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The Mormon Church is an unofficial name used to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The term Mormon derives from the Book of Mormon, translated by Joseph Smith in 1829. The Church was established a year later, in 1830. The nickname has been commonly used, especially by those outside the Church, to refer to the Church since that time.
The Origins of the Church
Joseph Smith lived in rural New York in the United States. During his teenage years, there was a great surge of religious sentiment in America, and especially in his community. Revival meetings were held by many Protestant sects with a fervent effort to gain converts. There were many variations of Protestant doctrine. The Protestant movement itself was born of the belief that Orthodox Christianity had lost its way and had strayed from many of the truths originally taught by Christ and His apostles. Joseph came from a religious Christian family, but he felt he should affiliate with one of the churches. Confused, he resorted to a grove of trees to pray and ask the Lord what he should do. The Lord responded by appearing to Joseph, and presenting to him His Son. They announced that the eternal truths taught by Christ were about to be restored. The vision upset one very important established tenet in Christianity, the nature of the Godhead. The vision proved that God the Father and Jesus Christ were distinct, corporeal beings.
Joseph Smith received visions and revelations from God from 1820 until the end of his life. The Church is built upon these revelations, the word of the Bible, and also the word of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon is an ancient record, translated by the power of God, which the Church proclaims is another testament of Jesus Christ. It is a history of and testimony from peoples of the ancient Americas, whom Christ visited after His resurrection.
Persecution followed Joseph Smith, and those who believed him, from the moment he received and reported his first vision. In the early years of the Church, its members were driven out of one place after another. It wasn't until they migrated under duress to Utah Territory that they were actually able to settle for any length of time. Despite persecution and Joseph Smith’s murder, the Church managed to flourish and has approximately 13 million members today. Many of them live outside the United States. There are Church members in 160 countries.
The Core of Mormon Belief
The core of Mormon belief is a belief in Christ as the Only Begotten Son of God, the Creator of Earth and Savior of the world. Christ is the center of their church, so Mormons are Christians. In addition to believing that Christ has restored the lost eternal truths of the Gospel, Mormons believe He has restored priesthood authority, the authority to act in God's name. These keys have been handed down in an unbroken line ever since this restoration. The Church also holds as one of its core tenets that God speaks to man today. He spoke to Joseph Smith, and to prophets living today. The Church, since its founding, has always had prophets to lead it. Modern revelation and modern scripture go hand-in-hand. The Doctrine and Covenants is a compilation of latter-day revelations.
Central to Mormon belief is the knowledge that God has a plan for Mankind, called the Plan of Salvation. The Plan of Salvation teaches that human beings live before they come to this earth in a pre-mortal existence as spirit children of God. Thus, they are literally His children. Earth life is a time of testing and discovery, a time to prepare for resurrection and glory. The atonement of Christ enables people to repent and return to God the Father. The companionship of the Holy Ghost gives worthy people access to personal revelation and answers to prayer, providing (along with the scriptures) an anchor and guide in a wicked world. At death, people move on to the Spirit World, where they have the same freedom of choice as they did in their mortal life. They are then resurrected - receiving a perfected body - and then judged by God. Those who are truly faithful then dwell eternally in His presence.
Other essential beliefs include the idea that salvation is a gift to all men provided by Christ's atonement. Salvation means that all living beings will be resurrected. Most living souls will inherit a kingdom of glory. Exaltation, however, is dependent upon repentance and righteousness, and is bestowed through God's grace upon those who keep His commandments. Thus, both grace and works are necessary for exaltation. Mormons believe that men are judged according to the knowledge they possess. Mormons share their knowledge of the gospel with others through missionary work. They also provide ordinances for those who have died without hearing the gospel. These ordinances are performed in temples, and are only binding for people who desire to accept these ordinances as they are explained to them in the Spirit World.
The Importance of Families
Familiesare very important in the Mormon Church. The Church asserts that, through temple work, families can be sealed together forever: husband to wife, and children to parents. Thus, the afterlife is perceived as a time of joyous reunion with loved ones.
The Mormon view of families changes family life in important ways:
- Marriage is looked upon as an eternal commitment and an important one. Mormons are highly encouraged to marry, and to make an inspired choice when choosing a companion.
- Mormon spouses who have made eternal commitments tend to weather marital challenges better than those who have made worldly, or temporary commitments.
- Mormon parents view themselves as caretakers of God's children and feel a responsibility to bring children into the world. Mormon parents are responsible for teaching morality, reverence, honesty, and compassion, and for providing spiritual experiences for their children.
- Mormon parents view themselves and their children as beings with eternal potential.
- Mormon funerals tend to be happy and inspiring events despite the grief caused by the loss of a loved one. Mormons expect to be reunited with their departed loved ones.
Why Mormons Stand Out
The Church is well known for its health code, the Word of Wisdom. Members of the Church do not drink alcohol, tea, or coffee; nor do they smoke, or use illegal drugs. The Word of Wisdom also encourages them to eat nutritiously, with a strong emphasis on grains, vegetables, and fruits, and to live a healthy lifestyle, both in body and mind. Because the Church emphasizes the importance of healthy living, happy families, service, and education, among other virtues, its members tend to be happy people, good citizens, and good neighbors, and have a reputation for honesty and selflessness.
Mormons are busy! The Mormon Church has a lay clergy, which means no one is paid for his or her service. Bishops (the equivalent of pastors or rabbis) serve in their church callings and work in their outside, chosen professions at the same time. Virtually everyone in a ward has a calling. In communities where there are few Mormons, the members may fill several callings at once. Church members are expected to give sermons and teach classes, help with welfare projects, plan recreational activities, manage the instruction of children, and attend church meetings for three hours every Sunday. And then many Mormons serve as missionaries far from home at their own expense. Mormons generally rejoice in service and find that their abilities grow and talents multiply as they serve.
See The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for more complete information about the Church.