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Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly called Latter-day Saints or Mormons) believe in God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost (Article of Faith 1). Latter-day Saints believe that everyone on the Earth is a literal child of God, and as such, is able to become like Him. The Gospel of Jesus Christ includes the beliefs and rituals (principles and ordinances) intended to bring individuals closer to God, for "In the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest" (Doctrine and Covenants 84:20).
God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost
Latter-day Saints believe in "God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." So wrote Joseph Smith in the Wentworth letter, a part of which now constitutes the Articles of Faith. As such, they are viewed as three separate and distinct entities, though one in purpose, in thought, in action, in works, etc. Further, men and women are viewed as His spirit sons and daughters, with the literal ability to become even as He (God the Father, of whom the exalted Jesus Christ is a perfect likeness) is. This is the purpose of the Gospel, the Lord's work and glory.
Faith and Repentance
Latter-day Saints believe that faith in Jesus Christ is a prerequisite for salvation. Faith is described as a motivating belief, one that moves a person to action. For instance, James 2:17 states that "Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone." A belief in Christ is necessarily linked to awareness of one's fallen condition (separation from God through the fall of Adam) and one's weaknesses (sins or transgressions) which maintain a spiritual distance between God and man. This leads to what is termed "a broken heart and a contrite spirit" (3 Nephi 9:20). This sense of dependency on God leads one to repentance, or a change of heart from the carnal and sensual to the godly (i.e. Mosiah 3:19). For instance, in the Book of Mormon, a king exhorts his people to repent by saying, "Believe that ye must repent of your sins and forsake them, and humble yourselves before God; and ask in sincerity of heart that he would forgive you; and now, if you believe all these things see that ye do them" (Mosiah 4:10). Thus, faith is seen as a belief motivating one to action, including repentance. In a sense, faith can be viewed as the motivating force behind all obedience to Gospel principles, as faith is required to accept the promises to the obedient.
Necessity of Authority
Rituals, commonly called ordinances, are special rites performed by male members of the Church who hold the Priesthood. The Priesthood is considered the authority to act in God's name. It has been compared, metaphorically, to the power of attorney (see Stanley G. Ellis, “He Trusts Us!,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 51–52). The Priesthood is considered an absolute necessity to administer, or bestow, the ordinances of the Gospel (for instance, see Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-22). In some cases, it is also a necessary prerequisite for the receipt of certain blessings, including temple blessings. Priesthood authority was lost from the earth with the death of the original apostles in ancient times, and it has been restored to men on earth through the restoration of all things in this, the last dispensation of time.
Ordinances usually involve some covenant relationship. A covenant is a promise between God and man, where man covenants to follow some law or precept revealed by God, and is promised some blessing in return. For instance, in baptism, God promises salvation to those who covenant (promise) "To serve Him and keep His commandments" and "To stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in" (Mosiah 18:9,10).
Necessity of Worthiness
Every ordinance must be performed in the name of Jesus Christ, meaning that those performing the ordinance must not only have authority to act in His name (the Priesthood) but also must be worthy to represent the Savior in an official capacity. Certain worthiness standards are therefore required of those who perform Priesthood ordinances, and is also commonly required of those receiving ordinances, especially ordinances that are necessary for salvation. These worthiness standards include following the Word of Wisdom (abstaining from alcohol, tobacco, harmful drugs, and living a healthy lifestyle), the Law of Chastity , and the Law of Obedience .
Ordinances can be broken up into two broad categories:
- Those necessary for salvation
- Those not necessary for salvation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that baptism by immersion for remission of sins is an essential part of discipleship, and necessary for salvation. Scriptural teachings affirm the importance and meaning of the baptismal covenant (i.e. Mosiah 18:8-10, 2 Nephi 31:4-13, 3 Nephi 11:33-39). The Doctrine and Covenants (section 20, verse 72-74) includes the method for baptism:
- 72 Baptism is to be administered in the following manner unto all those who repent—
- 73 The person who is called of God and has authority from Jesus Christ to baptize, shall go down into the water with the person who has presented himself or herself for baptism, and shall say, calling him or her by name: Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
- 74 Then shall he immerse him or her in the water, and come forth again out of the water.
Baptism is performed for those who have arrived at the age of accountability, which means eight years old. Accordingly, all baptisms are performed only on persons age eight or above (Doctrine and Covenants 68:27). According to The Book of Mormon, "Little children need no repentance, neither baptism" (Mormon 8:11).
As Jesus promised baptism by the Holy Ghost and with fire, as in the Bible (i.e. Matthew 3:11), so Latter-day Saints perform the ordinance of confirmation, which, through Priesthood authority, and in the name of Jesus Christ, "confirms" one a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and involves the conferring (giving) of the Holy Ghost. Someone confirmed in this way is said to have received the gift of the Holy Ghost. According to the Bible Dictionary (found in the Appendix to LDS Editions of the Bible), "The gift of the Holy Ghost is the right to have, whenever one is worthy, the companionship of the Holy Ghost...It acts as a cleansing agent to purify a person and sanctify him from all sin. Thus it is often spoken of as a 'fire'" (2 Nephi 31:17, Doctrine and Covenants 19:31).
The Temple is considered sacred above all other earthly places by Latter-day Saints. It is literally considered to be "The House of the Lord," and therefore is consecrated (dedicated) to the Lord in special dedication meetings before ordinances are performed inside. Ordinances performed in temples include the endowment and marriage. Joseph Smith, in Doctrine and Covenants 131:1-4, taught:
- In the celestial glory [heaven] there are three heavens or degrees;
- And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage];
- And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.
- He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase.
In other words, to enter the highest kingdom of Heaven and gain an eternal increase (i.e. exaltation), one must enter into this covenant of marriage. Only in dedicated temples can "The new and everlasting covenant of marriage" be performed. Thus, Latter-day Saints are encouraged to go to dedicated temples to receive the ordinances necessary for exaltation (eternal progression).