A Brief Introduction to the Origin, Organization and Doctrines of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
© 1995, 1997, The Book of Abraham Project.
[Notice of fair use: This document may be copied and distributed for personal use provided it is done without addition, deletion or alteration. No charge may be made for distribution without written consent from the copyright holder or its authorized representative.]
This material is taken from various teachings of Joseph Smith and much of the content is
expanded in the book "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder," by the late Elder Legrand Richards,
available from Deseret Book Co., P.O. Box 30178, Salt Lake City, Utah 84130.
Notes are found at the end of the document. This is not an official Church publication. While effort has been made to see that this material represents approved Church teachings, the Church is not responsible for any errors or misrepresentations that may exist in this document. No attempt has been made to be exhaustive in the treatment of any particular subject. Some references are provided to help the reader in any further study. Any questions or comments may be directed to BOAP
1. Joseph Smith and some historical facts concerning the rise of the Church.
2. Church Organization.
3. Common Consent.
4. Other Church Organizations.
6. Some Basic Doctrines.
1. Joseph Smith(1) and some historical facts concerning the rise of the Church.
The founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was Joseph Smith, Jr. Joseph
Smith was born December 23, 1805 in Sharon, Windsor County, Vermont. As a boy his family
migrated to the township of Palmyra, New York. Beginning about the year 1818, religious
revival activity began to grow in the region around Joseph Smith's home. The family of Joseph
Smith became interested in the activity and young Joseph went to religious meetings but felt no
urge to unite with any particular sect. In the spring of 1820 however, his desire to know how or
whether he should join with one or the other of the churches in the area grew strong and he
finally, after happening upon the passage in the book of James 1:5 "If any of you lack wisdom,
let him ask of God . . ." determined to do exactly that, ask God. He went to an area on the Smith
farm where he had been cutting wood the day previous and knelt to offer vocal prayer to God.
He states that he became aware of the presence of some being of power which caused him to be
unable to utter a word. The influence was so strong that he felt his own destruction was
imminent but exerting all his effort to call upon God, he then observed a light over his head
which seemed to descend toward him. At this point, the restraining, distressing influence left
him and the light enveloped him. In the light he observed first one Person and then another. The
first Person spoke to him by name and declared pointing to the second Person who had appeared,
"This is my Beloved Son, Hear Him." When his astonishment had subsided, Joseph Smith made
his inquiry of these Persons, i.e., which church he should join. The answer was that he should
join none of them and that His authorized Church was not found upon the earth at that time. He
"I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right--and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; that "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."(2)
Joseph continues,"He again forbade me to join with any of them: and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home."
Upon relating this experience to a religious leader, he was told that the epiphany was of the Devil and that all revelation had ceased with the Apostles. Rumor spread among locals about the experience and resulted in some persecution of the boy and his family. Having received no commission at the time to tell of the matter, he kept the experience to himself for the most part, pondering on its meaning.
Three years later, desiring to know his position before God and considering the promises that had been made in that first vision, in answer to prayer, Joseph Smith was again visited by a Heavenly Messenger. This time by an angel who declared himself to have been an ancient inhabitant of the western hemisphere. The messenger stated that a record of the dealings of God with certain ancient American people was preserved upon gold plates and hidden a few miles from the Smith home.
Joseph Smith later obtained this record under the direction of the angel which by the gift and power of God he translated into the English language as "The Book of Mormon."(3) The record derives its name from an ancient prophet, Mormon, who abridged the records of his people, distilling out of them a single impressive volume containing messages prophetically directed to the modern world. The work makes reference to historical matters of a people who were in part descended from an ancient colony founded by an Israelite named Lehi who left Jerusalem about the year 600 BC and traveled to the western hemisphere with divine assistance (a key occurrence mentioned in the book is a visit of the resurrected Christ to descendants of these ancient American people in 34 AD).
The record terminates shortly after 400 AD and so covers a period of more than one thousand years. After the translation of The Book of Mormon was completed, Joseph Smith was directed to organize a Church, based on divine authority conferred upon him and others by heavenly messengers.(4) The Church, which is known to the world as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, began with six members on the sixth of April 1830. The current membership (1995) is approximately ten million and consists of congregations located throughout the world.(5)
2. Church Organization.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is organized with general officers, regional officers and local officers and congregations. This organization is, by divine direction patterned in basic form after that of the Primitive (New Testament) Church. However, it should not be assumed that Church organization is merely copied somehow from the New Testament Church. Latter-day Saints believe that no one may act as a Church leader without being appointed by divine revelation to those who hold the proper authority. This authority is called the "priesthood." The priesthood has several ordained offices and is divided into two "grand heads" or levels.(6) The two levels are known as the lesser or Aaronic Priesthood and higher or Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic Priesthood was restored in May of 1829 to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (principal scribe for the Book of Mormon translation) by the resurrected John known as the Baptist (the same who baptized Jesus Christ). Some time after this, three of the ancient Apostles, Peter, James and John conferred the Higher Priesthood on the same two men (this conferred the authority to bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost or baptism of the Spirit(7)). The current practice of the Church is that every morally worthy faithful male member of the Church aged twelve or older is eligible to hold priesthood office. Under divine direction, Joseph Smith and his successors established the priesthood organization as: (in order of presiding authority)
The First Presidency.
The Quorum of the First Presidency consists of the presiding officer of the whole church, the President of the Church, and his two counselors.(8) This quorum has authority to direct all Church matters, declare new doctrines, clarify or give new scripture and in every way determine under divine direction the course of the Church and its teachings. The President of the Church is upheld by Church members as the mouthpiece of God on earth. His counselors may assist him in any way that is required and in the event of his illness or incapacity, they preside in his stead until his recovery or death.
The Quorum of Twelve Apostles.(9)
This body is directed by and counsels with the First Presidency(10) and generally all matters of moment in the Church are decided upon by both the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles. One of the Twelve, the most senior by membership in the quorum presides over the quorum and directs its day to day activities. The Twelve oversee Church functions and especially missionary efforts throughout the world as directed by the First Presidency. They are charged with being special witnesses of Christ throughout the world. With the death of the President of the Church, the First Presidency is dissolved and the Quorum of Twelve Apostles then presides over the Church. The counselors in the First Presidency return to the Twelve if they were members of that body before their membership in the First Presidency (this occasionally means there will be more than twelve men who hold membership in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Then the most senior member of the Twelve becomes the new presiding officer of the Church. He is then ordained and set apart by the Twelve as the new President of the Church. Under divine direction he selects two men (most often two of the other Apostles) to serve as his counselors in the First Presidency and other men are chosen as needed to serve as new members of the Twelve to maintain twelve men in the quorum. Membership in this quorum is for life, unless a man is moved to the First Presidency, or he is dropped from the quorum for cause of unworthiness or resigns.
The Quorums of the Seventy.(11)
This group of men function as general officers of the Church or else as "area authorities," managing various Church programs and functions under the direction of the First Presidency and the Twelve. They also visit, as do the Twelve and occasionally members of the First Presidency, local congregations on a regular basis to change leadership or give instruction. A quorum of Seventy may have up to seventy members. At present, five quorums of Seventy are organized, two quorums have general jurisdiction, the other three have responsibilities restricted to one of the twenty-two world "areas." Other quorums of Seventy can be formed as need requires. The Seventy have their own presidency, consisting of seven of their number, "set apart" as presidents of the Seventy, one of the seven presiding over the other six presidents. Together, the seven presidents preside over the quorums of Seventy. They direct much of the day-to-day activities and assignments of quorum members. Members of the Seventy are currently organized in threes to form Area Presidencies (a president and two counselors) who preside over the relatively large geographic "areas" of the world. They provide general direction for local leaders and pass on instruction and policies from the presiding quorums of the Church.
The Presiding Bishopric.(12)
One of the first offices of the Church revealed to Joseph Smith was the office of bishop. The office of bishop is an office in the Aaronic Priesthood and has specific duties to direct the work of the lesser priesthood and in general, the temporal matters of the Church such as financial concerns, providing welfare assistance to Church members and making judgements regarding worthiness of Church members. The Presiding Bishopric directs in large part the temporal affairs of the Church in consultation with the presiding Church quorums already named. Real estate affairs, investments, building of Church buildings and maintenance of Church properties are all matters which concern the Presiding Bishopric and those who assist them.
The stake is the primary local organization of the Church. It was established by revelation to Joseph Smith very early in the life of the Church. It is presided over by a stake presidency, assisted by a "high council" of twelve men.(14) The stake organization is in some respects a duplicate of the general Church organization of the First Presidency and Twelve Apostles and in fact the Twelve Apostles are called the "traveling high council."(15) A stake consists of, on the average, between 1500 and 4000 members of the Church. A stake is subdivided into congregations which meet in Sunday worship and other activities. These geographic subdivisions of a stake are called "wards."
Each ward is directed by a local bishopric consisting of a bishop and two counselors called, set apart and supervised by the stake presidency. Aside from the general priesthood quorums already named, there are local priesthood quorums who preside over the local Church work. In the local organization of the Melchizedek Priesthood the offices are high priest, patriarch and elder. In the Aaronic Priesthood the offices are bishop, priest, teacher and deacon. From the Aaronic Priesthood in a ward, quorums are organized. Priests, teachers and deacons are generally boys of age 16-18, 14-15 and 12-13 respectively, although newly baptized adult men often serve as priests for a time. Forty-eight priests make a quorum,(16) twenty-four teachers form a quorum and twelve deacons form a quorum. The priests quorum president is the ward bishop, although the bishop is of course an adult. The other quorums of the lesser (Aaronic) priesthood have presidencies called from their number by the ward bishopric.
From the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, (elders and high priests) local quorums are also organized. The elders quorum is presided over by a president and two counselors called and supervised by the stake presidency. An elders quorum consists of ninety-six or fewer elders and is generally confined to the boundaries of a "ward". The high priest quorum consists of all high priests, no matter the number, who reside in the geographic boundary of the stake. Current Church practice is that the stake presidency also forms the presidency of the high priest quorum in the stake. Members of bishoprics, high councils and stake presidencies are always ordained high priests (although revelation to Joseph Smith did not require counselors to a bishop to be high priests and under some circumstances, elders may serve as counselors to a bishop(17)).
The other local priesthood office is patriarch. Generally there are only one or two men in a stake who are ordained as patriarchs. Patriarch is an office of prophetic blessing. In New Testament times it was referred to by the name "evangelist."(18) Church members may go to the patriarch in the stake (provided they are certified as worthy by their bishop) to receive a "patriarchal blessing" by the laying on of hands. These blessings are considered to be personal guidance, inspiration and revelation to the individual from the Lord. The Church keeps a written record of the text of all patriarchal blessings given by each patriarch (the blessings are taped when feasible and transcribed, or taken down by a secretary as given).
Other local priesthood organizations.
Throughout the world, Church missions are organized. Since the Church considers itself the only true Church on the earth, missionaries are sent throughout the world to teach both Christians and non-Christians the message of the Book of Mormon and the restored gospel of Christ. A mission is presided over by a president and two counselors and may have both ecclesiastical jurisdiction over members and over missionaries working in the region, until the Church membership is dense enough that a stake or stakes may be formed whereupon ecclesiastical leadership passes to the stake presidents. Mission presidents always maintain jurisdiction of the full time missionaries assigned to their mission. Full time missionaries are generally young men between the ages of 19 and 21 years, with a much smaller number of women aged 21 and over as well as older couples. Missionaries are supported by contributions to the Church for this purpose. Over three hundred missions are operating as of April 1998 with nearly 60,000 missionaries. Over 300,000 members were baptized by missionary efforts in 1993. In the same period, more than 75,000 more members were baptized, the children of parents who were members of the Church. (Children may be baptized at eight years of age.)
The members of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventy and the Presiding Bishopric are referred to collectively as the "General Authorities" of the Church.(19)
3. Common Consent.
No officer of the Church may preside over a congregation without the consent of those in the congregation, whether local or general.(20) When a new officer is called by proper authority, those in the congregation where he or she will perform their service are asked to indicate whether they will sustain the individual in that office. This takes place by the appropriate authority calling for a sustaining vote. Those who do wish to sustain the person do so by raising their hand in the assembled congregation. Those who are opposed then have an opportunity to so indicate. If there is opposition, the matter is investigated further in private to determine the proper course of action. Periodically, members also have the opportunity to indicate whether they still sustain current Church officers. However, it would be altogether incorrect to infer that Church leaders are voted on in the sense of an election.
4. Other Church Organizations.
Other Church organizations exist to perform specific functions, such as the operation of temples.(21) Some of these organizations are known as "auxiliaries" to the priesthood. These include the Relief Society (the women's organization of the Church), the Young Women's organization, the Young Men's organization (for teenaged girls and boys respectively) and the Primary (the organization for nurture and teaching of preteen children). Each is organized along much the same pattern as used in the local priesthood quorums. Their essential function is to lead people to live more Christ like lives. Finally, the most basic and fundamental of Church units is the family. All Church organizations have as a central purpose the strengthening of the family in teaching and living the gospel of Christ. While the Church tries to help parents in these matters, the final responsibility rests with parents to teach doctrine, build faith in Jesus Christ and teach children to pray to and worship God and keep His commandments.(22)
In addition to the Book of Mormon, (the complete title is, "The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ") Joseph Smith received other divine revelation, some of which is contained the official Church "standard works." The body of official scripture consists of the Bible (both Old and New Testaments of the King James or Authorized Version), The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. The Doctrine and Covenants consists mostly of written revelations received by Joseph Smith together with some instruction found in letters written by Joseph Smith. In addition there are some sections contributed by his successors in the Church Presidency. The Pearl of Great Price consists of a number of revelations to Joseph Smith, including the book of Abraham, a translation of an ancient record which recounts a portion of the life of Abraham and the teachings of God to him, not found for the most part in the biblical record. A fundamental belief of Latter-day Saints is that revelation from God has not ceased and that He continues to provide direction to His people both directly and through Church leadership.(23)
6. Some Basic Doctrines.
The revelations of God to Joseph Smith clarify, extend and support the truths found in the Holy Bible. Some of the unique and important perspectives of these revelations are given here.
Latter-day Saints believe that the life of each person did not begin here upon this earth, but that mankind lived in a premortal state. God came among them there and offered the possibility to become like Him. This encompasses all of life as we know it. It colors everything Latter-day Saints are and everything they do, or fail to do. The Prophet Joseph Smith tells us, "God himself finds himself in the midst of Spirits & . . . saw proper to institute laws for those who were [of] less intelligence that they might have one glory upon another-"(24) But that was not the beginning of things. Joseph stretches our minds further by saying, "I take a ring from my finger and liken it unto the mind of man, . . . because it has no beginning. Suppose you cut [the ring] in [two][to make a beginning] as the Devil lives there would be an end. All the fools & wise men from the beginning of creation who say that man had a beginning--[require that he] must have an end"(25) A teaching Joseph Smith reiterated many times was "anything created, cannot be eternal"(26) and "eternity means that which is without beginning or end . . . I believe that the soul is eternal and had no beginning; it can have no end"(27) and finally, "that God never had power to create the Spirit of Man at all--God himself could not create himself-- intelligence is self existent it is a spirit from age to end & there is no creation about it."(28) As much as these things may pique our curiosity concerning what conditions were like "in the beginning" the Prophet never gave more than this to us. Apparently, it is the principle that's important: going out of existence is impossible because our existence had no beginning, and for the same reason we are responsible in an ultimate sense for what we are, for God did not create us, but by his grace, we are offered the possibility of greater happiness. The plan he placed before us would make us his children.(29) The result was our "first estate (gift)."(30) These ideas form sharp contrast, pointed out by Joseph Smith himself [see the statements above and the notes in this section], to those of other religions where it is taught that personal existence [in the ultimate sense as a conscious individual] is a contingent one and its corollary is that God is completely responsible for the acts of men.
Brothers and Sisters.
Latter-day Saints believe that God is our Father. As His children, we owe all to the Lord and all mankind are literally brothers and sisters. This is not the supratemporal "begotten" which the old creeds applied to Christ in order to avoid the charge of polytheism, but an actual and literal fatherhood in which we consciously consent to become his "spirit" children [see above] as our "first estate." In the first estate, there were those who were born early, those born later and One was the Firstborn, the Beloved and Chosen from the beginning. (Moses 1:32-33, John 1:3) Some were called "great and noble" (Abr. 3:22). But One was "like unto God" even then. (Abr. 3:24, Moses 4:2, Ether 3) To Him was delegated a leadership role.(31) This one like unto God in the distant past, the Firstborn of the spirit children of God the Father, became in mortality the Lord Jesus Christ. All mankind were brought together in the heavenly world in a Grand Council before the earth was made ready for habitation. At this time, the Father presented the plan for a second estate for all His children(32) [See below, under "Mortal life."] However, the earth upon which we now live is not the only home of the children of God for He has "worlds without number" with inhabitants who are his sons and daughters.
Latter-day Saints do not believe in the philosophical constructs or thinking of scholars, ancient or modern, in regard to God.(33) The Godhead consists of Three Persons, not of the same "substance" but of the same purpose, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.(34)
God the Father.
Latter-day Saints worship one God, the Father of all, the creator of the universe. Beside Him there is no God.(35) God the Father knows all things, discerns the past, present and future,(36) His influence extends throughout all creation.(37) He is the source of all good things, he defines good and evil for man, blesses obedience to His will, exacts justice for disobedience and shows mercy to those who repent or who act without knowledge.(38) He is a corporeal being possessing a body of flesh and bone, human in form(39) and once lived as a mortal man on a world of the same pattern as the earth upon which we now live.(40) He may speak to man, and man may speak to Him. He does not live outside of a time domain but in fact He lives, moves, acts, experiences joy, sorrow, anger, love, compassion and participates with mankind. While He perceives all and has all power to execute His will(41), love for His children is his great motivation and bringing to pass their eternal life is His great work.(42) He is no respecter of persons and offers salvation to all: rich, poor, great, small, young, old, male, female, whole or not according to their desire, wish, capacity and obedience.(43) Mankind may not know Him fully in mortality(44) but may converse with Him face to face and understand sufficiently to know what He is and what they must to do to become like Him. Our prayers and petitions are always directed to the Father, who hears and answers them.(45) Among His titles in the Godhead is Creator.(46)
Latter-day Saints believe that the Firstborn spirit child of God is He who became Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten of the Father who is full of grace and truth.(47) Christ is the epitome of truth and one of His titles in premortal existence was, and is now, the Spirit of Truth.(48) He is the example in all things for the other spirit children of God the Father.(49) God chose Him for his role in the Godhead from the beginning. The commandments, laws and ordinances given to mortals from the beginning have been types, figures and testimony of Him and His ministry. He was like God even before mortal life. Yet He kept all the commandments of God during His sojourn on earth, grew from grace to grace and received every gospel blessing and ordinance to point the way and mark the path for all.(50) He was born of a virgin into mortality and lived a sinless life and gave up his mortal life willingly according to the will of the Father. His role encompasses that of Savior, Redeemer, Mediator, Revelator, King of kings and Lord of lords. He stands as proxy for the Father to us in mortal life.(51) He was chief agent in the creations of the Father including the earth upon which we dwell. He is the great Counselor to all the holy prophets since the world began. He is our advocate with the Father. He directs the work of His Church upon the earth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.(52) He acted for the Father as the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Adam after he was cast out of the garden of Eden, the God of Enoch and Noah and the Holy One who revealed the will of the Father to Joseph Smith the Prophet of the dispensation of the fullness of times. It is through the atonement of Christ wrought out with His crucifixion and resurrection that we may be saved and come back into the presence of the Father by repentance from all sin, faith in Christ and His work, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost by those in authority and the reception of the blessings of the Holy Temple, enduring to the end in all faith and good works. The words, commandments, laws, ordinances, teachings and love that Christ gives to mankind are exactly and only those things which His Father desires they should have. Nevertheless it is the case that the plan of the Father was given for his Only Begotten Son as well as for all His other Children. Hence Jesus Christ had to be obedient to every law and ordinance imposed by that plan. The Son possesses a body of flesh and bones as the Father does.
The Holy Ghost.
Latter-day Saints believe that the Holy Ghost is a spirit son [see above] of God the Father who was selected in the beginning and covenanted together with the other members of the Godhead in the premortal existence to form the Presidency of Heaven whose duty is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of the sons and daughters of God [see notes above]. The Holy Ghost has only a spirit body at the present time but will later obtain a physical body, following that same path marked out by the Savior of men for all the children of God.(53) His mission requires that He have no physical body at present (see D&C 130:22). He has ministered to men personally(54), but more often by His influence which extends by the power of the Father to all reaches of the creation. His special office is to testify of the Father and the Son. Angels speak by His power. The holy prophets are guided by His influence. He comforts, guides, reveals, constrains, authorizes and has power to guide all phases of the work of God. (See Acts 13:2 for example.) It is by His witness that men obtain a true testimony of the work of God. Mankind may witness miracles but without the testimony received by the "still small voice" of the Holy Ghost, their witness may easily falter. It is incumbent upon all to seek for this witness from the hand of God and live so that His influence may effect his or her life at those times when God desires to do so. A man or woman may become so that they can no longer feel or acknowledge the influence of Holy Ghost. When this happens they are damned unless they repent. Only one sin remains ultimately unforgivable, "the sin against the Holy Ghost." His titles in the Godhead are Witness or Testator He is also known as Comforter. The titles "Spirit of God," "Spirit of the Lord," "Holy Spirit," and others similar to these may refer to the personage of the Holy Ghost, but may also refer simply to the power and influence of the Godhead which extends through all creation.(55)
Latter-day Saints believe that mortal life is an essential part of eternal life and that people are placed upon this earth when the spirit body enters the physical body conceived by mortal parents. In mortal life, the memory of premortal existence is taken from us, so that we might be free to be influenced by good or evil and learn to choose between them. Among the many spirit children of God who had great influence in premortal life was one called Lucifer. When the Father presented his plan for a 2nd estate to the Grand Council [see above at "life"], He stated that some would be lost, those who chose evil instead of good. The plan would require a Savior and the Father asked the Council, "whom shall I send?"[see references above] The premortal Jesus Christ stood up for the plan of the Father and offered Himself as Savior, the glory of saving those who would be saved to belong properly to the Father. The mentioned Lucifer also stood up and offered himself as Savior, but not to die for mankind, but instead to force them to obey.(56) There would be no choice and hence no need of redemption. Many who were there wanted this plan, perhaps because it absolved them of danger and responsibility, but it also removed moral agency, something God could not allow. In return for saving all, Lucifer claimed all the glory for himself, that he might ascend to the Throne himself. God rejected this and Lucifer became Satan and those who followed him were cast out of heaven to go about upon the earth, tempting mortals to love Satan and his ways more than God. God places people on the earth in various circumstances according to His perfect understanding of that experience which the individual requires to be more fully realized, if they so choose. Those upon the earth as mortals have already accepted the plan of happiness and those experiences, good and evil, joyful and sorrowful, painful and pleasant that go with it. It is not for man to judge the wisdom of God at this late date. If men choose to be obedient to Him and overcome those obstacles and temptations that come into their paths then they may return to His presence. In the Grand Council, God laid down the path by which His children may return to Him. The path involved ordinances and covenants administered by His legal administrators, those who hold His priesthood, anciently called "the Holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God."(57) These include in our day(58),
1. Faith in Jesus Christ and His gospel as restored through Joseph Smith.
2. Repentance from all sin.
3. Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins.
4. The laying on of hands by those in authority for the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
5. The reception and faithful keeping of all other ordinances and covenants offered in the Holy Temples of God.
Latter-day Saints believe that Christ will one day come again openly to the earth(59), and reign there during a thousand-year period (the "millennium") with His faithful saints.(60)
After mortal life.
Is there life after death? For many it is rightly the most important of questions. There are many ideas in the world concerning this matter. God revealed to Joseph Smith and Latter-day Saints believe that after death, life does not (and in fact cannot) end [see above "Life"]. Following mortal life, the mind lives on in the spirit body, retains identity and enjoys associations with others who have likewise "passed through the veil," a statement which refers to the barrier of perception which separates this world from the world of spirits. Since all must, in the justice of God, have opportunity to follow that path prescribed by Him (and agreed to by them before coming to the earth) and ultimately accept Christ and obey His commandments and since there have been times, through the choice of men, when those who were legal administrators of His plan were not upon the earth, God has provided a space of time between mortal death and the resurrection of the physical body. During this time, the spirit body lives on in the world of spirits where there is no death but where the memory of premortal life is yet withheld and those who did not have opportunity to hear and accept the plan of the Father may do so if they so choose.(61) There the faithful may be empowered to teach the true gospel of the Son of God to those who did not have opportunity to receive it in mortal life. Upon entering the spirit world after death of the mortal body, the individual receives a partial "judgement." It is determined whether the soul will enter "spirit prison" or paradise. However, it should not be assumed that there is no connection between the two groups, for as already mentioned, the gospel is preached to those who are in prison(62) by those who are so authorized. Those who no longer have the physical body -especially the faithful, while the sorrows and pain associated with mortality do not trouble them, look upon their disembodied state as a disadvantage(63) in part because their Father has a physical tabernacle and it is therefore impossible to be like Him without the immortal tabernacle of flesh. [See above, "God the Father."] The lack of a physical body is remedied however by the free gift of Christ in the resurrection. All who have ever lived upon the earth will once again receive their physical bodies.(64) Not the mortal flesh which was subject to disease and death, but an immortal tabernacle for the spirit, the same as Jesus Christ. In the millennia since Christ, many have been troubled at the fate of little children who die. The revelations of God in these last times answer emphatically that all little children are alive in Christ and have no need of baptism or other saving grace beside the atonement of Christ itself.(65) Following the resurrection, the varying faithfulness demonstrated by mankind will receive varying reward.(66)
Three general kingdoms of glory exist as final homes of those who lived on earth in mortality. These are the Celestial Kingdom, the Terrestrial Kingdom and the Telestial Kingdom.(67) The Celestial world is where God the Eternal Father resides and it is the work of Jesus Christ and His authorized servants to ensure that all the children of God have the opportunity to return there, if they will.
Return to BOAP web page.
1. For further details, see Joseph Smith -History in The Pearl of Great Price, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The "standard works" of the Church [see above at "scriptures"] are
All are available in unofficial electronic versions
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One of the doctrines of the Church is that (see above at Church Organization) the true priesthood of God was lost from the earth after the time of Christ's apostles. Elder James E. Talmage gives the following brief summary of the situation:
Apostasy from the Primitive Church -- Question may arise in the mind of the earnest investigator, as to whether these authorities, together with the attesting gifts of the Holy Spirit, have remained with men from the apostolic age to the present; in short, as to the existence of the Church of Jesus Christ upon the earth during this long interval. In answer, let the facts following be considered. Since the period immediately succeeding that of the ministrations of the apostles of old, and until the nineteenth century, no organization had maintained a claim to direct revelation from God; in fact, the teachings of professed ministers of the Gospel for centuries have been to the effect that such gifts of God have ceased, that the days of miracles have gone, and that the present depends for its guiding code wholly upon the past. A self-suggesting interpretation of history indicates that there has been a great departure from the way of salvation as laid down by the Savior, a universal apostasy from the Church of Christ. Scarcely had the Church been organized by the Savior, whose name it bears, before the powers of darkness arrayed themselves for conflict with the organized body. Even in the days of our Lord's personal ministry in the flesh persecution was waged against Him and the disciples. Commencing with the Jews, and directed first against the Master and His few immediate associates, this tide of opposition soon enveloped every known follower of the Savior, so that the very name Christian was used as an epithet of derision.
In the first quarter of the fourth century, however, a change in the attitude of paganism toward Christianity was marked by the so-called conversion of Constantine the Great, under whose patronage the Christian profession grew in favor and became in fact the religion of State. But what a profession, what a religion it was by this time! Its simplicity had departed; earnest devotion and self-sacrificing sincerity were no longer characteristic of the ministers of the Church. Those professed followers of the humble Prophet of Nazareth, those self-styled representatives of the Lord whose kingdom was not of earth earthy, those loudly proclaimed lovers of the Man of Sorrows acquainted with grief, lived amidst conditions strangely inconsistent with the life of their divine Exemplar. Church offices were sought after for the distinction of honor and wealth accompanying them; ministers of the Gospel affected the state of secular dignitaries; bishops exhibited the pomp of princes, archbishops lived as kings and popes like emperors. With these innovations came many changes in the ordinances of the so-called church -- the rites of baptism were perverted; the sacrament was altered; public worship became an exhibition of art; men were canonized, martyrs were made subjects of adoration; blasphemy grew apace, in that men without authority essayed to exercise the prerogatives of God. Ages of darkness came upon the earth; the power of Satan seemed almost supreme. ("The Articles of Faith, Being a Consideration of the Principal Doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints" chap 11.)
Only those with the authority of the apostles themselves could pass on their authority by revelation. (Acts 1:22-26; D&C 18; D&C 20; D&C 112) See also the articles, The Apostasy and Baptism and the Primitive Church
2. See note 1.
3. See, The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
4. Joseph Smith - History 1:72.
5. See the statistical report of Church membership as published in the Conference Report of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1997. (Also, Ensign magazine, May 1997)
6. See section 107 in The Doctrine and Covenants, p. 215ff.
7. John 3:5; Acts 2:38; D&C 49:14; Acts 8:5-20; JS -H 1:68-72. (D&C is the common abbreviation for Doctrine and Covenants).
8. D&C 107:22, 91, 92.
9. D&C 107:23, 24.
10. D&C 112:20.
11. D&C 107:25, 26, 93-97, Luke 10:1.
12. D&C 107:98.
13. Isa. 33:20, D&C 82:14, 68:25, 101:21, 109:59, 115:18, 124:134, 133:9.
14. See section 102 of The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), p. 201. The stake president is selected by a visiting general or area authority.
15. See previous note.
16. See section 20, The Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), p. 34.
17. See D&C 42:71
18. Eph. 4:11. D&C 107:39-53.
19. D&C 107: 32.
20. D&C 26.
21. For further information about temples and the essential role they play in salvation, see Richards, "A Marvelous Work and a Wonder," (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), chapters 13, 14, 19, 21.
22. D&C 68:25.
23. Articles of Faith, 9.
24. Thomas Bullock, report of discourse, April 7, 1844. President Spencer W. Kimball, 12th President of the Church, expanded on the theme in his April 1977 general conference address:
"God has taken these intelligences and given them spirit bodies and given them instructions and training. Then he proceeded to create a world for them and sent them as spirits to obtain a mortal body, for which he made preparation. And when they were upon the earth, he gave instructions on how to go about developing and conducting their lives to make them perfect, so the could return to their Father in heaven . . ."
25. ibid. Compare his discourse of January 5, 1841: "That which has a beginning will surely have an end. Take a ring, it is without beginning or end; cut it for a beginning place, and at the same time you have an ending place. . . If the soul of man had a beginning it will surely have an end." [William Clayton record]
26. See for example, Willard Richards diary, ca. August 8, 1839. Also, Elder LeGrand Richards,"A Marvelous Work and a Wonder," (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976) 273.
27. February 5, 1840, Newspaper man Matthew L. Davis' record. See also Abraham 3:18. Compare George Laub's summary of Joseph Smith teachings in his Nauvoo Journal for (mistakenly) April 6, 1844.
28. Bullock, ibid. Joseph's use of the word "spirit" is somewhat more flexible than the way Latter-day Saints came to understand the term (generally it is used now in LDS discourse to mean "spirit body" rather than "mind") and reflects the scriptural usage of Abr. 3:18.
29. Kimball, ibid. [note 24]
30. Abraham 3:26.
31. The Father chose his "counselors" in the first estate, to form the "Presidency of Heaven."(Abraham, facsimile no. 3, explanation 1) The Prophet tells us, "he [Joseph Smith] said[it] was the provence of the father to preside as the Chief or President--Jesus as the Mediator & Holy Ghost as the testator or witness--the Son Had a Tabernacle & so had the Father But the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without tabernacle" [March 9, 1841, McIntire Minute Book.] "Their is much said concerning God and the Godhead &c. The scripture says their [are] Gods many & Lords many, the teachers of the day say that the Father is God the Son is God & the Holy Ghost is God & that they are all in one body & one God. Jesus says or prays that those that the Father had given him out of the world might be made one in us as we are one, but if they were to be stuffed into one person that would make a great God. If I were to testify that the world was wrong on this point it would be true. Peter says that Jesus Christ sat on the right hand of God- any person that has seen the heavens opened knows that their [are] three personages in the heavens holding the Keys of Power. -Joseph Smith [Journal of Wilford Woodruff, June 11, 1843]
"[An] Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth and relates to their dispensation of things to men on the earth. These personages according to Abraham's record are called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the Witness or Testator" ("Extracts from Wm Clayton's Private Book," pp. 10-11, L. John Nuttall Collection, BYU Special Collections).
32. Abr. 3:24-28; Moses 4:1-4.
33. See "A Marvelous Work . . ." chapters 1, 4.
34. Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (comp. Joseph Fielding Smith) (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938) 181, 311, 312, 372.
35. Moses 1:6 (The Pearl of Great Price). John 12:49-50, etc.
36. Moses 1:6, 1 Nephi 9:6 (The Book of Mormon), Isaiah 48:3, etc.
37. D&C 88:12-13, Psalms 139:7.
38. Proverbs 28:13; D&C 64:12; Alma 42 (The Book of Mormon).
39. D&C 130:22, Hebrews 1:3, Exodus 33:23, Genesis 1:26-27. Here the beliefs of Latter-day Saints differ sharply with those of most of their Christian fellows. One of the early axioms of the Christian apologists after the time of the ancient apostles was the assumption that God was immaterial. The incorporation of Greek notions finally placed God outside of time and a physical universe altogether, a natural consequence of the initial assumption. Without revelation as a guide, men substituted rational dogma for divine truth. For them, God became a being who could be apprehended only by rational exploration, there could be no actual experience of God. Revelation became a curiosity best left as an unexplained phenomenon of Scripture.
40. John 5:19, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345.
41. Abr. 3:17.
42. Moses 1:39.
43. 2 Nephi 26:33 (The Book of Mormon)
44. Isa. 55: 8-9.
45. 2 Nephi 32:9.
46. Moses 1:6.
47. D&C 93:11.
48. D&C 88:6.
49. Joseph Smith tells us: "If a man gets the fullness of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it and that was by keeping all the ordinances of the house of the Lord." June 11, 1843, Journal of Wilford Woodruff.
50. John 14.
51. D&C 1.
52. D&C 1.
53. See Franklin D. Richards' notes of sermon delivered August 27, 1843, compare Diary of George Laub, June 16, 1844.]
54. 1 Nephi 11:11.
55. References to these items may be found in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 62, 112,156, 243, 276, 323, 328, 335, 357 and scripture quoted therein.
56. Moses 4:1-4.
57. D&C 107:3
58. Articles of Faith, 4. Latter-day Saints believe that in the Grand Council of Heaven, before the creation of this earth, the plan of the Father included certain ordinances and covenants which were to be administered in sacred places away from the world. These sacred places are called Temples. Anyone who wishes may enter a Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by conforming his or her life to the principles of the gospel of Christ as restored to Joseph Smith.
59. Articles of Faith, 10.
60. Rev. 20:4; D&C 29:11; 43:30; 63:51; 88:10; Moses 7:64.
61. 1 Peter 4:5, 6; 1 Peter 3:18-20, D&C 138.
62. 1 Peter 3:18; D&C 138.
63. D&C 45:16-17.
64. Luke 24:39; Romans 6:5; 1 Corinthians 15; Philipians 3:21; Alma 11:41; D&C 29:26; Moses1:39.
65. Moroni 8 (in The Book of Mormon); D&C 29:46-47, 74:6. D&C 137.
66. Revelation 20:12.
67. D&C 76; D&C 88:18-35.