The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not an offshoot of another church; it is not part of a reformation, and it was not started by an individual who thought he had a better idea for a new church.
Our church was started by Jesus Christ himself, as restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. We believe that Christ’s primitive church—that he personally organized—apostatized after his early apostles were killed, and that His priesthood power was removed from the earth for well over 1,000 years.
In 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to young Joseph Smith and called him to become the prophet of the restoration… a calling similar in magnitude to that of Moses, Abraham, or Noah. Joseph did not seek this position, and ultimately was martyred by unbelievers for fulfilling his calling.
Between Joseph’s first vision in 1820 and his death in 1844, he was the Lord’s vessel for restoring the priesthood power to the earth, translating and publishing the Book of Mormon, establishing Jesus Christ’s church, restoring temple ordinances, and restoring many other plain and precious gospel truths.
We declare the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth (D&C 1:30).
We do not condemn other Christians or belittle their doctrines, beliefs, or churches. We recognize them as good people who love their Savior and are striving to become like Him and return to live with Him. We have much in common, and some key differences in beliefs.
We invite all people—regardless of religious affiliation—to earnestly examine our beliefs, to pray about its truthfulness, and to join us in enjoying the fullness of the gospel.
We believe that God still speaks to humankind, that he has called new apostles and prophets, and that revelation still flows today as it did in ancient times.
God calls prophets now for the same reason he has throughout history: to receive new revelations that allow the church or individuals to adapt to the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed. “Adam’s revelation did not instruct Noah to build his ark; nor did Noah’s revelation tell Lot to forsake Sodom; nor did either of these speak of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt. These all had revelations for themselves, and so did Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Peter, Paul, John, and Joseph.” (John Taylor, Gospel Kingdom)
Joseph Smith was the first prophet of this era; he was called by God himself and given the priesthood keys necessary to organize and administer the church by Peter, James, and John, who appeared to him as resurrected beings. Shortly thereafter, he was instructed to call a quorum of twelve apostles, just like in ancient days. After Joseph Smith was martyred, the most senior apostle, Brigham Young, was called and ordained to be the next prophet and President of the Church.
This pattern continues to this day—when an apostle dies, the remaining quorum members seek guidance from the Lord to call and ordain a new apostle. Three of the apostles are called and set apart to form the “First Presidency” of the church, which consists of the President of the Church and two counselors. Twelve additional apostles form the “Quorum of the Twelve Apostles,” for a total of 15 men who are considered “prophets, seers, and revelators.”
Since Joseph Smith, there have been 15 Presidents of the church (the President of the church is considered “the” prophet, although each of the apostles are also prophets), including Thomas S. Monson today.
Twice per year—In April and October—Mormons forego regular Sunday church meetings to attend (either live in Salt Lake City, or more commonly via TV/radio/internet) a General Conference of the church, where each of the 15 apostles speaks, as well as other leaders of the church. General Conference is considered a great opportunity to hear the will of the Lord and witness first-hand by the mouths of his servants, the prophets.
We believe that God continues to speak His word and reveal His truth, and these revelations mandate an open canon of scripture.
Some Christians, because of their genuine love for the Bible, have declared that there can be no more authorized scripture beyond the Bible. In thus pronouncing the canon of revelation closed, our friends in some other faiths shut the door on divine expression that we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold dear: the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the ongoing guidance received by God’s anointed prophets and apostles.
Imputing no ill will to those who take such a position, nevertheless we respectfully but resolutely reject such an unscriptural characterization of true Christianity.
One of the arguments often used in any defense of a closed canon is the New Testament passage recorded in Revelation 22:18: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of … this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”
However, the Bible as we know it—one collection of texts bound in a single volume—did not exist when that verse was written. For centuries after John produced his writing, the individual books of the New Testament were in circulation singly or perhaps in combinations with a few other texts but almost never as a complete collection.
The fact is that virtually every prophet of the Old and New Testament has added scripture to that received by his predecessors. If one revelation to one prophet in one moment of time is sufficient for all time, what justifies the others? What justifies them was made clear by Jehovah Himself when He said to Moses, “My works are without end, and … my words … never cease.” REF
Continuing revelation does not demean or discredit existing revelation. The Old Testament does not lose its value in our eyes when we are introduced to the New Testament, and the New Testament is only enhanced when we read the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.
Please do not misunderstand. We believe the Bible is the word of God. It is always identified first in our canon, our “standard works.” Indeed, one of the great purposes of continuing revelation through living prophets is to declare to the world through additional witnesses that the Bible is true. In one of the earliest revelations received by Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “Behold, I do not bring [the Book of Mormon forth] to destroy [the Bible] but to build it up.” REF
That being said, we do not believe scriptures are the ultimate source of knowledge; they are manifestations of the ultimate source. The ultimate source of knowledge and authority for a Latter-day Saint is the living God. The communication of those gifts comes from God as living, vibrant, divine revelation. REF (This section adapted from Jeffrey R. Holland’s My Words Never Cease)
We believe that three divine persons—God the Father, His son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost—constitute a single Godhead are united in purpose, in manner, in testimony, in mission. We believe Them to be filled with the same godly sense of mercy and love, justice and grace, patience, forgiveness, and redemption.
In fact, we believe they are one in every significant and eternal aspect imaginable except believing Them to be three persons combined in one substance, a Trinitarian notion never set forth in the scriptures because it is not true.
Indeed no less a source than the stalwart Harper’s Bible Dictionary records that “the formal doctrine of the Trinity as it was defined by the great church councils of the fourth and fifth centuries is not to be found in the [New Testament].”
In the year A.D. 325 the Roman emperor Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to address—among other things—the growing issue of God’s alleged “trinity in unity.” What emerged from the heated contentions of churchmen, philosophers, and ecclesiastical dignitaries came to be known as the Nicene Creed.
This creed declared “the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be abstract, absolute, transcendent, immanent, consubstantial, coeternal, and unknowable, without body, parts, or passions and dwelling outside space and time. In such creeds all three members are separate persons, but they are a single being, the oft-noted ‘mystery of the trinity.’ They are three distinct persons, yet not three Gods but one. All three persons are incomprehensible, yet it is one God who is incomprehensible.”
We agree that such a formulation for divinity is truly incomprehensible. How are we to trust, love, and worship, to say nothing of strive to be like, One who is incomprehensible and unknowable? What of Jesus’s prayer to His Father in Heaven that “this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent”?
We declare it is self-evident from the scriptures that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are separate persons, three divine beings, noting such unequivocal illustrations as the Savior’s great Intercessory Prayer just mentioned, His baptism at the hands of John, the experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the martyrdom of Stephen—to name just four.
One reason Mormons are excluded from the Christian category by some is because we believe, as did the ancient prophets and apostles, in an embodied—but certainly glorified—God. To those who criticize this scripturally based belief, ask yourself this question: If the idea of an embodied God is repugnant, why are the central doctrines and singularly most distinguishing characteristics of all Christianity the Incarnation, the Atonement, and the physical Resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ?
If having a body is not only not needed but not desirable by Deity, why did the Redeemer of mankind redeem His body, redeeming it from the grasp of death and the grave, guaranteeing it would never again be separated from His spirit in time or eternity? Any who dismiss the concept of an embodied God dismiss both the mortal and the resurrected Christ. No one claiming to be a true Christian will want to do that.
(This section adapted from The Only True God and Jesus Christ Whom He Hath Sent, by Jeffery R. Holland)
We Believe In The Literal Gathering of Zion Prior to Christ’s Second Coming
Mormons believe that the purpose of the Restoration of the Gospel is to begin the process of the literal gathering of Israel in preparation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
The physical gathering of Israel will entail the literal gathering of the Jews to Palestine, the return of the “Ten Lost Tribes” from their unknown domain in the north, and the gathering of the “Saints” to New Jerusalem, which will be centered in Jackson County, Missouri.
The spiritual gathering o Israel is the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has been going on since the early 1800’s. Those who accept the Savior become his children. The faithful are called the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). Some are literal descendants; others are grafted in because of their faithfulness.
Read more about this topic in this talk by LDS Apostle, Russell M. Nelson, entitled “The Gathering of Scattered Israel.”