1.the doctrines and practices of the Mormon Church based on the Book of Mormon
MormonismMor"mon*ism (?), n. The doctrine, system, and practices of the Mormons.
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Mormonism is the religion practiced by Mormons, and is the predominant religious tradition of the Latter Day Saint movement. This movement was founded by Joseph Smith, Jr. beginning in the 1820s as a form of Christian primitivism. During the 1830s and 1840s, Mormonism gradually distinguished itself from traditional Protestantism. Mormonism today represents the new, non-Protestant faith taught by Smith in the 1840s. After Smith's death, most Mormons followed Brigham Young to the Rocky Mountains as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Other branches of Mormonism include Mormon fundamentalism, which seeks to maintain practices and doctrines such as polygamy that were discontinued by the LDS Church, and various other small independent denominations.
The term Mormon is derived from the Book of Mormon, one of the faith's religious texts. Based on the name of that book, early followers of founder Joseph Smith, Jr. were called Mormons, and their faith was called Mormonism. The term was initially considered pejorative, but is no longer considered so by Mormons (although other terms such as Latter-day Saint, or LDS, are generally preferred).
Mormonism is a form of Christian primitivism that shares a common set of beliefs with the rest of the Latter Day Saint movement, including use of, and belief in, the Bible, as well as other religious texts including the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. It differs from other Latter Day Saint movement traditions (such as the Community of Christ) in that it also accepts the Pearl of Great Price as part of its scriptural canon, and has a history of teaching eternal marriage, eternal progression, and plural marriage (although the LDS Church had abandoned the practice by the early 20th century). Cultural Mormonism includes a lifestyle promoted by the Mormon institutions, and includes cultural Mormons who identify with the culture, but not necessarily the theology.
The Latter Day Saint movement, including Mormonism, originated in the 1820s in western New York. Founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., the faith drew its first converts while Smith was dictating the text of the Book of Mormon. This book described itself as a chronicle of early indigenous peoples of the Americas, portraying them as believing Israelites, who had a belief in Christ many hundred years before his birth. Smith claimed he translated over 500 pages in about 60 days, and that it was an ancient record translated "by the gift and power of God". During production of this work in mid-1829, Smith, his close associate Oliver Cowdery, and other early followers began baptizing new converts into a Christian primitivist church, formally organized in 1830 as the Church of Christ. Smith was seen by his followers as a modern-day prophet.
Smith told his followers that he had seen a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in spring 1820 in answer to his question of which sect (see denomination) he should join. Sometimes called the "First Vision", Smith's vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism's view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith's 1838 written account of this vision is considered by some Mormon denominations to be scripture and is contained in a book called "The Pearl of Great Price." Smith further claimed that in answer to his prayer: "I was answered [by Jesus] that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors 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." By 1830, Smith reported that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.
Smith's church grew steadily, but from the beginning in 1830, its members were persecuted. To avoid persecution from New York residents, the members moved to Kirtland, Ohio and hoped to establish a permanent New Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri. However, they were expelled from Jackson County in 1833 and forced to flee Kirtland in early 1838. In Missouri, the Mormon War of 1838 resulted in the "Mormon Extermination Order," resulting in the expulsion of Latter Day Saints from Missouri, and they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1844, Smith was killed by members of the Illinois militia, precipitating a succession crisis. The largest group of Mormons accepted Brigham Young as the new prophet/leader and emigrated to what became the Utah Territory, where they incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church began to openly practice plural marriage, a form of polygamy that Smith had instituted in Nauvoo. Plural marriage became the faith's most sensational characteristic during the 19th century, but vigorous opposition by the United States Congress threatened the church's existence as a legal institution. In his 1890 Manifesto, church president Wilford Woodruff announced the official end of plural marriage, though the practice continued unofficially until the early 20th century.
Several smaller groups of Mormons broke with the LDS Church over the issue of plural marriage, forming several denominations of Mormon fundamentalism. Meanwhile, the LDS Church has become a proponent of monogamy and patriotism, has extended its reach internationally by a vigorous missionary program, and has grown in size to 14 million members. The church is becoming a part of the American and international mainstream. However, it consciously and intentionally retains its identity as a "peculiar people" set apart from the world by what it believes is its unique relationship with God.
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Mormonism classifies itself within Christianity, but as a distinct restored dispensation. According to Mormons, a Great Apostasy began in Christianity not long after the ascension of Jesus Christ, marked with the corruption of Christian doctrine by Greek and other philosophies, and followers dividing into different ideological groups. Additionally, Mormons claim the martyrdom of the Apostles led to a loss of Priesthood authority to administer the church and its ordinances.
Mormons believe that God re-established the early Christian church as found in the New Testament through Joseph Smith. In particular, Mormons believe that angels such as Peter, James, John, and John the Baptist appeared to Joseph Smith and others and bestowed various Priesthood authorities on them. Mormons believe that their church is the "only true and living church" because of the divine authority restored through Smith, and that Smith and his successors are modern prophets who receive revelation from God to guide the church. They maintain that other religions have a portion of the truth and are guided by the Light of Christ. See also: Restoration (Latter Day Saints).
For many Mormons, Joseph Smith's cosmology is the most attractive part of the restoration. Mormon cosmology presents a unique view of God and the universe, and places a high importance on human agency. In Mormonism, life on earth is just a short part of an eternal existence. Mormons believe that in the beginning, all people existed as spirits or "intelligences," independent of God. In this state, God came among the intelligences and offered a plan whereby they could progress and "have a privilege to advance like himself." The spirits were free to accept or reject this plan, and a third of them, led by Lucifer (slated to become Satan) rejected it. The rest accepted the plan, coming to earth and receiving bodies with an understanding that they would experience sin and suffering.
In Mormonism, the central part of God's plan is the atonement of Jesus Christ. Mormons believe that one purpose of earthly life is to learn to choose good over evil—godly over worldly. In this process, people inevitably make mistakes, becoming unworthy to return to the presence of God. Mormons believe that Jesus paid for the sins of the world, and that all people can be saved through his atonement. Mormons accept Christ's atonement through faith, repentance, formal covenants or ordinances such as baptism, and consistently trying to live a Christ-like life.
In Mormonism, an ordinance is a religious ritual of special significance, often involving the formation of a covenant with God. Ordinances are performed by the authority of the priesthood and in the name of Jesus Christ. The term has a meaning roughly similar to that of the term "sacrament" in other Christian denominations.
Saving ordinances (or ordinances viewed as necessary for salvation) include: Baptism by immersion after the age of accountability (normally age 8); Confirmation and reception of the Gift of the Holy Ghost, performed by laying hands on the head of a newly baptized member; ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods for males; an Endowment (including washing and anointing) received in temples; and Marriage (or sealing) to a spouse. Mormons renew their baptismal covenants through weekly participation in the Lord's supper (commonly called Sacrament).
Mormons also perform other ordinances, which include naming and blessing children, giving priesthood blessings and patriarchal blessings, anointing and blessing the sick, participating in Prayer circles, and setting apart individuals who are called to church positions.
In Mormonism, the saving ordinances are seen as necessary for salvation, but they are not sufficient in and of themselves. For example, baptism is required for exaltation, but simply having been baptized does not guarantee any eternal reward. The baptized person is expected to be obedient to God's commandments, to repent of any sinful conduct subsequent to baptism, and to receive the other saving ordinances.
Because Mormons believe that everyone must receive certain ordinances to be saved, Mormons perform ordinances on behalf of deceased persons. These ordinances are performed vicariously or by "proxy" on behalf of the dead. Mormons believe that the deceased may accept or reject the offered ordinance in the spirit world. Ordinances on behalf of the dead are performed only when a deceased person's genealogical information has been submitted to a temple. Only saving ordinances are performed on behalf of deceased persons. See also: Baptism for the dead.
Mormons believe in the Old and New Testaments and the LDS Church uses the King James Bible as its official scriptural text of the Bible. While Mormons believe in the general accuracy of the modern day text of the Bible, they also believe that it is incomplete and contains errors. In Mormon theology, many of these lost truths are restored in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons hold to be divine scripture and equal in authority to the Bible.
The Mormon scriptural canon also includes a collection of revelations and writings contained in the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price Those books, as well as the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible, have varying degrees of acceptance as divine scripture among the different denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement.
In Mormonism, continuous revelation is the principle that God or his divine agents still continue to communicate to mankind. This communication can be manifest in many ways: influences of the Holy Ghost, vision, visitation of divine beings, and others. Joseph Smith used the example of the Lord's revelations to Moses in Deuteronomy to explain the importance and necessity of continuous revelation.
"God said, 'Thou shalt not murder' at another time He said, 'Thou shalt utterly destroy.' This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted–by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire."
Mormons believe that Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders could speak scripture "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost." In addition, many Mormons believe that ancient prophets in other regions of the world received revelations that resulted in additional scriptures that have been lost and may, one day, be forthcoming. Latter Day Saints also believe that the United States Constitution is a divinely inspired document.
Mormons are encouraged to develop a personal relationship with the Holy Ghost and receive personal revelation for their own direction and that of their family. The Latter Day Saint concept of revelation includes the belief that revelation from God is available to all those who earnestly seek it with the intent of doing good. It also teaches that everyone is entitled to personal revelation with respect to his or her stewardship (leadership responsibility). Thus, parents may receive inspiration from God in raising their families, individuals can receive divine inspiration to help them meet personal challenges, church officers may receive revelation for those whom they serve.
The important consequence of this is that each person may receive confirmation that particular doctrines taught by a prophet are true, as well as gain divine insight in using those truths for their own benefit and eternal progress. In the church, personal revelation is expected and encouraged, and many converts believe that personal revelation from God was instrumental in their conversion.
According to Bruce McConkie, a general authority of the LDS Church, "Mormonism is indistinguishable from Christianity." In many ways, however, the religion differs from orthodoxy as held by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christianity. To those for whom Christianity is defined by that orthodoxy, Mormonism's differences place it outside the umbrella of Christianity altogether.
Since its beginnings, the faith has proclaimed itself to be Christ's Church restored with its original authority, structure and power; maintaining that existing denominations believed incorrect doctrines and were not acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. Though the religion quickly gained a large following of Christian seekers, in the 1830s, many American Christians came to view the church's early doctrines and practices as politically and culturally subversive. This discord led to a series of sometimes-deadly conflicts between Mormons and other Christians. Although such violence has declined in the last century, the religion's unique doctrinal views and practices still generate criticism, as well as efforts by Mormons and other Christians to proselytize each other.
Mormons believe in Jesus Christ as the literal firstborn Son of God and Messiah, his crucifixion as a conclusion of a sin offering, and subsequent resurrection. However, Latter-day Saints (LDS) reject the ecumenical creeds and definition of the Trinity taught by the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Communion, and Trinitarian Protestantism, and have been described as nontrinitarian and henotheistic. (In contrast, the second largest Latter Day Saint denomination, the Community of Christ, is Trinitarian and monotheistic.) Mormons hold that the New Testament prophesied both the apostasy from the teachings of Christ and his apostles as well as the restoration of all things prior to the second coming of Christ.
Some notable differences with mainstream Christianity include: A belief that Jesus began his atonement from sin in the garden of Gethsemane and continued it to his crucifixion, rather than the orthodox belief that the crucifixion alone was the physical atonement; an afterlife with three degrees of glory, with hell (often called spirit prison) being a temporary repository for the wicked between death and the resurrection. Additionally, Mormons don't believe in creation ex nihilo, believing that matter is eternal, and creation involved God organizing existing matter.
Much of the Mormon belief system is oriented geographically around the North and South American continents. Mormons believe the people of the Book of Mormon lived in the western hemisphere, that Christ appeared in the western hemisphere after his death and resurrection, that the true faith was restored in upstate New York by Joseph Smith, and that the Garden of Eden and location of Christ's second coming were and will be in the state of Missouri. For this and other reasons, including a belief by many Mormons in American exceptionalism, Molly Worthen speculates that this may be why Leo Tolstoy described Mormonism as the "quintessential 'American religion'".
Although Mormons do not claim to be part of Judaism, Mormon theology claims to situate Mormonism within the context of Judaism to an extent that goes beyond what most other Christian denominations claim. The faith incorporates many Old Testament ideas into its theology, and the beliefs of Mormons sometimes parallel those of Judaism and certain elements of Jewish culture. In the earliest days of Mormonism, founder Joseph Smith Jr. taught that the Indigenous peoples of the Americas were members of some of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Later, he taught that Mormons were Israelites, and that they may learn of their tribal affiliation within the twelve Israelite tribes through prophecy. Thus, members of the LDS Church receive Patriarchal blessings which purport to declare the recipient's lineage within one of the tribes of Israel. The lineage is either through true blood-line or adopted. The LDS Church teaches that if one is not a direct descendant of one of the twelve tribes, upon baptism he or she is adopted into one of the tribes. The Patriarchal blessings also include personal information which is revealed through a patriarch by the power of the priesthood.
The Mormon affinity for Judaism is expressed by the many references to Judaism in the Mormon liturgy. For example, Joseph Smith named the largest Mormon settlement he founded Nauvoo, which means "to be beautiful" in Hebrew. Brigham Young named a tributary of the Great Salt Lake the "Jordan River". The LDS Church created a writing scheme called the Deseret Alphabet, which was based, in part, on Hebrew. Currently, the LDS Church has a Jerusalem Center in Israel, which serves as the base of LDS outreach efforts in Israel.
There has been some controversy involving Jewish groups who see the actions of some elements of Mormonism as offensive. In the 1990s, Jewish groups vocally opposed the LDS practice of baptism for the dead on behalf of Jewish victims of the Holocaust and Jews in general. According to LDS Church general authority Monte J. Brough, "Mormons who baptized 380,000 Holocaust victims posthumously were motivated by love and compassion and did not understand their gesture might offend Jews ... they did not realize that what they intended as a 'Christian act of service' was 'misguided and insensitive.'". Mormons believe that when the dead are baptized through proxy, they have the option of accepting or rejecting the ordinance.
Mormonism has been compared to Islam since its origins in the nineteenth century, often by detractors of one religion or the other. For instance, Joseph Smith was referred to as "the modern Mahomet" by the New York Herald, shortly after his murder in June 1844. This epithet repeated a comparison that had been made from Smith's earliest career, one that was not intended at the time to be complimentary. Comparison of the Mormon and Muslim prophets still occurs today, sometimes for derogatory or polemical reasons but also for more scholarly (and neutral) purposes. While Mormonism and Islam certainly have many similarities, there are also significant, fundamental differences between the two religions. Mormon–Muslim relations have been historically cordial, seldom involving Islamophobia or Anti-Mormonism; recent years have seen increasing dialogue between adherents of the two faiths, and cooperation in charitable endeavors, especially in the Middle and Far East.
Islam and Mormonism both originate in the Abrahamic traditions. Both believe that Christianity as originally established by Jesus Christ was a true religion, but that it subsequently became deformed to the point that it was beyond simple reformation. Hence, each religion sees its founder (Muhammad for Islam, and Joseph Smith for Mormonism) as being a true prophet of God, called to re-establish the true faith. In addition, Both prophets received visits from an angel, leading to additional books of scripture. Both religions share a high emphasis on family life, charitable giving, chastity, and a special reverence for, though not worship of, their founding prophet.
The religions differ significantly in their views on God. Islam insists upon the complete oneness and uniqueness of God (Allah), while Mormonism asserts that the Godhead is made up of three distinct "personages." Mormonism sees Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah and the literal Son of God, while Islam insists that the title "Messiah" means that Jesus (or "Isa") was a prophet sent to establish the true faith, not that he was the Son of God or a divine being. Despite opposition from other Christian denominations, Mormonism identifies itself as a Christian religion, the "restoration" of primitive Christianity. Islam does not refer to itself as "Christian", asserting that Jesus and all true followers of Christ's teachings were (and are) Muslims—a term that means "submitters to God"—not Christians as the term is used today. Islam proclaims that its prophet Muhammad was the "seal of the prophets", and that no further prophets would come after him. Mormons, however, view Joseph Smith and his successors as modern prophets.
Mormon theology includes three main movements. By far the largest of these is the "mainstream Mormonism" defined by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). There are also two broad movements outside of mainstream Mormonism: Mormon fundamentalism, and liberal reformist Mormonism.
Mainstream Mormonism is defined by the leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). Members of the LDS Church consider their top leaders to be prophets and Apostles, and are encouraged to accept their positions on matters of theology, while seeking confirmation of them through personal study of the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Personal prayer is encouraged as well. The LDS Church is by far the largest branch of Mormonism. It has continuously existed since the succession crisis of 1844 that split the Latter Day Saint movement after the death of founder Joseph Smith, Jr.
Presently, the LDS Church seeks to distance itself from other branches of Mormonism, particularly those that practice polygamy. The church maintains a degree of orthodoxy by excommunicating or disciplining its members who take positions or engage in practices viewed as apostasy. For example, the LDS Church excommunicates members who practice polygamy or who adopt the beliefs and practices of Mormon fundamentalism. The church also may excommunicate or discipline those within the church who openly oppose the LDS Church's top leadership, which is viewed as a sign of apostasy.
One way Mormon fundamentalism distinguishes itself from mainstream Mormonism is through the practice of plural marriage. Fundamentalists initially broke from the LDS Church after that doctrine was discontinued around the beginning of the 20th century. Mormon fundamentalism teaches that plural marriage is a requirement for exaltation (the highest degree of salvation), which will allow them to live as gods and goddesses in the afterlife. Mainstream Mormons, by contrast, believe that a single Celestial marriage is necessary for exaltation.
In distinction with the LDS Church, Mormon fundamentalists also often believe in a number of other doctrines taught and practiced by Brigham Young in the 19th century, which the LDS Church has either abandoned, repudiated, or put in abeyance. These include:
Mormon fundamentalists believe that these principles were wrongly abandoned or changed by the LDS Church, in large part due to the desire of its leadership and members to assimilate into mainstream American society and avoid the persecutions and conflict that had characterized the church throughout its early years. Others believe that it was a necessity at some point for "a restoration of all things" to be a truly restored Church.
Though subject to possible church discipline, some LDS Church members have worked towards a liberal reform of the church. Others have left the LDS Church but consider themselves to be cultural Mormons. Others have formed new religions. One of the first of these, the Godbeites, broke from the LDS Church in the late 19th century on the basis of both political and religious liberalism. More recently, the Restoration Church of Jesus Christ broke from the LDS Church as an LGBT-friendly denomination.
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