by Sharon Lindbloom
1 October 2018
In August the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alerted the world to a revelation he received regarding the name of his church. Commonly referred to as the Mormon Church or the LDS Church, President Nelson explained that the use of these nicknames was incorrect and in order to conform to God’s will, people must begin using the full, proper name of the church. President Nelson said,
“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will.”
Two days later President Nelson further explained,
“The name of the church is not negotiable, because the Lord has told us what his church shall be called [citing Doctrine and Covenants 115:4]… So, we’re not changing names. We’re correcting a name — that’s important to note… We’re correcting an error that has crept in over the ages.” (“‘We’re correcting a name,’ President Russell M. Nelson tells Latter-day Saints in Canada,” Deseret News, 8/18/18)
The immediately-stated reason for the name-correction is to insure conformity to what God has commanded. Beyond that, it is commonly understood that the correction is an effort to place greater emphasis on the fact that the church name includes the name of Jesus Christ.
In 1990, Mr. Nelson told his Mormon listeners at General Conference,
“By divine directive, the title of the Church bears the sacred name of Jesus Christ, whose church this is. (See D&C 115:3–4.) He so decreed more than once. Nearly two thousand years ago, the Lord said, ‘Ye shall call the church in my name; …And how be it my church save it be called in my name?’ ([Book of Mormon] 3 Ne. 27:7–8; italics added).” (“Thus Shall My Church Be Called,” Russell M. Nelson, April 1990)
Today’s Mormons recognize Mr. Nelson’s recent revelation in the same light. For example, in an interview conducted by Deseret News, “experts in Latter-day Saint websites, branding and social media” explained that “they understand the doctrinal reasons it’s important to use the full name of the church, because it includes the name of Jesus Christ.” Another person interviewed for the article said,
“This definitely is revelation, and it’s groundbreaking, but it’s a re-emphasis and refocusing of the church on Jesus Christ.” (“Name changes already underway at Latter-day Saint websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts”)
And Phil Boas, at the Arizona Republic, wrote,
“I think I know why the church is doing this… Their conception of Christ is largely informed by the New Testament and if it requires eschewing the name ‘Mormons’ for ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ to drive home the point they will do it…” (“This Mormon thinks he knows the real reason the Salt Lake church dropped its LDS nickname”)
In the context of the LDS Church’s focus on using the proper name of the church in order to emphasize that Mormonism includes a belief in Christ – indeed, one might say the name of the church “confesses Christ” – consider a statement made by the church’s second president, Brigham Young:
“For unbelievers we will quote from the Scriptures— ‘Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.’ Again— ‘Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.’ I will now give my scripture— ‘Whosoever confesseth that Joseph Smith was sent of God to reveal the holy Gospel to the children of men, and lay the foundation for gathering Israel, and building up the kingdom of God on the earth, that spirit is of God;’ and every spirit that does not confess that God has sent Joseph Smith, and revealed the everlasting Gospel to and through him, is of Antichrist, no matter whether it is found in a pulpit or on a throne, nor how much divinity it may profess, nor what it professes with regard to revealed religion and the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible. They may say that they acknowledge Him until doomsday, and he will never own them, nor bestow the Holy Spirit upon them, and they will never have visions of eternity opened to them, unless they acknowledge that Joseph Smith is sent of God. Such people I call unbelievers. They tell about believing in Jesus Christ, but they might as well talk about birds understanding the Hebrew language.” (Journal of Discourses 8:176-177, 9/91860)
For Brigham Young, Jesus Christ wasn’t really the issue. It didn’t matter to him if a person professed “the account that is given of the Savior and his Father in the Bible” (e.g., to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father – Philippians 2:11). Acknowledging (confessing) Jesus Christ even “until doomsday” was worthless (according to the prophet) unless it was accompanied by a parallel confession that Joseph Smith was sent by God.
Not only was such a profession of belief in Christ worthless, it identified the professor as an “Antichrist” (one who is “against Christ” or in opposition to Him). For Brigham Young (and the LDS Church at large) confessing Christ isn’t nearly enough. Confessing Joseph Smith as a prophet of God is the key to gaining eternal life.
In a 2013 Ensign article, “Stand by My Servant Joseph,” LDS Seventy Cecil O. Samuelson wrote,
“…the testimony of Joseph’s work and mission is key and central to our testimony of the knowledge that is most important of all: that Jesus is the Christ, our Savior and redeemer, the literal living Son of our living Heavenly Father. How grateful we are to Joseph for his worthiness to witness what he did for us.” (Ensign, 2/2013, 39)
I understand that the Jesus of Mormonism is a different Jesus than He who is revealed in the Bible. I understand, then, that Brigham Young, Cecil Samuelson, and others are saying that a Christian confession of Jesus is a confession of a different Jesus and so is ineffective, rendering the confessors “unbelievers.” I understand that the LDS Church believes the unique doctrines of the “restoration” are necessary to achieving the eternal life Mormonism offers, so not accepting Joseph Smith is the same as not accepting these necessary doctrines (and the ordinances that go along with them). What I don’t understand is the Church’s public emphasis on Jesus Christ while minimizing Joseph Smith when, clearly, Jesus Christ alone is insufficient. In truth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Smith.
In 2005 Church News reported,
“Noting that this year is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, one of the media asked President Hinckley why he thinks Joseph Smith’s teachings and messages are still so important.
“‘Because they are the foundation of our faith,’ President Hinckley responded. ‘Everything we have is a lengthened shadow of Joseph Smith. He was the key figure in the restoration of the gospel as we have it, and our foundation of doctrine and practice and procedure all come down from him.’” (Church News, 3/19/2005, 3)
It is noteworthy that the Bible doesn’t mention Joseph Smith; the Bible emphasizes the name of Jesus:
“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:9-11)
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)
In another Church News article, this one commemorating the 150th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s death, William O. Nelson wrote,
“In the final analysis – when this dispensation is completed – the salvation and happiness of men and women will be determined on how each of us has responded to the name and the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith – the instrument in the hands of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ in effecting the restoration of the gospel for the Dispensation of the Fulness of Times.” (“His Name to Endure Forever, Joseph’s Prophetic Mission,” Church News 7/16/1994, 5)
Brigham Young also said this:
“Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians…that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…” (Quoted by Robert Millet, Ensign, 6/1994, 22. First ellipse included in the Ensignquote)
For Mormonism, it is the name of Joseph Smith that holds sway. Not so in Christianity. Those who Brigham Young identifies as “unbelievers” believe what the biblical apostle Peter said as he was filled with the Holy Spirit:
“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11–12)
This I believe.