The following was written at the request of an Agreed Syllabus Conference. It has been included in various Agreed Syllabi around the country.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has the ‘nickname’ the Mormon Church, was officially organised on the 6th April 1830 in Fayette New York by a small group of believers led by Joseph Smith who, Latter-day Saints believe, in 1820 saw Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ instructing him to join none of the existing churches.
Latter-day Saints believe that on September 22nd 1827 Joseph received gold plates from the Angel Moroni containing the writings of prophets of the ancient people of America. These included reference to a visitation by Jesus Christ after his resurrection. These writings are believed to have been translated by the gift and power of God. On March 26th 1830 the first printed copies of the ‘Book of Mormon’ – Another Testament of Jesus Christ, became available. The existence of another book of scripture is one reason why Latter-day Saints sometimes find it difficult to be accepted as Christian by other denominations. Joseph Smith’s ministry continued for 24 years after his “First Vision” (he was murdered in June of 1844), and the Latter-day Saints remained an object of interest, curiosity and suspicion during that time. Most members of the Church moved west under the leadership of Brigham Young, Joseph’s successor, allowing the Saints to be isolated in the valley of the Great Salt Lake and to establish a community free from persecution. The experiences of these “Pioneers” are an important part of Latter-day Saint history
Similarities and Differences with Traditional Christianity – Jesus Christ Central to Faith
Latter-day Saints believe themselves to be a Christian Church, as the organization and their personal lives to be built upon the person, power, divine Sonship and teachings of Jesus Christ. They consider all who believe in and follow Jesus to be Christians. Latter-day Saints do not believe in the traditional understanding of the Trinity. While believing in the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Latter-day Saints teach that these three persons are separate as shown by the visitation of the Father and Son in the First Vision. Although the church has many things in common with different denominations, it is not a part of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant Christianity. Instead, the Church claims that it is an entirely different expression of original Christianity—restored Christianity. This belief in the Godhead is another reason other Christian churches may not consider it to be a part of mainstream Christianity.
The Church uses the ‘King James’ version of the Bible along with the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price as its standard works. Latter-day Saints believe that revelation is not limited to these books, and believe that God has called a living prophet along with Twelve Apostles. When the prophet dies he is succeeded by the senior Apostle. This prophet is also known as the “President” of the Church, and serves as a warning voice and along with the Twelve Apostles directs the work of the Church on the earth. Latter-day Saints do not worship Joseph or his successors but they are respected and revered as a modern prophet, much as ancient Israel revered Abraham or Moses and as first-century Christians revered Peter or Paul.
Articles of Faith
The Church has thirteen ‘Articles of Faith’ summing up the basic doctrine of the church:
1 We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
2 We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
3 We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
4 We 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.
5 We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
6 We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
7 We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
8 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
9 We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.
10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honouring, and sustaining the law.
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
The Church is organised to support the family in the teaching of the tenets of the Church (commonly referred to as the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ). Latter-day Saints meet for worship on the Sabbath day (Sunday). The first part is usually the weekly sacrament (eucharist) meeting lasting approximately an hour where members take the ‘Sacrament’ (bread and water) which is in remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus and also the promises that people made at their baptism. The sacrament meeting also includes speakers on varying gospel themes as directed by local church leaders, singing of hymns and prayers. This is the most important meeting of the week., there are two other hours of instruction on a Sunday for people of all ages. Here children are in classes especially designed for their age group and teaching Gospel principles. These are supported by monthly recreational activities for 8-11 year olds; and weekly activities for 12-18 year olds. There is a further formal opportunity for the teaching of young people in a programme called Seminary. In 2015 there were over 397,000 14-18 year old young people enrolled in Seminary worldwide. In the UK the most common way of completing seminary is to attend early morning classes five days a week before school. This runs for students in English school years 10-13 (aged 14-18), and each year they study one of the books of scripture.
There is no paid ministry in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and men and women ‘serve’ in ‘callings’ given by local leaders in whatever capacity it is felt has been directed by God through prayer, discussion and the common consent of the membership. These callings are in addition to their professional work.
Latter-day Saints worship in the Temple. Everyone can attend the chapels, whether members of the Church or not, but temple attendance is reserved for those members that are in good standing & keeping those laws believed to be commandments from God. See http://www.lds.org/church/temples?lang=eng for information. Latter-day Saints believe that family relationships can be forever not just for this life. This is why family history is something of great importance to members of the Church & family life is of huge focus.
Latter-day Saints celebrate Christmas and Easter along with the rest of the Christian world and keep the same dates for celebration, although they do believe that the actual birth of Jesus would have been in the spring time. Every Sabbath day is considered to be special each week, and once a month members of the Church will fast for a period of 24 hours to draw closer to God and donate money to help the poor and needy. There are two world conferences of the Church broadcast each year in over 40 languages all over the world on the internet, via satellite broadcast and published in the Church magazines. These take place in early April and October.
Latter-day Saints follow the law of tithing so voluntarily give 10% of all income to the church as well as other offerings as they are able and willing to do so.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides relief and development projects for humanitarian purposes in countries all over the world. Projects operate without regard to the nationality or religion of the recipients.
The Word of Wisdom
Latter-day Saints obey a law called the Word of Wisdom given in 1833 which means that they do not drink alcohol, smoke tobacco or drink tea and coffee. They do not take drugs or medication unless prescribed or available over the counter. They are encouraged to eat grains and vegetables, and also meat in moderation. Although there are undoubted health benefits to keeping the Word of Wisdom, the main reason Latter-day Saints live this law is because they have been commanded by God.
Young men of 18-years old onward are encouraged to serve a two year full-time mission for the church; young women from the age of 19 are also able to serve for a period of 18 months. This is voluntary and they are required to go wherever they are called to by the Prophet. The missionaries and their families fund themselves as far as possible. Older couples can also serve missions as their circumstances allow. Missions can be focused on sharing the church message, humanitarian projects worldwide or serving in the Temples.
[My own daughter’s missionary experiences can be see at her blog]
There is also great focus on education. http://www.lds.org/church/education?lang=eng
See www.lds.org and www.mormon.org for more information as needed.
There are now in excess of 14,000,000 members of the church throughout the world, with over 180,000 in the United Kingdom. The Church was established in the UK in 1837 and has continued with a presence since then. Today there are approximately 330 wards (equivalent to an Anglican parish).
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Some Dos and Don’ts
- Do teach that Latter-day Saints are Christian. This is their self-definition and pupils may not understand the nuances of the definitions of Christianity.
- Do remember that Latter-day Saints have four books of scripture: The Holy Bible; The Book of Mormon; The Doctrine and Covenants (a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith and his successors); The Pearl of Great Price. Each of these is authoritative for members of the Church and work together to establish beliefs and doctrine.
- Do organise visits to a church which involve some members of the congregation being present. Visiting an empty building can reinforce the impression some pupils have that churches are a monument to a faith which is no longer relevant to anyone, a kind of museum.
- Do recognise that different names may be used to describe members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Though the preference is to use the full name when describing individuals, members of the Church are happy to be described as Latter-day Saints or Mormons (see below Don’t on the name of the Church).
- Do use official Church websites such as lds.org and Mormon.org to learn about Mormon beliefs. Sometimes the beliefs of the Church are misrepresented by others- using members of the Church and official sources helps a teacher be sure of the accuracy of material.
- Do teach the importance of Jesus Christ as the Saviour of the World for Latter-day Saints. He died so that humanity could live with God. Family is central to this plan of salvation.
- Do explore beliefs about life after death which show that there are different levels of salvation rather than the traditional binary separation into heaven and hell.
- Do understand that young people from the ages of 14-18 will often engage in organised scripture classes at their local Church. This should provide a good basis for an exploration of Christianity.
- Don’t use the phrase ‘Mormon Church’ or ‘The Church of the Latter-day Saints’. Both of these phrases miss out the most important aspect of the Church’s name- that of being the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Don’t misinterpret a belief in a prophet, such as Joseph Smith, as a suggestion that Mormons worship Joseph Smith; God (Heavenly Father) and Jesus Christ are the objects of worship.
- Don’t teach that Mormons practice polygamy. Although practiced by members of the Church until 1890, polygamy has not been allowed by the Church since that date. No member practices plural marriage and would be excommunicated if they did. There are schismatic groups who continue this practice but they are not ‘Mormons.’
- Don’t use certain foods in tasting events. Be aware that tea, coffee and alcohol are forbidden. Other foods are fine and dependent on personal preference. Although a health code, the main reason for abstinence is that it is a commandment of God.
- Don’t assume all Mormons are the same. There are differences in interpretation of certain things. An important concept is that members are taught correct principles and allowed to govern themselves. Some Mormons will avoid watching ‘15’ films, others will not mind; some will be literal creationists, others will have no problem in seeing the story of creation as symbolic and completely reconcilable with the big bang and evolution.
- Don’t feel the need to include Latter-day Saint beliefs all the time in teaching; however, a use of ‘some’ or ‘most’ in a discussion of some elements of the teachings of Christianity would help in the inclusivity of the classroom. A recognition that ‘most’ Christians believe in the Trinity would not be untrue, but neither would it make a Latter-day Saint feel excluded.