The Gospel within the Articles of Faith
By Ryan Nilsson
How does one explain in a systematic way the outpouring of truth that came from God opening the heavens in modern times and bringing new revelation to man? In 1842, in response to a request to provide information about the Latter-day Saints to the Chicago Democrat editor John Wentworth, Joseph Smith included in what is now called the “Wentworth Letter” the Articles of Faith. These statements of belief are some of the most concise yet profound comments regarding Latter-day Saint beliefs in existence. The Articles of Faith, though simple and concise statements of belief, are also some of the most powerful statements of truth available with respect to informing others about the religion of the Latter-day Saints. Many do not appreciate this fact, but like a great compass, the Articles of Faith circumscribe and include all of the doctrines and principles of the entire gospel.
Volumes have been written on these amazing Articles of Faith, most notably among them are the works of two famous apostles: Articles of Faith by James E. Talmage and A New Witness for the Articles of Faith by Bruce R. McConkie. While this author cannot hope to surpass those great works, he nonetheless has taken the opportunity of this article to attempt to demonstrate how wide in scope the Articles of Faith are with reference to the doctrine of the Kingdom. The purpose of this article is to delve somewhat, if only superficially, into the marvelous doctrine surrounding the Articles of Faith, to hopefully give the reader a greater appreciation for these unparalleled declarations of belief. What follows are the thirteen Articles of Faith with commentary underneath each one to explore the depth of the gospel within the Articles of Faith.
1. We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost.
There is a God
A great teacher said, “Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth” (Mosiah 4:9). One of the most self-evident truths is the fact that a Great Creator must exist. The idea that the obvious order in the world and the universe is direct evidence for God is called the Teleological Argument. There are some philosophers, atheists, and agnostics that would contend that the Teleological Argument is not sufficient for evidence of God’s existence. However, the scriptures teach very plainly that God Himself considers the Teleological Argument to be perfectly sufficient, and that through the obvious order in Creation mankind is responsible for knowing that God exists. Apostle Paul wrote, “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon declared:
“Thou hast had signs enough; will ye tempt your God? Will ye say, Show unto me a sign, when ye have the testimony of all these thy brethren, and also all the holy prophets? The scriptures are laid before thee, yea, and all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”
Of course there is a God, and “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalms 19:1). And no person, when they are departed from this life and meet their Eternal Maker, will be justified in saying, “I didn’t know there was a God,” for sufficient witness is given to all mankind everywhere, “so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). After coming to the cognitive understanding that there is a God, all that is necessary is to decide upon the nature of that God. As Apostle Paul already mentioned “his eternal power and Godhead” (Rom. 1:20), it is a great eternal truth that there exists over the universe a Godhead, or a presiding council of Gods.
Latter-day Saints know that the Godhead consists of three beings: The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The Father, who takes the personal name/title of Elohim (which means “Gods”), is the supreme governor of the universe. It is possible that He bears that title or name because He is the source by which all other gods underneath Him have or will come. Second only to the Father in authority is Jesus Christ, known also as Jehovah prior to coming to earth. Jesus acted as a perfect representation of the Father while on earth. The Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, or Spirit of God is next to Jesus Christ in authority among the Gods. These Gods, though sharing the same perfections, have different roles in the Kingdom. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught,
“Everlasting covenant was made between three personages before the organization of this earth, and relates
to their dispensation of things to men on the earth; these personages, according to Abraham's record, are
called God the first, the Creator; God the second, the Redeemer; and God the third, the witness or Testator.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190).
As it has been alluded to regarding the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are separate and distinct Beings. The scriptures are very clear on this matter, establishing the distinction between the three. One of many poignant examples in the Bible is at the baptism of Jesus, wherein Matthew specifically records three individual Beings present in his account:
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened
unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from
heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”
(Matthew 3:16-17, emphasis added).
All three members of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, are Gods, and any reference to the Father and the Son being “one” (John 10:30) or there being “one Lord” (Deut. 6:4; Eph. 4:5) has reference to these Beings being unified in purpose rather than them actually being the same person. Jesus Christ Himself taught this clearly when he prayed:
“And now I am no more in the world, but these [the apostles] are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy
Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me [the apostles], that they may be one, as
we are…. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that
the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that
they may be one, even as we are one”
(John 17:11, 20-22, emphasis added).
In the foregoing scripture we had Jesus praying to His Father (a strange circumstance if they were the same person), voicing His desire that His disciples and all those who will subsequently believe on Him would become one together with Him and the Father. Does this not beg a nonliteral interpreation of Jesus’ teaching, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30)? If Jesus wants His followers to be one with Him and His Father “even as we [the Father and Son] are one” (John 17:22), then how can the Father and the Son be the same individual? Are all to become part of the same being as God in some kind of nebulous, undefinable construct of a creature? In commenting on this scripture and the absurdity of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost being the same person in light of what it teaches about there being “one” God, the Prophet Joseph Smith made this humorous yet poignant observation:
“Many men say there is one God; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are only one God. I say that is a
strange God anyhow—three in one, and one in three! It is a curious organization. ‘Father, I pray not for the
world, but I pray for them which thou hast given me.’ ‘Holy Father, keep through Thine own name those whom
thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.’ All are to be crammed into one God, according to
sectarianism. It would make the biggest God in all the world. He would be a wonderfully big God—he would be
a giant or a monster.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 372).
All of this discussion about the Father and the Son being separate Gods should not distract us from the true way in which these Gods really are one. They can truly be spoken of as one, and Jesus may be considered to be God and both the Father and the Son, however all this should be considered in its proper perspective – that the Gods are one in perfect unity. The Book of Mormon declares:
“And now Abinadi said unto them: I would that ye should understand that God himself shall come down among
the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in flesh he shall be called the
Son of God, and having subjected the flesh to the will of the Father, being the Father and the Son—The
Father, because he was conceived by the power of God; and the Son, because of the flesh; thus becoming the
Father and Son—And they are one God, yea, the very Eternal Father of heaven and of earth.”
The Doctrine & Covenants says the same thing but a little clearer:
“And that I am in the Father, and the Father in me, and the Father and I are one—The Father because he gave
me of his fulness, and the Son because I was in the world and made flesh my tabernacle, and dwelt among the
sons of men.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 93:3-4).
That is, since Jesus, a God in the Godhead, came to the world in the power and authority of the Father, He also bears the authority of the Father’s name. Nevertheless, He is also the Son of God the Father, because He is literally His Son in the flesh. The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1916 released the document The Father and The Son: A Doctrinal Exposition by The First Presidency and The Twelve, which explained very clearly the three ways in which Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can also be properly considered “the Father.” They are:
Jesus Christ is the Creator (and therefore Father) of all things, under the direction of His Father. “And he shall be called Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Mosiah 3:8).
Jesus Christ is the Savior of all mankind, and thereby becomes the spiritual Father of all who have come under His mercy. “And now, because of the covenant which ye have made ye shall be called the children of Christ, his sons, and his daughters; for behold, this day he hath spiritually begotten you; for ye say that your hearts are changed through faith on his name; therefore, ye are born of him and have become his sons and his daughters” (Mosiah 5:7).
Jesus Christ may speak in the authority of the Father as though He were the Father Himself speaking. This is called divine investiture of authority.
A Corporeal God
Also implicit in the first Article of Faith is, as a revelation of Joseph Smith declares, “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C130:22). This is the true nature of God – not a vague spirit essence, a nothingness. Many are confused by Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament that, “God is a Spirit” (John 4:24). Actually, the true meaning of this phrase is, “For unto such [worshippers] hath God promised his Spirit [meaning the Holy Ghost]” (JST 4:24). However, even taken with the basic King James text of “God is a Spirit,” the idea can still be proven fallacious. The entire verse reads, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24, emphasis added). So then, must one leave his body to worship God, if God must be worshipped in spirit? Obviously this passage cannot be taken so literally. God is a Spirit in the same sense that you or I are a spirit, in the sense that we have a spirit. “For man is spirit” (D&C 93:33) we are told. Furthermore, we learn from the Bible that false gods are gods that cannot walk, or eat, etc. (Rev. 9:20, Deut. 4:27-28). The corollary of this knowledge from scripture is that God can walk, eat, etc. – the very things that a spirit cannot do. When Jesus was resurrected and showed Himself to His apostles, he was careful to let them touch His body to see that He was not a spirit (Luke 24:39), and He even ate in their presence to further confirm that He was in bodily form, and not a spirit (Luke 24:41-43).
What must also be kept in mind is the fact that when Jesus supposedly uttered this phrase, “God is a Spirit,” it was spoken in the present tense. Yet, if Christ is the same person as the Father, like many Christians mistakenly believe, then He would be teaching that He (Christ) was at that present time a Spirit! Yet the scriptures warn not to trifle with the fact that Jesus had a body of flesh: “For many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist” (2 John 7, emphasis added). Is Christ an Antichrist? Of course not.
Let us take another look at the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to the Bible, Christ, the Son of God and God Himself, is today embodied. This proves the point in this logical sequence:
Others may consider passages of scripture, such as Peter’s Confession, in which Peter received a testimony of Christ’s divinity by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17, emphasis added). On the face of it, this passage might seem to indicate that God is without a body, for He is not “flesh and blood” according to this saying of Jesus. This is certainly the case, for God does not have “flesh and blood,” he has “flesh and bone,” and not blood (see D&C 130:22). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “all will be raised by the power of God [in the resurrection], having spirit in their bodies, and not blood” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199-200, emphasis added). Blood is a token of mortality and is not present in resurrected bodies. As far as Jesus declaring that Peter received his witness from “my Father” and not specifically the Holy Ghost, this is meant to be interpreted that the Holy Ghost is sent to us from the Father (see John 14:26).
The Characteristics of God
What is the Character of God? What is God like? This is a critical and fundamental question. When we discuss the “characteristics of God,” we have reference to what He is like as a Divine Person – the features and qualities that make Him God. If God were lacking in any of these qualities then, as the Book of Mormon teaches, “God would cease to be God” (Morm. 9:19), since a being without such qualities could not hold the station of Godhood. For instance, the Book of Mormon declares, “I say unto you [God] changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God” (Morm. 9:19). The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost hold the following characteristics jointly:
- God is merciful, gracious, and slow to anger (Ex. 34:6; Psalm 103:17-18).
- God does not change (Mal. 3:6; Morm. 9:19).
- God is a God of truth and cannot lie (Enos 1:6).
- God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35). Things like wealth, position, or popularity have no bearing on God’s dispensing of blessing or favor. Only the integrity of a person’s heart matters to God. The scriptures assure us: “the Lord esteemeth all flesh as one,” nevertheless, “he that is righteous is favored of God” (1 Ne. 17:35).
- God is love. Apostle John wrote, “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8). All mankind are His children, and He loves them tenderly as such. However, He cannot be permissive of their wickedness.
See Lectures on Faith 3:12-18.
The Attributes of God
The Attributes of God have reference to the qualities of God – the domains in which He is perfect. If God were lacking in any of His perfections then, as the Book of Mormon teaches, “God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:22, 25), since an imperfect being could not hold the station of Godhood. For instance, the Book of Mormon declares, “What, do ye suppose that [God’s] mercy can rob [His] justice? [Suggesting that God is not perfectly just] I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God” (Alma 42:25). The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost hold the following attributes jointly:
- God has all knowledge. “For [God] knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it” (2 Ne. 9:20). There are some who speculate that God is still progressing in knowledge, however this idea is false and unscriptural.
- God has all faith, which is power (Heb. 11:3; Morm. 5:23).
- God is perfectly just (Psalm 89:14; Zech. 9:9; Alma 42:25).
- God is perfect in judgment (Psalm 89:14; Deut. 32:4; John 5:30).
- God is perfectly merciful (Alma 42:15). He extends mercy to those who meet its “conditions of repentance” (Alma 42:13).
- God is perfectly truthful (Enos 1:6).
See Lectures on Faith 4:4-10.
The Family of God
All mankind is literally the children of God. Before the world was created, all mankind existed as spirits, having been born as spirits into God’s massive celestial family. As the Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jer. 1:5). There is at least one Mother in Heaven, and there may well be more than that. All of these spirits whom God had sired in the premortal life were born through the natural means familiar to us. As the scriptures say, God is “the Father of spirits” (Heb. 12:9). This is literally true. The scriptures speak of gods having “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever,” meaning children, within a marriage relationship (D&C 132:19). Regarding the perpetuation of life, President Brigham Young said,
“Here let me state to all philosophers of every class upon the earth, When you tell me that father Adam was
made as we make adobies from the earth, you tell me what I deem an idle tale. When you tell me that the
beasts of the field were produced in that manner, you are speaking idle worlds devoid of meaning. There is
no such thing in all the eternities where the Gods dwell.”
(Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 7:286, emphasis added).
This makes it very clear that Our Heavenly Father and Mother(s) are the Parents of our spirits in the most literal sense, and every person living shares this divine spiritual heritage. Jesus Christ, known as Jehovah prior to His coming to earth, was the firstborn of all the spirits of God in heaven (see Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:6), and attained to Godhood like the Father and was the executive in all of God the Father’s creative enterprises (see John 1:1-3, Heb. 1:1-2). During this premortal existence, there was a Grand Council in heaven, in which God gathered all His children together and proposed His plan to send them to earth to experience a mortal probation. Living away from God and without memory of Him, we would be given the opportunity to choose either good or evil. In this way God would prepare those who were valiant for greater things to come. Jehovah was chosen by the Father to be the Savior of mankind under these conditions. “And the Lord said: Whom shall I send? And one answered like unto the Son of Man: Here am I, send me. And another [Lucifer] answered and said: Here am I, send me. And the Lord said: I will send the first. And the second was angry, and kept not his first estate; and, at that day, many followed after him” (Abr. 3:27-28).
Lucifer, who led a rebellion against God in the aftermath of the Grand Council, and was cast out to become the Devil, was also among the more senior spirits in heaven. Lucifer was “a son of the morning” (D&C 76:26; Isaiah 14:12), no doubt meaning that he was one of the older spirits born to the Father, and “an angel of God who was in authority in the presence of God” (D&C 76:25). It was Lucifer who, for jealousy and the lust of power, “sought to destroy the agency of man… and also, that [God] should give unto him [His] own power” (Moses 4:3). Lucifer and his significant amount of followers, which comprised “a third part of the hosts of heaven” (D&C 29:36) were cast down from heaven to earth to become devils “to deceive and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will, even as many as would not hearken unto [God’s] voice” (Moses 4:4).
Those who stayed in heaven then awaited the Creation of the earth they would inhabit as part of God’s plan. This was a joyous occasion, representing an essential step in our progression which God had desired to make available for us. At the commencement of the Creation of the world, “all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
The Great Secret - God Was Once As We Are Now
What is the origin of God? Would it make a difference to know? The Prophet Joseph Smith revealed some of the greatest truths about God ever since the days of the ancient apostles. In his famous funeral sermon for his associate King Follett in 1844, the Prophet revealed the astonishing truth that God was a mortal man like us, dwelling on an earth and subject to his own God, and has since attained to his station of Godhood through a process of progression and sanctification. The Prophet taught:
“It is necessary for us to have an understanding of God himself in the beginning. If we start right, it is easy to go right all the time; but if we start wrong, we may go wrong, and it be a hard matter to get right.
The Prophet Joseph Smith further taught:
“When we begin to learn this way, we begin to learn the only true God, and what kind of a being we have got
to worship. Having a knowledge of God, we begin to know how to approach him, and how to ask so as to receive
an answer. When we understand the character of God, and know how to come to him, he begins to unfold the
heavens to us, and to tell us all about it. When we are ready to come to him, he is ready to come to us.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 349).
Those who are attuned to the Spirit of the Lord will readily see the glorious truth of this marvelous doctrine. Lorenzo Snow, one of the Godliest men in modern times, had these truths revealed to him by the Holy Spirit as early as 1840. He said, “the Spirit of the Lord rested mightily upon me – the eyes of my understanding were opened, and I saw as clear as the sun at noon-day, with wonder and astonishment, the pathway of God and man. I formed the following couplet which expresses the revelation, as it was shown to me…: As man now is, God once was: As God now is, man may be” (Presidents of the Church Student Manual, 2003, p. 88). This is an ennobling doctrine, and it leads men towards the desire to sanctify their lives. As the Apostle John wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3, emphasis added).
There are many blinded individuals of the various spurious religions that fancy themselves as Christian, which would take major issue with this doctrine. Rather than accept the true nature of God and man’s divine potential, they prefer to view God as something altogether apart from mankind and forever out of his reach. They would also contend that God could never have been a man like us, since He is “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalms 90:2). However, the revelations of Joseph Smith indicate that a person can actually become from everlasting to everlasting: “Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue” (D&C 132:20, emphasis added). And the fact remains that we are the children of God and are in His form and image. And as the Apostle Paul taught, “[Jesus] Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philip. 2:6). So it is the same with us. We must tread a path of progression, as Jesus – a God – necessarily progressed to where He is. Jesus Christ taught this entire doctrine when He declared, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Rev. 3:21).
The Ultimate Purposes of God
With the knowledge that we now have of the nature and origin of God, we are prepared to fully appreciate His ultimate purposes for mankind. What is God’s desire for His children? He has said, “For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). There is nothing more important to God, no creative act or cosmological concern as pressing to Him as His desire to give His children eternal life. He has said that eternal life is “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7).
What then is eternal life and why is it important to God? “As used in the scriptures, eternal life is the name given to the kind of life that our Eternal Father lives” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 237). God’s purposes for man are a continuation of the creative and procreative abilities of the race of the Gods! The scriptures say of mankind, “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalm 82:6). Humanity is the same race as the Gods, however we must be specially prepared if we are to realize our full divine potential. That is the entire purpose of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the commandments. God wishes to prepare as many of His offspring as possible to become gods ourselves the same way as He has done before us, and the same as countless others have done before Him. Then our purpose will be to likewise prepare as many of our offspring as will choose to inherit eternal life in an endless continuation of glory. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this doctrine plainly:
“…you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods
have done before you, namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a
great one; from grace to grace, from exaltation to exaltation, until you attain to the resurrection of the
dead, and are able to dwell in everlasting burnings, and to sit in glory, as do those who sit enthroned in
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 346).
The expansiveness of this eternal program is not limited to the billions of inhabitants upon this world only. God has also created “worlds without number” (Moses 1:33) and “the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God” (D&C 76:24), meaning that the other worlds which God has made are also peopled with His spirit children. All of these people on the myriads of planets which God has created are eligible for the same inheritance and progression to godhood that is available to you and me. It is the author’s opinion that the people who inhabit the same planet are likely the spirit offspring of a common Heavenly Mother (as it is very likely that there are multiple Heavenly Mothers married to our Eternal Father). This would have the effect of segregating God’s numberless children more neatly along family lines.
Now that we have the family of God and the purposes of God in full view, we can appreciate that God wishes to save all those who are proven willing and fit to continue the legacy of a celestial family, by making them gods as he is God. This has been the pattern for all eternity for all Gods that have ever gone before. While these Gods undoubtedly live and associate as part of a massive celestial family, the question naturally arises of how all these Gods might relate to each other in their creative enterprises. Are all the myriads of Gods that ever were, all sharing space within the same universe for their creative acts? Does one galaxy within our universe belong to one God, and another to another?
It is very evident from the scriptures that God the Father whom we worship has created, through his Son Jesus, the entire universe, and is Lord over it. The scriptures say, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him” (1 Cor. 8:5-6, emphasis added). Elsewhere they say, “All things were made by [Jesus Christ]; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3, emphasis added). If we can see it, if we can detect it, then it is certainly matter or space or reality “to us” (recall 1 Cor. 8:5-6). Therefore, anything which is detectable by the people of our planet, which includes as far as we can ever expect to probe into outer space, is the Creation of our Heavenly Father. It is an inescapable conclusion, therefore, that our God the Father created all of the entire universe with His Firstborn, Jehovah. The Prophet Joseph Smith confirmed this when he taught that Jesus Christ holds “the keys of the universe,” and, “It has been the design of Jehovah...to stand as a head of the universe” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 157, 250).
How is it then that endless numbers of Gods exist, yet our God is the ultimate Lord and Sovereign of the entire universe? It follows from our discussion that there of a necessity must exist endless Multiverses (as opposed to one universe) – a massive and endless universe for each and every God that ever was or will be, existing on different planes or dimensions from the others. Furthermore, we cannot detect or view the creative enterprises of any Gods other than the “one God, the Father” who created us and, “by whom are all things [to us]” (1 Cor. 8:5-6).
Jesus Christ the Only Begotten Son
Jesus Christ, the second member of the Godhead referred to by Joseph Smith as “God the second, the Redeemer” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190), was the firstborn of the Father in the premortal spirit realm (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:6). He was then known as Jehovah. Jehovah was of such excellent integrity that though He was a spirit child of God, He obtained Godhood while yet in the premortal realm before any mortal experience whatsoever and was “like unto God” (Abr. 3:24). As was already discussed, Jesus Christ was the One chosen to make an Atonement for mankind in order to allow repentance for shortcomings and create a way to reconcile man to God while men dwelt on earth. Jehovah coming to earth to live necessitated that He become a mortal so that He could be subject to death. In dying and then resurrecting Himself, Jesus Christ would become master over death and gain absolute power over it, enabling all to be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:21-22; Alma 11:42-45). Also, Jesus would have to be subject to temptations and yet withstand them all and remain perfectly righteous. As Paul said of the Lord Jesus, He “was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). This would give Jesus the right and ability to take upon Himself the sins of all mankind.
In order to fulfill His earthly mission, Jesus would need to take upon Himself a mortal body and yet be the Son of God and God’s perfect representation on earth (Heb. 1:1-2). This would require Jesus to partake of both mortal and Godly natures. He would need to be partly man and partly God, or perhaps rather: fully man and fully God. How was this to be accomplished? It was to be accomplished by the genetic material of God combining with the genetic material of a mortal woman, to result in a child that was to be the only mortal born as the Son of God; hence Jesus’ title: the Only Begotten Son.
How was this miraculous conception effected? By what means was the conception of God’s Son accomplished within the body of a mortal woman? Some Latter-day Saints have foolishly supposed that since God has a body and the birth of Christ was like any natural birth, that God the Father must have had sexual contact with the virgin Mary (which carries within itself a contradiction since Mary was a virgin). But the scriptures give us the answer to this controversy very clearly and explicitly. When Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she was to conceive the Son of God, she asked, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34). Gabriel’s reply was unambiguous:
“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest
shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of
(Luke 1:35, emphasis added).
Other scriptures indicate that “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:18, emphasis added) and “that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:20). The prophet Nephi likewise described the event in terms of the Holy Ghost overshadowing Mary: “And it came to pass that I beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel spake unto me, saying: Look! And I looked and beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms” (1 Ne. 11:19-20, emphasis added). Elsewhere in the Book of Mormon the prophet Alma taught the same principle: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10, emphasis added).
Therefore, the mystery of Jesus Christ’s conception is solved with a handful of simple scriptures. The scriptures teach that though Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God in the flesh, the conception was accomplished without sexual contact, but rather through the power of the Holy Ghost. Apparently the 23 chromosomes from God the Father indeed fertilized the egg inside Mary’s body containing her 23 mortal chromosomes. In this respect the conception was a completely natural process. On the chromosome level, it was no different than any other pregnancy where an egg is fertilized and two people’s DNA merge to become a third person inside the womb of a woman. However, it was accomplished in an entirely nonsexual way, by the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost was the medium that carried the chromosomes from the Father to the body of Mary in a holy and sanctified manner. For a broader discussion on this fascinating topic, refer to this author’s article: Virgin Birth?
The Personage of the Holy Ghost
The Holy Ghost is the third God of the Godhead, called by the Prophet, “the witness or Testator” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190), which has reference to His function as the medium by which people commune with God and receive revelation. As the scriptures declare, “the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22). However, despite the Holy Ghost being a Spirit and non-corporeal, he is nonetheless in the very image of an embodied man. The prophet Nephi saw in vision the Holy Ghost in an experience that is altogether unique in scripture and recorded: “I spake unto him as a man speaketh; for I beheld that he was in the form of a man; yet nevertheless, I knew that it was the Spirit of the Lord” (1 Ne. 11:11). Therefore, the Holy Ghost is like the Father and the Son in all relevant respects, except that He is in Spirit form, which is essential to His function. “Were it not so [that the Holy Ghost is a Spirit], the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22). That is, when the Lord desires to give revelation to man, be it the answer to a question, insight to the doctrine of the kingdom, or simply a witness or assurance that the gospel is true, God “will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2).
We now know that the Holy Ghost is in the very form and likeness of men, which is not surprising at all, since He is no doubt a spirit child of the Father and was born in His likeness. What are we to make of passages of scripture which speak of “the Spirit like a dove descending” (Mark 1:10) and “the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove” (Luke 3:22) and “the Holy Ghost descended upon [Jesus] in the form of a dove” (2 Ne. 31:8)? Does the Holy Ghost transform from a man into a dove? We have the assurance of the Prophet Joseph Smith that this is not the case. He taught,
“The sign of the dove was instituted before the creation of the world, a witness for the Holy Ghost, and the devil cannot come in the sign of a dove. The Holy Ghost is a personage, and is in the form of a personage. It does not confine itself to the form of the dove, but in the sign of the dove. The Holy Ghost cannot be transformed into a dove; but the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem or token of truth and innocence.”
What are we to make of this? No doubt we are to understand that at the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Ghost’s descent was like a dove in the sense of descending softly and peacefully. But we are also to understand that a literal dove was present on this occasion, since “the sign of a dove was given to John to signify the truth of the deed, as the dove is an emblem of token of truth and innocence” (ibid.), however, this dove was not the Holy Ghost, but a creature sent from God as a visible token of holiness. We see therefore that a dove sometimes accompanies the presence of the Holy Ghost in rare or very special circumstances.
As discussed, the Holy Ghost is only a single Person, yet He has the ability to manifest His influence to multiple people at once and in various locations. As the scriptures explain, “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (D&C 130:22-23). This is because the Holy Ghost, as an omnipotent God, has the ability to emanate His influence throughout the immensity of space, yet His spirit body can only be in one location at a time.
Very little is revealed to us regarding the origin, identity, and destiny of the Holy Ghost. We may presume that the Holy Ghost is another great and noble spirit child of the Father, who, like Jehovah, attained the status of Godhood while yet in the premortal state. Certainly the Holy Ghost attained Godhood after Jesus, however, which would explain His place as third in authority. What can we surmise about the destiny of the Holy Ghost? Will the Holy Ghost ever receive a body and become like the Father and the Son? Again, there is little specifically revealed on this subject, but we do have the following from the Prophet Joseph Smith. He said, “the Holy Ghost is now in a state of probation which if he should perform in righteousness he may pass through the same or a similar course of things that the Son has,” and, “But the Holy Ghost is yet a spiritual body and waiting to take to himself a body, as the Savior did or as God did or the gods before them took bodies” (Joseph Smith, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 324). We can make some conclusions from the following:
- In order to achieve the full heights of Godhood, one must have a resurrected body and be a corporeal being. As the scriptures indicate, “spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fullness of joy; And when separated, man cannot receive a fullness of joy. The elements are the tabernacle of God” (D&C 93:33-35).
- The function of the Holy Ghost must continue forever, as long as there are children of God on planets who will require the witness of the Spirit of God.
Based on the foregoing we seem to have an irreconcilable situation: It is necessary for the Holy Ghost to remain a Spirit forever, yet He cannot enjoy the full heights and glories and family-creating experiences of Godhood without a body. It would not be just for the Holy Ghost to be forever denied the full and complete blessings of the Father after serving Him so valiantly. It seems a logical conclusion, and is apparent from the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, that the Holy Ghost will in fact receive a body at some point. What then, shall be done about the need for the Spirit of God to operate among the myriads of God’s children? Another must step forward and take His place in this role to continue the work of the Spirit of God. It seems that perhaps the role of the Holy Ghost is interchangeable between worthy Beings; that the Holy Ghost is more like a station or calling than a specific, constant individual. The Gift of the Holy Ghost and the functions of this Holy Spirit will be discussed more fully when we reach the fourth Article of Faith.
2. We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.
The Son Shall Not Bear the Iniquity of the Father
This declaration denies the doctrine that mankind is directly liable for the transgression of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Instead, mankind is responsible for their own sins only. As the Lord told the prophet Ezekiel,
“Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is
lawful and right, and hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that
sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the
iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked
shall be upon him.”
The scriptures demonstrate clearly that accountability for wrongdoing is not transferrable. Despite what atheistic critics of the Bible might claim about a primitive view of a ruthless and vengeful God in the earlier books of the Bible, this has always been the Lord’s standard throughout time, to require accountability for actions strictly from the person who has done the act. When Moses approached the Lord shortly after the children of Israel had indulged in the sexual revelry of the golden calf, he offered to the Lord, “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin –; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” To this the Lord simply declined, saying, “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book” (Ex. 32:31-33).
It is true that the Lord has said, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation” (Deut. 5:9). God is “jealous” because He does not want us to divide our affections for Him between any other pursuit or philosophy or thing. But we must also pay close attention to the context of God visiting iniquity on the children. God said that He visits the “iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (ibid, emphasis added). This means that those descendents or generations who continued, by their own free choice, in flagrant disobedience are liable to punishment. But the key here is that the punishment is conditional and individual with respect to those upon whom it is visited.
Infant Baptism is an Abomination
Another great doctrine implicit in the second Article of Faith is the fact that infant baptism is necessarily wrong, since children are not inherently cursed with sin. As Jesus taught, “Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Book of Mormon is especially emphatic about denouncing infant baptism, which supposes that little babies are tainted with the original sin of Adam and must be cleansed through baptism lest they die in their infancy and go to hell for eternity. Regarding this false teaching, the prophet Mormon declared:
“Behold, [Jesus Christ] came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me, that it hath no power over them; and the law of circumcision is done away in me. And after this manner did the Holy Ghost manifest the word of God unto me; wherefore, my beloved son, I know that it is solemn mockery before God, that ye should baptize little children. Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. And their little children need no repentance, neither baptism. Behold, baptism is unto repentance to the fulfilling the commandments unto the remission of sins. But little children are alive in Christ, even from the foundation of the world; if not so, God is a partial God, and also a changeable God, and a respecter to persons; for how many little children have died without baptism! Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell. Behold I say unto you, that he that supposeth that little children need baptism is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he hath neither faith, hope, nor charity; wherefore, should he be cut off while in the thought, he must go down to hell. For awful is the wickedness to suppose that God saveth one child because of baptism, and the other must perish because he hath no baptism. Wo be unto them that shall pervert the ways of the Lord after this manner, for they shall perish except they repent. Behold, I speak with boldness, having authority from God”
But what of a few sparse Biblical scriptures which some have used to support infant baptism? What of King David’s declaration that “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5), which is an often-used justification for infant baptism? Let the reader note that Moses recorded anciently a conversation which occurred between God and Adam in which the Lord explains this, and which also sheds light on this puzzling phrase:
“Behold I have forgiven thee thy [i.e. Adam’s] transgression in the Garden of Eden. Hence came the saying
abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents
cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world. And
the Lord spake unto Adam, saying: Inasmuch as thy children are conceived in sin, even so when they begin to
grow up, sin conceiveth in their hearts, and they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good.”
Men Are Free to Choose
Also implicit in the second Article of Faith is the doctrine that all people are free agents with the ability to choose their own destiny. As the Book of Mormon teaches, “men are free according to the flesh…. And they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through [Jesus Christ], or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil” (2 Nephi 2:27).
There are some religions which teach that all men are “predestined” to salvation or damnation. In other words, without any act on their part, all people are assigned arbitrarily a place either in heaven or in hell by God and nothing they might do can change their circumstances. This has to be, along with infant baptism, one of the most destructive and fallacious teachings about God and man’s relation to Him. The real character of God is such that He is “no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35; see also D&C 1:35), and God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9) and “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). If any person finds themself in hell or paradise when they die, it is because they chose their own end by their own free will. As the Book of Mormon further declares on this subject:
“And now remember, remember, my brethren, that whosoever perisheth, perisheth unto himself; and whosoever
doeth iniquity, doeth it unto himself; for behold, ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves; for
behold, God hath given unto you a knowledge and he hath made you free. He hath given unto you that ye might
know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and
be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and
have that which is evil restored unto you.”
Universal Obstacles between God and Man
Before the Fall of Man, God and Adam had regular and personal communication. But after the Fall, this relationship was abruptly cut off, with Adam no longer enjoying the presence of God, and instead relying on messengers from God and being taught the principle of prayer in order to reestablish communication (Moses 5:8). While people are not personally liable for Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden, the Fall of Adam brought upon all mankind two significant obstacles which eternally separated mankind from God in such a way that man’s situation was hopeless unless intervention was made. The two obstacles are sin and death. Every person is subject to these two barriers which keep us from God, having inherited this condition as a consequence of being Adam’s children. There will come a time when all of us must die, as we have inherited mortality from Father Adam. We have also inherited a sinful nature, wherein we are naturally inclined towards sin. As Apostle Paul wrote, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom. 5:12). These are the two great problems which separate us from God since, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt. 22:32), and “no unclean thing can dwell with God” (1 Ne. 10:21). Therefore, to dwell with God we must be free from both sin and death. To be captive of these things means eternal separation from Him.
A Necessary Part of God’s Plan
Although the Fall of Adam caused all mankind to be separated from the presence of God and become naturally inclined towards sin, the Book of Mormon teaches that this was nevertheless a deliberate part of God’s plan for His children: to put them through a mortal probation wherein they would be tested to see if they would choose God and righteousness over sin in these fallen circumstances. “[T]herefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state … which is after the resurrection of the dead” (Alma 12:24). Were the Fall of Man never completed, Adam and Eve could have never had children, they would have continued in their Edenic state indefinitely, and all the hosts of heaven who shouted for joy at the Creation of the world would have had no way to come to the world by which they could learn and ultimately progress to godhood (2 Ne. 2:22-23; Job 38:7).
Why did mankind require a fallen state to progress towards godhood? The answer lies in the fact that because man was of insufficient integrity in the premortal realm, he was not able to progress to perfection in that circumstance as Jesus Christ had done. We were all too lacking in integrity and righteousness to reach godhood in the preexistence, and we therefore necessarily required a change of venue in order to progress further. Therefore, though the Fall of Man was all part of the plan of salvation laid out by the Father, God necessarily forbade the partaking of the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17; Moses 3:16-17; Abr. 5:12-13), since God can never command sin or condone shortcoming. Even so, it is man’s own failure in the premortal world that made the Fall necessary, and man’s own actions that brought it about. God is not the author of evil in this world; such a thing is inconsistent with His character. The entire time during the episode of the Fall of Man, God was aloof from the actual committing of transgression in the Garden, upholding His eternal standard that He knew mankind was unable to keep at that point: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
Mankind is the Offspring of God, Not Animals
What was the manner of Adam’s creation? The scriptures tell us explicitly that Adam was “born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit [i.e. the natural elements of birth]” (Moses 6:59, emphasis added). They also assure us that Adam “was the son of God, with whom God, himself, conversed” (Moses 6:22) and that Adam was the “firstborn” in the world (Abr. 1:3). And so the physical bodies of Adam and Eve were literally begotten by our Heavenly Parents. It is true that the scriptures say that man was “formed… from the dust of the ground” (Moses 3:7; Abr. 5:7; Gen. 2:7), however, this is a cryptic verse in scripture that we are told elsewhere in Holy Writ means simply to be born: “inasmuch as ye [Adam] were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul” (Moses 6:59, emphasis added). Speaking of Jesus Christ’s title as the Only Begotten Son of God, Bruce R. McConkie wrote, “Father Adam, the first man, is also a son of God (Luke 3:38; Moses 6:22, 59), a fact that does not change the great truth that Christ is the Only Begotten in the flesh, for Adam's entrance into this world was in immortality. He came here before death had its beginning, with its consequent mortal or flesh-status of existence” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed. p. 742). Unlike the conception of Jesus, which was the merging of mortal and Godly genetic material and was accomplished through the medium of the Holy Ghost and was a nonsexual event, the birth of Adam and Eve was the product of the marital union between God and His exalted Wife. A far more detailed discussion of this topic can be found in the author’s article The Manner of Adam’s Creation.
In contrast to these truths is the popular theory of man’s origins known as the theory of evolution, in which man evolved slowly from lower forms of animal life through long processes involving death and mutation. If evolution is true then the scriptures are false, for they teach that man brought death into the world: “Because that Adam fell, we are; and by his fall came death; and we are made partakers of misery and woe” (Moses 6:48) and “by man came death” (1 Cor. 15:21). This is the entire crux of the second Article of Faith – that Adam brought both sin and death into the world, and yet this is the very thing which evolution theory must deny. Evolution theory (and various compromises of evolution with the gospel) deny the true doctrine of the Creation and the Fall. If Adam was not a real historical figure – a scriptural verity which evolution theory seriously challenges – then the entire second Article of Faith is totally meaningless.
Evolution theory creates even greater problems than destroying the reality of Adam, however. It also completely undermines the Atonement of Jesus Christ. That is because the Fall of Adam was the necessary condition for the Atonement of Jesus Christ to occur. As the prophet Moroni taught, “Behold, [God] created Adam, and by Adam came the fall of man. And because of the fall of man came Jesus Christ, even the Father and the Son; and because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man” (Morm. 9:12, emphasis added).
Thankfully we know by revelation that evolution is false. Man did not come from the scum of a primordial pond, but he is descended from the noblest and greatest Being of the universe. The scriptures and the prophets teach the eternal verity that the physical body of Adam, and therefore all mankind, is directly descended from God. The First Presidency proclaimed relative to the origin of man: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, basing its belief on divine revelation, ancient and modern, proclaims man to be the direct and lineal offspring of Deity” (Heber J. Grant, Anthony W. Ivins, Charles W. Nibley, “Mormon” View of Evolution, 1925, emphasis added).
Evidence for evolution, though widely touted and popularly considered infallible, is not as strong as the average student in school is led to believe. It is in fact a veritable house of cards, built upon assumptions, beliefs, unverifiable postulations, and often pure imagination. For the reader that is concerned about the scientific support for evolution, they are strongly encouraged to refer to this author’s article The Case Against Evolution, which examines the science behind evolution theory and shows that believers in the scriptures need not kowtow to this spurious and dangerous theory.
3. We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.
The Most Fundamental Doctrine
Joseph Smith taught, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 121). Aside from the existence and nature of God, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, called the Atonement, is the most fundamental teaching of our religion.
The Lamb Slain from the Foundation of the World
Prior to the Creation of the earth, God prepared a plan for his spirit children to come to a world and experience mortal life to progress and learn. However, this necessitated a separation from God (which occurred when Adam partook of the forbidden fruit and fell from God’s presence), and people being subject to sin and death (see Romans 5:11-21). In order to overcome these obstacles and return to God, we needed a perfect person to pay the price for these things in our place, and allow us to repent and be restored to God. The One chosen for this role in the Grand Council before the earth was even made was Jehovah (Jesus Christ), who was the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8. See also 1 Peter 1:19-20). There can be no doubt that to those of us who chose the Lord’s plan, Jehovah (Jesus Christ) was the obvious choice among all the spirit children of God to send as the Savior, Redeemer, and Great Mediator between God and man.
A Reconciliation Between God and Man
Therefore it is a fundamental truth that the dire position mankind found itself in, with being subject to the twin scourges of sin and death, found its solution in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The Atonement is the great reconciliation between God and man, being an at-one-ment, or a bringing together of the two estranged parties. The problems of sin and death for mankind which began in the Garden of Eden were solved in the Garden of Gethsemane and in a Garden Tomb. Apostle Paul wrote about the relationship between the Fall of Man and the Atonement of Jesus Christ, and how Jesus’ Atonement provides the fix to the problem mankind has inherited from Adam: “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22). Paul also wrote,
“…we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore,
as by one man [Adam] sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for
that all have sinned…. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned
after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.… For if by one
man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of
righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came
upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift [of the Atonement] came upon
all men unto justification of life.”
The Breadth of the Atonement
In order to attempt to appreciate the Atonement of Jesus Christ more fully, we must understand the scope of this grand occurrence. First, we must understand that Jesus performed the Atonement for the sins of the whole word. “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only [i.e. of the saints of God’s Church], but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Jesus Christ suffered the penalty for the sins of all the world, making repentance available to all people who have not sinned unto death.
Secondly, the Atonement was performed for all people throughout all time, people who lived before and people who lived after and people who are yet to live. As the Book of Mormon declares, “[Christ] surely shall come to take away the sins of the world… Behold, I say unto you, is not a soul at this time as precious unto God as a soul will be at the time of his coming?” (Alma 39:15, 17).
Thirdly, the Atonement covers sins done in ignorance and those which are not the result of willful disobedience. Such, for instance is the situation of children being born under the curse of Adam’s transgression, which the Atonement absolves the penalty for: “the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world” (Moses 6:54). It also covers those who “have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned” (Mosiah 3:11).
Fourthly, the Atonement did not only include Jesus taking upon Himself our sins, but also pains and sorrows of all kinds. Jesus has endured every human suffering. As the scriptures tell us, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12, emphasis added).
Fifthly, the Atonement not only had an effect upon man, but also upon nature and the very earth itself. Through the Atonement of Christ the creatures of the earth, in other words, “all classes of beings in their destined order or sphere of creation” will be in a state of “enjoyment of their eternal felicity” (D&C 77:3). As to the earth itself, the scriptures say, “the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law – Wherefore it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again” (D&C 88:25-26). Just as the Atonement sanctifies human beings and brings them from their fallen state back into the presence of God, so the earth will be changed back into a paradise like it was through the power of Jesus’ Atonement.
Sixthly, the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to all of the creations of Christ. Jesus Christ created the universe under the direction of His Father: “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3), and “That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created” (D&C 76:24). We are also told that “through him all might be saved whom the Father had put into his power and made by him” (D&C 76:42, emphasis added). Therefore, Jesus atoned for all the creations that were “made by him” (ibid.), which includes all of the worlds in the entire universe. We are also given to understand that “the inhabitants [of all the worlds Jesus has made and will make] are begotten sons and daughters unto God” through the Atonement of Jesus Christ (D&C 76:24, Mosiah 5:7). Jesus only had to perform the Atonement once, though, and not once for each world, “For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God” (Rom. 6:10, emphasis added). Therefore, the Atonement of Christ was effective for all worlds he created, and for souls who lived both before his sacrifice and forever after.
The Atonement furnishes both immortality and eternal life. Immortality is simply the restoration to life in a body which will endure forever. As the scriptures teach, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Immortality is the most universal gift of God, as universal as death that came upon living things, so shall the gift of immortality through the Atonement of Christ be just as sweeping and universal. The gift of eternal life, which is salvation, however, is altogether much more than simple immortality (the living of forever), and this gift of eternal life is highly conditional. “Immortality comes as a free gift, by the grace of God alone, without works of righteousness. Eternal life is the reward for ‘obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel’” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 62).
Despite the universality of the Atonement, its powers of forgiveness and salvation will not be applied to all people, but only to the repentant. Those who refuse to repent and utilize the Atonement must suffer the penalty for their own sins. The Lord Jesus Christ has declared, “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:16-18). This suffering will occur for the person in hell when they die (see Alma 40:13-14), where “your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not” (D&C 19:15).
Laws and Ordinances
What is a law? A law of the gospel is a decree which establishes the standard for right conduct. Some laws are eternal and others are temporary. The Ten Commandments are a classic and most basic example of eternal gospel laws. They are immovable diamond standards and are not subject to change throughout time and all eternity. Temporary laws are guidelines for the present time, but still with the purpose of keeping the people of God in the “strait and narrow path” (1 Ne. 8:20). An example of a temporary law might be grooming standards, because of the social implications they might have associated with them, for instance: “Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard” (Lev. 19:27). Both eternal and temporary laws are important to keep. The only difference is that we must acknowledge that at the decree of a prophet of God, one might be subject to change while the other will not ever be.
What is an ordinance? An ordinance is a ritual done at the command of God for a specific purpose, always with the end goal of saving those who take part. The ordinances of the gospel will be discussed more specifically with the next Article of Faith.
By Grace Are Ye Saved
While obedience to laws and ordinances to the gospel is essential to our salvation, it is not the act of us being righteous that is the thing that does the saving. The scriptures assure us that “there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:8). It is through the righteousness and greatness of Jesus that we are salvaged from destruction, not our own at all. And Jesus in turn has mercy on those who merit His mercy. Paul taught correctly that, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We are not so great or so good that we could ever hope to save ourselves. Only Jesus Christ is that good. This is not to say that good works have no role in the equation, however, for, “What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?.... Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:14, 17). Nephi taught us that the mercy of Jesus Christ becomes operative on the basis of our own striving for goodness: “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do” (2 Ne. 25:23).
This third Article of Faith is saying that salvation is available to all, but that if one desires God’s mercy then they must satisfy certain conditions to obtain it. The Book of Mormon teaches, “therefore [God] hath sent his angels to declare the tidings of the conditions of repentance, which bringeth unto the power of the Redeemer, unto the salvation of their souls” (Hel. 5:11). In other words, repentance, which includes obedience to the commandments and compliance with ordinances, is the thing which enables us to access the mercy which God holds available for all, yet those who may receive it are “none but the truly penitent” (Alma 42:24). Mercy, and therefore salvation, is available on conditions of repentance. Compliance with the laws and ordinances of the Gospel is essential for the salvation of every able-minded person.
ALL Mankind May Be Saved
This leads to an uncomfortable situation for many: baptism and other ordinances are essential for salvation (see Mark 16:16), yet many have died without having a chance to receive these ordinances. That is why God has made provisions for the dead who would have accepted the Gospel if they had lived to hear it. The ordinance of baptism for the dead (see 1 Cor. 15:29), which is a baptism performed by living people in behalf of dead persons in the spirit world, is a means by which all people may ultimately be saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of God. The spirits of people who have died and have not heard the gospel are having it preached to them in the spirit world (see 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6), and if they accept the teachings there, and someone is baptized in their behalf here on earth and performs other ordinances for them, then they may receive salvation.
Of course, salvation for dead in the spirit world does not mean that every dead person will be saved or that those who reject the gospel message on earth can later accept it in the spirit world and expect full salvation. Salvation for the dead will only be effective for those “who would have received it with all their hearts” had they been “permitted to tarry” on earth (D&C 137:7-8), since “the same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34:34). Previous attitudes and beliefs carry over after death, and the spirit prison portion of the spirit world where those who are not members of the Church will go, will be full of confusing false doctrines just as our world is now. Thus only the humble in heart will discern the truth.
We perform this redemptive work for the dead by utilizing genealogical records of deceased people. But what of those people who have lived and died without leaving any record of their existence? Surely there are millions of such people. President Brigham Young assured us that this will all be rectified during the Millennium:
“In the Millennium, when the Kingdom of God is established on the earth…the Saints of God will have the
privilege of building their temples, and of entering into them, becoming, as it were, pillars in the temples
of God, and they will officiate for their dead.…And we will have revelations to know our forefathers clear
back to Father Adam and Mother Eve, and we will enter into the temples of God and officiate for them. Then
man will be sealed to man until the chain is made perfect back to Adam, so that there will be a perfect
chain of Priesthood from Adam to the winding-up scene.”
(Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 116, emphasis added).
What of people who may have known and accepted the gospel but have not had the full blessings of the gospel while they lived on earth? Such is the case with the Blacks, who are the “sons of Cain” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church, 4:501. See also Moses 5:39-40; 7:7-8, 22; Abr. 1:21-27) and as a result have generally been withheld from holding the priesthood until June 8, 1978. Then it was announced that “the long promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood” (see Official Declaration 2).
Many have criticized the Church from withholding the priesthood and its accompanying blessings and ordinances from people of a specific race. But in their misguided zeal for political correctness, they quickly forget that this has been standard procedure for the Lord from long ago. During the time when ancient Israel was laboring under the law of Moses, only the Levites were permitted to hold the priesthood, and only a lesser priesthood at that. While the prophets were ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, for the vast majority of all humanity, the Holy Priesthood was taken “out of their midst” and only “the lesser priesthood continued” (D&C 84:25). This situation was not rectified until the coming of Jesus Christ, who gave His disciples the Melchizedek Priesthood to administer His Church. For those who lived in acceptance of the gospel but were not permitted to partake of its higher ordinances, baptism for the dead, principally during the Millennium, will be the means of offering the gospel blessings to all who are worthy. As the scriptures declare, God “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Ne. 26:33). Salvation for every person who has ever lived on earth will ultimately depend on their individual integrity, rather than their lineage, though some as a result of their lineage have been slower to receive blessings. Thus we see that God will not withhold blessings from any humble soul, but eventually in God’s own time and way, all will be made right in the kingdom of God.
Degrees of Glory
Also implicit in the idea of salvation is the fact that there exists a great diversity of righteousness among mankind. This is where the doctrine of degrees of glory is relevant. This is the teaching that “heaven” is comprised of three degrees or kingdoms available for mankind, depending on the person’s level of righteousness and acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The scriptures speak of a “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2) and “many mansions” in the Father’s kingdom (John 14:2). One kingdom is compared to the brightness of the sun, another like the moon, and another like the stars in comparison, as Paul wrote regarding the resurrection of bodies to different glories: “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead” (1 Cor. 15:40-42). The degrees of glory, from highest to lowest, of course are 1) The celestial kingdom, 2) the terrestrial kingdom, and 3) the telestial kingdom.
Those who inherit the celestial kingdom are people who have gained access to Jesus’ atonement through repentance, lived good lives, and received all of the ordinances of salvation available in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They will dwell together in family units and continue to have children in eternity, and they “inherit the kingdom of God,” meaning they dwell in the presence of God and become like God himself (see D&C 132:19; Rom. 8:16-17; Rev. 3:21).
The celestial kingdom itself has three degrees (D&C 131:1). Baptism is required to enter, presumably to the lowest degree of celestial glory (2 Ne. 31:17-18). Temple marriage is required for the highest degree (D&C 131:1-4), and those who enter there become exalted. As for the middle (2nd) degree in the celestial kingdom, there is no revealed answer. Speculation might tell us that it is those who have received their endowment but not the marriage sealing.
Salvation in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom is called exaltation. It consists of living forever in the presence of our Heavenly Father (D&C 132:23), and becoming a god ourselves (D&C 132:20). It also consists of living forever with those who qualify of our earthly families as an eternal family unit, with father and mother being sealed to children, each member themselves also being a god (Mal. 4:5-6). It also consists of a man being sealed to his wife (or wives) for all eternity in the marriage relationship (D&C 132:19). Through this marriage relationship, in addition to being sealed to earthly offspring who have themselves become gods, husband and wife will have “a continuation of the seeds forever and ever” (D&C 132:19) meaning the ability to have spirit offspring without number. These spirit offspring will eventually inhabit the endless number of worlds created by the aforementioned husband and wife (Moses 1:4, 39). In summary, exaltation consists of godhood and three tiers of family: 1) Our Heavenly Family, 2) our earthly family, and 3) our eternal progeny.
Those in this world who shall be saved in the celestial kingdom are not perfect, but are “just men [and women] made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant” (D&C 76:69, emphasis added). They are often quite ordinary people, but they have lived good lives, had charity (Christ’s pure love) towards others in their heart, kept the commandments well, and made and kept covenants with God through the ordinances of salvation. Then, through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the process of time in the eternal worlds, they shall become perfect as God is. When the scriptures speak of “salvation” in the kingdom of God, they are nearly always referring to being saved in the highest degree of the celestial kingdom, which is the pinnacle of salvation. Anything less is a degree of damnation.
Also among those found saved in the celestial kingdom are children who have died before the age of accountability, which is the age of eight (see D&C 29:46-47; 68:25, 27). Such little ones will always be found in the celestial kingdom, as the Lord Jesus Christ taught, “their angels [i.e. their spirits] do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Children who die before they are accountable will receive the full heights of celestial glory, including the blessings of eternal families. In this connection, apostle Melvin J. Ballard related a special vision he received: “I lost a son six years of age, and I saw him a man in the spirit world after his death, and I saw how he had exercised his own freedom of choice and would obtain of his own will and volition a companionship, and in due time to him, and all those who are worthy of it, shall come all of the blessings and sealing privileges of the house of the Lord” (Bryant S. Hinckley, Sermons and Missionary Services of Melvin J. Ballard, p. 260). Perhaps many of those who die in their childhood did not require the full spectrum of mortal experience, because of their experiences in the preexistence and their learning needs.
Those who go to the terrestrial kingdom include: 1) good people of the earth of various beliefs who did not accept the fullness of the gospel and its ordinances (D&C 76:75), 2) members of the LDS Church who were not sufficiently valiant to attain the celestial kingdom (D&C 76:79), and 3) those who rejected the gospel while living on earth but then decided to accept it in the spirit world after death (D&C 76:74). Inhabitants of the terrestrial kingdom have a wonderful existence but do not become like God, and do not dwell in family units or enjoy a marriage relationship, “but are as the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30; D&C132:16-17). Neither do such people dwell in the presence of the Father, but will only have occasional visits from the Son, Jesus Christ (D&C 76:77).
Those who go to the telestial kingdom include those who have lived lives of sin and refused to repent. It includes “liars, and sorcerers, and adulterers, and whoremongers” (D&C 76:103), “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, … and idolaters” (Rev. 21:8), and “all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly” (Mal. 4:1). Such individuals, upon dying first suffer for their sins in hell until the resurrection of the unjust at the end of the Millennium (see John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15), when “death and hell [deliver] up the dead” (Revelation 20:13), then their final place, after they have been cleansed in hell, is the telestial glory (D&C 76:84-85, 105-106). The telestial kingdom, though its glory “surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89) is nevertheless much like the present earth upon which we dwell, only with an absence of wickedness and in a glorified state, as the planet which we now dwell on is presently in a telestial condition, though at the lower end of the telestial spectrum. Those who go to the telestial kingdom will not dwell with or see the Father or the Son, but will only receive the presence of the Holy Ghost (D&C 76:86).
Those who have committed the unpardonable sin remain in hell for all eternity, since “whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32). The scriptures declare further of these doomed souls, “They are they who are the sons of perdition, of whom I say that it had been better for them never to have been born; For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity” (D&C 76:32-33). In order to commit the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost, one must have taken upon themselves the ordinances of the Restored Gospel, for they are “those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power” (D&C 76:31). “You cannot save such persons,” the Prophet Joseph Smith said (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358). The word “perdition,” of course, means “lost.”
Of course, membership in the true Church alone will not save a person in the kingdom of God. Members of the Church who have a full knowledge of the plan of salvation may find themselves in any of the kingdoms of glory – or the kingdom of the devil as children of perdition – depending on their personal conduct. For a much more detailed discussion about the three degrees of glory and who goes where, see this author’s article: Judgment and the Three Degrees of Glory.
It should also be noted here that there is no possibility of progression between kingdoms, as some have foolishly supposed. The scriptures tell us that, “For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever”(D&C 132:16-17, emphasis added). Likewise the scriptures explicitly tell us of the telestial inhabitants: “And they shall be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end” (D&C 76:112, emphasis added). The phrase, “worlds without end” of course means “forever and ever.” This is exactly the way that the Prophet Joseph Smith used the phrase as evidenced by the following statement:
“There have been remarks made concerning all men being redeemed from hell; but I say that those who sin
against the Holy Ghost cannot be forgiven in this world or in the world to come; they shall die the second
death. Those who commit the unpardonable sin are doomed to Gnolom—to dwell in hell, worlds without end.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 361, emphasis added).
For a much more expanded discussion and irrefutable evidence that there is no possibility of progression between kingdoms, please refer to this author’s article: On Progression Between Kingdoms.
Making One’s Calling and Election Sure
In the Gospel there is such a thing known as making one’s calling and election sure. “That is, they receive the more sure word of prophecy, which means that the Lord seals their exaltation upon them while they are yet in this life” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 109). As the revelations of Joseph Smith say, “The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood” (D&C 131:5). The Prophet Joseph taught us further about this condition of having our calling and election sure, and the circumstances accompanying it:
“After a person has faith in Christ, repents of his sins, and is baptized for the remission of his sins and
receives the Holy Ghost, (by the laying on of hands), which is the first Comforter, then let him continue to
humble himself before God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and living by every word of God, and
the Lord will soon say unto him, Son, thou shalt be exalted. When the Lord has thoroughly proved him, and
finds that the man is determined to serve Him at all hazards, then the man will find his calling and his
election made sure, then it will be his privilege to receive the other Comforter…. Now what is this other
Comforter? It is no more nor less than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself; and this is the sum and substance of
the whole matter; that when any man obtains this last Comforter, he will have the personage of Jesus Christ
to attend him, or appear unto him from time to time, and even He will manifest the Father unto him, and
they will take up their abode with him, and the visions of the heavens will be opened unto him, and the Lord
will teach him face to face, and he may have a perfect knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God; and
this is the state and place the ancient Saints arrived at when they had such glorious visions—Isaiah,
Ezekiel, John upon the Isle of Patmos, St. Paul in the three heavens, and all the Saints who held communion
with the general assembly and Church of the Firstborn.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 150).
Of course, there is no such thing as a person being irrevocably sealed up unto eternal life while in mortality. There is always a chance to fall from grace. However, if a person with such blessings bestowed upon them as having their calling and election sure denies the faith, they become a son of perdition. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught this when he said:
“The doctrine that the Presbyterians and Methodists have quarreled so much about—once in grace, always in
grace, or falling away from grace, I will say a word about. They are both wrong. Truth takes a road between
them both, for while the Presbyterian says ‘once in grace, you cannot fall;’ the Methodist says: ‘You can
have grace today, fall from it to-morrow, next day have grace again; and so follow on, changing
continually.’ But the doctrine of the Scriptures and the spirit of Elijah would show them both false, and
take a road between them both; for, according to the Scripture, if men have received the good word of God,
and tasted of the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, it is impossible to renew them
again, seeing they have crucified the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame; so there is a
possibility of falling away; you could not be renewed again, and the power of Elijah cannot seal against
this sin, for this is a reserve made in the seals and power of the Priesthood.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 338-339).
4. We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.
A Doctrine of the Bible
The third Article of faith discussed how obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, through the grace of Christ, bring salvation. Now the fourth Article of Faith begins to lay out the most basic of these principles and ordinances. These “first principles and ordinances of the Gospel” can also be found in the Bible. If we recall in the second chapter of Acts when Peter preached the gospel message on the day of Pentecost to the crowd of observers, “they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). In other words, once they believed, what was their next duty? And what was Peter’s reply to this question? Seeing that they had the beginnings of faith, he responded emphatically and without hesitation by declaring unto them the rest of the first principles and ordinances of the gospel: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).
Faith is “hope for things which are not seen, which are true” (Alma 32:21, emphasis added), and “the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (JST Heb. 11:1). A person has faith that when they plant a seed, that it will bring forth fruit for them. If a person did not believe that by planting that they would reap, they would not do it. And it is by acting on that faith that gives the person power to obtain the fruit they desire (see Lectures on Faith 1:11). Faith therefore is power, that is, it gives a person opportunity or power that they would not otherwise have – for instance, power to reap what one has sown. “And as faith is the moving cause of all action in temporal concerns, so it is in spiritual” (Lectures on Faith 1:12). In order for faith to result in salvation, it must be centered in Jesus Christ. This will give a person power which they would not otherwise have – that is, power to lay hold on eternal life. By having faith, a person takes the necessary steps that will lead them to eternal life with God. Without faith that doing these things will bring them eternal life, they would not do them, and thereby fail to obtain the reward.
We are taught that there are three things necessary to have faith sufficient to save a person: “First, the idea that [God] actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of his character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which [the person] is pursuing is according to [God’s] will” (Lectures on Faith 3:2-5). In other words, if we expect to have enough faith to be saved in the celestial kingdom, then we must 1) believe in God, 2) understand who God really is, and 3) know that we are living in a way that will please Him.
This understanding of faith and the character of God leads us to an interesting problem: God has all knowledge and all faith (see Lectures on Faith 4:4-6), however, the prophet Alma assures us that “faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things” (Alma 32:21, emphasis added), indicating that faith is a substitute for a lack of sure and certain knowledge. How do we reconcile these teachings relative to faith and God? Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet provide this razor sharp insight in commenting on Alma 32:21 wherein Alma teaches that faith is not to have perfect knowledge:
“Faith and perfect knowledge are not incompatible, else how would God, whose knowledge is perfect, possess
the attribute of faith? (See Hebrews 11:3.) Alma is defining faith from the viewpoint of mortality, not the
vantage point of the eternities. In our present world, faith serves as an assurance of the existence of the
unseen. By contrast, in the Lectures on Faith Joseph Smith spoke of faith in its unlimited sense. Faith, he
declared, is ‘the principle by which Jehovah works, and through which he exercises power over all temporal
as well as eternal things. Take this principle or attribute-for it is an attribute-from the Deity, and he
would cease to exist.’ (Lectures on Faith 1:16.) Among exalted beings, ‘Faith, then, is the first great
governing principle which has power, dominion, and authority over all things; by it they exist, by it they
are upheld, by it they are changed, or by it they remain, agreeable to the will of God. Without it there is
no power, and without power there could be no creation nor existence!’ (Lectures on Faith 1:24; see also
(Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet, Doctrinal Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 3, p. 227).
Repentance is the turning away from and forsaking of sin. This is the first and most fundamental part of the process of sanctification. We must first rid ourselves of our misdeeds before we are fit to become ritually clean. Because (and only because) of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, repentance can actually bring the repentant person forgiveness in the eyes of God, such that the sin will not be laid to their charge, as though the sin had never been committed. “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42). Speaking about members of the Church, the Lord gave this instruction to His prophet Alma: “Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me” (Alma 26:29-30). Returning to our sins of the past brings upon us condemnation as though we had never repented: “unto that soul who sinneth shall the former sins return” (D&C 82:7).
Sins unto Death
There are some sins, of course, which cannot be forgiven. These are called “sins unto death” (see 1 John 5:16). The Lord has said, “I, the Lord, forgive sins unto those who confess their sins before me and ask forgiveness, who have not sinned unto death” (D&C 64:7, emphasis added). Murder, for instance, is a sin unto death. The Lord has said, “Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come” (D&C 42:18) for “no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “A murderer, for instance, one that sheds innocent blood, cannot have forgiveness…. This is the case with murderers. They could not be baptized for the remission of sins, for they had shed innocent blood” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 339). Once a person commits murder, which is by definition a wrongful killing, their destiny becomes that of suffering in hell and then inheritance in the telestial kingdom – the lowest glory – and no amount of repentance can change their circumstances. That is why the commanded penalty for murder has always been death: “And again, I say, thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die” (D&C 42:19), since there is no longer any point in the murderer prolonging their life, and “the voice of [their murder victim’s] blood crieth unto [God] from the ground” (Gen. 4:10; Moses 5:35), offending the justice of God.
Murder is a sin unto death that is available for all to commit. But the other sins unto death are not available for all people. The next sin unto death is adultery. For certain persons, not the vast majority of people, but select chosen of God only, adultery is a sin unto death. Speaking of those whose calling and election has been made sure, the Prophet remarked, “If a man commit adultery, he cannot receive the celestial kingdom of God. Even if he is saved in any kingdom, it cannot be the celestial kingdom” (Joseph Smith, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 29-30. See also Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 24-25). For the vast majority of people, however, adultery is a forgivable offense, although not easily forgivable.
The greatest sin unto death of course is denying the Holy Ghost, also called “blasphemy against the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 12:31). This sin unto death is another which is only open to members of the Church whose calling and election is made sure. It is also the only sin for which a person will spend all eternity in hell. What is blasphemy against the Holy Ghost? As the Prophet Joseph Smith taught,
“All sins shall be forgiven, except the sin against the Holy Ghost; for Jesus will save all [in the various
degrees of glory] except the sons of perdition. What must a man do to commit the unpardonable sin? He must
receive the Holy Ghost, have the heavens opened unto him, and know God, and then sin against Him. After a
man has sinned against the Holy Ghost, there is no repentance for him. He has got to say that the sun does
not shine while he sees it; he has got to deny Jesus Christ when the heavens have been opened unto him, and
to deny the plan of salvation with his eyes open to the truth of it; and from that time he begins to be an
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 358).
The Ordinances of Salvation
The first four principles and ordinances are simply that – the first of the principles and ordinances, the beginning of a sanctified person’s spiritual journey. There are six ordinances that are essential for salvation in the Kingdom of God. Each one is a necessary step which helps prepare a person for eternal life. The ordinances of salvation which all accountable people must take upon themselves in order to be saved in the celestial kingdom are, in order of first to last:
Confirmation (i.e. receipt of the Holy Ghost)
Receipt of the priesthood for men
Initiatory ordinances in the temple (i.e. washings and anointings)
The temple endowment
These six ordinances are the ordinances of salvation, so called because they are the ones necessary for salvation in the celestial kingdom. There are and have been other ordinances pertaining to the gospel which sanctify a person. These include the ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, the ordinance of washing of feet performed by the Savior and within the School of the Prophets (see John 13:3-5 & D&C 88:139-141), and Second Anointings in the temple, wherein an actual ordinance was attached to one having his or her calling and election made sure. However, none of these ordinances are “ordinances of salvation,” that is, they are not actually necessary to perform in order to ensure that a person will be saved in the celestial kingdom. We will now proceed to examine the ordinances of salvation.
Baptism, a Ritual of Cleansing
Baptism is the first and primary ordinance relating to the Kingdom of Heaven. It was an ordinance throughout all time, not just the Christian era as many readers of the Bible assume. As with all essential ordinances, baptism was actually first instituted in the days of Adam. The Prophet Joseph Smith remarked, “We all admit that the Gospel has ordinances, and if so, had it not always ordinances, and were not its ordinances always the same?” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 59). Regarding the first baptism in this world, the scriptures record:
“And it came to pass, when the Lord had spoken with Adam, our father, that Adam cried unto the Lord, and he
was caught away by the Spirit of the Lord, and was carried down into the water, and was laid under the
water, and was brought forth out of the water. And thus he was baptized, and the Spirit of God descended
upon him, and thus he was born of the Spirit, and became quickened in the inner man.”
The Book of Mormon is also full of references to baptism prior to the time of Christ. The Old Testament also contains some cryptic discussion of baptism. For instance, Isaiah wrote, “O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah” (Isaiah 48:1). The passage is more accurately rendered in the Book of Mormon, however, where it reads, “O house of Jacob, who are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, or out of the waters of baptism” (1 Ne. 20:1, emphasis added).
Baptism is highly symbolic. It is first and foremost an ordinance of cleansing, being referred to as “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). It is a ritual washing, making the baptized person clean and new, just as Naaman was purified by water of his leprosy in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5:1-14). The scriptures teach, “therefore come and be baptized unto repentance, that ye may be washed from your sins” (Alma 7:14).
Baptism is also a multipurpose ordinance. As Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote,
“Baptism serves four purposes: 1. It is for the remission of sins. (D. & C. 13; 19:31; 20:37; 33:11; 49:13;
68:27; 84:27, 64, 74; 107:20.) 2. It admits the repentant person to membership in the Church and kingdom of
God on earth. (D. & C. 20:37, 71-74.) 3. It is the gate to the celestial kingdom of heaven, that is, it
starts a person out on the straight and narrow path which leads to eternal life. (2 Ne. 9:23-24; 31:13-21.)
4. It is the means whereby the door to personal sanctification is opened.”
(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 70).
Baptism by immersion is essential. There is no other authorized form of baptism, and Holy Writ describes only baptisms through this means. The Prophet Joseph declared, “The gospel requires baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, which is the meaning of the word in the original language—namely, to bury or immerse” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 314).
Baptism is also in similitude of death and resurrection, which all mankind must undergo. Of course, the goal is to be raised to the most glorious resurrection, which is only possible through baptism and other ordinances. The scriptures are very plain on the point of baptism representing death and resurrection:
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore
we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory
of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the
likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man
is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
“The ordinance of baptism by water, to be immersed therein in order to answer to the likeness of the dead,
that one principle might accord with the other; to be immersed in the water and come forth out of the water
is in the likeness of the resurrection of the dead in coming forth out of their graves”
(Doctrine & Covenants 128:12).
Baptism is also an ordinance that is meant to imitate the process of birth, signifying new life. When Adam asked the Lord why people needed to be baptized in water, the Lord explained that it was in imitation of our first natural, physical birth, and that these elements need to be present for our new life to begin.
“And our father Adam spake unto the Lord, and said: Why is it that men must repent and be baptized in water?
And the Lord said unto Adam: …. inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit,
which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of
heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten”
These three elements, blood, water, and spirit, are necessary for a birth – or a rebirth, which is what baptism is. It is also important to note that these three elements, blood, water, and spirit, were also present in the atonement: “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44, emphasis added), “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34, emphasis added), and, “when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46, emphasis added). (See also Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 72).
The Gift of the Holy Ghost
Baptism by water is only a first half of the ritual cleansing that brings a person into the kingdom of God. The Savior Jesus Christ taught, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, emphasis added). The Prophet Joseph Smith likewise taught:
“You might as well baptize a bag of sand as a man, if not done in view of the remission of sins and getting
of the Holy Ghost. Baptism by water is but half a baptism, and is good for nothing without the other half—
that is, the baptism of the Holy Ghost.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 314).
After baptism by water a person is not fully ritually cleansed until they receive the accompanying baptism of fire. And the Holy Ghost does in fact cleanse as baptism by water does: “For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost” (2 Ne. 31:17, emphasis added). The scriptures also record, “And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ” (Moroni 6:4). Elsewhere the scriptures say, “Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost” (3 Ne. 27:20, emphasis added).
Reception of the Holy Ghost is accomplished through the laying on of hands. The New Testament is ample in its instances of bestowing the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. In the latter days, the Lord has confirmed that this is still the proper method: “thou shalt baptize by water, and they shall receive the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, even as the apostles of old” (D&C 35:6).
Once the laying on of hands is accomplished, the worthy person receives the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which is to have the presence of “God the third, the witness or Testator” (see Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 190) dwelling within the heart of the individual. This abiding presence is conditional upon righteousness, as the Prophet taught, “The Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, cannot be received through the medium of any other principle than the principle of righteousness, for if the proposals are not complied with, it is of no use, but withdraws” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 148).
The power of the Holy Ghost may be felt temporarily by any person whose heart may be receptive to the whisperings of the Spirit, but this does not consist of the actual Gift of the Holy Ghost. The Prophet explained,
“There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy
Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel,
but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign
or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 199).
The function of the Holy Ghost is to 1) Testify of Jesus Christ and His true gospel (John 15:26), 2) “teach [i.e. reveal] you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26), especially truths of an important spiritual nature, 3) sanctify the person and prepare them for the presence of the Father (3 Ne. 27:20), and 4) comfort the recipient (John 14-15).
The Holy Ghost brings peaceful feelings to the heart of its recipient. As the scriptures teach, “the fruit [i.e. the effects] of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23). Often this comfortable feeling is experienced as a sensation as though the Lord did “cause that your bosom shall burn within you” (D&C 9:8). That is how we can know that we feel the Holy Ghost. We will have a comfortable determination within ourselves. The Lord has instructed: “I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (D&C 8:2). As long as a person feels the consistent presence of the Holy Ghost, they are sufficiently sanctified for salvation in the Kingdom of God.
Ordination to the Priesthood
With reference to the priesthood, Elder Bruce R. McConkie has written,
“As pertaining to eternity, priesthood is the eternal power and authority of Deity by which all things
exist; by which they are controlled; by which the universe and worlds without number have come rolling into
existence; by which the great plan of creation, redemption, and exaltation operates throughout immensity. It
is the power of God…. As pertaining to man’s existence on this earth, priesthood is the power and authority
of God delegated to man on earth to act in all things for the salvation of men.”
(Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 594).
The priesthood which exists only within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is therefore the authority to act in the name of God and the power and means by which the Gods have crafted the universe. Amazingly, it is this power which God desires to share with mortals. And it is a power which they must take upon themselves if they are to inherit His Kingdom. Ordination to the priesthood is necessary for the salvation of men, but not for women, however. That is because the women do not actually hold the priesthood, but are saved under the priesthood authority of their husbands. They are saved underneath and by virtue of their husbands’ priesthood, since “the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man” (1 Cor. 11:3).
Within the Bible are mentioned two priesthoods: the “Levitical priesthood” or the “order of Aaron,” and the priesthood “after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 7:11). “There are, in the church, two priesthoods, namely, the Melchizedek and Aaronic, including the Levitical Priesthood” (D&C 107:1), that is, the Aaronic Priesthood includes within it the Levitical Priesthood, which comprises its lesser offices.
The Melchizedek Priesthood is sufficient to operate all the functions of the Church, as “All other authorities or offices in the church are appendages to this priesthood” (D&C 107:5). The Melchizedek Priesthood is “without beginning of days or end of years” (D&C 84:17) and has existed throughout eternity. Originally it was simply called “the Holy Priesthood, after the Order of the Son of God,” however, “out of respect or reverence to the name of the Supreme Being, to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name, they, the church, in ancient days, called that priesthood after Melchizedek, or the Melchizedek Priesthood,” since “Melchizedek was such a great high priest” (D&C 107:2-4). No doubt the Holy Priesthood also needed clarification in its name to differentiate it from the lesser priesthood that was created from it out of necessity.
The Aaronic Priesthood “is called the lesser priesthood...because it is an appendage to the greater, or the Melchizedek Priesthood, and has power in administering outward ordinances” (D&C 107:14), in other words it comprises the lowlier duties and powers which fall under the capacity of the Holy Priesthood. The origin of the Aaronic Priesthood existing separately as a distinct priesthood, however, is actually the result of the people of God not being worthy for the fullness of God’s priesthood. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the original stone tablets of Law, he found the children of Israel had reverted back to pagan revelry in the sexually charged worship of idols (Ex. 32:15-19). In frustration, he “brake [the tablets] beneath the mount” (Ex. 32:19). At this moment of indignation, Moses cried, “Who is on the LORD’s side? let them come unto me,” and it was at this point that “all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him” (Ex. 32:26). It was this show of conviction that earned the Tribe of Levi the right to the priesthood, to the exclusion of all other Tribes. However, theirs was to be a lesser priesthood, because the people were not ready for the fullness of God’s Law. The Joseph Smith Translation explains,
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Hew thee two other tables of stone, like unto the first, and I will write upon them also, the words of the law, according as they were written at the first on the tables which thou brakest; but it shall not be according to the first, for I will take away the priesthood out of their midst; therefore my holy order, and the ordinances thereof, shall not go before them; for my presence shall not go up in their midst, lest I destroy them. But I will give unto them the law as at the first, but it shall be after the law of a carnal commandment; for I have sworn in my wrath, that they shall not enter into my presence, into my rest, in the days of their pilgrimage. Therefore do as I have commanded thee, and be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me, in the top of the mount.”
As a result of this event, the people of God did not have the presence of the Melchizedek Priesthood among them generally, but they were laboring under a lesser priesthood which had a lesser law associated with it. Only the prophets would have been ordained with the higher priesthood, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “That portion [of the priesthood] which brought Moses to speak with God face to face was taken away [i.e. the Melchizedek Priesthood]; but that which brought the ministry of angels [i.e. the Aaronic Priesthood] remained. [However] All the prophets had the Melchizedek Priesthood and were ordained by God himself” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 180-181).
The Melchizedek Priesthood is necessary for “perfection,” or salvation. However, the Aaronic Priesthood is not sufficient to bring someone to salvation in the celestial kingdom. As Paul wrote, “If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:11-12). Part of the reason that the Aaronic Priesthood is not sufficient to save someone in the celestial kingdom is because it carries no such promise, while there is an oath of salvation made by God to all those who faithfully bear the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is called the “oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood” (D&C 84:39). With the Aaronic Priesthood, on the other hand, “priests were made without an oath” of salvation (Heb. 7:21). Therefore, ordination to the Melchizedek Priesthood is necessary for salvation, while ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood is not, but only prepares one for the blessings of a higher order.
The initiatory ordinance is the first essential ordinance of the temple, and is a preparatory ritual. It makes someone fit for a higher call or order. That is why the ordinance existed in some form during the Aaronic Priesthood’s administration of the gospel, from the time of Moses until Christ, because the Aaronic Priesthood is a preparatory priesthood, preparing its bearer for something greater which is to come – the blessings of salvation associated with the Melchizedek Priesthood. Nevertheless, the iniatory ordinances of washing and anointing also have their place among the ordinances of salvation, being essential to prepare the candidate for the rest of the ordinances of the House of God.
The first record of the initiatory ordinance was recorded in the book of Exodus, wherein it records how Aaron is washed, anointed, and put into special symbolic clothing. The Lord commanded:
“And Aaron and his sons thou shalt bring unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and shalt wash
them with water. And thou shalt take the garments, and put upon Aaron the coat, and the robe of the ephod,
and the ephod, and the breastplate, and gird him with the curious girdle of the ephod: And thou shalt put
the mitre upon his head, and put the holy crown upon the mitre. Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and
pour it upon his head, and anoint him.”
Likewise, the Lord told Ezekiel relative to the House of Israel: “Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee, and I anointed thee with oil” (Ezek. 16:9). Then Israel was covered with clothing of “broidered work…badger’s skin…fine linen, and…silk” (Ezek. 16:10). The washing away of blood and uncleanness, and the subsequent anointing with oil, are strongly tied in scripture. The entire point of the initiatory ordinance is to cleanse the candidate and to initiate or prepare them to receive a greater endowment from God.
The Temple Endowment
The temple endowment is the next essential ordinance of the temple. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “You need an endowment, brethren, in order that you may be prepared and able to overcome all things” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 91). The ordinance of the endowment, like all of the ordinances, is of ancient date. So ancient in fact, that it is referred to in scripture as those ordinances which “have been kept hid from before the foundation of the world” (D&C 124:41), indicating that it is not a public form of worship but something which is hidden and requires initiation to enter into. What is the endowment? President Brigham Young explained:
“Let me give you a definition in brief. Your endowment is, to receive all those ordinances in the house of the Lord, which are necessary for you, after you have departed this life, to enable you to walk back to the presence of the Father, passing the angels who stand as sentinels, being enabled to give them the key words, the signs and tokens, pertaining to the holy Priesthood, and gain your eternal exaltation in spite of earth and hell.”
It is true that many aspects of the endowment that Joseph Smith administered are strikingly similar to the rituals of Freemasonry. And it is also true that Joseph Smith administered the temple endowment after joining the Masonic Lodge in 1842. However, an examination of Joseph Smith’s teachings will reveal why this is so. It is clear that Joseph Smith, upon joining the Masonic fraternity, recognized the true place and antiquity of the rituals, and rescued them and reinstituted their true form. Heber C. Kimball, himself a Mason, noted, “There is a similarity of priesthood in Masonry” and then he related, “Bro[ther] Joseph says Masonry was taken from priesthood but has become degenerated” (Dahl & Cannon, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 414). Benjamin F. Johnson reported that, “He [Joseph Smith] told me Freemasonry, as at present, was the apostate endowments, as sectarian religion was the apostate religion” (ibid.). Likewise, Joseph Fielding while in Nauvoo wrote, “Many have joined the Masonic institution. This seems to have been a stepping stone or preparation for something else, the true origin of Masonry. This I have also seen and rejoice in it” (Joseph Fielding Diary, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, p.145). For more information on the fascinating connection between Freemasonry and the temple, refer to the author’s article: Freemasonry and the Gospel.
Many critics of the Church point out that several changes have been made to the endowment ceremony since the time of Joseph Smith, inferring that if the ceremony was really given by revelation, then there should never be any changes to it. Of course, these critics “do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God” (Matt. 22:29). The fact is that the major elements of the endowment have always been the same. With reference to the fluid nature of this ordinance and the slight changes that have been made to the endowment ceremony over the years, Dr. Hugh Nibley gives this perspective:
“The Mormon endowment, like the Egyptian, is frankly a model, a presentation in figurative terms. As such it
is flexible and adjustable; for example, it may be presented in more languages than one and in more than one
medium of communication. But since it does not attempt to be a picture of reality, but only a model or
analog to show how things work, setting forth the pattern of man’s life on earth with its fundamental whys
and wherefores, it does not need to be changed or adapted greatly through the years; it is a remarkably
stable model, which makes its comparison with other forms and traditions, including the more ancient ones,
quite valid and instructive.”
(Hugh W. Nibley, The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, p. xiii).
One of the scriptural stories relating to the endowment was that of Jacob’s dream or Jacob’s Ladder. In this experience, which was certainly an endowment experience, Jacob laid down to sleep, “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28:12). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught relative to this ladder: “Paul ascended into the third heavens, and he could understand the three principal rounds of Jacob’s ladder – the telestial, the terrestrial, and the celestial glories or kingdoms, where Paul saw and heard things which were not lawful for him to utter” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 304-305, emphasis added). And so in this event for Jacob, he was ritualistically escorted through the telestial, terrestrial, and celestial kingdoms. At the climax of the experience Jacob beheld the Lord, who promised him the blessings of his fathers Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 28:13-15). Covenant-making was part of the process, for later the Lord indicated that during this experience Jacob “vowedst a vow unto me” (Gen. 31:13). Upon the close of this experience, Jacob exclaimed, “this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17). Jacob took stones and “set it up for a pillar [or an altar?]” at that place (Gen. 28:18). The narrative continues, “And he called the name of that place Beth-el [meaning ‘House of God’]” (Gen. 28:19). Later Jacob returned to Beth-el and again built an altar to worship the Lord, this time with his family (Gen. 35:6-16). Presumably at this time Jacob sealed his family to him, which leads us to our next ordinance.
Eternal Marriage in the Temple
Eternal marriage in the temple is the crowning ordinance of the gospel, and the final essential ordinance of salvation. It is the final rite which qualifies a man or woman for the godhood of eternal life. The scriptures instruct us that, “In the celestial glory 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” (D&C 131:1-4). Therefore celestial marriage is essential for salvation in the highest heaven. The phrase, “he cannot have an increase,” no doubt has both the meanings that 1) he/she cannot ever progress to the highest degree in the celestial kingdom, and 2) he/she cannot have children in the eternities.
The ordinance of celestial marriage must be solemnized in the temple when there is one properly erected for that purpose. There have been instances where a temple has not been available, and so substitute places have been used in the stead of a temple. Mountains have often been used as temples in times past, in which prophets have communicated with God, making “the mountain of the LORD’s house” a proper reference for a temple (Isa. 2:2). Such was the case with the celestial marriages of the Prophet Joseph Smith to his wives, for instance, which were conducted in homes of individuals, garden groves, and various other locations because there was no temple readily available.
The ordinance of celestial marriage also realizes for each individual who enters into it the long-promised blessings of Abraham. Recall that God promised Abraham, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore” (Gen. 22:17). Likewise, as descendents of Abraham and “heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29), we are also entitled to this promised blessing of having children without number in the eternal worlds when we solemnize our marriages for eternity by priesthood authority. The scriptures say about these heirs of eternal life:
“And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever. Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them.”
This circumstance is the realization of all which the Gods have planned from the beginning – the perpetuation of their Holy Kind throughout all eternity. And the principle of celestial marriage is one of the most beautiful in all of the gospel, because it recognizes that the love that exists between man and wife, which yearns to endure, may endure forever in spite of death or time. As a result of this beautiful and marvelous ordinance, marital love and life can transcend the grave and husband and wife can be “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7) and continue their family unit in eternity.
What has made this grand situation possible, wherein husband, wife, families, descendents, and ancestors may be sealed together in an eternal bond? It is the sealing power of Elijah. The scriptures record that the prophet Elijah had power to seal the heavens, making it so that even the forces of nature could be held back so that it would not rain (1 Kings 17:1). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “Elijah was the last Prophet that held the keys of the Priesthood, and who will, before the last dispensation, restore the authority and deliver the keys of the Priesthood, in order that all the ordinances may be attended to in righteousness” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 172). In other words, “It is true that the Savior had authority and power to bestow this blessing” (ibid.), however Elijah was the last prophet outside of the Americas who held the keys to the sealing power prior to the coming of Jesus Christ. This made Elijah the steward of this sealing power from God. Not only does this sealing power have the ability to stop the heavens from raining, but it also has the ability to seal human relationships with eternal bonds. The prophet Malachi recorded this saying of the Lord: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5-6). In other words, unless Elijah comes before Jesus Christ’s Second Coming to restore the sealing power to mankind, no one on earth will be prepared for that great event, and no one would have the promise of salvation.
This great day of Elijah’s return to restore the sealing power occurred on April 3, 1836 in the Kirtland temple in Kirtland, Ohio. Following the appearance of Jesus Christ, Moses, and then “Elias” (probably Gabriel, who is Noah – see D&C 27:6-7; Luke 1:11-19) to the Prophet Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, the prophet Elijah appeared. They recorded the event as follows:
“Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said: Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands”
As a result of this incredibly significant event, people in the latter days have the sealing power of Elijah, to make their family bonds eternal. Husband and wife can make their marriage relationship transcend death and endure for all eternity. Children may be sealed to parents forever within their family. Couples married for eternity may continue to have children without number forever and ever. And we may also seal ourselves to our ancestors in the work of redeeming the dead.
Also inseparably intertwined with the doctrine of the sealing power and eternal families is the ancient principle of plurality of wives which was restored to our dispensation by the Prophet Joseph Smith. Anciently the prophet Abraham and others lived this eternal law (see Gen. 16:3; 25:1-6). Later his descendents also practiced it, the Twelve Tribes of Israel having come into existence as result of plural marriage (see Gen. 29-30). The Lord Jesus Christ declared that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would be found saved in the Kingdom of Heaven. He said, “many shall come from the east and the west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). Jesus Christ, of course, formally approved of the life and works of Abraham, thereby endorsing his polygamous lifestyle (see John 8:39,44). Also the prophet Moses, who himself practiced plural marriage (see D&C 132:1; Ex. 2:21; Num. 12:1), proclaimed laws from God to the children of Israel regarding the correct implementation of plural marriage (see Deut. 21:15-17) – a complete absurdity if plural marriage were wrong or against the commandments of God. Later, the Lord is recorded in scripture in reference to David, “I gave thee…thy master’s [i.e. David’s] wives into thy bosom” (2 Sam. 12:8). Hence, the Lord approves of the practice of plural marriage under proper circumstances. He has said, “For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people [to practice plural marriage]; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things [i.e. the practice of monogamy]” (Jacob 2:30).
Enduring to the End
Once a person is baptized, receives the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, as well as the other ordinances of salvation, that is not the end of their spiritual journey. It still remains for the person to live a good life afterward, as the Book of Mormon teaches:
“For the gate by which ye should enter [into the kingdom of heaven] is repentance and baptism by water; and
then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost. And then are ye in this strait and
narrow path which leads to eternal life…. And now, my beloved brethren, after ye have gotten into this
strait and narrow path, I would ask if all is done? Behold, I say unto you, Nay…. Wherefore, ye must press
forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all
men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold,
thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.”
(2 Nephi 31:17-20).
With reference to those who have received the covenant of eternal marriage, the scriptures say explicitly, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye abide my law ye cannot attain to this glory [i.e. celestial glory]” (D&C 132:21). Salvation is completely conditional upon our endurance to the end of our lives. As the scriptures teach, “And we know that all men must...endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God” (D&C 20:29, emphasis added). There is no scriptural promise of salvation for any person who fails to abide by this condition.
5. We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof.
Priesthood Authority is Essential to Administer the Gospel
The priesthoods have already been mentioned: the “Levitical priesthood” and the priesthood “after the order of Melchisedec” (Hebrews 7:11) by which “perfection” (i.e. salvation) is found. During His ministry, Jesus gave this priesthood authority to his disciples, as the Bible says, “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach, And to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils” (Mark 3:14-15). This priesthood is necessary to administer the affairs of the Church and to preach the gospel. As Paul wrote:
“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom
they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they
hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
(Romans 10:13-15, emphasis added).
In other words, unless a preacher is genuinely sent from God, they have no authority to preach the gospel. One of the things that commissions a preacher in the eyes of God to preach the gospel is the receipt of the priesthood. The scriptures record a case when an unauthorized person, King Uzziah of Judah, a man who did not have the priesthood, sought to perform the functions of the priesthood. In response, God cursed Uzziah. The scriptural record is as follows:
“But when he [Uzziah] was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priests of the Lord, that were valiant men: And they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead before the priests in the house of the Lord, from beside the incense altar. And Azariah the chief priest, and all the priests, looked upon him, and, behold, he was leprous in his forehead, and they thrust him out from thence; yea, himself hasted also to go out, because the Lord had smitten him.”
No Man Taketh This Honor unto Himself
Latter-day Saints do not accept that a man can simply decide that he wants to become a bishop or other minister and then work towards those credentials like a person would pursue a career. Instead, someone in ecclesiastical authority over the person must receive revelation from God that such a person should be called to such a position. Then they are ordained to their position by the laying on of hands of those who bear the priesthood. As the Bible says regarding ordinations, “no man taketh this honour unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron” (Hebrews 5:4). Aaron of course was called by a prophet who received revelation relative to his appointment (see Exodus 28:1). Aaron did not seek or petition for or electioneer for his position. The Lord simply called him through His servant Moses.
When a person in a sectarian religion decides that they want to make a career as a preacher and attend an instructional seminary, they are effectively looking to assume the priesthood by the payment of money. But this is completely contrary to the order of God. One of the instances in the scriptures of a person seeking the priesthood illegitimately through the means of paying money was that of Simon Magus approaching Peter and John. The record is as follows:
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them
money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But
Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be
purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight
By the Laying on of Hands
Though many religions ignore the scriptural indications, it is clear that the laying on of hands is essential to the bestowal of the priesthood. In the bestowal of the priesthood by laying hands, a real transfer of holy power occurs, and the ordained person is given real, though unseen, authority that they did not possess before and could not possess otherwise. The scriptures are replete with examples. For instance, Moses “laid his hands upon” Joshua when he ordained him to be his successor in the prophetic office (Num. 27:23). The apostles “laid their hands on” Stephen and six other assistants called to help them in the ministry (Acts 6:6). Paul counseled the young minister Timothy to “lay hands suddenly on no man” (1 Tim. 5:22), that is, to not hastily ordain brethren to the priesthood. Of course, the laying on of hands has always been an essential requirement to bestow the priesthood throughout time, as the Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“Now taking it for granted that the scriptures say what they mean, and mean what they say, we have
sufficient grounds to go on and prove from the Bible that the gospel has always been the same, and the
officers to officiate, the same; the ordinances to fulfill its requirements, the same, and the signs and
fruits resulting from the promises, the same: therefore, as Noah was a preacher of righteousness he must
have been baptized and ordained to the priesthood by the laying on of the hands, etc.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 264).
Priesthood Only Controlled Through Righteousness
The scriptures are very clear that the power of the priesthood can only be accessed when the one who holds the priesthood is acting in righteousness. This is true with reference to associations in the Church, within the family, or towards all mankind. The revelations declare:
“Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are
set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men, that they do not learn this one
lesson—That the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the
powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may
be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake to cover our sins, or to gratify our pride, our vain
ambition, or to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any
degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and
when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. Behold, ere he is aware, he is
left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God. We have
learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a
little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. Hence many
are called, but few are chosen. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the
priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By
kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—
Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an
increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy; That he may know
that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards
all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy
confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul
as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging
scepter of righteousness and truth”
(Doctrine & Covenants 121:34-46).
What Are the Keys of the Priesthood?
Mention is often made of the “keys of the priesthood.” What are priesthood keys? While the priesthood is the authority to act in the name of God, the keys of the priesthood are simply powers bestowed upon a priesthood bearer which pertain to an office or calling, which give authorization to act in a certain capacity. In other words, a bishop is a High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. He holds the same amount of priesthood as any other High Priest. However, as pertaining to his calling, the bishop “holds the keys…of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” for his ward (see D&C 13; 107:68-76). Therefore only the bishop is able to authorize baptisms in his ward. No single member, even if he is a High Priest, may overstep the bishop’s authority and undertake to baptize without the bishop’s authorization, because they do not have the requisite keys of authority for that undertaking. Likewise an apostle holds the same Melchizedek Priesthood as the average member, yet he is different in authority because he holds the apostolic keys in conjunction with his calling.
6. We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.
Jesus Christ Founded a Church
In the scriptures it is very evident that Jesus Christ founded a specific Church. He told His apostles, “upon this rock [i.e. of revelation] I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). Jesus Christ was also a strict purist when it came to the doctrine of His Church. He said, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16). In other words, the truth of God is what it is, and there cannot justly be such a thing as varying interpretations of doctrine since “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Likewise the apostles made it clear that the organization which Jesus started, often called simply, “the church” (Eph. 5:25), was meant to be a unified organization, and the apostles commanded strictly that the Church should not depart from the doctrine they taught. Paul wrote:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul?”
It is nonsensical to suggest, as many false churches do, that it does not matter which church a person belongs to as long as they believe in Christ. As the scriptures have declared, there is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). Therefore, there is only one authorized Church and way to salvation. The original Church which Jesus Christ founded did not survive as it became corrupted in its teachings upon the death of the apostles – a verity which is well attested to by history. But through the instrumentality of the Prophet Joseph Smith, God has restored His one, true Church to the earth again. The Lord has designated in the latter days that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30).
Offices of the Priesthood
The organization of the Church includes a Quorum of Twelve Apostles (see Mark 3:14), a Prophet who is the president of the Church, Quorums of the Seventy (see Luke 10:1), bishops as local leaders (see 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7), elders (see 1 Peter 5:1; Acts 15:6), and many other priesthood offices. All of the offices are of ancient date or have an ancient equivalent. However, the best source of information we have regarding the offices of the priesthood are not to be found in vague and oblique Biblical passages, but from the revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
After the corruption of the Early Christian Church was in full swing, many unauthorized innovations to church organization and leadership were implemented. Such was the case with the papacy, or the office of Pope, and cardinals. These offices arose within the great falsehood that was the Catholic Church, which was already far removed from the purity of original Christianity. None of these organizational innovations have foundation in scripture, nor were they received by revelation. Therefore, for a church to be the true Church, it must have within it the same organization that the Church which Jesus founded had, and which His apostles administered.
The offices of the priesthood in the Lord’s Church must be segregated into the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods. The Offices of the Aaronic Priesthood are, from lowest to highest: deacon, teacher, priest, and bishop. The offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood are likewise: elder, high priest, patriarch, seventy, and apostle.
The office of a deacon is the lowest office of the Aaronic Priesthood and therefore the lowest of all priesthood offices. It also does not have the power to baptize or to bless the sacrament (D&C 20:58). Instead, the deacon assists the priests by passing the sacrament to the members of the congregation. Like Levites of old, deacons are assistants to the priests. Anciently, men of the Tribe of Levi who were not literal descendents of Aaron were not called priests but simply Levites, and they were therefore not able to act in the function of priests. They assisted the priests in the sacrifice of animals but were not actually charged with performing sacrifices. The Levites of ancient times are analogous to the teachers and deacons of today.
The scriptures reveal that deacons are to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59). Theirs is the simplest priesthood responsibilities, and these responsibilities prepare them for higher ones.
The office of a teacher is below that of a priest and, like the office of a deacon, does not have the power to baptize or to bless the sacrament (D&C 20:58). Instead, the teacher assists the priests by the preparation of the sacrament. Like Levites of old, teachers are assistants to the priests. Anciently, men of the Tribe of Levi who were not literal descendents of Aaron were not called priests but simply Levites, and they were therefore not able to act in the function of priests. They assisted the priests in the sacrifice of animals but were not actually charged with performing sacrifices. The Levites of ancient times are analogous to the teachers and deacons of today.
The scriptures reveal about the duty of teachers: “The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking; And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty” (D&C 20:53-55). These duties have the greatest application through home teaching, which becomes the duty of a priesthood holder once they are ordained to the office of a teacher.
The office of a priest is one of the higher offices in the Aaronic Priesthood, second only to bishop. The office of a priest is fundamentally the same today as it was in ancient times under the Law of Moses, except for who is eligible to hold the office. Anciently, only those who were literal descendents of Aaron (Moses’ brother) within the tribe of Levi were ordained to be priests. Today any worthy male after baptism and who is of age can be ordained to the office of a priest.
Anciently the duties of a priest included the actual sacrifice of animals in the temple. The sacrifice of animals was of course done in “similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten” (Moses 5:7). Today (and since the day of the Atonement of Jesus Christ), priests bless the sacramental emblems “in remembrance of [Jesus Christ]” (Luke 22:19). Therefore, the ordinance of animal sacrifice and ordinance of the sacrament are essentially the same in purpose – to remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ – and both are administered to by a priest after the Aaronic order. Priests carry the same function today that they did in ancient times.
Regarding the office of a priest, the scriptures reveal that, “The priest’s duty is to preach, teach, expound, exhort, and baptize, and administer the sacrament, And visit the house of each member, and exhort them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (D&C 20:46-47).
The term “pastor” is a generic term for offices in the priesthood that have a stewardship over a flock, such as a bishop of a ward or Presidents of a Stake. The office of a bishop is an ordained office in the priesthood, under the authority of the Aaronic Priesthood (however a bishop who is not a literal descendent of Aaron must be an ordained High Priest – see D&C 107:69-71). The bishop is the head of the Aaronic Priesthood in the ward, and as such is the head of that ward’s Priests’ Quorum (D&C 107:87-88). The head of the Aaronic Priesthood over the entire Church is the Presiding Bishop, who works under the authority of the President of the Church, Council of Twelve Apostles, and Seventy – the General Authorities representing Melchizedek Priesthood offices. The office of Presiding Bishop of the Church is precisely analogous to the ancient office of High Priest under the Law of Moses, the High Priest [not to be confused with the Melchizedek Priesthood office] being chosen from among the literal descendents of Aaron to be the head of the Aaronic Priesthood.
Bishops are “a common judge among the inhabitants of Zion” (D&C 107:74). The reason why confession of sin must be made to a bishop is because they hold the keys of the Aaronic Priesthood, which “holds the keys of…the gospel of repentance” (D&C 13). Therefore they are the proper authority to go to for issues of repentance. For that same reason, baptism of new members is overseen by the bishop, since the Aaronic Priesthood also “holds the keys…of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins” (D&C 13).
The calling of a Stake President is not a separate priesthood office, but instead the Stake President is the Presiding High Priest in his respective Stake [i.e. High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood. The Aaronic office of High Priest has been replaced by that of Presiding Bishop, a General Authority position of the Church]. The calling of a Stake President is not a separate ordained office in the priesthood, as the Stake President is simply a High Priest called to that position, and the Stake President is the President of the High Priests’ Quorum (i.e. of all the Melchizedek High Priests in the Stake).
The term “elder” refers both to any general holder of the Melchizedek Priesthood, and also to a specific office in the priesthood. Using the title as a general term for priesthood holders, Apostle Peter wrote, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder” (1 Pet. 5:1). However, it is clear even in the Bible that there is a specific office of an elder, as the apostles “ordained them elders in every church [i.e. congregation]” (Acts 14:23).
The office of elder is the basic and first office within the Melchizedek Priesthood. Being the lowest of the Melchizedek Priesthood offices, it is nevertheless sufficient to allow a person to obtain eternal life if they go forward and partake of all of the ordinances and live a good life. The duty of elders is “to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church; And to confirm the church by the laying on of hands, and the giving of the Holy Ghost” (D&C 20:42-43).
The office of High Priest in the Melchizedek Priesthood is a higher office, and one to which a man must be ordained to first if he is to take upon himself other offices of the Melchizedek Priesthood. Regarding the office of High Priest, the scriptures instruct:
“High priests after the order of the Melchizedek Priesthood have a right to officiate in their own
standing, under the direction of the presidency, in administering spiritual things, and also in the office
of an elder, priest (of the Levitical order), teacher, deacon, and member. An elder has a right to officiate
in his stead when the high priest is not present. The high priest and elder are to administer in spiritual
things, agreeable to the covenants and commandments of the church; and they have a right to officiate in all
these offices of the church when there are no higher authorities present.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 107:10-12).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “An Evangelist is a Patriarch, even the oldest man of the blood of Joseph or of the seed of Abraham. Wherever the Church of Christ is established in the earth, there should be a Patriarch for the benefit of the posterity of the Saints, as it was with Jacob in giving his patriarchal blessing unto his sons, etc.” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151).
Patriarchs hold in their unique office the ability to give blessings to members of the Church in the same fashion that Jacob gave blessings to his twelve sons in Genesis chapter 49, being the great father and patriarch of that remarkable family. Hence, while the father of a family is a patriarch to his household and may bless his posterity with the priesthood, the office of a patriarch in the priesthood is the administration of the blessings of a patriarch from the authority and commission of the Church.
The revelations of the Prophet Joseph Smith teach relative to the office of a Seventy:
“the Seventy… should have seven presidents to preside over them, chosen out of the number of the seventy;
And the seventh president of these presidents is to preside over the six; And these seven presidents are to
choose other seventy besides the first seventy to whom they belong, and are to preside over them; And also
other seventy, until seven times seventy, if the labor in the vineyard of necessity requires it. And these
seventy are to be traveling ministers, unto the Gentiles first and also unto the Jews.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 107:93-97).
The Seventy are subordinate to and “under the direction of the Twelve” (D&C 107:34). The Seventy are somewhat similar to the Apostles in the nature of their calling, as the scriptures declare: “The Seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling” (D&C 107:25). However, while the First and Second Quorums of the Seventy are General Authorities of the Church along with the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Seventies are not sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. Nevertheless, their words are good for counsel and instruction when they speak by the power of the Holy Ghost.
The principal authority of the Church is the office of apostle. The apostles are organized into a Quorum of Twelve, as it is written anciently, “And he [Jesus] ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach” (Mark 3:14), and also “the Presidency of the Church” (D&C 107:22) or the First Presidency.
The First Presidency is the highest governing body of the Church. It is comprised of at least three men (a President and two Counselors) that hold the keys and office of the apostleship. The keys of apostleship, among other things, hold the power of leadership over the Church. The longest-serving apostle is the President of the Church, and his successor is the next longest-serving apostle upon his death. The First Presidency in ancient times of course was Peter, James, and John, those three apostles who were part of Jesus’ intimate inner circle. However, while Jesus was on the earth, these three men were only a Presidency in training, for they were part of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles (see Mark 3:14-18). While the Christ was upon the earth, there was no need for a First Presidency. After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, it appears that the office of the First Presidency became active and others may have been called into the Quorum of the Twelve to fill the vacancies of Peter, James, and John separating from that Quorum (Paul was one of these, for example, and possibly Barnabas – see Acts 14:14).
The Quorum of Twelve Apostles is directly under the authority of the First Presidency. The scriptures instruct relative to that body: “The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations” (D&C 107:33). All of the Apostles are “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling” (D&C 107:23).
All of the men in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators. All of these men also hold the keys and authority of the apostleship and are authorized to speak in the name of the Lord. However, only the President of the Church may direct the affairs of the Church. The teachings of the President of the Church are also the final word in all doctrinal matters, and only the combined voice of the First Presidency, which consists of the President of the Church and his Counselors, is stronger in authority than the word of the President himself (D&C 107:27, 29; 124:126).
Often the President of the Church, by virtue of his calling, is referred to simply as “the prophet.” Of course, as has been mentioned, all of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are prophets, seers, and revelators. But the President of the Church stands supreme above them all as the principal prophet and connection between God and the Church. The scriptures remark of the President of the Church: “the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses” (D&C 107:91).
In addition to this, all those who have the spirit of revelation may act in the capacity of prophets, within their sphere of responsibility. John the Revelator wrote, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). Therefore, every righteous father or mother, for instance, if they have a testimony of Jesus and are attuned to the Spirit, may be prophets to their families and guide it in righteousness, as long as they are following the word of the President of the Church.
Apostles, Prophets, and Priesthood Offices Always Necessary
We believe that these offices are essential to the Church and when first instituted in the Early Christian Church were meant to perpetuate. As Paul indicated, these offices were put in place to keep the people of God in the right way, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). The text in full is worth quoting:
“And [God] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto
the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and
fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby
they lie in wait to deceive”
Since no one would claim that the believers in Christ have reached the status of “a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13), it follows very plainly from this passage of scripture that apostles and prophets, as well as all of the other authorized offices and callings of the priesthood, are still necessary.
7. We believe in the gift of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, healing, interpretation of tongues, and so forth.
These Signs Shall Follow Them That Believe
Latter-day Saints of course believe in miracles and gifts of the spirit. Speaking of miracles, Jesus taught, “And these signs shall follow them that believe” (Mark 16:17). This was a promise that miracles and spiritual gifts and signs would attend true believers. Many churches today teach that there are no longer such things as miracles, but if there are no miracles, gifts, or signs then there can be no true believers. The Book of Mormon teaches of miracles and spiritual gifts: “God has not ceased to be a God of miracles…. And the reason why he ceaseth to do miracles among the children of men is because that they dwindle in unbelief, and depart from the right way, and know not the God in whom they should trust” (Mormon 9:15, 20). Inasmuch as people have faith and are righteous, they may be recipients of miracles and spiritual gifts.
What is a Miracle?
Before one discounts the existence of miracles, they should consider what a miracle actually is. A miracle is “a beneficial event brought about through divine power that mortals do not understand and of themselves cannot duplicate” (Daniel H. Ludlow, ed., Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 2:908). Miracles are simply cases of divine intervention, of God interposing to act for the benefit of man, whether that action is grand or not. Miracles can be big or small, and do not have to be a sea parting or a person coming back from the dead – although such things are possible with God (see Matt. 19:26). But often people overlook the little miracles that happen regularly. For instance, revelation, the Holy Spirit speaking clearly to the heart and mind of a person, is indeed a miracle from God (see D&C 8:2-3). It is God acting for the benefit of man, creating an experience or circumstance that would not otherwise exist, and therefore meets all the criteria of a miracle. Those who would deny miracles in modern times, whether they are of a Christian sect or are Non-Christian, either do not understand the nature of miracles or are guilty of the sin of ingratitude. “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21).
The Spiritual Gifts
God bestows spiritual gifts upon His righteous followers. There are many types of spiritual gifts, but all originate from God. As Apostle Paul wrote, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:4-7). Likewise, not everyone is blessed with the same spiritual gift(s), but they are as individual as personalities are, with respect to what sort of gift a person has and to what degree.
God bestows spiritual gifts upon mankind based on 1) personal righteousness, 2) diligence in seeking after the gift in question, as the scriptures say, “seek ye earnestly the best gifts” (D&C 46:8), and 3) the need of the individual for the gift. It is true, however, that some people have a natural inclination towards certain spiritual gifts and others to other spiritual gifts, as the scriptures say, “To some is given one, and to some is given another” (D&C 46:12). Much of this depends no doubt on the spiritual sensitivities acquired by the recipient through ages of time in the preexistence. The spiritual gifts to which a person has an aptitude are often declared in their patriarchal blessing.
The Apostle Paul wrote that we should “desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 14:1). That is, we should seek after these spiritual gifts. What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? It is to help the individual serve others, come closer to God, and avoid the deceit and temptation of the Devil. As the scriptures declare:
“Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts,
always remembering for what they are given; For verily I say unto you, they are given for the benefit of
those who love me and keep all my commandments, and him that seeketh so to do; that all may be benefited
that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts. And
again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what
those gifts are, that are given unto the church.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 46:8-10).
The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “A man who has none of the gifts has no faith; and he deceives himself, if he supposes he has” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 270). Where there are no gifts of the Spirit, there is no faith. Nevertheless, all do not share the same spiritual gifts, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (1 Cor. 12:7) and therefore the Church, like a body with many different parts, is profited by this diversity (see 1 Cor. 12:4-31). We will now examine the spiritual gifts as they have been listed for us in scripture.
The Gift of Testimony
“To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world” (D&C 46:13). The gift of testimony is the ability to have an assurance from the Holy Ghost, free from major doubt, that the gospel is true. Not all members of the Church have this gift of the Spirit which, as like all spiritual gifts, it must be sought for.
The Gift of Believing Others’ Testimony
“To others it is given to believe on their words [i.e. of those who have a testimony], that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful” (D&C 46:14). This is the ability to be pierced to the heart by the power of the Holy Ghost upon hearing the testimony of a humble follower of God. Many do not have this ability, because they have stifled their sensitivity to the Holy Ghost through skepticism or sin and are “past feeling, that [they] could not feel his words” (1 Ne. 17:45). In such cases, individuals must start at an even more basic level: As Alma taught, “even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27).
The Gift of Knowing the Differences of Administration
“And again, to some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know the differences of administration, as it will be pleasing unto the same Lord, according as the Lord will, suiting his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men” (D&C 46:15). What are the differences of administration? This has reference to the administration of the Kingdom of God on earth. In other words, this is the ability to understand the proper relation and functions of priesthood offices. As authors have commented:
“This is another special gift. The term, as used by Paul (I. Cor. 12:5) means the different divisions or
courses of the priests and Levites engaged in the temple service, and in this Revelation it may refer to
the different duties and responsibilities of the Priesthood in its two divisions, the Melchizedek and
Aaronic. To know this is a gift of the Spirit.”
(Hyrum M. Smith & Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine & Covenants Commentary, p. 274).
“There is much to administer and govern in a great kingdom. So it is that if the house of the Lord is to be
a house of order the labor of many officers and servants is required. In the kingdom of God there are of
necessity ‘differences of administration,’ meaning a great variety of services that must be rendered.”
(Joseph Fielding McConkie & Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration).
The Gift of Knowing the Diversities of Operations
“And again, it is given by the Holy Ghost to some to know the diversities of operations, whether they be of God, that the manifestations of the Spirit may be given to every man to profit withal” (D&C 46:16). This no doubt refers to the operations of the gifts of God among the children of men. In other words, to some people is given the special ability to recognize the variety of ways in which the gifts of God are manifested among men. It also involves the ability to discern when manifestations are not of God. In relation to this, the Lord has said, “And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (D&C 50:23). Authors have commented regarding this gift:
“The diversity of gifts found in the community of Saints suggests that there are a host of tasks that need
doing and a variety of ways in which they can be done. It is expected that all faithful Saints will labor in
their callings, using the gifts that God has given them. For this reason people are called to serve in
various capacities for a time when their gift or gifts are particularly needed….The ‘diversity of
operations’ could also be understood to embrace different ways particular gifts are manifest.”
(Joseph Fielding McConkie & Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration).
“This refers to various spiritual influences at work, for instance such as are manifested in Spiritism,
anarchism, and the numerous other ‘isms.’ To know whether an influence with a professedly moral, or
reformatory, aim is from the Holy Spirit, or from another source, is a special gift.”
(Hyrum M. Smith & Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine & Covenants Commentary, p. 274).
The Gift of the Word of Wisdom
“And again, verily I say unto you, to some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom” (D&C 46:17). This gift of God is the ability to act appropriately to situations, using an innate good sense as a guide. It is a gift of the Spirit. It differs from knowledge in that it is not simply an accumulation of facts, but is a level of understanding with relation to choices and prudent decision-making. “For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it” (Proverbs 8:11).
The Gift of the Word of Knowledge
“To another is given the word of knowledge, that all may be taught to be wise and to have knowledge” (D&C 46:18) The gift of knowledge is to have treasured up in one’s mind facts and truths, whether of a secular nature or of a gospel nature. The researcher, the scientist (who believes and hearkens to the word), and the gospel scholar, be it professional or amateur, exercise this gift of God when they are treasuring up the things that are true. As Nephi taught, “to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Ne. 9:29). Not all people have the ability to gain such expertise in matters relating to facts or different fields of knowledge. To those that do, it is a gift of God, to be used with humility for the blessing of mankind. Some are naturally inclined to the learning and obtaining of knowledge, but to those that are right before God, they may receive added help from the Spirit of God in their search for knowledge. The Lord Jesus Christ promised that “the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26). To have this gift of knowledge from the Spirit, a person must be attuned to true spirituality: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
The Gift to Teach the Word of Wisdom
“For behold, to one is given by the Spirit of God, that he may teach the word of wisdom” (Moroni 10:9). Wisdom, of course, is much more difficult to teach than knowledge, as it requires the participant to make prudent decisions in a myriad of possible circumstances. However, wisdom is apparently teachable to others.
The Gift to Teach the Word of Knowledge
“And to another, that he may teach the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (Moroni 10:10). Effective teaching is a special ability that is certainly not shared equally by all mankind, as any who have had experience in classroom or training settings can attest to. To be a magnificent teacher and to effectively impart of knowledge is truly a gift of God. President David O. McKay, himself a former teacher by profession, taught, “…to be a teacher is to be a leader, a co-partner with the Creator in molding souls” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 259).
The Gift of Exceedingly Great Faith
“And to another, exceedingly great faith” (Moroni 10:11). Faith is a requirement to be saved in the Kingdom of Heaven, and is the very first principle of the gospel. However fundamental this trait is, there are many whose faith is subject to faltering and doubts. The gift of exceedingly great faith is to have a rare, unshakable faith that can withstand the trials of life that would shake the faith of ordinary people. It is also faith that allows a person to persevere and trust in God where others would doubt or murmur. Job of the Old Testament had exceedingly great faith in the face of terrible difficulty that one could blame God for. He had enough faith to declare, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in [God]” (Job 13:15). The gift of exceedingly great faith also gives its recipient the ability to weather the storms of opposing doctrines and faith-destroying philosophies, choosing to believe in God instead.
The Gift of Healing
“And to others it is given to have faith to heal” (D&C 46:20). The miracle of healing by the power of the priesthood is not a light matter, particularly when the recipient of the blessing is in dire need, or afflicted with an ailment that could not hope to be healed under normal circumstances or through the aid of medical science. Therefore, it takes great faith to be able to draw upon the powers of heaven sufficient to heal a person who is afflicted with sickness. To have this faith is a special spiritual gift. Of course, not every recipient of a blessing is meant to be healed. Some people are “appointed unto death” rather than meant to be healed (D&C 42:48). In such cases, the will of God will always prevail.
The Gift of Faith to Be Healed
“And again, to some it is given to have faith to be healed” (D&C 46:19). Just as it takes special faith to heal others through the power of the priesthood, it also takes faith on the part of the recipient to believe that the priesthood can heal them. Not everyone can overcome natural doubts or skepticism, and so it is a special gift of the spirit to have the faith to be healed.
The Gift of Working of Mighty Miracles
“And again, to another, that he may work mighty miracles” (Moroni 10:12). God puts it into the hands of his servants, many who are quite ordinary, to sometimes work “mighty miracles.” These can range in nature very broadly, but in all cases it is a potent spiritual experience to those that witness it, who are not “past feeling” (1 Ne. 17:45) and who have “ears to hear” or eyes to see (see Matt. 11:15 for instance). As mentioned, the nature of miracles can range very widely, but always they are the result of God intervening in the affairs of men to create favorable circumstances which are not mere coincidence or accident.
The Gift of Prophecy
“And to others it is given to prophesy” (D&C 46:22). The gift of prophecy is the ability to know of things that are to come as well as speak in the name of the Lord generally. Authors Smith & Sjodahl remarked that prophecy was “to speak in the name of the Lord, whether of things present, past, or future” (Hyrum M. Smith & Janne M. Sjodahl, Doctrine & Covenants Commentary, p. 275). How does one gain the ability to prophesy? John the Revelator wrote, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught in this connection: “Salvation cannot come without revelation; it is in vain for anyone to minister without it. No man is a minister of Jesus Christ without being a Prophet. No man can be a minister of Jesus Christ except he has a testimony of Jesus; and this is the spirit of prophecy” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 160).
The gift of prophecy is perhaps the greatest of the spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul wrote,
“Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. For he that speaketh in
an unknown tongue speaketh not unto men, but unto God: for no man understandeth him; howbeit in the spirit
he speaketh mysteries. But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and
comfort. He that speaketh in an unknown tongue edifieth himself; but he that prophesieth edifieth the
church. I would that ye all spake with tongues, but rather that ye prophesied: for greater is he that
prophesieth than he that speaketh with tongues, except he interpret, that the church may receive edifying….
covet to prophesy…”
(1 Corinthians 14:1-5, 39).
The Gift of Discerning of Spirits
“And to others the discerning of spirits” (D&C 46:23). The discerning of spirits is the ability to discern whether spiritual influences are of God or the Devil. Many people cannot tell the difference, and mistake one for the other. Therefore, the ability to discern whether an influence or a manifestation is from God is a special gift of the Spirit. The Apostle John wrote, “try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This ability to judge or discern between influences also applies to judging between teachings, ideologies, and doctrines, to know whether they are of God or Satan. The gift of discernment can also be applied to judging the hearts of men, so that a righteous man might know whether another is a true follower of God or not.
The Gift of Beholding of Angels and Ministering Spirits
“And again, to another, the beholding of angels and ministering spirits” (Moroni 10:14). This gift has reference to actually seeing ministering angels or spirits. To most people, such beings are undetectable. Yet there are some people with this amazing gift of the Spirit, who have the sensitivity to be able to see spirits and angels.
The Gift of Speaking Tongues
“And again, it is given to some to speak with tongues” (D&C 46:24). The gift of tongues is a singular gift which allows its recipient to speak in a language with which they are not ordinarily acquainted or proficient in. Its most practical manifestation is when it aids a person in preaching the gospel, as it did Peter and the apostles on the Day of Pentecost, wherein “every man heard them speak in his own language” (Acts 2:6). The gift of tongues can also be utilized by speaking a heavenly language that is not a language of men. This is a form of worship in highly intense spiritual circumstances. However, such speech is not meant to be mere gibberish; it must be understood, or silence ought to prevail (1 Cor. 14:28). The gift of tongues can be perilous as it is easily mimicked by the Devil. The Prophet Joseph Smith warned,
“Speak not in the gift of tongues without understanding it, or without interpretation. The devil can speak
in tongues; the adversary will come with his work; he can tempt all classes; can speak in English or Dutch.
Let no one speak in tongues unless he interpret, except by the consent of the one who is placed to preside;
then he may discern or interpret, or another may.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 162).
The Gift of the Interpretation of Languages and of Divers Kinds of Tongues
“And to another is given the interpretation of tongues” (D&C 46:25). Just as the ability to speak with strange tongues, particularly a heavenly tongue, is a gift of the spirit, so also is the ability to interpret such speech. An interpreter is proper and necessary if saints are assembled and speaking in tongues. As Apostle Paul wrote, “If any man speak in an unknown tongue, let it be by two, or at the most by three, and that by course; and let one interpret” (1 Cor. 14:27).
8. We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
The Latter-day Saint Stance towards Scripture
Latter-day Saints do not accept the premise that the scriptural canon is closed. This is one of the great fallacies of our time. It throws up limits for God which He did not proclaim for Himself. To say that God no longer reveals scripture is to say that God has changed His nature, but as already discussed above with the heading The Characteristics of God treated under the first Article of Faith: God is does not change. “For I am the Lord, I change not” (Mal. 3:6), and, “I say unto you [God] changeth not; if so he would cease to be God; and he ceaseth not to be God” (Morm. 9:19). And the program of God, since the world began, has been this: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). That is what the Bible is – a culmination of prophetic writings from men inspired by God. Since God revealed His will to prophets in ancient times and His nature is unchangeable, it follows as a matter of course that He is still prepared to reveal scripture today. And He has. The Bible is the primary scriptural text, but it is now joined by the Book of Mormon (and other scriptural texts to be mentioned later). In addition to these scriptures, the Lord has given instruction that we are to consider the words of inspired men as scripture:
“And whatsoever [the servants of God] shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture,
shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the
voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 68:4).
Though such utterances are generally not canonized, that is, they do not become part of printed scripture like the Bible, when a person speaks by the power of the Holy Ghost it is nevertheless “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). That which becomes canonized scripture that is printed alongside the Bible as such, comes from the mouth of the President of the Church or other similarly authorized servants.
In answer to the question, “Do you [Mormons] believe the Bible?” the Prophet Joseph Smith remarked, “If we do, we are the only people under heaven that does, for there are none of the religious sects of the day that do” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 119). What the Prophet meant was that there is no other church which believes the Bible as tenaciously as the Latter-day Saints, whose many doctrines which seem peculiar or strange to the world, such as laying on of hands, apostles and prophets, and plural marriage, are found directly within the Bible itself. The Bible contains the word of God and is sacred Holy Scripture. It contains in it the Creation and history of the world, the stories of God’s dealings with mankind, the teachings of the Son of God, and prophecies and revelations. Certainly the Holy Bible is foremost among scriptural witnesses and is the most influential compilation of revelation from God to man.
As precious as the Bible is, it is not as pure in form as it was originally. Latter-day Saints use the King James Version of the Bible, but even this we consider to have been mildly corrupted since it was written by its original inspired writers. The Prophet Joseph Smith said, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 327). Evil conspirators “have taken away from the [Bible] many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away” (1 Ne 13:26) probably shortly after most of the books were written and before they were compiled into the present volume of the Bible.
There are some that contend that the Bible is all-sufficient and infallible. Anyone who has read the Bible and noted the miniscule inconsistencies between the Gospels or the references to scriptural texts no longer extant knows such ideas to be quite ludicrous. The Bible is accurate, but it is not infallible. Others contend that God never meant to give mankind any revelation beyond the Bible, and use one of the last verses in the Bible itself to prove their point:
“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto
these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take
away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and
out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”
This is the great scripture that many have used to try to demonstrate the all-sufficiency of the Bible and to combat the emergence of new scripture in the latter days. While this scripture might seem quite straightforward upon reading it, we must understand three things about this scripture:
- The same prohibition against adding to or taking away from scripture appears much earlier as a teaching of Moses. The verse reads: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deut. 4:2). Should the Bible have stopped at the fourth chapter of Deuteronomy? Are all subsequent passages and books within the Bible illegitimate additions? Of course not. By this logic, we cannot use Revelation 22:18-19 to force a prohibition against new scripture.
- The “book” that Apostle John was referring to in the phrase “the prophecy of this book” is not the Bible, but the Book of Revelation within the Bible itself. He prefaced his Revelation with, “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy” (Rev. 1:3, emphasis added), and then at the end warned against unlawful changes with, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book” (Rev. 22:18, emphasis added).
- Of all the books within the Bible, the Book of Revelation was not the last book to have been written. In fact, it is apparent that John wrote his Gospel and letters after writing Revelation. In fact, the Bible did not yet exist as a single book, and so it would have made no sense for John to make reference to a “book” of the Bible (LeGrand Richards, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, p. 55-56). Are any willing to discard the Gospel of John because of this misunderstood verse at the end of the Bible?
A mere look at the number of different churches and interpretations of the same Bible text is enough to convince any rational thinker that the Bible cannot possibly be all-sufficient to lead a person in the right way, for “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life” (Matt. 7:14), and yet the interpretations of the Bible are as wide and endless as the blue sky. Another scriptural witness is required before we are in a position to focus our vision upon the true path.
The Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible
It was mentioned earlier that the Bible text has been corrupted. The Prophet Joseph Smith was able to receive revelation relative to the original writings of the Bible. The Lord commanded the Prophet to restore the Biblical text to its original purity. He said, “And, verily I say unto you, that it is my will that you should hasten to translate my scriptures [i.e. the Holy Bible]… and all this for the salvation of Zion” (D&C 93:53). This “translation” of the Bible, which was really simply the Prophet Joseph making inspired corrections and additions to the text, is often referred to as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. The Joseph Smith Translation throws a glorious light upon the text of the Bible where before it was muddled and confusing, making it more akin to the Book of Mormon in plainness.
It is interesting, that while the Prophet apparently restored the most important portions of the Bible, there is a possibility that he did not finish correcting all of the textual errors and that he died before he was able to fully complete his translation (see Joseph Smith’s “New Translation” of the Bible, Herald Publishing House, p. 9-11).
The Book of Mormon
We also accept the Book of Mormon as scripture on par with the Bible. The Book of Mormon, of course, is a collection of ancient scripture from prophets in the ancient Americas whom God had dealings with. Originally written on gold plates, this ancient record was delivered to Joseph Smith in the nineteenth century by an angel of God, for the purpose of translating it and bringing forth a new revelation from God to the world. The Book of Mormon is not inferior to the Bible, and not really superior to the Bible (except in the sense that it is less corrupted in the text, a little plainer in its teachings, and more specially focused towards our time and generation). Instead it is a second witness to the Bible, a companion volume of scripture. The Book of Mormon fulfills the role of setting the record straight with reference to the path which God wants mankind to follow. Its purpose is “unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord” (2 Ne. 3:12). For a more in-depth discussion about the important roles that the Book of Mormon fulfills, please refer to this author’s article: The Role of the Book of Mormon.
What is the importance of the Book of Mormon in the gospel? Joseph Smith remarked, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194).
No other book has been attended with so many visions, miracles, angelic appearances, and divine manifestations than the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. As if the fact that it was a Book written on gold was not enough to draw attention, angels facilitated its coming forth into the world. The message is clear: heaven wants the world to pay attention to this incredible Book, this new revelation from heaven.
The Keystone of Our Religion
As we just read, the Prophet Joseph Smith declared the Book of Mormon to be “the keystone of our religion” (ibid.). A Keystone is “the central, topmost stone of an arch, popularly thought of as especially holding the others in place” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College edition, p. 773). The fact that the Book of Mormon is true makes the entire rest of the religion worthwhile and important. If the Book of Mormon were false, then the entire religion would crumble.
President Ezra Taft Benson taught us the following about how the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion:
“There are three ways in which the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion. It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.
The Most Correct of Any Book
The Book of Mormon is also “the most correct of any book on earth” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 194). Critics of the Book of Mormon scoff at this claim, noting that thousands of minor textual changes have been made to the Book since its first printing. The vast majority of these revisions have been to correct typeset errors made by the printer, and are therefore of no consequence. A few changes were authorized revisions by the Prophet Joseph Smith to clarify meaning in the text. But nevertheless, the correctness of the Book of Mormon was never meant to have reference to its grammar or syntax. Rather, the Book of Mormon is the most correct of any book on earth because it is most correct in its principles and precepts.
The Fulness of the Everlasting Gospel
We are given by revelation to know that the Book of Mormon “contains...the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ” (D&C 20:9). The unscrupulous critics of the Church are quick to point out that the Book of Mormon does not contain the full details of all the revelations that were given to mankind in the last days through Joseph Smith. They try to make it seem as though the Book of Mormon fails in its promise to provide the fulness of the gospel. However, if such miscreants would have the integrity to interpret the phrase “the fulness of the gospel” the way that Mormons do, there would be much more honesty among them and this argument of theirs would not exist. What is meant by the phrase, “the fulness of the gospel”? Contrary to the claims of critics, the Book of Mormon does indeed make reference (if only indirectly) to such doctrines as exaltation to godhood, salvation of the dead in the spirit world, the pre-existence of man, and the offices of the priesthood, which critics would claim are absent. It is true, however, that the Book of Mormon, while making oblique reference to such things, does not explain them fully. But the Book of Mormon does not claim to be a comprehensive treatise on all gospel doctrines. Instead, it gives the promise that acceptance of the Book of Mormon will lead to a knowledge of more advanced gospel teachings. The Book of Mormon says,
“And when they shall have received this [the Book of Mormon], which is expedient that they should have
first, to try their faith, and if it shall so be that they shall believe these things then shall the greater
things be made manifest unto them. And if it so be that they will not believe these things, then shall the
greater things be withheld from them, unto their condemnation.”
(3 Nephi 26:9-10).
It is clear therefore, that when the Lord said that the Book of Mormon contains “the fulness of my everlasting gospel” (D&C 27:5) it means that the Book of Mormon contains the fullness of doctrine necessary to get on that path which leads to eternal life.
The Coming Forth of the Book Foretold
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the most important Book of our time, was of course foreseen long ago. Referring to the Book of Mormon, which was buried in the Hill Cumorah, the Psalmist wrote, “Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalms 85:11), meaning that the Book of Mormon would come forth from the ground, and that the heavens would open to restore the gospel. Likewise Isaiah wrote, “let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation” (Isa. 45:8). The prophet Ezekiel wrote of “the stick [i.e. scroll or scripture] of Joseph” becoming one with the “stick” or scriptural record of Judah (see Ezek. 37:15-20). The stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon, as its writers and people were of the Josephite lineage. The stick of Judah is, of course, the Bible, having been written principally by Jews and preserved for the world by the Jews. Also, the Savior Jesus Christ referred to the people in the Book of Mormon on the American continent when he declared, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16. cf. 3 Ne. 15:13-17). And John the Revelator saw in vision the angel Moroni revealing the Book to the world in the latter days: “And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Rev. 14:6).
However, the most startling and impressive prophecy regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon is found in Isaiah chapter 29. The prophet Isaiah foretold:
“For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered. And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned. Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid.”
This amazing prophecy begins with discussing the long and great apostasy which will cover the earth prior to the Book of Mormon coming forth, for “the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered” (Isa. 29:10) and the people are in “the spirit of deep sleep” (ibid.). Next it discusses a circumstance of a sealed book being delivered to an unlearned man, and the words of the book being delivered to a learned man. The unlearned man to whom the book was delivered was of course Joseph Smith, a young farm boy from rural upstate New York. As to the identity of the learned man who received the “words of the book” (not the book itself) and said, “I cannot [read the book]; for it is sealed” (Isa. 29:11), it is given in an interesting occurence of Church history. This prophecy was fulfilled through an experience involving Martin Harris, the friend and early supporter of Joseph Smith, who took a copy of the characters on the gold plates, written on paper, with the characters’ accompanying translations underneath, to the experts of the day. The account reads as follows:
“I went to the city of New York, and presented the characters which had been translated, with the translation thereof, to Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman celebrated for his literary attainments. Professor Anthon stated that the translation was correct, more so than any he had before seen translated from the Egyptian. I then showed him those which were not yet translated, and he said that they were Egyptian, Chaldaic, Assyriac, and Arabic; and he said they were true characters. He gave me a certificate, certifying to the people of Palmyra that they were true characters, and that the translation of such of them as had been translated was also correct. I took the certificate and put it into my pocket, and was just leaving the house, when Mr. Anthon called me back, and asked me how the young man found out that there were gold plates in the place where he found them. I answered that an angel of God had revealed it unto him.
Professor Anthon actually denied meeting Martin Harris in 1834, no doubt due to embarrassment and humiliation with being associated with Mormon prophecy. However, later in 1841 he changed his story and confirmed that he had in fact met with Martin Harris (see Richard N. Skousen, Brother Joseph, vol 1, p. 94-95). “A few years later [from the time of their first meeting], after the Book of Mormon was published, Martin Harris made a special trip to Columbia University to present Professor Anthon with a copy of the Book of Mormon. By this time the Professor was so fearful of being identified with this record that he declined the gift and told Martin that if he left the book he would throw it after him as he departed” (ibid., p. 95).
So then this is the meaning of the sealed book in this curious prophecy of Isaiah. The Isaiah prophecy of chapter 29 next commences to quote from the First Vision, wherein Joseph Smith was told, “that those professors [of the different Christian religions] 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’” (JS – H 1:19).
The Book of Mormon: Powerful Evidence for the Divinity of the Church
Sweeping statements are often made by critics of the Church that there is “no evidence” for the Book of Mormon, or that it is inconsequential, simple in nature, or clearly a fabrication. None of these claims could be further from the truth, and they are only oft-repeated mantras which are void of any accuracy. Evidence for the Book of Mormon is multi-faceted and impressive, and evidence continues to mount more and more the further we march along from the year 1830 – exactly the opposite of what one would expect if the Book were a fabrication. It could not have been fabricated by Joseph Smith or his contemporaries. Without delving too deeply into the particulars of the evidence of the Book of Mormon at this time, we will suffice with this profound statement from Hugh Nibley: “There is no point at all to the question: Who wrote the Book of Mormon? It would have been quite as impossible for the most learned man alive in 1830 to have written the book as it was for Joseph Smith” (Hugh Nibley, Of All Things! Classic Quotations from Hugh Nibley, p. 143). Any person who takes the time to read the Book of Mormon would be immediately impressed with the complication, breadth and depth of the Book – especially for supposedly being written by a young farmer in rural New York without proper learning or adequate reference material. Elder James E. Talmage wrote in his book Articles of Faith the points of evidence that members of the Church base the veracity of the Book of Mormon upon:
“The Latter-day Saints base their belief in the authenticity of the book on the following proofs:
“1. The general agreement of the Book of Mormon with the Bible in all related matters.
“2. The fulfilment of ancient prophecies accomplished by the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon.
“3. The strict agreement and consistency of the Book of Mormon with itself.
“4. The evident truth of its contained prophecies.
“To these may be added certain external, or extra-scriptural evidences, amongst which are:
“5. Corroborative testimony furnished by archeology and ethnology [i.e. the study of ethnic groups].”
(James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith, p. 247).
The conclusion of this is quite obvious: the Book of Mormon is powerful evidence for the divinity of the Church. It is a complex, lengthy and highly organized piece of scripture that is far beyond the power of an unlearned nineteenth century farm boy to fabricate, even if he had some help! And here it stands as a tangible witness to the truthfulness of the claims of Joseph Smith. For more information on evidence for the Book of Mormon’s authenticity, visit this author’s article: Evidence of the Book of Mormon.
Believe the Scriptures
The scriptures are given for our direction in spiritual and doctrinal matters; therefore it is crucial that we believe in them and in their accuracy. There are many outside of the Church, and even some miscreant and faithless persons within the Church, who seek to undermine confidence in the scriptures to make room for evolution theory, misguided intellectualism, higher criticism, or false philosophies or other such “false and vain and foolish doctrines” (2 Ne. 28:9). Such a course, if continued, will only bring destruction and the damnation of hell, and certainly not the enlightenment of superior intellect that such people fancy that they are cultivating for themselves. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught, “I believe all that God ever revealed, and I never hear of a man being damned for believing too much; but they are damned for unbelief” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 374).
The importance of the story of Lehi’s dream in the Book of Mormon cannot be overstated, with regard to its teachings about the importance of the scriptures (see 1 Ne. 8; 11:21-25). For in that dream, the iron rod which acts as a safety line which one must grasp tightly to avoid wandering off into the mists of darkness (see 1 Ne. 8:19-24), is none other than the scriptures or “the word of God” (2 Ne. 11:25). Unless we are holding tightly to the scriptures, we can expect to wander off into the forbidden paths of falsehood. It is absolutely essential that Latter-day Saints believe and study the scriptures. Beware that wolf in sheep’s clothing that would have you doubt them in order to accommodate the philosophies of men.
9. 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.
One of the Most Significant Articles of Faith
The ninth Article of Faith is certainly one of the most significant. It is no doubt the most sweeping in nature, catching all of the principles which the Lord has seen fit to bestow upon mankind. This important declaration affirms that we believe everything God has revealed to mankind, whether in the past, present, or the future word of the Lord to come. This means that we believe the Bible (the word of God revealed in the past), as well as the Book of Mormon – an ancient American scripture revealed anew in the nineteenth century. In addition to these, we also have other books that are included in our scriptural canon. These other books of scripture are called the Doctrine & Covenants, which is a collection of revelations from God to Joseph Smith and some of his successors, and The Pearl of Great Price, a collection of various ancient revelations including from Moses and Abraham. Not only that, but the President of the Church today is a prophet in the same sense that Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, and Joseph Smith were prophets, and so we receive the word of the Lord through him today. In addition, we expect future revelation to come from future prophets.
The Pattern of Apostasy and Restoration of the Gospel
Mormonism did not simply begin in the nineteenth century. It is in simple fact the modern manifestation of God’s everlasting covenants and gospel. Joseph Smith taught, “Truth is ‘Mormonism.’ God is the author of it” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 139). It is an “everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6). Mormonism is not an invention of modern date, but lays claim to the same prophetic legacy of the Biblical prophets. God first spoke to Adam, then later to others such as Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah and the other prophets of the Old Testament, and then He sent His Son Jesus who established His Church. Each of the times that God has re-issued His truth, or dispensed it, has been referred to as a Dispensation of the Gospel. At each point there was an apostasy, or a rejection and departure from the truth as God has revealed it. The Old Testament chronicles the typicality of this pattern:
“Yet the Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers,
saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law
which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets. Notwithstanding they
would not hear, but hardened their necks, like to the neck of their fathers, that did not believe in the
Lord their God.”
(2 Kings 17:13-14).
God has always responded to this falling away from His precepts by calling more prophets to proclaim His truth again. Each time God called prophets they restored His truth to the world. This has been God’s pattern throughout time: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Finally God sent His Son Jesus Christ, who established the true Church. After this was done, however, there was again another apostasy from the truth, such that only a few hundred years after the death of the apostles, the leading religious minds in Christendom had to meet together in councils and synods to come to a consensus and decide upon the very most fundamental of points of doctrine: the nature of God. The Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which under the direction of the pagan Roman Emperor Constantine, established the blasphemous Nicene Creed. This Council and this Creed spelled the death knoll of true Christianity as dramatically as any event in history that could be pinpointed.
From at least 325 A.D. to 1820, the world languished in darkness through its longest apostasy. But after the blackest night came the brightest day, for in 1820 the God of heaven revealed Himself to the young Joseph Smith, and all the truth of past dispensations was restored again to the earth. This was the long-awaited “times of refreshing” and “times of restitution of all things” (Acts 3:19, 21) foreseen by Apostle Peter. And as Apostle Paul who foresaw our day testified, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one call things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:10). And as the Lord has confirmed to Joseph Smith, His revelation through the Prophet Joseph in the latter days comprises “a dispensation of the gospel for the last times; and for the fulness of times, in the which I will gather together in one all things, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth” (D&C 27:13).
The Thing That Sets Mormonism Apart From All Other Christian Religions
The thing that really sets the Mormon Church apart from all other Christian faiths is that it does not simply claim to interpret the Bible correctly. There is nothing particularly special about that claim, as it is shared by every Christian church. What makes the Mormon Church’s position special is that it claims the opening of the heavens and new messages from God in modern times. This is really bringing something to the table, so to speak, which is altogether different; now here we really have something worth investigating. It is not simply another view on the Bible – it is the claim of God speaking again to man. Latter-day Saints are not in the position of being left to haggle over passages of scripture. Instead, we have a several different books of scriptures clarifying matters, and a legacy of prophets, beginning with Joseph Smith, who saw God and Jesus Christ and received instruction from them.
Latter-day Saints are not bound simply by what they can discern from the Bible, but they have the word of God in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price to lead them right. In addition to that, they have direction from God’s living prophet to give them timely direction, so that they always know the will of heaven. This makes the position of the Church very unique, and transcendantly important to all those who are seeking direction regarding the matter of religion and which church has the most impressive claim to truth.
All Truth Falls under the Umbrella of the Gospel
One implication of the phrase, “we believe all that God has revealed,” is the correct conclusion that all truth belongs to and is accepted by the gospel. What is truth? The Lord has said, “And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24). Truth is reality. It is things as they really are. Or, as ancient Book of Mormon prophet Jacob put it, “the Spirit speaketh the truth and lieth not. Wherefore, it speaketh of things as they really are, and of things as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13, emphasis added). President Brigham Young taught, “‘Mormonism,’ so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to ‘Mormonism.’” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 11:375). President Joseph F. Smith taught that we accept truth from all sources:
“We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure. No man’s faith, no man’s religion, no religious organization in all the world, can ever rise above the truth. The truth must be at the foundation of religion, or it is in vain and it will fail of its purpose. I say that the truth is at the foundation, at the bottom and top of, and it entirely permeates this great work of the Lord that was established through the instrumentality of Joseph Smith, the prophet.”
We must realize, however, that while we accept truth from all sources, not every philosophy or precept or theory, even if it is popular and accepted as truth by the world at large, is in reality truth. These falsehoods we reject, and we can detect them when we find in them a conflict with the scriptures, which are God’s standard of truth and our guide in these matters. President Smith taught further:
“There is no science, nor philosophy, that can supersede God Almighty’s truth. The Lord has said, ‘My word
is truth,’ and indeed it is; and I believe that the Latter-day Saints know enough about the word of God to
know it is his word when they see it and shun whatever is not; and that they will abide by the word of God,
for it is truth. As the Savior said, ‘If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye
shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ I believe that the Latter-day Saints, and
especially the leading men in Israel, have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the principles of the
gospel that they know the truth, and they are made free by its possession—free from sin, free from error,
free from darkness, from the traditions of men, from vain philosophy, and from the untried, unproven
theories of scientists, that need demonstration beyond the possibility of a doubt. We have had science and
philosophy through all the ages, and they have undergone change after change. Scarcely a century has passed
but they have introduced new theories of science and of philosophy that supersede the old traditions and
the old faith and the old doctrines entertained by philosophers and scientists. These things may undergo
continuous changes, but the word of God is always true, is always right. I want to say to you that the
principles of the gospel are always true”
(Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 3).
Circumscribing All the Principles of the Gospel
The incredible ninth Article of Faith has the ability to circumscribe all of the principles of the gospel that cannot be placed under any of the other Articles of Faith. That is because it declares that we believe all that God has revealed, is now revealing, and will reveal to mankind. Included in these principles are doctrines such as the Word of Wisdom, a divine dietary and health code revealed to Joseph Smith in 1833 (see D&C 89), the roles and functions of man and woman within the family, the doctrine of the Sabbath day, and the law of tithing, an ancient principle of giving one tenth of one’s substance to the Church, which has been renewed again in this dispensation (see D&C 119). Also the organization of the Relief Society, the women’s organization of the Church, is another heavenly plan that could be herein included. These and all other principles not discussed elsewhere would all fall under the principle of the ninth Article of Faith.
10. We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
The House of Israel
In ancient times, God made an everlasting covenant with a righteous prophet named Abraham. The nature of this covenant with Abraham was:
That Abraham was to have a great number of descendents, in number as the stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5),
The seed of Abraham would “bear the ministry and Priesthood unto all nations” and bless the world (Abr. 2:9-10),
Abraham would inherit the land of Canaan, which is Palestine, as a dwelling for his descendents (Gen. 15:7; 26:3; 28:13). This covenant was renewed with Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob (see Gen. 26:2-4; 28:10-16).
The covenant people of the Lord were known as the House of Israel or the Twelve Tribes of Israel, since Israel became the name of Jacob after making the covenant with God (Gen. 32:28). God revealed Himself to His people Israel and raised prophets among them throughout the entire history of the Old Testament. In time, due to political disputes, the Tribes split into two kingdoms, the Northern Kingdom which was comprised of Ten Tribes, chief of which was Ephraim, and in the south was the Kingdom of Judah. The Tribe of Levi was interspersed among all of the tribes as the bearers of the priesthood.
Because of failure to keep the commandments of God, the Lord allowed the Northern Kingdom consisting of the Ten Tribes to be conquered and carried captive by the Assyrians in 721 B.C. This marked the beginning of the scattering of Israel. Some of the Northern Ten Tribes eventually returned to their homeland in Palestine after mixing their culture significantly with that of the Mesopotamian paganism, but most were lost to history. Only the Jews remain today as a distinct people among all the House of Israel. The Northern Tribes eventually escaped their captivity and many took their journey into the countries to the north. The Apocryphal book of Esdras records, “But they took this counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, That they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land” (as quoted in Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 456). In this manner they were scattered across the northern countries, which are the European nations that are north of Palestine and Mesopotamia where Israel was held captive.
A Gathering Promised
One of the very consistent promises of the scriptures is the long-anticipated gathering of dispersed Israel from among the nations. The scriptures declare: “For thus saith the Lord; Sing with gladness for Jacob… the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth” (Jer. 31:7-8).
How exactly is Israel gathered? The gathering is two-fold: there is a spiritual gathering first, then there will be a physical gathering. The spiritual gathering occurs when people join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this way, no matter whether the person joining the Church was a literal descendent of Jacob or not, they become part of the seed of Jacob and inheritors of the promises given to him. As Paul wrote, “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ…. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:27-29). And as the Lord told Abraham, “for as many as receive this Gospel shall be called after thy name, and shall be accounted thy seed, and shall rise up and bless thee, as their father” (Abr. 2:10). The Prophet Joseph Smith described the mighty change that may come upon those who were not literal descendents of Abraham but are adopted into his lineage:
“This first Comforter or Holy Ghost has no other effect than pure intelligence. It is more powerful in
expanding the mind, enlightening the understanding, and storing the intellect with present knowledge, of a
man who is of the literal seed of Abraham, than one that is a Gentile, though it may not have half as much
visible effect upon the body; for as the Holy Ghost falls upon one of the literal seed of Abraham, it is
calm and serene; and his whole soul and body are only exercised by the pure spirit of intelligence; while
the effect of the Holy Ghost upon a Gentile, is to purge out the old blood, and make him actually of the
seed of Abraham. That man that has none of the blood of Abraham (naturally) must have a new creation by
the Holy Ghost. In such a case, there may be more of a powerful effect upon the body, and visible to the
eye, than upon an Israelite, while the Israelite at first might be far before the Gentile in pure
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 149-150).
All of this is accomplished through a great missionary effort to find the pure in heart who wish to lay claim to the promises of Abraham: “But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers. Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks” (Jer. 16:15-16). The coming forth of the Book of Mormon was the signal event which commenced the gathering of Israel. It says:
“And now behold, I say unto you that when the Lord shall see fit, in his wisdom, that these sayings [i.e. the Book of Mormon] shall come unto the Gentiles according to his word, then ye may know that the covenant which the Father hath made with the children of Israel, concerning their restoration to the lands of their inheritance, is already beginning to be fulfilled. And ye may know that the words of the Lord, which have been spoken by the holy prophets, shall all be fulfilled; and ye need not say that the Lord delays his coming unto the children of Israel. And ye need not imagine in your hearts that the words which have been spoken are vain, for behold, the Lord will remember his covenant which he hath made unto his people of the house of Israel.”
After the commencement of the Millennium, an actual physical gathering will occur in which the Tribes of Israel will be assigned to geographical inheritances on the earth, as “they shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise” (2 Ne. 9:2). Each of the twelve sons of Jacob, or the Twelve Tribes of Israel, received geographical land inheritances when they entered the Promised Land in ancient times. During the Millennium, the Twelve Tribes will again be apportioned inheritances of land. The Americas are referred to in scripture as the inheritance of the tribe of Joseph (which includes Ephraim and Manasseh). It is referred to in the Bible as the land of “everlasting hills,” having reference to the Rocky Mountains which span the entire continent (see Genesis 49:22-26).
The gathering of the Ten Lost Tribes in the Millennium will be a fantastic event that will be memorialized throughout time. The scriptures certify:
“Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which
brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The Lord liveth, which brought up and which
led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven
them; and they shall dwell in their own land.”
“And the Lord, even the Savior, shall stand in the midst of his people, and shall reign over all flesh. And
they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear
his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down
at their presence. And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep. Their enemies shall
become a prey unto them, And in the barren deserts there shall come forth pools of living water; and the
parched ground shall no longer be a thirsty land. And they shall bring forth their rich treasures unto the
children of Ephraim, my servants. And the boundaries of the everlasting hills shall tremble at their
presence. And there shall they fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the
servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 133:25-32).
The Ten Tribes will then receive the Gospel blessings under the hands of the Tribe of Ephraim, which is the most populous of all the Twelve Tribes, being like a “a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall [i.e. to other continents]” (Gen. 49:22). Today the vast majority of descendents of Israel and Church members are of this bountiful Tribe. Those who are of the less populous Tribes will “fall down and be crowned with glory, even in Zion, by the hands of the servants of the Lord, even the children of Ephraim. And they shall be filled with songs of everlasting joy. Behold, this is the blessing of the everlasting God upon the tribes of Israel, and the richer blessing upon the head of Ephraim and his fellows. And they also of the tribe of Judah, after their pain, shall be sanctified in holiness before the Lord, to dwell in his presence day and night, forever and ever” (D&C 133:32-35).
What Happened to the Lost Tribes?
Although the Ten Tribes have been lost in the sense that they no longer exist as a distinct branch of Israel as the Jews do, and they have been scattered throughout the nations of the north, there is still much that we do know about what happened to the Tribes. We can actually trace what happened to the Tribes and the general area they fled to. W. Cleon Skousen makes this startling connection between the Lost Ten Tribes and the Yingling people who later came to be known as the Anglo-Saxons:
“[The Anglo-Saxons] came from around the Black Sea in the first century B.C. and spread all across Northern Europe. In fact, they were the best organized, best governed people in their day. They not only conquered or intermarried with the royal families of every northern European country, but they set out in their open boats to chase the Irish out of Iceland, discover Greenland, and even establish temporary settlements in what is now Canada…. Before long they had virtually taken over the island of Britain and changed its name to England (Anglo-land or Engel-land)…. Many have thought the Yinglings, or Anglo-Saxons, included a branch of the ancient Israelites because they came from the territory of the Black Sea (where the Ten Tribes disappeared), and because they preserved the same unique institutes of government as those which were given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.”
In addition to these fantastic coincidences, we also have the testimony of Brigham Young that the Anglo-Saxon people are the remnants of the Lost Tribes:
“We are now gathering the children of Abraham who have come through the loins of Joseph and his sons, more especially through Ephraim, whose children are mixed among all the nations of the earth. The sons of Ephraim are wild and uncultivated, unruly, ungovernable. The spirit in them is turbulent and resolute; they are the Anglo-Saxon race, and they are upon the face of the whole earth, bearing the spirit of rule and dictation, to go forth from conquering to conquer. They search wide creation and scan every nook and corner of this earth to find out what is upon and within it. I see a congregation of them before me today. No hardship will discourage these men; they will penetrate the deepest wilds and overcome almost insurmountable difficulties to develop the treasures of the earth, to further their indomitable spirit for adventure.”
When Will the Second Coming Happen?
The history of the earth is segregated in the scriptures in to seven periods of one thousand years. The earth is to have roughly “seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence” (D&C 77:6). Adam lived around 6,000 years ago, circa 4,000 B.C. From 4,000-3,000 B.C was the first thousand years, and from 3,000-2,000 B.C. was the second thousand years, and so on. Now that we have passed the threshold of the year 2,000 A.D., we are now presently into the seventh thousand years of the earth’s temporal existence. The Second Coming of Christ has been definitely designated to occur sometime “in the beginning of the seventh thousand years” in which we are now living (D&C 77:12).
The Order of Events Relating to the Second Coming
When shall the Lost Ten Tribes return? When will the New Jerusalem be built? Will these events occur before or after the advent of Christ? It is clear from the scriptures what the order of major events surrounding the Second Coming will be. The Book of Mormon describes the events for us in their proper order:
“But if they [the Gentiles who receive the Book of Mormon] will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden
not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be
numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance; And they
shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that
they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that
they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem. And then
shall the power of heaven come down among them; and I also will be in the midst. And then shall the work of
the Father commence at that day, even when this gospel shall be preached among the remnant of this people.
Verily I say unto you, at that day shall the work of the Father commence among all the dispersed of my people,
yea, even the tribes which have been lost, which the Father hath led away out of Jerusalem. Yea, the work
shall commence among all the dispersed of my people, with the Father to prepare the way whereby they may come
unto me, that they may call on the Father in my name. Yea, and then shall the work commence, with the Father
among all nations in preparing the way whereby his people may be gathered home to the land of their inheritance.”
(3 Ne. 21:22-28).
It is clear from the scriptures, then, that the order of major events relating to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ are and will be:
The coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the Restoration of the Gospel
The building of the New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri
The return of Jesus Christ to the earth in glory and the destruction of the wicked
- The preaching of the Gospel to the remnant of people left on the earth, and to the heathen nations
- The return of the Lost Ten Tribes, as a people en masse, from the European nations in which they are scattered
Signs of the Second Coming
There are many signs of Christ’s Second Coming, most of them quite tumultuous, which we are expected to watch for that we might be ready when the Lord returns (see Matt. 24:42; D&C 45:39). Part of the signs of the Second Coming have already been discussed – the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the gathering of Israel, the return of Elijah, the messenger (Joseph Smith) sent to prepare the way before the Lord’s Second Coming as prophesied in Malachi 3:1. In addition to these things, there are also many other signs that pertain to world events that will precede the Second Coming. The scriptures give us this description:
“And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and
men’s hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.
And the love of men shall wax cold, and iniquity shall abound. And when the times of the Gentiles is come
in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel;
But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the
precepts of men. And in that generation shall the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. And there shall be men
standing in that generation, that shall not pass until they shall see an overflowing scourge; for a
desolating sickness shall cover the land. But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be
moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die. And there shall be
earthquakes also in divers places, and many desolations; yet men will harden their hearts against me, and
they will take up the sword, one against another, and they will kill one another. And now, when I the Lord
had spoken these words unto my disciples, they were troubled. And I said unto them: Be not troubled, for,
when all these things shall come to pass, ye may know that the promises which have been made unto you shall
(Doctrine & Covenants 45:26-35).
In addition to these things, there will also be great signs and wonders in the heavens. The scriptures continue:
“And they shall see signs and wonders, for they shall be shown forth in the heavens above, and in the earth
beneath. And they shall behold blood, and fire, and vapors of smoke. And before the day of the Lord shall
come, the sun shall be darkened, and the moon be turned into blood, and the stars fall from heaven. And the
remnant shall be gathered unto this place; And then they shall look for me, and, behold, I will come; and
they shall see me in the clouds of heaven, clothed with power and great glory; with all the holy angels; and
he that watches not for me shall be cut off.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 45:40-44).
Whether the sun darkening and the other phenomena will be the result of nuclear war or of some other similar calamity is difficult to say. However, these events will be so spectacular that there is no doubt that true disciples will be able to recognize the signs as they are coming to pass.
The New Jerusalem
As far as the New Jerusalem mentioned in Revelation 21:2, the Book of Mormon indicates that it will be established on the American continent (see Ether 13:3-12), and Joseph Smith indicated that the precise location will be in Jackson County, Missouri (see D&C 57:1-3). This is also the site of the Garden of Eden in the days of Adam, according to the Prophet Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith, Encyclopedia of Joseph Smith’s Teachings, p. 277). This New Jerusalem will commence construction by Latter-day Saints, and upon the beginning of the Millennial Reign of Christ, the City of Enoch, which was translated into heaven, will descend to earth to join the construction of the Saints’ city and together become the New Jerusalem (see Moses 7:60-63; Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2nd ed., p. 531-533). The New Jerusalem will also contain a great temple, which will receive the Lord at His Second Coming.
The Cleansing of the Earth at the Coming of Christ
Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ will literally return to earth at a future time, and the wicked will be burned and a thousand years of peace will commence. The scriptures prophesy the following about the destruction at the return of Jesus Christ:
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall
suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come,
saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for
he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap”
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly,
shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave
them neither root nor branch.”
“…when the veil of the covering of my temple, in my tabernacle, which hideth the earth, shall be taken off, and all flesh shall see me together. And every corruptible thing, both of man, or of the beasts of the field, or of the fowls of the heavens, or of the fish of the sea, that dwells upon all the face of the earth, shall be consumed; And also that of element shall melt with fervent heat; and all things shall become new, that my knowledge and glory may dwell upon all the earth.”
Regarding those who are sufficiently righteous that they will not be burned at the Coming of the Lord, the scriptures say:
“And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the
ten virgins. For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their
guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire,
but shall abide the day. And the earth shall be given unto them for an inheritance; and they shall multiply
and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation. For the Lord shall be in their
midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver.”
(Doctrine & Covenants 45:56-59).
The scriptures are also very clear that the wicked who will be burned at the Second Coming are those who have lived a telestial quality of life as well as the sons of perdition (D&C 88:100-102; 22-32). Then during the time that the Millennium is occurring, these individuals suffer in hell. At the end of the Millennium, those who have not committed the unpardonable sin are delivered from hell into the telestial kingdom, while the sons of perdition remain in hell for all eternity (D&C 76:34-37; 81-85).
Those who are able to abide the day of the Lord’s coming are of either celestial or terrestrial quality of people. Those celestial quality individuals who are alive on the earth at the time of Jesus’ Coming “shall be quickened and be caught up to meet him” (D&C 88:96) along with those celestial people who are in their graves, who will be resurrected at that time and also “caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17). Afterward the people who are of terrestrial quality will be resurrected, but their resurrection is still part of the first resurrection, though it is the latter part of it (D&C 88:99).
Conditions of the Earth during the Millennium
At this time, the earth will return to the conditions it was in at the beginning of Creation in the Garden of Eden. As the prophet Isaiah wrote,
“For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind… and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying. There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old… And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the Lord, and their offspring with them. And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord.”
11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
Freedom of Religion is a Sacred Right
Here is a declaration of the sacredness of human freedom of choice, especially in reference to how a person chooses to worship. No person should be deprived of this sacred right and privilege, as long as they are not causing harm to the person or property of another. This right is also guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, which according to the Doctrine & Covenants the Lord Jesus Christ Himself “established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom [God] raised up unto this very purpose,” and that the Constitution “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles” (D&C 101:80, 77). As the Prophet Joseph Smith said on the matter of freedom of religion:
“It is one of the first principles of my life, and one that I have cultivated from my childhood, having been
taught it by my father, to allow every one the liberty of conscience. I am the greatest advocate of the
Constitution of the United States there is on the earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the
protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights.”
(Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 326).
Only One Road to Salvation
Of course, just because a person has the right to choose how they will worship, it does not follow that whatever they decide will be right or acceptable to God. Jesus Christ taught, “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life” (Matthew 7:14). Jesus taught further, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), and, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). But we must belong to the true Church of Jesus Christ in order to enter in properly, and the Lord Jesus Christ has certified that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30).
12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner
We have the Lord Jesus Christ’s assurance that the Constitution of the United States, with its fundamentals of limited government, separation of powers, checks and balances, unalienable rights of the individual, and free market enterprise, are given to mankind from heaven. The Lord “suffered [the Constitution] to be established, and [that it] should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh, according to just and holy principles” (D&C 101:77). And “for this purpose [of freedom] have I [God] established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose” (D&C 101:80). The Prophet Joseph Smith declared, “the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 147). President J. Reuben Clark declared of the Constitution: “The Constitution of the United States is a great and treasured part of my religion....The overturning, or the material changing, or the distortion of any fundamental principle of our constitutional government would thus do violence to my religion.... the constitutional ‘principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges, belongs to all mankind, and is justifiable before’ the Lord….[The Constitution] is His plan for the government of free men” (President J. Reuben Clark, Stand Fast by Our Constitution, p. 7, 172).
The Prophet Joseph Smith thought so highly of the Constitution that he classed it among other revelations of God. He said, “We say that God is true; that the constitution of the United States is true; that the Bible is true; that the Book of Mormon is true; that the Book of Covenants is true; that Christ is true; that the ministering angels sent forth from God are true” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 147-148). There can be no doubt that Latter-day Saints ought to reverence the Constitution as a divinely inspired program for good government.
Interestingly, the Prophet said, “The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground…. The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 326-327). This underscores the great importance of maintaining the principles of the Constitution. Those politicians who refuse to abide by it have no right to act in their office.
Since the Constitution is a heavenly banner and is founded in the wisdom of God, and has been established by Jesus Christ, it follows that its fundamental concepts are the basis of good government and that Latter-day Saints are bound to support and uphold the Constitution. President David O. McKay declared, “there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States” (David O. McKay, Gospel Ideals, p. 319), as well as, “I repeat that no greater immediate responsibility rests upon members of the Church…than to protect the freedom vouchsafed by the Constitution of the United States” (ibid, p. 320). The Constitution is God’s holy pattern and standard for government. For more information about the Constitution of the United States, its contents, and its relevance to the gospel of Jesus Christ, please refer to this author’s article: Getting to Know the Constitution.
The Purpose of Government
What is the purpose of government? The Doctrine & Covenants makes a statement regarding the Church’s stance on the function and role of government and man’s relationship to it:
“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign…. We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.”
As this scripture indicates, the proper function of government is to maintain individuals’ rights to “the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:2). These are the unalienable rights of man, and any valid government will seek to hold them sacred and not infringe them. Government should never have power to deny the rights of man, but its powers must be limited to certain spheres of jurisdiction, all centered around the simple purpose of government: protecting man’s rights to life, liberty and property. The Constitution of the United States is marked for its abundant restrictions on the powers of government, with those powers which the people have suffered to delegate to government being few and carefully enumerated. This was very deliberate on the part of the Founding Fathers, as it is the surest way to ensure liberty and freedom.
Many misguided people feel that it is just to take wealth and means by force from the richer classes and redistribute it among the poorer people. However, implicit in the nature of property rights is the inescapable conclusion that the redistribution of wealth is wrong, no matter how well-intended. A person’s money and wealth is in fact their property, and to seize this without due process or just compensation (see the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution) and redistribute it arbitrarily according to whomever the government has decided is most deserving or in need, is really simply the stealing of private property! The redistribution of wealth is wrong; it is against the Constitution, it transgresses principles of justice and morality to take from those who have earned and give to those who have not, and it violates inalienable rights to property. People do not have the right to vote away or legislate away the liberty or property of another. Redistribution of wealth is completely outside of the proper purpose of government.
What of care for the poor? In a real free market capitalist system, such as the Constitution made possible, any person, through hard work and ingenuity can make themselves climb the economic ladder to success. This was the “American Dream” that so many came for in droves, and it was based on a free market capitalist system. Therefore, the capitalist system of the Constitution is of greatest benefit to all classes, rich or poor, and it is grounded in the Godly principles of justice and morality. As far as the redistribution of wealth goes, it makes no difference if it appears to some that the end (equalization of economic resources) justifies the means (forceful confiscation). It is all based on incorrect principles, the principle of force which Satan desired to use since before the foundation of the world (see Moses 4:1). If there is to be giving to the poor, it is to be done not by force but with a willing heart: “And thus they should impart of their substance of their own free will and good desires towards God” (Mosiah 18:28, emphasis added).
Since the Constitution’s inception and through the nineteenth century, these principles served America extremely well, making in a very brief time the little ragtag country of independent-minded rebels the most prosperous nation under heaven. Unfortunately, the principles of the Constitution have been seriously eroded, beginning most notably in the twentieth century, to the point where it is almost no longer obeyed at all. America is today reaping the consequences of departing from the principles of truth.
Latter-day Saints are to be law-abiding citizens. God has ordained government for the benefit of man, and even though everything government does is not beneficial or good, we are duty bound to respect the institution as a means meant to facilitate the prosperity of mankind. While it is certainly the case that many of the laws created by government are ill-advised, we are still required to abide the law. We cannot wantonly break laws and make criminals of ourselves and yet stand blameless before God. As the scripture said, “sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected [in their inalienable rights]” (D&C 134:5). However, it follows from this that sedition and rebellion is justifiable if the government is not securing the inalienable rights of the people. Such was the case with the American Revolution against the British Empire, a conflict which had the blessing of heaven. As the Lord Jesus Christ certified, He “redeemed the land by the shedding of blood [i.e. by the American Revolution]” (D&C 101:80). The Prophet Joseph Smith with his brethren declared, “Sacred is the memory of that blood which bought for us our liberty” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 117).
Collectivism vs. Individualism
It is important to here discuss the two very fundamental ideologies or wordviews with respect to government that demarcates the boundary between tyranny from freedom. The first view that shall be discussed is that of collectivism, which maintains that a group or collection of people must take precedence over the interests of individuals. In practice this means that whatever the people in power, the political planners, decide is the group of special interest, all rights of any other individuals may be superseded or totally ignored in order to meet the goals for the governing group. Collectivist ideologies include socialism, communism, fascism, and to a very large extent modern American liberalism. Under communism, the group of special interest was the proletariat or poorer working class. Therefore, the property rights of the bourgeoisie or wealthier people were totally disregarded as they were pillaged to provide means for the redistribution of wealth. Collectivism is totally destructive to human freedom as it sweeps aside the people’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property in order to meet the political planners’ sociopolitical goals. Collectivism is the philosophy of tyranny.
Individualism is the idea which the Constitution of the United States is based on. It is based on the premise that the rights of each individual are given to them by God and are therefore sacred and inalienable. The government therefore has no right at all to infringe on the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, privacy, or freedom of opinion. Rather than political planners making goals for society and forcing people to be obedient to their designs, people are left alone to pursue their own interests and goals. Rather than the government vainly attempting to provide equal things, instead its sole responsibility is ensure equal rights. Rather than establishing preferred groups in society, the government is meant to ensure that all people, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, are equal before the law with the same inherent rights as their neighbor. This was the ideology that fostered the environment that created the greatness of the United States of America, by holding sacred the rights and freedom of the individual and allowing people to govern their own lives. Individualism is the philosophy of freedom.
The Church’s Political Stance
The Church is politically neutral, that is, it does not declare which political party or candidate its members should vote for. But it does hold definite principles and values sacred, which guide the political persuasion which its members ought to hold. The Church’s political neutrality should not be interpreted to mean that any political ideology is perfectly acceptable. Regarding collectivist ideologies such as communism and socialism (and indeed fascism as well), the First Presidency has warned, “Latter-day Saints cannot be true to their faith and lend aid, encouragement, or sympathy to any of these false philosophies” (Heber J. Grant, J. Reuben Clark, Jr., David O. McKay, Messages of the First Presidency, 6:151). The First Presidency also declared:
“The Church does not interfere, and has no intention of trying to interfere, with the fullest and freest exercise of the political franchise of its members, under and within our Constitution....But Communism is not a political party nor a political plan under the Constitution; it is a system of government that is the opposite of our Constitutional government, and it would be necessary to destroy our government before Communism could be set up in the United States....To our Church members we say: Communism is not the United Order, and bears only the most superficial resemblance thereto; Communism is based upon intolerance and force, the United Order upon love and freedom of conscience and action; Communism involves forceful despoliation and confiscation, the United Order voluntary consecration and sacrifice....Communism undertakes to control, if not indeed to proscribe the religious life of the people living within its jurisdiction, and...it even reaches its hand into the sanctity of the family circle itself....no loyal American citizen and no faithful Church member can be a Communist. We call upon all Church members completely to eschew Communism.”
It should be remembered that the Doctrine & Covenants declared that “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life” (D&C 134:2). In collectivist ideologies such as communism, socialism, and fascism, which subordinate individual rights to the goals of the state’s political plan, none of these rights are protected. And yet the protection of these individual rights is a requirement for proper government.
13. We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Good Conduct is Necessary
True disciples of Jesus Christ will have excellent personal conduct. This is a necessary condition for several reasons. Good conduct is necessary for good social relations, it is necessary to preserve the good name of the Church, it is necessary to spread the gospel effectively. But more importantly than all of these things, good conduct in one’s life – to simply be a good person – is necessary to obtain the favor of heaven, and it is necessary for salvation in the Kingdom of God.
Honesty is fundamental to being a good person and those who make it a habit to speak untruths are in danger of the damnation of hell. As the scriptures warn: “Wo unto the liar, for he shall be thrust down to hell” (2 Ne. 9:34). The scriptures also say, “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Prov. 12:22). Stealing is also a form of dishonesty, and is behavior that likewise will condemn a person to hell. The Lord has commanded sternly, “Thou shalt not steal” (Ex. 20:15).
Being true is related to being honest, but it also carries with it the idea of being loyal to what is right. Good Latter-day Saints will remain loyal to true doctrine and the principles of the gospel, whether popular or not, and whether they are accepted by the world or not. They will not sell themselves and make concessions to false theories of the world, be it the theory of evolution, or socialistic political schemes, or the popular idea that the doctrine of plural marriage is wrong, for instance.
Being chaste means keeping God’s eternal Law of Chastity which is: “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (Ex. 20:14). Adultery is sex outside of marriage. It follows that sexual acts done outside of the marriage union, or acts which are unnatural, are forbidden. The scriptures also say, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind [i.e. homosexuals]” (1 Cor. 6:9). Specifically, adultery is a married person having sex with someone other than their spouse. It is one of the most awful sins available for people to commit. Fornication is sex between unmarried persons, and is likewise very sinful. Homosexuality is a perversity on par with bestiality (sex with animals).
Pornography and masturbation is also against God’s Law of Chastity. Regarding pornography, the scriptures tell us that the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, once they first could tell the difference between good and evil and right and wrong, were ashamed to be seen naked. They had no social conditioning or teaching, but only a sense of good and evil, and they fundamentally knew that it was wrong to be seen naked by those to whom they were not married (see Moses 4:13-17; Gen. 3:7-11). The scriptures also say, “And verily I say unto you...he that looketh on a woman to lust after her, or if any shall commit adultery in their hearts, they shall not have the Spirit, but shall deny the faith and shall fear” (D&C 63:16). Regarding masturbation, the scriptures say, “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart” (Psalms 24:3-4). As well, the Lord Jesus Christ instructed figuratively, “And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:30).
The Lord has made it clear that sexual sin is extremely serious and is “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5). That makes sexual sin the third worst sin in the hierarchy of sins, right under the unpardonable sin of denying the Holy Ghost (the worst sin) and murder (the second worst sin). There are many degrees and varieties of sexual sin. All are evil and once indulged in qualify the sinner for the telestial kingdom and damnation in hell (D&C 76:103-106). But in order to put them in perspective, from the most heinous to less heinous of the sexual sins, we shall attempt to categorize the various sexual sins in a probable list, from most heinous at the top to less heinous at the bottom:
forcible rape of an adult
fornication (including any of the varieties of sexual intercourse performed between unmarried persons)
“petting” between unmarried persons
It must always be remembered, however, that sex is not in and of itself inherently evil or wrong or shameful. Many assume that since sex is pleasurable, that it must be shameful and bad. But that sort of mindset which demonizes sex as something inherently shameful and bad does a grave injustice and distorts the plan of God. The truth of the matter is that sex is not shameful or bad in the least if done within its proper context – marriage. The scriptures teach, “Marriage is honourable in all, the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4, emphasis added), and, “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD” (Prov. 18:22). President Joseph F. Smith taught, “Sexual union is lawful in wedlock, and if participated in with right intent is honorable and sanctifying. But without the bonds of marriage, sexual indulgence is a debasing sin, abominable in the sight of Deity” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p.309). Sex therefore is good to participate in, but it must only be kept within its proper sphere, which is marriage. Consider that sex is how the Gods themselves perpetuate their race, and so it can be none other than a holy and sanctifying act when participated in its proper context of marriage.
Benevolence is a kindness and charitableness toward others. The Savior taught, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). True disciples of Christ will always strive to exhibit benevolence.
To be virtuous is to be righteous and to have moral integrity. The Lord said of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s beloved and virtuous brother Hyrum, “blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me, saith the Lord” (D&C 124:15).
Doing Good to All Men
Doing good to others is essential for disciples of Christ. Such actions must proceed forth from the heart, and be a product of a feeling of charity, which is a pure love for others, the kind of love that God has for mankind (Mor. 7:47). The scriptures say, “And except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God” (Mor. 10:21). The scriptures also say relative to doing good to others:
“But ye will teach [your children] to walk in the ways of truth and soberness; ye will teach them to love
one another, and to serve one another. And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your
succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need”
“…when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done
it unto me [the Lord].”
The Admonition of Paul
The “admonition of Paul” referred to here is making reference to Philippians 4:8, wherein it says:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just,
whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be
any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
Believing All Things
This has reference not to believing anything and everything, but to believing all things that are true, and all things which the Lord has revealed. Those who accept all things that the Lord reveals will receive more: “And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full” (Alma 12:10). The scriptures instruct us further regarding belief:
“Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe
that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all
the things which the Lord can comprehend.”
Virtuous, Lovely, and of Good Report
Basically, this thirteenth Article of Faith is saying that we believe in being good people and also in participating in things that are good. This admonition of Paul that we follow, to seek after things that are good, is the basis for Latter-day Saints being active in a myriad of different fields of interest and activity. It is also on the basis of this principle that we gladly participate in virtuous events such as Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.
The false Jehovah’s Witness religion, for instance, will not allow its members to celebrate such wholesome events. They will not celebrate Christmas, for instance, because of the pagan roots of common Christmas decorations, and the pagan roots of the date December 25th. However, in rejecting such events outright they are deprived of celebrating the virtuous and lovely experiences which God has blessed mankind with. What could be more virtuous or of better report than Christmastime, when people’s hearts are drawn to the Savior and men have the spirit of goodness in their souls? No one during Christmas season is pondering on the ancient meaning of mistletoe or the Christmas tree beyond mere curiosity, and such symbols no longer carry their pagan meaning. These things are wholesome and there is nothing in Holy Writ which prohibits their celebration whatsoever.
We have discussed a large variety of doctrines, and yet we have only scratched the surface of the gospel within the Articles of Faith. Had this author attempted to make a fuller discussion of the topic, his exploration could easily expand into volumes. That is because the Aritcles of Faith are not merely insightful declarations of belief, but they are also a roadmap which charts a course through all of the doctrines and mysteries of the gospel. All of the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ can be found within them, if we only explore deep enough. As we learn the doctrine within the Articles of Faith and their significance, we begin a course of gospel learning that could endure for a lifetime.