So you’ve probably heard the terms “Mormon” and “Latter Day Saint” being used interchangeably, but have you ever wondered if there’s actually a difference between the two? Well, the answer is yes, there is a difference, although it might not be as clear-cut as you think. While both terms refer to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the term “Mormon” is often used more broadly to describe anyone who follows the teachings of the church, whereas “Latter Day Saint” is a more specific term used to refer to someone who is a baptized member of the church. In this article, we’ll explore the nuances between the two terms and help you gain a better understanding of this unique religious community.
Mormonism, also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), is a Christian denomination that originated in the early 19th century in the United States. Mormons believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Book of Mormon, which they consider as additional scripture alongside the Bible. They believe in the essential doctrines of Christianity, such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, the Atonement, and the resurrection.
Furthermore, Mormons believe in the concept of continuing revelation, meaning that God can still communicate with His children through modern-day prophets. These prophets, including Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders, play a pivotal role in guiding the church and its members in accordance with God’s will.
Mormons hold family values in high regard, emphasizing the importance of marriage, parenting, and eternal bonds between family members. They believe in the potential for eternal progression, where individuals can continue to grow and learn in the afterlife.
Latter Day Saint Beliefs
Latter Day Saints share many core beliefs with Mormons, as they are essentially the same religious group. The term “Latter Day Saint” is a broader label that includes multiple branches or offshoots of the original LDS Church. These branches may differ in certain practices or interpretations of doctrine, but they generally adhere to the same foundational beliefs.
Latter Day Saints believe in the restoration of the gospel, which they claim was lost after the apostolic era of the early Christian church. They accept the Book of Mormon as scripture and recognize additional religious texts such as the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price.
Like Mormons, Latter Day Saints believe in living prophets who receive revelations from God to guide the church. They believe in the moral teachings of Jesus Christ and strive to follow his example in their daily lives. Family values and eternal progression are also central to the beliefs of Latter Day Saints.
The origins of Mormonism can be traced back to the early 19th century in upstate New York, where Joseph Smith claimed to have received divine revelations. According to Smith, an angel named Moroni directed him to a set of golden plates buried in a hillside, which he translated into what is now known as the Book of Mormon. Smith’s followers, often referred to as Mormons, believe that the Book of Mormon is a sacred record of ancient American civilizations and an additional testament of Jesus Christ.
Mormonism faced significant persecution and opposition in its early years, leading to a series of migrations that eventually brought the church to the Salt Lake Valley in present-day Utah. Under the leadership of Brigham Young, the Mormons established a thriving community and continued to expand their influence throughout the Western United States.
Latter Day Saint Origins
The broader term “Latter Day Saints” encompasses various branches that share a common foundation but have distinct origins. Many of these branches emerged as a result of differing interpretations of doctrine or disagreements within the LDS Church itself. Some of the notable offshoots include the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and groups collectively referred to as Mormon fundamentalists.
The Community of Christ emerged from a schism within the LDS Church after the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. This branch rejected some of the teachings and practices introduced by later LDS leaders, placing a greater emphasis on the social gospel and a more inclusive interpretation of scripture.
Mormon fundamentalist groups, on the other hand, adhere to earlier doctrines and practices, including the belief in polygamy. These groups are characterized by their rejection of the mainstream LDS Church’s decision to abandon the practice of plural marriage in the late 19th century.
Mormons consider the Bible, particularly the King James Version, as scripture and believe it to be the word of God. In addition to the Bible, Mormons recognize the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ, which they believe was translated by Joseph Smith from ancient American records. The Book of Mormon, according to Mormons, provides further insight into the gospel and complements the teachings found in the Bible.
Mormons also consider the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price as scripture. These texts contain revelations, translations, and other writings from Joseph Smith and subsequent leaders of the LDS Church. They provide additional guidance and clarification on various doctrinal matters, as well as details about the early history of the church.
Latter Day Saint Scriptures
Latter Day Saints, including members of different branches, generally share the same canon of scriptures as Mormons. This includes the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. These texts serve as the foundation of their faith and provide guidance for their beliefs and practices.
While the LDS Church maintains the Book of Mormon as an essential scripture, other branches may have different perspectives on its significance or authenticity. For example, the Community of Christ considers the Book of Mormon as scripture but views it more as an inspirational and historical document rather than a literal ancient record.
Leadership Structure of Mormons
The leadership structure of the LDS Church is hierarchical, with various levels of authority. At the head of the church is the President of the Church, who is considered a prophet, seer, and revelator. This position is currently held by Russell M. Nelson. The President is assisted by two counselors and together they form the First Presidency.
Below the First Presidency is the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, consisting of twelve apostles who hold the same authority and responsibilities as the original apostles in biblical times. They are considered special witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Additionally, the LDS Church has a Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the temporal affairs of the church, as well as Quorums of Seventy who assist in various leadership roles. Local congregations, known as wards and branches, are led by bishops and branch presidents, who are responsible for the spiritual welfare of their members.
Leadership Structure of Latter Day Saints
The leadership structure within the broader Latter Day Saints community varies among different branches. While some branches may adhere to a similar hierarchical structure as the LDS Church, others may have different leadership models or emphasize a more egalitarian approach.
For example, the Community of Christ has a similar structure to the LDS Church, with a President and Counselors forming the First Presidency, and a Council of Twelve Apostles. However, in contrast to the LDS Church, the Community of Christ also includes the Order of High Priesthood, which consists of both men and women holding priesthood authority.
Other smaller branches or groups may have more decentralized leadership structures, where decisions are made collectively or through consensus among members. The specific leadership structure may depend on the history, beliefs, and governance practices of the individual Latter Day Saint group.
Mormon Worship Practices
Mormons gather for worship in buildings called meetinghouses, where they hold Sunday services and participate in various religious activities. Their worship services generally consist of a sacrament meeting, where the sacrament (similar to Communion) is taken in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice.
In addition to sacrament meetings, the LDS Church provides opportunities for Sunday School classes, where individuals of different ages can learn about scripture and gospel principles. They also have auxiliary organizations, such as the Relief Society (for women), the Young Men and Young Women organizations (for youth), and the Primary (for children), which focus on specific aspects of spiritual and personal development.
Temple worship is also an important element of Mormon religious life. Temples are sacred buildings where Mormons participate in various ordinances, including marriage ceremonies, baptisms for the dead, and endowments. These practices are considered essential for achieving eternal progression and sealing familial relationships beyond mortality.
Latter Day Saint Worship Practices
Latter Day Saints generally share similar worship practices with Mormons, albeit with some variations depending on the branch. Sunday services, sacrament meetings, and religious education classes are commonplace. However, different branches may have distinct approaches to worship, music, and religious rituals.
For example, the Community of Christ places a strong emphasis on congregational participation in worship, providing opportunities for individuals to share testimonies, musical talents, and personal insights during services. They often value inclusivity and diversity in their worship practices.
Other Latter Day Saint groups may incorporate elements of their unique beliefs or cultural traditions into their worship services. These variations can result in a rich tapestry of worship experiences within the broader Latter Day Saint community.
Historically, Mormons practiced polygamy or the marriage of one man to multiple women. This controversial practice, also known as plural marriage, was introduced by Joseph Smith in the early days of the church. Smith claimed that he received a revelation allowing the practice and entered into marriages with multiple women, some of whom were already married to other men.
Polygamy was considered an essential aspect of the Mormon faith, with the belief that it allowed individuals to reach higher levels of exaltation and eternal progression. However, due to intense public and legal pressure, the LDS Church officially discontinued the practice in 1890, leading to a schism and the formation of various fundamentalist groups that continue to uphold the practice.
It is essential to note that mainstream Mormons do not practice or condone polygamy today. The LDS Church strictly prohibits the practice and considers it to be outside the boundaries of its teachings and doctrine.
Polygamy in Latter Day Saints
Many Latter Day Saint groups, particularly those categorized as Mormon fundamentalist, still believe in and practice polygamy. These groups often justify their actions by pointing to earlier revelations and teachings by Joseph Smith and other early church leaders.
It is important to distinguish between the teachings and practices of these offshoot groups and the mainstream LDS Church, as they are separate entities. While the fundamentalist groups may share certain historical roots and beliefs with the LDS Church, the vast majority of Latter Day Saints do not endorse or participate in polygamy.
Excommunication is a disciplinary action that the LDS Church can take against a member who has committed serious transgressions or violated key principles of the faith. The decision to excommunicate someone is made by a disciplinary council, consisting of local church leaders.
Excommunication is considered a serious consequence, resulting in the loss of membership and access to certain ordinances and privileges within the church. However, the objective of excommunication is not punishment but rather to guide the individual towards repentance and eventual reintegration into the church community.
Excommunication in the LDS Church is handled with confidentiality and compassion. The focus is on helping the individual reconcile with God, themselves, and the community by addressing the underlying issues that led to the disciplinary action.
Excommunication in Latter Day Saints
Excommunication practices may differ among various Latter Day Saint branches, depending on their governance and ecclesiastical structures. Details about disciplinary actions, including excommunication, are determined by the specific policies and procedures of each individual group.
While excommunication may be a possibility in certain branches, it is important to note that each group within the Latter Day Saint community might handle disciplinary matters differently. It is crucial to consider the unique practices and principles of each branch when discussing excommunication and associated consequences.
Relationship with Mainstream Christianity
Perception by Mormons
Mormons believe that they are Christians and view their church as a restoration of the original Christian church established by Jesus Christ. They believe that the revelations given to Joseph Smith clarify and expand upon Christian doctrines, providing a more complete understanding of God’s plan for humanity.
While Mormons recognize the centrality of Jesus Christ in their beliefs, their distinctive practices and additional scriptures can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or differing perceptions within mainstream Christianity. Some Christian denominations may not consider Mormons to be part of the broader Christian faith due to theological differences and contrasting interpretations of scripture.
Nonetheless, Mormons generally seek to build positive relationships with other Christians and emphasize common ground and shared values. They strive to foster understanding and respect among different religious groups while maintaining their unique beliefs and practices.
Perception by Latter Day Saints
Latter Day Saints, including members of different branches, have similar perceptions as Mormons regarding their relationship with mainstream Christianity. They believe in the restoration of the gospel and consider themselves to be part of the broader Christian tradition.
Perceptions of the relationship between Latter Day Saints and mainstream Christianity can vary among different branches of the movement. Some branches, such as the Community of Christ, place a greater emphasis on interfaith dialogue and cooperation, actively seeking common ground with Christian denominations and recognizing the contributions of other religious traditions.
Other branches or offshoot groups may have more insular perspectives, focusing primarily on their distinctive beliefs and practices. Still, the vast majority of Latter Day Saint groups consider themselves to be part of the broader Christian family, even if their unique beliefs and historical differences may create divisions or varying perceptions.
The organizational structure of the LDS Church is highly centralized and governed by a hierarchical system. At the top is the First Presidency, consisting of the President of the Church and his two counselors. The First Presidency provides overarching leadership and direction for the entire church.
Beneath the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles acts as a governing body and provides guidance to church members worldwide. The Quorums of Seventy, along with various other auxiliary organizations, assist in carrying out the work and mission of the church at the local and international levels.
The organizational structure of the LDS Church enables consistent teaching, unified policies, and a coordinated effort in spreading the gospel and conducting church affairs globally. This centralized approach ensures consistent standards and practices across wards and branches in different regions.
Latter Day Saint Organization
The organizational structure of Latter Day Saint branches may differ according to their unique history and beliefs. While some branches may adopt a similar hierarchical structure as the LDS Church, others may operate with less formalized leadership systems.
The Community of Christ, for example, has a democratic structure that emphasizes congregational participation and decision-making. Leadership positions are elected, and members are encouraged to actively engage in the church’s governance and decision-making processes.
Similarly, other branches or offshoot groups may have different organizational models, ranging from localized, small-scale congregations to more centralized structures. The specific organizational practices within Latter Day Saint branches often reflect their interpretations of scripture, cultural context, and historical development.
Mormon missions play a significant role in the religious experience of young Mormons. Young men are strongly encouraged to serve full-time missions, typically for two years, whereas young women may serve for 18 months. These missions are voluntary and require a period of extensive preparation and training.
Mormon missionaries are primarily focused on sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon with others. They engage in various activities such as teaching, community service, and reaching out to individuals who express interest in learning more about their faith. Mormon missions can take place anywhere in the world, depending on the needs and assignments determined by church leaders.
Missionaries are recognizable by their distinctive appearance, including white shirts, ties, and name tags. The goal of their missions is to invite individuals to learn about and potentially embrace the teachings of Mormonism.
Latter Day Saint Missions
Latter Day Saint missions, regardless of the specific branch, share a similar goal of sharing their faith and inviting others to explore their beliefs. The nature and structure of missions within the Latter Day Saint community can vary, reflecting the particular practices and emphasis of each branch.
Mission work may take different forms within these branches, depending on available resources and the scope of their missionary efforts. Some branches may prioritize local or regional outreach, while others may engage in broader international missions.
The specific duration and requirements for missions may also differ among branches. While young men and women serving full-time missions are common in Mormonism, other branches may have different expectations or opportunities for missionary service.
In summary, the beliefs, origins, scriptures, leadership structure, worship practices, stance on polygamy and excommunication, relationship with mainstream Christianity, organization, and missions differ in various aspects between Mormonism and the broader Latter Day Saint community. While Mormons and Latter Day Saints often share some foundational beliefs and practices, their diverse interpretations, traditions, and historical developments have led to distinct characteristics and expressions within the broader Latter Day Saint movement.