The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, was founded by Joseph Smith at Fayette, New York, on April 6, 1830, with six charter members.
The name Mormon comes from the name of the author and compiler of the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Mormon, and the father of Moroni, who concealed the record of the book in a hill. (Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 4, p. 232.)
Joseph Smith claimed that when he was between fourteen and fifteen years old he had, in answer to prayer, seen in vision two heavenly persons who appeared to him and proclaimed the opening of a new gospel dispensation. These personages, he said, were God and His Son Jesus Christ. Later another heavenly personage, an angel called Moroni, appeared to him and revealed the existence of a record engraved on golden plates, which were hidden in a hill between Palmyra and Manchester, New York. These plates contained the gospel of Christ which Jesus gave the inhabitants of this continent after His resurrection.
After other visits from the angel the plates were delivered to Smith on September 22, 1827, and also the Urim and Thummim by which he was to translate the writing. This translation was the Book of Mormon, which was published in 1830.
The church founded upon the writings of Joseph Smith grew rapidly from the start. The following year there were several hundred followers of the church. At this time they moved to Kirkland, Ohio, and they also began a settlement in Jackson County, Missouri, where they believed the city Zion was to be built. This was to be for the salvation of the souls of men.
In 1833 those who were living in Jackson County were driven out, partly because of their religion, and partly because they were abolitionists from other States. They went to Clay County, but were soon forced to move to other counties. In 1839 they were driven from Missouri and this time went to Hancock County in Illinois and established the city of Nauvoo. Soon there were several thousand inhabitants, and they built a temple.
In 1844 trouble rose again, and this time some former members of the church bitterly attacked Joseph Smith. He was arrested, put in prison, and later shot to death by a mob. Other leaders of the church were also killed, but in spite of this their numbers increased. Brigham Young was chosen for their new leader.
In 1846 the saints, as they called themselves, were once more driven from their homes. They made temporary settlements in Iowa, and in the spring of 1847 an advance company, under the leadership of Brigham Young, left Iowa and went west to the land near the great Salt Lake. After erecting temporary homes there, Brigham Young returned to Iowa, and the main body of Mormons returned with him to the great Salt Lake, some by ox team, many walking and pushing handcarts. They set up the provisional government of the State of Deseret, and petitioning the Union to be admitted as a State, but this was denied them until several years later, when it was admitted as the State of Utah. The city, now known as Salt Lake City, grew rapidly, and membership in the church also grew. Other settlements were formed, until they were scattered over different parts of the desert region.
The headquarters of the church today is in Salt Lake City, where stands the famous Mormon Temple, through which no Gentile may pass. There are three other temples in Utah besides those in other parts of the United States. A Mormon university and a secondary school are located in Provo, Utah, about forty-five miles south of Salt Lake City. The membership of the church today is 911,279 (World Almanac, 1948, P. 574).
The Mormon Church accepts the Bible as the Word of God (as far as has been rightly translated), and the Book of Mormon also as the word of God given to the ancient inhabitants of the American Continent.
"The Mormons believe in the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as three separate personages, infinite and eternal; that men will be punished for their own sins and not suffer the penalty of Adam's transgression; that Christ atoned for original sin and that all mankind, through the atonement of Christ, may be saved by obedience to the principles of his Gospel, of which faith in God, repentance from sin, baptism by immersion for the remission of sin, and the laying on of hands for the reception of the Holy Spirit are essential. .. . They believe in the gifts of tongues, prophecy, revelation, visions, the divine power of healing and all the gifts and blessings exercised by the Savior and apostles."—New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (1910), vol. 8, p. n.
At one time the church taught and practiced the doctrine of plural marriage, holding it was Biblical, and that Joseph Smith received visions concerning it. This was not publicly taught until they moved to Utah. After 1852 plural marriage was preached and practiced openly, and most of the leading men were polygamists, but in 1862 a law was enacted by Congress against this practice. For several years little attention was paid to it, but in 1890 the Supreme Court of the United States declared that the law against plural marriage was constitutional, and more than one thousand men were convicted and sent to the penitentiary.
In 1887 the church was disincorporated by Congress ; its property was confiscated, with the exception of $50,000 and finally after losing so much, Wilford Woodruff, then president of the Mormons, issued his manifesto against plural marriages in 1890, and since then this practice has not been permitted or taught by the church. In 1896 Statehood was granted to Utah, and in that some year plural marriage was prohibited by law in the State.
"The first principle of Mormonism is belief in a present and progressive revelation. According to their official statement, their religion 'consists of doctrines, commandments, ordinances, and rites revealed from God to the present age.' The conception of revelation is apocalyptic. From tune to time noteworthy changes have taken place in their doctrine, and others can come at any time. It is true only in the vaguest sense that the church's creed, belief, aims, and purposes have remained the same. . . . So far as the Bible is concerned, Joseph Smith and his successors have taken such liberties with its meaning, and even with its text, that it cannot be said to have any authority for a Mormon. . . . The Mormons teach that nothing is created, everything is begotten. The supreme God . . . begot other gods. All have bodies, parts, and passions, for 'man is made in the image of God.' . . . Each world has its own god ; ours is none other than Adam—who gradually attained his present glory. 'He is the only God with whom we have to do.' All gods are in a progressive development, and all Saints will advance to the dignity of gods. Justification by faith as taught by Evangelical churches is a 'destructive doctrine.' "— Ibid., pp. 17, 18.
Baptism by immersion, through which sins are washed away, is taught as necessary to salvation, but little children or infants do not need to be baptized, as they have no sins to repent of. An essential feature of the Mormon Church is the doctrine and practice of baptism for the dead ; so if one's loved one has died without being baptized, he may be baptized for that one, and thus the unbaptized may still be saved. These baptisms are carried on in the temple.
"The most notorious of the Mormon doctrines is that of celestial marriage, or marriage unto eternity. All marriages entered into without divine sanction, such as is given only to the Saints, are dissolved by death. Those, on the other hand, who wed in accordance with the true Gospel are married for eternity. If a wife thus sealed precedes her husband in death, he may in like manner marry another, and, if the second should die, a third, and so on. In the resurrection all are to be his."—Ibid., p. 8.
After baptism is the laying on of hands. The Lord's supper is celebrated every Sunday. White bread and water are used for this celebration.
Mormons have certain secret rites or mysteries. The most important of these is connected 'with the marriage ceremony, which is performed in the temple.
Although individual members may have divine revelations concerning themselves personally, revelations concerning the whole church are given through the president only. These he may share with his counselors.
There are two orders of priesthood: The Aaronic (charged with secular affairs); and the Melchizedek (charged with spiritual affairs). The Melchizedek is the higher of the two, and may overrule the Aaronic. Every worthy male member has a place in one or the other of these orders. There is no salaried preaching class, but members are expected to do the work assigned them.
The Mormon Church believes in educating its youth for the church. They have a system of church schools from kindergarten through the university. "They have maintained with the State school system splendid denominational schools, and in every ward, about seven hundred in number, there are to be found literary societies for the youth that have a wide influence in creating a high- educational standard." —New International Encyclopedia (1930), vol. 16, p. 270.
In the high schools in the larger cities of Utah special seminar classes in Bible and religion are taught especially for the Mormon young people. For this they receive regular high school credit. In the grade schools children are dismissed from school early one day a week so that they may attend a Bible class in their ward (church).
The youth are taught that t is a duty for them to give one year's service as missionaries for the church. They may go as missionaries to other States in the United States or to some foreign land. They usually go two by two from house to house distributing Mormon literature and talking to the people about their religion. These missionaries are not supported by the church, but must support themselves or receive help from their own folks. About two thousand missionaries are in the field all the time, and the personnel is changed every two to four years. Each mission is under the presidency of an elder.
Upon entering Utah, the Mormon people began the building up of a united social, economic, and political organization, which in time produced a high type of intellectual society and a solid foundation for a prosperous State. Agriculture was their principal pursuit, and the desert land was transformed into beautiful gardens. Every town was systematically laid out, with broad streets and walks. The head of each family owned his own home. In the town meeting all the people met to discuss affairs pertaining to the entire community. Today they do not enter into politics as an organization. However, the members take an interest in political and civic problems.
The Mormons built edifices, now world-famed, such as the famous temple and tabernacle in Salt Lake City. They established libraries; and today the economic, social, and intellectual condition of the State of Utah is up to a high standard. (Ibid., pp. 270, 271.)
About half the churches in Salt Lake City are Mormon churches. The people regard Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon as infallible. They do not study the Bible for themselves ; thus other denominations find it is difficult to work with them.
Neither the Church of Latter-day Saints, with headquarters in Salt Lake City, nor the Reorganized Church, with headquarters in Independence, Missouri, practice polygamy today. A few apostate groups in the Southwest and Mexico, who pose as members, secretly practice polygamy, but it has been illegal since 1899. The church has a series of ten-cent tracts published at Independence. The books are published at Salt Lake City.
The best way to ascertain what any church believes is through its own authoritative writings. Books and articles by those who have made a special study on the subject are helpful, of course, and have their place in the investigation; but we should always seek and present the truth concerning the actual beliefs and positions of any denomination or sect. -EDITOR.
Keith L. Brooks. The Mormon Creed Examined. American Prophetic League, Inc., 4747 Townsend Ave., Los Angeles. Price, 3 cents.
Bishop R. C. Evans. Forty Years in the Mormon Church, Why I Left It. Published by author, too Wolfrey Ave., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1920.
Dan Gilbert. Mormonism Unmasked. Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan, 1945.
Stephen L. Richards. About Mormonism. Independence, Missouri : Zion's Publishing Company, 1944, 15 pages.
Joseph Smith, Joseph Smith Tells His Own Story. Independence, Missouri : Zion's Publishing Company, 26 pages.