Frequently Asked Questions About:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
by R. Webster Kehr, Topeka Kansas Stake
When Was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Organized?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the "Latter-Day Saint" church or the "LDS" church or the "Mormon" church, was legally organized April 6, 1830 in Fayette, Seneca County, New York by church founder Joseph Smith.
At the current time, the church is led by President Thomas S. Monson, the 16th President of the church.
What Was the "First Vision?"
After the death of the apostles, chosen by the Savior during his lifetime, the priesthood of God was gone from the earth and the heavens were closed. Revelation from heaven ceased to enlighten men and women.
The world fell into the "Dark Ages," which were literally darkened by the absence of the light of revelation from God to his prophets and apostles. Corruption, superstition and false doctrine controlled the world.
In about the year 1500 A.D. God started the long 300 year process of preparing the world for new apostles and new light from heaven. During the 16th and 17th centuries, the world experienced the Renaissance and Reformation, which started the process of unchaining the minds of the population from the deep corruption which had controlled the minds of the people for many centuries.
In the 18th century the "New World," America, was prepared as a free country with a constitution protecting freedom of religion. The brave and wise men who founded America were raised up by God to create a nation which was ruled by a government that did not force their people to join any specific religious denomination.
After literally 300 years of preparation, it was time for the heavens to be opened again and for the light of revelation to again be restored to the earth, this time never to be taken away again.
That opening of revelation, in the spring of 1820, did not occur with a minor incident, it occurred by a glorious appearance of God the Eternal Father, and his beloved Son Jesus Christ, to a prophet chosen and called long before his birth, named Joseph Smith, in Palmyra, New York.
This glorious appearance, because it opened the heavens, never to be closed again, is called the "First Vision."
In early 1820, Joseph Smith belonged to a family that was divided in religion. Joseph had gone into a grove of trees by his father's farm to ask God which church to join. The result of that prayer is called "The First vision." After going into the woods to pray, and before the marvelous vision, satan was allowed to make his presence felt to young Joseph:
- "But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them [Heavenly Father] spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—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.”
Such was the opening of revelation to God's new prophets after many centuries of spiritual darkness.
What is the Book of Mormon?
In 600 B.C. a prophet living in Jerusalem, named Lehi, was commanded to take his family, and a few others, and flee Jerusalem. They were led to the ocean shores. One of the sons of this prophet, whose name was Nephi, who himself was a prophet, was shown by revelation how to build a ship. The entire group then sailed to the Americas, arriving around 591 B.C.
The Book of Mormon is a record, like the Bible, which was written by prophets. In about 421 A.D. the descendents of these people, and the descendents of a second group who also fled Jerusalem, were largely destroyed and all prophetic leadership was lost to the civilization. At this point the people dwindled in unbelief and superstition.
Thus, the bulk of the Book of Mormon covers about a 1,000 year period, almost all of it in the Americas. The Book of Mormon was written by prophets who, except for the first generation, were born in the Americas. All but a few verses of the Book of Mormon (which verses were written for genealogical purposes) were written by prophets of the people.
There is also a record in the Book of Mormon of another group of people, the Jaredites, who came to America shortly after the Tower of Babel. They were also led by a prophet. This civilization was totally destroyed, literally down to the last man, about the time that the other two groups from Jerusalem arrived. Only two men survived. One man was a military leader and the other was the prophet who wrote the record (who did not participate in the war). Thus, this civilization has no descendents today (unless there were people unknown to the prophets).
The Book of Mormon, which summarized the activities of these three groups, were written on gold plates to preserve the record for many hundreds of years while buried in the earth. The prophet who buried the gold plates knew that God would raise-up new prophets in the "latter-days." The gold plates were found, via revelation to a new prophet, the Prophet Joseph Smith, in about 1823. They were also translated by revelation, since they were written in languages long lost to the world (i.e. these people had modified their native languages).
How is the LDS Church Organized Today?
The LDS church is presided over by a living prophet who has the title of "President," as well as the titles of "Prophet" and "Prophet, Seer and Revelator." He is the senior apostle in the church, where the term "senior" is determined by his date of ordination to the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, not by his age.
The President of the church has two counselors and these three apostles form a quorum called "The First Presidency." The "First Presidency" is the highest body in the church.
The second highest quorum in the church is the "Quorum of the Twelve Apostles." The second senior apostle in the church (next in seniority to the President/Prophet) is always the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, even if he is a member of the First Presidency.
If the second senior apostle of the church happens to be in the First presidency, the most senior apostle who is not in the First Presidency has the title of: "Acting President" of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
All of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have the title of "Prophet, Seer and Revelator," though only the actual President of the church has the authority to set church doctrine.
Upon the death of the President of the church, the First Presidency is dissolved. His two counselors take their places in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in their order of seniority (in this case the quorum temporarily has 14 members) and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles becomes the presiding body of the church. The President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is already the President of this quorum, but is now the senior apostle and automatically becomes the leader of the church.
When prompted by revelation, the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles reorganizes the First Presidency, with himself automatically as President. He generally picks two apostles from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be his counselors and the First Presidency is reorganized.
The new President of the church is always the senior apostle (who was already the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles), thus there is never any debate as to who the President of the church is. The members of the church do not "vote" for the new Prophet/President, rather they "sustain" the unanimous choice of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles.
A new apostle is chosen from among the leaders of the church, thus completing the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The new President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is, of course, the second senior apostle in the church, even if he is in the new First Presidency.
This format is almost always what happens, though the President of the church, and only the President of the church, has the authority to change this format.
As a point of interest, every President of the church since Brigham Young has been an apostle for more than 30 years prior to becoming President of the church. Thus, the President of the church always has a great deal of experience in church leadership and in receiving revelation - before he becomes the President. He is also very well known to the members of the church.
What Does the Term "Mormon" Mean and Why are You Called "Mormons?"
Mormon was a prophet who lived in America during the latter part of the 4th century. He was the person most responsible for summarizing and compiling the records of the prophets who lived before him. Thus, the book was named after him. He was killed in the last great battle of his people.
His son, Moroni, survived the battle and lived to finish the record. It was the prophet Moroni who appeared to Joseph Smith and showed him by vision where the gold plates were buried.
The Latter-Day Saints are called "Mormons" because of their belief that the Book of Mormon is an inspired book written by prophets of God on the American continent.
What Scriptures Do the Latter-Day Saints Accept as Church Doctrine?
The church officially accepts 4 books as books of scripture:
1) The Holy Bible - King James Version (as far as it is translated correctly),
2) The Book of Mormon,
3) The Doctrine and Covenants (revelations mostly to the Prophet Joseph Smith),
4) The Pearl of Great Price.
The Pearl of Great Price is actually a composite of several short books: one written by Moses, one by Abraham, one by Christ (an inspired translation of Matthew chapter 24) and two by Joseph Smith (one being his history and the other being the Articles of Faith).
However, in the Articles of Faith is the statement: "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."
In other words, the door is wide open for the Prophet to add scripture to the currently accepted canon of scripture.
Are Mormon's Christians?
The Book of Mormon is another witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ. Even though it was written in America, far from Jerusalem, the American prophets were well aware of the divine mission of the Savior Jesus Christ. They spoke of his birth, mission, death and resurrection.
Several months after Christ's resurrection in Jerusalem He appeared to the people living in America. For 200 years after that appearance the people were highly righteous. About 200 years after the appearance of Christ they started becoming wicked and by 400 years A.D. only very wicked people were left to populate the Americas. They dwindled in unbelief and there was essentially a "Dark Ages" in America as well as in Europe.
So, yes, Mormons are definitely Christians. They consider Jesus Christ to be the one and only Savior and Redeemer of the world. Mormons consider Joseph Smith to be a highly favored and chosen prophet, but they consider Christ to be the one and only Savior of the world.
What Do the Latter-Day Saints Believe About Those Who Die Without Being Baptized?
Prior to the time we were born on this earth, all of us lived in a "pre-existent world," also known as the "pre-existence." See Jeremiah 1:5.
Our actions in this pre-existence largely determined when and were we were born on this earth.
The LDS church does not allow anyone to be baptized before the age of 8. The church believes that anyone who dies before the age of 8, or never achieves a mental maturity of an 8 year old (e.g. someone mentally retarded), was valiant in the "pre-existence" and thus is automatically saved in the Celestial Kingdom of God. They are "not accountable" because they die before they can comprehend sin or repentance. The atonement of Jesus Christ automatically applies to them. (In the Book of Mormon, see Moroni chapter 8)
When all people die they go to the "spirit world." In the "spirit world" missionaries from the LDS church (who are also in the "spirit world") may visit them and preach the gospel to them.
Independent of the preaching in the spirit world; temples on this earth (i.e. such as in Salt Lake City, Utah) are used to perform temple ordinances for those who have passed beyond the veil (e.g. "baptism for the dead" by proxy).
In the temples some of the ordinances are for the living and some are for the dead by proxy, such as "baptism for the dead." Those who died before the age of 8 are not baptized because they do not need baptism.
Thus, those who have lived to accountability and have died, and were not baptized while in mortality, will have the opportunity to hear the gospel in the spirit world and have the opportunity to have their baptism performed by proxy.
God is a just God to all of His children.
Well did Paul state:
- "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?"
I Corinthians 15:29
Thus, every person who has ever lived on this earth will have complete access to the saving ordinances of the gospel, if they accept them.
Do Mormon's Celebrate Christmas?
The Savior was born in Bethlehem on April 6, 1 B.C., in the meridian of time. He was crucified about April 10, shortly after his 33rd birthday (see 3 Nephi 8:1-5 in the Book of Mormon).
Nevertheless, Latter-Day Saints gladly celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25th in ways very similar to most of the Christian world.