My life has lately been taking some surprising turns. Through a series of unpredictable events I have joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which unfortunately tends to be viewed negatively by many. In addition, I have decided to pause my schooling and my relationships in order to dedicate two years of my life to the spreading of this gospel to the Peruvian people. Meanwhile, many of my friends and family may be left wondering just what happened to me. In the hopes of answering some of their questions, I would like to spend some time addressing the message of the LDS Church, and why I made the decision to spend two years spreading this message abroad.
In order to understand what is taught and believed by the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it would help to first take a look at the name of the Church itself:
The Church . . .
The Church refers to the unified, worldwide body of believers and the organization that unites them all. The organization starts locally with single congregations run by unpaid “lay clergy”, which are united under larger and larger organizational bodies until it gets to the highest presiding quorums, which are the biblical quorums of the Seventy, the Twelve Apostles, and the First Presidency. The First Presidency consists of current President of the Church Thomas S. Monson and his two councilors. All who have authority in any level of the Church have the right to receive revelation by the Holy Ghost for those under them, therefore the president of the Church is also known as “the Prophet,” because he receives revelation for all the Church and all the world. The apostles are likewise prophets. Therefore, an essential aspect of the message of the Church is that prophets who give the word of God like those of biblical times are again restored to the earth.
Because all who lead in any position in the Church are expected to go to the Father in prayer before making any decision, the Church is both highly organized yet highly reliant on the guidance of the Spirit.
Additionally, every major decision at all levels of Church organization must be sustained by the unanimous consent of all the members. There exists such unanimity of mind between the leadership and membership that nearly every single decision in the Church is unanimously agreed upon.
Overall, the Church’s organization is modeled after the organization of Christ’s original New Testament Church. Our sixth article of faith states, “We believe in the same organization that existed in the primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth.” It helps people from all over the world come together as a single, unified people under Christ’s name, which leads me to the next part of the Church’s name:
. . . of Jesus Christ . . .
Everything we do in the Church–every prayer, blessing, ordinance, act of service, etc.–is done in the name of Jesus Christ, who is our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. When we are baptized we take upon us the name of Jesus Christ and covenant to serve Him and represent Him throughout the world.
We in the Church are often—nay, constantly—reminded of what Jesus Christ did for us, and why we need Him. We teach that Christ was chosen from the beginning to be the Redeemer of mankind who would overcome the effects of the Fall of Adam, namely, death and sin, allowing us to repent and be reconciled to God. He accomplished this act by becoming the ultimate sacrifice for humanity, suffering greatly and taking upon Himself all the sins of the world. His miraculous birth, life, and crucifixion are considered the most important events of human history. Every week in our worship services we remember Christ’s great atoning sacrifice by partaking of the sacrament, or communion. If we do so with real intent, we are forgiven of our sins and renew our baptismal covenants to remember and serve Him in return for His great love.
Before ascending into Heaven after His resurrection, Christ established His Church with all the authority and organization needed to speak for Him and carry forth His message to world. He taught them faith, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and taught them that after He left they would gain the gift of the Holy Ghost. However, after the scattering and martyrdom of the original apostles, the Church could no longer withstand the intrusion of corruption that the apostles had been struggling so hard to correct (see Acts 20:29, Gal. 1:6, 2 Tim. 1:15, 2 Pet. 2:1, 1 Jn. 2:18, etc.). The original Church thus fell into apostasy as predicted by Paul when he said, “for that day [the coming of Christ] shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thes. 2:3). Though many groups remained who believed in Christ’s divinity, the Church established by Christ Himself was no longer found on the earth.
. . . of Latter-day Saints
But all hope was not lost. The Old Testament promise remained that “the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people” (Isaiah 11:11), and Paul prophesied of the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21). And with the knowledge that “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7), our message to the world is that Christ’s Church has already been restored through a modern day prophet of God, Joseph Smith, in these latter days.
Joseph Smith is not worshiped in the Church. He was merely a man, fallible just like any other. However, we believe he was a prophet of God who, like Moses, arose at an essential moment in human history to bring God’s truth to humanity. God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to him while he was praying fervently in the woods at the age of fourteen. He was disillusioned by the lack of unity among the Christian churches at that time, and asked the Lord which Church he should join. The Lord told him to join none of them, but that through Joseph He would restore the true Church upon the earth again. Through this restoration the Lord brought back the true Christian teachings and ordinances, including the proper order of faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands. He also restored the priesthood, or authority to act and preach in Christ’s name. Therefore, as members of the early Church were called saints in the New Testament, so are modern members of the Church called “Latter-day Saints.”
Why did we need the Restoration? Well, in a world of literally thousands of contending Christian sects, all claiming the right to call themselves the followers of Jesus Christ, nothing short of divine intervention could have restored the Christian Church in its purity. Joseph Smith is proof that God has not changed. He still speaks to His children in all parts of the world through prophets, and there is a living prophet today named Thomas S. Monson. These prophets teach the gospel of Jesus Christ with clarity, unity, and conviction.
The priesthood is a very important part of the Restoration. Christ passed on His priesthood to His apostles two thousand years ago, saying “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19). The apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery before the founding of the latter-day Church and conferred to them the priesthood of Christ. Today nearly worthy males in the Church receive the priesthood, which in turn allows them act in the name of Christ within their families and Church positions.
One of the most vital aspects of this sealing or binding power is that families can be together forever. When a couple is married by the proper priesthood authority in one of over 150 Latter-day Saint temples, their marriage and family has the potential to last far beyond the boundaries of death. The priesthood, then, is inseparably connected with the family, and has proved an incalculable blessing in strengthening and uniting families around the world.
Another aspect of the Latter-day Church is that we have the blessing of additional scriptures that testify of Christ and what He has done for the world in times past. Part of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling was to restore the knowledge of an ancient Hebrew people who migrated to the American continent in about 600 BC under the direction of the Lord. Their history is recorded in the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon contains over 500 pages of inspired insights, prophecies, histories, teachings, wars, and migrations regarding these people. It was named after the ancient prophet Mormon, who compiled his people’s history at a time when they were nearly extinct, sealing it up to be discovered at a later date. In the climax of this book, the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to these faithful people and taught them after His resurrection and ascension from the land of Judea, thus proving that Christ loved and taught people in other parts of the world who had no way of hearing His message otherwise. This book also serves as a wonderful companion to the Bible, clarifying and supporting teachings that are biblically founded but cannot be agreed upon in the Christian world. It also serves as a witness to the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, who was a 24-year-old farmer from upstate New York with little formal education when this immensely complex book was published in 1830. I invite everyone to read this book for him or herself to see if it contradicts the teachings of Christ found in the Bible. If you are like me, you will find that the Holy Ghost testifies strongly of this book, and that it clarifies and supports biblical doctrines in wonderful and eloquent ways.
This is the basic message of the Restored Church of Christ. I know this message can greatly improve lives and lead people to a better relationship with Christ and with their family. The gospel lifts individuals, families, and communities to new heights, and opens up blessings that cannot be imagined. Since I joined the Church, I have seen the world in a whole new light. I have learned to see the good in everything, and to seek after all things that are uplifting and true. I know the things I've learned have helped me to follow Christ more diligently, and have taught me the true meaning of sacrifice and faith. I have also learned what it means to truly live my faith, and to have a large, loving community of believers who help me to do so. I also understand my Father in Heaven more, and am grateful that He speaks to me through His Spirit, and also through modern prophets. And I am incredibly grateful for the knowledge that when I am gone from this life, my family relationships will not cease, but can continue forever through the blessings of modern day temples.
When I joined the Church, I thought a lot of people would think I was "weird" for joining a fairly unpopular religion. But I want to be better about sharing what I know to be good. I know the knowledge I have received has brought me countless blessings, and I want nothing more than to share what I have been given with others the best that I can. And that is why, though I will miss every one a great deal, I am grateful for this opportunity.