Many people criticize Mormons for having more scripture than the Bible. In fact, a lot of people think that Mormons don’t believe in the Bible at all. This is not true. Mormons believe the Bible to be the word of God, but only insofar as it has been translated correctly (Article of Faith 8). Over thousands of years, many truths have been lost from the Bible, either by malicious people who changed meaning, by mistranslation, or by mistakes in copying. However, many of these truths have been restored in other scripture, particularly through the Book of Mormon. Mormon doctrine teaches that God continues to speak to His children today, and Mormons have four total books of scripture which have been canonized: the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.
The Book of Mormon is a record of the history of some of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas. It tells the history of three different groups which were led to the Americas (or the Promised Land) by the hand of God. The first group, the Jaredites, was led from the European/Asian continent at the time of the Tower of Babel. The second group, the Lehites, was led out of Jerusalem in about 600 B.C. The final group was led out of Jerusalem in the days of Zedekiah, and they joined a remnant of the Lehites. The Book of Mormon is another testament that Jesus is the Christ, that He visits His people, and that He loves all His children. The Book of Mormon was translated in the late 1820s by Joseph Smith, by the power of God, from ancient records kept on plates of brass, and it contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Mormons use the same Bible that many other denominations use: the King James Version. While the Mormon Church has not canonized the books of the Apocrypha, it was revealed to Joseph Smith that there were many truths in those books which could be discerned when read by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The Doctrine and Covenants
The Doctrine and Covenants is a collection of modern revelations given in large part to Joseph Smith, but also to other early Mormon Church leaders. These revelations helped to clarify doctrine and also set forth new doctrine pertinent to the time it was given. There are many valuable teachings contained in this book.
The Pearl of Great Price
The Pearl of Great Price is a collection of books. Some were revealed to Joseph Smith when he re-read the Bible by the power of the Holy Ghost and was given revelation where some truths had been lost over time. The Book of Abraham was translated by Joseph Smith from an ancient papyrus which came into the hands of the Mormon Church in the mid-1800s. It was a copy of an original record written by Abraham himself, or rewritten by scribes through the ages, and came from the catacombs of Egypt.
In addition to these books of scripture, Mormons believe that God continues to speak to His prophet on the earth today, and whatever is spoken by the prophet, in his capacity as prophet, is also considered as scripture. Some churches believe that God stopped speaking to His children at the close of the New Testament. Mormon doctrine teaches that God still loves us just as much today and continues to speak to His children through modern-day prophets. Joseph Smith was the first prophet of this dispensation, but there have been fifteen prophets since Joseph Smith. The current prophet is always the current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called the Mormon Church), who is now Thomas S. Monson.
Twice a year, in April and again in October, the Mormon Church holds a general conference for all members worldwide. Each conference takes place on a Saturday and a Sunday, during five sessions. During this conference, many Church leaders speak to members on a variety of subjects, giving them more revelation, guidance, and encouragement. The words spoken in each of these conferences become scripture as well, and are published the following month in special issues of the Mormon magazines the Ensign and the Liahona. Mormons know that God loves each of them and that He continues to speak directly to them and also through His leaders.
Mormon 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.
Mormons 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.
The 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.
Many 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.
A 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.
Young 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.
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
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?
The 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).
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.
The 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.
The 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.
A 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.
The 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
Women 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)
John Wentworth, the editor of a Chicago newspaper, wrote a letter to Joseph Smith in 1842, inquiring about the beliefs and history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church). President Smith answered the letter, which has come to be known in the Mormon church as the Wentworth letter. In this letter, which was never published, the prophet listed thirteen basic beliefs of the Church. These are now known as the Articles of Faith and are part of LDS scripture. They are, as follows:
(History of the Church, Vol. 4, pp. 535–541)
- 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 paradisaical 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.
Some facets of the above statements of Mormon belief need to be explained to friends of other faiths.
- The Godhead: Mormons believe that the Godhead is comprised of three separate beings who are one in purpose. Both God the Father and Jesus Christ are resurrected, corporeal beings who are so glorious that men cannot stand in their presence and survive, unless they are “quickened” by the Spirit. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit. Thus, he can dwell within us.
- Adam’s fall was part of the Plan of Salvation (see The Purpose of Life). The atonement of Christ makes up for the fall of Adam. Thus, Mormons do not believe in “original sin,” and claim that little children are born in innocence, so that infants have no need of baptism.
- The atonement of Jesus Christ is the most important event in the history of the earth. Through it, Christ took upon Himself all the sorrows of mankind, plus the wrath of God —the punishments — for the sins of all of us. Christ’s atonement guarantees resurrection for all living things, but it provides salvation only for those who believe on His name, and repent of their sins. The saving ordinances (such as baptism) lead one to exaltation.
- See Mormon Beliefs: First Principles
- The reason that there are so many churches on the earth, is that men come up with various versions of the truth. Only one church can be the Church of Christ — the one to which Christ has given the authority and power to act in His name. That is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- The LDS Church is organized after the same manner as Christ’s ancient church, with all the offices and priesthood that existed then.
- All the charismatic gifts are found in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including the gifts listed in the Articles of Faith. These miracles follow the true authority and power endowed upon the Church and its members by Jesus Christ.
- If people say the Book of Mormon conflicts with the Bible, then they haven’t read it. The Book of Mormon perfectly upholds the Bible and is a second testament that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Mormons are Bible-believing Christians and spend two of every four-year course of scripture study on the Old and New Testaments. There are errors in translation in the Bible. References to the Savior have been deleted from the Old Testament, for example. Mormon scholars do their best to get back to original translations to find what is most correct.
- The heavens are open. God speaks to His prophets. He guides His children through them, and is revealing more and more to prepare the world for the Second Coming.
- The Church is building up the kingdom of God on earth to receive Jesus Christ upon His Second Coming, which will shortly come to pass. During the millennium two great world centers will exist, Jerusalem in the Holy Land, and Zion in America. From them will proceed the law and the gospel. To read about New Jerusalem, click here.
- Mormons believe in freedom of religion. They respect those of other faiths and refuse to slander or mock others because of their believes. They wish others would treat them with the same consideration.
- Mormons are good citizens wherever they are found. In spite of the burden of hours of service they give to the Church (since the Church has a lay clergy, members fill all positions of service), they are urged to serve also in their communities. To read more about Mormons giving service, go to MormonChurch.org.
- Mormons seek anything uplifting and praiseworthy wherever it is to be found.
The first principles of the Mormon gospel are 1) faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer; 2) repentance; 3) baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and 4) receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Mormon doctrine teaches that faith is not knowledge. It is belief in that which is true, that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God in the flesh and creator of the world, has died for our sins, that we might not suffer for our sins if we repent and lay hold upon His atonement for us. True faith is not just belief, but always leads to action — repentance, service, and keeping God’s commandments.
Repentance has several steps. First comes a recognition that one has offended God. A person must have a knowledge of God’s commandments in order to knowingly sin. After recognition, the person must desire to change and to reconcile himself/herself to God. One must then confess. Minor sins can be confessed through prayer to God, but major sins must be confessed to a church authority, who will help the sinner on the path to forgiveness. Then a person must try to make restitution as best he or she can. That means restoring that which was injured or stolen. In many cases this is impossible. In that case, the person should seek the forgiveness of the person he or she has offended. Next comes abandonment of the sin, and then a return to full fellowship, which means keeping the commandments and forsaking the old, sinful behavior.
Christ was baptized by immersion as an example to us, to fulfill all righteousness(even though He was sinless). One must be baptized by a “priest,” which is an office of the Aaronic priesthood, or by someone who holds an even higher office in the priesthood. The “priesthood” is the authority to act in God’s name, restored to the earth in this last dispensation of time by Jesus Christ. The Mormon Church does not practice infant baptism. Infants and little children are innocent before God, their parents being responsible for their behavior. They are baptized at age 8, called “the age of accountability, when they understand the difference between right and wrong, as well as the process of repentance. The mentally incompetent also have no need of baptism.
After baptism, a person has the right to the “gift of the Holy Ghost,” which is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, as long as the person remains worthy. The Holy Ghost conveys revelation and inspiration, testifies of truth, warns of danger, enlightens, and comforts. A person who has this gift manifests a visible light that others can discern. Gladys Knight, the popular R&B singer and a convert to the Church, has mentioned that many have asked her about the light that now radiates from within her.
The central tenet of Mormonism is the atonement of Jesus Christ. The first prophet of the Church, Joseph Smith, stated,
“…the fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and the Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it …” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121).
Joseph Smith composed The Thirteen Articles of Faith, listing the precepts of the Mormon Religion. To see them, click here.