The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, widely known as the "Mormon Church", or "LDS Church", is by far the largest denomination within the Latter Day Saint movement (Mormonism), a type of Christian Restorationism. The Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christian but is neither Catholic nor Protestant. Rather, members believe it to be the restoration of the original church established by Jesus Christ on earth. Joseph Smith, Jr., and five associates established the Church on April 6, 1830 in the company of some 56 men and women in Fayette, New York. After the Church's persecution and expulsion from the state of Missouri, and the assassination of Joseph Smith by a mob in Illinois, Brigham Young led the Mormon pioneers to settle the Great Basin area in what is now the state of Utah. The Church has grown to a worldwide membership of more than 12 million and is the fourth largest religious denomination in the United States .
Main article: History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Church members — known as Latter-day Saints — believe their faith to be the divinely appointed restoration of the Church established by Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament. They believe that after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the death of his apostles, and faced with organized persecution and hostility from within the pagan Roman Empire, the church that Christ had established and its authority began rapidly to change, leading ultimately to the Great Apostasy. As a result, new doctrine influenced by Hellenistic philosophy came to the fore, and by the fourth century, the church bore little resemblance to the original Church of Christ. With the loss of truth, divine approval, and authority from the Church, the heavens were closed and a long period of spiritual darkness followed.
Church members further believe that in the spring of 1820, God and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to a 14-year-old boy named Joseph Smith, Jr. in response to his prayer regarding which church was true. He was commanded to join none of the existing churches, and through other angelic visits was eventually called as the first prophet of the restored Church. This event is believed to have set in motion the events that led to the earthly restoration of the ancient Church of Jesus Christ with its plain and precious truths and priesthood authority. Ten years later, after a series of other revelations and visitations to Joseph and others, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was officially organized on 6 April 1830, in Fayette, New York.
In the process, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery are believed to have received authority to perform baptism and other ordinances from resurrected beings who held the authority anciently, including John the Baptist, the apostles Peter, James and John, and the ancient prophet Elijah.
Joseph Smith introduced new scriptures to complement and clarify the Biblical canon. Chief among these is The Book of Mormon, which Smith said is a record that was kept by ancient prophets who lived in the Americas, and was engraved on gold plates, which he translated by the power of God through the Urim and Thummim. Eleven witnesses signed testimonies of its reality, which are now included in the preface to The Book of Mormon. Eight handled the plates when shown them by Smith, and three professed to have seen an angel present them and to have heard God bear witness to its truth. Other new scriptures Smith introduced include a number of revelations given to the restored Church, which were eventually published as The Doctrine and Covenants.
After Smith was killed by a mob, Brigham Young, then President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was sustained by the majority of Smith's followers as the next Prophet and President of the Church (see also succession crisis). Faced with further persecution, members of the Church eventually followed Brigham Young to the Salt Lake Valley, where the Church is headquartered today. The Church is currently headed by President Gordon B. Hinckley. He is assisted by two counselors and twelve Apostles, each of whom are also sustained by members as "prophets, seers, and revelators ".
Name of the Church
Originally the Church was called the "Church of Christ" due to the belief that it is the restored Church of Jesus Christ. Four years later, in April 1834, it was also referred to as the "Church of Latter Day Saints" to differentiate the Church of this era from that of the New Testament. Then in April 1838, the full name was stated as the "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints" to "fully reflect the Church's identity" (see Doctrine and Covenants 115:3-4). In 1851, when the Church was incorporated in the United States, the official name changed slightly, picking up the additional corporate first article, "The", and the British hyphenation of "Latter-day".
The Church is also commonly referred to as the "LDS Church", and sometimes the "Mormon Church", although these designations can be confusing because groups outside the Church are sometimes also referred to as "Latter Day Saints" and "Mormons" and because there never was, strictly speaking, a "Mormon Church". The nickname "Mormon" arose soon after the publication of The Book of Mormon in 1830. Although originally used pejoratively to refer to the Church or its members, the term came to be used widely within the Church.
In a style guide issued in 2001, the Church requests that the official name, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", be used where possible, stating: "This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838." It also encourages the use of "the Church" or "The Church of Jesus Christ" as a shortened reference although the "LDS Church" is commonly used within the Church's publications. When referring to members of the Church, it suggests "Latter-day Saints" as preferred, although "Mormons" is acceptable. Despite the Church's efforts to encourage use of the official name, the Associated Press has continued to recommend "Mormon Church" as a proper second reference in its Style Guide for journalists. Additionally, some scholars feel the term "Mormon" is useful to collectively describe all those groups which claim to descend from Joseph Smith despite the Associated Press Stylebook's guidelines to apply the term only to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A new movement is underway to refer to the unique culture, social workings and doctrines of the sects that claim succession from Smith as Mormonism and historical underpinnings as the Latter Day Saint movement .
Within the Church, members are collectively referred to as "saints", which reflects the belief that anyone who covenants by baptism to follow Christ is a saint, as members of the primitive church were also deemed. The term "saint" is not solely reserved for an exemplary Christian as in other churches.
First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel
The fourth Article of Faith states that Latter-day Saints "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."
Latter-day Saints believe that faith in Jesus is a fundamental requisite to salvation. Faith in Jesus Christ means the acceptance that Jesus is the Son of God and the Messiah. This includes two parts: 1. the belief that all who live on Earth are granted salvation from death (physical resurrection) through the death of Jesus Christ, and 2. that salvation from sin (or spiritual death) is obtained through forgiveness for sin through his grace and by following the teachings and commandments of Jesus Christ. Latter-day Saints are encouraged by Church leaders and the LDS culture to develop their faith through study, prayer, service, and obedience to God's commandments. Latter-day Saints often refer to their personal faith as their "testimony" and refer to telling others about their faith as "bearing testimony."
Latter-day Saints believe in the principle of repentance, which for them includes a sincere regret, or "godly sorrow", as well as restitution when possible and abstinence from the sin. Key to the repentance process is a person's personal, prayerful confession to God, which includes asking for forgiveness and resolving not to repeat the mistake. It is important to confess serious sins to a bishop, who can offer advice and encouragement. Consistent with the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words from which it is translated, repentance denotes "a change of mind", "a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined." Thus, a return to sin shows that the repentance process is not truly completed. Repentance is for small and large sins and is an ongoing process.
The Church of Jesus Christ practices baptism by immersion as Christ was baptized. Baptism is symbolic of burial and rebirth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Like many Christians, Latter-day Saints believe that a person who repents and is baptized has all prior sins remitted.
Baptism is never performed before the eighth birthday. The age of eight was given in latter-day revelation as the age when children become accountable for their sins, that is, they are able to discern between right and wrong. (If a person is unable to discern between right and wrong, they are not baptized, regardless of their age.) The Book of Mormon and modern revelation specifically forbids the practice of infant baptism. (See Doctrine and Covenants 68:27 and Moroni 8:4-23.) Baptism is recognized only when performed by one holding the office of a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood or higher office.
See Baptism for the dead.
Gift of the Holy Ghost
Following baptism by immersion, individuals are confirmed members of the Church and given the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands by Priesthood bearers worthy to do so. Latter-day Saints believe that this blessing entitles the newly confirmed recipient to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost as a guide and guardian so long as the recipient lives worthy of the gift. Moreover, members believe that those who have not been confirmed may still receive inspiration and a witness from the Holy Ghost but are not entitled to constant companionship available through the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Church leadership and the priesthood
The head of the Church is the President, whom the members sustain and revere as the Prophet, seer, and revelator, and is entitled to receive revelation from God, and to guide the Church and the world as His mouthpiece on the earth. Other general, area, and local authorities of the Church include Apostles, Seventies, Stake Presidents, Bishops, and other quorum presidents. The president of the Church serves as such until death, after which the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles will meet, pray, and under the leadership of the senior apostle, receive revelation as to whom the next prophet should be. Although not specified by revelation, the senior apostle has historically become the new President of the Church. General Authorities work full-time for the church, and those that need it receive a stipend from the church.
Lay clergy has a strong tradition in the church, as area and local authorities are unpaid and continue in their normal occupations while serving in leadership positions. Some positions are limited to priesthood holders, with qualifications usually related to the particular calling (e.g., women for the Relief Society, men for the priesthood quorums.) In 1978, in an official declaration of the First Presidency, given by revelation to Spencer W. Kimball, the Church stated that all worthy men were allowed to receive the priesthood. From 1849 until 1978, men of African descent had not been permitted to receive the priesthood although they could become members and serve within the Church. (Persons of other dark-skinned ethnicities not of African descent, such as the Maori, could receive the priesthood prior to this time, based on being called by revelation. See Blacks and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
As the Church has no general salaried ministry, thousands of Latter-day Saints around the world participate in leading their congregations in their spare time for a period of a few years, while they continue their normal employment.
See Priesthood (Mormonism) and Priesthood (Latter-day Saint); First Presidency; Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; General Authority
Under the Church's doctrine of continuing revelation (see Articles of Faith number 9), the Church has an open scriptural canon which thus far includes the Bible, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, including The Articles of Faith. These scriptural writings comprise the Standard Works of the Church.
Many of the pronouncements of general authorities, particularly the president of the Church, are also often viewed as uncanonized scripture—particularly official written pronouncements signed by the First Presidency and/or the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, such as "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" (1995), which defined the Church's vision of the ideal family (which resembles the typical nuclear family), and "The Living Christ" (2000), which commemorated the birth of Jesus. Latter-day Saints are also encouraged to accept the most recent statements from prophets and general authorities as modern-day scripture. Latter-day Saints are encouraged to pray to know the truthfulness of the doctrine contained in their various scriptures, especially if they have trouble living a certain principle.
English-speaking members typically use the King James Version of the Bible; Joseph Smith also translated a version of the Bible, known as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (or Inspired Version), and although this Bible translation is not generally used by members of the Church (owing to the fact that the copyright is owned by The Community of Christ, previously called the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), the Bible issued by the Church contains cross references to the Joseph Smith Translation (JST). Though it is part of the canon and members believe the Bible to be the word of God, the Church also acknowledges that numerous omissions and mistranslations from the original autographs occur in even the earliest known manuscripts, though the relative majority of what remains is believed to be correct. These errors have lead to incorrect interpretations of the meaning of certain passages.
The introduction of The Book of Mormon describes the book as follows:
- The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel. The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C.E., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians.
- The crowning event recorded in the Book of Mormon is the personal ministry of Jesus Christ among Nephites soon after his resurrection. It puts forth the doctrines of the gospel, outlines the plan of salvation, and tells men what they must do to gain peace in this life and eternal salvation in the life to come.
The Doctrine and Covenants is a book of revelations, policies, letters, and statments given to Church presidents, starting with Joseph Smith. This record contains Church doctrine as well as direction on Church government.
The Pearl of Great Price contains: (1) excerpts from Joseph Smith’s translation of Genesis, called the book of Moses, and of Matthew 24, called Joseph Smith—Matthew; (2) Joseph Smith’s translation of some Egyptian papyrus (of which pages still exist rediscovered in 1967) that he acquired in 1835, called the "Book of Abraham"; (3) an excerpt from The Documentary History of the Church containing a letter written by Joseph Smith in 1838, called Joseph Smith—History; and (4) an excerpt of another of Joseph Smith's letters called the Articles of Faith, thirteen statements of belief and doctrine.
Church members, known as "Latter-day Saints," believe literally in the principle of revelation from God to his children. Individual members are entitled to divine revelation for meeting personal challenges. Parents are entitled to revelation for raising their families. Divine revelation for the direction of the entire Church comes from God to the president of the Church, who is viewed by Latter-day Saints as a prophet in the same sense as Abraham, Moses, Peter and other biblical leaders.
See also: Controversies regarding Mormonism.
LDS theology maintains that God the Father (Heavenly Father), Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct personages who together comprise the Godhead (as distinct from the Trinity which maintains that they are one being). All three members of the Godhead are eternal and equally divine, but play somewhat different roles. While the Holy Ghost is a spirit without a physical body, God and Christ do possess distinct, perfected, physical bodies of flesh and bone. Although Mormon theology sees the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost as separate beings, they are considered to be "one God" in most every other possible sense — most importantly that of purpose.
Mormonism posits most of the same attributes to the members of the Godhead that Trinitarian Christianity posits to the Trinity: omnipotence, omniscience, omnibenevolence, eternal, immutable, immortality, and immanence in the universe but not transcendence of it. However, the meaning held for some of these attributes differ significantly. For example, Mormonism holds that: as the creator, God is the organizer of the universe since in Mormonism all matter (including sentient beings) that exists has always existed and will always exist; God's omnipotence does not transcend logic, or the basic laws of physics, though mankind may not necessarily understand those laws fully; and God's immutability concerns primarily His creations and His future status, not His status prior to that time. The eternal and uncreated nature of God, matter, and the spirits of mankind is referred to in the Church hymn, If you could hie to Kolob (Hymn #284). It should be noted that the Church publishes its own hymnals in various languages, and exercises editorial control over hymn selection and content.
Although it is not stated in the canonical scriptures, Joseph Smith and other church leaders have taught that God the Father is an exalted man who once lived on an earth similar to this one, like His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith reportedly said:
- These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-46.)
It is implied that God may have lived a mortal life and passed through death, being resurrected and eventually progressing to godhood. The creation story in Genesis would begin sometime after this point.
Latter-day Saints generally also believe, although it is not canonical, that God is eternally married to a Heavenly Mother. Heavenly Mother is believed to be entirely equal in status to Heavenly Father, a celestial Goddess and God, respectively, forever married to one another and preserving differing yet complementary roles of deity, although she is not explicitly referred to in doctrine, scripture, or other Church canons. Her existence is referred to briefly in the Church hymn titled O My Father (Hymn number 292), and it is presumed from Church teachings proclaiming that each person is a "spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents" (See The Family: A Proclamation to the World). Thus, Her existence is simply acknowledged by Church members and leadership, but She is not worshipped nor is made the object of prayer. It is commonly surmised that she is deliberately and safely protected in anonymity by Heavenly Father, whereby no human knows Her name.
While those outside the Church refer to the Church's doctrine of the godhead as polytheistic, Latter-day Saints would more accurately be portrayed as henotheistic or monolatristic. However, as a matter of worship, LDS believe in one God as taught by the Book of Mormon. This God is represented in God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. Protestant, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Orthodox Christian churches insist their religion is monotheistic; that is, God is One in Being (ousia) and simultaneously Three, namely the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in Persons (hypostases). Though the existence of other gods or divine beings is acknowledged by the Church and its members, this fact is considered almost irrelevant to salvation: the other gods—which Latter-day Saints would refer to as exalted beings—have no impact on this sphere of existence, nor is their eternal role defined.
Despite the Church's name, its focus on Jesus as the Savior of humankind, its "family values", and many of the Gospel teachings it shares with other branches of Christianity, many theologians and members of those other branches consider the difference between LDS practices and doctrines—such as the contrast between the Church's doctrine of the Godhead and the mainstream Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity—so fundamental that they do not regard Latter-day Saints as Christians. (See Mormonism and Christianity.) Interestingly, LDS theology is viewed by these same theologians as the one area where the belief in Jesus Christ and His saving grace is null and void. In their view, Mormons will be damned regardless of their belief in Christ because of their doctrine. Latter-day Saints counter that it is mainstream Christianity that misunderstands the nature of God. They hold that the mainstream concept of God was corrupted by the introduction of Platonic realism, Neoplatonism, and extreme Asceticism into the early Christian church and that these influences continued through the Great Apostasy.
Latter-day Saints do not use the Christian cross or crucifix as a symbol of their faith. Most modern Latter-day Saints choose to focus upon Jesus' life and resurrection, not his death. LDS also believe that the one over-riding sign of being a Christian is that one lives Christ's teachings.
One of the most commonly used visual symbols of the Church is the trumpeting angel Moroni, proclaiming the restoration of the true gospel to the Earth (usually identified as the angel mentioned in Revelation 14:6–7); and a statue depicting the angel often tops the tallest spire of LDS temples. Another common symbol members use is the acronym CTR, meaning "Choose the Right", taken from the name and motto of a children's Primary class. "CTR" is most often displayed on a shield, and worn as a ring.
See also: Godhead (Mormonism); King Follett Discourse
The Plan of Salvation
The gospel of Jesus Christ, restored in its fulness by God through Joseph Smith, is known as the plan of salvation, and is designed to bring about the immortality and eternal life of mankind. It includes the Creation, the Fall, and the Atonement, along with all God-given laws, ordinances, and doctrines.
Latter-day Saints believe that "through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." (See Third Article of Faith.) Mankind may thus return to live with God as glorified, eternal beings. However, the conditions that Christ requires individuals to fulfil do not of themselves merit salvation, but are required for other reasons. It is only through His merits, mercy, and grace that salvation comes.
The gift of immortality is also believed to be freely given to all because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his subsequent Resurrection (See 1 Corinthians 15:22), although salvation from sin, or spiritual death, is conditional. However, entrance to the highest Heavenly Kingdom, the "Celestial Kingdom" (See 1 Corinthians 15:40), is only granted to those who accept Jesus through baptism into the Church by its priesthood authority, follow Church doctrine, and live righteous lives. Faith alone, or faith without works, (i.e. dead faith), is not considered sufficient to attain exaltation. (See James 2:26.)
Exaltation is the reward which Latter-day Saints believe is given to the righteous; including those whose first opportunity to hear the gospel is in the afterlife (and as soon as their temple work is done for them). Through the process of exaltation, a person can eventually become like Jesus Christ, or as it is expressed in scripture, a joint-heir with Him.
For Church members, the kingdoms of glory, as follows, are congruent with Christ's words in the New Testament: "In my house there are many mansions..."
The Celestial Kingdom (whose glory is compared to the brightness of the sun in the sky, as its inhabitants have all truth and light) is where righteous Saints will live with God and with their families. Those Saints who have been married in Church Temples may be exalted if they keep the covenants they made with God, primarily obedience to his laws. The minimum stated requirement for accountable individuals to gain entrance to the Celestial Kingdom is baptism and repentance; Latter-day Saints profess that all children who die before the age of accountability automatically inherit a celestial glory.
Those good people who are not valiant in following Jesus or who do not accept the Gospel do not qualify for exaltation and will be consigned to the Terrestrial Kingdom (whose glory is compared to the brightness of the moon in the sky). This kingdom is one of great glory, but without the presence of God the Father. The minimum requirement for entrance is keeping the "law of carnal commandments" (the Ten Commandments).
Murderers, other criminals, and those who do not accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ will eventually spend eternity with people of like intent in the Telestial Kingdom, and their glory will be as that of the stars in the sky (excluding the Sun). This is also considered a kingdom of glory and has been described as being much better than earthly life. The minimum requirement for entrance is not denying the Holy Ghost, a sin it is believed very few people are willing to commit.
Those few people who do, after gaining a full knowledge of the Gospel, willfully deny and contend against the Holy Ghost, are believed to inherit no glory, called "Gnolaum" or "Gnolom" by Smith (most members of the Church incorrectly refer to this place as Outer Darkness; this is not to be confused with traditional Christianity's definition of the term) at the final judgement—a place of no light. An individual so banished is called a Son of Perdition. Conventional forgiveness is not possible for these souls. It is believed they will still be resurrected, although their bodies will be of very limited or of no use to them.
Within greater Christianity, the LDS view of salvation is seen as being most like Arminianism, a commonly held view which emphasizes the individual's free-will acceptance of the grace of God throughout life.
Weekly worship services, including Sacrament Meetings, are held in meetinghouses, also referred to as "chapels." All people, regardless of belief or standing in the church are welcome to attend. The Sacrament, similar to Communion or the Eucharist in other churches, is offered weekly. Typical meetings include the singing of hymns (accompanied by piano or organ) and two or three discourses by congregational members. Although it is not required, women usually attend wearing skirts or dresses, while men wear suits or dress shirts and ties. People in different attire are also welcome.
Members of the LDS Church generally come together in meetinghouses throughout the week (except Mondays, which are reserved for family time) for different activities.
Sunday services consist of a three-hour block of time divided into three segments.
The primary Sunday service is Sacrament Meeting, which is slightly over an hour in length, and attended by the combined congregation. Sacrament Meeting services consist of the blessing and passing of the Sacrament--consecrated bread and water in remembrance of the body and blood of Christ--to baptized members of the Church; the service usually also consists of "talks" or lay sermons prepared and delivered by members of the congregation, and hymn singing and other forms of worship through music. During the other two segments, the congregation divides into smaller groups based on age and/or sex. The church publishes manuals for each type of class, usually including both a teacher's manual and a student booklet.
Sunday school classes are grouped by age and sometimes by background. The most common adult Sunday school class is "Gospel Doctrine," which meets each week and consists of a teacher presenting a gospel message drawn from the Scriptures, with participation from class members. A second adult class that meets most weeks is "Gospel Essentials," designed for new members and non-members who are interested in learning more about the Church (often referred to as investigators). Additional adult classes are held at various times, depending on the specific needs of each congregation. These classes include topics such as "Family Relations," "Family History," "Teacher Preparation" and "Temple Preparation." Youth Sunday School classes are divided by age (12-13, 14-15, 16-18). These classes are sometimes combined if class sizes are small.
In addition to Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School, a third block of meetings is held where attendance is based on age and sex. Men and boys from the age of 12 attend priesthood classes, women attend Relief Society, and girls ages 12-18 attend Young Women. The Young Women group is further divided into Beehive (ages 12-13), Mia Maid (ages 14-15), and Laurel (ages 16-18) classes. Although all men and boys meet together briefly at the beginning of the hour for a prayer, hymn, and announcements, they then separate into classes. The men separate by priesthood office to attend Elders Quorum or High Priests Quorum, the latter usually being older men and/or those who have held leadership positions in the Church. Youth are likewise divided into priesthood quorums: Deacons (ages 12-13), Teachers (ages 14-15), and Priests (ages 16-18). Classes may be combined if the class sizes are small.
Children younger than 12 attend Primary, which spans the two time blocks described above. Primary is divided into two large groups: Senior Primary (ages 8-12) and Junior Primary (ages 4-7); young children from 18 months to 3 years of age attend nursery class. Primary classes generally consist of all the children who were born in the same year. Usually one half of the Primary meets in separate classes while the other half meets together in sharing and singing time, and at the end of the hour, the two are reversed.
In addition to Sunday meetings, a number of meetings may take place during the week. High school students may attend Early Morning Seminary, which is scheduled so that students can leave for school when the class is over. In some areas with large LDS populations, provisions are made by the high school which allow students to attend Seminary (off-campus) during the school day. The provision, however, is considered Release Time, not a school-recognized class. No credit is awarded by the school, nor is any grade or achievement listed on the school's official transcript.
Young Men and Young Women often have a weekly meeting (sometimes referred to as "Mutual") which can involve an activity, service project, or instruction. Classes may meet separately or combined on different weeks. Once a month the adult women attend Enrichment Night, where they may choose between various classes being offered, participate in a service project, or some sort of social event.
In addition to these regularly scheduled meetings, additional meetings are frequently held at the chapel. Popular activities are basketball, luncheons, and various personal improvement classes. Church members may also reserve the building for personal use, such as wedding receptions, funerals, etc.
See: Temple (Mormonism)
Practices more or less distinctive to Latter-day Saints include following the Word of Wisdom (caring for one's body by eating healthy foods; abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee, and illicit drugs; and eating meat sparingly), tithing (donating 10 percent of one's income to the church), chastity, modesty in dress and behavior, lay leadership, Family Home Evenings (families are encouraged to meet weekly for prayer and other activities - typically on Monday), and home and visiting teaching (members regularly visit one another in their homes for prayer and study). Tattoos and body piercings (except for one pair of earrings for women) are strongly discouraged. Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and as a result, Mormon families tend to be larger than average. Sexual activity, both heterosexual and homosexual, outside marriage is strictly forbidden.
The Church emphasises the moral standards taught by Jesus Christ, including personal honesty, integrity, obedience to law, chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. The Church puts notable emphasis on the family, and distinctively, the concept of a united family which lives and progresses forever is at the core of Latter-day Saint doctrine. The Church opposes abortion, pornography and gambling.
Latter-day Saint fathers who hold the priesthood typically bless their babies shortly after birth to formally give the child a name and a blessing and generate a Church record for them. Various blessings may be pronounced, as directed by inspiration.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do not practice polygamy, and members found to be engaging in multiple marriage relationships are excommunicated. At one time in its history, the Church did endorse a form of polygamy called "plural marriage," but this is no longer the case. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and other early members of the Church were married to more than one wife, until the commandment was officially withdrawn as stated in a declaration called "The Manifesto" given by President Wilford Woodruff in 1890 (see Official Declaration 1), which told Church members to obey the marriage laws of their land. After the Manifesto, Church members living in Mexico, Canada (in polygamist enclaves) continued the practice of plural marriage. The Church's position was reiterated and clarified in 1910, with an additional request that no Church members enter into any form of plural marriage, regardless of their location, local customs, or legality. Converts from areas where polygamy is an accepted practice typically must end such relationships. Today, while plural marriage is not practiced, a widower qualified to enter the temple may receive permission to have his subsequent marriage(s) sealed if the woman has not been previously sealed to another man, allowing for the continuation of that relationship beyond death. A widow can be remarried in the temple, but can only be sealed to one husband.
Formal public and personal prayers are addressed to "Heavenly Father" and offered in the name of Jesus Christ, followed by amen. When a prayer is given in public, it is customary for all attending to say "amen" in reply. English-speaking members generally use "thee," "thou," "thy" and "thine" when addressing God, as a form of both familiarity and respect. Members who speak other languages use similar formal syntax in prayer. Most prayers are extemporaneous and may be said while kneeling, standing, or sitting or in any other position.
Certain prayers associated with ordinances are defined and must be delivered verbatim, while others must follow a certain pattern. For example, the prayer to bless the sacrament is a set prayer which is delivered the same way each week. The priesthood holder kneels to say the prayer; if he accidentally deviates from the form, he is instructed to repeat the prayer until it is correct. Likewise, the prayer for baptism must be given verbatim prior to immersion; the priesthood holder stands in the water beside the person to be baptized, raises his right arm to the square, and pronounces the blessing. Ordinations and blessings have a pattern, and some require certain fixed phrases that are to be included in the prayer. For example, in a confirmation prayer, the priesthood holder is to address the individual being confirmed by his or her full name, state the priesthood authority by which the ordinance is given, confirm that person as a member of the Church, and say to them, "Receive the Holy Ghost." This is usually followed by an extemporaneous personal blessing as directed by the Spirit.
The LDS Church has perhaps the most active missionary program of any world church. There are approximately 51,000 full-time missionaries serving around the world at any given time without pay. See missionaries for more information.
Missionary work is a fundamental principle of the Church, and has become one of the most readily identifiable characteristics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. All missionaries have been assigned by Church headquarters to their area of work, which can be in any part of the world where governments allow them to preach. They contribute to their own support for up to two years, frequently learning another language. The Church also places an emphasis on humanitarian services, and vast family history resources.
Latter-day Saints believe that one of the most important aspects of life on earth is the opportunity for individuals to learn and grow. Accordingly, the Church strongly emphasizes education and subsidizes Brigham Young University, Brigham Young University-Idaho (formerly Ricks College), and Brigham Young University-Hawaii. The Church also has a seminary program for high school students and an Institute of Religion program for college-age Church members. All members twelve and above attend Sunday School classes, which emphasize personal scripture studies and other forms of education and self-improvement.
The financial status of the Church has been the focus of two investigative reports: a 1991 report by the Arizona Republic and a 1997 report by Time Magazine. Both claim the Church is the most prosperous American religion, with Time estimating $5.2 billion dollars in tithes during 1996. The Church has holdings in real estate, as well as for-profit businesses managed through Deseret Management Corporation. Time estimated assets in 1996 at more than $30 billion dollars.
It is difficult to determine the exact financial status of the Church because it is not required to disclose financial information. Some of the Church's known holdings include:
- AgReserves Inc, Salt Lake City, Utah - the largest producer of nuts in America.
- Beneficial Life Insurance Co. - assets of $1.6 billion dollars.
- Bonneville International Corp - the 14th largest radio chain in the U.S.
- Deseret Cattle and Citrus Ranch in Orlando, Florida - the world's largest beef ranch at 312,000 acres (1260 km²). The land alone is worth $858 million.
- Farmland Reserve, Inc - recently purchased 88,000 acres (356 km²) in Nebraska bringing its total in Nebraska to 228,000 acres (923 km²) second in Nebraska to Ted Turner's 290,000.
- Polynesian Cultural Center, Hawaii - the number one for-profit visitor attraction in Hawaii.
The Church uses its financial resources to provide social welfare and relief, build facilities, maintain the missionary program, and support Church sponsored programs.
Provide for Social welfare and relief -
The Church operates a welfare distribution system, as it encourages members to seek financial assistance from family and church first before seeking public or state-sponsored welfare. AgReserves Inc., Deseret Cattle and Citrus Ranch, and Farmland Reserve, Inc. are part of its welfare distribution system. Welfare resources are distributed by local bishops but maintained by the Presiding Bishop.
Build facilities -
The Church builds additional chapels and temples as wards and branches of the Church are organized. A recent temple building program concluded in 2001 where the church built about 40 smaller temples between 1998 and 2001. The church currently has 119 temples around the world with 10 additional temples either announced or under construction. See chonological list of temples.
Maintain its missionary program -
Although the families of missionaries generally pay $400 a month for missions, additional general funds of the Church support missionaries unable to pay for their own missions. Additionally, the Church provides a mission office and mission home for each of its 300 missions and pays for television advertising offering free copies of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, videos, etc.
Support Church sponsored programs -
The Church owns and subsidizes education at its three Universities (see Education above). It also supports Boy Scouts programs for young men and Seminary and Institute programs.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints address each other as "Brother" or "Sister" and then usually append the last name (such as Brother Smith, or Sister Young). Additionally, those that hold specific leadership positions may be addressed by their title and then their last name (such as President Kimball). Some frequently-used titles are as follows:
- Bishop - The Bishop of a ward, and also the Presiding Bishop and his counselors.
- Elder - This title can be applied to any member of the Melchezidek Priesthood, but usually isn't, except in the cases of full-time missionaries or any member of the Quorum of Seventy or the Quorum of Twelve.
- President - In a ward, the Relief Society President and the Elder's Quorum President. The President of a Branch. All members of a Stake (or District) Presidency, a Temple Presidency, a Mission Presidency, the Presidency of the Seventy, and the First Presidency.
Some leadership callings, such as Apostle, Seventy, or Prophet, do not use their title but are simply addressed as Brother or Sister (or one of the other above mentioned titles they may hold). Additionally, except in the case of bishops, it is generally not appropriate to continue to call a person by his former title once he has been released.
Official websites of the Church
- Primary websites:
- LDS.org - the official website of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — with links to Gospel Library, Church History, Family Home Evening programs, and more
- Mormon.org - information on basic beliefs, a meetinghouse locator, and a place to email questions
- Related websites, affiliated with the Church:
- Church-friendly websites, unaffiliated with the Church:
- LDSresource.net - an online listing for aspects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- LDS Today - news related to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Meridian Magazine - Webzine for Latter-day Saints; updated every weekday.
- LDSFAQ at byu.edu - A comprehensive index answering many common questions. Uses large portions of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
- Gospeldoctrine.com - A resource meant to help with scripture study; provides thorough commentary from the author and from General Authorities on scripture.
- Evergreen - A resource for Latter-day Saints who experience same-sex attraction
- Websites with opposing views:
- Exmormon.org - Former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- JosephLied.com - Former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses why he and his family left the church
- Apologetics Index - by Evangelical Christians, provides resources from a variety of perspectives
- Utah Lighthouse Ministry - Former Mormons, now Evangelical Christians, who study the beliefs and history of Mormonism
- Concerned Christians - Evangelical ministry of former Mormons to expose what they believe to be the truth about Mormonism
- Affirmation - Gay and Lesbian Mormons.