate goes on among many Christian denominations about the concept of grace and works. The New Testament references both  as necessary to one’s salvation, yet some denominations claim that grace is solely responsible for our individual salvation, and others claim that the emphasis is on works. In this debate, grace is understood to mean that Christ saves us when we say we believe in Him, and works means we must work out our own salvation be keeping His commandments. The Mormon doctrine includes aspects of both.

Mormon doctrine teaches that grace is an essential part of our salvation. Without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (the Atonement), we would all be lost, and there would be nothing we could do to be saved. The Plan of Salvation teaches us that Christ’s Atonement will be extended to every person who has lived or will yet live upon this earth, because they will all be resurrected and will all be brought back into the presence of God to be judged according to their deeds. The power of the Atonement can cleanse us from our sins, if we are constantly trying to repent of our mistakes. This is where “works” comes in for Mormons.  Repentance is work.  So is the effort to live by every word of God.

mormon-jesus-atonementChrist paid the price for our sins, and by so doing, He earned the right to set the conditions for us to gain access to the power of the Atonement. He has given us certain commandments to follow and certain things to do, and if we follow and do them, He agrees to grant us access to the cleansing power of the Atonement through the power of the Holy Ghost. If we follow the path of repentance that He has laid out, and if we do our best to help other people and to love them as He loves them, then we can eventually become perfect.  “Perfection” is defined according to the ancient Hebrew meaning of the word, which really equates to wholeness.  Jesus has commanded us to be whole, even as He is whole.  Wholeness really can’t be accomplished until one is resurrected.

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi explains it this way, “It is by grace we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23). This means that there is nothing we can do on our own to be saved. We are fallen and imperfect beings. We cannot do anything of ourselves to return to the presence of God. However Christ has told us certain things that we must do in order to return to God. He has told us that if we do them in His name, then we can be saved. If we do not do the things He has commanded us, we will not be saved. However, were we to just do these things on our own, we could also not be saved. We must do all of these things in His name in order to gain access to the power of His infinite sacrifice. Then it is His grace that saves us.

Brigham Young, the second prophet of the LDS Church made a point to explain that we can live from day to day in a saved state.  Those who could stand in confidence before the Lord, because of their sincere faith in Christ and thriving to keep His commandments, are saved all the time.  Thus, when a Protestant asks a Mormon, “Are you saved,” a devout Mormon should answer, “Yes.”

Mormon Weddings

mormon-wedding-templeFrom a very young age, Mormons are taught to look towards the temple and to have the desire to be married in a temple. This is because Mormon doctrine teaches that a Mormon wedding, or a marriage performed in a Mormon temple is for time and all eternity, not just “until death do you part.” Many people believe that when they marry, they will be with their spouse again after they die. However, no church doctrine teaches this. It is always a union which dissolves with the death of one spouse.

Mormons believe that, through the power of the priesthood, a Mormon wedding performed in the temple can last forever. There are still conditions which must be met in order for this to happen: the couple makes promises to God and to each other, and if either of them fails to keep these promises, then God’s promise to them that their marriage will last forever may not hold true. God promises blessings which are conditional upon our faithfulness (Doctrine & Covenants 130:20–21). If both parties keep their promises, however, this is one of the greatest blessings one could imagine. Mormon doctrine also teaches that any children born to a couple who have been previously sealed in the temple are “born in the covenant,” meaning they are automatically sealed to their parents and to each other, again conditional upon the faithfulness of the parents.

With these blessings available, it is hard to imagine that anyone would choose to not get married in the temple, but there can be sacrifices. If a parent, both parents, grandparents, siblings, good friends, etc., are either not members of the Mormon Church or are members but are not worthy to enter the temple, then they cannot be present at a temple wedding. This is a lot to ask, and often, if they do not understand this Mormon doctrine, they can have their feelings hurt or may even be angry. There is simply no replacement for a temple marriage, though. The blessings, protection, and peace which come with being sealed in the temple are unparalleled in the world, and it is worth any sacrifice in order to be worthy to participate in this beautiful ordinance.

mormon-temple-sealing-roomMormon temple marriages, or Mormon weddings, take place in sealing rooms. The bride and groom kneel across from each other at an altar and face parallel mirrors, which create infinite reflections. This image symbolizes the eternal nature of their union. It is stretching out forever. Here each person makes promises to each other and to God. They receive promised blessings in return for their faithfulness.

The bride does not walk down an aisle, is not “given away” by her father. The ceremony is very simple, but beautiful. The exchange of rings is in fact not a part of the temple ceremony, though in countries where it is traditional to exchange rings, this can be done quietly.  Some couples, who have relatives or friends not able to enter the temple, will choose to hold a separate ring-exchange ceremony at the location where their reception is held.  This allows their loved ones the opportunity to feel part of the marriage union.

In order to be worthy to have a temple marriage, individuals must remain chaste before marriage, in addition to keeping several other high standards. They must continue to keep these high standards after their marriage in order for the wonderful blessings to remain in force in their lives.

Family History

mormon-family-historyMormon doctrine teaches that families can be together forever if they are sealed together by sacred ordinances in the temple. This means that after individuals die in this life, they can be reunited in heaven and can be together forever. This doctrine is unique to Mormons.

Mormon temples are sacred places where eternal ordinances can be performed. However, all ordinances must be performed on earth. When one is deceased, it is impossible for a spirit to receive these ordinances in heaven. This is why Mormons do family history work and then temple work. Each individual performs sacred ordinances in the temple only one time for him- or herself. Each time an individual returns to the temple after receiving his or her own ordinances, these ordinances are then performed by proxy for (or on behalf of) a person who is now dead who did not have the opportunity to receive these ordinances during his or her lifetime.

Mormons are encouraged to do their family history work so they can take their own family names to the temple and perform these ordinances for their immediate ancestors. This is a wonderful opportunity to get to know the people who came before you.

The Mormon Church (officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has an unparalleled database for anyone searching for their deceased family members. The Church has made copies of countless records from across the world, and anyone searching for their family may have access to these in local family history libraries, free of charge. In addition, many congregations have a family history specialist trained in using the Mormon Church’s database, to provide aid to any who need it.

The website new.familysearch.org is an invaluable tool which is combining a lot of the Mormon Church’s resources, previously available separately. It has been a long process to correct wrong information, combine double entries, and so forth, but this resource has already helped tens of thousands of people to find their ancestors.

The Family History Library in Salt Lake City is open, free of charge, to anyone who wishes to use its services.  It is the largest library of its kind in the world. Some of its resources include:

  • More than 2.4 million rolls of microfilmed genealogical records; 727,000 microfiche; 356,000 books, serials, and other formats; over 4,500 periodicals; 3,725 electronic resources.
  • The Ancestral File database contains more than 36 million names that are linked into families.
  • The International Genealogical Index database contains approximately 600 million names of deceased individuals.
  • Records available are from the United States, Canada, the British Isles, Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

In addition to these amazing records, approximately 200 cameras are currently digitizing records in more than 45 countries. A staff of more than 100 full- and part-time workers is available to the public, along with about 700 trained volunteers.

mormon-temple-bostonMormons believe in the Spirit of Elijah, which is discussed in Malachi 4:6, “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” To Mormons, this means that each of us is essential to the salvation of our family members, and we must be sealed together, by the ordinances of the temple, in order to be together forever. Family history work is essential to find those of our family members who died without having the chance to perform these ordinances for themselves. When we find them in our research, we can do their temple work for them and create an eternal, unbroken ring of family members.

Mormon Beliefs: The Godhead, or the Trinity

mormon-jesus-atonementThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, is unique. Most Christian denominations believe in the Trinity, the concept that God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are all different manifestations of the same being. In holding this belief, it is necessary to also believe that each of these entities is spirit and not flesh and bone. Otherwise, they could not possibly be one and the same. There are several scripture references in the Bible which may appear to support this interpretation. For example, John 10:30 and 1 Corinthians 8:6, which state Christ and the Father are one, and that the Apostles believed in one God after Christ’s death. There are even more scriptures, also found in the Bible, to contradict this interpretation, though: Matthew 3:17 shows that God said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” when the Savior was baptized; John 20:17, where Jesus says, “I ascend unto my Father.” The current concept of the Trinity was settled upon by early Church fathers in 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea.

When Joseph Smith received his First Vision, he learned that this notion is false. He saw God and Jesus Christ as two separate beings, both of flesh and bone. The Mormon doctrine of the Godhead states that God is a perfect being of flesh and bone. Jesus Christ is His only begotten son, who was created spiritually before He came to this world to save all mankind. He began as spirit, but then gained a body and was resurrected. Now his spirit and body are united eternally. The Holy Ghost, however, is still spirit.

Mormon doctrine teaches that each being in the Godhead is necessary to our salvation. God created us and wants us to return to Him. Once our spirits come to this world, however, they are fallen and are unworthy to return to God. An eternal sacrifice had to be made on our behalf in order for us to be able to return to God. Jesus Christ, as the only begotten son of God, had power to pay this price for all mankind, which he did pay through His Atonement. We gain access to this power through the Holy Ghost. God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate, distinct beings, but all have one purpose: to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man (Moses 1:39). When we follow Christ’s commandments, or the conditions He has set for us to gain access to the power of the Atonement, we can repent and be purified by the power of the Holy Ghost. Because only God knows our hearts, the Holy Ghost is a fair judge of whether we have truly repented or not.

Each member of the Godhead is essential to our salvation, but it is only through the willing sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we are even able to look forward to meeting our Heavenly Father again.

What Goes on in Mormon Temples?

Many people are curious about what goes on inside Mormon temples. Mormons who are living the commandments are able to go to the temple and receive ordinances there. Once these ordinances are received personally, individuals may return to the temple and do work by proxy for those who are dead. Mormons are encouraged to do their own family history work and to complete temple ordinances for their deceased family members. If they do not have personal names, though, other names have been submitted by individuals for their family members, and proxy work can be done for these people. Mormon doctrine teaches that certain ordinances are essential for salvation, but not everyone had a chance to receive these ordinances during their lifetime. Thus, proxy work can be done for them, and then they will have the opportunity to choose whether or not they accept these ordinances. Free will is always important in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Baptisms and Confirmations for the Dead

The ancient apostle Paul talked about one of these ordinances performed in temples: baptism for the dead, “Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?”  (1 Corinthians 15:29).

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Oquirrh Mountain Temple Baptistry

Baptisms for the dead are performed in the baptistry of Mormon temples. The baptistry is always located in a lower level of the temple, below ground, to symbolize the burial of the old person and his rebirth as a new creature in Christ, as well as the death and resurrection of the Savior. The baptistry is built following the pattern in Solomon’s temple, as a laver mounted on the backs of twelve oxen, which represent the twelve tribes of Israel.

Worthy Mormons age 12 and older may be baptized for the dead in Mormon temples. After a person is baptized for the dead, he or she is confirmed for the dead. Confirmation is an ordinance performed by the laying on of hands for the conferring of the gift of the Holy Ghost, or the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. These are the two ordinances that youth may do by proxy for the dead. The higher ordinances must be performed by worthy adults.

Initiatory

A symbolic washing and anointing is performed for purification in an ordinance called the initiatory. Mormons perform this ordinance once for themselves and ever after for the dead. This is symbolic of the ritual purification rites in ancient temples, including the tabernacle in the wilderness used by the ancient Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt, as laid forth in the Old Testament.

Mormon-ordiance-room

Oquirrh Mountain Temple Endowment Room

Endowment

The next ordinance is called the endowment. An endowment is a gift, and this is a gift from God that includes knowledge, protection, and spiritual power. The endowment is performed in a beautiful, auditorium-like room, with the patrons seated. They hear the story of the creation and God’s Plan of Salvation, and then they covenant to keep God’s commandments. Historically, Latter-day Saint pioneers were eager to receive their own endowments in Nauvoo, Illinois, before setting out to cross the Great Plains to Utah Territory. They desired the spiritual enrichment and extra strength this spiritual endowment would give them. This is why Mormon leaders struggled to complete the Nauvoo Temple, even as mobs were attacking the city. Thousands of ordinances were performed in these adverse circumstances.  The endowment takes about an hour and a half to complete and is always the same, word for word.  Mormons receive the endowment once for themselves and thereafter for the dead.

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Oquirrh Mountain Temple Celestial Room

At the conclusion of the presentation of the endowment, temple patrons proceed to a room called the Celestial Room, representative of the highest kingdom of heaven where God Himself dwells.  Here, patrons may pray or meditate.

Sealing

Another ordinance performed in Mormon temples is called a sealing. This ordinance seals a bride and groom together in a holy marriage bond that is meant to last for eternity. When they have children, those children are considered “born in the covenant” and are part of their eternal family. For couples who have never been married in the temple and who have children, the children may be sealed to them in the temple after they are eternally sealed to each other.

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Oquirrh Mountain Temple Sealing Room

Temple sealings are performed in sealing rooms. A sealing room has an altar in the middle, and the bride and groom kneel on either side, holding hands across the altar as they pronounce their wedding vows.  Family and friends in attendance, all of whom must be temple-worthy, sit on chairs around the periphery of the room. Ornate mirrors adorn the walls, and because they face each other, the effect reproduces infinite reflections, symbolizing the eternal nature of the covenant.

Temples are places of utmost light, joy, and reverence. Mormon patrons arrive in Sunday dress (white shirts and ties and slacks or suits for the men, dresses for the women) and change into white apparel for ordinance work. It is impossible to discern the education or vocational status of the various patrons, or whether one is rich or poor. All are equal in the sight of God.  The Church is striving to build temples all over the world, so that they are near to the members who wish to attend and to receive saving ordinances. Some families make great sacrifices and travel long distances to reach a temple, especially to have their families sealed in an eternal covenant.

Arlington Ward: A Little History

historic-boston-mormonThe following is comprised of snippets taken from the online journaling of Tony Kimball, 2007.

In May, 1984, the wards of Boston Stake were reorganized, and the Mormon Arlington Ward was formed, with Bob Chandler as the new bishop.  Tony Kimball went through the 1963 Cambridge Ward Directory, and found several families who were still living locally in 2007, including the Chandlers.  The old Cambridge Ward included Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Belmont, Watertown, Newton, Waltham, Medford, Chelsea, and Everett. That’s 13 towns and cities. There have been at least three dozen church units organized in that same area since 1967.

The Boston Stake was split and the Hingham Stake was formed.  The old Boston Stake then covered about the same area as the original Cambridge Branch (a group of members too small to be a ward).  Though many members of the Latter-Day Saint wards and stakes in the Boston area come from a variety of vocations and backgrounds, the fact that many are students or professors of Harvard and Cambridge adds color and verve to this collection of Latter-day Saints.

It’s true that some of us are not tolerant in our dealings with our neighbors or others in our communities, and not everyone who attends church always manifests it, but in terms of the overall tone of the area, this quality is very unusual when compared to many of the places where the church has been entrenched for a long time. I am sure no Salt Lake ward ever would have had a karate demonstration as part of a Sacrament Meeting talk, as happened in this ward years ago, nor would I, as a single man, ever have been called as a Bishop. I’m not advocating either of these things, mind you, but I’ve seen in all of our stake presidents the same tolerant spirit manifested time and time again.

Boston Mormons have been all over the doctrinal and behavioral map, and around the country were known for their unorthodox perspectives. Several programmatic innovations were developed in this stake under creative stake presidents like William Fresh, L. Tom Perry, and Richard Bushman, which were initially[questioned] by the church, and, then, within a couple of years, put out as church-wide programs. The members here were generating programs to meet local needs which became church-wide.

Early History

East Cambridge was the earliest focal point of congregations of Mormons. Wilford Woodruff wrote a good bit in his journal about his visits to the Boston/Cambridge area in the 1830s.

In 1843, eight of the Quorum of the Twelve were in attendance at a conference in Boston. Nearly all of them were still in this area when they heard of the murder of Joseph Smith, and, of course, rushed back to Nauvoo. (Deseret News 1999-2000 Church Almanac, 210.)

In the early 1840s Brigham Young sent one of his daughters to school in the Salem area and she stayed with Nathaniel Felt, a great-great grandfather of Tony Kimball.  Virtually all of the original members of the Mormon Church came out of New England.  Since then, many interesting Latter-day Saints have lived in the area.

Evan Stephens, who is the composer of many of the hymns Mormons sing, attended the New England Conservatory in the late 19th century.  Edna Wells Sloan took in boarders, including Truman Madsen’s mother, Emily.  Edna decided to earn income by joining a bake sale.  Her homemade potato chips were such a hit, she went into the potato chip business.

Click here to read more recollections from Claudia Bushman’s, “Remembering Cambridge.”

Mormon Missionaries

mormon-missionaryMany people have noticed Mormon missionaries on the street, and perhaps a pair of them have rung your doorbell.  At any given time, there are over 50,000 full-time, volunteer missionaries serving worldwide in the 344 missions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Most full-time Mormon missionaries are young, single adults.  Young men serve for two years, beginning at age 19, and young women may serve for 18 months, beginning at age 21.  There is an age limit of 26 for young men.  Missionary service is not compulsory, but most Latter-day Saints who are active in their religion hope their sons will serve in the “mission field.”  There is a standard of worthiness which must be met.  A potential missionary must be sexually chaste, honest, a full tithe-payer, and must live the health laws of the Church.

When a young Mormon adult desires to serve a mission, he or she pays a visit to the bishop of the ward (congregation).  The bishop conducts an interview for worthiness.  If the young person is not worthy to serve, the bishop helps him or her through a process of repentance.  Once worthy, the potential missionary “submits missionary papers” to the General Authorities of the Church.  Missionary papers include the ecclesiastical endorsement, general information about the potential missionary, medical and dental records, etc.  A potential missionary may request a location in the world where he or she would like to serve, but the final decision is made by the apostles of the Church through inspiration from the Lord, and the missionary goes where he or she is called to go.  Once the decision has been made by the General Authorities, they issue a “mission call.”  Receiving one’s mission call in the mail is an exciting event for the potential missionary, and the family usually gathers for the opening of the envelope.  Sometimes, the potential missionary has never heard of the place he has been called to, and some geography research ensues.  Mormon missionary service often necessitates learning a foreign language.  The gift of tongues is manifest in abundance in the mission field, and many missionaries return from their missions with a language and cultural fluency that is a boon to their careers later on.

Mormon missionaries serve at their own expense, though the Mormon Church pays the transportation costs.  Some places in the world are much more expensive than others, and for young adults, the Church has averaged the costs, so all missionaries pay the same amount each month for their support.  At the beginning of 2011, this amount was $400 each month.  Some young people are diligent enough to have worked during their young years to save up a portion of their mission expenses.  Others are supported completely by their parents.  (Since Mormons tend to have large families, some families have more than one child serving at a time.)  Mormons can also donate to a missionary fund to help those who can’t afford to serve.  Missionaries give up everything to serve — education, career, family togetherness, romance, social networking, hobbies, sports, and worldly music.

mormon-missionariesA Mormon mission begins with training in one of 15 missionary training centers (nicknamed “MTC”) worldwide.  Those who must learn a foreign language spend a longer time in an MTC, but the training lasts for weeks, not months.  Missionaries are not trained to “sell” the gospel, but to learn to be humble and obedient, and to teach by the Spirit.  The guiding text for missionaries is a manual called “Preach My Gospel,” which focuses on the doctrines of Christ and living by the Spirit.  Once in the mission field, a Mormon missionary is assigned a companion.  Companionships and locations within the mission are changed often.  This widens the experience of the missionary, and keeps investigators and new converts from bonding too strongly to a lovable missionary, thereby basing a testimony of the gospel on the teacher instead of on Christ.  Mormon missionaries have one day each week, usually called “preparation day” or P-day, to do laundry, catch up on shopping, and engage in wholesome recreation.  Missionaries write home (now often by email) once each week, and are allowed to call home on Christmas and Mother’s Day.  Missionaries do more than preach.  They engage in community and public service, teach English, sometimes perform if they have talent, and provide assistance in community emergencies or disasters.

One good example of the above was a devastating earthquake in Chile.  The mission president was warned by the Spirit ahead of time that the disaster was coming.  The mission president made certain that all the missionaries were prepared, including with water and food storage for an emergency.  When the earthquake hit, the missionaries, all of whom were unhurt, launched into giving aid to victims of the disaster.

Senior Missionaries

mormon-senior-missionaryYoung people are not the only ones who serve missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Retired couples may serve together in a companionship, and single retired sisters may also serve.  There is great flexibility in senior missionary service.  Missions vary in length from one year to 23 months.  Those with health or financial problems may serve part-time and live at home.  Senior missionaries do more than proselyte.  There are many types of missionary service for seniors.  These include humanitarian aid missions, leadership, public relations, hosting at church historical sites, grounds maintenance, music, military base service, teaching English, health services, employment services, etc.   Some couples serve multiple missions.  Again, except for transportation costs, senior missionaries pay their own way.  Monthly support costs vary widely between missions, and seniors are never called to locations they can’t afford.  At the beginning of 2011, mission costs ranged from $500 per month in the Argentinian countryside to $4,500 per month in some areas of Europe.

Mission Presidents

Each Mormon mission is run by a mission president with his wife serving by his side.  Serving as a mission president is also a “calling” in the Church, but there is basic financial support provided.  A mission president brings his children along, and the term of service is three years.  A mission president might have 150 young adults serving in his mission, plus a handful of senior missionary couples.  This kind of service has obvious challenges, but is very rewarding.  Success is calculated not upon the number of converts won for the faith, but in the kind of people missionaries become.

Rewards of Missionary Service

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The Mormon Church has a new form of missionary service, and that is online teaching, accessible through Mormon.org.  All other missionary work is performed by people on foot.  This is not the most effective way of disseminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in this age of mass communication.  But there is great wisdom manifest in the missionary program, and its fruits show that it is founded on revealed patterns from God.  The fruits are obvious in the missionaries as they return, especially in the young adults.  These youth face great opposition in the mission field, not only from the people who reject them (sometimes violently), but from their own natural inclinations and the worldliness of the areas in which they serve.  A missionary might go out “tracting,” which entails knocking on door after door, only to have them slammed in his face.  A Mormon missionary frightened by social situations must learn to teach, sometimes in a foreign language.  He must learn to function in a foreign culture and face health and dietary reactions caused by foreign food and a lean pocketbook.  He is isolated from family and the circle of friends that supported him at home.  He must learn to depend upon the Spirit and to nurture his ability to receive personal revelation from on high.  He must learn the scriptures and rely on prayer.  He must learn to love his companion, not chosen but assigned, and develop a deep abiding love for the people he serves.

Missions vary greatly in the receptivity of the people to the gospel message.  Some missions see hundreds of converts each month; others only one or two.  Some missionaries labor with all their hearts for two years and win only one convert, sometimes none.

As a result, the returning missionary is a different person than when he departed for the mission field.  His capabilities have blossomed.  He is a capable leader and supportive follower, and he is a spiritual giant.  Compassion grows, desire for service grows, leadership ability grows, and then there is the cultural and language education, which cannot be surpassed by any other method.  Returned missionaries are coveted by the major hiring companies in the United States; they know what an advantage it is to have served a mission.  State Department careers and careers in international business are open to applicants with foreign language and leadership mastery.  An example is Jon Huntsman, Jr., pictured above.  Now the U.S. Ambassador to China, he learned Chinese on his Latter-Day Saint mission.  This said, there is no greater joy than witnessing a true conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To see a person come out of darkness into light, from despair into joy, and from sin to righteousness is the great reward of missionary work.

Why Missionary Work?

mormon-missionariesThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a four-fold purpose:  1) to perfect the members of the Church in order to qualify them for eternal life in the presence of God; 2) to redeem the dead through temple work; 3) to help the poor, needy and afflicted; and 4) to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to every nation, tongue, and kindred.

These purposes are those commanded us by the Lord.  The Lord has said:

…that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all this that it might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets—The weak things of the world shall come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones, that man should not counsel his fellow man, neither trust in the arm of flesh—But that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers (Doctrine and Covenants 1:18-23).

And ye shall go forth in the power of my Spirit, preaching my gospel, two by two, in my name, lifting up your voices as with the sound of a trump, declaring my word like unto angels of God. And ye shall go forth baptizing with water, saying: Repent ye, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Doctrine and Covenants 42:6, 7).

For, verily, the sound must go forth from this place into all the world, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth—the gospel must be preached unto every creature, with signs following them that believe (Doctrine and Covenants 58:64).

And now, verily saith the Lord, that these things might be known among you, O inhabitants of the earth, I have sent forth mine angel flying through the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel, who hath appeared unto some and hath committed it unto man, who shall appear unto many that dwell on the earth. And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people.  And the servants of God shall go forth, saying with a loud voice: Fear God and give glory to him, for the hour of his judgment is come; And worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters— (Doctrine and Covenants 133:36-39).

Reflections: Why Mormons Build Temples

mormon-templeSome ask Mormons (members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints/LDS folks) why they build temples, as if they haven’t existed before or are something new in Christianity. I thought I’d just list here a sampling of scriptural verses that treat the subject of temples, as they were anciently, and as they are today. These verses are for pondering and can serve a launch-pad links to further personal inquiry into temples, Houses of the Lord. They illustrate, in and of themselves, and taken in fuller context, the Lord’s desire for His work and word to go forth from holy temples; the Lord’s frequent attendance in and teaching from the temple during His ministry; the ancient and modern Saints’ joy in building or rebuilding temples as commanded; the power bestowed by the Savior to those who serve therein; the requirements to enter temples with a pure heart and a God-determined level of worthiness; as well as their reality, necessity, and beauty. May the Spirit move you to new insights and to more appreciation of the need for holy temples in our day as you reflect upon these and other passages of scripture regarding God’s tabernacle, His ordinances for redemption, and modern-day Mormon temples–Houses of the Lord.

Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart.
—Psalm 24:3-4

And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.
~ Luke 2:46

From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.

They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.

Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the Lord.

Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites.

And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the Lord, after the ordinance of David king of Israel.

And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the Lord; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.

But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy:

So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
~Ezra 3:1-13

mormon-jesusAnd it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions.  And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.  And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.  And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?
~Luke 2:46-49

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.  And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
~Matthew 21:12-14

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;
D&C 88:119

Yea, verily I say unto you, I gave unto you a commandment that you should build a house, in the which house I design to endow those whom I have chosen with power from on high;
~D&C 95:8

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them.
~Matt 21:14

And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple, that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words which king Benjamin should speak unto them;
~Mosiah 2:6

Mormon Beliefs: The Priesthood

The priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon, or LDS Church) is different than that of any other church.  In most Christian churches one must study for the priesthood.  When the course of study has been completed, then the person is assigned to a congregation or leadership position and paid by the church, and sometimes by the members of the congregation he leads.  In some Christian religions, anyone may minister who feels called to do so, and he may gather a congregation around him, sometimes even founding a new church.

mormon-priesthoodThe fifth Article of Faith says the following:  “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.”  The Mormon Church has a lay clergy; everyone in the Church serves in some capacity to administer the affairs of the Church.  Although the Prophet and Apostles of the Church receive support, all other “callings” to serve in the Church are completely unpaid.  “The Priesthood” is not defined as a position in the Church, nor as a calling to minister.  Priesthood is the power and authority to act in God’s name; to perform ordinances that through this authority will be sealed in heaven as well on earth;  to perform miracles in the name of Jesus Christ, to preach the gospel, and govern God’s kingdom on earth.

This power is that which powers the universe and causes everything to be held in order.  It is Christ’s power, which He shares with men and women.  The exercise of this authority on earth is orderly.  The Lord’s house is a house of order.  Men are ordained to offices in the Mormon priesthood by others who have this authority themselves, and stewardship to do so.

There are two priesthoods in the Church, as in ancient times.  The “lesser priesthood,” called the “Aaronic Priesthood,” is an appendage to the “higher priesthood,” called the “Melchizedek Priesthood.  The true name of the higher priesthood is The Holy Priesthood after the Order of the Son of God, but it is called after the ancient prophet-king Melchizedek to avoid using the name of Christ too often.

The Aaronic Priesthood

The Aaronic priesthood has four offices.  When a man advances to a higher office, he may still officiate in all the offices lower than that office.  The first office in the Aaron priesthood is that of deacon, and worthy boys age 12 may be ordained to this office.  They are to watch over the Church and its members. They are also to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:59). Deacons can also pass the sacrament to the congregation, collect fast offerings, assist the bishopric, serve as messengers, be baptized and confirmed for the dead in the temple, speak in meetings, and care for the meetinghouse and grounds.

The second office in the Aaronic priesthood is that of teacher.  Worthy boys age 14 may be ordained to this office.  They are to strengthen the Mormon Church and see that there is “neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking (Doctrine and Covenants 20:53-55). Teachers may also prepare the sacrament, serve as home teachers, reverently serve as ushers in ward meetings and stake conference, assist the bishopric, and participate in seminary, where available.

mormon-sacramentThe third office in the Aaronic priesthood is that of priest.  Worthy young men age 16 may be ordained as priests.  Priests can bless the sacrament. They can also baptize, though they do not have the authority to confer the gift of the  Holy Ghost.  They are to exhort and to preach the gospel and often participate in home teaching.

The fourth office in the Aaronic priesthood is that of bishop.  A bishop is the leader of a congregation of Latter-day Saints (called a “ward”), and his duties keep him extremely busy.  He is the equivalent of a pastor.  Bishops are not paid, and must continue working at their normal vocations to support themselves and their families.  The bishop is the president of the priest’s quorum, the president of the Aaronic Priesthood, and the presiding high priest in the ward. Although the position of bishop is an Aaronic Priesthood office, men called to be bishops hold the Melchizedek Priesthood and hold the office of high priest so they can preside over the entire congregation.  However, the Lord revealed through revelation to Joseph Smith that if a true descendent of Aaron steps forward, he may rightfully claim the office of bishop.  Doctrine and Covenants 107:20 explains that the Aaronic priesthood holds  “the keys of the ministering of angels, and to administer in outward ordinances.”

The Aaronic Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to administrate the affairs of Christ’s restored church and prepare for the Second Coming of  Jesus Christ.  The two men were ordained by the resurrected John the Baptist.  You can read the account in Joseph Smith—History 1:72.

The Melchizedek Priesthood

Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, mentions a number of times that Christ was “an high priest after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 5:10).  This higher priesthood was held by Adam and by every prophet and patriarch succeeding Adam, even when the Israelites were only function with the Aaronic priesthood.

mormon-confirmationA worthy young man may be ordained to the office of  Elder at the age of eighteen.  All Mormon missionaries are elders and hold the Melchizedek priesthood.   The title, “elder,” can be used for any man who holds any level of the higher priesthood, and even apostles are called by the name, “elder.”  The duties of an elder are to baptize, confirm members of the Church and give the gift of the Holy Ghost, administer the sacrament, give blessings of comfort and healing, and generally watch over the Church.

A Seventy is a General Authority of the Mormon Church. Just as the apostles of Jesus Christ could not administer the affairs of the ancient church themselves, and just as they called a quorum of seventy elders to help them, the Latter-Day Saint Church has several quorums of seventy to help in administering the affairs of the Church.  They are especially engaged in missionary work and supervising areas of the world.  At present, there are five quorums, each with no more than seventy members.  The members of the first quorum of the seventy serve until death, but others may serve for five years, or be given emeritus status when they become aged or infirm.

A High Priest has the authority to administrate in the Mormon Church, and men are ordained to the office (if they don’t already have it) when they are called to a bishopric as bishop or one of his two counselors.  Members of a stake presidency, high councilors, mission presidents, stake patriarchs, etc., are also high priests. (A stake is a group of wards.)   High Priests have their own quorums, separate from the Elder’s quorum.

Each stake has a Patriarch.  The office of patriarch is a very special one, and it was called “evangelist” in the ancient church.  Patriarchs are ordained by General Authorities or stake presidents given that authority by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.  A patriarch’s duty is to give worthy Church members special blessings known as patriarchal blessings. Such blessings are the Lord’s personal words to the recipient and may give the person a better understanding of their callings in life. The office of patriarchs is held for life, though if the patriarch is no longer able to function in his duties, an additional stake patriarch may be called. The term “patriarch” is also applied to the father of a family.  If the father in the family holds the Melchizedek priesthood, he may give healing or revelatory blessings to members of his family for their comfort and edification.

An Apostle is a special witness for Christ to all the world and is a prophet, seer, and revelator.  An apostle serves for life once he is called.  The men ordained as apostles are members of either the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles or the First Presidency. The Mormon apostles travel throughout the world building up and regulating the Church. Each apostle is given all the keys of the kingdom, but only the senior apostle–the President of the Church–is authorized to use all the keys, and he is the prophet and president of the Church. The other apostles act under the president’s direction.  Major decisions in the Church are guided by revelation from Jesus Christ, and the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles must be unanimous.

mormon-prophetThe President and Prophet of the Mormon Church is the man who has served as an apostle the longest, called the “senior” apostle.  The prophet leads the Church according to revelation from the Lord.  He is not considered infallible &mdash; all men “see through a glass darkly” in their own lives and must learn to live by faith.  The prophet works according to that revelation which he receives.  For instance, when Joseph Smith received the health law of the Church, the Lord forbid the drinking of “hot drinks,” which are unhealthy for men and women.  But the Lord never saw fit to define exactly what “hot drinks” are.  Later, the leaders of the Church defined them as coffee and tea.  Later science seemed to show that it is the caffeine that is addictive and dangerous, but there has been no directive concerning sodas, but council to avoid health-busting energy drinks.  The Lord guarantees us free agency and expects us to use our own powers of discernment and judgment much of the time.  This said, the programs of the Church and the way they are run are unique to all the world, and a shining example as to what can be organized and accomplished when the Lord is in charge.

Some people think that because God is unchanging, modern revelation should not occur.  But the Lord has always directed policy changes for His covenant people, even though His doctrine is always centered on the atonement of Christ.  For instance, Christ’s atonement ended sacrifice by the shedding of blood.  Christ and His first apostles preached only to the Jews, but then a revelation to Peter initiated missionary work among the Gentiles.  In this same way, the Lord builds His kingdom in these, the latter days, as we prepare for the Second Coming of Christ.

The Melchizedek Priesthood “holds the right of presidency, and has power and authority over all the offices in the church in all ages of the world, to administer in spiritual things,” and holds “keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church” (Doctrine and Covenants 107:8, 18).   The Melchizedek Priesthood was restored to the earth by the laying on of hands from Peter, James, and John, the First Presidency in ancient times.  Peter and James are resurrected beings, and John is a “translated” being.  They have their authority from Jesus Christ.

Blacks and the Priesthood

Until 1978, men of African descent had not been permitted to receive the Mormon priesthood, although they could become members and serve within the church. (Persons of other dark-skinned ethnicities not of African descent, such as the Polynesians, could receive the priesthood prior to this time.)  The leaders of the Church and many of the members had been praying for a long time for this blessing to occur.  It could not occur without a direct revelation from God.  When that revelation was received, it was at a time when civil rights had advanced and sentiments of racism had dwindled to the point that Blacks all over the world could function unimpeded in priesthood offices.  When the revelation was announced, there was much rejoicing in the Church.

Women and the Priesthood

mormon-womenWomen in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not “hold” the priesthood or officiate in it, but they enjoy every blessing of the priesthood and can call upon its power whenever they need to.  Women are general authorities in the Church and perform priesthood ordinances in the temple.  They exercise leadership in most auxiliaries of the Church also, and are fully engaged in service at church, in their communities, their vocations, and their homes.

Mormon prophet [Joseph Fielding] Smith explained: “While the sisters have not been given the Priesthood, … that does not mean that the Lord has not given unto them authority. Authority and Priesthood are two different things. A person may have authority given to him, or a sister to her, to do certain things in the Church that are binding and absolutely necessary for our salvation, such as the work that our sisters do in the House of the Lord.” (Relief Society Magazine, Jan. 1959, p. 4.)
President Smith’s teaching on authority explains what the Prophet Joseph Smith meant when he said that he organized the Relief Society “under the priesthood after the pattern of the priesthood.” The authority to be exercised by the officers and teachers of the Relief Society, as with the other auxiliary organizations, was the authority that would flow to them through their organizational connection with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and through their individual setting apart under the hands of the priesthood leaders by whom they were called. (Dallin H. Oaks, “The Relief Society and the Church,” Ensign, May 1992, 34)

Mormon Beliefs: Joseph Smith

mormon-joseph-smithMembers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not worship Joseph Smith, the founder and first of a line of prophets ordained by Christ.  Mormons are not held in thrall by Joseph Smith, nor by any other prophet who leads the Church.  Agency, the freedom to choose between good and evil, is a protected, eternal principle, and everything in the Church is done by free choice.

What Mormons hold up, and are sincerely grateful for, is the restoration of God’s true church upon the earth.  The church that Christ established in ancient times had twelve apostles and men called “seventies” to help them minister to the congregations of believers.  They had authority to act in the name of Christ, and Christ vested them with power to perform miracles.  The charismatic gifts were manifest.  This power and authority dwindled, as all but one of the apostles were martyred and the philosophies of men entered the doctrines.  Miracles ceased.  Mormons call this “the great apostasy.”  Paul predicted there would be a falling away, and the myriad of Christian churches, all claiming to have the truth, is a manifestation that men have lost their way.

The free nation of American provided a place where the true gospel could be restored.  It is the stone cut out of the mountain without hands.  Joseph Smith prophesied that, after founding the Church with 6 members, it would fill the earth, and reach every nation, tongue, and kindred.  This prophecy is coming to pass.  The prophet also prophesied that there would be persecution until the Second Coming.  This has also come to pass.  Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred by a mob in 1844, and anti-Mormon sentiment has continued ever since.

Joseph Smith was born on December 23, 1805, to Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith.  They were solid New England stock, their ancestors having immigrated to America in the seventeenth century.  Joseph was a studious and deep thinking lad, though he had only three years of formal education.  The family suffered successive years of business failures and crop failures, until they located on a farm in Palmyra, New York.

At the time, the second Great Awakening was occurring in areas of America.  Christian revivals were often staged and well-attended.  Christian sects competed bitterly for converts.  Joseph Smith was just fourteen, and he attended revivals whenever he could, since he spent a great deal of time laboring on the farm.  Though the Smith family were devout Christians, a few were attracted to the Methodist faith, while others favored Presbyterianism.

Joseph himself was in a quandary:

In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, 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.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

mormon-joseph-smithThe Smith family had left a small portion of their farm forested, as required by law.  Joseph Smith resorted to a grove of trees to ask the Lord which church he should join.  He fully intended to be baptized into one or the other.  His experience amidst the trees changed the world:

I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.

But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

When Joseph mustered his strength, he asked his question.  The Lord answered that he should join no church, but that the Lord was about to restore His true gospel to the earth.

As soon as Joseph shared his experience with a minister whom he trusted, expecting the churchman to rejoice over his experience, ceaseless persecution began.  The minister reviled him, saying there were no such visions today.  The heavens were closed.  The revelation was unacceptable, also, because Joseph had seen God the Father and Jesus Christ, two separate gloried beings who looked like men.  Such a notion upset the trinitarian beliefs of all Christian churches of the time.

mormon-priesthoodJoseph Smith continued to receive visions.  Heavenly messengers restored all of the keys of leadership of the true gospel.  John the Baptist conferred the Aaronic Priesthood upon Joseph; Peter, James, and John conferred the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, upon him.  Elijah restored the sealing power; Moses restored the keys of the gathering of Israel; Moroni, the last Book of Mormon prophet, led Joseph to find the ancient record of a people who had received the Savior after His resurrection.  It was a second witness that Christ indeed ministered on the earth, the Only Begotten of God in the flesh.

The heavens are open.  There is communication between heavenly beings and the leaders of Christ’s Church on earth.  There are prophets today; the authority to act in Christ’s name has been restored; the charismatic gifts are readily accessible; the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost is available.

All of the rumors and lies about Joseph Smith have rebuttals and clarifications.  To learn more about these, click here.

The most certain way to learn whether Joseph Smith was indeed a prophet is to read the Book of Mormon, and then in sincere prayer, to ask God Himself whether it is true.  There are millions of Mormons in the world today, and virtually all who have inquired have received an answer through personal revelation from God.  If the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith was a prophet, and the true gospel has been restored.  For a free copy of the Book of Mormon, go to Mormon.org.

Many of Joseph Smith’s Revelations were Received in the Company of Other People.

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