Many people are unfamiliar with what actually takes place during a worship service in a chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Research also shows that there are many people who feel that they are not welcomed inside an LDS chapel to worship with Latter-day Saints to be able to observe for themselves that Mormon worship is focused on the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is often the basis for misunderstandings among communities where Latter-day Saints live and leads many to believe that the close-knit ties of the Latter-day Saint community is both clannish and secretive. Part of this misconception may be caused by the differences between worship services in LDS chapels and temple worship. All are invited to attend services in LDS chapels, but only those members of The Church of Jesus Christ who are deemed worthy and hold a valid temple recommend are permitted to enter the sacred temple – the House of the Lord.
The infographic below is an excellent comparison of worship in an LDS chapel and temple worship.
What is the Mormon Church? Sometimes members of the media use the term, “Mormon Church,” to refer to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With over 14 million members worldwide, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded in 1830 by the American prophet, Joseph Smith, and now has its headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the United States. The nickname “Mormon” originated in the 1800s after the publication of The Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon, the religious history of a people who inhabited the Americas anciently, was translated by Joseph Smith from the work of an ancient historian named Mormon, who abridged into a small volume the records of his people. Early Mormon missionaries, teaching from both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, were called “Mormons” after the name of the new text they carried.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of the same organization and beliefs present in the early Christian church established by Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry. During the period of apostasy that followed the deaths of Jesus’s original twelve apostles, much of ancient Christian doctrine was distorted or lost, and its practices changed as it adapted to the pre-existing pagan cultures of the lands where it spread. By the time Joseph Smith was a young man, he found himself hopelessly confused by the conflicting Christian sects around him, with their varying doctrines, practices, and interpretations of the Bible. Appealing to God in prayer for guidance, Smith was instructed to join none of the Churches then in existence. Instead, through revelation and angelic visitations, God restored the beliefs and practices of original Christianity again to the earth through Joseph Smith, along with the direct priesthood authority to perform ordinances such as baptism, the bestowing of the gift of the Holy Ghost, priesthood ordination, and temple covenants.
The Organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Like the ancient Christian church, Mormons are organized with prophets, apostles, and seventies at their head. Paul explained to the Ephesians the types and purposes of various Church positions, or “callings:”
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13).
At the head of the restored Church of Jesus Christ is a prophet, who receives continuing revelation from God as it is needed. The prophet is assisted by two counsellors, who are also called as prophets. These three together form the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just as God spoke to prophets of old, He continues to speak to prophets today in order to guide His children. Jesus Christ Himself leads His Church on the earth today, helping His followers avoid the danger of being
tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
But speaking the truth in love…(Ephesians 4:14-15)
Next in authority to the Prophet are twelve living Apostles, who perform the same functions that the Apostles did in Jesus’s day. The Twelve are called as special witnesses of Jesus Christ to the world, with a mandate to preach His gospel and watch over His Church. Seventies, who are evangelists, are assigned to oversee the Church’s missionary work, preside over the Church in specific geographic areas, and perform the functions fulfilled originally by the ancient seventy whom Jesus called and sent forth to preach the gospel and organize the Church during His ministry. A presiding Bishop, or pastor, assisted by two counsellors, oversees the temporal affairs of the Church, and its welfare and humanitarian services. There are also general presidencies of the priesthood and of other Mormon auxiliary organizations such as the children’s Primary, Young Men and Young Women organizations for teens, the women’s Relief Society, and the Sunday School.
Local leadership of the Church mirrors the general Church organization. “Stakes,” groups of congregations similar to a Catholic diocese, are presided over by a stake presidency and high council similar to the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles. Individual congregations, called “wards,” are presided over by local Mormon bishops, who tend to the spiritual and temporal needs of their congregations. Local priesthood, women’s, youth, and children’s groups are presided over by presidencies in each congregation. Other members serve as teachers, activity leaders, humanitarian leaders, missionaries, musicians, and in many other callings at the local level. All church leaders, from the local to the general, are laymen who support themselves not with Church donations but in outside employment, with the exception of some living and travel subsidies for those at the general level who serve full-time.
Every Mormon expects to serve in the Church in some capacity. The opportunity to serve brings with it many blessings, as members strive to emulate Jesus Christ in their service. In addition to callings as teachers and leaders, nearly every adult Mormon serves as a home or visiting teacher, assigned to visit specific families once a month and minister to their needs. All Mormons also consider themselves missionaries, eager to share the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ with those around them. Most will serve as volunteer full-time missionaries at some point during their lives, sacrificing their time to travel, preach the gospel, and perform humanitarian service at their own expense. Missionary work emulates the work of the Savior and of the original Christian apostles, and provides a priceless opportunity to draw closer to Jesus Christ by following in His footsteps.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently published an info-graphic, explaining its lay leadership and the local organization of the Church. You can read more about the leadership and organization of the Church by clicking here.
Mormonism: Beliefs and Practices
The beliefs and practices of Mormons also emulate the ancient Christian church. Not just the organization of the Church, but its teachings as well, have been restored from ancient times through revelation to Mormon prophets. By far the most important of these teachings is the belief, central to Mormon faith and life, that Jesus Christ is Lord, and that through His atonement He broke the bands of sin and death. Mormons are, above all, Christians.
Like other Christians, Mormons believe in faith in Jesus Christ, repentance of sins, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. They believe in following Jesus Christ in the decisions they make every day, and in loving God and their neighbors. The teachings of Jesus Christ found in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Book of Mormon guide their daily decisions. They covenant to remember Christ always.He is at the center of their faith and their practices.
Mormon Beliefs: Pre-earth Life and Eternal Families
Some Mormon beliefs are unique, however. Mormons believe that we lived with God before we came to earth, and that mortal life is a period to gain a body and be tested to see if we will follow God in an environment where we are fully free to experience the consequences of good and evil. Mormons also believe that eternal family life is essential to God’s plan for our happiness. In Mormon doctrine, nothing else on earth compares to the importance of what we do in our family relationships. By striving to keep God’s commandments, being “sealed,” or bound, to their families in the temple, and relying on the atonement of Christ to save them from sin, suffering, and death, Mormons hope to live with their families in joy throughout the eternities.
A day in the life of a typical Mormon begins and ends with prayer. Mormons are directed to pray often, both privately and as families, and as it says in The Book of Mormon, “when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full,drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you” (Alma 34:27). In the morning, Mormons pray and study the scriptures individually. They also study the scriptures and pray with their families as well, at whatever time the family can gather. Mormons pray over their food before eating, in the evening before retiring to bed, and at numerous times in between, seeking God’s counsel, forgiveness, and strength as they go about their daily tasks. Part of praying is listening for answers through the Holy Ghost. In a Church that was founded and continues to rely on revelation to God, seeking personal revelation is a daily, even hourly task.
If it is a Sunday, Mormons attend church at their local meetinghouse, where they partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s supper, listen to sermons preached by members of the congregation or by visiting stake leaders, and meet in classes to study the gospel. Even at home, Sundays are set apart as the Sabbath, when Mormons refrain from work and focus their attention on God. On other days of the week, Mormons may attend the temple individually or in small groups, participating in more individual worship there. No matter what day of the week it is, Mormons try to center their lives on the Savior, Jesus Christ, and on their families.
So the Mormon Church is not just a place to go and worship on Sundays. Mormonism is a way of life, centered on the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the kingdom of God on the earth today–a kingdom with flaws, run by individuals with flaws, but God’s kingdom nonetheless, patterned after the spiritual kingdom established by Christ during His mortal ministry. Mormons feel blessed to be a part of it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints takes as an article of faith “We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” So, in a nutshell, the answer is yes. However, people attach different meanings to the word “doctrine,” and I would like to expand on a few of those.
First is the idea of doctrine meaning eternal truth. An eternal truth by definition does not change. However, only God knows the full range and depth of eternal truths. The scriptures clearly teach that God reveals things line upon line, precept upon precept (Isaiah 28:10). Those people who accept and embrace those revelations are given more truth; those who reject or say “no more,” might lose what they were given. Therefore, from God’s view, doctrine as eternal truth does not change. However, for us mere mortals with greatly limited views and understanding, doctrine as eternal truth can appear to change, depending on if we are gaining more or rejecting and losing what we have.
Then there is the idea of doctrine as a core teaching or understanding. For this, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has stated that the core teachings are what is found in the scriptures, and what is presented to the membership as a whole and accepted as binding. Currently, this is the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (where we get the nickname “Mormon” from), the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Historically speaking, none of these scriptures has always existed in their current form. They have changed, they have been added to. The Old Testament is full of various prophets being called to build on and correct what had gone on before. The whole New Testament is an addition to the Old, and it corrects and adjusts errors that existed at the time. The Book of Mormon and other books that we consider scriptures continue this trend. Given the Article of Faith quoted above and the history of the scriptures, I think that it is clear that not only can the core teachings and understandings be added to, but that we expect them to be. We expect this change to be an addition and expansion to the current beliefs, not a change of fundamental beliefs.
The last one I wanted to mention is the idea of doctrine as simply a teaching. The Church doesn’t officially use the term this way, but it is a valid definition of the term. And some confusion can result if you mix the two up. In this case, teaching as doctrine is simply a focused interpretation of the core teachings and understanding to a particular group. Depending on what the needs and struggles of that group are, details and direction of the teaching can be adjusted to meet those needs. The problem here lies with people elevating such teachings to be core or even eternal truths, without taking into account how the needs have changed. An example of this can be found in the Bible. The Bible teaches about the importance of both grace and works. The teachings of the apostles on the subjects are directed towards two different groups of people. One group appears to be struggling with the idea of grace and how it applies, so they get a very blunt teaching on its importance. The other group is struggling with the importance of works, and they get a very focused letter on it. Now, a long time later, we have both teachings and they appear to conflict. Some people take one side and ignore the other. Modern revelation has clarified this showing how both are really important, and they work together.
In the end, it is a belief in continuing revelation from God that opens up the door for Mormon doctrine to “change” to stay on track with the will of God. However, core beliefs don’t change, but clarifications may be given to fit the needs of the people.
In response to the same question on whether Mormon doctrine changes, Ryan said:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been unique since its founding in 1830 in that we believe in an open canon. Said another way, we are constantly anticipating more revelations from God regarding what He wants to tell us, and what He expects of us. The doctrines of the Church haven’t changed since the beginning, though several practices have changed.
For example, Mormon temple ceremonies changed as more revelations were given regarding them, but the doctrines surrounding them have not changed at all. They have only been further refined and better understood. In many ways, the doctrines can be seen as similar to learning to drive a car. At a young age, for the first time behind the wheel, it’s a new and exciting place with tremendous responsibilities. There’s so much a new driver has to pay attention to, both inside and outside a car, in order to drive safely. However, as experience and time passes, the basic skills become second nature, and the driver can move on to greater skills and mastery of safe vehicle driving.
The truths revealed to us from Heavenly father have always been there. The doctrines have always been there. It just takes us time and experience to understand them before we can move on to greater and greater truths and doctrines. God very much wants to teach us, and in the process we can grow in faith and spirituality. It does require effort on our part to seek out the truths waiting for us, but what an exciting journey it is.