The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church or, colloquially, the Mormon Church) is the largest denomination in the Latter Day Saint movement, a Christian primitivist movement that was started by Joseph Smith during the Second Great Awakening. The church is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and has established congregations (called wards or branches) and built temples worldwide. With over 55,000 missionaries serving worldwide at any given time, the church currently claims a growing membership of over 14.4 million1 and is ranked by the National Council of Churches as the fourth largest Christian denomination in the United States.2 The church’s predominant theology is Mormonism.
The LDS Church considers itself to be a restoration of the church founded by Jesus Christ, which was later lost in the centuries after Christ in a Great Apostasy. Adherents, referred to as Latter-day Saints or, more informally, Mormons, view faith in Jesus Christ and the atonement as the central tenet of their religion.3 LDS theology includes the Christian doctrine of salvation only through Jesus Christ,4 though LDS doctrines regarding the nature of God and the potential of mankind differ significantly from mainstream Christianity. The church has an open canon which includes four scriptural texts:5 the Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. Other than the Bible, the majority of the LDS canon constitutes revelation dictated by Joseph Smith and includes commentary and exegesis about the Bible, texts described as lost parts of the Bible, and other works believed to be written by ancient prophets.
Under the doctrine of continuing revelation, Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus, under the direction of Heavenly Father, leads the church by revealing his will to its president, whom adherents regard as a modern-day “prophet, seer, and revelator”. The current president is Thomas S. Monson. Individual members believe that they can also receive personal revelation from God in conducting their lives.6 The president heads a hierarchical structure with various levels reaching down to local congregations. Bishops, drawn from the laity, lead local congregations. Worthy male members, after reaching age 12, may be ordained to the priesthood. Women do not hold positions within the priesthood but serve in an array of other leadership roles.7
Both men and women may serve as missionaries, and the church maintains a large missionary program which proselytizes and conducts humanitarian services worldwide. Faithful members adhere to laws regarding sexual purity, health, fasting, and Sabbath observance, and contribute 10 percent of their income to the church as a tithe. In addition, the church teaches sacred ordinances through which adherents make covenants with God, including baptism, confirmation, the sacrament (holy communion), endowment, and celestial marriage (marriage blessings which extend beyond mortality), which are of great significance to church members.8
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