Section 5: Joseph Smith's Church Today
Joseph Smith's Church Today
The Mormons believe that their religion is the restoration of the true church with its priesthood and ordinances. Hence, its official name, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the Mormon church, no division exists between clergy and laity. Rather, beginning at the age of 12, every worthy male member may become involved with various duties of the church, achieving priesthood by the age of 16.
This is merely a technicality, but since the point of this article is to explain Mormonism, I should clarify that 12 year-old males actually hold the office of Deacon in the Aaronic priesthood; 14 year-olds, the office of Teacher; and 16 year-olds the office of Priest, in the same priesthood. In other words, worthy males receive the Aaronic priesthood –named for Moses' brother, Aaron– at age 12; Deacon, Teacher, and Priest are different offices in that priesthood.
The majority of church positions are unsalaried, and LDS families join in the many programs sponsored by their local congregation, or ward.
Because these are true volunteer positions, members perform these responsibilities in addition to full-time jobs, often large families, and personal, community, or other interests1.
On a congregational level, elders, bishops, and stake (district) presidents oversee the well-organized affairs of the church.
Bishops oversee several hundred people, and stake presidents thousands, in what are, again, volunteer positions. The Church recently created some infographics to help explain church structure and volunteerism.
According to the graphic above, Latter-day Saints volunteer, on average, almost ten times as much time as average Americans.
A council of 12 Apostles in Salt Lake City has worldwide jurisdiction. The president of the church –revered as prophet, seer, and revelator– and two counselors form the church's presiding authority, called the Quorum of the Presidency, or the First Presidency.
Several ordinances affect the lives of devout Mormons. Baptism, signifying repentance and obedience, may take place upon reaching eight years of age. Washing and anointing purify and consecrate the believer. The temple endowment ceremony involves a series of covenants, or promises, and a special undergarment to be worn ever after, as a protection from evil and as a reminder of the vows of secrecy taken.
The sacred undergarment promotes modesty, and is a constant reminder of the aforementioned covenants made with God2. Respect for the sacred nature of the garments, and the temple endowment ceremony, is often misconstrued as "secrecy." These things are special to Latter-day Saints, and are scarcely mentioned in order to avoid their being taken lightly by those who might not understand or be respectful.
"It was the misunderstanding of both the seriousness of temple ordinances and their symbolic nature that gave rise to all the horror tales about temple ordinances in anti-Mormon literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries"3.
This "anti-Mormon literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries" is the source of many modern misunderstandings about Mormon temple practice.
Also, a Mormon couple may seal their marriage in a temple "for time and all eternity" so that their family can remain intact in heaven, where the couple may continue to bear children.
In the temples, there are men who hold special priesthood authority to seal families for eternity. These sealings, like all other Gospel ordinances, are dependent upon the family members' continued obedience to the Gospel. Mormons believe that this special priesthood authority to seal was given to the original apostles, as recorded in Matt. 16:19, which states:
And 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.
The only things we can take with us when we die are our families and our knowledge, and we can never be separated from our knowledge, so what is left to bind? What would be important enough that it would need to be bound both in Heaven and on earth?
Although the statement about continuing to have children is intended to shock the reader, an understanding of LDS theology is in order (that is what this article is about, isn't it?). Mormons believe that we are all the literal children of God, and point to scriptures such as the following as evidence:
I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.
For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God…
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.
Mormons believe that we were born to God as spirits. We were sent to earth to dwell in our physical bodies that were created by our parents, and will one day return to Him. If we prove worthy, we will become like Him and do as He has done, including being mothers and fathers to spirit children. Romans 8:17-18 seems to suggest, since we are God's children, after all, that we will inherit jointly with Jesus Christ what He inherited.
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
The Mormon church has won acclaim for its welfare program, established so that "the curse of idleness would be done away with." It is financed by local members who give up two meals a month and donate the value of them to the church.
The process of going without food and drink is a Biblical principle known as "fasting,"4 and the accompanying donations are known as "fast offerings."
The objective of the welfare program of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to care for the needy while teaching principles that will allow needy persons to become self-reliant and retain their self-respect. The program also provides opportunities to all other members of the Church to serve — fulfilling the commandment Jesus Christ gave to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick.
Soon after the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, its leaders established bishops' storehouses, places where grains and other commodities donated by members as free-will offerings were stored and distributed to help needy members. In April 1936, the Church formally organized a welfare program to help Church members suffering from the devastating effects of the Great Depression. Today, that welfare program has expanded to all corners of the globe and assists people of all faiths5.
You will notice here that "the curse of idleness" spoken of does not refer to lazy Mormons hanging around being idle, but "Church members suffering from the devastating effects of the Great Depression."
In addition, strict tithing of their income is required.
Quite often, detractors will point to tithing as evidence of wrongdoing or abuse by the Church, suggesting or implying that members are somehow forced to pay it, and that the pockets of Church leaders are thereby fattened. While tithing is considered a commandment among Latter-day Saints, it is entirely voluntary, and the funds are used for legitimate purposes.
For Latter-day Saints (Mormons), tithing is a natural and integrated aspect of their religious belief and practice. By the biblical definition, tithing is one-tenth, and Church members interpret this as a tenth of their “increase,” or income, annually. It is paid on the honor system. No one asks to see income statements or pay slips.
Tithes and other charitable donations help the Church carry out its mission of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, caring for the poor, and strengthening members’ faith and commitment to Jesus Christ.
Tithing donations are most usually remitted through the local congregational leader, or bishop, and from there to Church headquarters, where they are allocated and disbursed directly to the Church’s many worldwide programs, including its educational, missionary, building, humanitarian and welfare efforts.
Additionally, tithing funds the construction and maintenance of Church facilities. These buildings provide the infrastructure for delivering both physical and spiritual relief to community members. In addition to helping the Church care for the well-being of the less fortunate, Latter-day Saints make charitable donations because they believe in fulfilling God’s commandment to tithe and give to the poor.
All funds given to the Church by its members are considered sacred. They are voluntary offerings that represent the faith and dedication of members and are used with careful oversight and discretion. They are audited regularly by independent, certified auditors6.
When I have my annual interview with my Bishop at the end of the year, he hands me a printout showing the donations I have made over the year and asks me if I have been a full tithe payer. I say yes, because I am, and that is the end of it. No one questions me any further on the subject. We should point out here that Mormons ultimately believe that tithing of one-tenth is only the beginning8; everything we have belongs to God and we should willingly sacrifice what we have in the service of God and our fellow man.
Family and friends supply the funds to support Mormon missionaries.
Another volunteer venture, and a serious commitment for anyone, particularly young adults. This practice ensures that missionaries are not simply looking for an all-expenses-paid vacation, but are dedicated to serving the Lord.
Self-sacrifice, close families, and civic responsibilities are features of Mormon life. But what of Mormon beliefs?
Ye shall know them by their fruits…7
- The Shreveport Times: Church Leadership Positions Strictly Volunteer, Feb. 2011. (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-shreveport-times-church-leadership-positions-strictly-volunteer)
- For a disussion of the antiquity and symbolism of sacred garments, see: Nibley, Hugh. "Sacred Vestments." Temple and Cosmos. SLC: Deseret Book, and Provo: FARMS, 1992. (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1123&index=6)
- Hugh Nibley, "Temple and Cosmos." SLC: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992. (http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/book/temple-and-cosmos/) Please see also: Carlos E. Asay, “The Temple Garment: ‘An Outward Expression of an Inward Commitment,’” Liahona, Sept. 1999, 33. (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1997/08/the-temple-garment-an-outward-expression-of-an-inward-commitment?lang=eng)
- Fasts, Bible Dictionary. (https://www.lds.org/scriptures/bd/fasts?lang=eng)
- Welfare and Self Reliance, Mormon Newsroom. (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/topic/welfare-and-self-reliance)
- Tithing and Charitable Donations, Mormon Newsroom. (http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/tithing)
- Matt 7:16
- D&C 119:1,4