Latter Day Saint movement

Latter Day Saint movement
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The Latter Day Saint movement (also called the LDS movement or LDS restorationist movement) is a group of independent churches tracing their origin to a Christian primitivist movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. in the late 1820s. Collectively, these churches have over 14 million members. The vast majority of them are Mormons belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and their predominant theology is Mormonism. A minority of Latter Day Saint adherents, such as members of the Community of Christ, believe in traditional Protestant theology, and have distanced themselves from the distinctive doctrines of Mormonism.

The movement began in western New York during the Second Great Awakening when Smith said that he received visions revealing a new sacred text, the Book of Mormon, which he published in 1830 as a supplement to the Bible. Based on the teachings of this book and other revelations, Smith founded a Christian primitivist church, called the Church of Christ. The Book of Mormon brought hundreds of early followers, who later became known as "Mormons", "Latter-day Saints", or just "Saints." In 1831 Smith soon moved the church headquarters to Kirtland, Ohio, and in 1834 changed its name to the "Church of the Latter Day Saints."

After the church in Ohio collapsed by dissensions in 1838, Smith moved to Missouri. After Smith's death in 1844, a succession crisis led to the organization splitting into several groups, the largest of which, the LDS Church, migrated to the Great Basin (now Utah) and became most prominently known for its 19th-century practice of polygamy. The LDS Church officially renounced this practice in 1890, so that the Territory of Utah could become a State, and gradually discontinued it. This change resulted in the formation of a number of small sects who sought to maintain polygamy and other 19th-century Mormon doctrines and practices, now referred to as Mormon fundamentalism.

Other groups originating within the Latter Day Saint movement followed different paths in Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. For the most part these groups rejected plural marriage and some of Smith's later teachings. The largest of these, the Community of Christ (originally known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), was formed in Illinois in 1860 by several groups uniting around Smith's son, Joseph Smith III. Most denominations existing today that adhere to the teachings of Smith have some historical relationship with the movement.



The driving force behind and founder of the Latter Day Saint movement was Joseph Smith, Jr., and to a lesser extent, during the movement's first two years, Oliver Cowdery. Throughout his life, Smith told of an experience he had as a boy having seen God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings, who told him that the true church had been lost and would be restored through him, and that he would be given the authority to organize and lead the true Church of Christ. Smith and Cowdery also explained that the angels John the Baptist, Peter, James and John visited them in 1829 and gave them authority to reestablish the Church of Christ.

The first Latter Day Saint church was formed in April 1830, consisting of a community of believers in the western New York towns of Fayette, Manchester, and Colesville. They called themselves the Church of Christ, and on April 6, 1830, the church formally organized into a legal institution under that name. By 1834, the church was being referred to as the Church of the Latter Day Saints in early church publications,[1] and in 1838 Joseph Smith announced that he had received a revelation from God that officially changed the name to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.[2][3]

In 1844, William Law and several other Latter Day Saints in church leadership positions publicly denounced Smith's secret practice of polygamy in the controversial Nauvoo Expositor, and formed their own church. The city council of Nauvoo, Illinois subsequently had the printing press of the Expositor destroyed. In spite of Smith's later offer to pay damages for destroyed property, critics of Smith and the church considered the destruction heavy-handed. Some called for the Latter Day Saints to be either expelled or destroyed.

Following Smith's assassination by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, some prominent members of the church claimed to be Smith's legitimate successor. These various claims resulted in a succession crisis, in which the majority of church members followed Brigham Young, he being the senior Apostle of the church; others followed Sidney Rigdon or James Strang. The crisis resulted in several permanent schisms as well as the formation of occasional splinter groups, some of which no longer exist. These various groups are occasionally referred to under two geographical headings: "Prairie Saints" (those that remained in the Midwest United States) and "Rocky Mountain Saints" (those who followed Brigham Young to what would later become the state of Utah).

Today, there are many small schism organizations who regard themselves as a part of the Latter Day Saint movement, though in most cases they do not acknowledge the other branches as valid and regard their own tradition as the only correct and authorized version of the church Smith originally founded. The vast majority (over 98 percent) of Latter Day Saints belong to the largest denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) which reports 14 million members worldwide. The second-largest denomination is the Community of Christ, which reports over 250,000 members. There are also tens of thousands of adherents within small sects of Mormon fundamentalism.[4] These sects separated from the LDS Church because they continue to practice plural marriage, which the LDS Church officially abandoned in 1890.


Saint-designation of members

Latter Day Saints adopt a definition of "saint" that all members of the church are considered "Saints".[5] The term "latter day" distinguishes between biblical saints and modern saints who "live in the latter days".


The Latter Day Saint movement classifies itself within Christianity, but as a distinct restored dispensation. Latter Day Saints hold that a Great Apostasy began in Christianity not long after the ascension of Jesus Christ,[6] marked with the corruption of Christian doctrine by Greek and other philosophies,[7] and followers dividing into different ideological groups.[8] Additionally, Latter Day Saints claim the martyrdom of the Apostles lead to a loss of Priesthood authority to administer the church and its ordinances.[9][10]

According to Latter Day Saint churches, the Lord re-established the early Christian church as found in the New Testament through Joseph Smith.[11] In particular, Latter Day Saints believe that angels such as Peter, James, John, and John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and others and bestowed various Priesthood authorities on them.[12] Thus, Smith and his successors are considered modern prophets who receive revelation from God to guide the church.


Most members of Latter Day Saint churches are adherents to Mormonism, a theology based on Joseph Smith's later teachings and further developed by Brigham Young, James Strang and Smith's other successors. The term Mormon derives from the Book of Mormon, and these adherents refer to themselves as Latter Day Saints or Mormons. Mormonism and Christianity have a complex theological, historical, and sociological relationship. Mormons express the doctrines of Mormonism using standard biblical terminology, and claim to have similar views about the nature of Jesus' atonement, bodily resurrection, and Second Coming as traditional Christianity. Nevertheless, Mormons agree with non-Mormons that their view of God is significantly different from the trinitarian view of the Nicene Creed of the 4th century.[13]

Though Mormons consider the Bible as scripture (insofar as it is "translated correctly"), they have also adopted additional scriptures. Mormons not only practice baptism and celebrate the eucharist but also participate in religious rituals not practiced in traditional Christianity. Although the various branches of Christianity have diverse views about the nature of salvation, the Mormon view is particularly idiosyncratic.

Focusing on differences, some Christians consider Mormonism "non-Christian"; and Mormons, focusing on similarities, are offended at being so characterized.[14] Mormons do not accept non-Mormon baptism nor do non-Mormon Christians usually accept Mormon baptism.[citation needed] Mormons regularly proselytize individuals actually or nominally within the Christian tradition, and some Christians, especially evangelicals, proselytize Mormons.[15] A prominent scholarly view is that Mormonism is a form of Christianity, but is distinct enough from traditional Christianity so as to form a new religious tradition, much as Christianity is more than just a sect of Judaism.[16]

The Mormonism that originated with Joseph Smith, Jr. in the 1820s shared strong similarities with some elements[which?] of 19th-century Protestant Christianity. However, during the 1830s and 40s, Smith departed significantly from traditional Christianity, claiming all churches of his day were part of a Great Apostasy that had distorted or abandoned doctrinal truths. Mormons believe that God, through Smith and his successors, restored these truths, and thus restored the original Christianity taught by Jesus. For example, Smith ultimately rejected the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity and instead taught that all humans are co-eternal with God and have the potential to become gods themselves. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the largest Mormon denomination, while acknowledging its differences with mainstream Christianity, often focuses on its commonalities.

A small fraction of Latter Day Saints, most notably those within the Community of Christ, the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, follow a traditional Protestant theology more similar to the Mormonism of the 1830s. The Community of Christ view God in trinitarian terms, and reject the distinctive theological developments of later Mormonism.


See also

Christus statue temple square salt lake city.jpg Latter-day Saints portal


  1. ^ See, e.g., Joseph Smith, Jr. (ed), Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Kirtland, OH: F.G. Williams & Co., 1835).
  2. ^ Manuscript History of the Church, LDS Church Archives, book A-1, p. 37; reproduced in Dean C. Jessee (comp.) (1989). The Papers of Joseph Smith: Autobiographical and Historical Writings (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book) 1:302–303.
  3. ^ H. Michael Marquardt and Wesley P. Walters (1994). Inventing Mormonism: Tradition and the Historical Record (Salt Lake City, Utah: Signature Books) p. 160.
  4. ^ The term "Mormon fundamentalist" appears to have been coined in the 1940s by Apostle Mark E. Petersen: Ken Driggs, "'This Will Someday Be the Head and Not the Tail of the Church': A History of the Mormon Fundamentalists at Short Creek", Journal of Church and State 43:49 (2001) at p. 51.
  5. ^ >Quentin L. Cook, "Are You a Saint?", Ensign, Nov. 2003, pp. 95–96.
  6. ^ Missionary Department of the LDS Church (2004). Preach My Gospel. LDS Church, Inc. pp. 35. ISBN 0402366174.  (see also: 2 Thessalonians 2:3)
  7. ^ Talmage, James E. (1909). The Great Apostasy. The Deseret News. pp. 64–65. ISBN 0875798438. 
  8. ^ Richards, LeGrand (1976). A Marvelous Work and a Wonder. Deseret Book Company. pp. 24. ISBN 0877471614. 
  9. ^ Talmage, James E. (1909). The Great Apostasy. The Deseret News. pp. 68. ISBN 0875798438. 
  10. ^ Eyring, Henry B. (May 2008), "The True and Living Church", Ensign (LDS Church): 20–24, 
  11. ^ Smith's restoration was slightly different than other restorationists of the era (for instance, that of Alexander Campbell). Instead of analyzing the Bible, Smith claimed to write and interpret scripture as the biblical prophets did. Bushman (2008, p. 5)
  12. ^ See JSH 1:69,72 and Doctrine and Covenants 84:19-21
  13. ^ Shipps (1985, pp. 148–49) (arguing that "Mormonism differs from traditional Christianity in much the same fashion that traditional Christianity... came to differ from Judaism.").
  14. ^ Stark & Neilson (2005, p. 14).
  15. ^ There are a number of books by evangelical Christians that explain how evangelicals can approach witnessing to Mormons: e.g., David L. Rowe (2005). I Love Mormons: A New Way to Share Christ with Latter-day Saints (Baker Books, ISBN 9780801065224); Ron Rhodes (2001). The 10 Most Important Things You Can Say to a Mormon (Harvest House, ISBN 9780736905343); Mark J. Cares (1998). Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons (Wels Outreach Resources, ISBN 9781893702066).
  16. ^ Shipps (2000, p. 338).


External links

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