A Brief Mormon History

salt-lake-mormon-templeThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon” Church) was organized on April 6, 1830, in New York, U.S.A., by a prophet named Joseph Smith. Joseph was a young man of 14 when he prayed to know which church of all the many denominations was true. He received a vision of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. They told Joseph that none of the churches retained the fulness of the gospel which Christ established on the earth during His life. Over the next ten years, Joseph received more visions and instruction to prepare him to restore the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joseph and other Mormons, as they soon became called (after a book of scripture which Joseph translated from ancient records, called the Book of Mormon), were heavily persecuted. Throughout Mormon history, they were driven from place to place, often violently. They were thrown out of Missouri by Governor Boggs’ famous Extermination Order. They were later kicked out of Kirtland, Ohio, as well. They finally chose a swamp in Illinois to settle in. After much work in draining the swamp, with many Saints suffering malaria and other diseases, Nauvoo, Illinois, emerged as a gem out the formerly inhospitable landscape. Here the Saints built what they thought would be a permanent home. However, tensions continued to rise, and on June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith, Jr., and his brother, Hyrum Smith, were martyred at Carthage Jail.

mormon-history-scriptureJoseph had been in and out of jail on false charges myriad times, but this time he knew he was going “as a lamb to the slaughter.” He faced his death bravely, and he and Hyrum were both greatly mourned. Brigham Young became the next prophet and president of the Mormon Church. The direction of Mormon history was still governed by Jesus Christ through his prophet, and Brigham Young, following revelations which Joseph had been given before his death, led the Saints out of Illinois and out of the United States, to what later became the Utah Territory. They fled civilization and a beautiful home to seek refuge in a bleak, barren wasteland of desert so that they could be free to practice their religion. Persecution continued to follow them, though, and in some ways, that persecution still exists today. However, the Saints were able to build the Salt Lake Temple, as well as two other temples in Utah. They lived up to the high standards of their religion and were blessed for it. The Mormon Church continued to grow, and missionaries continued to bring people to Utah from all over the world. Utah began to explode with growth, and Brigham Young sent people all over the Great Basin to colonize the area. Finally, the Church had grown so much in Utah, that Church leaders told new converts to stay in their home states and home countries and to help build up the Church where they were. In consequence, Mormonism is now a worldwide religion, with about 14 million members and more members outside of the United States than in.

The Mormon Church has developed amazing welfare and humanitarian aid programs, it continues to build temples all over the world, and its missionary program is unsurpassed. The success of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lies in its doctrine and foundation on principles which were given (and continue to be given) directly to modern-day prophets who have the authority of the priesthood directly from Jesus Christ.

For more information on Mormon history, visit historyofmormonism.com

A Word about Polygamy

The media has done a lot lately about polygamy and the Mormon Church. This is not surprising, since Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) has been arrested for bigamy. In addition, two popular TV shows, “Big Love” on HBO and “Sister Wives” on TLC, have brought the issue to the front.

The fact is, however, none of these things is associated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The FLDS broke off from the Mormon Church more than 100 years ago, when leaders of the Mormon Church were instructed, by God, to discontinue the practice of polygamy. After this declaration, the Church stated it would excommunicate any members who continued to perform new polygamous marriages. “Big Love” claims to be about Mormons, but no faithful Mormons today are involved in the practice of polygamy. Members of the TV show “Sister Wives” are part of a sect that is also not a part of the Mormon Church. It is interesting to note that those who do continue the practice of polygamy are small and reclusive. They separate themselves from mainstream society. Faithful, practicing Mormons, however, are everywhere and are a large part of society today.

The practice of polygamy in Mormon history began with the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. He was commanded by God to practice polygamy and to give the principle to the members of the Church. Joseph and other leaders struggled mightily with this principle. Not a single one of them wanted to live it. They were commanded by God, however, so those who were called (which was a very small percentage of faithful members of the Church—the commandment was never given generally to the members) agreed to live this law. Some members of the Church actually became disaffected and left the Church over the practice of polygamy.

Though Joseph Smith did have more than one wife, his were mostly spiritual. The understanding was that they would be sealed to him in heaven, but he only had children with his first wife, Emma Smith. Brigham Young and other Church leaders did have children by more than one wife, and this practice continued for several decades.  Persecution was great, and the Saints were stripped of many of their rights. Some of them had to go into hiding. After several years of this, the Lord revealed to then-prophet Wilford Woodruff that if the Saints continued to practice, the government would invade their temples and they would no longer be able to worship how they chose. The order to stop practicing polygamy did not come from President Woodruff because of worldly pressure. God revealed to President Woodruff when the time came that He no longer required it of His people.

Some members defied this revelation and believed that President Woodruff had succumbed to worldly pressure. They left the Church and began to practice polygamy on their own. From the time they chose to not follow the prophet any more, they cut themselves off from the Church.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, fifteenth president of the Mormon Church, made the following statement at a General Conference of the Church in October of 1998:

“I wish to state categorically that this Church has nothing whatever to do with those practicing polygamy. They are not members of this Church. Most of them have never been members. They are in violation of the civil law. They know they are in violation of the law. They are subject to its penalties. The Church, of course, has no jurisdiction whatever in this matter.

“If any of our members are found to be practicing plural marriage, they are excommunicated, the most serious penalty the Church can impose. Not only are those so involved in direct violation of the civil law, they are in violation of the law of this Church. An article of our faith is binding upon us. It states, ‘We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law’ (Articles of Faith 1:12). One cannot obey the law and disobey the law at the same time.

“There is no such thing as a ‘Mormon Fundamentalist.’ It is a contradiction to use the two words together.”

For more information on Mormon polygamy, see mormon-polygamy.org.

Mormon Underwear: Temple Garments

Many people think it is very weird when they hear that Mormons have “special underwear,” which is far different than “normal people’s” underwear.

mormon-templeMembers of the Mormon Church who have gone through the Mormon temple ceremony, or endowment, make a promise to God to wear particular undergarments. The Mormon garments (or Mormon underwear) are an outward expression of an inward commitment, a physical reminder of spiritual promises (or covenants) a person made when he or she went through the temple for the first time. In this way, Mormon undergarments, or just “garments,” are very similar to religious clothing priests wear. They are reminders to those who wear them of the covenants made in the temple of God.

“It [the garment] is given to remind wearers of the continuing need for repentance, the need to honor binding covenants made in the house of the Lord, and the need to cherish and share virtue in our daily living so that promised blessings may be claimed” (Carlos E. Asay, “The Temple Garment: “An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment””, Ensign, Aug. 1997, 19).

Modesty is a principle of Mormon doctrine, and Mormon underwear (or the Mormon garment) helps wearers to keep this principle. Garments generally come down to the knee. They also cover the shoulders, chest, and back, for women — following the bra line. Clothing should always cover the midriff section, as well. There are obviously some occasions when wearing the garment would be impractical, like when swimming. The underlying principle to when one should and should not wear the garment is as follows:

The fundamental principle ought to be to wear the garment and not to find occasions to remove it. Thus, members should not remove either all or part of the garment to work in the yard or to lounge around the home in swimwear or immodest clothing. Nor should they remove it to participate in recreational activities that can reasonably be done with the garment worn properly beneath regular clothing. When the garment must be removed, such as for swimming, it should be restored as soon as possible.

The principles of modesty and keeping the body appropriately covered are implicit in the covenant and should govern the nature of all clothing worn. Endowed members of the Church wear the garment as a reminder of the sacred covenants they have made with the Lord and also as a protection against temptation and evil. How it is worn is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior (Carlos E. Asay).

mormon-underwearSeparate garments are made for men and women and are designed to be close fitting to the body. The clothing which is worn over them should not be so tight it shows the outlines of the garment, nor should it be sheer enough to see the garment through the fabric. However, the garments are designed so modest fashionable clothing can be worn over it with no problems. They are sold individually as tops and bottoms in different fabrics and styles to suit different preferences, but all are modest and follow the same basic design.  There are also garments designed especially for military personnel, which are fashioned to look like regulation military underwear.

Those who truly understand what the garment represents will never treat it lightly. It is not only a reminder of covenants made, but also of the wonderful blessings which are promised if one is faithful to those covenants. Protection from the power of Satan is one of these promises. Mormon underwear can be likened to the armor of God which Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6:11–17. It is the only physical reminder one can take from the temple and always have with him to remember the great spiritual truths learned in the temple.

The Mormon garment is a sacred part of the temple ceremony, and thus is not worn openly, nor should it be treated flippantly. Only endowed members of the Mormon Church are able to purchase garments. This is because they are sacred and should be treated with respect. One who has not been through the temple does not understand what the garment represents, and thus is unlikely to treat it with proper respect.

Those Mormons who have participated in the endowment ceremony know how special the garment is and wear it properly, with the right attitude.

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.

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 — 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)

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