Speaking about Faith: the Church of Latter Day Saints

On Sunday, February 5th we began our series “Speaking about Faith: Different Expressions of Religious Belief.”  Dr. Lou Hammann led our discussion and shared his knowledge of the Church of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) with us.

  • Worldwide, there are over 14 million Mormons, nearly the same as the number of Jews.
  • In the United States the LDS Church is the 4th largest individual denomination with over 5.5 million members, a population about equal to the number of Muslims.
  • Only 12% of all Mormons live in Utah. Most Mormons do not live in North America.
  • Aside from the United States, other regions with significant numbers of Mormons include Mexico and Asia (1 million members each), South America (3 million members), and Central America and Europe (about half a million each). The rapid growth the Church has been experiencing in Africa, where the number of Mormons already passes a quarter of a million, is particularly striking.
  • After Catholics, the LDS Church is the largest religion by number in ten U.S. states.

Through the prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., The Church of Jesus Christ was organized with only 6 members on April 6, 1830 in Fayette, New York.  In a little over 175 years Church membership has grown exponentially.  Mormons believe in living prophets and don’t think it’s logical that God would only call prophets in ancient, not modern, times.  When Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, Brigham Young, leader of the Church’s Twelve Apostles, became the second prophet-president of the Church.   Mormons believe that additional scriptures exist that enhance the Holy Bible and lend clarification to our knowledge of Christ and the Gospel.

Joseph Smith was directed by God, through the angel Moroni, to a set of ancient records.  These were in the form of hieroglyphics on thin sheets of gold.  These records contained the history of earlier inhabitants of the American continents. This record was called the Book of Mormon.  The tale, as translated by Joseph Smith is of a man called Lehi who left Jerusalem around 600 BC and traveled by boat to Central America with his family.  From there this “lost tribe” migrated throughout the South, Central and North American continents.  There are tales of successive generations, who comprise the ancestors of the Native American peoples.  They passed through periods of righteousness and wickedness, and had prophets appearing at different times.   Mormons views the Book of Mormon as a fifth gospel that records the appearance of Jesus on our continent; visiting this remnant of the House of Israel.  (the 10 lost tribes)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints evangelizes extensively with young missionaries and believes that the truth of this restored gospel is the fast growth of the church, low divorce rate, higher life expectancy, and efficient world-wide welfare system operated by the Church.  Good works among the poor are a key part of the Church activities in the world.

Adherents believe that in a pre-birth life they were with the Heavenly Father.  There as his spirit sons and daughters, they lived until ready to come to earth.  You have no memory of this pre-life.  Every minute of life on earth must be accounted for and one’s eternal reward will be according to one’s choosing here on earth.   Just as you live in this life you will live in eternal life.  After death you emerge into a place of awakening and loved ones wait for you there.  With your loved ones you await the resurrection, which will take place prior to a 1000 year reign of Christ here on earth.  Redemption can happen after death, and you still have the opportunity to hear the gospel.  Mormons believe in both baptism for the dead by proxy, as well as marriage by proxy for the dead.  One cannot know the full glory of heaven as a single person.

Mormons believe in the three general divisions of heaven Paul refers to in Corinthians…celestial-sun, terrestrial-moon, and telestial-star.  All three are kingdoms of glory and the principal punishment of those in lower realms is regret for what they could have done.  In the outer darkness are those who received a sure knowledge and then rejected it thereby sinning against the Holy Ghost.

Within the highest level, Celestial, families will continue.  Thus, in Mormon temples marriages are “for all time and for all eternity.”  This fundamental belief is partly responsible for the strong family orientation of the Mormons.  Civil marriage (till death do you part) is recognized, but “celestial marriage” is preferable because it binds families beyond the grave. This allows the faithful to be more like God who is surrounded by His family in heaven.  Mormons (and in this they are unique among Christians) believe in a Father God who wants his children, in the distant eternities, to become gods themselves.

Points to emphasize:  Mormonism is an American Christianity for whom documents such as the Constitution are considered sacred.  America is the latter day Promised land.  Family is the foundational unit of the Mormon people.  Healthy lifestyles are considered to be an important part of their faith practice.  Local congregations are called wards and are lay-led.  Women are barred from priesthood and almost all men are ordained into lay-priesthood.  LDS adherents are Christian but differ in key ways, including disagreement with: the concept of the Trinity, doctrine of original sin, the traditional concept of the Kingdom of God, and salvation by faith in Jesus Christ.  They do not consider themselves to be Protestants and interpret scripture in ways that differ from classical Christianity.  Most LDS consider the Book of Mormon to be superior to the Bible.

Reference:

How Different Religions View Death and the Afterlife, by Christopher Johnson and Marsha McGee, The Charles Press, 1991.

Religions:  Encountering People of Other Faiths, from the To the Point series by Abingdon Press, 1995.