Representatives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often asked whether the Church is becoming more “mainstream” over time.
If the term “mainstream” means that Latter-day Saints are increasingly viewed as a contributing, relevant and significant part of society — particularly in the United States, where there are now some six million members — then, of course, the answer is “yes.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, founded in New York State in 1830 with just six members, is today the fourth largest church in the United States by independent estimates.
It follows that its members are found at every level of society — in business and agriculture, in education and the sciences, in political parties and in government, in the entertainment industry and in the news media. In fact, people are much more likely to be familiar with individual Latter-day Saints as friends, neighbors and working colleagues than they are with the Church institution itself or with its teachings. This also applies in many other nations outside the United States.
If being described as “mainstream” means the Church loses the very distinctiveness of the beliefs that are at the heart of its message, the answer is different. While respecting the divergent views of other people of faith, Church leaders want to be clear about the beliefs that help define Latter-day Saints.
The following are some of the more important differences in belief and practice between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other Christian churches.
Because Latter-day Saints believe that divine apostolic authority was lost from the earth after the death of the ancient apostles, a restoration of that authority was necessary. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that restoration began in the early 1800s with revelations to the young Joseph Smith.
Among the most important differences with other Christian churches are those concerning the nature of God and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Together, these form what is commonly referred to as the Holy Trinity in many churches and as the Godhead by Latter-day Saints.
Modern prophets, continuing revelation and new scriptures
Latter-day Saints believe that God still speaks to humankind, that He has called new apostles and prophets and that revelation flows today as it did anciently. Further, many of those revelations have been formally incorporated into new volumes of scripture. These include the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ; the Doctrine and Covenants, a collection of revelations to Joseph Smith and subsequent presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and the Pearl of Great Price, which includes the writings of Moses and Abraham as well as modern writings of Joseph Smith.
Plan of salvation
Latter-day Saint theology embraces what Mormons refer to as the “plan of salvation.” The topic covers the pre-mortal state of all mankind, the reasons why God created the world, the nature and purpose of our life here and what future awaits us in the next life.
Temples and their purpose
The primary purpose of temple work is to “seal” or unite families together, with the expectation that those relationships continue beyond death. The same temple rites can be performed for those who have died. There is no counterpart to temple practices in other Christian churches.
This is a difference in practice rather than in doctrinal belief, since many Christian churches send out missionaries to preach the gospel. However, the missionary program of the Church is distinctive and recognizable for the sheer number and distribution of missionaries, for the length and variety of their service, and for their appearance and their preaching of a restored gospel.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no full-time professional clergy at the congregational level. Even at the highest levels of the Church, leaders who are called as full-time apostles forsake their more remunerative professions in order to serve a lifetime calling as “special witnesses of Jesus Christ” and to oversee the Church worldwide.
Abstinence from alcohol among religious faiths is not unique to Latter-day Saints. However, among Latter-day Saints abstinence from alcohol is expected to be total, as is the abstinence from tobacco, tea and coffee.