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  Wikipedia: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Wikipedia: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—widely known as the "Mormon Church" although it prefers the term "LDS Church"—is the largest denomination within Mormonism, a form of Christian Restorationism. The LDS Church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and its members prefer to call themselves Latter-day Saints although it is usually acceptable to call them Mormons. Mormonism has been a subject of controversy since its inception because some of its doctrines and practices are unique among Christian denominationss. Many Christians do not consider the LDS Church to be Christian although Christian values and faith in Jesus Christ as the son of God and the Messiah are its fundamental tenets. See Mormonism and Christianity and Articles of Faith.

Like other sects within Mormonism, the LDS Church traces its origins to the Church of Christ formed April 6, 1830, by Joseph Smith, Jr and five associates in Palmyra, New York. Led by Brigham Young, the LDS Church separated from other smaller Latter Day Saint organizations in 1846, when Mormons were driven from Nauvoo, Illinois. Young and his group of Mormon pioneers eventually settled in the Great Basin area (now Utah). The Church has since grown to a worldwide membership of over 11 million [1] and is the fourth largest religious denomination in the United States [1]. The LDS Church is by far the largest denomination within Mormonism.

A near-comprehensive list of Wikipedia articles that mention the LDS Church or related Mormonism subjects may be found at List of articles about Mormonism.

Overview

Members of the Church, known as "Latter-day Saints", hold that their faith is a divinely appointed restoration of the church established by Jesus Christ as depicted in the New Testament. They believe that the authority to perform baptism and other necessary ordinances, was lost with the death of the Jesus's original apostles, leading to the Great Apostasy.

Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the "restored" church, told of an appearance of God and Jesus Christ and later visits from angels who guided him in restoring the church. In the process, he and others claimed to receive the authority to perform baptism and other ordinances. Smith also brought forth new scripture to complement and clarify the Biblical canon. These include the Book of Mormon, which they claim is a record kept by ancient prophets, engraved on metal plates, that Smith translated into English by the power of God. Joseph Smith also recorded a number of revelations given to guide the restored church. See Scriptures below.

When Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, most of his followers accepted Brigham Young as the next President and prophet. Faced with further persecution, Brigham Young eventually led them to the Salt Lake valley, where the church's headquarters remains. The Church in 2004 is headed by President Gordon B. Hinckley, the latest in a long succession of prophets since Brigham Young. He is assisted by two counselors and twelve Apostles.

The Church today is know for its worldwide missionary efforts, for the construction of temples where ordinances are performed for the living and by proxy for the deceased, and for its vast genealogy resources used by members and non-members alike.

Name of the Church

The Church was first called simply the "Church of Christ" due to its member's belief that it was 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 dispensation from that of the New Testament. After an additional four years, 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" [1] (see Doctrine and Covenants 115:3-4). In 1851, when the Church was incorporated in the United States, the official name of the Church changed slightly, picking up the additional corporate first article "The" and the British hyphenation of "Latter-day", and became "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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. See Mormon.

In a media guide first issued in 2001, the Church requested that the official name, "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints", be used wherever possible, stating: "This full name was given by revelation from God to Joseph Smith in 1838." It also encouraged the use of "the Church" or "the Church of Jesus Christ" as a shortened reference. When referring to members of the Church, it asked that the term "Latter-day Saints" be preferred, although "Mormons" is acceptable. Despite the Church's efforts over many decades to encourage use of its official name, the Associated Press has continued to recommend "Mormon Church" as a proper second reference in its influential 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.

Within the Church, all members are called "Saints", and the membership of the Church "The Saints" which reflects the Church's doctrine that any one who covenants by baptism to follow Christ is a saint. In the Church, saint is not a designation reserved for an especially exemplary Christian as is done in the Catholic or Orthodox churches.

The Godhead: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost

According to the theology of the Church, God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost are three separate and distinct personages that together form the Godhead (as distinct from the Trinity decreed by the First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, in response to disagreement in the form of Arianism within the early church). All three members of the Godhead are eternal and equal in divinity, but they play somewhat different roles. While the Holy Ghost is a spirit who has not yet received a physical body, God and Christ are embodied spirits; that is, the spirits (or spiritual bodies) of both God and Christ are clothed in separate, distinct, perfected, glorified, physical bodies of flesh and bone. Although Mormon theology considers the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost to be separate beings, they are considered to be "one" in most every other possible sense.

Mormonism posits most of the same attributes to the members of the Godhead as Christianity posits of the Trinity: omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, eternal, immutable, immortal and immanent in the universe but not transcendent of it. However, the meaning of some of these attributes differs significantly. For example, Mormonism holds that: as creator God is the organizer of the universe since in Mormonism all matter (including sentient beings) in the universe has always existed and will exist eternally; God's omnipotence does not transcend the laws of physics or logic; and God's immutability concerns primarily his creations and his future status and not with 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 number 284).

Although it is not directly 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. Joseph Smith reportedly taught:

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 passing through death and resurrection and eventually progressing to godhood. The creation story in Genesis would begin sometime after this point.
   
Latter-day Saints also believe, although it is not canonical, that God is married to a Heavenly Mother. No reference is made to the status of the Heavenly Mother in terms of her divinity, nor is she explicitly or extensively 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 that proclaim 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 the object of prayer. See Heavenly Mother.

While some refer to the Church's doctrine of the godhead as polytheistic, Latter-day Saints would be more accurately portrayed as henotheistic. In contrast to this, Protestants and Catholics insist that their religion is monotheistic; that is, God is one god, simultaneously the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Though the existence of other gods 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 our sphere of existence.

Despite the Church's name, its focus on Jesus as sole savior of mankind, its family values and many of its gospel teachings in common with Christianity, many theologians and members of other Christian denominations consider the difference between the Church's practices and doctrines—such as the contrast between the Church's doctrine of the Godhead and the mainstream Christian doctrine of trinitarianism—so fundamental that they do not regard Latter-day Saints as Christians. (See Mormonism and Christianity.) 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 typically use the cross as a symbol of their faith. While the cross was a used at the top of its earliest temples, many modern Latter-day Saints are disturbed by this symbol of Christ's death, and prefer instead to focus upon his life.

See also: Godhead (Mormonism); King Follett Discourse

Salvation, Exaltation, Damnation and Eternal Progression

Latter-day Saints believe that "through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved [from sin (spiritual death) and physical death], by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel." (See Articles of Faith number 3.) This Plan of Salvation is God's plan for the return of mankind to live with him as glorified, eternal beings. Salvation occurs through Jesus, whom they view as the redeemer of mankind. The gift of immortality is believed to come to all through Jesus' sacrifice on the cross and his subsequent Resurrection. (See 1 Corinthians 15:22.) Although it is believed that immortality is a free gift to all people, entrance to the Heavenly Kingdom (referred to as the "Celestial Kingdom") (See 1 Corinthians 15:40.) comes only to those who accept Jesus through baptism by priesthood authority into the Church, follow Church doctrine, and who live righteous lives. Faith alone, i.e. dead faith, or faith without works, is not considered sufficient to gain exaltation. (See James 2:26.)

Exaltation is the reward which the Church believes is given to righteous members—including those who accept the Gospel in the afterlife. Through the process of exaltation, a person can eventually become a god and creator.

It is believed that people who do not have the opportunity to accept the Gospel while on Earth will have another opportunity to do so in the afterlife.

The Celestial Kingdom (metaphorically glorious as the sun) is the place where righteous Church members live with God and with their families.

Those good people who choose not to be valiant in following Jesus or who do not accept the Gospel do not qualify for exaltation, and will be consigned to—and indeed find themselves more comfortable in—the Terrestrial Kingdom (metaphorically compared to the moon's brightness). This place is believed to be one of great glory, but without the presence of God the Father.

Murderers and other criminals also spend eternity with people of like intent in the Telestial Kingdom (likened to the stars). This also is considered a kingdom of glory, and is described as being much more glorious than mortal life, perhaps because it is free from the sickness and want of mortality.

These three kingdoms—the Celestial, the Terrestrial, and the Telestial—are comparable to the concept of heaven as found in most other Christian denominations in that they are places of eternal happiness. Within the Church the kingdoms are often collectively referred to as heaven. These kingdoms also form a vital part of the Plan of Salvation.

A small number of truly evil people, who have a full knowledge of the Gospel and willingly reject what they know to be God's truth in its entirety, are believed to be consigned to what is commonly referred to as Outer Darkness at the final judgement—a place of no light (light being the common metaphor for truth). An individual banished to Outer Darkness is known as a Son of Perdition.

First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel

Under the fourth Article of Faith, 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."

Faith

Repentance

Latter-day Saints believe in the principle of repentance, which for them includes a sincere regret as well as restitution when possible and reform of one's actions. It is considered important for a person to confess serious sins to their Bishop, who can also offer advice and encouragement in less serious matters. 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. Consistent with the meaning of the Greek word, from which it is translated, repentance denotes "a change of mind" and "a turning of the heart and will to God, and a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined." Thus, one who recommits a sin shows that he or she has not yet truly completed the repentance process.

Baptism

The Church of Jesus Christ practices baptism by immersion. It is believed that baptism is symbolic of a burial and rebirth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Through repentance and baptism, the person is believed to be cleansed of all previous sin and becomes a member of the church.

Baptism is always performed after the eighth birthday. The age of eight is considered the age when people can be responsible for their actions. 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.)

The Church has been criticized for its practice of baptism for the dead whereby a member of the Church stands in as a proxy for a deceased individual and is baptized on behalf of the deceased person. According to Church doctrine it is possible to offer all the ordinances necessary for salvation to all who have lived who have not yet received these rites from a Mormon clergyman. Despite the Church's teaching that the deceased individual chooses to accept or reject the baptism performed on the person's behalf, some groups—primarily Jewish—have taken offense at this practice if the decedent's family members have not given or asked permission, especially for Jewish Holocaust victims.

Gift of the Holy Ghost

The Gift of the Holy Ghost is conferred on newly baptized members. A few Priesthood bearers (clergymen) place their hands on the head of the recipient. One of the clergymen speaks for the group admonishing the recipient to receive the Holy Ghost and confirms the recipient as a member of the Church; the speaker may also add other improvised words of blessing as he feels so inspired to speak. 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 righteously. Conversely, members believe that those who have not been given the gift are not entitled to such constant companionship.

Chapels and Temples

One must be a member in good standing in order to enter any of the temples. However, the public is welcome to attend open houses at the temples before they are dedicated and meetings in local chapels.

Worship services, known as Sacrament meetings, are held weekly. Every Sacrament meeting includes administration of the Sacrament, similar to Communion or the Eucharist in other churches. Typical meetings include the singing of hymns (accompanied by piano or organ) and two or three discourses by members. Although it is not required, women usually attend wearing skirts or dresses, while men wear dress shirts and ties. It is generally considered faux pas to attend in regular "street" garb, e.g. a t-shirt and blue jeans.

The temples are not used for regular Sunday worship, but are primarily used for the performing of ceremonial ordinances that Latter-day Saints believe are essential for entering the Celestial Kingdom. The ordinances performed in the temples, including baptisms, are also done by proxy for those who have died. To obtain names of people for whom ordinances can be performed, the church encourages genealogical research and makes available its vast genealogical resources to all through its website www.familysearch.org. Although it is not official doctrine, Latter-day Saints generally believe that ultimately (after the Second Coming) all people who have lived will have had ordinances performed for them. The ordinances are believed to have no effect, however, on those who decide they don't wish to receive the benefits of, or reject the Gospel.

See also: Temples of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sealing

A sealing is a special ritual or ceremony which is held only in a Temple. During a Sealing, the members of a family, including parents and children, are bound together as a family in a way which is believed to endure beyond death. The Church teaches that a family which has been sealed in the Temple will remain a family unit after death when they are faithful to the covenants they make as members. This is the belief which lies behind the well-known church slogan, "Families are Forever."

Genealogy

Because of their doctrinal beliefs (primarily, the LDS ritual of proxy work for the dead in their temples), LDS have compiled one of the world's largest databases of genealogical information and created GEDCOM a standard data file format for storing and editing the data on computers. Genealogists (both LDS and not) often visit the LDS Church's local genealogy libraries, or the larger genealogy library near Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Other Practices

Practices more or less distinctive to Latter-day Saints include following the Word of Wisdom (eating healthy, abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee and eating meat sparingly), tithing (giving 10 percent of one's income to the church), chastity (no sexual relations outside marriage), modesty in dress, lay leadership (local church officials are not paid; however, General Authorities of the Church serving for life receive a stipend), 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 other members in their homes for prayer and study). Tattoos and body piercings (except for one pair of earrings for women) are discouraged. Church members are encouraged to marry and have children, and as a result, Mormon families tend to be larger than average. Although it is no longer practiced, some church members at one time practiced a form of polygamy they called "plural marriage", following the example of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and other early Church leaders.

Prayers are addressed to a "Heavenly Father" and offered in the name of Christ. English-speaking members generally use "thee", "thou", "thy", and "thine" when addressing God.

Latter-day Saint fathers typically bless their babies shortly after birth when they are formally given a name, and various blessings are pronounced, as the father feels inspired. This blessing is not considered required for salvation and thus converts are not required to have this blessing.

Young men (between the ages of 19 to 26) who are worthy are encouraged to go on a two-year, full-time proselytizing mission. Young women, who must be at least 21, may also serve 18-month missions, but are not expected to do so. Elderly, retired couples are encouraged to serve missions as well, but their length of service varies from 12 to 24 months. The Church has about 60,000 missionaries worldwide. [1]

The Church strongly emphasizes education and subsidizes Brigham Young University and other Church-related colleges and universities. The Church also has a seminary program for high school students and an institute program for college-aged students that teach Church doctrines and encourage study of scripture.

Church members also may wear special clothing or undergarments which are called the Garment of the Holy Priesthood. Only those who have been endowed in the temple wear the garment. This clothing in some ways functions similarly to the ecclesiastic clothing worn by many other Christian groups, but endowed members wear this clothing under their normal attire.

Typically the first Sunday of every month is designated as a "fast and testimony" Sunday. On that day, members fast for two meals and donate the cash value of the meals they would have eaten to the Church's "fast offerings fund." These funds are used to provide financial assistance to indigent members in the congregation or other Church member worldwide. This assistance may be for food, rent, counseling or other basic needs. On "fast and testimony" day, some members stand before the congregation in an orderly manner and "bear their testimony" to the congregation. During Fast and Testimony Meeting (which takes the place of the normal sacrament meeting) the Bishop of the congregation invites members (from young children to the elderly) who feel "moved by the spirit" to do so to bear their testimonies. A testimony consists of a member testifying that the member believes in the basic precepts of the Church and why that member believes so. Members also usually relate an anecdote that bolstered or verified their faith in the Church.

Fasting and testifying also occur outside of church meetings. Members may fast and pray for special or personal reasons such as for someone's health, overcoming an addiction or for direction in important decisions. Church missionaries regularly "share their testimonies" while proselytizing non-members.

Fasting for the Latter-day Saint goes beyond abstaining from food, but also includes abstaining from drinking any type of beverages including water.

The Priesthood and Church Leadership

The Church is headed by its President whom the members revere as a Prophet and whom they believe is entitled to receive revelation from God to guide the entire Church and to bring the Gospel to the rest of the world who are not members. The Other General, Area and local Authorities of the Church include Apostles, Seventies, Stake Presidents and Bishops. The President of the Church serves until his death, after which the next most senior Apostle (in years served as an Apostle) is typically ordained in the deceased Prophet's place.

See also: Priesthood (Mormonism) and Priesthood (Latter-day Saint)

History

See History of the Latter Day Saint movement, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Scriptures

Under the Church's doctrine of continuing revelation (see Articles of Faith number 9), the Church has an open scriptural canon which currently includes the Bible, The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. These scriptures form the Standard Works of the Church]]. Viewed as authoritative but again technically not canonical are some proclamations by the Church leadership, including the 1995 "The Family: A Proclamation to the World", which defined the Church's vision of the ideal nuclear family, and the 2000 "The Living Christ", which commemorated the birth of Jesus Christ.

English-speaking members typically use the King James Version of the Bible; the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible is often referred to, but is not considered canonical. Though part of the canon, members believe that the books of the Bible contain some error regarding basic principles of the gospel necessary for salvation due to numerous translations and omissions over the thousands of years since they were authored. Thus, LDS consider the Book of Mormon to be more correct—although no more authorative—than modern versions of the Bible.

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 given to prophets of modern times, 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 that he claimed to acquire 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.

See also: Controversies regarding Mormonism.

References

  1. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The (2003). Facts and Figures. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2003 from http://www.lds.org/newsroom/page/0,15606,4034-1---10-168,00.html
  2. Adherents.com (2003). Largest Religious Groups in the USA. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2003 from http://www.adherents.com/rel_USA.html#bodies
  3. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (2003). Name of the Church. Retrieved Nov. 18, 2003 from http://www.strangite.org/Name.htm
  4. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, The (2002). The Missionary Program. Retrieved Nov. 20, 2003 from http://www.lds.org/newsroom/page/0,15606,4037-1---6-168,00.html

Related Articles

External Links

Official websites of the LDS Church

Other LDS links

Opposing views

Responses to Critics


  

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