Monday, January 30, 2012

Latter-day Doctrine

In General Conference this past October (2011), Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke on "The Importance of a Name," stressing the Lord's desire that we use His divinely appointed name for His church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (see D&C 115:4). Elder Ballard then explained that each "word [of that name] is clarifying and indispensable" and elucidated on the meaning of all nine words. Regarding the phrase, "of Latter-day," Elder Ballard declared that "Of Latter-day explains that it is the same Church as the Church that Jesus Christ established during His mortal ministry but restored in these latter days. We know there was a falling away, or an apostasy, necessitating the Restoration of His true and complete Church in our time."

As a man slightly obsessed with words and their meanings, I love Elder Ballard's approach to thinking about and using the Church's name. But this phrase, in particular, deserves a more thorough explication. Of Latter-day signifies much more than the relative temporal position of the restored Church to its primitive precedent. The words latter days or, occasionally, latter times, are associated with a number of significant events and promises throughout the scripture, and when we describe ourselves as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or simply as Latter-day Saints), we implicitly recommit ourselves to following the doctrines and participating in the works associated with that phrase.

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we reaffirm our belief in an expanded canon of scripture that includes both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Lehi taught that the writings of Joseph's descendants "and also that which shall be written by the fruit of the loins of Judah, shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants" (see also JST Gen. 50:31). This restoration of plain gospel truths lost to or corrupted in the Bible through centuries of translation and transmission helps to explain Jeremiah's promise that "in the latter days [we] shall fully understand" his teachings (a footnote in the LDS version of the Bible offers this alternative translation; see also Jer. 23:20). A Latter-day Saint studies from the sticks of Judah and Joseph to obtain a more full or complete understanding of the gospel.

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we declare our commitment to preach the gospel as  missionaries and to extend the blessings of its ordinances as patrons of the temple. Nephi taught his brothers regarding "the covenant which should be fulfilled in the latter days; which covenant the Lord made to our father Abraham, saying: In thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed" (1 Ne. 15:18). Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and are responsible for bringing the blessings of gospel ordinances to all peoples. A Latter-day Saint fulfills this covenantal obligation by performing work for the dead in temples and by opening their mouths to share the gospel so that the Lord's promises to the Jews, Gentiles, and Lamanites can be fulfilled in these last days (see 3 Ne. 16:7; JST Gen. 50:25; 1 Ne. 15:13; Hel. 15:12; Hosea 3:5)

When we describe ourselves as Latter-day Saints, we confirm our faith in the promised Second Coming of the Savior and in the events He has prophesied will precede that day. The tenth article of faith affirms that "[w]e believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will receive its paradisiacal glory" (AF 10). Each one of these events is associated with the latter days in scripture (see 1 Ne. 15:19; Daniel 10:14; Deut. 4:30; JST Gen. 14:34; and Ezek. 38:8, 16). Paul warned that during the run up to these events, "in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to false doctrines" (1 Tim. 4:1; see also Deut. 31:29). But Daniel's promise regarding "the latter days" is also sure: in those days "shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever" (Dan. 2:28, 45). A Latter-day Saint prepares for the spiritual and physical perils to come while exercising faith in the divine destiny of God's earthly kingdom.

When you or I self-identify as a Latter-day Saint, we are doing more than describing our position relative to members of Christ's primitive church. We are also affirming our belief in the doctrine of the latter days, as revealed in scripture.

  • I believe in and study from the Book of Mormon and the Bible. 
  • I seek to fulfill my obligations to bless all the kindreds of the earth through temple and missionary work. 
  • I look forward with faith to Christ's Second Coming and associated events.

I am a Latter-day Saint.

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