Latter-Day Saints:
The Mormons
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Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(The “Mormons”)

Most of the information in this section of our site refers to the largest Mormon denomination, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, headquarted in Salt Lake City, Utah. The other Mormon denominations, somewhat over 100 in all, deviate very little from the information we present.


Joseph Smith, Jr.

Brigham Young
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church, or informally, the Mormon Church) considers itself to be the restoration of the church founded by Jesus Christ.

Adherents, sometimes referred to as Latter-day Saints or, more informally, Mormons, view faith in Jesus Christ and his atonement as the central tenet of their religion, though their definitions of atonement and salvation are totally different from the way those terms are used in the Bible, as do their doctrines regarding the nature of God and the potential of mankind. The church has an “open canon” which currently includes four primary texts: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the King James Bible, “insofar as it is correctly translated.” Whenever Mormon doctrine deviates from the teaching of the Bible it is “because the Bible is incorrectly translated.” Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation spoken by Joseph Smith and recorded by his scribes, which includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets.

Under their doctrine of “continuing revelation,” Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ, under the direction of “Heavenly Father,” leads the church by revealing his will to its president, whom adherents regard as a modern-day prophet, seer, and revelator.” Individual members believe that they can also receive personal revelation from God in conducting their lives. The president heads a hierarchical structure with various levels reaching down to local congregations. Bishops, drawn from the laity, lead local congregations. Worthy male members, after reaching age 12, may be ordained to the priesthood. Women do not hold positions within the priesthood, but do occupy leadership roles in church auxiliary organizations.

Both men and women may serve as missionaries, and the church maintains a large missionary program which proselytizes and conducts humanitarian services worldwide. Faithful members adhere to laws regarding sexual purity, health, fasting, and “Sabbath” observance [on Sunday, not on God’s Sabbath], and contribute ten percent of their income to the church as a tithe. In addition, the church teaches sacred ordinances through which adherents make covenants with God, including baptism, confirmation, the sacrament (holy communion), endowment, and celestial marriage (marriage blessings which extend beyond mortality), which are of great significance to church members.

Beginnings

Joseph‘s “First Vision” The LDS Church traces its current dispensation beginnings to Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830 in Western New York. Initial converts were drawn to the church in part because of the newly published Book of Mormon, a self-described chronicle of indigenous American prophets that Smith said he had translated from golden plates.

Smith intended to establish the New Jerusalem in North America, called Zion. In 1831, the church moved to Kirtland, Ohio (the eastern boundary of Zion), and began establishing an outpost in Jackson County, Missouri (Zion's "center place"), where he planned to eventually move the church headquarters. However, in 1833, Missouri settlers brutally expelled the Latter Day Saints from Jackson County, and the church was unable via a paramilitary expedition to recover the land. Nevertheless, the church flourished in Kirtland as Smith published new revelations and the church built the Kirtland Temple as the site of what they viewed as a “new Pentecost.” The Kirtland era ended in 1838, after a financial scandal rocked the church and caused widespread defections. Smith regrouped with the remaining church in Far West, Missouri, but tensions soon escalated into violent conflicts with the old Missouri settlers. Believing the Saints to be in insurrection, the Missouri governor ordered that the Saints be "exterminated or driven from the State". In 1839, the Saints converted a swampland on the banks of the Mississippi River into Nauvoo, Illinois, which became the church’s new headquarters.

Nauvoo grew rapidly as missionaries sent to Europe and elsewhere gained new converts who then flooded into Nauvoo. Meanwhile, Smith introduced polygamy to his closest associates. He also established ceremonies, which he stated the Lord had revealed to him [but which are actually the same rituals that he learned as a Freemason], to allow righteous people to become gods (joint heirs with Christ, see theosis) in the afterlife, and a secular institution to govern the Millennial kingdom. He also introduced the church to a “full accounting” of his First Vision, in which two heavenly “personages” (LDS interpret them to be “God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ”) appeared to him at age 14. This vision would come to be regarded by the LDS Church as the most important event in human history after the resurrection of Jesus.

On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a posse while excaping from jail in Carthage, Illinois, where they were being being held on charges of treason. Because Hyrum was Joseph’s designated successor, their deaths caused a succession crisis, and Brigham Young assumed leadership over the majority of Saints. Young had been a close associate of Smith’s and was senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve. Numerous splinter groups (now numbering over 100), excommunicated from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, followed other leaders in their own interpretation of the Latter Day Saint movement.

After Smith's death the majority of the members followed Brigham Young to Utah Territory, with several smaller denominations remaining in Illinois or settling in Missouri and in other states. Each of the churches that resulted from this schism considers itself to be the rightful continuation of Smith's original “Church of Christ,” regardless of the name they may currently bear (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Community of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), Church of Christ (Temple Lot), etc.).

Virtually every Latter Day Saint denomination claims to be the rightful successor to the original Church of Christ and claims Joseph Smith, Jr. as its founding prophet or first president. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Community of Christ, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), Church of Christ (Temple Lot), and Church of Christ with the Elijah Message all claim to have been organized by Smith on 6 April 1830, the date on which the original church was organized. Other denominations, such as The Church of Jesus Christ (Bickertonite), acknowledge that their organizations were created after this date, but nevertheless claim to be a re-establishment of the original church.

In an 1880 lawsuit, an Ohio court found that the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS Church, since renamed "Community of Christ") was the lawful successor to Smith’s original church. The court also explicitly held that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was not the lawful successor because it “has materially and largely departed from the faith, doctrines, law, ordinances and usages of the said original Church.” However, these holdings were only preliminary findings of fact based on the RLDS Church's unopposed legal submissions; the court issued no final judgment on the matter because the case was dismissed.

In 1894, a federal United States court in Missouri held again that the RLDS Church was the lawful successor to the original church. However, on appeal the entire case was dismissed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit without any discussion by the court of the issue of legal succession.

The largest of all the Mormon denominations is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has established congregations (called wards or branches) and built temples worldwide. According to the church, it has over 80,000 missionaries worldwide and has a membership of over 15 million. It is ranked by the National Council of Churches as the fourth largest “Christian denomination” in the United States.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is one of the fastest-growing religious organizations in the world. Also known as Mormons, there are two main branches and several sub-groups. The main body (though not the “original” body) has their headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the primary sub-division, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (renamed Community of Christ in April 2001), has its headquarters in Independence, Missouri.

According to a news release from the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA dated 13 Feb 2002, the main LDS church (Salt Lake Cith) was the fifth largest religious body in the United States in 2002. By 2011 they had advanced to fourth largest. Figures shown in the table are USA membership.

Denomination Name 2011 Membership 2001 Membership
Roman Catholic Church 68.5 million  62,391,484
Southern Baptist Convention 16.1 million  15,851,756
United Methodist Church 7.8 million  8,377,662
Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints
(Salt Lake City, Utah)
6 million 5,113,409
Church of God in Christ 5.5 million 5,499,875
Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America 
4.5 million  5,149,668

Websites for the two main groups may be found here:
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS)
Community of Christ (formerly Reorganized LDS)

The following documents are on this website:

Joseph Smith's First Vision
Meet the Mormons
Origin and History of Mormonism
Mormon Marriage
Reorganized LDS Church
The Book of Mormon
The Vocabulary of Mormonism
The “Jesus” of the Mormons
We are “Christians” because ...

Page last updated on Wednesday, 03 August 2016 11:18 AM
(Updates are generally minor formatting or editorial changes.
Major content changes after May 3, 2015 are identified as "Revisions”)