The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the real name of the Mormon Church) is a worldwide church with over 16,000,000 members. Sometimes people think of it as an American church, but there are more members outside the United States than in it. There are more non-English speakers than English speakers, and church materials are translated into many languages (166 languages in 2008).
The Church was organized in New York in 1830 with just six original members. It took 117 years (until 1947) for the Church to reach 1 million members. Sixteen years later, there were 2 million members, and eight years later, there were 3 million. The Church has a vibrant missionary program, with about 55,000 missionaries serving at any given time, and the LDS Church is considered to be one of the fastest-growing churches in the United States, one of the very few, in fact, that are growing at all. The missionary program amazes many onlookers, because most Mormon missionaries are young people. Young men usually depart for two years of service when they turn 19, and young women depart for 18 months of service around age 21. These missionaries leave schooling, loved ones, jobs, hobbies, sports, and sometimes even stardom behind, when they go out to serve as missionaries for the Church. During their missions, they do only the work of the Lord (no dating allowed). Often, they must master a foreign language very quickly and do their work in a very foreign cultural environment, far away from home. And they pay for it all themselves.
The Church has no paid ministry, except for a modest salary for it’s general authorities. Instead, the Church has a lay clergy. Virtually everyone in the Church has a “calling,” a temporary summons to perform a service in the Church. For example, bishops are the heads of congregations, and they have as much responsibility as any pastor, priest, or rabbi. Bishops receive no pay, serve for an average of five years, and continue in their regular vocations and family activities.
The Church has some core beliefs and practices that differentiate it from other Christian faiths. First of all, even though the Church was founded in 1830, it is not a Protestant faith. Protestant faiths are reformist faiths, trying to correct perceived errors in the Orthodox faith. Instead, Mormonism is the restoration of Jesus Christ’s ancient Church. That means the doctrines go back in time before the early councils that decided Orthodox doctrine to the original church organized by Jesus Christ Himself. The organization is the same as in the ancient church, and Christ is the head of the Church. He leads the Church through direct revelation to a living prophet, who is the president of the Church. The Mormon Church has twelve apostles (who are also revelators), and quoroms of seventy, just like in biblical times. The priesthood power to act in God’s name has also been restored. That means that miracles occur all the time, and all the spiritual gifts are manifested in the Church. With the restoration of the priesthood power has come the ability to seal in heaven what has been sealed on earth. The ordinances of baptism by immersion, the laying on of hands to confer the gift of the Holy Ghost, and temple ordinances that seal families together forever are blessings “Latter-day Saints” enjoy.
There are some things the Church is NOT. It is not a cult. The modern definition of a cult insinuates that a sect uses coercion to brainwash its followers to reverance a powerful personality. Agency (free choice) is a basic tenet of God’s plan for us. Coercion has no place in the gospel or in the Church. Latter-day Saints rely on the power of prayer and the promptings of the Holy Ghost to help them discern what is true. Even the counsel the prophet gives us is meant to be validated by the Lord through personal revelation to each Latter-day Saint. Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the restoration. Mormons revere him, because of the persecution he suffered, and his martyrdom for the truth, but the center of Latter-day Saint worship is Jesus Christ. Mormons have not replaced the Bible with the Book of Mormon. Mormons are Bible-believing Christians, and in English-speaking countries use the King James Version just the way it was published (footnotes and cross-references added).
The late Truman Madsen, who was a philosophy professor at Brigham Young University and one of the great intellects of the Church, once said that philosophy has all the great questions, but Mormonism has all the great answers. To see the really important questions, with their magnificent answers, go to www.mormon.org.