From its very beginning the church sought to teach the doctrine of Christ as recorded in the New Testament--the "Old Jerusalem Gospel." The pride of its ministers from 1830 until now has been that they are presenting an organization that harmonizes with the New Testament plan. The proposition, afterward embodied in "What We Believe," the epitome of faith, presents the keynote of the doctrinal message of Latter Day Saints, "the word of God shall be the end of all dispute."
Another cardinal principle of the church is its belief in continual revelation. The whole "angel message" is predicated upon this belief, and without it the Latter Day Saint Church has no excuse for being. Latter Day Saints believe that as God spoke to men in ages past, so he can and does speak to men now; that Divinity itself restored the Church of Jesus Christ to earth again in 1830, after a long period of apostasy, and that the same Divinity has continued to direct its destinies throughout its history.
Even before the church was organized, and certainly ever since, the church has affirmed its belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world. The first instruction received by young Joseph Smith was: "Hear him!" The burden of the message of the ministry is "Christ and him crucified." The two leading missionary councils of the church, the Twelve and Seventy, are enjoined that they are "special witnesses for Christ."
Latter Day Saints early taught the second advent of Christ, urging that the second coming of Christ was "near at hand." Unlike some of their contemporaries they did not set a date for his coming, although doubtless many of them, if not the majority of the early adherents of the faith, thought the time for the "consummation of all things" was much nearer than they had any particular reason to expect. The emphasis from the beginning was placed upon the preparation of a society worthy to greet Christ at his coming. The preparation of that pure society is still the great object of the church and the immensity of that objective becomes more and more apparent as time passes; a project that is nothing short of audacious, without the aid of divine direction.
In Latter Day Saint preaching one hears much of the "first principles of the gospel," which almost any Latter Day Saint child can enumerate as faith, repentance, baptism, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment, just as Paul enumerates them in the Hebrew letter.1 These principles have been confirmed many times to the church in "modern revelation." During the time he was assisting in the translation of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery was reminded that "without faith you can do nothing."2 The ministry of the church were early instructed to say nothing but repentance unto this generation."3 The principles of baptism and laying on of hands, taught in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon, have their confirmation in the experience of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829. Latter Day Saints believe that the biblical mode of baptism was by immersion, and that it should be followed by confirmation (laying on of hands by the ministry) for the reception of the Holy Spirit. The laying on of hands by the ministry is practiced in the church for healing the sick, blessing children, (an ordinance which has its genesis in the example set by the Savior) and the ordination of ministers, as well as in confirmation. Baptism in the Latter Day Saint Church is administered only to those who have reached the "age of accountability." The doctrine of the resurrection is clearly taught in the Scriptures as well as in the Book of Mormon, and was confirmed in the early revelations to the church, as well as its companion principle of eternal judgment.
Other beliefs have been written deep into the hope of the church. Chief among these has been the cause of Zion, which took hold of the hearts and imaginations of our fathers with such power that they handed it down to generations after them as a priceless heritage. The ideal of a community built in the spirit of Christian brotherhood calls for "personal individual regeneration and for individual preparation, and in the last analysis . . . for group co-operation and righteousness."4 Growing out of this preaching of Zion, came the term "stewardship." To the Latter Day Saint, theoretically at least, neither his wealth, his talent, nor anything he has is his own, but belongs to his Heavenly Father; he is steward over these possessions, and will eventually answer to him for their use. As one writer has said, "Stewardship is the management of God's investment in man for the purposes of God."
In common with most Protestant churches, the church believed that the privilege of officiating in the ordinances of the gospel had been lost to the world during the Dark Ages, but they believed while honoring the great reformers, that no one but the Almighty himself could confer again upon the world authority to act for God. Belief in this "restoration" of authority is the basis of the name often applied to the whole movement, "the Restoration."
Ministers were early set in the church by this divine authority, and ordained to the Melchisedec priesthood, which ministers in spiritual things; and the Aaronic priesthood, which ministers in temporal things. To this day, one may find in the church the nomenclature of the New Testament ministry: apostles, prophets, seventy, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.5
Just as the doctrine of Zion found individualized expression in the doctrine of stewardships, so the doctrine of revelation found its more individualized expression in the belief and exercise of spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts, akin to those mentioned in the New Testament, were known only in part by the churches of 1830. The Latter Day Saints believed in and enjoyed them, and the gifts of wisdom and faith have been accompanied from the beginning by the gift of prophecy, of tongues, of miracles, and of healing. As if in anticipation of difficulties which have beset other believers in the spiritual gifts, the church was early instructed "that which doth not edify, is not of God, and is darkness: that which is of God is light.... but no man is possessor of all things, except he be purified and cleansed from all sin."6
The Saints believed in the resurrection, as did other religious people. But here, as elsewhere, they had a special message. After February 16, 1832, they took to the world the witness of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon:
This is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him, that he lives; for we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father; that by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and, were created; and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.7
The revelation to which this testimony is an introduction led the Saints to heights of spiritual understanding rarely achieved elsewhere. It told the story of coming glories, and emphasized the fact that all those who inherit the several glories, will be assigned to their respective places, according to their work. Future destiny will not be determined by the arbitrary will of Divinity, but by the things which we choose to do. Every man is to be raised "in his own order,"8 and every man will be quickened by that glory for which he has prepared, and those who enjoy a lesser degree of light in the ages to come will do so "because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received."9
There are no secret or oath-bound rites and ceremonies in the church.
1 Hebrews 6: 1, 2.
2 Doctrine and Covenants 8:3.
3 Ibid., 10 4.
4 Elbert A. Smith In Zion Builders Sermons, Independence, Missouri, 1921, page 87.
5 I Corinthians 12: 28; Ephesians 4: 11-13.
6 Doctrine and Covenants 50:6.
7 Ibid., 76:3.
8 I Corinthians 15:23.
9 Doctrine and Covenants 85:6.