Due to some recent events that have garnered worldwide publicity, such as the Salt Lake City Olympics and Mitt Romney’s bid to become President of the United States, many people worldwide have begun to hear the word “Mormon” with increased frequency. So what is a Mormon and how did that name come about?
A Mormon is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A brief summary of the history of the Church and its origins is given below, which will help readers understand how that term came about and why it is used today to refer to members of the Church.
Brief History of the Mormon Church
Christ Organized His Church
When Christ was on the earth, he taught his gospel, gave the world a perfect example to follow, and organized his Church. Christ knew that he would eventually be crucified, resurrected, and return to live with his Father, so he called twelve men to be his Apostles. He gave these men the authority to lead his Church, baptize others, and act on his behalf once he had ascended to his Father and was no longer on the earth with them.
The Great Falling Away
Despite the noble efforts of the Apostles and other followers of Christ, the Church that Christ organized upon the earth began to decline. The Apostles and other members of the Church were persecuted, and many were killed. Eventually, nobody with the authority to lead the Church, interpret the scriptures, receive revelation for the Church, or act in Christ’s name remained on the earth.
Without any Apostles or Prophets on the earth with the authority to lead and receive divine guidance for the Church, various factions sprung up, each with its own interpretation of the scriptures and teachings. Eventually, there were a number of churches on earth that claimed to be the true Church of Jesus Christ, all with different beliefs and teachings. Over the years, many of the simple and beautiful truths of Christ’s Church were distorted or lost entirely due to human interpretation and error.
Hundreds of years later, a number of inspired individuals recognized errors in the practices and doctrines of their respective churches and sought to reform them. Although they had good intentions and made valiant efforts, without the bestowal of the proper authority, they were unable to restore Christ’s Church.
The Restoration of Christ’s Church
After centuries of spiritual darkness, the Lord restored his Church through a 14 year old boy named Joseph Smith. At the time, Joseph was trying to decide which of the many Christian churches he had had exposure to was the true Church of Jesus Christ. They all taught of Jesus Christ, helped people live better lives, and professed to have the truth, but Joseph knew that they all couldn’t be true if they all interpreted the Bible differently and disagreed on fundamental doctrines, such as baptism.
One day, Joseph Smith read James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph decided that if any person could tell him which was the true church, it was God.
Joseph retired to a grove of trees near his home, knelt down, and began to pray. Joseph described his experience as follows: “I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!”
Through this vision, Joseph learned that God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, were two separate beings. The Lord also instructed Joseph to not join any of the churches, for none of them had the fullness of Christ’s gospel nor the authority to perform essential ordinances such as baptism. This vision was the first of a number of events that ultimately led to the restoration of Christ’s priesthood authority to Joseph Smith through heavenly messengers and the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth, in these the latter days. The Lord later instructed that his Church be called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Book of Mormon
Additionally, a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent and of Christ’s visit to the Americas written on gold places was delivered to Joseph Smith, which through the power of God, he was able to translate to the English language. The book was named The Book of Mormon after Mormon, one of the prophets whose writings are contained in the book and who ultimately compiled the sacred record.
Members of the Church believe in and study both The Bible and The Book of Mormon since both are testaments of Jesus Christ and help people to come unto him. Both books contain the fullness of Christ’s gospel. The Bible contains the teachings and prophecies of prophets and Christ’s visit to the people in and around Jerusalem, while The Book of Mormon contains the records of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent, as well as Christ’s visit to the people in the Americas after his death and resurrection.
Members of the Church do not replace The Bible with The Book of Mormon, but rather use The Book of Mormon to help understand The Bible. Mormons point out that if The Bible by itself were so easy to understand and correctly interpret, then why are there thousands of different churches in the world that all interpret it differently? Christ’s gospel and teachings are the same no matter where you live, so studying his teachings to the people on the American continent can help people understand and clarify common misconceptions regarding his teachings in the ancient world.
Are Mormons Christians?
Mormons are Christians. They believe that it is only through Christ and his sacrifice for all of mankind that a person may be saved. Some people mistakenly think that Mormons worship Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was an important modern-day prophet who helped restore the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness to the earth after it was lost, but Mormons don't worship him just like they don't worship the prophets of old like Moses or Abraham. Instead, they only worship God in the name of Jesus Christ. The words of the prophets, both ancient and modern, testify of Christ and encourage people to draw closer to him.
Although the official name of the Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, many people refer to the Church as The Mormon Church, because of its use of The Book of Mormon. Members of the church are often referred to as Mormons for the same reason.
Although the term “Mormon” is not offensive to members of the Church, they are encouraged to refer to the Church by its proper name, as well as refer to themselves as Latter-day Saints, or LDS.
Caveat: Please note that this article is in no way an official position put out by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but rather the author’s understanding of its beliefs regarding its origin and history. For additional information about the Church, its teachings, beliefs, values, and members, please visit mormon.org.