The Church of Jesus Christ
| Group Profile | History
| Beliefs | Links
| Bibliography |
of Latter-day Saints
I. Group Profile
- Name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
- Founder: Joseph Smith
- Date of Birth/Death: Born December 23, 1805; Died
June 27, 1844
- Birth Place: Sharon, Vermont
- Year Founded: April 6, 1830
- Sacred or Revered Texts: The Book of Mormon , The Doctrine
and Covenants, The Pearl of Great Price , The Holy
Bible . The Bookof Mormon contains writings about
ancient civilizations in America between 2200 B.C. and 400 A.D.
and includes an account of Jesus Christ's ministry on the American
continent following his resurrection in Jerusalem. The Doctrine
and Covenants includes revelations and writings given since
the restoration, while the Pearl of Great Price is a collection
of materials produced by the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning
significant aspects of the faith and doctrine of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
- Cult or Sect: Negative sentiments are typically implied
when the concepts "cult" and "sect" are employed
in popular discourse. Since the Religious Movements Homepage
seeks to promote religious tolerance and appreciation of the
positive benefits of pluralism and religious diversity in human
cultures, we encourage the use of alternative concepts that do
not carry implicit negative stereotypes. For a more detailed
discussion of both scholarly and popular usage of the concepts
"cult" and "sect," please visit our Conceptualizing
"Cult" and "Sect" page, where you will
find additional links to related issues.
According to Church officials (and members themselves), the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as suggested by
its name, is a Christian church. What separates them from other
Christians is the fact that the LDS Church believes it is "a
restoration to the earth of the original Christian church, which
was abandoned through apostasy during the early centuries of
the Christian era."
Sociologically and historically speaking, the LDS Church would
be classified as a cult because its early history constituted
a radical break from the mainstream of Protestant churches. Established
Protestant denominations did not recognize it as a sectarian
movement. Similarly, the group experienced extremely high tension
with the broader culture for almost a century.
Today, many evalgelical traditions still consider the LDS
Church to be a cult because Mormon teaching are at variance with
their own. This notwithstanding, the LDS Church stands as the
most successful of the several new religions formed in the nineteenth
century. Some tension with the broader culture remains, but tension
has been very substantially reduced. Unlike the Reorganized Church
of Latter-day Saints, which as more ever closer to mainstream
Christianity, the leadership of the LDS Church has taken the
Church in a direction that is clearly distinct from all other
Christian groups. The LDS has an aggressive mission program in
many parts of the world and is now approaching ten million members
world-wide. Many scholars agree with sociologist Rodney Stark
who argues the LDS Church will lose its "cult movement"
status within the next quarter of a century, and become recognized
as the fourth major monotheistic religion.
- Size of Group: 11,068,861 (LDS official web site:
December 31, 2000). U.S. membership = 5,208,827.
In 1816, Joseph Smith and his family moved to Palmyra, New
York, where, in 1820, a religious revival occurred. Joseph, a
very young 14-year-old boy, was very intrigued by thenumerous
preachers and what they had to say. However, he was also confusedbecause
each church claimed to be the "true" one. He decided
to turn to theBible for assistance. There he found the scripture:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth
to all men liberally, and upbraidethnot; and it shall be given
him (James 1:5).
This inspired Smith to go to a nearby grove and pray for guidance.
During this prayer, God and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to
him there and commanded him not to join any of the existing churches
because the Church originally organized by God would soon be
restored upon the earth.
In 1823, Smith had another vision, this time of an angel named
Moroni. The angel directed Smith to a hill near Palmyra; buried
under this hill was a religious history of an ancient American
civilization inscribed on golden plates. Four years later, Smith
translated this record (which was written in ancient Egyptian
hieroglyphics) into what is now known as the Book of Mormon
. In 1830, Smith established the "Church of Christ"
in Fayette, New York; however, later revelation (in 1838) commanded
that the name be changed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day
III. Beliefs of the Group
The key belief of the LDS church is that they represent a
restoration to the Earth of the original Christian church, which
was abandoned through the apostasy during the early centuries
of the Christian era. Their main beliefs are outlined in thirteen
of Faith" found at the end of the Pearl of Great
Price. Several key beliefs are contained in these statements,
including a belief in "God, the Eternal Father, and in His
Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost." LDS members believe
these three personages are one in purpose, but separate in being.
Another unique belief held by the Latter-Day Saints is that continual
revelation occurs (ninth Article of Faith) and is, indeed, an
important part of their faith.
LDS members have confirmed the purpose of life within the
framework of three questions:
- Whence did we come?
- Why are we here?
- What awaits us hereafter?
It is the firm belief of the members of the Church that they
are the "spiritual offspring" of God the Eternal Father
and that all people lived as spirit beings with God in a premortal
life. In this life, people were taught all of God's plans and
purposes. Also, it was here where God revealed his Plan of Salvation
to them. This Plan of Salvation is that all children of God could
experience a physical existence, including mortality, and then
would be able to return to live in his presence for all eternity.
Life on Earth serves several purposes, the main one being
that it is a "test" to determine if people are worthy
to return to live with God. According to LDS doctrine, God made
several commandments as to what he wanted people to do with their
life on Earth: grow in knowledge, develop talents and gifts,
to fill and fulfill the missions and callings that were conferred
on us, exercise free agency (the right to make our own
decisions) without memory of the premortal life, establish the
foundations of eternal family relationships. In a sense, mortal
life is considered a "dress rehearsal" for the next
After completion of life on Earth, Mormons believe that the
spiritual body separates from the physical one and enters the
Spirit World. It is here
where the person is "judged" and it is determined if
he or she is worthy to live with God the Eternal Father and His
Son, Jesus Christ, for all eternity.
LDS members do not believe that if one is judged worthy, he
or she is automatically placed into the familiar notion of "Heaven."
Rather, they believe that people are placed into one of three
"degrees of glory" in the afterlife, which commensurate
with the laws they have obeyed on Earth: the Telestial , Terrestial
and Celestial Kingdoms. This belief comes from Paul's reference
to "three heavens" in II Cor. 12:1-4; however, whereas
most Christian denominations believe these "three heavens"
to be the sky, outer space, and God's kingdom, LDS members believe
them to be three "degrees of glory."
The Telestial Kingdom is the lowest degree of glory
attainable, and is reserved for those who have willfully rejected
the gospel of Jesus Christ and commit serious sins such as adultery,
lying and murder andwho fail to repent for these sins in mortality.
These people are unable to receive either Jesus Christ or God
TheTerrestial Kingdom is saved for those who lived
honorable lives on Earth but were blinded by the "craftiness"
of men and were not valiant in the testimony of Jesus. These
people receive the presence of the Son, but not the Fulness of
The highest degree of glory, and the one LDS members strive
to reach, is the Celestial Kingdom . This Kingdom is reserved
for those who received the testimony of Jesus, believed in his
name and were baptized after the manner of his burial. Entrance
into this Kingdom requires a temple marriage and sealing (see
below); people are able to dwell in the presence of both God
the Father and Jesus Christ for all eternity. Latter-day Saints
believe that eternal life is the greatest of all God's gifts,
and the Plan of Salvation is His way of making it available to
them. They also believe that every person has the potential to
become a God with all the power and glory that God the Father
Members are typically baptized at the age of eight, although
the age obviously differs for those who convert later in their
life. The Aaronic Priesthood is first conferred upon boys
at age twelve, and they are ordained to the office of Deacon.
They pass the sacrament after it has been administered (blessed)
by the priests. At fourteen young men are ordained to the office
of Teacher. They prepare the sacrament and teach the Gospel.
At sixteen they are ordained to the office of Priest. As Priests,
they have the authority to Baptist and administer (bless the
Sacrament. After eighteen, the Melchezedek Priesthood
may be conferred upon them. The Malchizedek Priestood has the
authority to give the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on
of hands. The Aaronic Priesthood may be understood as an appendage
to the Melchezedek Priestoooh and performs the lower ordinances
of the Gospel. Each successive office of the priesthoodhas the
power and authority to perform ordinances of the lower offices
(Doctrines and Covenants , Section 20, verses 38 to 60).
Another unique belief held by LDS members is that of baptism for the dead. Mormons believe that
all deceased beings, dwelling as spirits and awaiting the time
of resurrection and judgement, will be given the opportunity
to hear and accept the message of the Gospel; whereas ordinary
baptisms take place in normal church houses, baptisms for the
dead are only performed in the temples.
Along with these beliefs, LDS members adhere to a strict set
of moral codes. They abide by the "Word of Wisdom"
which prohibits the use of illegal drugs, tobacco, alcoholic
beverages, tea and coffee. Young men and women are strongly encouraged
to be honest and chaste; all members must abstain from premarital
sex, pornography, foul language and gambling. Members also pay
tithing, or 10% of their income; strict adherance to this principle
has made the Mormon church one of the wealthiest in the world.
The church has no paid clergy; rather, people are called to
various positions and must fulfill their duties in their spare
time.The church has a very successful missionary program in which
young men and women, aged 19 and 21, respectively,serve for one
and a half to two years (retired married couples may also serve
for longer or shorter periods of time). Currently, there are
53,000 missionaries in 160 countries.
Perhaps the most important and central focus of the LDS church
is the family. Marriages performed in the Church's temples do not end at death; rather, both
the marriage and family relationships are sealed for "time
and all eternity." This idea - of an "eternal family"
- governs their way of life; every effort is made to live a life
worthy of returning to live with God the Father (and thus their
family in the Celestial Kingdom).
The Church is considered by many to be a cultic movement.
However, because of its tremendous growth (it is the fastest
growing major denomination in the world today), it is beginning
to gain acceptance by more and more people. If the current growth
rate continues, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
may become the fourth major monotheistic denomination (the other
three being Christianity, Judaism and the Islamic faith).
IV. Links to LDS Web Sites
The Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Official Homepage
This is the LDS official website. It contains basic information
about the Church, including membership numbers, information about
their missionary program and temples, along with basic beliefs
held by the Church. The segmententitled "Media Information,"
off the front page, provides lots of organizationdata as well
as currents events.
This is perhaps the most comprehensive and accurate site on the
Internet. You can find virtually anything about the LDS religion
on this page, and can be confident that it represents LDS doctrine.
A major defect in the utility of this site is that it is structured
with frames so that every page displays the home page address.
In addition, we found the internal search engine to be non-responsive
on multiple occasions. These defects diminish the utility of
an otherwise wonderful resource.
An Internet Resource for Latter-day Saints
This site results from an initiative of a Utah businessman named
Warren Osborn who visited this address and found the content
"utterly appalling." He bought the domain name from
the owner and has developed an attractive and reasonably comprehensive
site. While much of the content,as indicated in the title page,
is "for Latter-day Saints," it is an good source to
learn about Mormons and the broad array of LDS Church activities.
Mormon History: A Research Guide
This site contains a print bibliography of the sizable holdings
of the Research Libraries of the New York Public Library. Also,
links to other major collections of archival materials on the
LDS Church. An excellent place to begin for those interested
in a serious investigation of Mormons.
This is a simple, but useful page for exploring LDS created materials
on the Internet. When this link was established, the page contained
216 links of LDS sites, and a gateway to Mormon "chat rooms"
Basic Beliefs of the LDS Church
This is a good site to go to if you are interested in a basic
"list" of LDS Church beliefs. It highlights the main
principles the Church is based on.
ISAR on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of
American Religions offers a succinct and authorative essay on
the Mormon faith tradition.
ISAR on Polygamy-Practicing Groups
The practice of polygamy was one important doctrine that placed
the early LDS Church in hightension with the broader culture.
While officially outlawed a church doctrine in the early 20th
century, polygamy survives in a number of splinter groups. This
essay by J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the
Study of American Religion, addesses the persistence of polygamy
in sectarian Mormon groups.
Fundamentalism and Violence: A Historical Analysis
This article by Garn LeBaron Jr. examines the case history of
a polygamist church groupheaded by Ervil Morel LeBaron. This
piece explores the history of Mormon polygamist groups and seeks
to explain why and how their doctrines often lead them toward
Youth Standards Page
This is the "standards site" and describes in detail
the moral codes and "rules" that the youth of the Church
are expected to live by.
Another page of links, although substantially smaller than LDS
SHIELDS (Scholarly and Historical Information Exchange for Latter-day
Saints) deals mainly with claims made by anti and counter cult
movements. A good place to visit if you are confused about accusations
made on these types of sites.
1ST Ward Homepage
The "WWW 1st Ward" - this site will give you an idea
of Mormon culture as well as what is taught during the 3 hour
service each week.
Utah Missions, Inc.
This is a typical anti-Mormon page which raises several interesting
and challenging questions. Be careful, though, because some of
these claims are not in accordance with LDS doctrine.
The Utah Lighthouse Ministry is the product of Jerald and Sandra
Tanner, perhaps the best know anti-Mormons who turned their apostacy
into careers. In early December 1999, the U.S. District Court
for Utah issued a preliminary injunction against the Utah Lighthouse
Ministry for linking to pages posting the Church Handbook
of Instructions , a document owned by an LDS organization.
They had earlier been barred from posting this same text on their
web page. See the Cesnur story for details on this development,
as well as a link to the court injunction. The Tanner's on accounting
and chronology are presented on their web site at Under the Cover of Light: News
The Watchman Expositor
A "counter-cult" history of the church, which specifically
rejects several key beliefs of the Church on the basis of Biblical
This page is sponsored by the Institute for Religious Research.
They identify their mission as as "the study of religious
claims in light of history, science, and the Bible." They
present here a very substantial body of materials aimed at disputing
the theological truth of the LDS faith. The site is available
in a dozen languages.
This is an apostate site created by a person who joined the LDS
Church in college and left after twenty years. The front page
leads with links to more than 95 personal accounts of people
who left the Mormon tradition. While the general character of
the author's content is civil, the focus on "recovery"
and "thought reform" leads us to characterize this
page as anti-cult.
- Arrington, Leonard J. and Davis Bitton. 1979.
- The Mormon Experience. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Bloomberg, Craig L. and Stephen E. Robinson. 1997.
- How Wide the Divide?. Downers Grove, IL.
- Read a review of this dialogue between a Mormon and evangelical
in Cornerstone Magazine
- Brooks, John L. 1994.
- The Refiner's Fire: The Making of MormonCosmology, 1644-1844
. New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Cornwall, Marie, ed. 1994.
- Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives .
Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Ludlow, Daniel H. 1969.
- Latter-day Prophets Speak. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft,
- Ludlow, Daniel H. 1992.
- Encyclopedia of Mormonism . New York: Macmillan.
- McConkie, Bruce R. 1966.
- Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, Inc.
- Mauss, Armand. 1994.
- The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation
. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Moore, R. Laurence. 1986.
- Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans. New
York: Oxford University Press, Ch. 1, "How to Become a People:
The Mormon Scenario," pp. 25-47.
- O'Dea, Thomas. F. 1957.
- The Mormons. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Ostling, R. and J. Ostling, 1999.
- The Power and the Promise: Mormon America . San Fransico:
Harper San Fransico.
- Read: New York Times Review (01/09/00) of this
- Quinn, D. Michael. 1997.
- The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power . Salt Lake
City: Signature Books.
- Richards, LeGrande. 1950.
- A Marvelous Work and Wonder. Salt Lake City: Deseret
- Shepard, Gordon and Gary Shepard. 1984.
- A Kingdom Transformed: Themes in the Development of Mormonism
. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press.
- Shipps, Jan, 1985.
- Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition .
Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
- Smith, Joseph, translator. 1964.
- The Book of Mormon. Great Britain: University Press,
- Smith, Joseph F. 1971.
- Essentials in Church History. Salt Lake City: Deseret
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
- Chen, Chiung Hwang and Ethan Yorgoson. 1999.
- "Those Amazing Mormons:; THe MNedia's Construction of
Latter-day Saints as a Model Minority." Dialogue: A Journal
of Mormon Thought. Read an excerpt from article.
- Kennedy, John W. 1998.
- "Southern Baptists Take Up the Mormon Challenge"
Christianity Today (June 15: 24- ).
- Mauss, Armand and M. Gerald Bradford. 1988.
- "Mormon Assimilation and Politics," in Anson Shupe
and Jeffrey K. Hadden, eds. The Politics of Religion and Social
Change . New York: Paragon House, pp. 40-66.
- Neuhaus, Richard John. 2000
- "Is Mormonism Christian?" First Things . March: 97-115.
- Shipps, Jan, 1998
- "Submission in Salt Lake" . Religion
in the News . (Fall, 1998). 1:2.
- Shipps, Jan. 1988.
- "The Latter-Day Saints," in Charles H. Lippy and
Peter W. Williams, eds. Encyclopedia of the American Religious
Experience . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. Vol I: 649-665.
Joseph Smith Memorial Building
15 East South Temple Street
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150
by Ryan C. Miller
For Soc 257: New Religious Movements
University of Virginia
Spring Term: 1997
Last modified: 09/30/01
Mr. Miller has graduated from the University of Virginia